Gerry Can Finally Leave Town

We’d lost touch with each other over the years.

Gerry had one of the first Beatle haircuts in town and was in “The Legends.” I was in a rival band, “The Signets.” Both were blue-eyed soul bands. The Legends once played a 2-chord instrumental for 3 hours straight on a friend’s front porch. That had to be a Guinness record – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the longest song known to man, was only 17 minutes long and they had gone 3 hours! I think that qualifies for canonization. Gerry had one of the nicest guitars of anyone I knew, a blonde Epiphone Casino like John Lennon’s. We were friends in college, drinking beer together and wasting time in the Student Union drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. After college, my life went downhill until Jesus apprehended me. Gerry’s life took a downward turn as well, and he developed agoraphobia. He would have a panic attack every time he’d attempt to leave town. So from sometime in the 70’s, he became a prisoner of our town. He never left again.

Along the way, Gerry and I both got married, had children, and our lives took different directions. A few years later I heard that he got divorced.

Fast forward 25+ years. One day I see him from a distance in Wal-mart. The Lord prompts me to give him a call. I tell him I’d seen him and wondered if he like to get together for coffee. He’s glad to hear from me and anxious to hook up. So we meet at Starbucks a couple days later, two fifty-something guys getting reacquainted after being out of touch for far too long.

I start off by telling Gerry my favorite memory of him. It was the time a friend and I were supposed to meet him at a campus apartment, but we show up an hour late. When we come in, Gerry is sitting at the kitchen table, studying a beer bottle. He looks up at us, takes a drag on his Kool filter and says, “This is the famous Budweiser beer, brewed with the finest hops and malts….” While waiting for us, he has memorized the entire label on a bottle of Bud. That snapshot pretty much captures our lives back then.

Gerry tells me he has cancer. I wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he tells me that 2 years ago the doctors gave him 2 years after discovering a large tumor in his intestines. He tells me he’s been reading the Bible for a year, which leads to talking about Jesus and his death as a substitute for us. God does something significant that day in our lives. We reestablish our friendship.

For the next year, Gerry and I get together regularly. He comes to our church and some other former friends renew their relationship with him. He meets new friends. Frank becomes a faithful bible study partner, as do Dennis and Tim. Each week they call Gerry and talk about a bible passage. Every Sunday Gerry comes to our church and stands in the back listening to me preach – he’s pretty sick – often in so much pain he can’t sit, but he usually makes it through the message before he has to go home and back to bed.

We go out to lunch once a week – I get the salad bar and load up my plate, but all he can eat is a few fries with gravy. He often treats me. Week after week, we talk of Jesus, as Gerry grows more thin and frail. He tells me that he and Frank are reading 1 John and that Jesus has convicted him that he needs to love people. He tells me that for years he has hated many people but now he has decided to forgive everyone who has ever wronged him. He wants to devote his life to Jesus, doing all he can to please him for the rest of his days. He wants to do as much good to as many people as he can.

In these days of suffering, God gives Gerry a gift – painting pictures. He paints every day. Landscapes, boats and Mediterranean seaport scenes. And he gives his paintings away. One hangs in my office.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday evening. I call and his dad answers. “How is your son?” I ask. “We’re in a death watch. Come over and see Gerry.” I get there and see him, lying in the special bed they’d set up for him in the family room. Gerry’s eyes are open, his breathing is shallow, a “death rattle”. I don’t know if he can hear me, but I hold his hand and tell him Jesus loves him, and thank him for being such a good friend. I tell him that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and pray for him.

Gerry’s dad and mom are there, grieving, watching their son’s last moments. Then his mom says, “Gerry can finally leave town now.” His agoraphobia is over. He’s leaving town – for heaven. For a face to face appointment with his Savior. I tell Gerry goodbye. “I love you, Gerry. See you soon.”

Gerry left town yesterday at 1 in the morning. I can’t wait to see him again.

What To Do When You’re Robbed

Puritan writer Matthew Henry was once robbed by thieves and recorded in his journal:

“Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else.”

How could Matthew Henry rejoice after being hijacked? Because he didn’t derive his joy from his circumstances, but he took joy in the God of his salvation.

