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Number Our Days

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Ever had on of those fragile, frail-feeling days? The kind that leave you feeling how vulnerable and feeble and one breath away you really are?  Those days when you just feel so…mortal?

Sunday was one of those.

So teach us to number our days.

After church, we dashed over to Mom and Dad’s for the annual corn roast. This year was a special combo: potluck and dunked-and-buttered corn first, then out back for the baptism service. Thirteen born-again souls, including our two sons, were slated for immersion in the borrowed baptismal. But only 11 went under, because Son #2 got stung by some bees.

So teach us to number our days.

He’d been stung before, so first- no worries. But when rash and itch and panic grew despite baking soda and Benadryl, we knew. Help the boy be calm and breathe, dear Lord, I prayed. And, after my poorly timed words about his being sans phone, Jim steered the van out of the hayfield, onto the highway.  For the next four hours, that was the last I knew.

So teach us to number our days.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, my friends told me about their Teddy. After more than 15 years together, Saturday was the last day with their little Japanese Chin. and forever-pup part of the family named Teddy. We knew Teddy from years of weeks of his warm, wiggly welcomes. If we were lucky, or salty, while we waited during piano lessons, we’d get friendly licks too. But effervescent Teddy won’t be greeting this week.

So teach us to number our days.

Before Gabe got home and soaked up theTLC (The doctor said I might need a little candy if I get a dry mouth from all these pills.), I texted my friend Terry. Terry’s only son got married the day Teddy departed. Terry said she’s swimming in a swirling sea of feelings now that all her family has gone home. A strange “gel of emotions,” she texted me, “emptiness, fullness, exhaustion and extreme joy all in one.”

So teach us to number our days.

It’s been 48 hours since the stings. The meds- 4 pills carefully laid out at breakfast- 2 at dinner- are halfway gone. Gabe’s not so free-wheeling anymore. His mile bike ride to see his dog-friend Kate and his five-minute walk to feed Cookie the cat need more forethought. I need a Epipen and a fanny pack, he says, just to be safe. I feel how I felt that time Gabe got infected– vulnerable and exposed.

So teach us to number our days.

Did I happen to mention that last week was my Psalm 90 week?  That it just so happened that every single day last week there was meditating on and praying over the “Prayer of Moses, the man of God”?  I learned that many think Moses prayed teach us to number our days in between watching dozens or hundreds of Israelites die in the wilderness each day. 

Here’s part of that Prayer of Moses (Psalm 90:10-13):

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.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!

God had mercy on me today.  

Gabe said that, in a sleeping bag on our bedroom floor Sunday night. If I would have got to the hospital 30 minutes later, I might have died.

You’re right, Gabe, he did. We don’t know what would have happened if we had waited.
But I don’t think the bee stings and Teddy and Terry’s post-wedding text were all coincidence. I think God was answering my prayer about numbering days.

Sunday’s Takeaways

Maybe He wanted to drive these home, before we fly away.

1. Be wise. Live each day as if it could be your last.

Which is why we ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live…and do this or that’” (James 4:1315). Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, Wisdom is the ability to look at all of life from God’s perspective, to see life from God’s point of view.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is, David wrote

How do we gain wisdom? By numbering our days! By seeing how fleeting our lives on earth are  in the light of eternity. So do we? Are we: Storing up treasures in heaven? Investing our time, talents, treasures in God’s Kingdom? Using well our fleeting days before we fly away?

2. Fear not. God’s got this. Our frail children of dust lives, I mean.

Jesus said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground” — that  means die — “apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of much more value than the sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).

My mouth, on autopilot, starting singing this Sunday while I waited. They’re from that hymn, O Worship The King, the verse about feeble as frail,

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in Thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

3. Fear not. God’s got this. Even the date of our death, I mean.

God’s mercies are firm to the end, But have you wondered, like my Gabe did on Monday, “Does God decide when we die?”

John Piper answered that this way:

[I]f the time for the death of a tiny bird in a remote forest is of a concern to God and determined by God, how much more will our days be numbered and determined by God with great care and wisdom. In fact, the psalmist says to God, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Which means, the days that God has allotted for me and you are already written in a book. They are decided.

Piper concludes,

God is God. He governs the world, and that includes the time for our conception in the womb and the time for our death. His children don’t want to have it any other way, do we? God is always better than blind fate. ..What else would we want than for God to determine when we are born and when we die?

