Announcing “Just a Thought Ministries”…

For those of you who have followed my “Just a Thought” blog, I want you to know that it has now turned into a ministry. Here is the announcement:

Just A Thought Ministries is a new teaching initiative of Pastor Dave and Gloria McDowell (see their bio below). Their mission in this new chapter of retirement is to provide resources for the education, encouragement, and spiritual development of the wider Body of Christ. This will be accomplished through opportunities for preaching; writing books and recommending other written resources that would be helpful to growing a life of faith; speaking at seminars and men’s conferences for the purpose of challenging men to be godly, humble, and holy; continuing to write a weekly blog challenging Christians to think more deeply about the Bible, life issues, and current events; developing iPod lectures on church history, biblical interpretation, basic preaching and other academic subjects designed to increase the knowledge and understanding of those who desire to think more deeply or are involved in or preparing for ministry; mentoring younger pastors and leaders in church ministry who may not have had the opportunity to attend seminary or take courses in pastoral theology and practice; story-telling for children and developing CDs and DVDs for listening while traveling or before bedtime; developing a young theologians club designed to help younger people see the practicality and importance of theology in daily life; and helping individuals and churches to develop an ESL tutoring ministry.

In addition, Pastor Dave is also going through chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer and desires to be used as a resource to help others who are facing similar issues. He is in the process of writing a book to encourage fellow-sufferers called “The Goodness of Affliction.”

Why would you support this couple when there are so many other important causes to support? You may not choose to and that is fine, but please pray for them when they come to mind. However, it might be that the Lord has blessed you through their ministry in the past and for that reason you may want to continue to support them in this ministry now in the 4th Quarter of their lives. It could even be that you don’t know them very well or at all, but you just like the idea of old people still trying to be faithful to their life-calling.

What would your financial support be accomplishing? The most important thing for you to know is that it would not be going toward living expenses. Your support would only be used for ministry expenses. For example, if asked to travel overseas to encourage members of the missionary community or to speak at a church in the U.S. but the honorarium does not cover the out of pocket expense incurred, your support would supplement the remaining expense. If someone needed mentoring or tutoring and could not afford the material used, your support would cover that expense. If there was an opportunity to do a pod cast or produce a CD for children or create an interactive classroom for young theologians, your support would help pay for the production. No opportunity would be turned down simply on the basis of the limited resources of a retirement income, nor would there be the need to set a fee structure for ministry. Your support would enable ministry to take place without regard to anyone’s ability to pay. Would you prayerfully consider being a part of the Just a Thought Ministries team?

Just a Thought Ministries is a member ministry of a parent organization called Ministry Alliance www.ministry-alliance.org which is a 501(c)(3) administrative organization that provides guidance and accountability for all its member ministries. Ministry Alliance will provide such accountability for Just a Thought Ministries by keeping a record of all financial support, providing financial accountability for all donations, and ensuring that every disbursement conforms to IRS standards. Ministry Alliance will also send you a tax deductible receipt for your gift. You can donate online at https://secure.qgiv.com/for/jat/ or you may send a check for any amount to 

Just A Thought Ministries c/o Ministry Alliance, P.O. Box 49341 Charlotte, NC 28277

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Dave and Gloria have 5 adult children and 10 non-adult grandchildren. Their 48 yrs. of marriage and ministry have taught them much about life and about God. You would think that after all these years they would have have it all together, but they continue (sigh) to be imperfect people with an imperfect marriage. However, they have learned to live by God’s grace (and a few other things along the way) that will help them remain committed to their marriage, usable to God, and helpful to others. 

Dave graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree from Wheaton College (IL), a Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Masters in Sacred Theology from Union Theological Seminary (NYC), and a PhD. from Trinity College and Seminary (IN). Gloria received her Bachelors of Arts degree from Wheaton College and her Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Elms College (MA).

If you desire to have Pastor Dave as a speaker at your church or conference, you may contact him at mcd7@sbcglobal.net. If you desire to learn how to start an ESL ministry at your church, you may contact Gloria at the same address.

FYI: Pastor Dave is coming out with a new book, The Just Shall Live by Faith: An Expanded Outline of the Book of Romans. It is to be published this winter, He also writes a weekly blog that you can follow at davemcdowell.org as well as being on Facebook and Linkedin.

