Paul Madson

THOUGHTS, QUOTES & REFLECTIONS

‘All In’ for Jesus… All the Way to the End

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Two weeks ago, Global Training Network held its annual All-Staff Leadership Gathering via Zoom. Even with the virtual constraints, our team enjoyed a rich time of encouragement, thoughtful reflection and biblical challenge. I came away refreshed!

In one of the sessions, I had the privilege of sharing a few thoughts about our values as a ministry. Below is one five-minute segment of my original 35-minute president’s update:


GTN has several core values, but the one I want to highlight today centers on being a team of people who are “spiritually thriving.”

By that, I mean we live our lives “all in for Jesus… all the way to the end.”

A distinct memory from my early twenties is hearing the late Howard Hendricks speak. He would often say that one of his greatest concerns for Christian leaders was that they were “sliding for home” in their fifties and sixties.

Hendricks said, “Just when these leaders have the most to offer the body of Christ (both locally and globally), they are looking to ‘pack it in.’”

They have “the most to offer” because leaders in these particular decades of life have accumulated an abundance of education (both formal and informal) and practical experience (ministry, family, and life in general).

God’s desire for us is that we leverage for His glory the lessons He has built into our lives over the years.

Here at GTN, we all realize that we have a job to do – a mission to accomplish that is transcendent.

Our mission (to equip and encourage pastors and leaders throughout the Majority World) is not some “social construct” that we have simply made up, but rather it is a divine, God-given, biblical mandate to equip the next generation of pastors and leaders globally.

The Apostle Paul articulated this in 2 Timothy 2:2

“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

Central to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is to “make disciples of all the nations… [by] teaching them…”

If this is our mandate from Scripture, we must begin by properly understanding what “the nations” represents. In his book entitled The Hole in our Gospel, author Richard Stearns painted a helpful picture of our world today:

If the world were a village of 100 people…

60 would be Asian
14 would be African
12 would be European
8 would be Latin American
5 would be American or Canadian
1 would be a Pacific Islander

Add to this image the fact that over 80% of all indigenous pastors and leaders throughout the Majority World have no formal (and very little informal) biblical and theological training.

Now, if you saw 10 people trying to carry a huge, heavy log and wanted to help, and nine were on one end and one on the other, which end would you go to?

Truly, the need is great, and the need is global!

Scripture makes it very clear that
we have been blessed to be a blessing to all nations.
(Genesis 12:1-3; Psalm 67)

Renowned author/theologian John Stott regularly reminded believers of the following truth: “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.”

On a more personal note, I am still praying for God to give me the physical and mental health to keep serving Him until I’m 85, which is 25 years away.

25 years is a long time. I would suggest that God can do an incredible amount in 25 years through a person who is wholly yielded to Him – even if those 25 years are in the latter half of a person’s life.

Having said that, I realize that Jesus never promised that serving Him all the way to the end would be easy.

Someone once said, “The life of faith really begins where your comfort zone ends.”

One of my life verses has always been Acts 20:24. In this passage, the Apostle Paul writes the following to the leaders of the church at Ephesus:

“But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24 CSB)

When I was in college, one of the quotes that most inspired me – and that I have repeated to myself almost every week since – is this one from Jonathan Edwards:

“Resolved: To follow God with all my heart.
Resolved also: Whether others do or not, I will.”

What does this mean for us? It’s setting our face like ‘flint’ – as Jesus did toward Jerusalem.

It’s continuing with that kind of resolve until our final breath on earth.

Dave Maddox, a fellow GTN staff member, recently shared the following quote that I found particularly fitting for this season of life:

“… History tells us that [the Apostle] John was actively involved in ministry in Ephesus until the very end of his life. In fact, it is striking that the literary corpus traditionally ascribed to him (the fourth gospel, the apocalypse, and three epistles) are generally dated to his ‘retirement’ years.”
(Nicholas Perrin)

Pretty amazing ministry for an “old, retired person.”

Here is my challenge for all of us:
Let’s continue to trust God to do great things through us
in the years and decades to come, as we give our lives fully
(as living sacrifices – Romans 12:1)
to serving Him until our final breath.

