Paul Madson

THOUGHTS, QUOTES & REFLECTIONS

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But God, Being Rich in Mercy…

Photo by Paul Madson. Sunset over Big Lake, Arizona (captured on our last camping trip).

One of the best new books that I have read in the past 10 years is Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund (Crossway Publishers, released April 2020).

This is the kind of book that I will re-read and come back to often in the years ahead. It is theologically rich, easily accessible, and profound in its application to our daily lives.

Here is a small sample of the richness you’ll find throughout Ortlund’s book….

“Consider God’s richness in mercy for your own life. ….

Perhaps, looking at the evidence of your life,
you do not know what to conclude
except that this mercy of God in Christ
has passed you up.

Maybe you have been deeply mistreated.
Misunderstood.
Betrayed by the one person you should have been able to trust.
Abandoned.
Taken advantage of.
Perhaps you carry a pain that will never heal till you are dead.

If my life is any evidence of the mercy of God in Christ,
you might think, I’m not impressed.

To you I say, the evidence of Christ’s mercy toward you is not your life. The evidence of his mercy toward you is his – mistreated, misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned. Eternally. In your place.

If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection, and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on your way to heaven.

Perhaps you have difficulty receiving the rich mercy of God in Christ not because of what others have done to you but because of what you’ve done to torpedo your life, maybe through one big, stupid decision or maybe through ten thousand little ones. You have squandered his mercy, and you know it.

To you I say, do you know what Jesus does with those who squander his mercy? He pours out more mercy. God is rich in mercy. That’s the whole point.

Whether we have been sinned against or have sinned ourselves into misery, the Bible says God is not tightfisted with mercy but openhanded, not frugal but lavish, not poor but rich.

That God is rich in mercy means that your regions of deepest shame and regret are not hotels through which divine mercy passes but homes in which divine mercy abides.

It means the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest.

It means his mercy is not calculating and cautious, like ours. It is unrestrained, flood-like, sweeping, magnanimous.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”

(2 Corinthians 1:3 ESV)

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

(Psalm 23:6 ESV)

“But this I call to mind,
And therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”
(Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)

A Prayer and a Plea for our Nation and World

Photo by Aaron Burden

Dear Friends of GTN,

To say that our nation is divided, trust has been broken and turmoil is evident on the streets in our cities, is certainly an understatement.

As we follow the news and see our nation in turmoil, my heart, like many of yours, aches. All of us long for righteousness and peace.

As my friend, Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, recently wrote:

All Christians should feel extremely bothered, hurt, and righteously angered over the recent tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, not to mention all others who have needlessly died due to racial injustices and systemic racism.

Racism is a grievous sin, resulting in systemic oppression, and does not display our Lord’s heart. It is demonic, and we, as the body of Christ, are called to stand against it. While equal treatment and justice are American values that we proclaim, too often they are not experienced by all people.

As we travel throughout the Majority World, we see that injustice is far greater and more prevalent than even here in the United States. The sad reality is: injustice is common globally.

And the people that suffer the most are usually the poor and disenfranchised.

These are the people Jesus calls us to “pay attention to” and “speak up for.”

Throughout the pages of the Bible, we find the command to “treat others the way you would like to be treated.” (Luke 6:31)

When you and I speak up for the marginalized and mistreated, we are living out Scriptural mandates.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV)

When power is abused it creates chaos and dysfunction at every level of culture.

James tells us…

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:8-9 NIV)

As the injustices that happen within our nation have hit the front pages of our newspapers once again, we are all reminded that we live “in a fallen place in the midst of a fallen race.”

God calls all Christ-followers to be involved in helping to redeem this broken world back to Himself. Scripture says that one of the ways we do this is by speaking up for the poor, oppressed and marginalized within our society.

Micah 6:8 says…

“He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?” (ESV)

Many times, throughout history we have not spoken out as we should have in defense of those oppressed because of the color of their skin or ethnicity.

