My Favorite New Year’s Lists

Have you made your list of New Year’s Resolutions yet?

Here’s my list: To consume massive quantities of potato chips and junk food. To eliminate physical activity altogether. To watch at least 40 hours of TV a week, concentrating on professional wrestling. Please do not try these things at home – they’re best left to experts like me.

The death list

One list I find interesting is the list of celebrities and notable people who died the past year. Here is a list of some well-known people who died in 2007. A couple of these people might only be of interest to former rock stars like me. A few were well-known Christians. But all stepped into eternity in 2007.

January 8 – Yvonne De Carlo, actress (Lily, the mother on the “Munsters”). I loved this show as a kid.
Jan 19 – Denny Doherty, founding member and lead singer of The Mamas and the Papas. They had great harmonies.
Feb 13 – Bruce Metzger, Bible scholar and translator who supervised the 1990 New Revised Standard Version of the Bible
March 9 – Brad Delp, lead singer of band Boston (“More Than a Feeling”)
March 31 – Liz Claiborne, fashion designer
April 23 – Boris Yeltsin, former Russian President
May 15 – Rev. Jerry Falwell, Founder and Chancellor of Liberty University
May 17 – Lloyd Alexander, writer of fantasy novels “The Chronicles of Prydain”
June 14 – Ruth Graham, wife of Rev. Billy Graham
June 21 – Bob Evans, founder of Bob Evans Restaurant chain
July 11 – Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, former First Lady of the United States 1963-1969
July 20 – Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner, fomer wife of TV preacher Jim Bakker
July 30 – Bill Walsh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers
August 12 – Merv Griffin, talk show host, creator of TV game shows “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune”
September 6 – Luciano Pavoratti, Italian tenor
September 6 – Madeleine L’Engle, author of children’s fiction, notably, A Wrinkle in Time
September 22 – Marcel Marceau, well-known mime
November 27 – Sean Taylor, safety for the Washington Redskins, age 24
November 30 – Evil Knievel, famous motorcycle daredevil
December 12 – Ike Turner, former husband of Tina Turner, who sang “Proud Mary” with her

Jonathan Edwards’ list

Jonathan Edwards made a list of 70 resolutions. They are worth reading. Here’s one of them:

Resolution #9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

You may be thinking, Hey, what’s up with all the talk about dying? Happy New Year to you too, Mark. Can we think about something less morbid? Actually, the Bible tells us it’s good to think about dying.

Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Contemplating our finiteness produces wisdom and humility. Psalm 90 contrasts puny man to the Infinite Ageless One. How can we not be humbled when we compare ourselves who are like grass of the field to the Timeless One, to whom a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years like a day?

A list of things you’d like people to say about you at your funeral

Contemplating our death brings into sharp focus what is truly important in life. I once read that when setting goals for your life you should write a list of things you’d like people to say about you at your funeral. Now that’s a good list. I’ve written that list from time to time. What would I like my wife Kristi to say about me at my funeral? What do I hope my children will say? What would I want my Christian brothers and sisters to say?

I have a list of about 20 things I hope my family and friends will say about me at my funeral party. I hope they celebrate, because I’ll be celebrating before the throne of my Savior! Anyway, my list does NOT include anything about what I accomplished in life or any talents I had. I don’t want my kids to say, “My dad sure was successful” (I don’t think that’s likely) or Kristi to say, “Mark was incredible at home maintenance” (no chance of that). I hope my kids will say things like, “My dad really loved Jesus.” Or, “My dad sure was a lot of fun.” I hope Kristi can say things like, “Mark was a humble man.” I hope.

When you think about dying, it helps you focus on what’s truly important. What really matters is glorifying God. I encourage you to write your own list of things you’d like people to say about you at your funeral. May it stir you to godliness. Happy New Year!

Changes to The Blazing Center

This is a public service announcement, informing you of several changes to The Blazing Center.

_Our web address has officially been changed to www.theblazingcenter.com. For those of you who have linked to us using our old address of http://blazingcenter.blogspot.com, DO NOT BE ALARMED. The old link will work as well.

