In Defense of Video Games

Video games have been getting a bad rap lately. A couple of months ago Mark Driscoll made the statement that video games aren’t sinful, they’re just stupid. Last week Russell Moore wrote a piece on why pornography and video games are ruining a generation of young men. Of course I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusions on pornography. There is nothing good or defensible about porn.

But the statements that both Mark Driscoll and Russell Moore made about video games bother me. But first, some full disclosure: I play video games. I enjoy playing them as a way to unwind. I am a colossal nerd of pocket protector proportions. Sometimes I play with my friends online. And wear a bluetooth ear piece. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Both Driscoll and Moore suggest that the problem with video games is their “fakeness” (not sure if that’s a word, but this is my blog, and on my blog I can make up words if I want to). Video games allow young men to engage in combat without really risking anything. They allow young men to conquer kingdoms from their basements, and to win the princess without ever winning a real princess. They allow young men to have their ambitions satisfied without actually accomplishing anything. Instead of becoming productive, married, fruitful members of society, they play video games. They find their validation from a game. They build fake empires and kill fake enemies instead of engaging with reality.

I get what they’re saying, I really do. In some ways, the young men of my generation really are lazy and ambitionless. But to pin the problem on video games seems rather odd to me, like treating the cough instead of treating the lung cancer. ?Video games are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. After all, couldn’t the same argument be made against sports or movies or muscle cars or fishing? Both sports and movies allow us to satisfy a thirst for adventure and greatness without really doing anything.

The problem isn’t sports or movies or video games. The problem is selfishness. We live in a post-modern culture where self is king. If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad, right? If video games make you happy, spend hours playing in the damp cool of your mom’s basement. If sports make you happy, get the NFL Ticket from DirectTV and never miss a single game. If movies make you happy, stream thousands of them directly to your television for hours and hours of couch bliss.

The solution is not to tell all the young guys to stop playing video games. The solution is to help them put video games in their proper orbit. Video games, like television and fishing and gardening and restoring antique cars, must orbit around King Jesus. Jesus gets our greatest passion. Our energies should first and foremost be dedicated to conquering for the kingdom of God. To serving others. To building up the local church. To spreading the gospel in our local communities. To pushing back the forces of evil and darkness.

We need to give our young men a compelling, glorious vision of Jesus and his kingdom. We need to help them channel their youthful energy into the things that really matter. If we do these things, video games will fall into their rightful place. Video games can be a helpful diversion for the mind – a way to unwind and relax at the end of a long day. To flat out condemn video games doesn’t really solve the problem and verges on unhelpful legalism. After all, if you take away video games then the young men will simply turn to something else.

I think of my friend, Sean. Sean is a single guy who enjoys watching movies and playing the occasional video game. But Sean is also a fireball for Jesus. He serves like a maniac and is following Jesus at a dead sprint. Should I tell Sean that he can’t play video games or watch movies? I don’t think so. I hope every young guy in my church is like Sean.

The problem isn’t video games, the problem is selfishness. Let’s help our young men and women see that there is a glorious kingdom and that they can be a part of it.

God’s Astounding, Jaw-Dropping, Eye-Popping Patience

How patient and long suffering is our God! How amazingly loving he is.

Psalm 106 is a litany of how God?s people spit in his face again and again, yet when things sour they come back to God, and he forgives and blesses them again and again. ?It?s a broken record of their failures and God?s patience.

As soon as Israel comes out of Egypt, they start their slur campaign accusing God of wanting to kill them and they “rebelled by the sea,? yet “he saved them for his name’s sake,? (7) and God carves a path for them through the waters yet sweeps the Egyptians away.

Israel suffers a huge case of God amnesia- “they soon forgot his works” (13). How do you forget God splitting the Red Sea? ?They continue their belly aching, are jealous of Moses, and party at the golden calf. ?”They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (21). ?If I were God I?d have said, ?That?s it. ?I?m done with you, have a good life – without me!? ?Yet God spared them when Moses prayed for them.

They go on to despise the promised land (ever have someone be ungrateful for a gift you?ve given them?), don?t believe God’s promise (ever had someone call you a liar?), worship Baal and eat sacrifices offered to the dead. ?God sends a plague but as soon as Phineas intervenes in prayer he relents yet again.

