The (Almost) Effortless Way To Bless Others

by Mark Altrogge at The Blazing Center blog

Much of our serving others requires effort, labor and time. Helping a family move or babysitting or cooking a meal for someone involves work.

But God gives us an almost effortless way to bless others.

A little thought might be required, maybe, but you’re not going to break into a sweat or pull a muscle doing this.  (If you do, you’re really out of shape.)  This way of blessing others is so easy, we shouldn’t be rewarded for it, but our lavish God does.

Here it is:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life  (Proverbs 10.11)

With our mouths we can give life to others.  We can encourage, thank, appreciate, build up, edify, and point others to Christ with our mouths.  We can stir up, give hope, lift up the downcast and love.  We can teach, bless and sing God’s glorious truths. We can strengthen the weary, or point out where God is working in their lives.  We can pray for others, express our compassion and warn against temptation.  We can welcome newcomers to church.  We can counsel, read Scriptures to each other and share our testimonies.  We can extend forgiveness, teach our children, and tell the good news of Jesus.

Not only can our mouths impart life to others; we can benefit ourselves with our mouths.  When we thank and praise God or rehearse his promises to ourselves, we build our faith and increase our joy.

O Lord Jesus,
Thank you for the gift of speech
Please use me this week
To give life to others
To encourage the weary
To lift up the faint-hearted
To point people to their Savior
To build up your saints
To give your people grace and hope
Please fill me with your Spirit
And give me boldness and opportunities
To share the gospel.
Thank you, Lord.

Calling All Dead Dogs

by Mark Altrogge at The Blazing Center

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And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.   And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.”   And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”   And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson.   And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.   Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.”  So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet. 2 Samuel 9:1-13

What a wonderful picture of God’s grace.

Mephibosheth was useless to David – he had nothing he could offer the mighty king of Israel.  He’d been lame in both his feet, since childhood when his nurse dropped him (2 Samuel 4:4) and crippled him for life.  Mephibosheth had done nothing to deserve David’s kindness.  He was astounded that David would heap such amazing blessings on his head.  ”What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

But David didn’t pour out his kindness on Mephibosheth because he had anything to offer David. He did it for the sake of his father,  Jonathan, David’s friend (1,7).  And what an astounding blessing David poured out – not only did he give him a boatload of servants to till his land and bring him the produce, he gave Mephibosheth a permanent place of honor at his own table (7).  For the rest of his days, Mephibosheth would eat the king’s delicacies and enjoy fellowship with David himself.

Like Mephibosheth, we were spiritually ruined, having been born in sin (Psalm 51). We had nothing to offer God, deserving only judgment and condemnation.  Each of us could well have asked God: “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”  Yet as David blessed Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake, so our Heavenly Father heaps blessings on us for Jesus’ sake.  He accepts, loves, and delights in us because of Christ.

God has seated us dead dogs at his own table.  But not because we deserve it.  He fulfills his promises, gives us gifts and fills our hearts with joy because of  Jesus.

Do you think Mephibosheth was grateful? I’d guess he gushed with thanks every time he took a heaping bite of royal beef or a sip of David’s choice wine. For all the grace God’s heaped on us in Christ let’s heap our thanks and praise back on him.

22 Ways To Humble Ourselves

by Mark Altrogge at The Blazing Center

Christians should be the most humble people on earth.

We should be so because we have come to know something of God’s infinite greatness and our own unworthiness before him. Here are some reasons why we should humble ourselves before God and some suggestions on how to do it.

Why we should humble ourselves

– Because Christ was humble and we should imitate him.
– So that God can exalt us as he sees fit. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:10
– Because “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). We shouldn’t need any more reasons than this. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want God resisting me and I need all the grace I can get.
– Because there is safety in humility. Pride comes before a fall – the humble are less likely to fall, and if they do they don’t have as far to fall.

