Teach Us To Number Our Days: A Prayer

Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses the man of God.

 1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
       throughout all generations.

 2 Before the mountains were born
       or you brought forth the earth and the world,
       from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

 3 You turn men back to dust,
       saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”

 4 For a thousand years in your sight
       are like a day that has just gone by,
       or like a watch in the night.

 5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
       they are like the new grass of the morning-

 6 though in the morning it springs up new,
       by evening it is dry and withered.

 7 We are consumed by your anger
       and terrified by your indignation.

 8 You have set our iniquities before you,
       our secret sins in the light of your presence.

 9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
       we finish our years with a moan.

 10 The length of our days is seventy years—
       or eighty, if we have the strength;
       yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
       for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

 11 Who knows the power of your anger?
       For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

 12 Teach us to number our days aright,
       that we may gain a heart of wisdom
.

 13 Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
       Have compassion on your servants.

 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
       that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
       for as many years as we have seen trouble.

 16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
       your splendor to their children.

 17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
       establish the work of our hands for us—
       yes, establish the work of our hands.

Quotation for Renovation

from The Discipline of Grace
by Jerry Bridges
(taken from one of the best chapters of any book I’ve ever read – Chapter 9:  The Discipline of Commitment)

“When we commit ourselves to the pursuit of holiness, we need to ensure that our commitment is actually to God, not simply to a holy lifestyle or a set of moral values. The people of my parents’ generation were generally honesty, chaste, sober, and thrifty. They were committed to those values, but they were not necessarily committed to God. Many of them were outstanding moralists and even church people, but they were not committed to God. They were committed to their values, not to God.”

“We can be committed to a set of Christian values or to a lifestyle of discipleship without being committed to God Himself.”

“Commitment to the pursuit of holiness, then, is first of all a commitment to God to pursue a way of life that is pleasing to Him. In short, it is a commitment to a life of obedience.”

“There is no point in praying for God’s help in the face of temptation if we have not made a commitment to obedience without exception.”

A Birthday Prayer

I wrote the following on my birthday this past December, when I turned the ripe old age of 44. As Psalm 90 exhorts us, it’s a good thing to number and take stock of our days, so that we might gain a heart of wisdom. May the Lord bless you with wisdom as you grow in his grace, knowledge, and eternal perspective.

The Lord bless you,
Dale

Lord, I thank you for the gift of life. I praise you for how you have directed my steps. And while my sins and mistakes and foibles were all mine, I do thank you for how you have led me these 44 years.

I thank you for Mom, Dad, and Nancy-Hart. It wasn’t always a perfect home, but I praise you that all four of us have come to know, love, and follow you. Much was good. Some was not. But you were faithful throughout it all and we are blessed beyond what we deserve. Thank you.

Father, I give you praise, worship, joyful thanks and adoration for Suzanne, Natalie, Dylan, Jake and Grant. They have brought me more joy and happiness than I ever thought possible. I know I am far from deserving them, but I thank you for each one of them. I know I am a better man because of each one of them being in my life.

Thank you Lord for, of course, not only redeeming me from sin, hell, and your wrath, but for your call in my life to be a pastor. When I look back and remember my aimlessness, laziness, etc., I become stunned in amazement that you have brought me so very far from where I once was. I have purpose, identity, meaning, joy, self-discipline, goals, focus, a calling larger than myself, opportunities, etc., – all in you, by you, for you, and through you. Thank you.

My life, my family, my calling as a pastor, and all the rest give me such a reason to get up in the morning – every morning – that I just can’t believe it’s real. I am so truly thankful to you Lord. Thank you for pouring out your amazing love and grace on me, one who is so undeserving. I’ll take it.

I don’t know how many more years you will give me, but I do pray that you will enable me to redeem every single second you give me. Please help me do more for you, your name, and your Kingdom than I have ever done in the past.

Help me Lord to be more intentional, consistent, motivated, focused, etc., in all I do. Help me prioritize what is most important and significant and not chase after things that aren’t pleasing to you. Please, please, please direct my steps, fill me with your Holy Spirit, give me greater revelation of your particular purposes and callings for me. Empower me, consecrate me, and sanctify me for your glory and purposes so that I may honor and please you with my life and bear as much good and lasting fruit as I can while I’m here.