Do they learn anything? ?When they finally enter the promised land instead of destroying the peoples as God had commanded they mix with them, serve their gods and even sacrifice their sons and daughters to demons. ?As a grandfather and dad, I can?t imagine hurting one of my kids or grandkids, yet Israel murdered theirs for demons.

V 43 sums it up: ?Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity.”

Then comes the most amazing verses: “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remember his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (44-45).

What? ?After all their bad mouthing him, dancing with demons, ingratitude and self-absorption, God relents? ?God, are you a masochist? ?Do you like rejection? ?How much love do you have? ?An abundance.

How patient God is with me! How great is his long suffering toward me! Now if he was so forbearing with Israel, even forgiving them when they sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons, how much more will he be patient with us who have received his Son and been washed by his sacrifice.

And if God is so patient with us, should we not be patient with the failures of others?. Let?s remember God’s steadfast love when others sin against us or when they?re slow to change.

Need Help Being Creative? Get My New E-Book Today!

I’m excited to announce that my new e-book,?Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff, is officially available for only $2.99!

Repeat after me: I am creative.

It’s not just the painters and poets who are creative, everyone is creative! God has wired creativity into our DNA. Being creative is one of the ways we reflect the image of God, and God expects that all of us will use our creative gifts to glorify him. All of us have a divinely inspired drive to create and organize and bring beauty out of chaos.

But creativity is hard work. It takes work to create a poem or garden or car engine or piece of furniture or blog post. It requires killing our laziness and working faithfully over extended periods of time. It requires a willingness to receive criticism with humility. It requires sweat and elbow grease. It requires diligence and faithfulness. It?s easier to not make anything at all. To be a consumer. To suffocate the creative gifts that God has given us.

That?s why I wrote this little book. It?s meant to be a divine kick in the pants, of sorts. It?s meant to inspire you and motivate you to use your creative gifts for the glory of God. To help you stop making excuses and start using your gifts.

You have creative gifts. You are a gifted musician or mechanic or teacher or dancer or woodworker or organizer or landscaper or quilter or preacher, and God wants you to use your gifts for his glory. He doesn?t want you to waste them or hoard them. He wants you to use them to benefit those around you and to bring him honor. He wants you to steward your gifts, not waste them.

Your church needs your creative gifts. Your family needs your creative gifts. Your friends needs your creative gifts. You have gifts that no one else has. We need your gifts. Stop making excuses, and start making stuff.

You can get the book on Amazon, or if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get it in PDF format.

Now, can I ask you a big favor? If you find this book to be helpful could you do two things?

  • Share about the book on Facebook or Twitter?

Here are some of the nice things people have said about the book:

This piece on creativity is a gem. Conversational, practical, and biblical. As Christians we have the Creator as our Father, and so we should be the ones with the most creativity. Sadly today Christianity is reduced to corny songs and cheesy t-shirts. However, in this short e-book I was greatly encouraged deep in my soul to step out in faith and be creative knowing my Father already loves me and approves of me in Jesus. Stephen winsomely shows how we aren’t just supposed to be creative, but its actually what we were created for!

– Jefferson Bethke, poet, author of ?Why I Love Jesus, But Hate Religion?

Create, by my friend Stephen Altrogge, will inspire you to do just that. It’s biblical, gospel-driven, practical, insightful, funny, and only 43 pages. Whether you think you’re an artist or not, Stephen will inspire you to do what you do better for God’s glory.

– Bob Kauflin, author of Worship Matters, director of worship for Sovereign Grace Ministries

Out of nothing God created matter, out of the unformed matter he formed the world, and then he stood back and enjoyed it all. It was Augustine who suggested musicians do the same thing by embracing unformed silence and order it into tones and notes and symmetry and beauty. And as Stephen so skillfully shows us in this book, this applies to musicians and composers and equally to bankers and bakers, painters and poets, homemakers and handymen. In the ordering of our small portion of the world we image the Creator. I was made to create. You were made to create. And if you’re not sure what that means for you, or if you’re just not convinced it’s true, read this short book to be persuaded and inspired and (maybe most importantly) disciplined for a life of making stuff.