Is there really anything more important, more valuable – and ultimately more fulfilling – than living for the glory of God?

“After this I looked, and behold,
a great multitude that no one could number,
from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels were standing around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures,
and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

(Revelation 7:9-12 ESV)Sola Deo Gloria.

Secure in the Everlasting Arms

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Over the years, a book that I have often returned to for encouragement is Elisabeth Elliot’s Secure in the Everlasting Arms.

Below are several of my favorite quotes:

“The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
(Deuteronomy 33:27)


“We have a calming word in Psalm 138:8,
‘The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands.’

That word stands.
He will fulfill.
His love endures.
He will not abandon.

We are meddling with God’s business when we let all manner of imaginings loose, predicting disaster, contemplating possibilities instead of following, one day at a time, God’s plain and simple pathway. When we try to meet difficulties prematurely we have neither the light nor the strength for them yet.

‘As thy days so shall thy strength be’ was Moses’ blessing for Asher – in other words, your strength will equal your days. God knows how to apportion each one’s strength according to that day’s need, however great or small.”


“Faithfulness today is the best preparation
for the demands of tomorrow.”


“Can we wholeheartedly surrender to God, leaving quietly with Him all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘but what abouts’?

Will we truthfully say to Him,
‘Anything You choose for me, Lord – to have to be, to do, or to suffer. I am at Your orders. I have no agenda of my own’?

It comes down to Trust and Obey, ‘for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus,’ as the old gospel song goes.

Our future may look fearfully intimidating, yet we can look up to the Engineer of the Universe, confident that nothing escapes His attention or slips out of the control of those strong hands.”


“But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, ‘You are my God.
My times are in your hand.’”
(Psalm 31:14-15 ESV)


“Thomas Carlyle said,
‘Doubt of any sort cannot be removed except by action.’

There is wonderful therapy in taking oneself by the scruff of the neck, getting up, and doing something. While you are doing, time passes quickly. Time itself will in some measure heal, and ‘light arises in the darkness’ – slowly, it seems, but certainly.

I myself have been hauled out of the Slough of Despond by following the advice of the simple Saxon legend inscribed in an old English parsonage: ‘Doe the nexte thynge.’”


“…and as your days, so shall your strength be.”
(Deuteronomy 33:25b ESV)


“The ancients were commended for a solid faith full of hope and based on a strong certainty. We might take an invaluable lesson from them: Obedience to God is our job. The results of that obedience are God’s.”


“If God were small enough to be understood He would not be big enough to be worshipped.”
(Evelyn Underhill)

God’s great, gracious love for us

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The longer I walk with Christ, the more convinced I become that most Christians do not truly believe that God loves them with an inexhaustible, everlasting, gracious love.

Why?

Because when we do believe that God truly loves us, it will radically revolutionize every relationship in our life.

When we understand, grasp and believe the immensity and magnitude of God’s love for us, here are a few things that happen:

  • We become secure in our relationship with God.
  • We are filled with joy that no one can take away.
  • We are able to forgive the hurts and offenses that others commit against us.
  • We become far more humble, realizing the grace that He has given to us.

In other words, we become so filled up with God’s love for us that it spills over to others.

We are able to give love and kindness and grace and mercy to others out of the overflow of what is in our hearts because of Christ.

We no longer have to operate from a love deficit, but rather out of a love surplus.

Notice what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 3:17-19….

“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (ESV)

He prays here for us to “know the love of Christ,” but then immediately says it “surpasses knowledge.”

No matter how hard we try to fully grasp God’s immense love for us, it will always be far greater and grander.

But that shouldn’t stop us from both praying to understand it better and learning more about its breadth and depth.

Sam Storms wrote a book years ago entitled The Singing God. It is based on Zephaniah 3:17.

“The Lord your God is with you; he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Did you ever think about the fact that God “rejoices over you with singing?”

J.I. Packer said this about God’s love for his children:

“There is tremendous relief in knowing [that] his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on [his] prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery can disillusion him about me.”

Think about that for a minute.