_We’ve added a Blazing Center highlight reel to our sidebar. Each week the highlight reel will feature five past posts. This will allow you to find older posts that might encourage you in your faith.

Thank you for your time. This has been a public service announcement.

How To Make New Year’s Resolutions

Well folks, it’s about that time of year when we start making our New Year’s resolutions. We promise ourselves that this is the year that we’re going to start exercising, quit eating junk food, watch less TV, read more, eat more fruit, get in shape, run a marathon, write a book, get our pilot’s license, learn German, stop eating salami at 2 a.m., and learn how to play the tuba. Or, on a deeper level, we vow to read our Bible more, pray more, and memorize at least fifty scripture verses. But we all know how these resolutions go. On January 1st we’re going strong, starting off the day with a brisk run and a long devotional time. On January second we run sort of briskly and have a semi-distracted devotional time. On January 3rd we walk once around the block and don’t have any time for devotions because we slept in. Why did we sleep in? Salami at 2 a.m.

So how do we make and keep New Year’s resolutions? More importantly, how do we make and keep New Year’s resolutions in a way that pleases God? Here’s a few ways:

1. Make Them Prayerfully

If we’re going to change for the glory of God, it must be by the power of God. Without God’s supernatural power at work within us, all change will be superficial and pointless. We need God to help us identify the areas where change is necessary, and then give us the power to change. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God has prepared good works for us to walk in. Let’s ask Him to lead us into these good works this year.

2. Check Your Motives

1 Corinthians 10:35 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The ultimate goal of all New Year’s resolutions should be the glory of God. When considering areas of change, ask yourself, “Why do I want to change in this area?” When I was younger I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Was it so I could serve the church by leading worship? Nope. So I could be in a kickin’ rock band and be adored by hordes of screaming fans who desperately wanted my autograph. You might say my motives weren’t 100% pure. If we’re to please God, our New Year’s resolutions must be made for His glory.

3. Involve Others

God-honoring growth happens in the context of community. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” If we’re going to grow spiritually we need others to exhort and encourage us. Get other people involved in your New Year’s resolutions. Ask those close to you to point out the areas you need to grow, and then have them hold you accountable in those areas. Growth is a community project.

4. Remember The Savior

Our spiritual growth contributes absolutely nothing to our salvation. We are saved once and for all by the perfect life and sacrificial death of Christ. God won’t love me any more if I memorize 100 scriptures or share the gospel with all my neighbors. I am secure in the love of God because Jesus Christ died in my place. Deserving has nothing to do with it. As you make your New Year’s resolutions, remember Jesus Christ.

This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have any more thoughts on how to make New Year’s resolutions for the glory of God, please share them.

You May be Surprised

Who knows what surprises a year may hold?

I just reviewed my journals from this past year and I could never have imagined some of the things God did in my life in 2007. At the end of 2006 I had no inkling of the blessings and challenges 2007 would hold for me. Here are a few of the surprises God sprang on me:

My first grandchild, Charis was born on September 4. I sure didn’t expect to become a grandpa this past year! This would have been blessing enough, but God did more:

Sovereign Grace Music unexpectedly blessed my son Stephen and me by having us record a CD of our songs. I suppose Sovereign Grace figured that if Bob Dylan could make it with his voice, maybe there was hope for me.

God connected me with a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years. My friend told me he’d been battling cancer and had begun reading the Bible. This year he gave his life to the Lord and is now running hard after Christ. I had the privilege of baptizing him earlier this month.

God gave me the opportunity to pray with the brother of one of our secretaries to receive the Lord on his deathbed.

The Lord had me meet a graduate student from Japan in a local coffeeshop. He knew little about Christ, but was interested in meeting weekly to read through the gospel of John together. We’ve met 4 times so far.

These are just a few ways God surprised me in 2007. There were also some unexpected sad and painful trials too. But in both sunshine and rain, God has been faithful and good to me.

Who knows what a year may hold? God does.

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ?My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,? (Isaiah 46:9-10)

God knows the end from the beginning. From ancient times he knew what he would accomplish in 2007. He knows what he has in store for his children this coming year. Nothing surprises him, for he is working all of history and all the details of our lives for his glory. God will use both blessings and trials to make us more like Christ.

