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.

The Goodness of Affliction…

As much as we hate to admit it, there is a redeeming factor to suffering. In fact, we could say that in some cases suffering is life-changing. A classic example is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose writings probably did more to reveal the corruption and emptiness of the Soviet Communist system than any single political factor. He said of his time spent in a Soviet prison camp:

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…. That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)

Psalm 119:71, 72 “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

Job 23:10, 12 “But he knows the way I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold….I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”

In these verses we have the experiential testimony of two more sufferers; the Psalmist and Job. I have read and pondered these verses for years and am just now coming to understand what they mean.

The goodness of affliction is known (experienced) when God’s Word reveals to us who we really are, and becomes more precious to us than all our investments and more necessary to us than our next meal.

One cannot know such goodness without affliction and one cannot benefit from affliction without God’s Word. Do not distain your suffering, but embrace it for you will nourish your soul there. Truly, it is “God’s megaphone.” (CS Lewis)

How do I know I am a Christian?

A teaching given for the Alpha Bible Study Series:

If I were to ask you to prove that you are married, you could do it in one of three different ways. First of all, you could show me your marriage license. This is an objective statement, signed by witnesses, that you were married to such and such a person on such and such a date. Secondly, you could introduce me to your wife and children. Thirdly, you could just smile and say “I know that I know that I’m married!”

Now, if you kept showing me your marriage license, but I never met your wife and kids, I’d start to get a bit suspicious. I might think to myself, “I bet he forged that thing!” Or, if you introduced me to your wife and kids, but I went down to the county courthouse and couldn’t find any marriage license on record, I’d probably conclude that you weren’t married at all, but were cohabiting. Or, if you went around with a big silly grin on your face declaring, “I’m married, I’m married, I just know that I’m married!” but no one could find your marriage license or your wife and kids, I would conclude you were either lying or crazy. To be able to prove that you were married, you would need to be able to display all 3 witnesses: your marriage license, your wife and kids, and your inner conviction. 

In just the same way, you would need the same three witnesses in order to answer, “How do I know that I am a Christian.”

1. First, you must have the witness of the truth of God’s Word. That is like the marriage license. It is an objective standard to which you can appeal. The Bible tells me I am a sinner who cannot earn God’s forgiveness, but that God in his great love sent His Son to die on the cross, for the forgiveness of my sins and to reconcile me to God.

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Isaiah 53:5 – “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our sins; the punishment of our peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, but the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

2. Secondly, you must have the witness of the fruit of the Spirit which is the evidence of new life. That is like introducing me to your wife and kids, the fruit of your marriage relationship.

2 Corinthian 5:17 – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation old things have passed away; look, all things have become new!”

Matt. 7:18-20 – “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…. Therefore, by their fruit will they be known.”

Galatians 5:22, 23 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (character change from inside out)  

Some other changes: new love for God and desire to worship Him, desire to read the Bible and pray, desire to forgive others, a desire to love and help others, a desire to meet with other Christians, to share Christ with others, etc.

3. Thirdly, you must have the witness of the Holy Spirit and the imbedded Word of God. This is like your inner conviction of knowing that you are married. 

Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are God’s children.”  The assurance of our salvation comes from an inward conviction given us by the Holy Spirit based upon what God has told us.    

1 John 5:13 – “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  

Romans 8:15 – “We have been given a Spirit of son-ship whereby we cry Abba, Father!” JB Phillips translates this verse as “The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God.” 

When the believer has all three of these witnesses, he/she has what the Bible describes as the full assurance of faith, which is the base-line confidence we need in order to grow in our faith. It is my prayer, that you will believe that Jesus died for you and that you will repent and ask him for forgiveness; believe that the Holy Spirit has transformed your life because you see some evidence; have the certainty that you are a child of God and a present possessor of eternal life.