Thank you Father for your faithfulness, your Word, your love, and your promises. Thank you for the Comforter and Counselor. Thank you for my Savior, Lord, King, and Friend. I give you all praise, worship, thanks, and adoration. In Christ I pray, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and Spiritual Growth…

Here are some questions that I came up with as I was reading Scripture during my devotional time this morning. They got me thinking and praying and I thought that they might bless you as well. You will need a Bible or a Bible-website, such as Bible Gateway, to answer the questions.

…based on 1 Chronicles 10:13-14

  • Why did Saul die, according to this text?
  • What do you think it means to be “unfaithful to the Lord?”
  • What are the three examples of Saul’s unfaithfulness listed in these verses?
  • What does it mean to “keep the word of the Lord?” How are you doing regarding this? How can you more faithfully keep God’s Word? What are three practical action steps to help you keep God’s Word that you can take today?
  • Saul sinned by consulting a medium, which showed that his dependence and trust was not in God. You may not be consulting mediums or calling the “psychic hotline,” but how are you putting your trust in other people, things, or circumstances rather than in God? What are some ways you can identify when you’re doing that and, instead, shift your trust back to God? What are some ways that you can make God the first Person that you turn to in times of need, trouble, or decision-making?
  • How often do you “inquire of the Lord” (pray)? What is prayer? What are five good reasons to pray? What are five ways that God may bless you when you pray? What are three steps that you can take today to improve your prayer life? Will you take those steps today? Why or why not?

…based on Proverbs 28:9

  • What do you think it means to “turn a deaf ear to the law” (i.e., the commands, word, etc., of God)? How have you done so over the last week?
  • Why, as the text suggests, are our prayers not pleasing to God when we ignore his law (word)?
  • How can you more faithfully give God’s Word the attention in your life that it deserves (and that you need)?

…based on Luke 16:10-11

  • Why does Jesus say that a person trusted with little can be trusted with very much? What are some examples of this truth in everyday life? How would you teach this principle to a child?
  • How is this teaching true from a spiritual perspective?
  • What are three areas of your life where you have been faithful with little? Were you rewarded by greater trust and responsibility?
  • If you are faithful to God in the little things of your life, in what ways might God trust you with more? Spend some time identifying some of these “smaller” things and then pray to God for increasing faithfulness in those areas. Ask him to prepare you for greater responsibilities and opportunities to love and serve him and others.

May God use these Scriptural texts and questions to help you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessings,
Dale

God Honors Those Who Honor Him

Here are some great insights I got from God’s Word this morning. A common theme emerged of God honoring (and even delighting in) those who honor him (1 Samuel 2:30). Of course, this isn’t because he has to, but out of his grace, he chooses to. Thanks be to God. SDG, Dale

Numbers 14:24 - But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 - Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” [10] Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
 

Psalm 147:11 -  the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
 

Proverbs 22:4 - Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.
 

Luke 10:41-42 - “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, [42] but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Faithful Discipleship

Matthew 7:24-27

About ten years ago, Dr. Wiatt and Southside’s Vision Committee, after much prayer and discussion, decided that Southside’s Mission Statement would be:

Building the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.

But they also wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just another church with just another mission statement. They didn’t want to simply talk the talk…they wanted to walk the walk. And so, with that in mind, the Staff Parish Committee put together a search committee that would be tasked with the goal of finding a person whose ministry would focus on helping to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In doing this they were showing how seriously they were taking Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s Gospel –what we call the Great Commission. Jesus basically said there…

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

By God’s grace…at least from my perspective…I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is so vital to the life of Christ’s Church. And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to do what I do here at Southside. Thank you!

And so I was delighted when Pastor Bruce allowed me to preach on the topic of faithful discipleship this morning. It really is near and dear to my heart.

But what exactly is discipleship and what text would I exposit to give us a deeper understanding of it? I mean, after all, you can be a disciple of anything or anyone? What makes a disciple of Jesus Christ a faithful disciple?

Well, this subject is not peripheral in Scripture. It’s front and center throughout.

Having said that, there was still a text that stuck out in my mind that I thought would really help us in understanding what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Let’s read Matthew 7:24-27.

