Paul Madson

THOUGHTS, QUOTES & REFLECTIONS

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Holding on to God when He seems distant and silent

If you’ve ever been through a time when God seems absent and heaven seems silent, you’ll be encouraged by  pastor and seminary professor Jared Wilson’s recent article entitled: The Lord is Never Late.

The Lord is Never Late
by Jared Wilson

Reading in my friend Michael Kelley’s book Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, about his family’s journey of faith through their young son’s battle with leukemia, I found a passage of reflection taking me back in time. I do not know the fear and grief of having a child with a life-threatening illness, but when Michael writes —

I prayed. I petitioned. I cried. And I felt . . . nothing. Emptiness. Despair. Isolation. Darkness. Where was He, this God who so loved the world? Where was the great Healer? We needed Him there, in that cubicle of a hospital room. Doing something. Healing something. Springing into action. I didn’t need a Jesus that was sleeping in the boat while the storms raged around His friends. I needed a Jesus who was turning over the tables of sickness and disease and calling out cancerous cells like they were demons.

— this I know.

I was taken back to the smell of the guest bedroom carpet, where my nose had been many hours of many nights, my eyes wetting the fabric as I cried out to God. You ever groaned? If you have, you’d know. I planted my face in that floor and prayed guttural one-word prayers til I couldn’t speak any more. The lullaby music from my daughter’s room across the hall haunted me. I felt alone, unloved, unaccepted, and unacceptable. But I knew I deserved it all, so I was trying to be as submissive to God’s discipline as I could. But it hurt. Oh God it hurt.

I was clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment in desperation in those days, beyond begging him for the restoration of my marriage, beyond begging him for forgiveness of my sins, beyond begging him to take away my thoughts of suicide. I just wanted to know he was there.

The Bible says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). And by his grace I had that faith. A tiny sliver of it, to be sure, but I had it. Half a mustard seed maybe, clenched in my fist. All visible evidence to the contrary, I was still too afraid of the alternative. I was too scared to believe God didn’t exist, that he didn’t love me, that he didn’t care. I was exhausted, but my stubbornness and that speck of faith persisted even in the spiritual silence.

And then one night I heard the voice of the Spirit, not audibly mind you, but clearly, straight to my heart, applying the word of the gospel to me: “I love you, and I approve of you.” Because I had been exposing my mind to the gospel at that time, I knew he meant that he approved of me “in Christ,” not that he approved of my sin or righteousness; that much was clear by the devastation I was in. Like the prodigal son, “I came to my senses.”

In my pained estimation in those dark days, the Lord was moving much too slowly, but I knew in that moment that he is not slow in keeping his promises (2 Pet. 3:9). He was holding me all along, and his reviving word came right on time. I pray I will remember this in dark days to come.

The Lord is never late.
Don’t give up.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
 Habakkuk 2:3


 

“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;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.”
Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NIV)

Easter Week in Real Time

I thought this post by Russ Ramsey on The Gospel Coalition blog was a helpful guide to the chronology of events that took place during the last week of Jesus’ life. Enjoy!


Easter Week in Real Time by Russ Ramsey

As we enter Holy Week—that sacred span from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday—here is a day-by-day breakdown of what Scripture tells us happened on each day.
Use this guide to lead you through Scripture reading this week.

Palm Sunday

(For a full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 21:1–11Mark 11:1–11Luke 19:28–44John 12:9–19.)

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem perched on a colt, it was the first time since raising Lazarus from the dead that he’d shown his face in the city. The story of Lazarus’s resurrection had circulated so that many regarded Jesus as a celebrity. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse. They went out to meet him and received him like a King, because they heard he had done this (John 12:18).

Jesus said Lazarus’s death would end in the faith of many, and in the “glory of God—that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). But the glory he had in mind was even more glorious than his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In fact, he wasn’t referring to the glory these people gave him at all. Lazarus’s resurrection would steel the resolve of the religious leaders to hand Jesus over to a death he would embrace—a death he would conquer. That was the glory he meant. As he rode into Jerusalem, the people cried, “Your King is coming!” They praised his victory over Lazarus’s death. But the irony was that he wasn’t coming to claim his crown on account of Lazarus’s death and resurrection, but on account of his own.