Paul and Silas freed a slave girl from a spirit of divination that had kept her in bondage for a long time. Deprived of their cash cow, her owners dragged Paul and Silas before the local magistrates and riled up a mob who proceeded to give Paul and Silas a fine Philippian pounding. Then they tossed them into prison, in the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…(Acts 16:22-25)

Paul and Silas are chained up in a filthy Philippian prison and they’re singing!

I’ve never been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison and fastened in stocks. But if I were, I don’t know if my first inclination would be to sing “I Just Want to Thank You.” That’s not usually the first thought that comes to my mind when the kids put a dent in the car or the back porch ceiling starts leaking.

The reason Paul and Silas could worship in the blockhouse was because they didn’t derive their joy from their circumstances, but took joy in the God of their salvation.

For believers in Christ, the source of our joy is Jesus himself. He’s our fountain of life, our chosen portion, our beautiful inheritance. He’s our meat and drink. And he never changes, no matter how much our circumstances fluctuate. I once flew from Pittsburgh to Toronto. It was overcast and snowing in Pittsburgh, but when the plane rose above the clouds, the sun was blazing in all its glory. When we descended in Toronto it was grey and snowing again. I had a flash of revelation (that’s right folks, it had never dawned on me until that very moment) – no matter what it’s like “down here” in our circumstances, God is still shining like the sun above the clouds. He’s blazing with goodness and kindness and power and love for us. He hasn’t changed any more than the sun changes when it’s raining.

So where does your joy come from? Does it come from your spouse or your children? Does it come from having a nice home or good job? Do you derive your joy from your health or possessions? What if you should lose them all? Would you be able to rejoice?

If you have not yet called upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, and give you eternal life, I urge you to do so right now. If you do know Jesus, be glad and sing praises, no matter what’s happening “down here” in your life. Rejoice in the God of your salvation.

The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants


I’ve come to an interesting, and rather disturbing conclusion regarding myself: I’m not a real big fan of serving in private. I don’t want to do acts of service that nobody is going to see. I want to be up front, in the public eye, serving heroically for all to see. I want to be “Mr. Servant Leader Man”, who is admired by thousands for his selfless sacrificial serving (try saying that over and over). I don’t want to be the guy who is quietly painting a back room in the church, or the guy who faithfully prepares the church budget year after year, or the guy who patiently teaches third graders every Sunday. I want the attention, the glory, the fame of…serving.

At this point some of you are thinking, what a sad little man, and making a mental note to never ask for my help with anything. Pretty ridiculous, isn’t it? Actually, it’s shameful. In my sinful pride, I want to be recognized for my acts of service. I’m not really interested in God’s glory, I’m interested in my own glory. But I want to change. I want to be like John Thornton. Never heard of him? Not surprising. He was a member of “The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants”.

Thornton lived from 1720 to 1790, and was absolutely loaded with cash. He was the type of guy who could have done his shopping from the Neiman Marcus catalog, and then actually bought Neiman Marcus. But Thornton refused to live an extravagant life, instead living in a “…simple manner of life [which] left a large surplus out of his income, the chief part of which constantly flowed into the channel[s] of his beneficence.” (from William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity) In other words, Thornton lived simply so that he could pour money into God-honoring causes.

Thornton paid for Bibles to be printed, and then used his own company ships to send them throughout the world. He gave John Newton an annual allowance of 200 pounds (worth approx. $50,000 today) so that Newton would be free to write songs, books, and be a pastor. He was described as being “plain, frugal, and self-denying in all matters of private expense; and yet liberal in supplying the want of others…”

Do you think many people knew about John Thornton’s sacrificial giving? I doubt it. Yet think of the great good that he accomplished. Because of his secret giving, thousands of Bibles went forth throughout the world. Because of his secret support of John Newton, Newton in turn affected the lives of thousands. Thornton was a secret servant whom God used to accomplish great things. Thornton will receive a glorious reward from the Savior on the final day for his acts of secret service.

What about you? Are you content to serve quietly, secretly, and without anyone knowing? Are you happy to serve wherever there’s a need, even if you don’t get any recognition? I want to be like John Thornton, a happy, quiet, secret servant.

I’m going to sign up to join “The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants”.

photo by Peter Morgan

What To Do When Your Fig Tree Fails

A friend of mine was saved in his twenties. One day as he was driving through the city where he lived, he happened to see a pretty girl walking down the street (she would later become his wife). He was momentarily distracted and slammed into a parked car. I hate that when that happens! He got out of his car to assess the damage. Inspecting the dents, instead of cursing or complaining he began to say, “So what — I’m saved! Praise God, I’m saved! I just smashed my car up, but so what — I’m saved!”