Our text comes at the very end of what we call, “The Sermon on the Mount.” For three chapters Jesus taught what we might call, “The norms of the Kingdom.” Or…what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.

Jesus begins these concluding remarks in verse 24 with these words…

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”

His very first word here is “therefore.” And remember my number one rule about the word, “therefore.” Whenever you see the word “therefore,” always ask what it’s there for. The reason why is because it’s a word that usually means something like this: “Based on what I’ve just said…go and do such and such.” And that’s exactly what it means here.

Furthermore, Jesus says in verse 24…

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…

So Jesus is telling us exactly what the “therefore” refers to – “these words of mine.” The words that he had just been preaching, which we call…”The Sermon on the Mount.”

Of course, Jesus’ words can never be separated from who he is. You see, Jesus embodied everything he said. His person, works, and words are all part of the same package. They always point to his Father in heaven…and to him.

But what in particular are these “words of Jesus?” What’s in the Sermon on the Mount? Are they relevant to us today…some 2,000 years later. Well…you tell me…

In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on…

  • Our character
  • God’s blessings
  • How to influence others
  • God’s Law
  • The righteousness God expects from us
  • Murder
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Reconciliation
  • Adultery
  • Lust
  • Divorce
  • Taking Oaths
  • Truth Telling
  • Revenge
  • Going the extra mile for another person
  • Loving your enemies
  • Giving to the needy
  • How to pray
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • How to fast
  • Humility
  • Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
  • Putting God first
  • Priorities
  • Worry
  • God’s provision for you and your family
  • God’s Kingdom
  • Judging others
  • Hypocrisy
  • Persistence in prayer
  • God’s goodness to his children
  • How to enter into heaven
  • True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
  • True and false disciples of Jesus and how to tell the difference between them.

So you tell me: Is any of that relevant to your life?

Now, to bring his teaching to life and to drive home his point about being a faithful disciple, Jesus tells us a story to two builders – one he calls wise…and one he calls foolish.

But before we look at this familiar story, there’s one part of it that may not be so obvious. It’s easy to miss. I know I did for many years. You see, Jesus is not, in this parable, comparing and contrasting a Church-goer from a non-Church-goer. He’s not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian with an outspoken pagan who’s never darkened the door of a church.

I think we would all breathe a collective sigh of relief if that were the case because we would all say, “Whew, well at least he’s not talking about me.”

Now, to be sure, Jesus has plenty to say about the “official” unbelieving world…but that’s not his focus here. In this parable…Jesus is comparing and contrasting you…and the person sitting right next to you this morning. OUCH!

Jesus is talking about two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, look just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we could say that both people go to church. Both can recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both sing every verse of every hymn or song. And both will sit and hear every word of the sermon.

That’s the point that Jesus is making: Both houses that the builders built looked identical with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place…on nothing but sand.

Now, Jesus’ audience would have known exactly what he was saying here. Why? Well, because they knew all about Palestine’s dry climate. They lived there. There weren’t very many heavy rainfalls throughout the year – especially during the summer. But during the Fall, the rain would sometimes be very, very heavy. Excessive flooding could easily destroy homes that were built on the dry and sandy terrain. And that dry land would give way to the sudden torrents that would rush down the ravines and carry away anything in their path.

We know how this works from our own experience. You spend half the day building a sand castle at the beach. What happens when the waves start crashing into it? It crumbles faster than a house of cards.

Well, Jesus calls the builder who built his house on the rock, wise. The builder who built his house on the sand was called, foolish.

So what’s the foundation that Jesus is talking about? It’s his words. And what makes a person wise or foolish is what he or she does with those words…and therefore, him. Both men heard the words of Jesus. They looked just alike in that respect. But only one of them put those words into practice. Jesus called him wise. The other man also heard the words of Jesus. But for whatever reason, he ignored them. Jesus called him a fool.

James, the brother of our Lord, must have been paying attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25…

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. [23] Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror [24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [25] But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives reedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

If I could use one word to describe what Jesus is talking about here it would be “obedience.” Jesus wants more than people who “talk the talk” of faith. He wants people who will “walk the walk” of faith. That’s faithful discipleship.