The Basic Things… this is a football!

The start of the NFL football season reminds me how my high school football coach would always begin our season by holding up a football and use the words of Vince Lombardi, “This is a football!” Pretty basic, eh? The older I have become in my journey of faith and the more I have counseled and mentored others, the more I have found the basic things to be the most important to spiritual growth and maturity. For me, these basic things have been (and continue to be) the daily reading of Scripture and the discipline of private prayer.

The reading of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation each year (or year and a half), has increasingly become more enjoyable for me. I use a different Bible version each time and make marginal notes so that I will have a Bible to give to each of my kids and grandkids, if I live that long. The reason why I enjoy reading Scripture is because it engages my intellect and my feeds my desire for knowledge. The danger for me, however, especially when I was in local church ministry, was to read the Bible with the thought of preaching and preparing my sermons. I still have that tendency, but I have learned that I must read the Scripture for myself first- to feed my own soul- before I can feed others. Remember the warning we get during the pre-flight instruction whenever we fly? “Put the oxygen mask on yourself then on your child.” Likewise, Paul warned young Pastor Timothy to “take heed to yourself and to your teaching…because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16).

The discipline of prayer engages something else in me – my heart, my emotions, the desire to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. Rarely is it a “heady” experience. All of this is why I call prayer a discipline in my life because it doesn’t come as easy for me as reading the Bible. However, I have kept at it over a lifetime and the more I have prayed, the more I have learned to pray. And the more I have learned to pray, the more I have come to trust in the One who hears my prayers- he really hears my prayers. “I call on the Lord in my distress and he answers me” (Ps 120:1). “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Ps 145:18). “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:26). I take this to mean that these groans are ours made at times of suffering when we really don’t know what to pray. The Holy Spirit takes those groans and articulates them before our Heavenly Father. I’ve experienced this while going through some of my cancer treatments when it was so hard for me to even think of the words by which to form a prayer. I could only groan, and I believe the Holy Spirit articulated that prayer and interceded on my behalf according to the will of God.

So, I want to challenge you in this area of prayer. “Dave, I’ve tried to be faithful at prayer, but I get so distracted and end up quitting because it seems so pointless to keep going.” Oh no, dear sister/brother, prayer is never pointless. It is difficult because our hearts are not naturally bent towards God. Even the Psalmist asks over and over again that his heart be inclined (bent) towards God. This is why you must keep at it, even when your mind wanders, ask God to incline your mind to him. Some people find it helpful to personalize the Scripture and pray it as a prayer back to God. This is easier to do with the Psalms, but you can pause while reading any passage and interact with God in prayer. Some have called this listening prayer, for as you communicate with God in this way you may hear him speak to you in a thought, in an impression, through the passage you are reading.

JC Ryle has said it well: But just as the first sign of life in a newborn is crying out in order to breathe, so the first sign of life in one who is born again is a desire, a need to cry out to God in prayer. The Holy Spirit is given to us to make us new creations but also to give us the disposition to cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” A hypocrite can preach from false motives, write books for personal gain, do good works to gain recognition for himself, but seldom will a hypocrite go into his [prayer] closet on a daily basis and cry out to his Heavenly Father. So, my dear brothers and sisters, if you have been born of God, you have within you both the capacity and desire to pray. If you do not, then you do not know God or share in his life.

What are you waiting for my dear ones? Get back to the basics!

A Crushed Spirit, who can bear?

I have been reading through the Book of Proverbs in the Bible and have been noticing the term crushed spirit. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:23) “The human spirit can endure a sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” There was also a verse in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who crushed in spirit.”

We experience a crushed spirit when we find ourselves in the valley of despair due to circumstances that involve a loss of hope. Moses was so discouraged in his leadership responsibility that he asked God to take his life. (Nu 11:10-15) Job grieved the loss of his children and loss of his health so much so that he cursed the day of his birth. (Job 3:1-26) Hannah deeply grieved her inability to have a child. (1 Samuel 1:1-16) Tamar lived a desolate life after she was raped by her step brother. (2 Samuel 13:1-21) Naomi was filled with bitterness because of the loss of her husband and two sons. (Ruth 1:1-20) And Hagar was in despair because her son was dying. (Gen 21-15-16) We could cite many more biblical examples of people with crushed spirits because of the overwhelming nature of their suffering. Many of you are experiencing such pain and loss that happiness and hope seem gone forever.

