Birthdays & Death(days)

 So teach us to number our days
  that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 ESV

I really hope death is like sleep.

The Bible often uses sleep as a symbolic way of speaking about death, so I really hope that they more similar than we realize.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that God caused us to need sleep each day as a way preparing us for death?

Maybe it’s a lesson for how we should live our lives. After a hard day of fruitful working, sleep feels like heaven, but after lazy and unproductive days, going to bed is like pulling teeth.

Maybe if we live our lives well and without regrets, death will be as restful as sleep.

But I feel like I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Let’s start again.

Today is my 27th birthday.

Supposedly, 27 isn’t one of the BIG ones.

It’s not like 25, when you realize that if you do make it to 75, you’ve already lived one-third of your life. It isn’t like 30, when your fourth decade of life begins. It’s definitely not 50, when you try not to think too hard about your age being half a century.

Each of those birthdays has the stigma for reminding us of our mortality. They remind us of what we strive desperately to ignore: that regardless of what we do, time continues its downward spiral.

But still, on this normal birthday (and for the past couple of weeks), I am pondering my mortality, considering my inevitable death.

It may seem dreary, and in some ways, it is. But I think it’s also both wise and necessary.

I’ve heard that when Roman generals returned to Rome after a successful campaign, parades would be held in their honor. They would ride through the streets of Rome in a chariot, basking in the city’s celebration of their glory.

Sounds great, right?

But in the midst of their triumph, a slave would remain behind the general, whispering, “Memento mori”, which is Latin for remember that you will die. Despite all of his momentary glory, a victorious general will die just like the most dishonored beggar on the street dies.

As the great equalizer, remembering our inevitable death helps to keep us from delusions of grandeur or, as the Bible calls it, pride.

Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions are fairly well-known to many Christians. He wrote 70 of them and read them to himself each week. When reading over them, it becomes clear that Edwards kept his death frequently in mind. Consider a few of them:

Resolution 7 // Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

Resolution 9 // Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

Resolution 17 // Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

Resolution 19 // Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

Edwards sought to live his life in such a way that he would have no regrets on his deathbed, but in order to do this, he needed to think often about his death.

Many of us like the idea of living like we’re dying, but we don’t want to actually think about dying. For all the death that is before us on the news and in video games, films, and television, we tend to shun any real thought about death.

It’s certainly understandable. The Bible tells us that death was not a piece of God’s original design for creation. Genesis 3 shows death entering the world as a result of our sin. God created us to live forever as His image-bearers, but we rebelled because we wanted to be God, not be like Him. We desired to possess the fullness of God’s eternality, and God answered by reminding us that are merely men via death.

Furthermore, when Paul talks about our resurrection with Christ, he states that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:26)

Death is an enemy of humanity, and Christ will one day defeat it for good.

No wonder we hate death.

No wonder we revolt against it.

No wonder we feel cheated by the deaths of loved ones, even when we know that it comes to all.

No wonder we live our lives in denial of death, even though all of history and every funeral begs us to take a long, hard look into its eyes.

No one wants to face their own mortality, but in Psalm 90, Moses teaches us that wisdom comes from understanding both our finiteness and God’s eternality.

Here’s verses 1-12:

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.

The Psalm repeatedly contrasts God’s infiniteness with our finiteness.

God views a thousand years just like we view yesterday.

He is from everlasting to everlasting; we, on the other hand, typically have around seventy-to-eighty years.

Therefore, Moses prays for God to teach us to count our days that we may have a heart of wisdom. He prays for the strength to face his own death that he might become wise. Wisdom is connected to understanding our mortality.

We know this to be true.

Without a healthy fear of death, people tend to behave foolishly. If a person rides a skateboard off the roof of their house, they likely do so because they have not fully considered the fragility of their existence. And we call that type of behavior foolish.

The realization of our mortality tends to keep us focused on the most important things in life. Living life with our deathbed in mind helps us to stop wasting time on frivolous or sinful things. After all, how many of us joyfully anticipate learning from God just how much time we spent watching television, scrolling through Facebook, or binge-watching Netflix? Few consider those essential activities for living a regret-free life.

On the other hand, what if we truly understood that our days are numbered and that we are not guaranteed tomorrow? Would that not change the way we love our spouse or children? Would it not cause the priorities of today to shift?

The heart of wisdom does not ignore or deny death.

Wise men and women somberly, but boldly, look death in the face, praying for God’s grace to keep them from wasting their limited time here on earth.

The final verses of Psalm 90 remind us that considering death is not a joyless task. In fact, Moses speaks of being satisfied by God and being glad and joyful all our days.