It is appropriate for us to collectively mourn with our brothers and sisters who have experienced the hurtful oppression of racism and who live in fear as part of their daily experience.

It is also appropriate for us to join our voices with those who are protesting peacefully and who are denouncing the violence and vandalism that ultimately distracts from the real root issues that we are trying to solve as a nation.

If we want to see social unrest decrease, we as followers of Christ need to appropriately, clearly, and yet graciously, speak up and speak out against all injustice and unrighteousness.

The prophet Jeremiah reminds us to “…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

My prayer is that God would be gracious to us as a nation and bring healing to us, and our world, in this troubled time.

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24 ESV)

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

(Proverbs 14:34 NASB)

By God’s Grace and for His Glory,

Paul R. Madson

Dear 2020. Please Stop.

Big Stock Photo

The above four-word sentiment was tweeted a few weeks ago by Pastor Scott Sauls.

We can all relate.

Best-selling author and speaker, Paul David Tripp, recently reminded us of why we can have hope in the midst of these challenging times. And it has to do with considering the birds of the air:

Here’s a mind-boggling figure: scientists estimate that in the United States alone, 13.7 million birds die every day.

It’s a seemingly random and rather unpleasant statistic, but when I came across it, my heart was deeply encouraged.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father.” (Matthew 10:29, ESV)

There are hundreds of billions of birds in existence around the world today. Almost all of them have no monetary value whatsoever. Apart from a handful of endangered or noteworthy birds, we don’t track these creatures, name them, care about them, or know them.

But their Creator does. He is in control over every aspect of their life: their birth; the color and quantity of their feathers; their nest; their breeding; their migration; and ultimately, the time, location, and manner in which they die.

Think of all the technology, human resources, and coordination that is required for us to track the relatively few planes that are in the sky every day. God is in complete control over the flight paths of every single one of these hundreds of billions of birds.

This reality alone should be unbelievably reassuring.

No matter how it looks at street level, your world is not out of control; no, it is under the careful administration of the Creator who has the wisdom and power to be the great Author of it all.

But that’s not enough; Jesus takes the comforting illustration even further: “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:30-31)

By grace, you are now the adopted child of the One who has this immeasurable control. As his son or daughter, you are far more valuable than any bird.

This means your heavenly Father exercises intimate, personal, and specific control over your life for his glory and your good.

Discovering peace in difficult times is never accomplished by measuring the size of your strength and wisdom against the size of your trouble. No, rest is found when you compare the size of what you’re facing against the Creator of the heavens and earth. By grace, He is your father wherever you go.

Whatever you are facing today, meditate on Matthew 10:29-31. Ask God to remind you of his power, presence, and promises.

And then get up and live, with courage and hope, in light of this truth!

The Many Benefits of Exercise

“Exercise has such a wide range of physical and mental benefits that, if it were a pill, it would undoubtedly be the most widely prescribed of all medications. It is amazing that, despite this evidence and the public’s apparent acceptance of the importance of physical activity, millions of American adults remain sedentary.”

Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs (Ph.D.)

Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs (Ph.D.) writes the following about the practical benefits of exercise…

“If sedentary adults would adopt a more physically active lifestyle, they would experience a wide array of physical and mental benefits, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Lessened anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Improved mood, energy, and a sense of well-being
  • Improved self-control
  • Improved health, longevity, and quality of life
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced pain and disability

Regular exercise enhances health by improving…

  • cardiovascular functioning,
  • bone density, and
  • immune functioning,
  • and by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol

People who are physically active are much less likely to suffer from…

  • coronary heart disease,
  • hypertension,
  • diabetes,
  • osteoporosis,
  • obesity,
  • back problems,
  • and colon cancer

Exercise also improves psychological functioning. Exercise is an outlet for the body’s excessive tension, providing a healthy way to release anger and anxiety.

Exercise has a tranquilizing effect that reduces anxiety more effectively than many anti-anxiety medications.

Studies have found that the tranquilizing effect follows within five to ten minutes of completing exercise and lasts for at least four hours.