How about you? Do you have the joy of your salvation? If we could only keep our minds on the God of our salvation and the stupendous reality of all he’s done for us we would be celebrating like my friend all day long.

Think about it — Jesus saved us for an eternity of delighting in his glory and majesty. He saved us to know and enjoy him forever in heaven. He spared us from an eternity of misery in hell. He rescued us from the guilt, punishment, and bondage of sin. He delivered us from fear of judgment and condemnation and seated us with himself in heavenly places. He made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation to proclaim his excellencies. And because he saved us, he will keep us to the end and transform us into his own image.

So ultimately, whatever happens to us in this life doesn’t really matter that much because – we’re saved.

Habakkuk expressed this beautifully:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

In Habakkuk’s day, if you were a farmer, your whole life depended on your crops and herds. He describes a worst-case scenario: all his crops fail, all his flocks and herds die. Yet he says, even if all this befalls him, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” In other words, so what — I’m saved!

How this honors God! How it blesses him when we say “Lord, even if you don’t bless me in any other way, you alone are enough for me. You have saved me to bring me to yourself. Your glory is all I need. I rejoice in you.”

So when the mechanic tells you that you need a new transmission, say, “So what — I’m saved.” Depending on how well you know him, you might want to consider saying it to yourself quietly. When the children break your favorite Ming Dynasty vase say, “I will rejoice in the Lord.” When you come downstairs in the morning to discover that Sparky the Wonder Dog left a little surprise in the middle of the living room carpet, you know what to say. And should you be facing something really serious, I would still encourage you to say along with Habakkuk, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

Highlight Reel Updated

The Blazing Center Highlight Reel is a feature of this blog that lets you explore previous posts that you might not have read. Each of these posts is designed to encourage your faith and point you to the Lord, so if you haven’t read these, check them out.

The Permanent Ink of Heaven

Me Versus Paul – Cage Match

4 Symptoms of a Discontented Heart

The Scream of the Damned

How Not to Waste Your Efforts

Announcements By Mark Altrogge

Over the past several years my dad has had the privilege of giving announcements at the Sovereign Grace Ministries WorshipGod conferences. My dad is perhaps the greatest announcement giver of all time, but unfortunately he often abuses his powers, such as in this video when he bashes Bob Kauflin.

Things That Give Me A Bad Feeling

I get a bad feeling when I:

_See the flashing lights of a police car behind me

_Hear a dentist or barber say “woops”

_Hear someone call me by my first, middle, and last name

_Realize I’m watching a movie that features any of the following actors: Keanu Reeves, Bob Saget, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah, or anyone that has ever had a part in “Star Trek”.

_Receive a phone call from a friend asking, “Where are you?”

I particularly don’t like the last one. Why? Because it means that I’ve let a friend down. I’ve told someone that I would be somewhere, and then forgot about it. I haven’t kept my word. I’ve made a promise, and then broken it. To all of you that have called me, asking, “Where are you?”, I apologize.

I’m so grateful that God isn’t like me. He never breaks a promise, and never fails to follow through on His word. His promises are so sure that we can fully rely on them. Listen to the words of Charles Spurgeon:

Our duty to God demands that we accept His promise and act upon it. Every honest man has a right to credence, and much more does the God of truth deserve it. We ought to treat the promise as in itself the substance of the thing promised, just as we look upon a man’s check or IOU as an actual payment. God Promises You

It’s not enough to just accept the promises of God, we must act upon them. The words of God are so trustworthy that we can stake our very lives upon them. They are worthy of our full and wholehearted trust.

So let’s ask ourselves, are we fully trusting the promises of God? Are we acting upon the promises by placing all our faith in the promises? For example:

_God promises to meet all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). Do we believe that God is going to meet every need that we have, including every spiritual and physical need? Do we exercise faith in this promise even when it seems like there isn’t a spare cent in the budget?

_God promises that sin will not be our master (Rom 6:14). Do we fully believe that God is going give us the power to overcome our sin, or do we believe that lie that we’ll never grow in godliness?

_God promises to forgive our sins the moment we repent (1 John 1:9). Do we believe that God is eager and willing to forgive our sins, or do we wallow in condemnation?