– Tony Reinke, creator of the book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Stephen Altrogge is a creative guy, and this is a short, easily digestible, Biblical book that will encourage you to be creative and won’t cut into your time to be creative. It’s also full of practical scriptural wisdom on taking criticism and the value of working hard.

– Ted Kluck, award-winning author of several books, including Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories and Dallas and the Spitfire

This book is short enough for you to read in an hour, although you may want to take it a few pages at a time, marinating in its wisdom. You’ll not only learn how Stephen finds the time to create art in multiple formats, but you’ll learn from other skilled creatives as well. In Create, you’ll learn how to get started and overcome your fears, how to accept and learn from criticism, how to form habits that will strengthen your creativity, and how to persevere. This will be one of those books that I turn to again and again, when I feel like I’ve gotten stuck on a sandbar.

– Bobby Gilles, songwriter, author, Sojourn Church Director of Communications

Creativity is scary. It?s hard work and it?s time consuming. But it?s oh-so-worth it, and in this fantastic little book Stephen Altrogge reminds us why. He points us to the power and significance of God?s creative image in us and with wit and wisdom pushes us to be creators. He encourages the fearful and prods the lazy with grace and humor. Altrogge draws in those who have yet to express the creativity they recognize hidden inside and he launches forth those who already are seeking to honor Christ with their creative endeavors. I will revisit this book often for the encouragement and inspiration it holds.

– Barnabas Piper, Blogger and columnist for WorldMag.com

Admit it. You saw the title of this book and said, ?Oh, I?m not creative?? Stop it. Creativity isn?t limited to fancy wordplay, pretty pictures, or clever major/minor key switches. Creativity isn?t something for a special class of people?it?s for stay-at-home moms, baristas and accountants, too. In Create, Stephen Altrogge offers us practical guidance and encouragement in getting over the fears, excuses and setbacks that prevent us from setting ourselves to the task of being creative to the glory of God. Read this book, get motivated and stop making excuses (although accountants, don?t get too creative?I hear the IRS frowns upon such things).

– Aaron Armstrong, author of Awaiting a Savior and Contend, blogger at bloggingtheologically.com

Would You Like To See The Face of Jesus? Come To My Town.

Do you want to see the face of Jesus?

I’m not talking about seeing it in peeling paint on a warehouse door or an oil slick or a mosaic made of toast.? I’m talking about seeing him singing, laughing, serving coffee and praying for people.

If you want to see the face of Jesus, come to my church. ?Come and see Don and Lisa caring for Don?s aging mother and mentally challenged brother.? You think that?s just Heather taking her Friday afternoons to paint pictures with my 93 year-old Dad, to keep him company? ?Look closer.? And speaking of Dad, for the last 15 years he’s been hand-painting birthday cards to bless people – look past the bolo tie and Panama hat, get past the WW2 story you?ve heard 16 times – you might have to squint a little, but you’ll see Jesus.

Who?s that gathering eyeglasses to take to Africa?? Just Mike? ?He bears a striking resemblance to Jesus. ?And there?s Jesus at the sound board. You thought it was only Ron?? You were partially right – it is Ron. ?But it?s Jesus too.? And there?s Jesus welcoming that new family. ?And Jesus leading the 3-year olds in ?Wiggle Worship.?

You can head across town to Grace Methodist or? CMA or Lord Jesus Christ Assembly or Word of Grace and see Jesus there. He?s all over town! ?If you want to see Jesus, go to a church. ?Look at his people living together whether in Indiana, PA or Nigeria or Switzerland.

God is not just saving individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather, he is creating a people among whom he can live and who in their life together will reproduce God?s life and character. — Gordon Fee

God is creating a people to display his character in and through.

Join a church if you haven’t yet. ?Be a brush stroke in the portrait of Jesus God is painting in your corner of the world.? You can’t see this portrait on TV.? You have to get with Christians living together.

“To be saved? in the Pauline view means to become part of the people of God, who by the Spirit are born into God?s family and therefore joined to one another as one body, whose gatherings in the Spirit form them into God?s temple. God is not simply saving diverse individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather he is creating a people for his name, among whom God can dwell and who in their life together will reproduce God?s life and character in all its unity and diversity. — Fee

Get involved in God?s living temple, the church.? Live out your life together with other imperfect people like yourself.? Join your voice to Rodney and Gingie?s and Rick and Kathy?s and Jeff?s in lifting up God?s praises. ?Close your eyes and listen. ?You might just hear Jesus singing.