Monday

(For a full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 21:12–22Mark 11:12–19Luke 19:45–48.)

If Jerusalem was a beehive, with his triumphal entry Jesus had hit it with a stick. You could hear the buzz grow as the anger within got organized. His kingly arrival was a strong declaration about his authority over all the conventions of man.

On Monday, Jesus returns for more—this time to declare the failure of God’s people to live up to their covenant mandate to be a blessing to the world. Much of what the Gospels tell us about Monday centers on the theme of Jesus’s authority—both over the created world and his right to judge it. Everything Jesus did, he did with authority. So when he awoke his disciples Monday saying he wanted to go back into Jerusalem to teach, as risky as it sounded it wasn’t surprising. Everyone sensed something stirring, as if Jesus had rounded a corner and his end was coming fast. He was a marked man.

Tuesday

(For a full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 21:23–26:5Mark 11:27–14:2Luke 20:1–22:2John 12:37–50.)

If Monday’s arrival in the temple was an all-inclusive, living parable of cleansing God’s house, Tuesday’s entrance is a direct, verbal confrontation with the appointed leadership. After Jesus clarifies he doesn’t regard these leaders as having any authority over him, he spends the rest of the day right there in the temple to teach the people God’s Word. But Tuesday afternoon is the last time Jesus publicly teaches in the temple as a free man. His words on this day are his closing argument, his manifesto.

When Jesus leaves the temple on Tuesday, the chief priests and scribes are “seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him” (Mark 14:1). But they can’t take his life from him solely on the strength of the charges they plan to bring—not if he defends himself. But he won’t. Instead, by his silence, he’ll offer up his life for a world of blasphemers and traitors and liars. This was what he has come to do, and as he exits the temple that Tuesday afternoon, he knows he will do it soon.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Brokenness

“No one gets through a broken world unbroken.”
(Ed Stetzer)

If you’ve lived long enough, you know the truth of the above statement.

Several years ago, I read a short little book entitled Brokenness: The Heart God Revives by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I’ve come back to it many times over the years because of its richness and depth.

Here are a few quotes from her book…


It is a wonder what God can do with a broken heart, if He gets all the pieces.
(Samuel Chadwick)


The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
(Psalm 57:17)


Lord, High and Holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
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 heart 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 the 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,
the 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


Five Differences Between Proud people and Broken people

Proud people focus on the failures of others and can readily point out those faults.
  • Broken people are more conscious of their own spiritual need than of anyone else’s.
Proud people have a critical, fault finding spirit.  They look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but view their own with a telescope.
  • Broken people are compassionate—they have the kind of love that overlooks a multitude of sins; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.
Proud people are especially prone to criticize those in positions of authority—their pastor, their boss, their husband, their parents—and they talk to others about the faults they see.
  • Broken people reverence, encourage, and lift up those that God has placed in positions of authority, and they talk to God in intercession, rather than gossiping about the faults they see in others.
Proud people are self-righteous; they think highly of themselves and look down others.
  • Broken people think the best of others; they esteem others better than themselves.
Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.
  • Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for God and for others

(Pages 88-90)


With all our talk of worship, unity, reconciliation, love, and the power of God, we have bypassed the essential ingredient that makes these things possible.  I believe a return to this truth—the need for brokenness and humility—is the starting place for experiencing the revival we so desperately need in our lives, our homes, and our churches.   (Page 25)


To be broken is the beginning of revival. It is painful, it is humiliating, but it is the only way.
(Roy Hession)


For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity,
Whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
(Isaiah 57:15)


“In the Gospel of Luke, we find three vivid illustrations of the contrast between a broken person and a proud, unbroken person. Interestingly, in each case, proud people are linked with Pharisees. Now when you and I think of Pharisees, we think of the “bad guys.”  But in those days, the Pharisees were considered the “good guys.”

“These were the seminary graduates, the biblical scholars, the pastors, the spiritual leaders of their day. Everyone looked up to them: no one questioned their spirituality or their authority.  And no one felt he could possibly measure up to them. It was assumed that the Pharisees were closer to God than anyone else.

