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May 08, 2010

In his book Expository Listening (read my review) Ken Ramey offers a list of ways you can “Plan Ahead, and Schedule Your Week Around the Ministry of the Word.”

“For the majority of people, even church members, church is not the priority of their week. Too often school, work, sports, and other activities take precedence over going to church. They make the mistake of letting their time be ordered by the world, which views the weekends as a time to relax, to play sports, to stay up late and sleep in. For Christians, however, Sunday should be the most important day of the week. You should try to schedule your work, activities, get-togethers, and vacations around church. You should live by the principle that Sunday morning starts Saturday night.”

He offers several practical suggestions on how to prioritize the Lord’s Day:

  • Make it a habit to be home on Saturday night.
  • Be careful not to do, watch, or read anything that will cause lingering distractions in your mind the next day.
  • Get things ready on Saturday night to alleviate the typical Sunday morning rush (lay out clothes, set the table, write the offering check, stock the diaper bag, etc).
  • Get a good night’s sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It’s hard to listen when you’re nodding off.
  • Eat a simple but adequate breakfast that will hold you until lunch. It’s difficult to hear over the grumbling of your stomach.
  • Work together with the other members of your family to get ready, and to establish and maintain a godly atmosphere on the way to church. Listen to music, sing, and pray together.
  • Arrive at church ten minutes early instead of ten minutes late so you have enough time to find a parking spot, drop the kids off in the nursery or their Sunday school classes, get a cup of coffee, visit with your friends, and find a seat.

“When you fail to plan ahead,” he warns, “Sunday morning ends up becoming a chaotic crisis, and by the time you get to church, you are frustrated and frazzled and your heart is in no condition to receive the Word. But when you plan well and are able to arrive in a relaxed, leisurely way, you will be in a much more receptive frame of mind.”

There is some valuable food for thought as we all look forward to worshiping the Lord tomorrow.

November 03, 2009

Unleashing the WordWhen was the last time you read a book about reading? Maybe you have read Adler’s How to Read a Book or another like it. When was the last time you read a book about reading Scripture? Maybe you have read a book about how to do better personal devotions and have found there some ideas about reading Scripture in a more effective way. But when was the last time you read a book about the public reading of Scripture in the worship service? It’s a pretty safe bet that you never have read such a book; only a very few exist. I was excited, then, to see Max McLean’s Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture. “I want to help you learn to present the Bible in such a way that your audience can engage the Word with their heart, mind, and soul as they hear it being read aloud,” he says in his introduction. “The goal is ultimately transformation—their lives will be touched and changed, just as the original hearers were.”

August 08, 2009

I came across an interesting quote in Joshua Kendall’s book The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus. It is a biography of Peter Mark Roget, the man behind the creation of the famous thesaurus that bears his name. In 1824 Roget married Mary Hobson (who, like her husband, was of Huguenot stock) and, by all accounts, they had a very happy marriage. Sadly, the marriage lasted only nine years before Mary died of cancer. After her death, Roget found a letter she had written to him a few years earlier when she had been pregnant with their daughter and when she thought the pregnancy might cost her life. These words were of great comfort to Roget as he grieved for his wife. They are sweetly biblical and earnestly heartfelt.

These few lines then will be seen by you alone. They are to repeat to you, my precious, how dearly I love you, and to thank you for the sweet tenderness and kindness which have made the last year of my life so very, very happy. Do not, love, think of me in sorrow, for God will let us be happy again where we need not fear to be separated any more. If I leave you a sweet infant, it will comfort you and you will cherish it for my sake. But more than all, you will be comforted by that firm confidence in the goodness and Mercy of our Heavenly Parent, which we have so often talked of together as the dearest hold of our consoling religion. … And God will keep you and bless you till he wills that we may meet again.

From The Man Who Made Lists by Joshua Kendall.

(Parenthetically, while it seems that Mary very likely was a true believer, Roget gave little evidence, especially later in life, of a heartfelt profession of faith in Christ)

July 05, 2009

This morning, as most of the readers of this site head to church to worship the Lord, it seemed appropriate to post a few words on worship. These words come courtesy of D.A. Carson and his book Worship by the Book. Here Carson has just offered a definition of worship and he is now expanding upon it, challenging the reader to pursue true worship.


In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feelings” of things - whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is “better worship” there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.

This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like “Let’s forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.” The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three of four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God—not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God—his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months’ time. Sheep lie down when they are well fed (cf. Psalm 23:2); they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus commanded Peter (John 21); and many sheep are unfed. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.

We do not expect the garage mechanic to expatiate on the wonders of his tools; we expect him to fix the car. He must know how to use his tools, but he must not lose sight of the goal. So we dare not focus on the mechanics of corporate worship and lose sight of the goal. We focus on God himself, and thus we become more godly and learn to worship—and collaterally we learn to edify one another, forbear with one another, challenge one another.