(Quotations from Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon D. Fee)

Photo: Jesus Toast Art Illusion by visual funhouse.

When All You Can See Is How Bad Things Are

Lazarus of Bethany is dying.? In desperation his sisters Martha and Mary send for Jesus.

He may hesitate to come – the local religious leaders are seething with hatred for him – they’re watching for him with stones in hand – so the sisters don?t ask him directly, but appeal to his love for their brother ? “Lord, he whom you love is ill,” knowing Jesus would want to return to heal languishing Lazarus. But Jesus doesn?t come right away.

But when Jesus heard it he said, ?This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.? (John 11:4).

How can Jesus know this illness won?t lead to death? ?He isn?t there. ?He can?t see Lazarus writhing and groaning on his deathbed. He doesn’t see Martha mopping the sweat on her brother’s brow or Mary helping him take a few precious sips of water.

Jesus knows because he?s God. ?He knows all things, past, present and future. ?And he knows what he will do in the future. From Martha and Mary?s perspective, it looks desperate. ?But Jesus has a different perspective – a divine perspective: ?”This illness does not lead to death. ?It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through It.” ?Someday, something will lead to Lazarus? final death, but THIS illness won?t. This illness will lead to an opportunity to glorify God and glorify the Son of God.

God has a greater perspective than we do.

We might only be able to see how evil a situation is, how gut-wrenchingly sad and burdensome it is. ?And God doesn?t deny that. ?We live in a fallen world pervaded with heartbreak, devastation and death. ?It is sad. ?Jesus doesn?t refute that.

He doesn?t say, ?Oh, Lazarus isn?t that bad.? ?It?s just that Jesus, as God, sees a much more complete panorama than anyone else. ?He can see whole picture, the whole vista. ?He can see the future and knows what he is going to do. ?He?s going to take something evil – Lazarus? death – and turn it to God?s glory.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ?(Romans 8:28)

For his children, God takes all things, including genuinely evil things – sickness, injustice, sin, hurt, divorce, depression, accidents, hunger, pain, poverty – and triumphs over them, causing them to bring us good. ?He takes poison and transforms it into a cure. ?He takes a crucifixion and transforms it into salvation for multitudes.

Jesus answered Martha and Mary?s request – not in the way they expected, but in a far greater way.

He could have come immediately and healed Lazarus, which would have been wonderful. ?But instead, by delaying, he glorified himself in a much greater way by raising Lazarus from the dead – a much more amazing miracle.? Jesus could answer your prayers immediately if he wanted to.? If he hasn’t he’s got something far greater in mind for you.

Trust him.? Wait for him.

photo by zaana

Exciting Announcement – New eBook!

I’m very excited to announce that on Tuesday, May 29th, I’ll be releasing a new eBook! The book is called Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff.

The title may lead you to think that the book is just for creative, artsy, fartsy types, but that’s not true. I believe that God has given every person creative gifts, and that all of us are called to use our creative gifts for the glory of God. This book is intended to inspire and motivate Christians to start using the creative gifts that God has given them for the glory of God and the good of others. It’s a book for artists and homemakers, poets and plumbers, architects and accountants. In other words, this book is for you.

The book is going to be cheap – only $2.99 – and if you plan on purchasing it I would love it if you could purchase it on the release day, so that it goes higher on the Kindle list. I’ll also be selling it in PDF format for those that don’t have a Kindle.

Here are a few nice things that have been said about the book:

This piece on creativity is a gem. Conversational, practical, and biblical. As Christians we have the Creator as our Father, and so we should be the ones with the most creativity. Sadly today Christianity is reduced to corny songs and cheesy t-shirts. However, in this short e-book I was greatly encouraged deep in my soul to step out in faith and be creative knowing my Father already loves me and approves of me in Jesus. Stephen winsomely shows how we aren’t just supposed to be creative, but its actually what we were created for!

- Jefferson Bethke, poet, author of ?Why I Love Jesus, But Hate Religion?

