Paul Madson

THOUGHTS, QUOTES & REFLECTIONS

Month: February 2015

Stop Running Life’s Race Backwards

Recently I came across an article that both challenged and inspired me. I read hundreds (and hundreds) of articles every year… this is one of my “Top 10” for the past year. This article was written by Dr. Scott Rodin and recently appeared in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountabilitys newsletter. If you are over 50, this article is especially for you. I would encourage you to take 5-10 minutes to read it… I’m convinced you’ll be inspired, challenged… and blessed. Enjoy!

Stop Running Life’s Race Backwards by Dr. Scott Rodin

Three Challenges to Help You Cross the Finish Line of Life Fully Spent and Deliriously Joyful.

Too many of us are living life backwards.

Instead of our choices and attitudes reflecting the journey we have been on, we choose lifestyles that contradict the lessons we have learned in life.

This all has to do with risk. Our culture teaches that you take risks when you are young, when you have less to lose and when bad choices can be mended through time and diligence. When we are young we are supposedly more free from life’s entanglements to try and fail, so we take risks knowing there is ample time and strength to pick ourselves up and try again.

This may be fine for the world, but not for God’s people.

The Apostle Paul likens life to a race. He tells the church in Corinth,

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) 

In Hebrews we read,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The image is of sprinters running full out—all the way to the end of the race with their eyes on the prize.

Now picture the following scene. A group of skilled runners approach the starting line for the 400 meters—one long sprint around the track. The gun fires and they explode from the blocks.

Arms pumping, legs churning, they fly around the first turn. In the backstretch they breathe fast and rhythmically as their pace quickens. As they enter the far turn determination mixed with anguish pours out across their faces. Muscles bulge, sweat pours as they round the turn and get their first glance at the finish line still well down the track. The crowd rises to its feet. Fans cheer and urge their favorite runners on. This is the final push. This is where all the years of exhausting training kick in. This is the moment for which they have prepared, dreamed and persevered. And now it is right in front of them. Their bodies are screaming at them to stop, but their spirit is undaunted as they hurl themselves toward the tape.

Then, suddenly, something very strange happens.

With only yards to go, the entire group, as if summoned by some unheard authoritative voice, begins to slow; first to a lope, then a trot, then to a leisurely saunter as if they were meandering in a meadow on a warm summer day. Some stop and sit down. Others wander slowly down the track with no sense of urgency. A few look back and wish they could return to the race along earlier sections of track, trying to remember what it felt like to run for all their life.

Are you shocked by this scene? Are you incredulous that trained athletes would give up the race so close to the finish? That they would abandon their passion for running and settle for an afternoon stroll?

Why then are we not equally shocked when we see God’s people finishing their life’s race in the same way?

What would it look like to run with perseverance the race set before us – all of the race, to the very end? What would it take to run in such a way as to get the prize?

Here are three thoughts to challenge you to just such a life.

1. Run with the freedom to invest it all.

Have you run enough of your race to be able to look behind you and know that God will always meet your needs? Has he ever left you or forsaken you? Has he ever been untrue to his promises? If he has been the great provider for you at every step of your race, why do you think he will stop doing so as you approach the finish line?

Why is it in our latter years that we believe we need to store up enough money on our own to get us to the finish line? Why do we put away large sums for “retirement,” horde our money and worry about it as if now, at the end of this great race, God will somehow suddenly abandon us and cease to provide for our every need? Why do we live in fear and bondage when we were created to run free?

There is an alternative way of finishing your race.

You can let your life be a witness to your absolute dependency on God for all things. You can point back to a legacy of God’s faithfulness that allows you to propel yourself toward the finish line with wanton abandon. When everyone else is piling up money and placing their security in the size of their retirement accounts, live your life in a countercultural, kingdom way. Don’t let a fearful attitude toward money, retirement, financial security and generosity contradict all that you have learned in your years of walking with Christ. Let the last part of your race be marked with outrageous generosity, divestiture, simple living, and investment of all the resources for which God has entrusted you fully into the work of his kingdom.

Here is your challenge. When Jesus calls you home, plan to fall into his arms absolutely penniless.

Be ready to give an account for all he has entrusted to you by saying, “it’s all invested in your kingdom, every penny. There’s nothing left.” You came into the world with nothing, plan to leave it the same way.