Days Numbered, And In Good Hands

Our days are numbered. Only God knows when we will die. So it makes sense that the One who alone can teach us to number them is the only One who already has them counted.

Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete.

So you and me- and all God’s children, Gabe- we are in the best of hands.

And if that’s not invigorating truth and good news on those fragile, frail-feeling days, I don’t know what is.

My times are in your hands.

Psalm 31:15

Postscript:

Life is hard, but God is good.

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Are you an A-Thrower?

Oh no, I moaned. Honey, please come. You need to see. It’s bad. 

He came. I scrolled. And late Saturday night, we strode into our 12 year-old’s otherworld where Jim saw what I had seen:

Scotchlover16 

RealDirtyDon.

No. Not good, Jim said,.

We winced at the too-gleeful, Joker-y profile picture of a 30-something male. One of Sam’s gaming “friends.” Our eyes raced down the message thread until they landed on this,

“You there, Sam?” Scotchlover16 wrote, when- thank God- Sam was already in bed.

“‘Sup Sam?” is all RealDirtyDon hadsaid.

Anxiety Hits

Last month, our school offered “Online Safety: What Parents Should Know.” I didn’t go, But I know about phishing and trolling. I know that perverts and creeps sneak into kids’ sites seeking prey not play.  Enter Scotchlover16 and RealDirtyDon.

So we two gaming novices- actually, gaming nots– scoured the site in vain for more red flags. But just because we couldn’t see them didn’t mean there weren’t there. These types are savvy. They don’t leave tracks beyond these creepy names and few lines of chat.

But whenever Sam was on, Scotchlover16 or RealDirtyDon were too. Just waiting for our son. Stalking. Prowling.

Anxiety hit. I feared.

Are you an A-Thrower?

But the Word of God is living and active, and at just the right time, at10:55 pm, Saturday, December 8th, a verse came to mind,

[C]asting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

Ant that reminded me of a sermon I heard last week on the same verse.  The pastor mentioned a new term for garbage men. It’s G-Throwers.  As in garbage-throwers. Then he asked, Are you an A-Thrower? 

I remembered that too and right then, Jim and I did some A-throwing. We threw our anxiety on God.  By grace, we obeyed.

Then we made our game plan: no drastic measures yet. Talk to Sam in the morning- gravely and calmly- and go from there.

Then we A-throwers fell into bed and slept.

Cast Them Like Coats (On A Donkey). And Pray.

But what, you might be asking, does A-throwing look like?  How do we cast our cares?

It helps to know the same form of the Greek word translated cast or throw in 1 Peter 5:7 is found in Luke 19. The disciples had just fetched a donkey. Then verse 35 says, “They brought it to Jesus, and throwing [casting] their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.”

When they cast their cloaks the disciples put them on the donkey. They didn’t wear or carry them. When we throw our cares on God,  he carries them.

And how we throw them on him, Paul explained, is to pray: Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer…present your requests to God.

The next day, I had to throw them again.

No more let sins and sorrows grow. 

Our race to church left no time for anxiety. Not until I’d slid into the back row, did the next wave of worry hit. But since I am training to be an A-thrower. and since on the job training is best, I did some A-throwing. I prayed.

Lord, please protect Sam. Please give us wisdom. I know you care. Amen.

Then, in the middle of Joy to the World, right at No more let sins and sorrows grow, I leaned over to Sam.

Sam, we need to talk about your gaming friends. You know, Scotchlover and RealDirtyDon? Dad and I don’t think you should be their friends.

His eyes got wide.

Son, did you know Scotch is a hard liquor- a dangerous beverage? And RealDirtyDon…well, you know, that does not sound good. 

The Wonders Of His Love

Um, Mom? Sam whispered back. Scotch is Nick’s dog’s name. Remember Nick, my friend from school?  

But that profile picture? That isn’t Nick. 

No, Mom. He just picked that picture because he thought it was funny.

What about RealDirtyDon? 

Oh, Mom, Sam giggled. Don is Donovan. He’s sitting right there-here Sam pointed up a few rows and to the left- with his mom and dad. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy- your friends.

Boy, did we laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. By the time it simmered low enough to sing, the choir was on verse four.

He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove, the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love. 

And wonders of His love.

You are His personal concern.