June 23, 2008

Only on rare occasions can I bring myself to buy greeting cards. When it is Aileen’s birthday or when it is our anniversary, I either tell her how I feel (not something I’m particularly good at most of the time) or I buy a blank card and fill it with my own words. Or occasionally, to my shame, I forgo to card altogether. For some reason it just seems fake, disingenuous, to give her a card with a little poetic inscription written by someone else—someone who has never met her and knows nothing about her. What do the words mean when they’ve come from someone else? It seems that a card like that really means nothing to me, and I would rather give her a card that has come from my heart rather than the mind of a stranger. I prefer to invest the time and affection in expressing myself for her benefit.

Have you ever stopped to consider what it must be like to work for Hallmark or another of the companies that create greeting cards? Imagine spending your whole day attempting to come up with wonderful statements of deep feeling—love, remorse, sympathy—yet without feeling any of the associated emotions. Imagine having to write words that express sympathy, yet not feeling any sympathy yourself. Or imagine having to write words that can express the deep, passionate love a man has for his wife as they celebrate fifty years of marriage, but without having ever experienced that sort of love yourself. It must be very odd to spend the whole day writing words of love and passion from a husband to a wife but then return alone to an empty home and a life lived alone.

I fear that all too often I, as a Christian, can worship God in just this way. So often I sing songs with the most wonderful lyrics, but in a way that betrays my true feelings. I sing “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” But when I sing those words, so often it is as if I am a single man writing a greeting card to celebrate a fiftieth wedding anniversary. Though the words may sound wonderful, they are devoid of any true understanding. When I sing “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” do I even try to understand just how amazing God’s grace is? Have I experienced that grace and allowed it to transform my life? Do I know that the very grace I sing about is the only thing keeping me from an eternity of separation from God? Do I feel deep love and affection to the giver of grace? Or do I merely parrot back the words?

True worship relies on both feeling and understanding, or as Jesus said, on spirit and truth. Worship that is devoid of feeling and emotion will be dead worship, for the God we serve is worthy of feelings that express His worth. He evokes these feelings in those who love Him. It is the very height of hypocrisy to pay lip-service to God when I do not truly feel affection for Him. At the same time worship needs to be thoughtful. While it engages my feelings it must also engage my mind. My feelings must have their basis in what I know about God so that the more I know about Him the greater will be my feelings of affection for Him.

Before I married my wife I heard time and again from the wonderful older couples in our church that after forty, fifty or even sixty years of marriage, they continued to love each other more deeply and more intimately. I marveled that this could be true, yet through the first decade of my marriage I have already seen that it is not only possible but it is the way God intended marriage to be. I love my wife in a deeper way now than I did the day we exchanged vows. In the ensuing years we have faced trials together and have spent countless thousands of hours talking and laughing and worshiping together. The more I learn about Aileen and the more time I spend with her the greater my feelings of affection for her. To know her is to love her, and to know her more is to love her more.

Likewise, great knowledge of God must produce great feelings of affection for Him. These feelings of affection give me the burning desire to worship Him. I long to express my feelings, not as a means to some devious or selfish end, but simply as an expression of the affection I have for Him. As such, worship is not a means to an end, but it is an end in itself.

December 02, 2007

I was raised as part of a Christian tradition that did not place a lot of emphasis on the religious component of the Christmas season. Christmas was a time for family and for friends and for being grateful for all the blessings given us by God, but did not include a lot of distinctly Christian traditions. It is with some interest, then, that I read of advent and the traditions of other people around the Christmas season.

September 21, 2007

Worship in the Light of Eternity

A Taste of Heaven by R.C. SproulAny time I set out to write a review of a book by R.C. Sproul I feel compelled to begin by lauding his accomplishments. But surely I can dispense with that formality this time. I am confident most of my readers know of Sproul and have benefited from his ministry and from his almost unparalleled teaching ability. We talk these days about a Reformed revival and about “Young, Restless, Reformed.” No discussion on the modern revival of Reformed theology can ignore the role of Dr. Sproul. While perhaps less visible in ministry than in days past, he continues to be profoundly influential.

August 01, 2007

Mark and Stephen Altrogge - In a Little WhileWould you like to win a great new CD? If so, get reading!

Today I’m featuring an interview with singers and songwriters Mark and Stephen Altrogge. And at the end of it all I’ll be giving away three copies of their new CD. Mark Altrogge is Senior Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, a position he has held for over twenty five years. Mark has written numerous worship songs that have been published and recorded by Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly PDI Ministries), Integrity Music, Glad, Anne Herring, Matthew Ward, and others. His most well-know songs are “I Stand in Awe” and “Forever Grateful”. He and his wife Kristi have five children (one of whom is, of course, Stephen). Stephen Altrogge is twenty five and recently married Jen. The couple are expecting their first child in September. Stephen attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a degree in Management Information Systems, and has recently begun serving as pastoral intern at the church.

