Paul Madson


Year: 2020

How our world changed in 30 days

I arrived back in the States a few days ago, and (thankfully) am healthy and feeling good. I’m now in a self-imposed 14-day quarantine (per CDC recommendation when I landed at Chicago O’Hare).

The velocity of changes that have overtaken the world over the last few weeks is astounding. To say that it has taken us all by surprise is certainly an understatement.

When I left for my (almost month-long) trip around the world the last week of February, things with the Coronavirus seemed reasonably under control – the only real danger spots were China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. And as long as you stayed clear of those countries, a global traveler would generally be fine.

When I entered the first three of the four nations that I spent time in (Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka), they had no reported cases of COVID-19 and the world still seemed fairly normal.

Then I flew to Ethiopia and things globally began to unravel, unwind and disintegrate at breakneck speed. This was also two days after President Trump’s speech, in which he ordered all flights from the Schengen zone – Europe – to the U.S. halted as of Friday night, March 13th. I was scheduled to fly home at the end of March through Frankfurt.

When I left the States at the end of February, the Stock Market was at 28,000. As I write this (one month later) it stands at 21,000+ (but having just risen 13% in the past two days). It had dropped as low as 19,000+ this past week.

Also at the end of February, there were 35 reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and 0 deaths. Today (30 days later) there are 61,000 reported cases and 830 deaths.

Globally, there were 80,000 cases worldwide and 2,700 deaths on February 25, 2020. Today there are 453,000 reported cases and 20,500 deaths.

The cascading chaos that was unfolding globally over the past 30 days was truly stunning.

I read a story of a river rafting group that spent 25 days rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon – completely disconnected from all news, phone, email and text (on purpose to go “off the grid” for a few weeks).

When they came out of the canyon, they felt like they walked into a “different world” than the one they left just three-and-a-half weeks earlier.

When I left the States a month ago, national and international flights continued as normal (except for the four countries mentioned above).

When I arrived back in the U.S. at Chicago O’Hare a few days ago, the airport was a ghost town (in mid-afternoon on a weekday). I went through immigration and customs in less than 60 seconds (not an exaggeration). My flight was three-fourths empty. United Airlines (which I flew back to the U.S. on) is cutting over 90% of their flights (as are many other carriers).

As of today, the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying that the USA could become the next epicenter for the virus.

So, what are we as Christ-followers to think
in the midst of times like these?

Here are a few important truths for all of us to keep in mind, both now and in the days ahead…

ONE: Though none of us knows what the future looks like because of these recent developments, here is what we do know:

God is still on the Throne and He is not caught off guard by this virus. He is not in heaven, wringing His hands and pacing in circles, wondering how this happened and how He is going to deal with it. He is still moving history toward its final culmination of redeeming this broken and sinful world to Himself.

God is good and loving. He knows and cares about what you are facing. He promises to take care of you and provide for your every need. Scripture says our job is to seek His Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33) and “all these things will be added to you as well” (v. 34). 

This doesn’t mean that we won’t face potential hardship, difficulties and loss. What it does mean is God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and our lives (and this world) are under His providential control (Psalm 33:10-11).

As Charles Spurgeon said,
“The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is a soft pillow 
upon which I lay my head each night.”

God is faithful and can be counted upon to give us the grace that we need at each moment along the way (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” 
(1 Thessalonians 5:24 NASB)

Loving those around us well is always the right thing to do (even when that includes social distancing). We all need to figure out creative ways to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14; Matthew 5:43-47)

TWO: These are the times for each of us to remember the “rock memorials” (Joshua 4) from our past where God has shown Himself faithful.

Over the years, Lisa and I have reminded each other of God’s goodness, grace, mercy, kindness and faithfulness through our 40 years of marriage (and ministry).

We have eight or nine significant “rock memorials” that leave a smile on our face and tears of joy in our eyes. It’s always an exercise that leads to encouragement, hope and stronger faith.

I’m confident that we will all get through this. I believe that years from now, we will look back and talk about how “God brought us through” once again.

If you read history, you will see that throughout the centuries there have been Christ-followers who have been through far worse difficulties than anything we are facing, and God faithfully brought them through their trials.

THREE: It’s easy to say we are “walking by faith” when everything is going our way, when the sun is shining, and dark clouds seem like a distant memory (and nowhere in the foreseeable future).

The true test of faith is trusting in God’s goodness, wisdom and providence during times like these. Central to all of the enemy’s attacks on us is trying to get us to “distrust God and His Word.”

Scripture makes one thing abundantly clear:

God calls us to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And “walking by faith” pleases God (for there is no other way to please Him) (Hebrews 11:6). 

Here are a few Scripture verses that I think are appropriate at this particular time, for this season (and I’ve listed several more at the bottom of this post):


“I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I will strengthen you and help you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
“I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.”

(Isaiah 41:9-10 – NIV84)

“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.”
(Zephaniah 3:17 – NIV84)

“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength…”
(Habakkuk 3:17-19 – NIV)

“…casting all your anxiety on Him,
 because He cares for you.”
(1 Peter 5:7 – NASB)

“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)

All that we have been facing in our world these past few weeks reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s quote:

“We all long for Eden and are constantly glimpsing it:
our whole nature is soaked with the sense of exile.”

