You Have To Look Past The Face

If we could only remember that all we do to our brothers and sisters, or the sick and hurting, or even to little children, we are literally doing to Christ. ?If we really believed this it would radically change how we relate to others.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.? Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ?Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you??

And the King will answer them, ?Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.? ?(Matthew 25:35-40)

Whatever we do to the least of these…you did it to me.

When we bear with the most difficult Christian, we do it to Christ. When we comfort a friend who?s depressed, we?re do it to Jesus. ?When we bless our spouse or children, we literally blessing Jesus. ?When we care for a little one in Children?s Ministry, we care for Christ. ?When we make a meal for a mom who?s just had a baby, we make a meal for Christ. ?When we sponsor a child or give to the poor through Covenant Mercies, World Vision or Samaritan?s purse we feed and clothe Jesus. ?When we take an interest in that immature brother who never takes an interest in us, we do it to Christ.

Conversely, when we slander our brother, we do it to Jesus. When we?re impatient with that sister, we?re impatient toward Christ. ?When we?re selfish with our family, we?re selfish toward Christ. ?When we avoid talking with that brother because he irritates us, we avoid Christ.

We have to look past the surface.
We have to look past the face of our friend, our spouse, or that annoying brother to see Jesus. ?We have to look past that snotty-nosed 3-year old to see Jesus. ?It?s not JUST Bill or Tom or Jessica, it?s not JUST that poor guy who doesn?t smell good – it?s JESUS.

I?m preaching to myself here. ?How often have I neglected to do good to Christ because I just didn?t want to have to listen to that brother?s problems or visit that sister in the hospital? ?How often have I missed opportunities to bless Christ by failing to bless my wife? ?How much of my life has been consumed with providing for my own comfort and pleasures compared with how to care for the poor?

I?m not condemned by my failures, because Christ took my condemnation on the cross. ?Yet I want the reality of this Scripture to stir me to love and good deeds: ?Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.? ?And I want to hear Jesus say that to me someday.

So look past the face and do something good to Jesus today.

photo by fleecircus

Extending Grace Within Sovereign Grace Ministries

One of my biggest concerns since Brent Detwiler released his Sovereign Grace Ministries documents back in July is that we would become a movement that is filled with suspicion. And in some ways that has happened. We’ve become suspicious of each other, suspicious of leadership, and suspicious that there might be some sort of elaborate cover up taking place that we’re not aware of. I’m concerned about the effect that this is going to have on each of us personally, as well as the effect that it’s going to have on our churches.

Here’s why I’m concerned. Love doesn’t flourish in the midst of suspicion. The affection of Christ Jesus doesn’t bloom in the midst of suspicion. The gospel doesn’t move forward in the midst of suspicion. In some ways, suspicion is like bitterness – it eats us from the inside out. It’s like a parasite. Personally, I don’t want to live a life dominated by suspicion. That sounds like a really unhappy way to live.

Now, I can imagine what you’re thinking. “Stephen, did you take stupid pills this morning? Haven’t you read Brent’s documents and what people are saying about Sovereign Grace Ministries? Are you trying out for the role of Captain Naive?” Yes, I have read most of Brent’s documents. Yes, I’ve read the blogs. And the truth is, I have concerns and questions just like everybody else. I’ve spent many hours talking with various pastors and leaders in SGM, raising questions and voicing concerns.

But I think what’s crucial in the midst of all this is the way that we raise our questions and the way that we speak about one another. In fact, I believe that our attitude toward one another matters to Jesus just as much as the actual questions themselves. Do we extend the grace and love of the Lord Jesus to one another? Do we extend the grace of the Lord Jesus to the leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries? Do we mock and bite and belittle and criticize, or do we extend the grace and patience that we would like to have extended to us?

Here’s the truth: we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been bought by the precious blood of Christ. To angrily criticize and lash out at someone is to lash out at someone who is precious to Christ. Does that mean we shouldn’t disagree? No, of course not. Does that mean we shouldn’t raise concerns? No. Does that mean we shouldn’t voice our disagreement? No, definitely not. Is raising questions and concerns being divisive? Nope.

It does mean that all of our criticisms, critiques, questions, and concerns should be wrapped in the love of Christ.