“Over and over again, He [Jesus] exposed the proud, self-righteous attitudes and motives of the Pharisees and insisted that God rejects that kind of heart. Then and now, broken sinners are the kinds of people God chooses to save, to bless, and to help.”  (Pages 67-68)


The Illusion of Control

Today, I wanted to share a portion of Dr. Timothy Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, that I found to be particularly insightful. Enjoy!


“What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:6)

Sociologist Christian Smith gave the name “moralistic, therapeutic deism” to the dominant understanding of God he discovered among younger Americans.

In his book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, he describes this set of beliefs.

  • God blesses and takes to heaven those who try to live good and decent lives (the “moralistic” belief).
  • The central goal of life is not to sacrifice, or to deny oneself, but to be happy and feel good about yourself (the “therapeutic” belief).
  • Though God exists and created the world, he does not need to be particularly involved in our lives except when there is a problem (that is “deism”).

This view of God (Deism) literally makes you master of your fate and captain of your soul. Salvation and happiness is up to you.

Some have pointed out that “moralistic, therapeutic deism” could only develop in a comfortable, prosperous society among privileged people.

People “at the top” are eager to attribute their position to their own intellect, savvy, and hard work. The reality is much more complicated. Personal connections, family environment, and what appears to be plain luck determine how successful a person is.

We are the product of three things—genetics, environment, and our personal choices—but two of these three factors we have no power over.

We are not nearly as responsible for our success as our popular views of God and reality lead us to think.

Popular culture often tells young people, “You can be anything you set your mind to.” But it is cruel to say that to a five-foot-four-inch eighteen-year-old boy who yearns, more than anything else, to be an NFL linebacker.

To use an extreme example, if you had been born in a yurt in Outer Mongolia, instead of where you were, it wouldn’t have mattered how hard you worked or used your talents—you would have ended up poor and powerless.

To come closer to home, think of the impact of your family background on you. You may spend your younger years telling yourself that you will not be like your parents, you will be your own person. However, somewhere around the middle of your life, it will become clearer how indelibly your family has shaped you.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers is filled with case studies that demonstrate how our success is largely the product of our environment. …

…Although, unlike Gladwell, I would grant equal importance to the three factors of heredity, environment, and personal choice, his book makes a strong case that we are not as personally responsible for our success as we would like to think.

Most of the forces that make us who we are lie in the hand of God.

We should not “take pride in one man over against another,” wrote the Apostle Paul. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

(1 Corinthians 4:6-7) 

(from Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller – Pages 115-117)

(Highlights mine)

6 Principles for How to Argue When You Disagree

You may have noticed that I have a newly updated design on my blog – all thanks to my son, James Madson (JM Designs)! It was a timely and much appreciated gift from him for Christmas this last year. Thanks James!

One important update – there is a new “Search” feature now included which allows a person to search the past eight years’ worth of blog posts by topic, author, scripture or word. 


I found these 6 principles from Tim Keller timely and helpful… both in our interactions within the Church and among secular culture. They remind us that we as Christ-Followers are to interact with people that we may disagree with in a way that integrates biblical wisdom and grace.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)


6 Principles for How to Argue When You Disagree
by Andy Naselli

Here’s what Tim Keller writes in an extended callout in Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:

All Christian movements must be based on commonly held biblical truths, and yet they must be characterized by trust and a willingness to unite around central truths and accept differences on secondary matters that—in the view of ministry partners—do not negate our common belief in the biblical gospel. On the one hand, we must realize that if we are going to maintain a healthy movement over time, we have to engage in direct discussion about any doctrinal errors we perceive. On the other hand, we must engage in such a way that we show great respect for the other party and aim to persuade them, not just punish them.

How can this be done? I suggest the following principles for “polemics”—contending over doctrine—that is seasoned in tone and strategy by the gospel itself. As I’ve read a number of respected Christian authors over the years, I have distilled a few “rules of engagement” that I believe can keep us from either avoiding polemics or engaging in it in a spiritually destructive way.

1. Take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of others’ views. In our Internet age, we are quick to dash off a response because we think Mr. A promotes view X. And when someone points out that Mr. A didn’t mean X because over here he said Y, we simply apologize—or maybe we don’t even do that. Great care should be taken to be sure you really know what Mr. A believes and promotes before you publish. This leads to a related rule.

2. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own. Nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander stated that we must not argue in such a way that it hardens opponents in their views. “Attribute to an antagonist no opinion he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” In other words, even if you believe that Mr. A’s belief X could or will lead others who hold that position to belief Y, do not accuse Mr. A of holding to belief Y himself if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent, but this is not the same as implying or insisting that he actually holds belief Y when he does not. A similar move happens when we imply or argue that if Mr. A quotes a particular author favorably at any point, then Mr. A must hold to all the views held by the author. If we, through guilt by association, hint or insist that Mr. A must hold other beliefs of that particular author, then we are not only alienating him or her; we are also misrepresenting our opponent.

3. Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively. A host of Christian doctrines have an “on the one hand/on the other hand” dimension about them—and without both emphases we can fall into heresy. What if we find Mr. A making what appears to be an unqualified statement that sounds very unbalanced? If that is all Mr. A ever said about the subject, it would be right to conclude something about his position. But what if Mr. A has been speaking or writing these statements to an audience that already believed certain things, and therefore he was assuming those points of doctrine without stating them? At minimum, we must realize that Mr. A simply can’t say everything he believes about a subject every time he speaks. We should not pull out certain statements by Mr. A while overlooking or actually concealing explanations, qualifications, or balancing statements he may have made elsewhere.

4. Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form. This may be the most comprehensive rule of all in polemics, because, if you adhere to it, most of the other policies and principles will follow. Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity and actually have the possibility of being persuasive—which leads to our next point.

5. Seek to persuade, not antagonize—but watch your motives! John Calvin was a Reformer in Geneva, Switzerland. His comrade in this work was William Farel, who was outspoken and hotheaded by temperament. At one point, Calvin wrote Farel a letter in which he urged Farel to do more to “accommodate people”—i.e., to seek to persuade them, to win them over. Calvin then distinguished two very different motivations for seeking to be winsome and persuasive: “There are, as you know, two kinds of popularity: the one, when we seek favor from motives of ambition and the desire of pleasing; the other, when, by fairness and moderation, we gain their esteem so as to make them teachable by us.”

The Farels of the world believe any effort to be judicious and prudent is a cowardly sellout. But Calvin wisely recognized that his friend’s constant, intemperate denunciations often stemmed not from a selfless courage, but rather from the opposite—pride. Writing to Pierre Viret about Farel, Calvin said, “He cannot bear with patience those who do not comply with his wishes.”

In short, it is possible to seek to be winsome and persuasive out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. We may be winsome in an attempt to be popular. It is just as possible to be bold and strongly polemical out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. And therefore, looking very closely at our motives, we must take care that our polemics do not unnecessarily harden and antagonize our opponents. We should seek to win them, as Paul did Peter, not to be rid of them.

6. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology—because only God sees the heart. Much criticism today is filled with scorn, mockery, and sarcasm rather than marked by careful exegesis and reflection. Such an approach is not persuasive. No one has written more eloquently about this rule than John Newton in his well-known “Letter on Controversy.”

Newton states that before you write a single word against your opponent “and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.” This practice will stir up love for him, and “such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.” Later in the letter, Newton writes:

“What will it profit a man if he gain his cause and silence his adversary, if, at the same time, he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made? … Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.”

Newton also reminds us that it is a great danger to “be content with showing your wit and gaining the laugh on your side,” to make your opponent look evil and ridiculous instead of engaging their views with “the compassion due to the souls of men.”
The fourth principle above is especially important. Compare what Keller says earlier in the book:

  • The first step in active contextualization is to understand and, as much as possible, identify with your listeners, the people you are seeking to reach. This begins with a diligent (and never-ending) effort to become as fluent in their social, linguistic, and cultural reality as possible. It involves learning to express people’s hopes, objections, fears, and beliefs so well that they feel as though they could not express them better themselves. (p. 120, emphasis added)
  • Directly address and welcome nonbelievers. Talk regularly to “those of you who aren’t sure you believe this or who aren’t sure just what you believe.” Give several asides, even trying to express the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian doctrine and life better than they can do it themselves. Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even as you challenge them directly for their selfishness and unbelief. (p. 308, emphasis added)

Related: “How Should You Relate to Fellow Christians When Your Consciences Disagree about Disputable Matters?”, ch. 5 in Conscience

Wisdom from Proverbs

One of the things that God used in my life as a young teenager (and brand new Christ-follower) was being given a copy of The Living Bible (a paraphrase of the Scriptures by Ken Taylor). It was the early 1970’s and the only Bible I had used up to that point was the old King James Version.