Create, by my friend Stephen Altrogge, will inspire you to do just that. It’s biblical, gospel-driven, practical, insightful, funny, and only 43 pages. Whether you think you’re an artist or not, Stephen will inspire you to do what you do better for God’s glory.

- Bob Kauflin, author of Worship Matters, director of worship for Sovereign Grace Ministries

Out of nothing God created matter, out of the unformed matter he formed the world, and then he stood back and enjoyed it all. It was Augustine who suggested musicians do the same thing by embracing unformed silence and order it into tones and notes and symmetry and beauty. And as Stephen so skillfully shows us in this book, this applies to musicians and composers and equally to bankers and bakers, painters and poets, homemakers and handymen. In the ordering of our small portion of the world we image the Creator. I was made to create. You were made to create. And if you’re not sure what that means for you, or if you’re just not convinced it’s true, read this short book to be persuaded and inspired and (maybe most importantly) disciplined for a life of making stuff.

- Tony Reinke, creator of the book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Stephen Altrogge is a creative guy, and this is a short, easily digestible, Biblical book that will encourage you to be creative and won’t cut into your time to be creative. It’s also full of practical scriptural wisdom on taking criticism and the value of working hard.

- Ted Kluck, award-winning author of several books, including Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories and Dallas and the Spitfire

Do We Expect The Miraculous To Happen?

When you gather with other Christians, do you expect miraculous things to happen? I mean, genuine, bonified, no doubt about it, miracles? I don’t. I expect three things to happen:

  • Sing
  • Sermon / small group discussion / something else
  • Snack(s)

The end.

But in Galatians 3:5 Paul says:

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?just as Abraham ?believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness??

Paul expected that when the Galatians gathered for worship, the Spirit would work miracles among them. What sort of miracles? He doesn’t say, but I can imagine that he had all sorts of things in mind, like miracles of healing, specific prophetic words, prayers of encouragement, someone being born again, and a whole lot of other things. Paul just assumed that those things were happening. Miracles. All the time. Because the Spirit was in the their midst.

Let’s raise our expectations for what happens when we gather to sing, pray, hear the word, and encourage one another.

Yeah?

How To Pray For Your Pastor As He Steps Into the Pulpit

Charles Spurgeon

Preaching is scary business. Not the getting up in front of people part. I got over my fear of public speaking a long time ago. Plus, I have a high tolerance for making a public fool of myself, so I don’t get too worried about falling off the stage or accidentally tripping over something.

If all I were doing was public speaking I wouldn’t be nervous at all. I’m a decent public speaker. I mean, I’m no Martin Luther King Jr., but I think I’m tolerable (I do have a dream, but it involves wearing sweatpants for an entire weekend). People tell me that I’m a good public speaker. But there is a huge difference between preaching and public speaking. A person can be a good public speaker who is engaging, humorous, powerful, and insightful, and yet still be ineffective as a preacher.

In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul says:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul wasn’t a fancy pants preacher. He didn’t dazzle and shimmer with brilliant words and humorous illustrations. He didn’t have a big screen behind him, projecting him in larger than life, 3D fashion. He says that he came in weakness and fear, with much trembling. That doesn’t sound very impressive. That doesn’t sound like the kind of guy you want leading an evangelistic rally. It sounds more like the kind of guy who would work in a cubicle and play World of Warcraft every night.

And yet Paul’s preaching was incredibly effective. The Corinthians heard the word of God and were saved. Why? Because Paul’s preaching was accompanied by a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. In other words, the Holy Spirit took Paul’s “weak” words and caused them to detonate in the hearts of the Corinthians. Without the Spirit, Paul’s preaching was nothing more than weak, unimpressive words. But the Spirit made Paul’s words powerful – so powerful that the Corinthians believed in Christ and were saved.

So when your pastor steps into the pulpit, pray that his words would be accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you want your life to be changed by the sermon? Then pray desperately for your pastor. Pray that the Spirit would take his weak, feeble words, and transform them into a fiery spiritual weapon. Pray that your pastor’s words would pierce hearts and transform lives.

If your pastor has the “perfect” sermon, with the smoothest transitions, the most descriptive illustrations, and the best Bible explanation, yet doesn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit, he’s got nothing. His sermon won’t do anything.

When your pastors step up to the pulpit this weekend, pray for him to have power.