In The Ring: Expiring (Psalm 90)

MOTIVATE

I recently read a story by a sports and culture newsletter that is relevant to today’s message. The author is Jonathan Tjarks, an award-winning freelance writer, mostly for sports and the NBA. In April 2021 at the age of 33, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – so rare, that the odds of contracting it are 25 million to 1. It is so rare, the doctors cannot tell him if he has 5 months or 5 years. Even more, his wife just bore a son at the end of March 2020. He recently wrote about his life prospects, which I will introduce with a summary, and some quotes.[1]

Essentially, the Tjarks family life was challenging. The family lived in Dallas, but his father was from Nebraska and the mom from the Philippines. The distance from these places prohibited much interaction with extended family. Further, the son Jonathan grew up without knowing his father well because he had Parkinson’s disease early in his life, which took away much of his mobility. Further, he had heart issues that after surgery the father had difficulty communicating. In all, Jonathan lacked a father figure and the family lacked communal support.

Fast-forward to the present, and the story repeats itself with Jonathan’s cancer diagnosis. At this point, I want to quote his story (a little long):

I was nervous the first time I went to a life group. I’d joined a church the week before and one of the pastors, a guy a few years older than me, invited me. It was a smaller group of people who met at his house every week.

I remember walking up to the door and not knowing what to expect on the other side. There were about a dozen people in the living room talking to each other. I didn’t know any of them besides the pastor—and I barely knew him. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what most people would do: I headed over to the table with snacks.

Eventually the chatter died down and everyone sat in a circle in the living room. They all introduced themselves with an icebreaker. Something about their favorite TV show or their favorite snack. I was thinking, either I’m supposed to say I’m an alcoholic or this is a cult.

But nothing that exciting happened. They sang a few songs and then talked about the Bible for a while. At the end of the meeting, everyone paired off to pray for each other and the pastor asked me what I thought of the group. Then he asked if I would come back. I said I guess, but I wasn’t sure.

That was seven years ago. Some of those strangers from the house that first night are now some of my closest friends. It didn’t happen overnight. It took me a long time to feel comfortable. I usually came after the life group had already started and left as soon as it was over. But I was seeing the same people every week and I was telling them about my problems and they were telling me about theirs. Do that for long enough and you become friends. You get to know enough people that way and life group goes from being an obligation to something you look forward to.

Making the commitment to come every week is still hard. There are always other things to do. Sometimes you are tired or you had a long day or you just don’t feel like it. It gets even harder once you get married and have kids. Nor are the people always easy to deal with. You may not have a lot in common. You have to search for things to talk about. You can be vulnerable with people and they don’t always respond how you would expect. And you certainly won’t always agree with them on how they see the world.

The past two years haven’t been easy. Our life group met over Zoom for a while. People ask me whether I have to be more careful because of my condition and the pandemic. But it’s really the opposite. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for life to get back to normal. This might be the only time that I have.

I can’t imagine not being in a life group at this point. Human beings aren’t supposed to go through life as faces in a crowd… Life group is a different kind of insurance. People talk a lot about medical insurance and life insurance when you get sick. But relational insurance is far more important. 

I wish I could say that getting diagnosed with cancer has brought me closer to God. That my faith is stronger than ever before and that it has comforted me through these tough times. I have read plenty of stories like that. But that’s not really how it has worked for me.

I want to believe in a miracle. There have been people with stage IV sarcomas whose tumors never came back. No one knows why. Some things are still beyond the knowledge of medical science. I asked my doctor if I could be one of those people. He replied, “I am not the one who decides those things.”

I believe in a God who does.
But I also know that He has chosen not to heal me.
At least not yet. And that hurts…

I have already told some of my friends: When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? Were you there for them? Does my son know you?

I don’t want Jackson to have the same childhood that I did.
I want him to wonder why his dad’s friends always come over and shoot hoops with him. Why they always invite him to their houses. Why there are so many of them at his games.
I hope that he gets sick of them.