How to humble ourselves

– Contemplate the infinite greatness of God
– Consider your innumerable sins against God and the unbelievable mercy he’s poured out on you
– Contemplate your human frailty. Your every breath and heartbeat, your eyes, ears, strength, and mental health are all from God. He could remove them at any time.
– Contemplate your complete inability to control a single thing in this life.
– Realize that every good thing, talent and gift you have is a gift from God which he could remove at any time.
– Contemplate that if God did not keep you from sin you’d plunge headlong into it
– Confess your sins and temptations to God and others
– Ask forgiveness of those you sin against, even if they sinned against you first. Even if they don’t ask your forgiveness in return.
– Be quick to listen and slow to share your own opinions
– Don’t be so sure you’re right all the time
– Consider that there are multitudes far more gifted and godly than you are
– Cultivate thankfulness
– Contemplate your many areas of weakness – share them with others
– Realize you’re dispensable. If you died today, things would go on just fine without you.
– Realize that the things that bother you about others may be things you do as well
– Invite constructive criticism.
– Serve others. Wash others’ feet. Take on lowly jobs in your church.
– Take an interest in others. Consider others more important than yourself.
– Pray.  Prayer is an act of dependence and humility.
– Ask for help, wisdom and prayer from others.
– When others compliment you, thank them, then give all the glory to God in silent prayer.
– Rejoice when others are promoted, praised or honored.

What would you add?

P.S. I’ve got to add one more.  Probably the most important one:

– Regularly contemplate the cross.  Nothing should humble us more than the perfect, sinless, Son of God willingly pouring out his life to rescue those who hated him and rebelled against him.

(If you have more suggestions, go to the origianl post at 22 Ways To Humble Ourselves)

When God Takes You Through The Desert

by Mark Altrogge at The Blazing Center

God leads every believer into the desert at one time or another.

Well, maybe not every believer.  I can’t give you a Bible verse that says that.  But in over 30 years of pastoring, I’d say God leads most believers into the desert at one time or another.

Moses spent 40 years in the desert before God raised him up to lead Israel out of Egypt. As soon as God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt he took them into the desert. David did a lot of desert time hiding out from Saul before God made him king.  And the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert after his baptism for 40 days.

Lots of circumstances can be “deserts.”

A prolonged sickness can be a desert. Moving to a new place or joining a new church where you don’t know anyone can be one.  Being stuck in a miserable or boring job instead of the fulfilling career you had hoped for can be a desert.  A rebellious child or an unbelieving spouse can be a desert.

When we’re in the desert it can feel like God’s not doing anything.  Or he’s set us aside.  But God is always at work. He uses desert experiences in many ways, as we see in Dt 8:2-6:

Deserts humble us

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you (v2)

Deserts reveal what is in our hearts

Testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (v2)

Deserts teach us to live by God’s word

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (v3)

Deserts teach us that God can provide for us in any circumstances.

Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.  (v4)

Deserts teach us to fear and obey God

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.  So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. (v5-6)

When Moses, Israel, David, and Jesus were in the desert God was preparing them for something greater.  If you’re in the d

In Our Church We’re Invisible

from The Blazing Center by Mark Altrogge

The teenager made his way over to the elderly gentleman who was in town visiting his children and grandchildren and had joined us for worship that Sunday. The boy smiled and stuck out his hand. “Hi Mr. B-, How are you today?”

“Fine, Jack, fine. And how are you doing? How’s track going? Won any races lately?”

A brief, pleasant interchange that lasted no more than a couple minutes. Nothing you’d think would affect anyone. But later, when the elderly man talked with the teen’s mom he said, “I can’t believe how friendly your son is. He went out of his way to greet me and shake my hand. The teens back home don’t seem to know we exist. In our church we’re invisible.”

None of us are invisible to Christ, who went infinitely out of his way to bring salvation into our lives. Romans 12:5 tells us that we are all members one of another, whether we’re young or old, rich or poor, blue collar or white. None of us who belong to Jesus should be blind to brothers or sisters who are different from us. Paul said to associate with the lowly. Jesus received children gladly. Jesus looked to our interests, and as those who are joined to him, we should imitate him.

Apart from Christ, we’re self-absorbed, inward-looking and cliquish. But Christ in us makes us others-oriented, outward-looking and desirous to embrace even those who aren’t like us.

Who’s invisible in your church? Who can you make a beeline to this week?

