Paul Madson


Month: March 2016

Good Friday Reflections

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB)

Our growth in holiness does not come by becoming obsessed with the sin we are trying to overcome. Rather, it comes by becoming obsessed with Jesus and His finished work on the Cross…and the reality of His life-giving resurrection.

“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,
so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
(1 Peter 2:24 NASB)

I grew up in a Lutheran church, sitting in the pews from infancy on into my mid-elementary years (when my parents transitioned us to another evangelical church). Those were the days when families would have all of their children sit with them in the adult worship service. Looking back now, I’m so glad they did. The great hymns of the faith – and the profound theology they taught – are now deeply imprinted upon my heart and my mind because of it.

One of my favorite hymns has always been Beneath the Cross of Jesus. To this day, the third stanza of that great song means more to me than almost any other song I can think of. For all of my adult life I have sung these words to myself during my devotional times with the Lord. It brings me to tears often because of what it means to me.

I take, O cross, thy shadow
for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than
the sunshine of his face;
content to let the world go by,
to know no gain nor loss,
my sinful self my only shame,
my glory all the cross.
(Beneath the Cross of Jesus)

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26 – NASB)

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

Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood

See from His head His hands His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul
Love demands my soul
My life my all
(When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
(Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus)

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!
(Christ the Lord is Risen Today)

“But may it never be that I would boast,
except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world.”
(Galatians 6:14 NASB)

“For it was the Father’s good pleasure
for all the fullness to dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself,
having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
(Colossians 1:19-20 NASB)

“For Christ also died for sins once for all,
the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God,
having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
(1 Peter 2:18 NASB)

Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016), an author who impacted me deeply

Jerry Bridges, well-known author and Christian speaker, passed away this week. Over the past 35+ years I have read almost all of Jerry’s books (20), and God has used them to impact me in profound ways. There were four of Jerry’s books that I read twice (yes, they were that good):

Jerry’s passing this past week reminded me why it is so important for those within the body of Christ who have been gifted by God to write exceptionally well – to carve out time to write! Their writings will outlive them. Long after they are gone, their books will continue to be used by God to bless, encourage, equip, challenge and shape Christians – like you and me.

Here are a few quotes (and a few of my thoughts) taken from a sermon series I preached a few years ago on the subject of growing spiritually and living our lives from acceptance rather than for acceptance (James 1:22-25; Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 5:1; 6:1; 8:1; Galatians 2:16; Hebrews 12:8).

As you will see, Jerry Bridges’ quotes were peppered throughout. Why?  Because he communicated far more clearly what I needed to say as I tried to preach on this subject.


What is a sign of maturity? Practicing what you hear. Through practice you become mature. You see, it’s one thing to grow old in the Lord, but it’s another thing to grow up in the Lord.
“There are many people cruising from church to church, from Bible conference to Bible conference, filling notebook after notebook, wearing out Bible after Bible, who are still some of the crankiest, fussiest, grumpiest, most irresponsible people you meet. Why? Because they do not practice the things they hear. This is the whole thrust of the book of James. He wants you to put to the test what you claim to believe – by doing it. A mature person is one who is involved in practicing on a regular, consistent basis what he hears and what he takes in. Just being exposed to Bible instruction won’t solve problems.” (Chuck Swindoll)

The best two word phrase that I have heard that describes how we change and grow in Christ (i.e. sanctification) is: Active Dependence!

The pattern in Scripture is… indicatives (i.e. the Truth about who God is, who we are, and what God has done for us) must precede imperatives (i.e. God’s commands)! It’s understanding and believing the indicatives that gives us the power to carry out the imperatives!

“A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates – all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside of himself. He knows he cannot cause the seed to germinate, nor can he produce the rain and sunshine for growing and harvesting the crop. For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God.
Yet the farmer knows that unless he diligently pursues his responsibilities to plow, plant, fertilize, and cultivate, he cannot expect a harvest at the end of the season. In a sense he is in a partnership with God, and he will reap its benefits only when he has fulfilled his own responsibilities. Farming is a joint venture between God and the farmer. The farmer cannot do what God must do, and God will not do what the farmer should do.
“We can say just as accurately that the pursuit of holiness is a joint venture between God and the Christian. No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part. God has made it possible for us to walk in holiness. But He has given to us the responsibility of doing the walking; He does not do that for us.
“…holiness is a process, something we never attain in this life. That is why we will always be pursuing – as opposed to attaining – holiness in this life.” (Jerry Bridges – from The Pursuit of Holiness)
In the Preface to The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges begins by writing the following – the very first sentence in the preface of his book:

“Shortly after my book The Pursuit of Holiness was published in 1978, I was invited to give a series of ten lectures on that subject at a church in our city. One night I titled my lecture ‘The Chapter I Wish I Had Written.’ The nature of that message was that the pursuit of holiness must be motivated by an ever-increasing understanding of the grace of God; or else it can become oppressive and joyless.”