As Cornelius Plantinga Jr. reminded us in his excellent book, Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be, we live in a broken, sin-stained, sickness-filled world. We live in a fallen place in the midst of a fallen race. 

But God promises that He will bring good into our lives and glory to Himself out of the evil, suffering and brokenness in our world (Romans 8:28-29).

God is in the midst of implementing His master plan of redeeming His world and rescuing fallen sinners. In the person of Jesus Christ, God Himself comes to renew the world and restore His people.

And finally, if you want to be encouraged with a great worship song (it’s been at the top of my playlist for this past year), take a few minutes to listen (and watch and read the lyrics) to this Andrew Peterson song, “Is He Worthy?”

This particular video is sung by Chris Tomlin and has the lyrics on the screen (with beautiful scenery behind). I think it will encourage your soul.

See if it doesn’t resonate with you (and what we are facing right now as a world) as it did with me.

God has promised you that “his grace is sufficient” for whatever you may be facing (2 Cor. 12:9). He is faithful to give you what you need, when you need it.

Let’s continue to trust Him and walk faithful to Him, choosing to do the “next right thing” as we move through our days. One choice at a time. One decision at a time. God never called you to carry tomorrow’s burdens today.

And don’t feel bad if you “don’t know what to do.” In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat felt the same way:

“For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.
We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength. Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.”
(Corrie ten Boom)“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)

Scriptures to Meditate on…

“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)

“The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
(Psalms 33:10c-11 – NIV84)

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

(Psalms 20:7-8 – NIV84)

“In the world you have tribulation but take courage;
I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33c – NASB)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”
(Romans 8:18-19 – NIV84)

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – NASB)

Faithful Unto Death: Do you know the story of Polycarp?

Biography, history, documentaries – true stories have always captivated me, whether it was studying an individual in school or reading in my free time.

I was reminded of this again over the last few days, as I prepared to teach Church History for a group of indigenous pastors on an upcoming trip.

There is a wealth of wisdom to be found in the biographical stories of people who lived in previous centuries.

Modern man tends to live with a very short attention span and lacks an appreciation for the hundreds (if not thousands) of years that have gone before us (30, 60, or 90 years seems like ancient history to many people).

Do you know the story of Polycarp, the aged Bishop of Smyrna?

Here’s a brief overview of his life:

Polycarp lived in the first and second centuries (69 – 156 AD).

He lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers.

Tradition has it that Polycarp was personally discipled by the apostle John and he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (what is now modern-day Izmir, Turkey). He served as Bishop for 50 years.

His only existing writing is “The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians.” (110 AD)

In this letter we see a deep pastoral concern for the Philippian believers, as well as great familiarity with the New Testament documents. He urged faithfulness in the face of persecution.

His Letter to the Philippians was a significant foundation of early Christian literature, establishing the role of the Apostle Paul and referencing the existence of other texts of the New Testament.

When Polycarp was 86, the proconsul tried to get him to renounce Christ by saying,

“I have wild animals here; I will throw you to them if you do not repent.”

“Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil.”

The proconsul then said, “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.”

To which Polycarp said, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

Finally, the proconsul said,

“Take the oath [i.e. worship Caesar alone and renounce Christ], and I shall release you. Curse Christ!”

Polycarp responded,

“Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Tradition has it that Polycarp died by being bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to consume his body.

Polycarp was martyred for his faith. His execution was recorded by eyewitnesses.

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:35-40 NIV)

For Further Reference:

Discipline and Grace: The Path Toward Christlikeness

At Global Training Network’s annual All-Staff Leadership Gathering last week, I shared about one particular author whose writing has profoundly shaped my understanding of what it looks like to live out the Christian life.

That author is the late Jerry Bridges, who served with the Navigators ministry for over 50 years.

In 1980, I read my first book by Bridges, entitled The Pursuit of Holiness.

Over a decade later, I read Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love.

In 1994, Bridges released a blend of the two above-mentioned books entitled The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness.

This particular book received the ECPA Christian Book Award in 1995.

Here are a few quotes from the book on the role discipline and grace play in our growth toward Christlikeness…

“The Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us more and more into the likeness of Christ is called sanctification. Our involvement and cooperation with Him in His work is what I call the pursuit of holiness. That expression is not original with me. Rather, it is taken from Hebrews 12:14 – ‘Make every effort [literally: pursue] . . . to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.’

The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no laissez-faire attitude toward even the smallest sins.”

Then Bridges goes on to link the concept of grace with our growth in godliness…

“At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think that the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical – that is, in direct and unequivocal opposition to one another. . .. Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand.”

All of us need God’s grace and mercy every moment of every day.

Bridges wrote…

“I have read that every time the great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon stepped into the pulpit, he did so with the silent prayer, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18:13 KJV).”

“Regardless of our performance, we are always dependent on God’s grace, His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath. . .. Does the fact that God has forgiven us all our sins mean that He no longer cares whether we obey or disobey? Not at all.”