One thing I have learned from this experience is that you can’t worry about things that you can’t control. I can’t control what will happen to me. I don’t know how long I will be there for my son.
All I can do is make the most of the time that I have left.
That means investing in other people so they can be there for him.

Jonathan Tjarks – “Do you know my son?”

Our series “In The Ring” with today’s “EXPIRING.” How do we live today knowing there will be a last day?

EXAMINE               Psalm 90              A prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3  You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4  For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
5  You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
7  For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
8  You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9  For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10  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.
11  Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13  Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
14  Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16  Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17  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!

A family that prepares for expiring needs a faith champion.

Psalm 90 has an inscription: A prayer of Moses, the man of God.

The Bible has record of at least three psalms/songs from Moses: Ex 15; Deut 32; and Ps 90. Further, this inscription describes Moses as a “man of God.” Again, only a few others in the Bible are also described this way: Moses (Deut 33:1), Samuel (1Sam 9:6-10); David (Neh 12:24), Elijah (1Ki 17:18); Elisha (2Ki 4:7), Shemaiah (2Chro 11:2), Igdaliah (Jer 35:4), Timothy (1Tim 6:11).

God starts with you. The influence of one is still valuable and powerful. We should never underestimate a single person or small few devoted to God. God + 1 is always a majority, regardless of any earthly magnitude.

  • God started an entire nation with a man named Abram.
  • God used one man, Moses, to facilitate the exodus of 1-2 million people out of slavery from Egypt.
  • The Lord blessed two: Joshua and Caleb with faith to lead the people of God into the promised land.
  • David was one young boy who rallied the Israelite army against its enemy of the Philistines with their fighting giant named Goliath.
  • Jesus invested in just 12 disciples, and 1 was a failure, but with the power of the Holy Spirit and armed with faith, hope, and love, they changed the world for two millennia.
  • Likewise, the work of God in your family, our church, and our community can expand exponentially with a single or small few faith champions.
    • It is often said that SPBC has so much potential. It is true, as we have a strategic location in a triangle of influence with Annapolis, Baltimore, DC. Yet, potential only turns into reality based upon initiative and implementation of a faith champion. Nothing gets off the ground into the air or moving forward without someone taking the first step.
  • Pray for faith champions taking initiative & facilitating implementation.
  • Note: A church can only champion so many causes before it gets stretched too thin of resources. What are you championing that could fit into something else, without losing the identity of that current ministry?

God starts with you. The influence of one is still valuable and powerful. We should never underestimate a single person or small few devoted to God. God + 1 is always a majority, regardless of any earthly magnitude.

In all, this psalm that Moses writes teaches us about the character and concentration of a faith champion. While this message will not examine every verse in Ps90 or Moses’s full prayer, you can view so in a previous message I have shared.[2]

A family that prepares for expiring needs a finite reality.

Moses likely wrote Ps 90 towards the latter years of his life. Moses experienced trauma as a child under threat of government genocide (Ex 1-2). While his circumstances resulted in better material provision (raised and educated in Pharaoh’s palace), he lived in fear that his identity would be revealed. Eventually, trauma surfaced to his violence and murder, causing him to flee responsibility for his actions. Then, he lived for forty years in obscurity, only for his last forty years to be lived leading a funeral march through the wilderness. He experienced many miracles of God, but also personal pain: death of sister Miriam and brother Aaron (Nu 20). Many suspect Ps 90 is a result of these latter circumstances.[3]

Moses recognized that life has limitations and time is fleeting. He says 90:9-10  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.

Literally, v.9 says, “Our years are spun out like a spider,” with the image of time as delicate and fragile.[4] Other places in the Bible describe life like a race to a finish line that requires endurance
(1 Cor 9:24; Heb 12:1), or a mist that vanishes into unseen air (James 4:14). Only God knows the number of our days.