But what about your kids? What about their inheritance, you ask? Here’s a real shocker. Don’t leave them a dime. Your kids don’t need your money, they need a model of what it looks like for a faithful steward to run life’s race to the very end and honor God with every last penny with which they have been entrusted. Let that be your legacy. God will take care of them as he has always taken care of you. They don’t need your money, they need to be inspired by the way you live, and finish, your life.

2. Run with the freedom to take risk.

The second characteristic of one who runs life’s race to the very end is a decreasing need to become cautious, avoid risk and be calculated in your dealings.

Why is it that as we age our fear of new things, new people and new places increases? Why isn’t it just the opposite? We have so much less to lose as we get older. Whether we are in the far turn of life’s race, or have rounded the bend and can see the finish line ahead, the end of the race is far closer than it’s beginning. If there was ever a time to embrace risk and throw caution to the wind, isn’t this it? Are we not best equipped, based on a lifetime of experiences, to live these last years or decades with an increasing freedom to go wherever God calls us to go, say whatever he calls us to say, and do whatever he calls us to do, understanding that our days left to do these things are diminishing and opportunities to make a kingdom impact are precious?

What might this look like?

To start with, it is a decreasing need to build and maintain our reputation and an increasing willingness to speak truth, challenge worldly thinking and champion kingdom values. At a time of staggering moral decline in our country, why is it that the people with the greatest spiritual maturity are the ones remaining mostly silent? Our voices can carry the weight of our undeniable experiences with God.

Will we take a lifetime of learning through all that God has led us and bury it in the sand when the witness of God’s powerful work among us so desperately needs to be heard? Will we hide behind the fear of not wanting to get involved, not wanting to have people disagree with us or hurting our reputation? Will we yield to the resignation that our one voice will make no difference? Or will we choose to speak boldly on behalf of our children, our grandchildren and the Lord we love and serve?

Here is the challenge. Run the race to the very end.

Plan to fall into the arms of Jesus having boldly spoken up for him. Be able to say to him, “I’ve said every word you called me to say, I’ve gone everywhere you called me to go. I have nothing left.” You may respond by saying that it’s hard to do this as you get older. Well, it’s supposed to be hard. That’s why it’s a race. The hardest part of the race is the long sprint to the finish line. It’s not a stroll, it’s a heart pounding, muscle straining, all out dash to get the prize. The whole goal is to cross the finish line with nothing left.

3. Run with the freedom to be a witness.

Paul admonishes the Galatians, “after beginning by means of the spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).

When we enter into the last half of our race with the desire to store up treasures, build financial security, protect our reputation, reduce our risk, reject change and let our voices grow silent, we have fallen prey to Paul’s warning. Having started life’s race by the Spirit – fully committed to following Jesus Christ regardless of the cost – we have chosen to end in the flesh, doing all the things we need to make sure our latter years are spent in leisure and comfort, with no risk and insulated from the great spiritual battles raging in the world around us. This is not God’s vision for the rest of your life.

The challenge is to embrace a life that is radically countercultural to what you see around you. Let the rest of your life be a witness and testimony to all that you have learned in walking with Christ up to this day. Leave a legacy for your kids of what it looks like to be a faithful steward to your very last breath.

Today there are approximately 28 million Americans who are over 50 and professing Christians.

Can you imagine how we could change the world if we decided to run this race in a way so as to have nothing left at the end. How much money would be released to fund God’s work? How many millions of volunteer hours would be invested in kingdom work? How many hurting people would be reached? How much truth would be proclaimed? And how much joy would be realized by embracing purpose, passion and risk right to our last breath. This is the abundant life to which we have been called. Not the abundance of possessions or security or safety or constancy or reputation or comfort. But abundance of the heart and spirit that only comes through the total, lavish expenditure of everything we are. By giving all that we are so tempted to keep for ourselves. It is abundance born of freedom.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for embracing this life is the impact it will have on our children and our grandchildren. As the song says, “May those who come behind us find us faithful.” Not wealthy, safe, secure, comfortable, cautious, fearful, withdrawn and secluded. But faithful, which in kingdom terms means obedient to the very end. Will your life be a legacy of this ‘fully committed, completely spent’ kind of faithfulness?

My prayer is that you will choose today to live with the increasing freedom to be generous, to give away and sow richly into the lives of the people around you. Decide today to take risks and in doing so use up fully all of the energy and resources you have left. Live in such a way that you are prepared to cross the finish line of life broke, exhausted, fully spent, emptied and deliriously joyful.