The promises of God are sure, and they require us to act upon them. We must believe every one with all of our hearts. It’s not enough to just know the promises of God. We must act.

I think I hear my phone ringing…

The Apple of His Eye

When Christ scans the peoples of the earth, his eyes light up with delight when they rest upon certain people.

Is it the movie stars, or the athletes, or the kings and queens of the earth that thrill Christ’s heart? Is it the successful, the glamorous, the brilliant? John Owen, who definitely would not have made the cover of People Magazine, gives us a clue:

“There is not the meanest (lowliest), the weakest, the poorest believer on earth that Christ does not value more highly than all the world besides” (Communion with God).

The homeliest Christian living in obscurity and poverty is more delightful to Jesus than all the stars of Hollywood or heaven. A toothless, crippled, Christian in a hovel in Sri Lanka is more appealing to Christ than a non-Christian king in a palace. My friend who called upon the Savior last year who now lies on his bed ravaged by cancer, with sunken eyes and cheeks and legs swollen from the tumor in his back is more beautiful to Jesus than a thousand sunsets. More than all the beauty in the world.

Why are believers, even the lowliest, so attractive to Christ? Not because we’re good enough, smart enough, and doggone it God likes us. No, there is nothing in us who are sinful to appeal to God. We who have called on Christ are lovely to him because God has chosen us and given us to Jesus, and Christ has purchased us with his own life. The Father has made us the apple of his eye and his treasured possession because he’s washed us with the blood of Christ, joined us to Christ, clothed us with the righteousness of Christ, and is transforming us into the image of Christ.

We are delightful to Christ because we’re his bride. Even the most stunning seraphim in heaven aren’t clothed in the radiance of Christ the way the poorest believer is.

C.S. Lewis says “It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” – Weight of Glory

Someday believers will be like Christ, for we shall see him as he is (1 JN 3:2). Our new heavenly bodies will be as different from these bodies as a tree is from a seed (1 CO 15:35ff). We simply can’t imagine the beauty of our heavenly bodies. Imagine if you had never seen a tree in your life and I showed you an acorn and said that someday this tiny seed would be majestic, spreading out, and full of thousands of green leaves. You couldn’t imagine it. Paul compares these earthly bodies to seeds that will someday be more glorious than we can imagine.

We’ll look at each other “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 TH 1:10), and we’ll see the glory of Christ shining through each other.

So take a second look at your fellow-believer. Even if he or she appears to you to be the dullest and most uninteresting person in the world, remember Christ values them more than all the world. And even if you consider yourself to be insignificant, remember, you are his treasured possession, the apple of his eye.

Giving Blood

Dear Diary,

Gave blood today for little Jack T. Lots of people from the church are there serving, giving blood, chatting, laughing. First I fill out a questionnaire about the purity of my blood. Have I taken this drug or that drug, been exposed to AIDS, etc. One question is “Have you ever been born in: Mexico, South America or Central America?” I don’t think I ever was, but I might have been.

After filling out the form, a pleasant lady reviews my questionnaire then leads me to what reminds me of a padded lounge chair with an arm rest. A professional young woman swabs my arm with a brown liquid to sterilize the area where they will insert the needle. Then she removes a new syringe from a package. I’m slightly nervous, but I see an elderly lady giving blood a few feet from me and she seems fine, so I figure if she can do it I can do it. I just don’t want to start screaming like a woman or pass out in front of everybody.

“Little pinch” says the girl and sticks the needle in my arm. It’s definitely more than a pinch, but only lasts about 2 seconds. I lie there comfortably. Mary B. takes a photo of me and others come and poke fun at me, asking if I’m going to make it. After 15 minutes, a young man carefully removes the needle, applies a bandage, seals up the bag of my blood, and instructs me not to have any coffee for the rest of the day. Right. I’m heading to Starbucks as soon as I leave.

Gary D. escorts me to the snack room, ready to catch me should I faint. I cap off my ordeal with a couple glasses of orange juice, a sloppy joe and some kettle-cooked potato chips. Becky, Jack’s mom, thanks me, as do numerous others, and I congratulate myself for my incredible act of heroism.