Mark and Stephen teamed up to record In a Little While which has just been released by Sovereign Grace Music. It is available in CD or MP3 format and if you are interested you can download a free song at the Sovereign Grace site.

Mark and Stephen were kind enough to talk to me and to answer some questions about the album, about the state of worship music today, and about who would be likely to win if a fight broke out between the Altrogges and the Kauflins (because we’ve all been wondering about that, haven’t we?).

Tim Challies: How did In a Little While come about? Why did you decide to record an album together?

Stephen Altrogge: Originally the plan was to do an album of just my dad’s songs, which I thought was a phenomenal idea. If anyone should have an album, it’s my dad, who has been writing God-glorifying songs for the last twenty-five years. At some point along the way the decision was made to include me on the album as well, which really astonished me. However, I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to work together with my dad on this album.

Mark Altrogge: The originator of the idea is Pat Ennis, executive director of Sovereign Grace Ministries. One of C.J. Mahaney’s burdens for Sovereign Grace Ministries is that we seek to pass a passion for the gospel on to the next generation. I believe that part of the idea for the album was to express this burden for the next generation and our joy in seeing God beginning to bring this about in many families. I was astounded that Sovereign Grace would want Stephen and I to do an album together.

TC: Why did you settle on In a Little While as the title for this album?

SA: The title is from the song of the same name. We felt that In A Little While led people in a direction of hope for the future and eager expectation of what is to come. In a short time we will see the glorious face of Jesus Christ. In a little while all tears will be wiped away, all sorrows erased, and we will be filled with inexpressible joy. We live in a world of suffering and sadness, but only for a little while. Soon the night will be over and we will be in heaven with Christ for eternity. What a glorious thought!

MA: It’s good for believers to be regularly reminded that our hope of glory is seeing Christ’s face. And though our trials can at times seem heavy and unending, in a little while we will see that compared to the weight of glory our trials are producing, they are really only light and momentary.

TC: Stephen, which of your father’s songs on this album do you like best and why? And Mark, which of Stephen’s songs on this album do you like best and why?

SA: My favorite by far is the song ‘Be Exalted’. I love it for two reasons. First, it beautifully expresses the desire of the Christian’s heart. As a follower of Christ, my desire is to see Christ exalted in everything I say and do. My passion in life is to see Christ magnified, glorified, and lifted high. My heart says, “Be exalted oh God in my life!” This song captures that desire. Second, I love the song because it is really catchy and has a great melody. It makes you want to sing along. The combination of glorious truth and beautiful melody is what makes this song so good.

MA: I have a hard time choosing a favorite of Stephen’s songs, but I would say, “You’ll Provide for Me”. The first verse reminds us that the God who feeds the creatures of the earth will surely care for his children. Then it points to God’s promise in Romans 8:32 that he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to meet our greatest need, reconciliation to God, will surely provide for all our lesser needs. The chorus is a passionate cry, “So I will trust in you!” Verse 2 expresses our need to rest in God’s goodness and sovereignty - we can’t emphasize these aspects of God’s character enough. In response to God’s goodness and sovereignty we cry out, “So I will trust in you!” All this set to driving, memorable music.

TC: Do you intend for these songs to be used for corporate worship? Assuming you’ve already introduced these to your congregation, which songs have proven best as songs suitable for corporate worship?

SA: I would be disappointed if these songs were not used in corporate worship. These songs were written primarily for the church, with the hope that through these songs people would find their affections for God kindled and their hearts drawn to God in love. We haven’t introduced all the songs to our church yet. However, we have done “At the Cross”, “I Will Cast My Cares”, “Hail the Risen King”, and “You’ll Provide For Me”, which have all worked well in corporate worship.

MA: I hope that all the songs will serve churches. That is always our goal.

TC: As Christian songwriters, do you ever feel pressure to write the worship song of the year—to write this year’s “How Great is Our God” or “Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (or perhaps I should say the next “I Stand in Awe”)? Do you ever find that it is difficult to be satisfied with anything other than a smash hit?

SA: By God’s grace, I don’t feel pressure to write the worship song of the year. My desire is to write songs that will bring glory to God and serve the church. I don’t need to write a smash hit to do those things.

MA: Very few songs ever get to the Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman level. I don’t consider myself even in their league. Actually, I don’t even think about trying to write the next worship hit, (I don’t think Chris or Matt do either). I just want to write the best songs I can and hope God will use them to glorify himself and bless local churches. I also hope that some of these songs will minister to individuals who are suffering, to encourage them to trust God’s wise and loving plans.

TC: What is the key (or what are the keys) to writing a worship song that honors God and stands the test of time?