Therefore, physically active people are less likely to develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.”

“Yes, I’ve had moments of euphoria known as the ‘runner’s high,’ and there are reams of scientific studies showing that running improves mood, alleviates depression and anxiety, and basically does every good thing for your brain short of removing it from your skull, giving it a wash and a blow dry, and putting it back in all toasty warm.”

– Peter Sagal
May 2017 issue of Runner’s World Magazine

John Piper writes in his book, When I Don’t Desire God

“The Bible has little to say about physical exercise, not because it’s not important for modern sedentary people, but mainly because, in the biblical world of walking and farming and manual labor, the lack of physical exercise was not a problem.

The call today is for spiritual wisdom based on biblical principles and contemporary medical knowledge.

The biblical principles would include the following:

  • Our bodies belong to Christ and are meant to glorify him (1 Cor. 6:19-20);
  • Laziness is wrong and self-destructive (Prov. 21:25);
  • Christians should be free from enslaving habits (1 Cor. 6:12);
  • Hard work is a virtue and brings rewards (2 Tim. 2:6);
  • Advance usually comes through affliction (Acts 14:22);
  • and all Christ-exalting efforts are to flow from faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).

‘No pain, no gain’ is an idea that could be documented from all over the Bible, especially the sacrifice of Christ.”

“$120 billion – the amount the United States would save annually in healthcare costs and related expenses if sedentary children began exercising every day.”

– May 27, 2017 issue of World Magazine

In the April 2017 issue of Christianity Today, Bradley Wright and David Carreon wrote…

“Research has found, for example, that people with more self-control…

  • live longer,
  • are happier,
  • get better grades,
  • are less depressed,
  • are more physically active,
  • have lower resting heart rates,
  • have less alcohol abuse,
  • have more stable emotions,
  • are more helpful to others,
  • get better jobs,
  • earn more money,
  • have better marriages,
  • are more faithful in marriage,
  • and sleep better at night.”

Moving our bodies regularly will benefit us in so many potentially profound ways.

So, whether you prefer to walk, hike, swim, bike or run… my encouragement is to get out and move regularly.

By way of encouragement, my dear 90-year-old mom gets out and walks a half mile to a mile (some of that is even uphill) almost every day 🙂

Bottom line: The more we get up, get out and move our bodies, the better we will be.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
(1 Cor. 10:31 ESV)

Quotes to Note: Part 2

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“To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God, he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?”
(Timothy Keller)

“Most of my sins are hidden. My friends think too well of me. My enemies think inaccurately of me. Only God knows. Good.”
(Ray Ortlund)

“Imagine a world without music. What a sad, sad place it would be.”
(Jackie Hill Perry)

“He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer his embrace.”
(Joni Eareckson Tada – well-known author and speaker who has suffered from paralysis for over 50 years)

“The more spiritually alive and mature we are, the more we recognize how far short we fall of the glory of God. The closer we get to a mirror, the more clearly we perceive our imperfections. The mirror for Christians is Christ. Therefore, it should not surprise us that those who have known Him best have been most aware of their imperfections and most appreciative of His love and grace.”
(Tom Hovestol – from his book: Extreme Righteousness)

“God is a lot more patient with you than you are with you.”
(Bryan Loritts)

“Our blustering civilization has completely robbed us of a concentrated inner life, dragged our souls out into a bazaar, whether of commerce or of party politics.”
(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

“Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.”
(Philip Yancey)

“Married people – Don’t play with fire. You’re going to get burned. Jesus is better than everything. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. The grass is greener where the lawn is taken care of.”
(Derwin Gray)

“Don’t save up love like you’re going to retire on it; we’re rivers, not reservoirs.”
(Bob Goff)

“Reading one book well is far better than reading ten to check off your list.”
(Karen Swallow Prior)

“Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”
(Timothy Keller)

Quotes to Note

It is impossible to be happy without humility.