No one can thwart God’s good plans for us. No one can throw our Heavenly Father a curve ball. His counsel will stand and he will accomplish all he has purposed.

Christ has many wonderful surprises in store for us. He has bags and bags of grace he’s waiting to lavish upon us. We should look forward to 2008 with anticipation. If God wills and we live, we have another year to get to know Christ more, to taste and see his goodness. Another year to serve, bless, and encourage others. Another year to seek to advance the gospel. Another year to bear fruit and become more like Christ.

And should this be the year the Lord calls us home, what could be better than being with him and seeing him face to face?

Praise God who holds 2008 in his hands!

photo by Beth Altrogge

Altrogge Family Christmas

What happens during the Altrogge family Christmas? Here’s the inside scoop, including exclusive photos. We’ll start on Christmas Eve and make our way to Christmas day.

Christmas Eve

_Jen and I woke up at the leisurely hour of 8:00 am. I, of course, immediately began making industrial strength coffee.

_While drinking our coffee, we read Psalm 103 together, which helped us to remember God’s extraordinary kindness to us. We then spent time thanking God for all the ways He’s blessed us.

_After devotional time was Boggle time. Jen and I love playing Boggle against each other on the computer. In one 3 minute round I set a world record, finding 48 words. I’m considering going pro. If you would like to sponsor me please email me.

_At one o’clock in the afternoon we went and saw a movie with my family, which is a longstanding Altrogge tradition. We saw the movie ‘National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets’. If you liked the first one, you might like this one, because they’re exactly the same. Nicholas Cage solves more historical puzzles, gets chased by more blood-thirsty bad-guys, finds another really big treasure, and delivers his lines with all the personality of a piece of bark.

_Christmas Eve dinner was at my parents house, and let me say, it was one for the ages. We went a little non-traditional this year and had steak. Best decision my parents ever made. It might have been my favorite Christmas Eve dinner ever (except for the one we ate at McDonald’s)

_Presents were exchanged between Altrogge family members. Jen and I made out like bandits. Highlight of the night: when my younger brother Jonny gave us his really nice digital camera.

Christmas Day:

_Woke at 8 am, made coffee. Instead of filling each other’s stockings with candy, Jen and I gave each other letters this year.

_After the letters we moved in on the presents. Jen gave me a suh-weet hat that has lumberjack written all over it. She also gave me a book, a small accessory for my XBox, and a beautiful calendar filled with pictures she had taken of our family over the past year. I gave her some slippers, a Starbuck’s mug, a new bag, and a Willow Tree figure. It was a great Christmas.

_We went over to Jen’s parents for a fantabulous (a word meaning both fantastic and fabulous simultaneously) Christmas lunch, and some more wonderful gifts from her parents. Both of us have such generous parents!

All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas. Here’s some pictures:





What if Christ Had Never Been Born?

I just finished watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

It’s one of my favorite movies. At one point, the protagonist, George Bailey wishes he’d never been born and an “angel”, Clarence, grants him that wish. George gets the opportunity to see how much good he’d done in his life, how many people he’d touched, and how different his town would be had he never existed.

What if Christ had never been born?

If Christ had never been born, the light of the world would never have come – we’d all still be walking in darkness, without God and without hope in the world. There would be no gospel, no good news. Jesus would not have died on the cross. There would be no forgiveness of sins, no justification by grace. There would be no Mediator between God and man. There would be no Great High Priest interceding for us. We’d still be enslaved to our passions and lusts, hating and being hated. We’d still be dead in our sins. And millions who are now in heaven would be in hell.

There would be no Christianity. There would be no Church. No books by Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards or C.S. Lewis. No Puritans to encourage us. No Billy Graham, Hudson Taylor or Amy Carmichael. No teachings from John Piper, R.C. Sproul, or C.J. Mahaney. No pastors to care for our souls. No brothers and sisters to encourage us.

There would have been no William Wilberforce to fight against slavery in England. No Randy Alcorn to speak out against abortion.