“If God’s blessings were dependent on our performance, they would be meager indeed. Even our best works are shot through with sin – with varying degrees of impure motives and lots of imperfect performance. We are always, to some degree, looking out for ourselves, guarding our flanks, protecting our egos. It is because we do not realize the utter depravity of the principle of sin that remains in us and stains everything we do, that we entertain any notion of earning God’s blessings [apart from His grace] through our obedience.”

Then Bridges writes this brief statement that has become one of his most popular quotes…

“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.”

Loving Others Well in the Midst of a Watching World

“Nothing discredits the Christian gospel like churches that don’t look like Christ. If we become a religious version of the ugly partisanship already rampant in the world, we are screaming at the top of our lungs, ‘Jesus isn’t real, and we’re here to prove it!’  The ‘only’ point of being a church is, by His grace and for His glory, to represent Jesus as a convincing, satisfying alternative to this world. So much is at stake in every church!”
(Ray Ortlund)

“How are you doing loving the people God has put in your life? We don’t need to be looking for new people to love. We just need to start really loving the ones God has already given us.”
(Bill Hull)

“The purpose of the discipleship process is to create loving, Christlike people who live for others. Disciples are not trophies to be admired; we are servants who are to love people like Christ does.”
(Bill Hull)

“New life [in Christ] makes being saved attractive. People are drawn to beauty.”
(Bill Hull)

Jesus said in John 13:34-35“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 5:14, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here’s a suggestion for all of us:

Let’s not waste time thinking about someone else we know who needs this message, let’s only focus on the person staring back at us in the mirror.

I would suggest that that project alone could keep us busy for the rest of our lives.

Quotes to Note – January Edition

“The work God needs to do in you matters far more than the work you think He needs to do through you.”
(Sam Allberry)

“If you’re familiar with Bach, you may know that at the bottom of his manuscripts, he wrote the initials, “S. D. G.” Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts he wrote, ‘Jesu Juva,’ which is Latin for ‘Jesus, help!’ There’s no better prayer for the beginning of an adventure.”
(Andrew Peterson, from Adorning the Dark)

“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
(St. Romero)

“Having received such grace, Christians have a compelling reason to be remarkably gracious, inviting, and endearing toward others, including and especially those who disagree with us.”
(Tim Keller)

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

“Few things are more refreshing than a Christian who’s quick to assume the best.”
(Ray Ortlund)

“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.”
(Elisabeth Elliot, from Secure in the Everlasting Arms)

“New-Year’s resolves, apart from the formation of new habits, likely will not become new-year realities. New habits that really matter don’t just typically thread into your current ones. They must displace the old. According to Groopman, ‘the key lies not in breaking a habit through willpower but in replacing one habit with another.’”
(David Mathis)

“At the root of insecurity — the anxiety over how others think of us — is pride. This pride is an excessive desire for others to see us as impressive and admirable. Insecurity is the fear that instead they will see us as deficient. Insecure pride is a dangerous fear because insecurity can lead to great disobedience.”
(Jon Bloom)

“To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward.”
(Tim Keller)

“A rightly oriented Christianity causes us to care not only about ourselves and our families but also about our communities, cities, and society generally.”
(Matt Perman)

“Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation.”
(John Stott)

“Serving God is not about impressing the crowd, crafting a brand, or building an empire… The work of God is not about the fireworks of human talent. It’s about faithfulness to a divine call. It’s not about showmanship but showing up, every day, determined to follow Jesus.”
(Timothy Dalrymple)

As you read through Scripture this year, don’t forget…

If you don’t have a plan to read through the Scriptures in 2020 yet, can I make a recommendation?

I have found the Five-Day Reading Schedule to be one of the most effective.

Why do I like it and recommend it?

  1. It guides you through the entire Bible in one year. If you invest approximately 20 minutes a day (five days a week), you will read Genesis to Revelation in one year.
  2. You only read five days a week – with two days off (allowing you to catch up for those missed days).
  3. The schedule is laid out in a (generally) chronological order, which means (for example): you will read the Psalms at the appropriate moments in the life of David and the books of Kings and Chronicles are read in harmony.
  4. And finally, this plan doesn’t start until the week of January 5 (so you’re not behind when you begin next week)!

Click here to download the free PDF schedule.

As we read and study Scripture, we must never forget that the goal of all Bible reading (as well as listening, studying, memorizing, etc.) is application to our daily lives so that we become more and more transformed into the image of Jesus.

In other words, Bible knowledge is not the end – rather it is the means to the end, which is becoming more like Jesus in all of our thoughts, attitudes and actions.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the story of the wise man and foolish man (Matthew 7:24-27). Both men heard God’s Word – but only one put into practice what he learned – and thus his life was built upon a “rock” (as opposed to sand) and withstood the storms that life threw at him.

Chuck Swindoll said it this way:

“What is a sign of [spiritual] 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.”

James said “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

And then he goes on to say in verse 25…

“But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:25)

Finally, let the words of John Stott encourage your heart as you begin another year of reading and studying Scripture:

“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.”

I pray you have a wonderful 2020 as you personally engage with Scripture and seek to apply it to your life.

Happy New Year!

© 2020 Paul Madson

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