Paul Madson

THOUGHTS, QUOTES & REFLECTIONS

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Every day, we are becoming someone…

The question is, who?

Beautiful sunrise over iconic Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lord, let me learn by paradox

 

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)

If the Lord Wills

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

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

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

So, what about 2021?

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

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

(James 4:13-16 ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psalmist tells us…

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

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

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

(Psalm 23:4 – ESV)

“God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

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

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

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

(Psalm 46:1-3 – ESV)

Jesus said,

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

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

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

 “It’s hard to imagine what life would be

If you weren’t there to share my load.

I’d be so afraid to face another day

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

But you know the future and

You’ve met all my days.

You know each season and 

You know all my ways.

You own every hour and

There’s nothing hid from you

You own tomorrow,

So I won’t fear today.”

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

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

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

“I took you from the ends of the earth,

from its farthest corners I called you.

I said, ‘You are my servant’;

I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

So do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

(Isaiah 41:9-10 – NIV84)

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

(Paul Tripp)

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

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

(Isaiah 26:3-4a – NASB)

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

“The One who leads you makes no mistakes.

The One who guides you has the right directions.

The One who counsels you has the wisest answers.

The One who provides for you has the greatest resources.

The One who blesses you brings the greatest joys.”

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

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

(1 Thessalonians 5:23 NASB)

 

Why do Christians make such a big deal of Jesus?

Photo courtesy of www.wallpaperswide.com

Tim Challies writes:

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

Charles Hodge provides a stirring answer in his Systematic Theology.

Why do Christians make such a big deal of Jesus?

Here’s why…”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemics, Politics and Peaceful Relationships

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

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

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

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

1) Climb Mount Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Take the High Road… by going down.

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

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

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

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

Instead, mature people:

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

3) Believe the Best

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

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

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

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

4) Be willing to ‘bend’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, Proverbs saliently reminds us:

“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent;

with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.”

(Proverbs 17:28 NLT)

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

To Conclude

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

It takes work and commitment.

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

 

Reflections on 40 Years of Marriage

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

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

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

ONE: Mercy triumphs over judgement. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE: Endure pain with joy and without complaint.

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

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

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

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

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

Both of our hearts were broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOUR: Love freely, generously and joyfully. 

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Keller wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Proverbs 31:28-31)

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

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

(From the hymn: Great is Thy Faithfulness)

At least 500 Christians reported slaughtered in relentless attacks since June

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

BarnabasAid reports:

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

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

Barnabas regional contacts confirmed attacks in numerous towns including….

Ziway and Shashamene…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they sang a new song, saying,

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

(Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)

How do we love an invisible God?

By loving well the visible people He has placed in our lives

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind.

This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it:
Love your neighbor as yourself.

All the Law and the Prophets hang on
these two commandments.”

(Matthew 22:36-40)

If there is one thing that I have observed in 40-plus years of ministry, it is that we can never be reminded enough of the central importance of loving one another.

The greatest apologetic we have to a watching world is loving others.

In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul says that the whole law can be summed up in one single command: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Think on that.

The entire law summed up in one single command.

Francis Schaeffer wrote years ago,

“Through the centuries men have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. They have worn marks in the lapels of their coats, hung chains about their necks, even had special haircuts.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this, if one feels it is his calling. But there is a much better sign—a mark that has not been thought up just as a matter of expediency for use on some special occasion or in some specific era. It is a universal mark that is to last through all the ages of the church till Jesus comes back.

What is that mark? Love—and the unity it attests to—is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with that mark may the world know that we are indeed Christians.”

(Francis Schaeffer, from his book: The Mark of the Christian)

So, if the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart (Matthew 22:36-40), how do we practically carry that out?

I would suggest the primary way that we demonstrate our love for an invisible God is by loving well the visible people that He has placed in front of us on a daily, weekly and monthly basis (1 John 4:7-21).

Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-47,

“You have heard that it was said,
‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?
Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?
Do not even pagans do that?”

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.”

Jerome, one of the early church fathers, tells us that when the apostle John was very old, he continued to say again and again, “Little children, love one another, love one another, love one another…” When asked why he said nothing more, his response was, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and because when this is done, all is done.”

In this season of great political and racial divide in our nation, it is vital that we stay focused on what is central to following Jesus: loving one another.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

(Ephesians 5:1-2)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with…
compassion,
kindness,
humility,
gentleness and
patience.

Bear with each other and
forgive whatever grievances
you may have against one another.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

(Colossians 3:12-14)

Design or chance?

Our four youngest grandkids on a recent camping trip.

Recently, I came across a quote from a well-known, well-respected secular developmental biology text written by Dr. Scott Gilbert.

In his text, when describing the embryo, he writes of the amazing and seemingly miraculous biological developments that need to happen in order for that embryo to fully develop.

Gilbert writes…

“To become an embryo, you had to build yourself from a single cell. You had to respire before you had lungs, digest before you had a gut… form orderly arrays of neurons before you knew how to think…”
(Scott Gilbert – Developmental Biology)
Think about it:

The embryo had to…

Build itself from a single cell.
Respire before it had lungs.
Digest before it had a gut.
Form orderly arrays of neurons before it knew how to think.

The intricacy and design of the human body is nothing short of astounding.

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.”
(Psalm 139:13-14 ESV)

When I teach on worldviews, I share that I believe:

Theism is the best explanation of the observable universe.
Christianity is the best explanation of theism.
Design or chance?

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)

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