Yes, thinking about our own death is a solemn activity, but solemnity does not negate joy.

Yes, death must be faced with seriousness and gravity, but seriousness and gladness are not mutually exclusive.

This life is a gift, and death reminds us that we do not have it for long.

Only when we regularly number our days, will we find the true hope that leads to eternal life. Only in facing, can we find surpassing joy, even in the midst of sorrow, and continue praying with Moses for God to satisfy us and make our days glad:

Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

The Wisdom & Worship Reading Plan

This Bible reading plan came about because of a few ideas.

First, I wanted to have a daily reading from the Psalms. The past two years I went through two different reading plans: blended and chronological. I enjoyed both of them and certainly recommend them to anyone who might use them to systematically read through the entire Bible. However, I did not like that both plans required a reading of the Psalms that in no way differed from the other books of the Bible. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so, I do not think that the Psalms should be treated that way. Psalms is a collection of God-inspired, Holy Spirit-breathed poems and songs. Many of the Psalms are deeply-emotional prayers to God, either in praise or lament. This prayerful emotionality makes the Psalms completely unlike any other book of the Bible. They are designed specifically for worship, both corporate and personal.

Therefore, I do not want to read the Psalms as I would Genesis or Matthew or Romans; instead, I long to use the Psalms to foster a prayerful intimacy with God. With this in mind, I have established a reading plan that has a daily Psalm reading. Over the course of a year, the Psalms will be read twice with Psalm 119 being read three times. I divided Psalm 119 into multiple readings because it is essentially twenty-two psalms that together form the longest poem in the Bible. Also, because of Psalm 119’s passionate love for the Scriptures of God, I believe that it is the perfect psalm to begin our year of reading God’s Word.

The book of Proverbs follows a similar thought process. Like the Psalms, Proverbs is a collection from throughout the history of Israel. It contains many wise sayings and ponderings upon wisdom from King Solomon and others. If the Psalms are meant to be springboards for prayer and worship, Proverbs give us practical and applicable advice for daily life. Most of the individual proverbs are not exact promises from God, but they are divinely written guides for how to live life. Therefore, I hope that small and daily readings from Proverbs bring about more Godly wisdom in our hearts.

The Old Testament is laid out the traditional order. The average reading length is two chapters, with some days being more or less. Personally, I have a great love for the poetic literature and the prophets, so I have chosen to read through books like Ecclesiastes and Habakkuk more slowly. As this is my first year to use this plan, I will be closely examining the layout to learn if this approach feels natural or not.

As for the New Testament, the plan will take us through its entirety twice. I have decided to organize the books around the four Gospels. Because Luke was a companion of Paul and wrote Acts as well, the book of Acts and the letters of Paul follow Luke’s Gospel. Mark was a disciple of Peter, so Peter’s letters are read after Mark. Jude bears much similarity to 2 Peter, making it included in this grouping. Matthew is the most Jewish of the four gospels, so Hebrews and James are read after it. John’s Gospel is then grouped with his three letters and the book of Revelation (also written by John). I pray that this will be an effective way of organizing and focusing upon each of the four Gospels and how their themes are traced throughout the New Testament.

May this be a year of growth in the wisdom, knowledge, and grace of God through prayer and the Word of God.

The Priestly King | Dec 12

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 ESV)

For the final day of week two, we return briefly to David, who authored Psalm 110.

David composed this royal hymn about his promised offspring who would one day sit on an eternal throne over all people. As one of the most cited Old Testament texts in the New Testament, we can clearly understand David to be speaking of Jesus. And though David lived roughly a thousand years before Christ, it is incredible that David refers to his descendant in verse one as his Lord.

In the midst of this psalm’s declarations about the kingship of the coming Savior, we receive a very interesting statement: David proclaims that the Serpent-Crusher would be a priest as well.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s priests came from the tribe of Levi, but this coming King would be an offspring of David, from the tribe of Judah.

How then could Messiah be both a king and priest?

David answers this problem by claiming that He will not be a Levitical priest; rather, He will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

In Genesis 14, Levi’s great-grandfather, Abraham, tithed to a priest named Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews will make the point that because Levi, through Abraham, tithed to Melchizedek, Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to Levi’s.

Because the role of the priest was to offer sacrifices and prayers to God on behalf of the people, Jesus is not only our King to obey, but He is our great Priest who represents us before the Father.


Take a moment today to consider the beauty of Jesus being our high priest before the Father and the privilege of being able to come before the Father in prayer because of the ultimate and final sacrifice of Christ for our sins.