God’s love for you includes the fact that He knows everything you have done or thought or imagined – or will ever do or will ever think – and He still says: “I love you! You’re mine!”

The Apostle Paul said in Romans 8:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vv. 38-39)

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (v. 15)

Brennan Manning, in his well-known book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote:

“Whatever our failings may be, we need not lower our eyes in the presence of Jesus. Unlike Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, we need not hide all that is ugly and repulsive in us.  Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.”

We must always remember that the cross of Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.

What does the Apostle John say in 1 John 4?

“This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrificed for our sins.” (vv. 9-10)

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Jerry Bridges, in his book Trusting God, wrote:

“God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it.  It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son. But the experience of that love and the comfort it is intended to bring is dependent upon our believing the truth about God’s love as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures.”

Isaiah writes in chapter 62:

“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (v. 5)

And finally, the Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:

“How great a love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (v. 1)

Your central identity as a believer in Jesus Christ is “a beloved child of God.”

That’s who you are.

No one can take that away from you.

You are loved and you are accepted in Christ never to be rejected.

Now, let Christ’s love so fill your heart that each day you go out and live from a love “surplus” rather than a love “deficit.”

“Whatever God’s love is, it is not exhausted by our concept of it. It transcends our best efforts to describe it. It is higher than our loftiest notions of it.” (R.C. Sproul)

Every day, we are becoming someone…

The question is, who?

Beautiful sunrise over iconic Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

Randy Alcorn writes on the role self-control (or self-discipline) plays in our personal growth…


Every day we’re becoming someone—the question is, who?

Author Jerry Bridges, hearing me address this, told me that Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, used to say, “You are going to be what you are now becoming.”

Who you become will be the cumulative result of the daily choices you make.

“A long obedience in the same direction,” to borrow a Eugene Peterson phrase, is sustained by the small choices we make each day.

Most of us know the difference between eating cottage cheese and donuts, or the difference between a daily workout and spend­ing life on a couch. What I eat and whether I exercise will determine the state of my body.

The same is true of our spiritual lives. Whether I read Scripture and great books, or spend my best hours watching TV and looking at my phone, will make me into the person I will be several years from now. I should discipline myself today, not for discipline’s sake, but for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).

Following Christ isn’t magic. It requires repeated actions on our part, which develop into habits and life disciplines.

Our spirituality hinges on the development of these little habits, such as Bible reading and memorization and prayer. In putting one foot in front of the other day after day, we become the kind of person who grows in Christlikeness.

Once we develop Christ-honoring habits and experience their rewards, we’ll instinctively turn our minds to what makes us happy in Christ.

A decade from now, would you like to look back at your life, knowing you’ve made consistently good decisions about eating right and exercising regularly? Sure. But there’s a huge gap between wishes and reality. The bridge over the gap is self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).

The key to self-control is discipline, which produces a long-term track record of small choices in which we yield to God’s Spirit, resulting in new habits and lifestyles. In fact, Spirit-control and self-control are interrelated in Scripture, because godly self-control is a yielding of self to the Holy Spirit.

It’s true we are creatures of habit—but it’s also true Christ can empower us to form new habits.

So how can you start to make the right small choices?

Ephesians 5:15-16 tells us to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.”

Why not redeem two hours of your day that you would have spent on television, newspa­per, video games, phone, working overtime, or hobbies? Change your habits.

Spend one hour meditating on and/or memorizing Scripture. Spend the other hour reading a great book. Share what you’re learn­ing with your spouse and children, or a friend.

May we call upon Christ’s strength today to make choices that will honor Him, bring us great happiness, and help us become the kind of people we want to be ten years from now!


*Originally posted on the Eternal Perspective Ministries blog under the title “The Cumulative Effect of our Little Choices.”

Lord, let me learn by paradox

 

Lord, let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

– from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

“So we do not lose heart.
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)

If the Lord Wills

Last year at this time,
when you pondered the upcoming year,
what were your thoughts?

 
Did you have any idea it would involve a worldwide pandemic, economic upheaval, racial riots not seen since the 1960’s and a political season that divided our nation (and many friends and families) like never before?