We know there’s more that is frightening ahead. There are always more worries to toss. A-throwers, like G-throwers, have job security. There are creeps and predators and evil men.

But there is a God who rules this world he so loves with truth and grace. There is a God who cares.

Exhibit A? That mom in the back row last Sunday. The one whose relieved laughter spilled joyful tears in wonder of God’s love. In wonder of a Father who actually calls his anxious kids to throw the weight of all their cares on Him. In wonder of a God who takes them on as his own personal concern.

One version of 1 Peter 5:7 says it this way, Throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.

So- yes. You bet I’ll sing the wonders of His love. 

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.

Psalm 55:22

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Would Be Slaves

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty 1863, Brooklyn Museum


We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. 

Romans 6:6

Some would be slaves. 

They would fight for the right. They would weep to return; and faithless forget the horrors. For fear of the unknown or to keep peace at home, they would stay enslaved. 

A line in Lincoln’s “Speech to an Indiana Regiment” launched this post. In the speech, he addressed the baffling matter of slaves who would fight for the Confederacy. 

Fellow Citizens…I may incidentally remark, however, that having, in my life, heard many arguments, — or strings of words meant to pass for arguments, — intended to show that this negro ought to be a slave, that if he shall now really fight to keep himself a slave, it will be a far better argument why should remain a slave than I have ever before heard– He, perhaps, ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it…[March 17, 1865]

Then I read the book of Numbers. The Israelites were about a year out of Egypt, and already they would return:

And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic (11:4-5). 

Why is the LORD bringing us into this and, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to EGYPT? And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt”(14:2b,5).

Why would a freed slave fight for the Rebels? Why would he return to Egypt?  Why would we turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves we want to be once more? Surely not to let our stomachs and screens play god? Or to let lust and greed rule; to allow pride or pity to throw parties? Why would we possibly be slaves to the world’s weak and worthless ways? 

Scripture offers (at least) these three reasons:

1. We choose slavery to sin because sin just feels good. 
For a second at least. We choose “to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,” (Hebrews 11:25) because killing sin hurts and ice cream tastes good. Zipping our lips to blame and complaint is hard, and it’s not easy to open them to forgive and repent. Gossip rolls of the tongue, anger flies, and impatience and envy are so…comfortable. Status quo needs no fight. Natural need not deny the flesh. 

2. We choose slavery to sin because we have selective memory
We are faithless enough to think only of the “free fish and garlic,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” We choose to remember short-term security over the deadly wages of sin. We remember the pleasure, but forget to remember the bricks and the straw, the whips and the welts. We forget God’s provision in the past and ignore his promise to prosper.

3. We choose slavery to sin because we fear. 
Slaves, at least, know stability. Leaving Old Masters brings fear of unknown places, but also sworn enemies. When Jesus said, “If your hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off,” he wasn’t talking about peace in our time. His mind was on the kingdom that the violent take by force. We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back again into fear (Romans 8:13-14a). But of little faith, we fear much.

But we would be slaves
Like Old Testament slaves, we have a choice in our service. He could choose to stay forever with a master he loved. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever” (Exodus 21:5-6). 

But Slaves-R-Us, whether to sin which leads to death or obedience which leads to righteousness. But this kind is not forced on us against our will. Either we see a) the pleasures of sin or b) the beauty of righteousness as more appealing. 

I think we will opt for b) if we:  

  • Remember right: the fruit we’ll will get (Romans 6:22), not the fruit we got. 
  • Wage war against the flesh: stop keeping the peace with our eyes and ears, our tongues and hands and feet (Romans 8:13).
  • Fear not, for our Master goes before us (Numbers 14:9). 

Like Lincoln said, “Perhaps he ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it.” 

And so, with the best of Masters, we press on in the good fight.

Since we would be slaves. 


Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:16-18



For more on the parallels and imperfections of the slave metaphor for our relationship to God, I recommend John Piper’s sermon “Slaves to God, Sanctification, Eternal Life.”  

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Maui Surf & Draw-Near Fear

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!

Psalm 31:19

There’s fear and then there’s fear.

Mom learned to swim when I did. She was in her thirty-one. I was six. Great was my puzzlement when I spotted my strong, capable mom clinging to the edge of the pool, face hovering over the surface of the shallow. Oh sure, I had butterflies when I first flopped off the high dive. But Mom–she was afraid to splash her face.