For a Jr. High student who loved sports more than school – and a poor reader too – slogging through the KJV was tough for me to understand. Then I was given a copy of The Living Bible – and I began to read the book of Proverbs. Wow!

I began to underline and highlight verses – and Scripture came alive to me in a whole new way (then, on my 15th birthday, I received from my parents my much beloved NASB Bible that I still use to this day).

I encourage young people – older Elementary age, Jr. High, High School & College age, in particular – to read the book of Proverbs regularly and take to heart the wisdom that is contained there.

The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that…

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (NASB)

This includes the book of Proverbs… which is profitable for “teaching, reproof, correction, for training in righteousness.”

Recently I was skimming through my old copy of The Living Bible (pictured above) and I was reminded again of the verses that impacted me throughout my early teenage years. Here are a few verses from Proverbs that were very impactful for me (from Proverbs chapters 10-16).

I would encourage everyone to consider reading through the book of Proverbs every month (one chapter each day – 12 times a year). It will allow this wisdom literature to sink deep within our hearts. And if you have young children (or grandchildren), consider sharing some of these proverbs with them.

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. Proverbs 10:19-20 (TLB)

A wise youth makes hay while the sun shines, but what a shame to see a lad who sleeps away his hour of opportunity. Proverbs 10:5 (TLB)

Hatred stirs old quarrels, but love overlooks insults. Proverbs 10:12 (TLB)

A wise man holds his tongue. Only a fool blurts out everything he knows; that only leads to sorrow and trouble. Proverbs 10:14 (TLB)

Anyone willing to be corrected is on the pathway to life. Anyone refusing has lost his chance. Proverbs 10:17 (TLB)

The Lord hates cheating and delights in honesty. Proud men end in shame, but the meek become wise. A good man is guided by his honesty; the evil man is destroyed by his dishonesty. Proverbs 11:1-3 (TLB)

To quarrel with a neighbor is foolish; a man with good sense holds his tongue. A gossip goes around spreading rumors, while a trustworthy man tries to quiet them. Proverbs 11:12-13 (TLB)

Without wise leadership, a nation is in trouble; but with good counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14 (TLB)

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17 (TLB)

To learn, you must want to be taught. To refuse reproof is stupid. Proverbs 12:1 (TLB)

A fool thinks he needs no advice, but a wise man listens to others. A fool is quick-tempered; a wise man stays cool when insulted. Proverbs 12:15-16 (TLB)

Some people like to make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise soothe and heal. Proverbs 12:18 (TLB)

Pride leads to arguments; be humble, take advice, and become wise. Proverbs 13:10 (TLB)

An empty stable stays clean – but there is no income from an empty stable. Proverbs 14:4 (TLB)

Before every man there lies a wide and pleasant road that seems right but ends in death. Proverbs 14:12 (TLB)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels. Proverbs 15:1 (TLB)

A quick-tempered man starts fights; a cool-tempered man tries to stop them. Proverbs 15:18 (TLB)

A sensible son gladdens his father. A rebellious son saddens his mother. Proverbs 15:20 (TLB)

Plans go wrong with too few counselors; many counselors bring success. Proverbs 15:22 (TLB)

Everyone enjoys giving good advice, and how wonderful it is to be able to say the right thing at the right time! Proverbs 15:23 (TLB)

A good man thinks before he speaks; the evil man pours out his evil words without a thought. Proverbs 15:28 (TLB)

If you profit from constructive criticism, you will be elected to the wise men’s hall of fame. But to reject criticism is to harm yourself and your own best interests. Humility and reverence for the Lord will make you both wise and honored. Proverbs 15:31-33 (TLB)

We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God’s hands. Proverbs 16:1 (TLB)

We should make plans – counting on God to direct us. Proverbs 16:9 (TLB)

How much better is wisdom than gold, and understanding than silver! Proverbs 16:16 (TLB)

It is better to be slow-tempered than famous; it is better to have self-control than to control an army. Proverbs 16:32 (TLB)

Life is but a Breath – Making the Most of 2017

“When you come to the end of your life and have nothing but death to look forward to and nothing but memories to look back upon, what will you need to see to determine that your life was significant and well spent?”