My guess is that none of us had any idea what was coming our way as we entered January of 2020.

So, what about 2021?

James reminds us that our lives are ultimately in God’s hands and we have no business boasting about our plans for tomorrow.

“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.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

(James 4:13-16 ESV)

This passage, at the very least, should humble us as we live our lives and look to the future.

Growing up, I remember hearing my mom often say, “If the Lord wills.”

It was a reminder to me that God knows the future, and all of our tomorrows are in his loving, wise and sovereign hands.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV)

Yes, we still make plans. Yes, we still dream and set new goals.

But we always place those plans, dreams and goals into the hands of our heavenly Father.

God knows the future and is not surprised by what comes our way.

He is on his throne and in control, moving history toward its final culmination of redeeming this broken world back to himself (Psalm 33:10-11).

And because of this, we have no reason to live lives filled with fear and anxiety as we look to 2021.

The Psalmist tells us…

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

(Psalm 23:4 – ESV)

“God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

(Psalm 46:1-3 – ESV)

Jesus said,

“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself.

Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34 CSB)

As we move into 2021 in just a few days, here are a few Scriptures and quotes to encourage and remind us that we serve a God of transcendent hope who can be trusted fully with all of our todays and tomorrows.

 “It’s hard to imagine what life would be

If you weren’t there to share my load.

I’d be so afraid to face another day

Cause I don’t know what’s down the road,

But you know the future and

You’ve met all my days.

You know each season and 

You know all my ways.

You own every hour and

There’s nothing hid from you

You own tomorrow,

So I won’t fear today.”

(Lyrics from: You Know the Future by The Archers)

“Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.” (St. Augustine)

“The life of faith is lived one day at a time (Matt. 6:34), and it has to be lived this way – not always looked forward as though the ‘real’ living were around the next corner. It is for today we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

“I took you from the ends of the earth,

from its farthest corners I called you.

I said, ‘You are my servant’;

I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

So do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

(Isaiah 41:9-10 – NIV84)

“Worship is designed to remind you that in the center of all things is a glorious and gracious king, and this king is not you.”

(Paul Tripp)

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, 

because he trusts in You. ‘Trust in the Lord forever…’”

(Isaiah 26:3-4a – NASB)

Lastly, let me leave you with these wise words from Roy Lessin:

“The One who leads you makes no mistakes.

The One who guides you has the right directions.

The One who counsels you has the wisest answers.

The One who provides for you has the greatest resources.

The One who blesses you brings the greatest joys.”

************

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely;  and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(1 Thessalonians 5:23 NASB)

 

Why do Christians make such a big deal of Jesus?

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Tim Challies writes:

“Who is Jesus?
And why do Christians make such a big deal of him?

Charles Hodge provides a stirring answer in his Systematic Theology.

Why do Christians make such a big deal of Jesus?

Here’s why…”


All divine names and titles are applied to Him. He is called God, the mighty God, the great God, God over all; Jehovah; Lord; the Lord of lords and the King of kings.

All divine attributes are ascribed to Him. He is declared to be omnipresent, omniscient, almighty, and immutable, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

He is set forth as the creator and upholder and ruler of the universe. All things were created by Him and for Him; and by Him all things consist.

He is the object of worship to all intelligent creatures, even the highest; all the angels (i.e., all creatures between man and God) are commanded to prostrate themselves before Him.

He is the object of all the religious sentiments; of reverence, love, faith, and devotion.

To Him men and angels are responsible for their character and conduct.

He required that men should honour Him as they honoured the Father; that they should exercise the same faith in Him that they do in God.

He declares that He and the Father are one; that those who had seen Him had seen the Father also.

He calls all men unto Him; promises to forgive their sins; to send them the Holy Spirit; to give them rest and peace; to raise them up at the last day; and to give them eternal life.

God is not more, and cannot promise more, or do more than Christ is said to be, to promise, and to do. He has, therefore, been the Christian’s God from the beginning, in all ages and in all places.