SA: I think the key to writing a worship song that honors God and stands the test of time is the combination of glorious biblical truth and beautiful melody. God is honored when our hearts are engaged with His truth. For this to happen there must be a combination of God-honoring truth and heart-stirring melody.

MA: I agree with Stephen. I would just add that the best worship songs have something fresh and creative about the way the truth is stated and something fresh about the melody and arrangement, and the lyrics and melody are memorable.

TC: Mark, how has being a senior pastor at the same church for over 25 years influenced your song-writing? Does this give you a different perspective than a person who deals exclusively (or almost exclusively) with worship or music?

MA: Being a Senior Pastor for over 25 years has definitely influenced my songwriting. I have had the benefit and responsibility of spending time reading and studying, and being equipped by those over me who care for me. Being involved in the trenches of local church life and pastoring, I’ve seen the challenges people face and how solid doctrine benefits believers. All of this helps me as a songwriter who desires to serve the local church.

TC: If I am properly gaging the Christian music industry, it seems that we are just beginning to emerge from a brief worship craze during which every artist had to release a worship album or two. We’ve seen a huge number of new worship songs created in the just the past five or ten years. Has this been a good development for the church? Did this time result in an outpouring of God-honoring songs that have blessed the church and that will stand the test of time?

SA: There have been some phenomenal songs and some not so good songs written in the last ten years. In some ways this increased focus on worship has been very good for the church in that it has resulted in songs such as “Blessed Be Your Name”, “In Christ Alone”, and “Here I Am To Worship”. However, I think there is a danger of thinking that worship is solely about singing. Worship is first and foremost about living a life that honors God. Singing songs of worship is just part of the picture.

MA: Worship music has come a long way from my early Christian days when I would sing, “This is the Day” and “Joy is the Flag Flown from the Castle of my Heart” over and over (though for me as a new believer, the truth that “this is the day the Lord has made” was revolutionary). Stephen mentioned some great recent worship songs, many of which were recorded on “artist” albums. This has been good for the church - our church has benefited from many of these songs. I’m glad more and more people are writing worship songs. More songs for churches to choose from - more glory to God! Keep ‘em coming! Obviously, there will be more average songs, but more good ones will rise to the top as well.

TC: What are your hopes for this album? How will you measure its success?

SA: I have two hopes for this album. First, that God would be glorified through these songs. My desire is that God would use these songs to glorify and magnify the name of Jesus Christ. And the great thing is, I know that this will happen, because God is in the business of glorifying Himself. Second, I want to see people’s hearts stirred with fresh love for God through these songs. My prayer is that God would use these songs to create new affections in the hearts of many Christians. I believe God will do this as well, because He desires to see His people love Him with all their hearts.

MA: I hope God is glorified, his people edified and encouraged to delight in him more. As someone has said, God has not called us to be successful, but faithful. We (and the folks at Sovereign Grace Ministries) have tried to be faithful with the measure Christ has given us. Jesus will do what he desires with the album and I hope it pleases him to bless churches and stir individual Christians to love, trust and follow him.

TC: Stephen, rumor has it that you have just finished writing a book. Can you tell us what the book is about, who is publishing it, and when we’ll be likely to see it on store shelves?

SA: I recently wrote a book entitled “Game Day and the Glory of God: Playing, Watching, and Talking Sports For the Glory of God”. This book seeks to determine how a Christian might play, watch, and talk about sports in a way the pleases God and brings Him glory. As Christians, we are called to do everything for the glory of God, including playing, watching, and talking about sports. This book is meant to help Christians do that. The kind folks at Crossway Books have agreed to publish the book and I’m guessing it will hit the shelves sometime next year.

TC: And really, the most important question of all: if Bob and Devon Kauflin were to take on Mark and Stephen Altrogge in a tag-team wrestling cage match, which pair would win and why? (Asking this question allowed me to learn that “Altrogge” apparently passes muster in Microsoft’s spell checker while “Kauflin” does not)

SA: Hmm, that’s a tough question. Let’s assume for a moment that each of us is armed with his primary instrument. In that case I’d have to give the victory to the Altrogge’s. After all, how is Bob going to use a grand piano as a weapon? However, if the fight was based purely upon brute strength, I’d have to give the victory to the Kauflin’s. However, if lightsabers were involved…

MA: Bob isn’t mean enough to beat me, and he’s so tall that when he would go to grab me all he’d get is a few wisps of my hair from my increasingly wispy head. By that time, I’d have taken out his knees…now Devon, he’s pretty mean…….

Would you like to win a copy of the CD? I’ve got three to give away. Simply send an email to giveaway@challies.com with a subject of “CD” for your chance to win. Please include your name (which will be used to announce the winner). No other personal information will be made public and I will keep the email addresses private. The giveaway will end in exactly 24 hours.