 

C. S. Lewis | a word about praising

Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3

Following the commands to praise the LORD, we now receive our reason for praising Him: He is God! What a magnificent statement! We should praise God because He is God. In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis remarks that after becoming a Christian, he had much difficulty with the idea of being commanded to praise God. It seemed to him that God was acting like a megalomaniac, demanding praise to fuel His ego. However, read how he came to understand the nature of praise:

The miserable idea that God should in any sense need, or crave for, our worship like a vain woman wanting compliments, or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him, is implicitly answered by the words “If I be hungry I will not tell thee” (50,12). Even if such an absurd Deity could be conceived, He would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures, to gratify His appetite. I don’t want my dog to bark approval of my books. Now that I come to think of it, there are some humans whose enthusiastically favourable criticism would not much gratify me.

But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praise least. The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read… Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible… I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. (93-95)

Notice the two primary points Lewis makes there: enjoyment overflows into praise and all men urge others to praise what they care about. If we truly believe that the LORD is God, will we not do exactly what this psalmist is doing? Will we not beckon others to join us in praising the glories of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ?

A Psalm for Giving Thanks (Psalm 100)

Psalms Study Guide (Week 6)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2)

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  (Psalm 100:5)

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

OPENING THOUGHT

Though our present journey through the Psalms has been a short one, we have explored some of the most important psalms and their themes. For Psalm 1, we learned that there are only two types of people: the righteous and wicked, and for the righteous, everything is worship. Psalm 19 taught us that creation begs us to worship the Creator, and God’s Word reveals to us His great love and mercy. The 23rd Psalm urged us to place our absolute faith in the Good Shepherd. In Psalm 51, David gave to us an example of truly repenting to God in prayer. Lastly, Psalm 84 declared the joy of longing to be with God.

We finish our current study with the theme which people associate most with worshiping God: praise. This psalm is quite popular for its brief, but potent, call for us to worship the LORD with joy and thanksgiving. With emphatic commands, the psalmist cries for God’s people to praise Him and to serve Him with gladness.

Indeed, as much as the psalm is about praise, it is also about thankfulness to the LORD. The psalm is composed of two rounds of commands and statements. Verses 1-2 command us to worship God, and verse 3 tells us why we should do so with gladness. Verse 4 orders us to give thanks to the LORD, while verse 5 reminds us to do so because of God’s goodness. There is never a demand to worship God out of forced requirement; rather, the psalmist urges us to praise God out of overflowing thankfulness to Him!

Read verses 1-2 and discuss the following.

  • The psalmist commands us to serve the LORD with gladness. Why must we be glad when serving the LORD? Is it not enough to simply obey the LORD’s commands, or must we also be happy about it.
  • The writer also urges us to sing to the LORD as a form of worship to Him. What is the significance of singing praises to God?

Read verse 3 and discuss the following.

  • The psalm now moves from commands of action to statements of knowledge. Why is knowing God and knowing that we are His people crucial for worshiping God biblically? How does a knowledge of God lead to worship of God?

Read verse 4 and discuss the following. 

  • Here the psalm demands that we come before God in worship with thanksgiving. Why is gratitude a crucial component of worship? How does thankfulness relate to praise? Why are we called to always be thankful?

Read verse 5 and discuss the following. 

  • The psalmist ends by declaring the goodness, steadfast love, and faithfulness of God. How have you seen God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness in your life recently?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the faithfulness of God toward you. Write a list of blessings that God has placed in your life, and pray thankfully to God for His grace to you.
  • Consider how you serve the LORD. Do you serve out of obligation or with gladness? Pray to the LORD for grace to serve Him with joy.

 

A Prayerful Longing for God (Psalm 84)

Psalms Study Guide (Week 5)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.  (Psalm 84:10)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

OPENING THOUGHT

We have already seen that worship encompasses virtually every aspect of our lives, and even all of creation calls us to worship our God, the Creator. Last week, we saw a key component for true worship: repentance. Through the prayerful repentance of David, we saw how the follower of Christ ought to be broken by sin and how we should to pray in response to our sins.

Just as the psalms themselves frequently shift moods, we turn now to a significantly brighter psalm. Written, likely, by the Sons of Korah, this psalm is entirely about desiring to be with the LORD. Their poetic longings flow through each line as they declare their love for the courts and dwelling place of God. There is such a degree of exuberance to their words that we might even say that they are desperate to be in the presence of the LORD.