There are some things in Scripture that will help us when we find in ourselves with such a crushed spirit:

First, realize that this state or condition is temporary. It is called the dark night of the soul, not the dark month or year of the soul. This doesn’t mean we “get over it,” but that we are not made to withstand such intensity of grief or hopelessness for very long. We usually find a way of coping and learning to live with our affliction. When I was first diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer about 2 1/2 yrs. ago, I was overwhelmed. I still have cancer, but I have learned to cope and even flourish in my affliction. This is why I am writing this, to help you cope.

We have already mentioned Proverbs 18:14, that “the human spirit can endure in sickness…” God has given to humanity a sustainability and a will that naturally desires to survive and not die. Obviously there are exceptions to this in the case of those whose despair and hopelessness, guilt and shame, drive them to suicide. Judas is probably the most famous biblical example of this. The sadness of Judas’ self-destruction is found in the fact that he did not need to go that route. Unlike Peter, who was also in despair for his three-time denial of Christ, Judas did not seek the forgiveness that Jesus would have given him. This is what is so sad about all suicide; it does not need to happen.

As an aside: “Suicide rates have risen to their highest since WW II. The odds of dying from a suicide or opiate overdose — the diseases of despair — are now higher than that of dying from a motor vehicle accident.” (Michael Gerson, Daily Herald, September 6, 2019) This is why we have suicide prevention hotlines so that people with crushed spirits and in depression and despair can talk to someone and find help. Such crushed spirits need people in their lives. They need friendship and a sense of belonging, not increased isolation. They need someone to whisper “I care, and am here for you; I am worried about you, so how can I help?” And part of this help is the counsel not to ignore the spiritual life and soul-issues, and turning to God who will never ignore the brokenhearted.

Second, God is near us in the darkness. We mentioned Psalm 34:18 that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Also, in Psalm 147:3, 4 we read, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of stars and call them by name.” Did you hear that? The God of the stars is also the God of the brokenhearted. He is transcendent in power and glory. He is also immanent in humility and suffering. He is near, and in my suffering I can say, by faith, if not by feeling- He is here!

That is what Pastor Martin Niemoller preached to his skeleton-like congregation huddled together for warmth in Dachau’s cell room 34 on December 24, 1944: ” God, the eternally wealthy and Almighty God, enters into the most extreme human poverty imaginable. No man is so weak and helpless that God does not come to him in Jesus Christ, right in the midst of our human need; and no man is so forsaken and homeless in this world that God does not seek him, in the midst of our human distress…. You need not go search for God; you should not imagine that he is far from you and is not concerned with what crushes you! He is here and is close to you in the Man who, as a babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, was lying in the manger…. Whoever can grasp this in faith is not forsaken in prison and in death; for in the worst darkness he may say, “Thou art with me; thy rod and staff comfort me. (Ps 23:4)

Third, in your despair use the key of Promise. People who know me know that I love John Bunyan’s English classic Pilgrims’ Progress, which is a great allegorical story about the journey of the Christian through life. In the story, there is an episode where Christian (the main character) and his friend and fellow-traveller, Hopeful, are captured by the Giant Despair and his wife, Gloom, and thrown into the dungeon of Doubting Castle. The Giant beat them everyday and threatened them with death. He even left rat poison in their cell hoping they would commit suicide. Just as Christian was actually contemplating ending it all because of all the doubts he had about God’s love for him and all the shame he felt for his disobedience, he remembered something. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Key of Promise which had been given to him when he became a follower of Prince Jesus. This key could unlock the door of any Castle of Doubt and with it the pilgrims made their escape.

Likewise, when we find ourselves in the dungeon of despair we should learn to make use of the rich promises that God has given to all of us who are his children. The only way out of despair is to trust what God has said. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of things we do not see.” (Heb 6:1) God is our Father and he has covenanted himself to us in Christ and has promised that in the face of everything that life can throw at us; nothing in life or in death, will ever be able to separate us from his love. (Rom 8:39) Do you believe this? I didn’t ask whether you feel that this is true, but do you BELIEVE it? You must, though everything around you screams the opposite! You must never let go of God’s promises.