I find the example of the Apostle Paul to be convicting. The Corinthian church was an absolute nightmare. There was a man sleeping around with his step-mother. There were people getting drunk during communion. The church was like a crazy spiritual gifts circus. Folks were dragging each other off to court. And yet in spite of all this, Paul could say:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge?even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you?so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The reason that Paul could give thanks for the Corinthians was because he was confident that God is faithful. That’s my ultimate confidence as well. I respect the guys on the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and I believe that they are seeking to follow the Lord through this difficult situation. But ultimately my confidence isn’t in them. It’s in Jesus. The King of Kings. The ruler of the church. He cares about my church and your church and Sovereign Grace Ministries more than we do.

That’s what can keep me from being dominated by suspicion.

The Manly Art Of Toilet Repair

The evening before Thanksgiving, when all plumbers have gone home for the holidays and can?t be reached for the next week, and we are expecting guests, of course our upstairs toilet decides to break.

What?s the big deal, you ask? ?Just go to Lowes, you say, and get a fill valve and flapper kit and fix it yourself. ?But you don?t understand.

I?ve never had success when it comes to plumbing. ?Actually I should include all home repairs. ?An example of my home maintenance prowess is the time I did a small repair on our toilet and I tightened a screw too tight and cracked the toilet. ?When my wife heard me let loose the despair filled ?Arggghhhhhhh? in the bathroom, she came in and asked my favorite question in moments like that: ?Did you pray about it before you started?? ?To which I replied, ?No, and I?m not going to pray about it now either.? ?Which led to a 2-hour discussion about whether I was truly born again, and if so, had I possibly lost my salvation. Eventually I did repent and finally asked God to help me fix the toilet, which I was able to do by going out and buying a new one.

It?s not just toilets, either. A few years ago, our kitchen sink was dripping. ?How hard can it be, I asked myself, to stop a sink from dripping? ?I?ll just get a couple of those rubber things with the holes in them and stick them in there and wrap the whole thing in plumber?s tape, then wrap the whole thing 35 times in duct tape, then slather silicone sealer over the whole thing. ?No big deal.

When I open the cabinet doors below the sink I discover that a hoarder has been storing stuff under there since the Reagan administration. ?I have to have an intervention before I can even get to the sink pipes, so I pull out old dried up sponges, toothbrushes, 3 vases that flowers came in 5 years ago, a solid block of dishwasher detergent from 1976, empty ant traps, crystallized dog food, the original manuscript of the Constitution, and the shriveled up body of my former plumber who hasn?t returned my calls for the last 8 years.

Finally, I get on my back, slide my upper body under the sink, turn off the water, and take a look at the pipes. ?A smile breaks across my face as think, yeah, this is what it means to be a man. ?Manly wrench in hand. ?Fixing your sink. ?Taking dominion. ?Mike Rowe from ?Dirty Jobs? would be proud of me. ?In fact, he probably wouldn?t even tackle this one.

All goes fine in the disassembly stage. ?I don?t break anything. ?I disconnect the pipes. ?No water gushing anywhere. ?I look up through the drain at the ceiling I painted with my own two hands last summer. ?I start humming ?I?m a Man? by the Yardbirds.

I go to Lowes and head to the plumbing section. ?Once there I discover that all the sink parts are labeled in a foreign language only plumbers know, for example, ?For the Kohler X-38765abcdef1812 inverted double handle slant faucet.? ?Fortunately, I?ve brought my own sink part along with me, so I take it out of my pocket and compare it to every one of the 5,000 parts on the wall. ?After about 45 minutes, I can?t find an exact match, so I grab a part that looks kind of like mine. ??Close enough for rock ?n roll,? I say to myself, and leave whistling ?Takin? Care of Business.?

Back home I insert myself under the sink again and connect the new part. ?Of course it doesn?t fit quite perfectly, but after banging it with the wrench and wrapping it in plumber?s and duct tape, I?m confident it will do the trick. ?The moment of truth – I turn on the water. ?No water drips from the faucet! ?I high five myself several times and do a little Riverdance step in the kitchen, secure in my manhood because I just fixed the sink. ?Then I turn on the hot water. ?Only one slight problem – no hot water comes out. ?In fact no water comes out. ?I try the cold water. ?No water from that one either. ?But I fixed the leak! ?I don’t have any water, but at least I don?t have a leak.