Interestingly, the center of their focus though is upon the temple of the LORD, the designated house of worship for Israel. Within the temple, worship was primarily made through animal sacrifices to God. There likely should a level of shock to us in thinking about how the psalmist speaks so longingly about a place of ritual sacrifices; however, painted within this psalm is a picture of the sacrifices that the LORD desires. He wants us to come before Him in joy and delight, longing to be with our Father. Do we likewise desire to be in worship of God?

Read verses 1-4 and discuss the following.

  1. The psalmist opens this hymn by pronouncing his overwhelming desire for being in the temple (aka the LORD’s dwelling place). For what reason did the psalmist so strongly desire to be in the temple?
  2. After expressing his opening desire for being within the courts of the LORD, the psalmist exuberantly declares the blessings of dwelling within the house of God, singing forever His praises. How is this similar to our anticipation of heaven’s joys? Why will we never grow weary of praising the LORD?

Read verses 5-9 and discuss the following.

  1. The description within these verses of a worshiper traveling toward the temple led to this psalm being sung frequently by Israelites making pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Here the psalmist is determined to complete his journey, resolving to be as unstoppable as possible. Do you have a similar determination to meet with God in prayer, through reading the Scriptures, and in corporate worship with other believers?

Read verses 10-12 and discuss the following.

  1. The psalmist claims that he would rather be a doorkeeper within God’s house for a day than spend one thousand days anywhere else. Is this similar to how you value God?
  2. We find in verse 11 a very strong statement that God will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly. Does this mean that we can claim material blessings as some prosperity teachers might interpret this verse? How do we reconcile this verse with the fact that good things do appear to be withheld from us at times?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the psalmist’s longing for the LORD. Resolve to fast as the LORD leads you (for example: one meal, one day, or one week), praying for a greater hunger and thirst for the God.
  • Pray for a greater joy and delight in God.

The Heart of Repentance (Psalm 51)

Psalm Study Guide (Week 4)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (Psalm 51:17)

OPENING THOUGHT

All of life is worship. We cannot escape from God’s glory as revealed in His creation. We cannot feign ignorance of God’s revelation through His Word. The only question is whether we will worship God or something else. There can be no other answer. We were made to worship. Last week, we saw the great psalmist, David, worshiping the LORD by expressing his confidence that the LORD is his shepherd. His faith in God is worshipful to God because it expresses his reliance upon (and the reliability of) God.

We now leave the beautiful and tranquil 23rd Psalm in order to study Psalm 51, which is anything but tranquil. The subscript of the psalm informs us that David wrote this psalm after Nathan spoke to him about Bathsheba, which can be read in 2 Samuel 11-12. This was, by far, the darkest moment of sin in David’s life. He had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, and when she became pregnant, he had her husband killed as a cover up. David went months thinking that he managed to fully hide his sin until God sent Nathan to rebuke David.

From this rebuke, David pens one of the most insightful chapters in all of the Bible. We have modeled for us within this psalm the heart of repentance. David humbly and brokenly begs God to cleanse him of sin and to restore his joy in the LORD’s salvation. Within this psalm, there are many important keys for us to learn from David of how repentance is a form of worship.

Read verses 1-2 and discuss the following.

  • In beginning his petition for forgiveness, David sets the foundations of his prayer upon God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy. This shows that David is completely reliant upon the LORD’s grace for forgiveness. In what ways is this similar to how we believe in the gospel?

Read verses 3-6 and discuss the following.

  • Here David claims that his sin was only against God; however, we know that his sin also did great damage to Bathsheba and, of course, Uriah. What does David mean then by saying that he only sinned against God?

Read verses 7-12 and discuss the following.

  • In the midst of the guilt of his sin, David prays to hear joy and gladness. By comparing his guilt to having broken bones, we know that David was burdened with the weight of his transgressions, but still he prays that they would rejoice in being broken. How is David able to take comfort, and even rejoice, in the breaking of his spiritual bones that God is doing?

Read verses 13-17 and discuss the following.

  • David claims that the result of God forgiving his sin will be David teaching sinners about the LORD. Out of his gratitude, David will gladly and boldly declare the glorious goodness of the LORD. How ought our approach to evangelism be similar to these verses?

Read verses 18-19 and discuss the following.

  • In making a prayer for Zion, David understands that his sins have impact upon others in Israel; thus, he also prays for God to do good to them as well. In what ways can our sin harm or impact others?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Note David’s desire for more than simply forgiveness of his sins; he longs for God to fundamentally change his heart. Prayerfully consider if this too is your heart’s desire.
  • Consider David’s thought on sacrificing to God, which he knew that God wanted to come from gratitude, not from obligation. Consider also your own offerings and giving to God, whether they come from gratitude or obligation.