I learned more about the irrational fear since our mother-daughter lessons at the YWCA. Like how her own mother was terrified by water. Grandma wouldn’t even take her shoes off at the beach, if she’d even consent to go. Mom described how fear nearly came between her and Dad. Early in their courting, Dad took her to Mill Pond. It was all she could do to wade in to her ankles.

A little boogie boarding incident in Maui comes to mind, too. We’re not thrill seekers, not daredevils, Jim and I. We couldn’t surf to save our lives. But the allure of a white sand beach on a sunny Saturday morning is stronger than a Siren’s song.

Maui’s Ho’okipa Beach Park is world renown for surfing. We’d stowed the boogie boards from our condo closets and voila! It just so happened that some family friends were picnicking on the white sand beach. And that’s how we Wisconsinites got a free surfing lesson in the mighty Pacific.

So, tether your strap to your wrist first. Then lie down with your belly on the board and then paddle out where the waves are breaking. Once you find the wave you want to ride, kick and paddle hard ahead of it, until you catch the wave!  

Oh, and if you get stuck under one, don’t panic. Just hold your breath and you’ll come out of it. Just keep your wrist strap on, whatever happens. 

Fear of wave power had us tethered up before we were off the beach. Then we flopped ourselves down on the squat, foam boards and paddled out. With fearful trembling, and joyful hope, behind our surfer-dude guide.

Here are four key questions and answers about draw-near fear: 

1. What is the right fear of God?

A loving, drawing reverence you feel in the presence of great power. Right fear draws us near God. Wrong fear drives us from Him. It’s plunging into the Maui’s north shore well-instructed, tethered to your board. It’s not a paralyzing dread that keeps your face out of the YWCA pool.

It’s walking near the big loping dog that’s running at you, barking. It’s not high-tailing it away from the beast, chirping, Go home, go home, go home. I know. I tried it and the German Shepherd had my hamstring for lunch. I was afraid to get close.

Now I’m afraid not to. I don’t run from big dogs anymore. I still fear them running at me. But my fear holds me fast;  it doesn’t scare me away.

John Piper explains how this right fear of God draws us near Him:

If you are running from God because you are afraid of him, then you are not yet as afraid as you ought to be. In fact, your very flight is a mockery of God, presuming to think that you could outrun this German shepherd. If you really fear him and love your own life, stop running, turn around, and hug his neck for dear life, and he will lick your face. 

The fear of the Lord is fear of fleeing out of his fellowship into the way of sin. Therefore the fear of the Lord is full of peace and security and hope. It keeps us near to the merciful heart of God, our fortress, our refuge, our sanctuary, our shield, our sun. Isaiah 8:13 says, “The Lord of Hosts, . . . let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, and he will become a sanctuary.A proper fear of the Lord keeps us under the shadow of his wings where we need not be afraid.

It’s true for big dogs and big waves.  How much more with Almighty God!


2. What benefits come to those who fear the LORD?

Big, bountiful blessings.  Here are ten to whet your appetite for this blessed fear:

  1. God will confide in him. The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Ps. 25:14
  2. God will instruct him. Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose. Ps. 25:12
  3. God will watch over him. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Ps. 34:7
  4. God will have compassion on him. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; Ps. 103:1
  5. God will give him wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Prov. 1:7, Prov. 10:27, 14:25
  6. God will keep him safe from snares.  The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death. Prov. 14:27
  7. God will grant him prosperity. Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life. Prov. 22:4
  8. God will endorse her praise. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fearthe Lord is to be praised. Prov. 31:30
  9. God will hear him. Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. Mal. 3:16
  10. God will be his sure foundation. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure. Is 33:6

3. Can this draw-near fear be learned?

Yes.

4. How?

By knowing God better. By reading his Word. And obeying.
Deuteronomy 4:10 says,

Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth and that they may teach their children so.

And Deuteronomy 17:19 says,

And [the king] shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and doing them.

Jim chuckles, shakes his head whenever he recounts our Maui adventure.

Barnies on foamies were we. He-atop the Pipeline; I-beneath-inside the monster wave

Inside I held my breath, lungs beginning the burn; the strap still secure around my wrist. Finally, I burst into glorious light. And then my eyes set on Jim; gripping his board, and craning. What a grin, then, when our eyes met.

And we coasted in together onto white sand beach.

Such abundant goodness.