Unless we have a true sense of our insignificance in the wider scheme of things, unless we experience gratitude for the small blessings in life—the little graces that bring joy precisely because they are unearned and undeserved, we will never know joy.

The more towering the façade of our own importance, the more shrunken is our capacity for happiness.

Entitlement destroys the virtue best equipped to bring happiness—gratitude.”

(Trevin Wax)

“Theology doesn’t just think. Theology walks. Theology weeps. Theology bleeds.”
(Russell D. Moore)

“One sign you’ve encountered God is you walk with a limp, not a strut.”
(Matt Smethurst)

“If our identity is in our work, rather than Christ, success will go to our heads, and failure will go to our hearts.”
(Tim Keller)

“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”
(Elisabeth Elliot)

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”
(Francis Bacon)

“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response: ‘Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G. K. Chesterton.’ That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”
(Timothy Keller)

“Gratitude. Collect your blessings. Catalog God’s kindnesses. Assemble your reasons for gratitude and recite them.”
(Max Lucado)

“…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
(George Eliot, quoted at the end of
Terrance Malick’s movie A Hidden Life)

“The strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours.”
(John Piper)

Quotes to Encourage: On Gratitude

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.”
(Colossians 2:6-7 NASB)

“Studies have shown that….
grateful people view their lives more favorably than others,
have increased energy and self-confidence,
and demonstrate better coping.
They are more generous and optimistic,
have a greater sense of purpose,
have fewer medical problems,
exercise more,
and sleep better than their peers.…”
(Christianity Today article: “What Brilliant Psychologists Are Learning About Humility” by Mark R. McMinn)

“No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. Any amount of grateful joy changes the present.” (Ann Voskamp) 

“When someone continually talks about how happy they are, I tend to doubt them; but when they talk about how grateful they are, I know they have found happiness.” (Rob Hawkins) 

“Undeniable guilt,
plus undeserved grace,
should equal unbridled gratitude.”
(Nancy Leigh DeMoss) 

“Seek… to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.” (Alexander Maclaren – 1826-1910) 

“Keep your own happiness journal. Record God’s evident goodness around you every day. You’ll find that in time, you’ll see more and more gifts from him – not because there are more, but because you’re finally seeing what has been there all along.” (Randy Alcorn) 

“Ultimately, in his essence, Satan is an ingrate. And he sinks his venom into the heart of Eden. Satan’s sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude… Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives.” (Ann Voskamp) 

“If only we could see our situation clearly. We deserve expulsion; he [God] gives us a diploma. We deserve the electric chair; he gives us a parade. Anything less than overwhelming gratitude would be unthinkable. He owes us nothing. We own him everything. ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’ (Romans 11:35 – NIV), The answer is: nobody.” (Randy Alcorn)

“Once we experience thanksgiving as our default condition, we’ll find it’s inseparable from our happiness, and we’ll never want to go back to the barren wasteland of ingratitude.” (Randy Alcorn) 

“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) 

“Joy and cynicism. Both are contagious. Everyone infects the world with one or the other.” (Scott Sauls)

“Gratitude isn’t only a celebration when good things happen. Gratitude is a declaration that God is good no matter what happens!” (Ann Voskamp)

Leadership in Times of Crisis: Both Realistic and Reassuring

The best leadership during turbulent times is both realistic and reassuring. And the more realistic people believe it to be, the more reassured they will become.

This is one of the great challenges all leaders face – whether they are pastors, prime ministers or presidents. Being able to articulate the reality of a given situation – as accurately as possible, and yet reassuring the people you lead that there is hope on the horizon – is always a challenge.

Leadership must be realistic.

The people you lead must believe that your assessment of the current situation is realistic. That’s not an easy target to hit. Some will feel you are being too optimistic, others too pessimistic.

As one writer described it (our current Covid-19 crisis and the corresponding economic fallout), we are either entering:

  • a blizzard that will be over in 6-8 weeks.
  • Or a blizzard, followed by an economic winter.
  • Or a blizzard, followed by an economic winter, which would then be followed by a mini-economic ice age.