I?m happy to say that 3 days later, the sink was fixed. ?Both spigots worked fine and there was no more leak. ?And the plumber only charged me $75.00.

So tomorrow, I?m going upstairs to that broken toilet and do the manly thing – call my plumber.

photo by ghirson

I Scarce Can Take It In…

The “Divine Exchange” never ceases to amaze me.

Jesus exchanged his “divine bank account” for mine.? God credited my sinful life to Jesus, as if he had lived my life,? and God credited Jesus’ perfect life to me as if I had lived his life of flawless obedience.? But not only did God count Jesus’ obedience to me, but he gives me all the rewards for that obedience.? I scarce can take it in…

And now we may say, Lord, the condemnation was yours, that the justification might be mine; the agony yours, that the victory might be mine; the pain was yours, and the ease mine; the stripes yours, and the healing balm issuing from them mine; the vinegar and gall were yours, that the honey and sweet might be mine; the curse was yours, that the blessing might be mine; the crown of thorns was yours, that the crown of glory might be mine; the death was yours, the life purchased by it mine; you paid the price that I might enjoy the inheritance. — John Flavel, The Fountain of Life

Let this wonderful truth fill you with joy and thanksgiving today.

A Cup of Coffee Would Save my Life

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – Psalm 103:2

Thanksgiving is a day to remember all God?s benefits and blessings. In Christ believers receive innumerable spiritual blessings and benefits. Who can calculate all God?s kindnesses and mercies to us in Jesus? Forgiveness, justification, fellowship with God, joy inexpressible and full of glory, the hope of seeing Christ?s face are but a few of his incredible blessings.

Thanksgiving is also a day we can thank God for his ?common grace?. Common grace is the kindness God shows to all men, saved and unsaved. ?For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt. 5:45).

I recently read a story of God?s mercy in the Mexican war in 1846. It is recounted in the book Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides.

General Stephen Watts Kearny led a force of 100 dragoons to fight against a few hundred Mexican caballeros led by Capt. Andres Pico in the Battle of San Pasqual. The dragoons were confident their guns would decimate the Mexicans who were armed primarily with lances, but discovered in the heat of battle that their ammunition had gotten damp during the night, and their guns wouldn?t fire. The Mexican lances shredded the Americans. The Americans who escaped camped on a hill called Mule Hill surrounded by the enemy, awaiting reinforcements.

Sides says that many were wounded and ?had developed gangrene or horrible infections in the deep punctures left by the lances.? Then he tells this story which displays God?s mercy to a dying soldier.

One member of the party, a French trapper named Robideaux who had lost a great amount of blood was hovering near death. The men had more or less written off the poor fellow, who in his death agonies kept hallucinating that he smelled coffee?a luxury no one traveling with Kearny had seen or tasted in months. ?Don?t you smell it?? Robideaux beseeched them. ?A cup of coffee would save my life!?

Everyone knew that the mountain men were all inveterate coffee addicts?especially the French?so Lieutenant Emory believed that the doomed man was simply exercising a final Gallic nostalgia before passing on to his reward. ?I supposed a dream had carried him back to the cafes of St. Louis and New Orleans,? Emory said.

But he was soon shocked to find that Robideaux was right?somewhere in the camp a cook was indeed heating up a cup of coffee over a sagebrush fire. Emory went over and persuaded him to give it up to the dying Frenchman. Says Emory: ?One of the most agreeable little offices performed in my life, and I believe in the cook?s , was to pour this precious draught into the waning body of our friend Robideaux. His warmth returned, and with it hopes of life.? Robideaux soon recovered and swore for the rest of his days that he owed his life to coffee.

I love this story. In his mercy, God gave a dying French trapper a cup of coffee and many more days of life.

As you?re enjoying your Thanksgiving feast today thank God for his kindness in saving you through the blood of Jesus, and thank him for his common grace and goodness in giving us blessings like food and drink. I know that after I finish my turkey, I?ll cry out to my wife Kristi, ?A cup of coffee would save my life!?

Originally published 11/22/07

photo by feverblue

To The Bestest Readers In The World-Wide Blogosphere

It’s Thanksgiving week and one of the things that Stephen and I are particularly grateful for is all of you who read our blog.