Recently I taught on the brevity of life and what matters most – and how we as followers of Christ can (and should) focus our life in the new year. Below are a few quotes and thoughts from my message (to access video and audio of the message, click here):

Augustine, one of the great leaders of the early church, once said:

“Asking yourself the question of your own legacy – What do I wish to be remembered for? – is the beginning of adulthood.”

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” (Psalms 39:4-5a | NIV84)

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-14 – NASB)

One of the questions that I have asked myself dozens of times over the past few decades – and I would encourage you to ask yourself this same question – is this:

“When I come to the end of my life and have nothing but death to look forward to and nothing but memories to look back upon, what will I need to see to determine that my life was significant and well spent?”

Augustine, in his classic book Confessions, reminds us of where real life is found.

“You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”  – St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

Augustine reminds us that it is a God-centered life – not a me-centered life – that is ultimately most satisfying. He reminds us that life is not ultimately about you – or me. It’s about God.

“Teach us to number our days…so that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 – NASB)

“Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 – Phillips Translation)

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – NASB)

How we spend our time is how we spend our life.

“Doest thou love life? Then don’t squander time. For that’s the stuff life’s made of.” (Scottish Poet and Novelist Sir Walter Scott – 1771-1832)

The late Dallas Willard, well-known Christian author and former head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Southern California, said:

“Feelings make excellent servants, but terrible masters!”

The habits that you and I practice on a regular basis will shape our future (for good or bad) as much, if not more, than anything else in life.

Human beings, when left to themselves, do not naturally drift toward health and success.

Grace is opposed to earning, not effort!

“…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 – NASB)

“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 – NASB)

“My son, if you will receive my sayings, and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the LORD, and discover the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5 – NASB)

Anne Ortlund, wife of Ray Ortlund Sr. (both of whom have gone home to be with the Lord), wrote the following many years ago about the importance of spiritual disciplines:

“What major lesson have I learned over the years? That Spirit-motivated disciplines facilitate the Christian walk. Oh, I’m not discounting all the warm feelings along the route, when I’ve sung Jesus-songs and held hands and the rest. But our sensuous age forgets that feelings come and feelings leave you, but the disciplines of life are what get you to where you want to go.”

I love the title of one of Eugene Peterson’s classic books: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

As you look to this new year, ask yourself this question:

What habits (or disciplines) do I want to begin to implement in 2017 that will help me to “focus” my spiritual life and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ?


APPENDIX

Early on in my Christian walk (this was back in the mid to late 70’s) I read a book by Calvin Miller – a well-known pastor and Christian author. The title of the book was That Elusive Thing Called Joy. It was later re-released in the mid-80’s by NavPress under the title: A Taste of Joy: Recovering the Lost Glow of Discipleship. It had a huge impact upon my life – in particular, the following quote:

“Many disciples would like the happiness that comes from discipline, but they also want to avoid the hard work. Millions of us believers do not take our Christianity seriously simply because discipleship is rigorous and tiring. We drift from service to service, studying only enough to keep a little self-respect with our peers. We have misinterpreted disciple to mean “convert.”

“No lazy student ever felt good on report-card day. But countless serious students feel great when they receive good marks because they have been industrious.

“Never have there been so many disciples who did so little studying. Yet in our age the proliferation of Christian resources for study is astounding. Books are everywhere. It is only in recent history that we have had such time and resources. In spite of this, our day is plagued by hordes of miserable Christians whose pitiful study habits give them few victories and much frustration. Serious students will develop dynamic minds and a confident use of the gifts God has given to them.

“Consistent joy is mind-first rather than mood-first. While everyone likes to be in a good mood, it is treacherous to try to build anything stable for Christ solely on the basis of our moods.

“…Conversely, consider Christianity. Many adults know little about the Bible. The preacher is not thought of as a teacher but as a devotionalist. His job is not to educate but to “inspire.” Sermons are constructed more often to elicit some emotional response than to stimulate thought. In some churches logic seems to cease completely.