Dear Diary

Gave blood today for all those the Father has given me. First, Judas turns me over to angry mob with swords and spears. The disciples all run away. Dragged into a kangaroo court, where false witnesses lie about me, twisting things I’ve said. Hauled before Pilate and Herod, then handed over to Roman soldiers who tie me to a post and whip me over and over with the infamous cat o’ nine tails, with its leather thongs embedded with pieces of bone and metal. My back is completely shredded and my sides, arms, and the backs of my legs are torn to pieces. My face is black and blue and puffy from the soldiers’ fists.

They make a crown from a thorn bush and press it onto my head. Draping a purple cape over my shoulders, they pay mock homage, bowing before me, spitting on me and smacking the crown with reeds, driving it in deeper. Tiring of their fun, they lead me staggering out into the streets carrying a cross.

Noisy crowds, pushing, yelling. I lose my footing and fall beneath the crushing weight of the cross. After a couple falls, I can’t get up. The soldiers force a bystander to carry my cross and they push me through the crowds.

On a hill outside the city, the soldiers stretch me out on the cross and pound spikes into my hands and feet. I think I might pass out from the pain, but I don’t cry out. They lift the cross and it slides into its hole with a terrific jolt – pain shoots through my arms like lightning. I hang there for 6 hours, convulsing with racking pain. My lips are cracked and my throat burns with thirst. I’m suffocating. I push up on the nails in my feet for a few seconds to catch a breath of air, until the pain becomes unbearable in my feet, then I slump down and hang by the nails in my hands and begin suffocating again. People all around are cursing me, laughing at me, shaking their heads.

Worse than all the physical pain – I’m under my Father’s curse – his infinite wrath descends upon me. I’m abandoned by God and man. Desolate. Alone. Infinite misery, despair, grief, sorrow. I plunge into total darkness of soul, the darkness of utter abandonment. I hang between heaven and earth, all alone, for what seems like an eternity, until I’ve no more blood left. A spear pierces my side and a trickle of blood and water drains out. It is finished. I’ve purchased my beloved ones.

Does God Care About Exercise?

Exercise is one of those subjects that seems to divide people into three groups. First, there’s the health nuts, whose idea of a good time is strapping on a backpack full of bricks and doing wind sprints up steep hills. Then there’s the couch potatoes, whose idea of a good time is a bag of chips, an industrial sized tub of French onion dip, and a king sized Slurpee. Then there’s the rest of us, who know we should exercise, and even own several pieces of exercise equipment, but never quite find the time to do it.

Everywhere you look, people are telling us we should exercise. But does God care about exercise? Does it really matter to God if I step onto my treadmill?

Nowhere in the Bible will you find a scripture that says, “You must exercise three times a week ( and make sure one of those days is a good cardio work out).” But we do read in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Every minute of our lives is to be lived for the glory of God, and exercise is a wonderful means of helping us live for the glory of God. How? By extending our years of service to God, and by making us more effective in serving the Lord.

Exercise Extends Our Years of Serving God

Have you ever considered that exercise could be the difference between serving God for 60 years or serving God for 75 years? Think about this for a moment. Maintaining a healthy body could result in God giving you many additional years to care for your spouse. Staying in good shape could result in God allowing you to share the gospel with hundreds of additional people. Those endless miles on the treadmill could result in many additional years of faithfully serving your church. Yes, I understand that God has numbered our days. In his sovereignty, God knows exactly how many days we will live upon this earth. But God uses means, and exercise is a means of adding years of fruitful labor to our lives.

Exercise Makes Us More Effective In Serving The Lord

Not only does exercise extend our years of serving the Lord, it also makes us more effective in serving the Lord. The truth is, an unhealthy body can limit our capacity to serve the Lord. Being unhealthy leads to less energy and less stamina, which ultimately limits our service for the Lord. Those who exercise regularly and are in good health are able to serve the Lord and others consistently, and for longer periods of time.

Charles Spurgeon said, “A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best”

These truths should dramatically affect our approach to exercise! We don’t ultimately exercise for the purpose of losing weight or so that we look good. We exercise for the glory of God. We lace up our running shoes and pound the pavement so that we can serve God effectively for years to come. We lift weights so that at age 65 we can share the gospel with our grandchildren. We go to the gym so that we can lovingly care for our spouse for many years.

So let me encourage you to exercise. Not because it’s a good thing to do, but because God’s glory is at stake. Think of the future as you go out and jog today.

photo by kk+