*This article originally posted by Tim Challies under the title “God is Not More, Cannot Promise More, or Do More…”

Pandemics, Politics and Peaceful Relationships

What comes to your mind when you think of the holidays? Family, good food, sports and relaxation top the list for most of us.

But in reality, the holidays can often bring increased stress and potential family conflict. Enter year 2020 –with an abundance of complex issues and viewpoints rife with potential disagreements—and the holidays come pre-loaded with stress.

So, how do we lower our stress level and help maintain peaceful relationships within our immediate and extended family this year?

Here are Five Principles that can help us to reflect and honor Jesus during the coming weeks:

1) Climb Mount Perspective

In other words, keep the big picture front and center.

Rise above your current circumstances and look at them from the “30,000 ft. level.”

Take a moment to think about whatever current conflict is potentially brewing. Imagine: how would you feel about that same issue if your loved one had suddenly passed away?

And now ask yourself: “Is this really worth splitting, dividing and even permanently harming my family relationships over?”

Why is it that a family tragedy often finally brings splintered family members back together?

Because perspective is finally achieved. Individuals are reminded about what really matters in life and in the end.

They finally see “the big picture” with greater clarity than ever before.

2) Take the High Road… by going down.

In other words, make the hard, better choice to be mature and humble.

Mature people choose to not hold grudges. They freely forgive (Colossians 3:13-14). Pride is swallowed and ego laid aside.

Proverbs 13:10 says, Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”

If you’ve known someone like this, they are not vindictive. They don’t try and “get back” at someone who has hurt them, instinctively taking revenge when given the chance.

Instead, mature people:

  • choose to love generously (1 Peter 1:22).
  • “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
  • make it a point to not hold on to jealousy or envy. (1 Corinthians 3:3)
  • choose to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “week with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
  • choose to do the right thing whether or not anyone else does.
  • treat others the way they want to be treated. (Luke 6:31)

3) Believe the Best

In other words, give your family “the benefit of the doubt.”

Choose to believe the best about their motives. Isn’t that one of the best gifts you’ve ever received?

Scripture reminds us that only God truly knows the deepest motives of a person’s heart. Therefore, we should leave the judgement of another person’s motives in God’s wise and loving hands.

“Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB)

4) Be willing to ‘bend’

In other words, be willing to compromise and “flex” for the sake of unity among the whole.

Paul exhorts us in his letter to the Romans: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

Later in that same epistle, he writes: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for [insert your issue] the sake of food.”

In a similar vein, we need to take to heart what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers”(Matthew 5:9).

Isn’t it interesting that so many Christmas songs celebrate “peace on earth?”

Could I suggest that “peace on earth” begins first with pursuing peace with that relationship where we’ve been hurt and disagree so vehemently?

5) Keep many, if not most, of your opinions to yourself

In other words, let us “…be quick to listen and slow to speak.” (James 1:19)

Not everyone needs (nor wants) to hear our opinion about the latest controversial issue in the news cycle.

The Living Bible paraphrases Proverbs 10:19-20 this way:

“Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow! When a good man speaks, he is worth listening to, but the words of fools are a dime a dozen.”

Being a person of “fewer words” is the path to wisdom.

Again, Proverbs saliently reminds us:

“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent;

with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.”

(Proverbs 17:28 NLT)

Life is hard enough without the added complexities caused by speaking out when we should simply remain quiet.

To Conclude

How can we reduce the stress of the holidays, enjoy our families more and help move everyone toward greater peace and less conflict?

It takes work and commitment.

It takes mature, take-the-high-road, ego-setting-aside, secure-in-Jesus kind of people to get along well and work for the good of the whole.

 

Reflections on 40 Years of Marriage

Lisa and I just celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary this past week, and we took some time to reflect on God’s faithfulness through the years. As we did, we were overwhelmed by the gracious, unmerited favor that He has shown us time and time again.

In many marriages, when one spouse is in public ministry and the other partner is a “behind-the-scenes” kind of person (which Lisa is), people never have a chance to appreciate the person who lives in the “shadows.”

If you’ll indulge me, I would like to share four things Lisa has modeled for me over these past 40 years (and for which I am incredibly grateful).

ONE: Mercy triumphs over judgement. 