All of us would agree that we are in both an economic and health blizzard (at the very least). As of this morning, just under 10 million Americans have filed jobless claims in the past two weeks. In the last week alone, 6.6 million people filed jobless claims. The previous highest week in the history of our country was just over 680,000 in one week in 1982. These numbers are certainly eye-opening and sobering. We are truly living in unprecedented times.

Though I don’t think (at this point) we will head into an economic mini-ice-age, I do believe we will be facing an economic winter of some length. Some argue that the “winter” will be relatively short. Others say it will be prolonged and drawn out for a year to two years (or more).

No one knows for sure – outside of our omniscient Lord – exactly what the future looks like. Who would have predicted accurately back in January the circumstances that we are facing today?

But even though we may not know the extent of this crisis and how long and deep it will be, there are several things that we can know and hold onto.

Leadership must be reassuring.

Here are four things we can know and cling to that will help us as we proceed through this blizzard and into some type of economic winter:

ONE: If you are in Christ, you always have hope.

Kevin DeYoung said it this way, “The Bible doesn’t tell us that we have to be a pessimist or that we ought to be an optimist. What it does tell us is that we ought to be people of hope …. Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope is an unwavering confidence in the power and the promises of God.”

What anchors us in times like this? What is our foundation? Anything less than God (and God alone) will ultimately fail us.

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.”
(Psalms 62:5-7 – NIV84)

TWO: Prayer will bring peace to your soul – it will help alleviate your worries and fears.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 – ESV)

The Apostle Paul is essentially saying, “Turn your worries and anxieties into prayer.”

Billy Graham was once asked what his favorite Christian hymn was. His answer was What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

The words to the chorus are appropriate in times like these:

“Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.”

During this season (and every season) it is wise to focus on one day at a time. Don’t catastrophize the future. Trust your good and loving Father to guide you each day, each step of the way.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

THREE: Your perspective of the world and your circumstances makes a huge difference in your mental, emotional and spiritual health.

As God’s children, we view life through the lens of biblical truth.

This point brings to mind the story of Elisha’s servant, who couldn’t see all of the resources God had brought to the battle. Elisha prayed:

“’O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17 – ESV)

Our perspective of our current circumstances can make a huge difference in whether we go through our days filled with peace or filled with panic.

I just returned home from visits to four poverty-stricken nations last month. In these Majority World countries, many people (and pastors) are living in mud huts with dirt floors, no running water and no electricity. They have no health insurance and very little, if any, access to decent, basic health care.

And yet, the individuals I interacted with were some of the (truly) happiest people I have ever met. They have a peace and a joy that comes from knowing and trusting Jesus. Their faith translates into how they view life each day.

Scripture teaches us that, ultimately, our life is in God’s hands.

As the Psalmist said, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands…” (Psalm 31:14-15a – NIV)

Similarly, contemporary Christian music artist Kathy Troccoli recorded a song with these powerful lyrics:

My life is in your hands
My heart is in your keeping
I’m never without hope
Not when my future is with you
(from My Life is in Your Hands)

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Christianity gives us a worldview and a true and clear perspective on life.

FOUR: God is a good and gracious God. He can (meaning He is sovereign) and He cares(He is good and loving).

God is good and gracious. He loves you more than you know. As Isaiah the prophet said:

“Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” (Isaiah 40:26 – NIV84)

The Lord who flung the stars into space and calls them each by name also cares for you in a deep and profound way. In that same chapter, Isaiah writes…

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11 – NIV84)

Scripture tells us that this same sovereign God “bottles (our) tears.” (Psalm 56:8 – NKJV)

So, in the midst of what we’re facing, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, our hearts connected to His Word and our lips filled with prayers.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
(Psalm 91:1-2 – NIV)

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore, I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:21-23 – ESV)

 

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:
https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp
https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/incontext/article/polycarp-testimony

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