“If this judgment seems harsh, one has merely to probe the surface to demonstrate its truth. Any one of the recent questionnaires given to church members indicates that among those who attend regularly there is widespread ignorance of Scripture. On one such poll, many could not name four of the apostles, and few could quote more than one verse from the New Testament. Some even thought “epistles were the wives of apostles.”

“The title of a Christian folk musical may be an indictment against us—Natural High. The implication is that Jesus is the “trip of a lifetime.” And that the emotional plateau we can reach with Jesus is greater than one with cocaine.

“Many Christians are only “Christaholics” and not disciples at all. Disciples are cross-bearers; they seek Christ. Christaholics seek happiness. Disciples dare to discipline themselves, and the demands they place on themselves leave them enjoying the happiness of their growth. Christaholics are escapists looking for a shortcut to nirvana. Like drug addicts, they are trying to “bomb out” of their depressing world.

“There is no automatic joy. Christ is not a happiness capsule; he is the way to the Father. But the way to the Father is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations.”

 

 

Quotes to Note – New Year 2017

“Jesus Christ knows you completely. Why would you ever run from someone who knows everything about you and still loves you?” (Colin Smith)

“As pain tells us of the need for healing, worry tells us of the need for prayer.” (Richard Lovelace)

“If I am growing spiritually, that means I am becoming more bothered by my offenses than I am by yours.” (Scott Sauls)

“The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you.” (Tim Keller)

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

“It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” (Tim Keller)

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it’s one of those things which give value to survival.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Secular liberals have moved from denouncing religious intolerance to embracing an irreligious intolerance of their own.” (Nicholas Kristof)

“When I lay down on the floor in prayer, face down, it’s hard to look down at anyone or judge them. We all need God’s grace.” (Jack Miller)

“Worship more than you worry.

Listen more than you launch.

Reflect more than you react.

Love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with your God.”

(Scotty Smith)

“Christian suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (Tim Keller)

“Resolved: to follow God with all my heart.

Resolved also: whether others do or not, I will.”

(Jonathan Edwards)

“Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle.” (Glen Scrivener)

“What we take as darkness is really light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all, God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us, whatever men may do to us. They cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer – writing this from prison, during Advent, while awaiting execution from Hitler)

“God’s love is his most amazing trait, and likewise should be his followers’ most evident mark.” (Tim Keller)

“God’s grace has forever freed us from needing to prove our righteousness and our worth.” (Paul David Tripp – from his devotional, New Morning Mercies)

“You will face loss, trouble, and disappointment, but nothing has the power to separate you from your redeemer’s unrelenting love.” (Paul David Tripp – from his devotional, New Morning Mercies)

“We don’t really ‘hold a grudge.’ Grudges coil around us like boa constrictors and slowly crush the life out of us.” (Scotty Smith)

“Christmas means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our unending failings.” (Tim Keller – from his new book Hidden Christmas)

“At any moment in time, God is doing 10,000 different things in my life and I’m aware – at most – of three or four of them.” (John Piper)

“Having a sense of being loved deeply by Christ allows us to forgive when someone wrongs us because we can afford to be generous.” (Tim Keller)

“When amazing realities of the gospel quit commanding your attention, your awe, and your worship, other things in your life will capture your attention instead. When you quit celebrating grace, you begin to forget how much you need grace, and when you forget how much you need grace, you quit seeking the rescue and strength that only grace can give.” (Paul David Tripp – from his devotional, New Morning Mercies)

“The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.” (Max Lucado)

“People are messy; therefore, relationships will be messy. Expect messiness.” (Tim Keller)

“Our theology is like a skeleton. A necessary foundation, but if it’s the only thing visible about our faith, we are malnourished or dead.” (Scott Sauls)

“As followers of Christ, we are…rooted in the love of God, standing in the grace of God, hidden in the Son of God and ruled by the throne of God.” (Scotty Smith)

“Nobody made a greater mistake than the one who did nothing because he could do so little.”