Lisa’s middle name could have been mercy (it’s Joy – I’ll get to that in a minute). Mercy exudes from her naturally. You can see it in her eyes.

Her primary spiritual gift is the gift of “mercy” (Romans 12:8).

I remember preaching through the book of James early on in my pastoral ministry and coming to verse 13 of chapter 2 and thinking, “Mercy should be at the core of our hearts as Christ-followers because of the great mercy that God has shown to us in Christ.” 

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

I remembered being sobered by the thought that “judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy.”

Ephesians 2:4 says God is “rich in mercy.” Nowhere else in the Bible is God described as “rich” in anything. The only thing he is called “rich” in is: mercy. Aren’t we thankful for that?
Lisa has modeled before me what “rich in mercy” looks like in her day to day relationships.

TWO: Be fully present today… in this moment, with this person.

I’ve always admired how Lisa could live fully “today” without much concern for tomorrow.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Lisa is not a highly anxious or fearful person, and part of that (I believe) has to do with her ability to focus on “now.” She doesn’t think a whole lot about the tomorrows – she knows God will be there with His abundant grace (2 Cor. 12:9) just as he was yesterday and today.

All too often, Lisa has paused to look at me in the midst of a conversation to say, “Paul, you’re not here, are you?” And too many times to count, I wasn’t “there.” I was thinking about something later in the day, tomorrow, next week… or even further out into the future.

Lisa has modeled how to be fully present when communicating, whether that was with me, a family member, a friend – or even a stranger.

People can see in her eyes that she is really listening… and that she really cares.

I can’t tell you the number of times that we have been traveling – on a plane or in an airport – where Lisa strikes up a conversation with another woman. And within fifteen minutes, this complete stranger is in tears, pouring her heart out to my wife, instantly considering her a dear friend.

Lisa listens well (really well). Which is one reason why so many people love her. She is “quick to listen” (James 1:19). 

THREE: Endure pain with joy and without complaint.

To say that Lisa has had to endure far greater pain than I ever have is an understatement. From our earliest years of marriage, she has had physical challenges – for example, migraines that are absolutely debilitating, to the point where any noise or slight bit of light would cause her head to throb and she would become overwhelmed with nausea.

I’ve had one migraine in my life and I’ll never forget it – I just wanted to die (and thought I was going to). She has had dozens, if not well over 100 classic migraines in her life (thankfully, she rarely gets them anymore)!

In the Fall of 2007, Lisa’s dear mom, Marilyn, went home to be with the Lord. Marilyn was her best friend and one of her closest confidants. It truly broke her heart to say goodbye.

And then, four months later, Lisa’s dad (Wally) passed away (with my dad passing in the middle of those four months). Three of our four parents were gone from earth within a four-month period of time.

Lisa knew that we would all be reunited in heaven one day (both of her parents were strong, godly believers in Christ, as well as my dad). But the thought of no more “coffee parties” with her mom on a Sunday afternoon or no more (almost) daily phone calls or visits to say “hi” and “how are you?” (among many other things), was truly upsetting.

Both of our hearts were broken.

Only five months later, we found out that Lisa had breast cancer. We cried and grieved together, sometimes holding each other while we just wept. No words, just tears.

But God showed His faithfulness over and over again. Family, friends and ministry partners helped Lisa (and myself) get through that “valley.”

We look back now and see so many deep and profound lessons God taught us. He used that time to deepen our spiritual roots and mature us in new and profound ways.

Lisa showed me what Job 23:10-12 looks like when lived out in those darkest valleys.

“But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

Through that season our prayers deepened, and God’s Word became our daily sustenance in a whole new way.

In the midst of the seasons of pain and grief, Lisa would somehow demonstrate joy – without complaint. She always amazed me at her upward and outward focus – even when everything in her body and her heart was saying, “I need to just focus on me!”

James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith — more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

As I mentioned above, Lisa’s middle name is “Joy” (as a side note, this middle name was also Marilyn’s middle name, and is shared by our daughter and two of our granddaughters).

Lisa has modeled for me “joy in the midst of suffering.”