Here were a few other favorite Bridges quotes:

“We are to live our lives from acceptance, not for acceptance.”
“Living by grace instead of by works means you are free from the performance treadmill. It means God has already given you an “A” when you deserved an “F”. He has already given you a full day’s pay even though you may have worked only one hour. It means you don’t have to perform certain spiritual disciplines to earn God’s approval. Jesus Christ has already done that for you. You are loved and accepted by God through the merit of Jesus, and you are blessed by God through the merit of Jesus. Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or any less. He loves you strictly by His grace given to you through Jesus!” (Jerry BridgesTransforming Grace)

What is Legalism? Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.

“Legalism has its origin in self-worship. If people are justified through their obedience to the law, then they merit praise, honor, and glory. Legalism, in other words, means the glory goes to people rather than God.” (Thomas Schreiner)
“The antidote to legalism is living a ‘gospel-centered’ life!” (Jerry Bridges)
“Preach the gospel to yourself every day! By doing so, it addresses the self-righteous Pharisee and the guilt-laden sinner that dwell in our hearts.” (Jerry Bridges)
“The gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols.” (Jerry Bridges)

What does it mean to live a “gospel-centered life?”

“1. Confidence (Heb. 3:14; 4:16) When the gospel is central in our lives we have confidence before God – not because of our achievements, but because of Christ’s atonement. We can approach God knowing that he receives us as his children. We do not allow our sins to anchor us to guilt and despair, but their very presence in our lives compels us to flee again and again to Christ for grace that restores our spirits and gives us strength.
“2. Intimacy (Heb. 7:25; 10:22; James 4:8) When the gospel is central in our lives we have and maintain intimacy with God, not because of our religious performance, but because of Jesus’ priestly ministry. We know that Jesus is our mediator with God the Father and that he has made perfect peace for us through his sacrifice allowing us to draw near to God with the eager expectation of receiving grace, not judgment.
“3. Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13) When the gospel is central in our lives we experience spiritual transformation, not just moral improvement, and this change does not come about by our willpower, but by the power of the resurrection. Our hope for becoming what God designed and desires for us is not trying harder, but trusting more – relying on his truth and Spirit to sanctify us.” (Tim Challies and Joe Thorn)
“We believers do need to be challenged to a life of committed discipleship, but that challenge needs to be based on the gospel, not on duty or guilt. Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime.”
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” (Jerry BridgesThe Discipline of Grace)

The overall theme of the book of James is: Real faith produces genuine works! If your faith is genuine then your works will be real. If you say that you have the real disease, then you will have the genuine germs. Faith is the root. Works are the fruit. If you have the root, then you will have the fruit. James isn’t preaching salvation by works. He is simply saying that if a person genuinely knows Christ, then their will be fruit. As John Calvin so famously said: “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.”

Don’t simply read, study and listen to God’s Word, make it a priority to put what you learn into practice!

“We must daily soak ourselves in the Scriptures. We must not just study, as through a microscope, the linguistic minutiae of a few verses, but take our telescope and scan the wide expanses of God’s Word, assimilating its grand theme of divine sovereignty in the redemption of mankind. ‘It is blessed,’ wrote Charles Spurgeon, ‘to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.” (John Stott)
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Living for Something (and Someone) Bigger than Yourself

Big Stock Photo

Last week, John Piper wrote a blog post that I found to be soul-stirring and challenging, especially as one of the “Baby Boomer” generation. I wanted to share it with you. Here is his post in its entirety:

Hillary, Bernie, Donald and Me
 by John Piper
At 70, I am energized to dream great things, because this year Hillary turns 69, Bernie turns 75, and Donald turns 70. My rising energy has nothing to do with their policies or character. It has to do with the incredible fact that all of them want to spend their seventies doing the hardest job in the world.
This is wonderfully counter-cultural. I doubt that it’s motivated by a passion to magnify the greatness of Jesus. But that makes it all the more inspiring for me, because nothing gets me more excited than spending my seventies spreading a passion for the glory of Christ and his word. Paul is still my hero when he says, “My eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
So if Hillary and Bernie and Donald want to bear the weight of the world for the next four to eight years out of man-centered, philanthropic motives, I find my seventy-something zeal for Jesus heating up.
They only get to be president of a tiny territory called the U.S.A.
I get to be an ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe.
They only get to change the way some people live for a few decades.
I get to change the way some people live forever — with a lot of good spill-over for this world in the process.
But this is not an article mainly about me. It’s about the 70 million Baby Boomers coming behind me. I’m the oldest (born in 1946; the youngest born in 1964).
Ten thousand Americans turn 70 every day.
And they will continue to do so for about nineteen years. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to get us to waste the last chapter of our lives on leisure. I’m spending one afternoon to plead with the rising seventy-somethings: Don’t waste it.
A History of Impact over Seventy
Hillary, Bernie, and Donald are not unique. Let them — and all the others — inspire you.
Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are over 65, and three are over 75.
Ronald Reagan served as president from age 70 to 78. He was shot at age 70 and recovered. Then at 76, he stood against the U.S.S.R. in West Berlin and said to Mikhail Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall!”
Winston Churchill became the prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1940 at the age of 66. He wielded his mighty eloquence against the Nazis till he was 70. Six years later, he was reelected and served till he was 81. At 82, he wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
Theologian Charles Hodge (1797–1878) lived to be 80. His biographer, Paul Gutjahr, wrote, “His last years were among his most productive . . . wielding his favorite pen to compose literally thousands of manuscript pages, which would eventually become his monumental Systematic Theology and his incisive What Is Darwinism?.”
At 70, Benjamin Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence.
John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at age 77.
At the same age, Grandma Moses started painting. Started!
At 82, Goethe finished writing his famous Faust.
At 89, Albert Schweitzer ran a hospital in Africa.
At 93, Strom Thurmond won reelection after promising not to run again at age 99. He lived to be 100.
At 93, P.G. Wodehouse worked on his 97th novel, got knighted, and then died.
I heard J. Oswald Sanders lecture when he was 89. He said, “I have written a book a year since I was 70.” So I have just arrived at the beginning of this writing life. The beginning! What a thrilling example!
Ralph Winter, the great missions visionary and activist was thinking and writing and strategizing for world evangelization until he died at 84. He was passionate about non-retirement. He wrote,
“Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere that half the men retiring in the state of New York die within two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease, not a blessing. . . . Where in the Bible do they see that? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”
Whether in Weakness or Strength
I am not unaware — my body makes me aware — that not everyone has the wonderful privilege of health and resources in old age. Over four million people over 65 live in poverty. Millions more suffer from the dreaded woes of aging — heart disease, arthritis, cancer, lung disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis. Not to mention the typical loss of hearing and eyesight and energy.
I do not want to add a burden to those who would love to dream with me, but can’t act on their dreams. You have your calling to live where you are, with all your weaknesses, for the glory of Christ. And, yes, he does get glory in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
God has great promises for those of you who trust your precious and ever-present Savior, Jesus Christ: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).
Rather, I am writing to the 25 million Americans over 65 who are healthy and have resources — and to the seven thousand Boomers who turn 70 every day with health and wealth. I am inviting you to look around you. Look at Hillary and Bernie and Donald, and thousands of others, who are dreaming their dreams. Whatever their motives are, what are yours?
Without Excuse
“Jesus gave himself for us to purify for himself a people who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). No age limit. Zealous. Passionate. To the end. For good works. Works that he has gifted you to do. He has given you a lifetime of experience and wisdom and resources. You have a decade of freedom in front of you. This is a trust. All your previous life was designed for this season of fruitfulness. What is your dream?
“Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement.”
“The righteous . . . still bear fruit in old age . . . to declare that the Lord is upright” (Psalm 92:12–15). Why would God tell us that? Because he wants us to dream that. He wants us to pray for that.
Not everyone gets the privilege. Some die young. Some must bear the burden of immobilizing pain. But millions of you are free. If you do not dream a joyful dream of productive service for Christ in your seventies, what will you say to the Savior? Your only excuse will be that you listened to the voice of this age rather than to God’s. It will not be a good excuse.
Redefine Retirement
The apostle Paul was on his way to evangelize Spain when he died in his sixties (Romans 15:23–28). He called himself an “old man” (Philemon 1:9). But as an “old man,” he planned, while he had breath, to do all he could for Christ and his kingdom. Spending the last season of his life playing games in a perishing world was not in his plan. It should not be in yours.
Join the happy psalmist: “My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalm 71:8–9). We have good reason to believe God will answer that prayer for Christ’s sake.
Break free from the spirit of this age. See the world — see your life — the way God sees it. In his reckoning, sweet soul-rest begins when you are born again (Hebrews 4:3, 10), and rest from our labor — true retirement — begins when you die.
Make no mistake. The Bible believes in retirement. It’s called heaven. Then the new earth. It lasts forever. Compared to it, this life is a vapor’s breath. All our trials here are “a light and momentary affliction” that are preparing for us an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Keep your eyes on this prize. Such a rest the world has never dreamed of.
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord . . . that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13). Be up and doing. Joyfully. For Christ. Full of hope.
Related Resources
▪ Rethinking Retirement –  In this little book, John Piper challenges fellow Baby Boomers to forego the American dream of retirement and live out their golden years with a far greater purpose in mind.
▪ Boomers’ Bodies — And Yours – All of the 10,000 people in America who turn 65 each day have wrinkles. For Christians, God takes the deep creases of our bondage to corruption and turns them into the dignity of spiritual beauty.
▪ Resolutions on Growing Old with God – For those who do not want to be a grumpy old man or woman, here are eight resolutions for an aging saint.
▪ The Books Boomers Will Never Read – The older we get, it becomes clearer that many unread books will not be read in this life. For Christians, life, learning, and reading never end.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

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