Though darkness hides his lovely face, I trust in his unfailing grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the ‘whelming flood. When all around my should gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand… (Edward Mote, 1797-1874)

May those of you with a crushed spirit find hope and comfort in Christ today.

 

The Reality of Your Religion…

J.C. Ryle* in his book “Practical Religion,” has a chapter on the Reality of Your Religion which I have found helpful in the evaluation of my own Christian Faith. Perhaps it will be helpful to you as well.

You know the reality of your religion by the place it occupies in your inner man. It is not enough that it is in your head – to assent to the truth, or on your lips – to repeat the Creed daily, or say ‘Amen’ to public prayer in church, but it must be in your heart. It must occupy the citadel…hold the reins…sway the affections…lead the will…direct the tastes…influence the choices and decisions…fill the deepest, lowest, inmost seat in your soul.

As I apply this test to myself, I see that my faith drives everything I do and produces deep within my core a consciousness of God’s Presence, even when I am not thinking of Him. (2 Cor 4:16)

You know the reality of your religion by the feelings towards sin that it produces. It will see in sin the abominable thing that God hates, the thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight. It will also look on sin as the cause of all sorrows, of strife and wars, of quarrels and contentions, of sickness and death…the blight which has defaced God’s fair creation, the cursed thing which makes the whole earth groan and travail in pain. Above all, it will see in sin the thing which will ruin us eternally, except we can find a Redeemer.

As I apply this test to myself, I see that my faith causes me to see how deeply fallen and flawed I am and that there is no hope for me or for this world apart from God’s deliverance. There is nothing in me that has any power to save myself. Only Christ can save me. (Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:1-3)

You know the reality of your religion by the feelings towards Christ which it produces. Nominal religion may believe that such a person as Jesus existed, and was a great benefactor of mankind… It may show him some external respect, attend his outward ordinance, and bow the head at his name. But it will go no further. Real religion will make us glory in Christ as Redeemer, Deliverer, Priest, and Friend, without whom we would have no hope at all.

As I apply this test to myself, I am absolutely convinced that apart from the work of Christ for me in his life, death, and resurrection, I have no hope of the forgiveness of sins or of life beyond the grave. My faith recognizes that without Jesus Christ I am lost, both in this life and in the life to come. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness…” (John 14:6; Rom 3:21-24)

You know the reality of your religion by the fruit it bears in your heart and life… It will produce in the person who possesses it repentance, faith, hope, charity, humility, spirituality, a kind temper, self-denial, unselfishness, forgiveness, temperance, truthfulness, brotherly kindness, patience, and forbearance. The degree in which these various graces appear may vary in different believers, but the germ and seeds of them will be found in all who are children of God.

As I apply this test to myself, I struggle with seeing these fruits consistently appearing in my thoughts and behavior. It seems that my human reactions and self-centered ways are still my default settings. However, there is one thing for certain, I am constantly aware of my need of repentance because of how short I fall of evidencing these virtues. This repentance is not a groveling worldly sorrow , but a godly sorrow that produces in me a desire to show God’s life through my own. (2 Cor 7:10, 11; Phil 1:20-22)

You know the reality of your religion by your feelings and habits about the means of grace. What are your feelings about public prayer, praise, preaching, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper? Are these things you tolerate…or are they things in which you take pleasure? Do you find it essential to your comfort to read the Bible regularly in private, and speak to God in prayer? Or, do you find these practices irksome, and either slur over them or neglect them altogether.

As I apply this test to myself, I find great motivation to care for my own soul by means of daily time in the Scripture and in prayer; by the practice of other disciplines that sharpen my focus on God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I also understand the importance of the community of faith, although I desire to see more reality in this area of my life, especially developing accountability structures so I don’t live such a solitary life.

Ryle concludes, Let reality be one great mark of your religion. Your repentance may be feeble; your faith weak, but let it be real; your desires after holiness may be mingled with much infirmity, but let them be real. Let there be nothing of reserve, double-dealing, part-time acting, of dishonesty, of sham, of counterfeit in your Christianity… Be all that you profess. Though you may err, be real. Though you may stumble, be real. Keep this principle continually before your eyes, and it will be well with your soul throughout your journey from grace to glory.