How else would you want to arrive before the Lord in the hope of hearing those wonderful words, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dr. Rodin is president of Rodin Consulting, Inc. specializing in helping Christian non-profits take a biblical approach to strategic planning, board development and capital campaign fundraising.

Church on Fire: Persecution in Niger

Photo credit: The Gospel Coalition

One of the recurring themes that our Global Training Network staff members hear on the field are stories of persecution and danger. But what consistently amazes us is the incredible faith-filled response of our national partners – pastors and leaders who are on the front lines. When I hear these stories (like the one below) I am reminded of Hebrews 11:35-38

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreatedof whom the world was not worthywandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

I wanted to share a moving firsthand account of persecution of Christians in the African nation of Niger. May your own faith be strengthened as you read Church on Fire: Persecution in Niger by Nate Bramsen:

There is a strange paradox in much of the church today. The very things Jesus promised would happen if we follow him are often the very things that cause us to doubt his presence and love. But what if the supposed detours in life are the direct route to true blessing?
 
Last month in the nation of Niger, more than 55 church buildings, some homes, a couple of schools, and an orphanage were burned in one day by religious extremists. The perpetrators sought to burn my house, along with two other homes belonging to our team working in a village on the outskirts of the capital. But various neighbors stood in the gap as they arrived at our gates, confronted the mobs, and suggested these homes be spared. 
 
The story unfolded on a Saturday morning as our team (ROCK International) was hosting a weekly children’s Bible club in the courtyard of one of our homes. Interestingly, that morning was the distribution of Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child boxes to a couple of hundred kids. Twenty minutes before the mobs entered our village, neighbors tearfully approached the club warning the team of the impending danger, giving time to move to a safe location.
 
Some in our neighborhood were not spared. One Christian brother whose home and place of worship were looted and burned, had the crowds calling for his crucifixion (since he had preached the gospel on national television) as the flames rose. Thankfully, the Lord had also allowed him to leave minutes before the mobs arrived. Another of my Nigerien friends who pastors a local church lost all his family’s belongings, including his home and place of worship, even family birth certificates, but would only repeat, “This is such a blessing, because God promised these things would come. Now the church will grow.
 
Our team prays daily for the salvation of this nation, but do we tacitly require from God our terms and conditions? Do we seek comfort and belonging in a world that crucified and rejected our Savior? Do we embrace complacency when Christ calls us to intimacy? The problem is not that we cry out to God in desperation, but rather that we fail to realize we are always desperate for him. Often, these adverse circumstances make that desperation a tangible reality.
 
Fear Not
 
While walking near my house in the village, days after the violence, I approached a home and local church that had been burned. The street was littered with pamphlets, Christian resources, and charred Bible pages. Randomly, I reached down and picked up a half-burned page of Scripture only to see it was the first half of Isaiah 43. How encouraging to be reminded in the rubble, “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . . . Fear not, for I am with you” (Is. 43:2b-3a5a).
 
Christ never promised physical safety to those who would follow him. In fact, he promised something far better: his presence. When commissioning his disciples before ascending to his Father, Jesus told them, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . ” and left them with this promise: “I will be with you, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19a20). Sometimes the physical flame does touch our life, but Christ took the flame of God’s wrath and judgment that we might forever enjoy life. Christ was forsaken on the cross that we might eternally dwell in God’s presence.
 
In our world today, more than 40 percent still have not heard or had access to the gospel, including nearly 70 percent of Niger. Christ does not call us to pursue danger, but he asks our obedience to his calling. Time and again, God has demonstrated his power over the enemy’s attacks and his ability to save. Whether it was the day my teammates and I were surrounded by a mob and about to be burned alive with a fire already lit under our vehicle, the illegal arrest warrants issued as vendettas, being chased from villages by shovels or rocks, or perhaps, the random death threat, nothing surprises God. Rather, it is an opportunity for his glory to be displayed. Still, there may come a day when physical deliverance doesn’t occur. Let it be known on that day, God is still faithful, and the greatest deliverance will have actually occurred. Whether we live or whether we die, Christ is our life, and his glory is the reward.
 
Jesus Christ calls us to himself, not to a life of ease by avoidance, but of intimacy through obedience that we “may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).
 
Nate Bramsen is the founder of ROCK International, a gospel-centered organization desiring to minister the love of Jesus to hurting children across the world. Though he currently lives in Niger, he travels extensively preaching God’s Word at conferences, universities, and churches, and hosts a weekly podcast entitled “Unfiltered,” available on iTunes.

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