We want to say thank you for reading our blog, thank you for all your encouraging comments and emails. Thanks for your comments even when you’ve disagreed with us! Thank you even if you only “lurk around” as one person told me, and don’t leave any comments. Thank you for sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter.? And thank you for assuring me time and again how cool yet age-appropriate I dress.

We’d love to hear any thoughts you have on how we could improve our blog, or topics you might like to see us address.? However, please don’t ask me to address any topics that have to deal with politics, nuclear physics, or gardening, as I’m woefully ignorant on those topics, though the one summer I had a garden I did manage to grow a softball-sized pumpkin on the end of a 200-foot vine that took up half my back yard.

Again, thanks for being the bestest readers in the whole world-wide blogosphere interweb!

photo by Cathdew

To All My Friends In Sovereign Grace Ministries

These have been some pretty crazy times, huh?

It seems like ever since Brent first released his documents, everyone has been forced to pick sides. Either you’re on CJ’s side or Brent’s side. Or maybe Larry’s side. Or Covenant Life Church. Or Sovereign Grace Ministries. There has been lots of criticism and lots of speculation. There have also been a lot of questions raised.

In the midst of this rough season, can I make an appeal? Can we be more committed to unity and to the name of Jesus than anything else? Yes, I realize that I sound naive and a bit “we are the world”-ish, but I really mean it. Because what’s at stake here is so much greater than any of us individually, or our churches, or even Sovereign Grace Ministries. What’s at stake is the name and reputation of our wonderful savior, Jesus Christ.

In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The way that we treat one another is a visible demonstration to the world of the reality of the gospel. The gospel is what brings reconciling power to our relationship with God and reconciling power to our relationships with one another. The fact that we are disciples of Jesus should also shape the ways that we speak about other people, both in person and on the Internet. If we bite and cut and lash each other, we’re making a loud statement about what followers of Jesus are like.

So can I make a suggestion? For every minute that we spend criticizing people, let’s spend two minutes praying for them. For every minute we spend reading on the Internet, let’s spend two minutes in God’s word. For every minute that we spend condemning the actions of someone, let’s spend two minutes praying that God would bless them.

Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we should ignore all the problems. Does Sovereign Grace Ministries have problems. Yes. Does Covenant Life Church have problems? Yes. Does Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA have problems? Absolutely. Does Stephen Altrogge have problems? Yes. Double yes, actually.

And yes, people have been seriously hurt, and that needs to be dealt with appropriately. And if you have serious concerns, I would encourage you to get involved in the Ambassadors of Reconciliation process that Sovereign Grace Ministries has set up.

So, in faith, let’s identify the problems, address the problems, work on the problems, and work on our churches. But let’s do it together, in faith that Jesus Christ is in our midst, at work in all of us. Let’s cover a multitude of offenses with the love of Christ. The Bible is one gigantic story of God working through really messed up people. It shouldn’t surprise us that we are where we currently are, and it shouldn’t surprise us when God keeps working in us and through us.

And can I just dispel one notion that I see on the blogs every so often? The pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries are not stooges. We’re not drinking the Kool-Aid. We don’t blindly follow anyone. I can say with absolute confidence that my dad will lead our church according to the Bible, and nothing else. He doesn’t blindly follow CJ, or Dave, or anybody else for that matter. I can say the same thing of my friend CB in Reading, Ricky in El Paso, Dave in Gaithersburg, Tom in Altoona, Mike in Pittsburgh, and Pat in Vancouver.

In fact, CJ and Dave and the board would not want us to follow blindly!

Just last week I had an extended conversation with Dave Harvey in which I strongly voiced to him my concerns and suggestions for Sovereign Grace Ministries. And do you know how he responded? He listened to me and thanked me and asked follow up questions. He has invited me to share further thoughts. Even though we disagreed on some points! I’m just a 29 year old punk. Dave has more ministry experience than I have years of life (I think). So I really respect Dave. Do we disagree on certain things? Sure. But isn’t that normal in the church?

So could you please pray for the pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries? We need help. And I know that Jesus will help us, because ultimately, all our churches belong to him.

NOTE: I’ve left the comments open for the time being, but I don’t want this post to be a place to debate what is taking place in Sovereign Grace Ministries. Thanks!