*John Charles Ryle was and Anglican Bishop of Liverpool from 1880-1900. CH Spurgeon considered him “the best man in the Church of England.” Ryle’s better known classic “Holiness” should be on your bookshelf along with this one

Things that delight the heart of God…

In my reading through the Scriptures, I have been paying attention to those passages having to do with things in which God takes pleasure; in which he delights. This is not so I can accumulate interesting little bits of bible knowledge for future use, but so I can presently better understand my Heavenly Father and show my love for him. Perhaps you can add to this list:

Psalm 104:31- He delights in his works; his works of creation, which reveal his glory. So, as I praise him for a beautiful morning or stand awed by a gorgeous sunset, I am glorying in the very things that give him pleasure.

Psalm 149:4- He takes delight in his people, especially those who are afflicted. “… he will beautify the afflicted with salvation.” What an amazing thought, that my Father delights in me even when I feel lost in my suffering! In fact, he takes pleasure in me especially when I face the unloveliness of affliction. (I’m going to write a separate blog on this.)

Psalm 147:11- God delights in those who reverence him and trust him and put their hope in his unfailing love. God does not delight in strength (v.10) but he delights in us when we acknowledge our weakness and our need of him. What an encouragement to come into his presence in those times when I am overwhelmed by all those things that I cannot control.

Proverbs 11:1- He takes delight in honesty and dealing fairly with others. Hmmm… what a novel thought in our world, where the end justifies the means in personal, national, and international affairs.

Proverbs 11:20- “… he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” Blameless does not mean perfect, but it describes a person who strives to keep the way of God’s Law as the standard for right living. Job wasn’t perfect, but he strived to live uprightly and with integrity. King David wasn’t perfect, but in Psalm 25 where he acknowledges he is a sinner, he also prays that his integrity and uprightness will protect him against the criticism of his enemies. My Father takes delight in my attempts to walk in obedience to him, just like I rejoiced in the first steps of my children before they fell down again.

Proverbs 12:22- God hates lies but delights in those who tell the truth. But the implication here is that God delights in those who are “trustworthy” (ESV). People whose lives and dealings, as well as speech, are characterized by truth-telling. Are you being a little shady in that business deal? Are you telling the whole truth to the bank when they ask about how you are going to use that equity loan? Do you have a financially addictive hobby that you are not telling your spouse about? At those times, just think how much your Father takes pleasure in you when you simply tell the truth and do the right thing!

Jeremiah 9:24- God delights in loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness. Rejoice when you see these things evidenced in this world and in your life because you know your Father is very pleased.

Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Isa 42:1- God delights in his Son, Jesus. It is little wonder then that God will use the difficult circumstances in our lives as a whittling tool to cut away things in us that do not resemble Jesus. Romans 8:28 indicates that “all things work together for good for those who love God,” and 8:29 defines “the good” as being “conformed to the image of his Son.” God delights when I think and act like Jesus, so he is in the process of reconfiguring me to make that happen. It’s a painful process and I have a long way to go, but one day, when Christ returns, it will be completed. “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Teach me to number my days so that… (part 2)

In my previous blog, I referred to the Psalm 90, the magnificent song of Moses:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Moses here acknowledges that there is something terribly wrong in the world because we who were the crown of God’s creation are fallen and finite creatures. Our lives are short and filled with trouble, and our death is inevitable. In the face of this inevitability, Moses prays, Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. We must learn to number our days properly so that we can live our lives wisely.

Let me give you a few things to ponder which will go a long way in living wisely. I am only going to name a few things; they are pastoral and very simple, and yet incredibly important. I would invite you to add to the list and teach them to your children.

1. Make sure that those closest to you know that you love them. In fact- today is the day to learn to say “I love you” and to say it regularly. These are the most profound words you could leave as a legacy to your loved ones. Many a child has grown to adulthood and been left with words such as, “you’ll never amount to anything,” “you’re a mistake, we never really wanted you.” Many a wife or husband has been left wondering if she/he was really loved. And so, one of the ways to create a wise and lasting positive legacy is to make sure your loved ones know you love them. Today is the day to begin…say it, don’t assume it.

2. Make sure that you keep short accounts. Today is the day to learn to say “I’m sorry” and to say it often. Grudges are built up over time; unforgiveness turns to bitterness and to resentment; unreconciled relationships separate us and can be passed on to future generations. How many of the world conflicts today find their root in generational grudges and tribal revenge? And how many issues in our families are rooted in the hearts of people who refuse to forgive and seek reconciliation – until it’s too late, and all they have left is regret. You don’t always have to be right, but you should always be sorry. It is hard to die in peace when you are overcome with regret. It is not too late to begin to wisely learn to say, “I’m sorry.”