And this isn’t just a New Testament thing. God said the same thing through his prophet, Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 33:31-32…

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. [32] Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

You see, the Sermon on the Mount (as well as the rest of God’s Word) isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. Our men’s ministry, the Baxter Boys, studied a book last year entitled, “Point Man.” It was about how Christian men can be godly husbands, fathers, workers, churchmen, and so on. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Steve Farrar, the author wrote…

“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”

He continued…

“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”

He concluded this thought with these words…

“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”

I love that! From ignorance to knowledge to obedience! You see, we don’t read or study the Bible purely for information but for transformation. Now…to be sure…we have to know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ aren’t simply collecting Bible-information so they can win Bible-Jeopardy one day. We have to obey God’s Word if we would be transformed.

Well…finally…let me ask you this: Have you ever read (I mean really studied) the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what happened to me when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. And I think that’s the whole point. But maybe you’re asking why I felt that way. Well, because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like…

“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)

“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)

“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)

Beloved, that’s just from the first half of chapter 5. There’s still the second half of chapter 5…and all of chapters 6 and 7. So much for “Gentleman Jesus, meek and mild.”

My point is that it’s those words…and the many, many other words like those that Jesus is saying we are to read, study, and put into practice. That’s why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.

But as I said…I think that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are to drive us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus put those words into practice and perfectly practiced them. And that’s why he was and is the only acceptable sacrifice to the Father on our behalf.

That’s why we are saved only when we place our trust and in him and alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not contradicting everything I just said. We are indeed to strive to be more and more obedient to God’s Word with each and every passing day, week, month, and year. It’s how we glorify God and become more like Christ. We must put his words into practice. That’s a non-negotiable.

But at the end of the day, you aren’t trying to obey Jesus in order to save yourself with your own good works. You can’t do that anyway. You’re seeking to obey Jesus by putting his words into practice because he has already saved you by his grace. Your obedience, while required in a very qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful heart. And it will be his Spirit working in and through you that will give you a desire to obey him and will enable you to do so.

And that’s how you show Jesus and the world that you love him…by obeying him. Jesus said in John 14:15…

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.

And in John 14:21…

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

That’s what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. What could be better than that?

Stand Firm,
Dale

Pursuing Wisdom

Joshua 1:8

May I not let Your word depart from my mouth, but mediate on it day and night, so that I may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then I will make my way prosperous, and I will act wisely. (Ken Boa paraphrase)

This verse from the first chapter of Joshua has been paraphrased in the first person to remind us that God’s Word has application in our lives. It is, in a manner of speaking, addressed to us.

That’s quite relevant in light of the fact that this single verse is exhorting and instructing us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word. Why? Because that’s where we meet God…hear God…am confronted and instructed by God. In short, it is where we learn to act wisely.

I pray for wisdom on a daily basis, All of Scripture encourages me to do so. James puts it bluntly in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. Verse five reads,

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

It doesn’t get any plainer than that. Ask for wisdom and God will give it…generously. That seems simple enough. Yet what I have learned over the years of my spiritual pilgrimage is that this “formula” does not work like a magic genie in a lamp. You don’t rub the lamp and make a wish. It doesn’t operate like taking an aspirin for a headache. You don’t take two tablets and get wisdom in the morning.

Instead, our text from Joshua gives us a pretty good understanding about how to attain wisdom. If the wisdom we want is God’s wisdom, and God has revealed his wisdom to us in and through his Word, then it would behoove us to read, study, mediate upon, pray over, and apply – SATURATE ourselves – with that source of wisdom. If we want God’s wisdom to rub off on us and really get into our spiritual bloodstreams – into our hearts and minds – then we have to do the hard work of “not letting it depart from us.” We will want to “meditate on it day and night.” We will want to be “careful to do according to all that is written in it.” Only then will we become prosperous and begin to act wisely.

That’s the cost to this component of faithful discipleship. It’s not easy and it certainly does not come instantly. This is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. But it is a pearl of great price that is worth more than we can possibly imagine. It’s worth the cost and then some.

One last thought: I’m not sure when I will know that “I’ve arrived” and received the wisdom that I’ve been desperately praying and striving for. Does a wise person think that he is wise? That doesn’t seem to fit with my understanding of wisdom. I think I’ll just pursue it, with God’s grace, all the days of my life and leave it to my heavenly Father, if he chooses, to let me know one day how I did.

Stand Firm,
Dale