FOUR: Love freely, generously and joyfully. 

C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Rather, it is thinking of yourself less.”

When Lisa walks into a room, she instantly thinks about others. She engages in conversations and enters into another person’s story.

As I’ve said before, the primary way we love an invisible God is by loving well the people that God has put right in front of us. I have been the gracious recipient of her love.

One observation I’ve made throughout my years in ministry is that one of the most overlooked marks of maturity is being able to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). Why? Because jealousy is such a strong temptation for all of us. When someone else is blessed more than we are, we are commanded to rejoice with them.

Lisa is one of the best at doing this. She’s genuinely happy for others, even if it’s at her expense.

Tim Keller wrote:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is…. a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” 

Ultimately, only God knows us “fully” and loves us “completely.” And that’s why we need to always work toward finding our identity and security in Him (and Him alone). Anything less than this will harm us and our relationships with others.

Having said that, Lisa has demonstrated to me – as close as I think one human can for another – what it means to “know someone fully” and yet “love them completely.”

As I sit typing this on our
40th wedding anniversary (October 11, 2020),
I am forever grateful for God’s kindness in gracing me with
Lisa Joy Madson.

Through her life, she has given me glimpses of Jesus that are simply beautiful. 

Finally, here was my journal entry on my flight home from Asia and Africa earlier this year (Spring 2020) …

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also praises her: ‘Many women have done noble deeds, but you surpass them all!’ Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised. Give her the reward of her labor, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”

(Proverbs 31:28-31)

Pardon from sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Blessings all mine with ten-thousand besides.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness! 
Morning by morning new mercies I see; 
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided— 
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

(From the hymn: Great is Thy Faithfulness)

At least 500 Christians reported slaughtered in relentless attacks since June

A group photo of pastors and leaders trained by GTN in Shashamene, Ethiopia.

BarnabasAid reports:

An Ethiopian Christian leader called for an international inquiry into the slaying of hundreds of Christians, including pregnant women, children and whole families, in ongoing Oromo Muslim extremist attacks in the parts of the Oromia regional state, extending south, south-east and east of Addis Ababa, since the end of June. According to reports, more than 500 were killed.

In door-to-door attacks on Christian households the Qeerroo extremists arrived in cars and, armed with guns, machetes, swords and spears, sought out and slaughtered Christians. Children were forced to witness their parents being brutally murdered with machetes.

Barnabas regional contacts confirmed attacks in numerous towns including….

Ziway and Shashamene…

An Oromo Christian was beheaded for refusing to deny his faith by tearing off the thread around his neck (worn by many Ethiopian Christians as a sign of their baptism). His widow told Barnabas, “The attackers said that it is only he/she who prostrates with us before Allah for prayer who is considered an Oromo.”

Christians’ business premises and houses were burnt down, vandalized or destroyed by the extremists. Billions of dollars of damage were caused to property, including businesses owned by internationally renowned Christian athlete, Haile Gebreselassie, in Ziway and Shashamahe towns.

The severity of the atrocities shocked local witnesses who gave accounts of harrowing scenes.

In Dera, a witness described how the killers desecrated corpses by “dancing and singing, carrying the chopped or hacked body parts of those they slaughtered”.

Another witness reported how the hacked bodies of an elderly Christian couple, who were beaten to death in their home, were dragged through the streets in Gedeb Asasa.

Thousands of traumatized survivors have fled for their lives, including orphaned children, and many are being sheltered in churches and community centers.

Since September 2018, violent ethnic clashes have led to some two million Ethiopians becoming internally displaced.

For more information on this situation, you can access the full article here.

Tragically, throughout much of Africa and Asia, this is not an isolated incident. These types of atrocities happen on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

But they never make the nightly news or the front page of American newspapers.

Over 95% of all the people on planet earth live outside of the United States. Americans make up a very, very small minority of the global population.

God loves all people – no matter their race, ethnicity or geographical location. They are made in His image. Therefore, we should deeply care what happens to them.

Please join me in praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Majority World who are suffering immensely for their faith in Christ.

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood
you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

(Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)

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