3. Make sure that you have thought deeply about where you will be 10 seconds after you die. Today is the day to get right with God. Since death is inevitable and we will all someday face our Maker, are you prepared? “I’ll deal with that when it comes”- you don’t know when it will come. I was talking to an old guy (older than me, so he was really old) two summers ago who wasn’t sure he believed in God, but he said “If there is a God, then he’ll know that I’ve done the best I could – He’ll understand.” I told him that the problem is our best isn’t good enough and God doesn’t grade on the curve. He demands perfection, which eliminates all of us from contention. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is why we need a Savior. The old gentleman looked at me with a little smile on his face and said, “Hmm, well I’ll take my chances.” He’s right; he is taking a big chance… not wise!

Remember the 2004 Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ”? The trailer was simply a dark screen with these words, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities…” This is a verse from Isa 53 and it continues…”the punishment of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray…” Our Messiah took our sins upon himself so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. Therefore, it is the one who believes in Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross who is ready face life and death and to stand before God without fear… very wise.

“No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.” (In Christ Alone by Alison Krauss and Keith Getty)

The following words were found on a note by the bedside of a man who had died after a brief illness: “What shall I think when I am called to die? Shall I not find too soon my life has ended? The years, too quickly, have hastened by with so little done of all that I’d intended. There were so many things I’d meant to try, so many contests I’d hoped to win, and now the end approaches just as I was thinking of preparing to begin.”

Lord, teach me to number my days

Teach me to number my days so that…

In a play called The Proud and the Profane, a widow of a soldier who had been killed in WW2 became obsessed with knowing how her husband died. She had to know whether he died as a hero or coward. She saved her money and traveled to Europe to find his burial place. Visiting his grave on a French hillside, she noticed a brooding old man sitting in the cemetery and upon engaging him in conversation found out that he had been one of her husband’s comrades.

She asked him, “Did you know my husband?” 

“Yes.” 

“Were you there when he died?”

“Yes.”

“I need to know… how did he die?” 

The old man paused and finally said, “He died like an amateur, just like the rest of us will.”

General George Patton once said to the men of Baker Company as they were about to launch an offensive against a German position known as Fort Driant, “You are not all going to die. Only 2% of you right here today will die in a major battle. Death must not be feared, but death, in time, comes to all men.” 

Ernest Hemingway, the famous war journalist and writer, who eventually committed suicide once wrote, “Death is the sovereign remedy for my misfortunes. I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead and there is no current to plug into.” (quoted by Billy Graham in World Aflame.)

Woody Allen said in one of his films, “Its not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  

The Greek poet Euripedes said, “Death is the debt that we all must pay.” This mirrors the New Testament Scripture which says that, “the wages of sin is death…”

Whatever your viewpoint is on the subject of death, I think that we can agree that death will claim us all, and  all of us will die as amateurs. 

Psalm 90 in the OT Bible directs our attention to this inevitability: 

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Moses, who wrote this, acknowledges that there is something terribly wrong in the world because we who were the crown of God’s creation are fallen creatures. Our lives are short and filled with trouble, and our death is inevitable. In the face of this inevitability, Moses prays, Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom

What the Palmist is implying is that most people don’t number their days. They think they will live for ever and because of that they do not live wisely. Most people think that life will keep going and then when they get old they can correct or make up for the things they have done- like an 11th hour conversion. The problem is that those who wait for the 11thhour usually die at 10:59. “So, Lord, teach us to number our days, to recognize that they are brief, so we can get a heart of wisdom, to live wisely while we still have time.”

As a pastor and a chaplain who has presided at perhaps a hundred or more funerals and memorial services – many for people I did not know- I am usually able to tell by meeting the families, those who lived their lives wisely from those who did not. You know the old saying about living your life so that people smile at your birth and cry at your death and not vice versa? It’s true. I can often tell by people’s responses at funerals what they thought of the deceased.

So what would be the profile of a person who has lived his/her life wisely? In my next blog I will suggest a kind of bucket list of some things that can be done to get a heart of wisdom in the face of the brevity of life.