“Worship, like love, is mostly a choice that leads to a feeling, not a feeling that leads to a choice.” (Matt Papa)

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” (Greg McKeown, from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less)

“Don’t believe everything you think. You cannot be trusted to tell yourself the truth. Stay in the Word.” (Jerry Bridges)

“What is spiritual discipline? It is a practice undertaken with the aid of the Spirit to enable us to do what we cannot do by human effort.” (Dallas Willard)

“We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.” (C.S. Lewis)

“The gospel insults us before it dazzles us.” (Jack Miller)

“I am fully persuaded that on the last day, there will be countless brothers and sisters in Christ, unknown to the annals of history, many of them illiterate or semi-literate, who have been starved, maligned, beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and finally killed (“the world was not worthy of them,” Hebrews 11:38), brothers and sisters who never enjoyed one day of spotlight ministry, who will be given the crown of martyrs never earned in spotlight ministries.” (D.A. Carson)

Hidden Christmas

Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, recently interviewed Tim Keller about his brand new book Hidden Christmas.

Here are a few questions from the interview with selected excerpts from the answers (click here to read the full article):

 

Tim Keller wants you to stop underestimating Christmas

By Matt Smethurst

Why is Christmas “the most unsentimental, realistic way of looking at life”? 
 
The Bible doesn’t say “from the world a light has dawned” but “upon the world a light has dawned.” The point is that the world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it. This means the end of cheery statements like, “If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place.” No, we can’t. We don’t have what it takes. This is a clear-eyed, realistic approach to our problems. It’s not rah-rah optimism. Yet it’s not pessimistic either, because there is hope, and a certainty that God will eventually destroy all evil.
 
Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?
 
Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.
 
What can we learn about the difference between closed-minded doubt and open-minded doubt from contrasting Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1?
 
There’s a kind of doubt that really is seeking more information—that “wants” to believe if it’s possible. There’s also a kind of doubt that really is looking for a way out, that doesn’t want to believe or submit, that’s looking for a way to keep control of one’s own life.
 
This is a wonderfully nuanced approach to doubt. The Bible doesn’t view doubts as always rebellious, nor does it encourage people to live in doubt perpetually. That’s why we’re told to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). 

How Christianity Flourishes

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I wanted to share a timely article from author Jared C. Wilson that I found to be hopeful and encouraging. Enjoy!

How Christianity Flourishes
By Jared C. Wilson

Christian mission has always thrived by surging in the margins and under the radar. When we somehow get into positions of power, the wheels always come off. This is pretty much the way it’s always been. I once heard Steve Brown relate this story on the radio: “A Muslim scholar once said to a Christian, ‘I cannot find anywhere in the Qur’an that it teaches Muslims how to be a minority presence in the world. And I cannot find anywhere in the New Testament where it teaches Christians how to be a majority presence in the world.’”
 
Indeed, as Christianity spread throughout the first few centuries as a persecuted minority people, the conversion of Constantine paved the way for its becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire by the end of the fourth century. That’s quite a turnaround for some backwater sect splintering off an oppressed Palestinian Judaism. But as my old religion professor in college, M. B. Jackson, used to say, “When everyone’s a Christian, no one is.” And once Christianity became the official religion, the church lost its prophetic voice and its vibrancy.
 
Many religions, like Islam for example, seem to thrive on conquest and power. Christianity grows best under hardship. Christianity is in decline in America, and Christendom is already in ruins in Europe, but in the East and in Africa, where it is new, a grassroots movement, and/or under persecution, it is spreading like wildfire. I sometimes wonder if God has set the growth of Christianity to work this way to keep in the forefront of our minds the treasure and glory of heaven over and above the treasure and glory of earth. Jesus sets the tone for Christians’ quiet mission this way:
 
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:1–4)
 
Unlike other religions, where good works are central to success, Christianity proclaims the glory of Jesus Christ and his work, and the good works of his followers become the beautiful dust stirred up in our following him wherever he goes. Christians are not earning their salvation with their good deeds; they are working it out (Phil. 2:12).
 
Since Christians believe that the work of salvation is already accomplished by Jesus, and there is nothing left for them to do to contribute to this work, they are now free to unselfconsciously love and serve others without worrying about recognition or reward. They will be vindicated in heaven, even if they are violated here.
 
Christians are called to good works. This is how people know we are Christians. But they also know we are Christians—and not charitable Buddhists—because we don’t make good works our boast.
 
(This is an excerpt from Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes it Compelling)
 
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. 

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