There would be no hymns or worship songs to sing. No songs by Isaac Watts or John Newton. No “Amazing Grace,” no “Mighty Fortress”, no “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” No Christmas songs – no “Joy to the World” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” There would be no worship songs by Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Paul Baloche or Tim Hughes. Nothing by Starfield, Indelible Grace, or Phil Wickham.

There would be no Covenant Mercies, Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse. Hundreds of Christian charitable organizations wouldn’t exist. Thousands of orphanages would never have been built. There would be no Salvation Army. No Open Doors or Voice of the Martyrs.

And how different would your life be had Christ never been born? Oh, I am so thankful Jesus came to earth. I’m so thankful he lived and died and rescued me from my sins. Why not take a moment right now to praise our Heavenly Father for sending his One and only Son into the world.

Merry Christmas!

What to Do with Your Unsaved Relatives this Christmas

Many of us have unsaved relatives that we see infrequently, or only once a year at Christmas.What if they’re not open to the gospel? Maybe they’re downright opposed to Christ. What if God has yet to open a door to share the good news with them? What’s a believer to do? Here are some suggestions.

1. Pray

Before they come, pray that the Lord would open doors for the gospel and give you an opportunity to share it with them. Ask the Lord for a sincere love for them, the grace serve them and that they would see Christ in you.

2. Serve

I can easily sink into a selfish malaise at family gatherings, especially after meals. I find myself lying on the couch drifting into oblivion or staring comatose-like at the television. By God’s grace, what I try to do is to look for opportunities to serve. It may be something as simple as clearing the table or doing dishes. Unbelievers are watching us. Let our goal be to show them Christ, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life for others.

3. Serve their Children

Before family get-togethers I have often told my kids that our goal for the evening is to try to make sure our relatives have the best time they possibly can, especially their children. Serve your relatives’ children, and encourage your children to serve their children. For many years after our Thanksgiving meal with relatives, I would do a Christmas craft with all the kids. We’d make Christmas ornaments with Play Dough or 3-d Christmas trees out of construction paper, glitter and beads.

Remember, Jesus welcomed children, blessed them, and said that when we receive a child in his name we receive him.

4. Take an Interest in Them

Seek to take a sincere interest in your relatives. Ask them about their jobs, hobbies and interests. Ask them what kind of Christmas traditions they had as kids. Ask them about their favorite childhood Christmas presents or memories. Ask them about their health if you are aware of any problems. You could offer to pray for them if it seems appropriate.

Look to the interests of others as Christ looked to our interests.

Let your light shine

The whole goal is to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Perhaps God will give you the opportunity to share the gospel with them. If not this Christmas, maybe next. Keep praying for their salvation. Who knows, God may do something in the future that will make them open to the good news of Jesus Christ.

I’d love to hear any suggestions or ways that you have found to love, bless and show Christ to your relatives. Thanks.

Taking A Blessings Inventory


When was the last time you took a blessings inventory? I recently found myself sitting in my living room, feeling sorry for myself because of some unexpected expenses which were going to cramp my Christmas style. In other words, I wasn’t going to be able to buy and get as much stuff this year. And then I took a look around my living room and realized what a pudding-headed blockhead I was, and sadly, how ungrateful I was. I was sitting in the lap of luxury, surrounded by countless, undeserved blessings, and I was feeling sorry for myself. It was time to do a blessings inventory. Here’s some of the things I came up with:

Salvation:
The sweetest of all blessings, the deepest of all mercies. I was once an enemy of God, now I’m His child. He has sought me out and drawn me to Himself. He has washed me in the blood of His precious Son and clothed me in robes of righteousness. I’m forgiven and free. I’ve been brought into a soul-satisfying relationship with the Creator of the universe. What else do I need to be happy?

My wife Jen:
I have the most wonderful wife in the universe. She loves Jesus and serves Him with all her heart. She cares for me, and cares for our daughter with the deepest affection. She’s full of joy and always willing to laugh at my utterly stupid jokes. She beats me at Boggle…sometimes. I don’t deserve her.