25 Ways To Pursue Joy In Christ

by Mark Altrogge at The Blazing Center blog

God promises his children joy, and many times he fills us with it without our asking.  But at other times, especially when we go through trials, we must fight for it.  Much of the battle lies in fighting to believe God’s word.

For some the battle for joy is much harder than others.  Some must deal with their own tendencies to being downcast. Depression and hard, long, sad afflictions can make Jesus’ joy seem beyond reach.  Yet God’s word says it’s his intent to give us his joy both in this life and especially in the next.  So here are some ways to pursue joy in Christ:

1.    Praise God for the cross: for his mercy and grace in saving you.
2.    Thank him for all his spiritual benefits: forgiveness, adoption, the Word, spiritual gifts, the church.
3.    Ask Jesus to fill you with his own joy (JN 15:11).
4.    Thank him for his steadfast love that never ceases.
5.    Thank God for your temporal blessings: for your spouse or for the blessings of being single, kids, health, sight, food, strength, home, computer and coffee.
6.    Praise God for his attributes: his greatness, sovereignty, goodness, love, wisdom and power.
7.    Praise Jesus for being a compassionate high priest who intercedes for you.
8.    Thank him for all the specific good he is producing in you through trials: patience, perseverance, and faith.
9.    Thank God for his past faithfulness.
10.    Give to the kingdom.
11.    Give to the poor.
12.    Serve others (PHP 1:25).
13.    Don’t dwell on whether you are joyful or not.  Try to forget yourself.
14.    Thank the Lord that he is making you like Christ.
15.    Seek God’s presence in prayer (PS 16.11; PS 43.4).
16.    Read the Word – it produces joy (PS 119.111; JE 15:16).
17.    Thank God that he will never turn away from doing good to you (JE 32:40).
18.    Ask others to pray for God to fill you with joy.
19.    Ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of joy in you.
20.    Confess your sins to God and ask him to restore the joy of your salvation (PS 51:12).
21.    Memorize God’s promises to give you joy and ask him to fulfill them (JN 16:24; RO 14:17; 15:13; PS 4:7; 30:5; 68:3; 97:11; 126:6).
22.    Consider others who have it much worse than you.
23.    Pray for others who are suffering.
24.    Contemplate the joys of heaven and the world to come.
25.    Read John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy

The Forgetfulness That Leads To Depression

http://theblazingcenter.com/2015/02/the-forgetfulness-that-leads-to-depression.html

4 Reasons to Pursue Humility

by Mark Altrogge, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA

Our culture constantly tells us to build our self-esteem and think highly of ourselves.

Yet the Bible urges us to do the opposite. To pursue humility. It’s actually a glorious pursuit. And we have plenty of reasons to be humble. Here are a few:

We can’t control anything. We like to think we are in control. We make plans, write out our lists, book our flights, mark our calendars. Yet we can’t control a single thing.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13–15

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know what the next hour will bring. Or the next 5 minutes for that matter. One little artery in our brain could burst. We could get a phone call with news that will alter our lives permanently. I don’t live in fear of the unknown, but it is humbling to contemplate our lack of control over our lives.

We are only here for a tiny blip of time. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” This is humbling. We are nothing great. In the blink of an eye we’ll be gone. We can’t keep our own hearts beating or maintain our breathing. We can’t keep ourselves alive. We can exercise and eat well, and that has some value, but it won’t add a single hour to our lives. God has determined the number of our days.

Read more: http://www.christianity.com/christian-life/4-reasons-to-pursue-humility.html

8 Ways To Beat Temptation

from The Blazing Center  by  –  Comments

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We all face temptations of many kinds.  God wants us to beat them. We don’t have to sin, as powerful as temptations feel. Here are 8 ways to gain the victory.

1.  Pray before you are tempted

Jesus instructed his disciples to ask God to pray, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.”  And as he told us to pray “Give us THIS DAY” our daily bread”, it’s good to ask God to deliver us from temptation and evil THIS DAY.