My daughter Charis:
Not only do I have the most wonderful wife, I also have the sweetest daughter. She’s three month’s old, bald, cuter than the cutest thing you can think of, and smiles a lot. She makes my heart happy. Undeserved blessing.

My job:
I can go to work every single day and make sums of money that would make 2/3 of the world jealous. My job allows me to provide food and clothes for my family. My job allows me to get good health care, and to buy coffee at Starbuck’s. I don’t deserve a job.

My health:
By God’s grace, I’m a pretty healthy guy. The illnesses I deal with are nothing compared to what many people endure. I deal with colds, they deal with cancer. I deal with a sore back, they deal with paralysis. I deal with allergies, they deal with blindness. I deserve terrible health, but instead God has given me good health.

My house:
I live in a house that’s full of furniture, has a comfortable bed, and has a large television. I stay warm in the winter. I take hot showers and watch football games. I invite friends over to play XBox 360. I deserve to be on the streets with no home, no warmth, and no friends. Instead I find myself living in luxury.

This list could go on, and should include my church, my friends, my family, coffee, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Christmas Trees, email, and a thousand other blessings. Even if there wasn’t a single present under my tree this year, I should be happy. I’m blessed beyond measure. God has been good to this wicked sinner.

When was the last time you took a blessings inventory? If you find yourself feeling ungrateful, now’s the time to do it.

3 Reasons To Memorize Scripture

If the spiritual disciplines were personal hygiene, then scripture memorization would be like flossing. We know we should do it, we know it’s good for us, but we still don’t do it. Why don’t we memorize scripture? Here’s my guess: because it’s work. It takes some serious effort to get those words off the index card and into our rather dense brains. So why should we even bother memorizing scripture? If it’s so much work, why make the effort. Here’s why:

1. For our holiness

Psalm 119:11 says, ” I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The word of God is a sin-killing sword. The Holy Spirit uses scripture to help us put our sin to death and overcome temptation. However, it’s very rare that I have my Bible sitting next to me when temptation comes my way. And so I must memorize scripture for the purpose of holiness. I must fight the promises of sin with the superior promises of God – promises like Psalm 16:11, which says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The Holy Spirit uses scriptures we’ve hidden in our hearts to help us overcome sin.

2. For our happiness

Each day we will face some degree of trouble. Some days the troubles will be minor, like a flat tire, or a bad performance review at work, or an unexpected bill. Other days the trouble will be massive, like the death of a parent, or the discovery of cancer, or a major marital conflict. The word of God is what sustains us, and gives us joy and peace in the midst of trouble. If we want to honor God in our trials, we must memorize promises like Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” You will face troubles, I promise you that. Ready yourself for the storm by memorizing God’s word.

3. For our prayers

The promises of God are fuel for passionate prayers. When we pray we should in a sense argue with God, presenting to Him the promises He’s given as ground for our prayers. For example, when I pray for someone to be saved, I can plead 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God is patient, “…not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God Himself has told me that He does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. I can plead this verse to God, presenting it to Him as a reason for saving an unbeliever. No one I know models this better than my dad. His prayers are laced with the faith-building promises of God. Why? Because he’s hidden the word of God in his heart.

So now we get to the tough part. How do we memorize scripture? I’ve tried a number of different methods in the past and one has worked far better then all the rest: mixing scripture with music. Music empowers the memory. God has created music in such a way that it gets stuck in our head. We hear a burger jingle and walk around humming it for the rest of the day. Music sticks.

Over the years my dad has taken hundreds of scriptures and put them to music, for the purpose of helping people memorize scripture. We want you to memorize scripture so much that we’re going to be giving away some of these for free. To get today’s free scripture (1 Thess. 5:9-10 ESV) song, simply click here.

I would suggest that you do two things. First, burn this song to a CD and put it in your car. Listen to it as you’re driving around. Second, write the scripture out on an index card and spend 5 minutes every day memorizing it during your devotional time. If you’re like me, you’ll find that the combo of music and the index card makes memorizing scripture much easier.

Now it’s your turn. How do you memorize scripture? What has helped you hide God’s word in your heart?