2. Flee.  A good run is better than a bad fall.

Stay as far away sin as you can. Don’t think you won’t fall. If you hired someone to transport your most valuable possessions, you wouldn’t tell them to see how close to the edge of a cliff they could drive. In Proverbs 7 a “young man lacking sense” wanders near the house of an woman at twilight, and just “happens” to run into her. She’s dressed sensually. She says her husband’s gone and describes her perfumed bed. Eventually he follows her like an ox going to slaughter. Eve got into trouble by engaging with Satan and looking at the how delicious the fruit looked. Flee temptation. Stay out of the car in the park in the dark.

3. Quote Scripture

That’s how Jesus overcame the tempter. When you feel like grumbling remind yourself to “Rejoice always.” When tempted to give a harsh reply think, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” When rankling against correction remind yourself, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Of course to quote Scripture when tempted means we must know it first, which means we must regularly take it in.

4. Pray in the midst of temptation.

Draw near to the throne of grace for help in time of need. Your sympathetic high priest who was tempted as you are yet without sin will help you. (Heb 4).

5. Get a brother or sister to pray with you.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says “though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

6. Ask someone to hold you accountable.

A friend once said to me, “Mark, when I get back from my business trip this week, can you ask me if I watched TV in the hotel room? When I’m alone on trips I can be tempted to watch bad stuff. Knowing you are going to ask me will help me fight temptation.”

7. Remember God’s faithfulness.

“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 CO 10:13). God will never let us be tempted beyond the strength he gives and if we ask he’ll “provide the way of escape” to get us through it.

8. Remind yourself that sin has consequences.

Remember Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband’s death, God forgave him, but told him the sword would never depart from his house, that his own family members would do him great harm and the child he conceived with Bathsheba would die. (2 Sa 12: 10-14).

So here’s a quick summary:

Pray before you are tempted
Flee
Quote Scripture
Pray in the midst of temptation
Get a brother or sister to pray with you
Ask someone to hold you accountable
Remember God’s faithfulness
Remind yourself that sin has consequences

Keep fighting the good fight!

The Power Of Godly Example

by  at The Blazing Center – Comment

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Nothing stinks like hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy disillusions those who have listened to us and trusted us. Hypocrisy renders our words useless and empty. It makes our children cynical and undermines all we try to teach them. There’s nothing more empty than “Do what I say, not what I do.”

On the other hand, words backed by actions are powerful. Our actions can prove we really believe what we say and that others can believe us too. When we can say, “Do what I say AND what I do,” our words will have power and influence.

Paul unashamedly encouraged others to imitate his life.

1 CO 4.16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

In fact, he told the Philippians they should model their lives after him, and observe and imitate the lives of others who lived like him.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. PHP 3:17

Paul knew that example is a powerful teacher. A picture is worth a thousand words.

What examples are you leaving for others? What stories will others have to tell about you? What will they recall about how you react to pressure, or how you respond to someone’s anger? About your faith in the fire or your endurance and joy in tough times? About your generosity or your mercy to others?

What stories will your children have to tell about you? They’ll probably have funny stories about your quirks and botched projects. My kids have lots of stories they relish telling like about time time I made 20 pizzas hoping to freeze them for future meals, then having to throw them all away because of how bad they tasted. Our kids will most likely have plenty of funny stories to tell about our blunders and mess-ups. But hopefully they will be able to tell others about our joy in Christ, our patience with them, our treatment of those who were unkind to us, our commitment to Christ’s people, our mercy to the poor.

All this means that we need to be with other believers. We can’t just read about the Christian life or watch videos. We need to live our lives with others. Both so we can observe the lives of others for our own imitation, but also for them to see and imitate us. Paul commended Timothy for following his example:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness (2 TI 3:10)

Paul encouraged Timothy for following his teaching – for doing what he said. But he also commended him for doing what he did. For imitating “my aim in life” – Timothy had picked up Paul’s passion. He’d picked up Paul’s goal, Paul’s aim. He imitated the example of Paul’s faith – not simply the truth Paul believed, but the application of that truth. He’d watched Paul live out his faith. And because he had observed Paul in many situations with other believers, he was able to imitate Paul’s patience and love. Because he’d seen Paul joyfully persevere through affliction he could imitate Paul’s steadfastness.

People are watching us. Our children are watching us. Our fellow believers are watching us.  Let’s show them something worth imitating, even as we imitate others.