  • I’m 45 and likely more than past ½ my life tenure. As a pastor, every funeral causes me to think more deeply about my own life and legacy with my family.
  • 2040 is closer to our current year than 2000. Who can remember Y2K fears about electronics, computers, and end of world predictions?
  • When we are young, we cannot wait to get older. And when we are older, we wish it didn’t go so fast.
  • Biblical view of aging is a sign of blessing and honor (Ps 91:16; 92:14; Prov 16:31; 20:29; Job 12:12). Aging is not meant just for increased activity but is to lead to maturity and wisdom. The difference between activity and maturity is a matter of priority. As we grow older, we are meant to understand the finite reality of life and the infinite importance have a healthy fear of God.
  • 70-80 year lifespan… but eternity is infinitely longer than we can imagine. 8 decades are a blink for eternity. Eternity is like a raven picking up grain of sand to relocate from East to West, and upon completion of task is but the first breath in eternity.

Further, Moses describes life as toil (labor, struggle[5]) and trouble (sorrow[6]). The latter word is also connected to a word that implies “panting,” or “sighing.”

In another place, the psalmist says, “9 O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you… 10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. 15 But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:9,10, 15). The deep longings of our heart, the spinning thoughts of our mind, and the outward expressions or emotional sighs are all within earshot of the Lord. Spending time with God is how our frazzled thoughts and fragile emotions are calmed and strengthened.

J.D. Greear recently said[7], “Some weeks it seems like the news comes faster than our hearts can keep up. But tragedies and systemic failures do not get the last word.” There is coming a day when the tears from our eyes will be wiped by the hands of Jesus, and every hurt will be healed by God’s heart of mercy, grace, and justice.

In light of our finite reality, Moses asks, “90:11  Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” Moses is reflecting on God’s severe judgment for Israel.
cf. Numbers 14:21-23, 32-35
21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice,
23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ 35 I, the LORD, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

God’s judgment was upon Israel because they mis-invested their lives, lived in immorality & idolatry. Their days end with hollow sighs rather than joyous shouts (cf. 90:9, 14). An entire generation of Israel did not enter the Promised Land because there faith in God was mere fire insurance (escape harm) rather than following the Lord beyond our comfort zone.

  • A finite reality has a healthy fear of God. Fear of God is not harmful but helpful, because it protects us from succeeding at things will hinder us from true satisfaction, and spending eternity in heaven.
    • Like a list of ramifications and warnings to protect our integrity.[8]  

A finite reality has a healthy fear of God. Fear of God is not harmful but helpful, because it protects us from succeeding at things will hinder us from true satisfaction, and spending eternity in heaven.

A family that prepares for expiring needs a forever focus.

12  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13  Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14  Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. 16  Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17  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!

A final prayer and application from Moses is in 90:12-17. Numbering our days is not counting the days but making the days count. Even if we knew the # of our days, we could still waste them. So, we need God’s wisdom to help us feel the weight and significance of our minutes and moments.

Since we all have the same amount of time, we must be honest with how we are spending time. There are at least four types of people who either waste time or worship God with their time:

  • No words and no work. These people have few visible passions. They are passive and appear apathetic. They care about things but unfortunately do not express those in tangible ways. They spend time and live life reactively to circumstances, rather than proactive planning or purpose.
    • Apply: Create action plan from SWOT.[9]

  • All words but little work. These people love to talk and even dream big, but their plans seldom are put into action. They enjoy meetings, resolutions, and promises, and have amazing potential. Yet, good intentions do not automatically produce impact.
    • Apply: Identify someone to hold you accountable with amenable and measurable consequences.

  • All work but little words. These people love to serve. They see needs and meet them, almost immediately. Yet, they frequently operate on their own. They seldom communicate or cast vision to others, much more train or disciple. When these persons are removed from the organization, no one really knows where to start or how to sustain what has been working.
    • Apply: Take a break/sabbatical. Read a book on “being” vs “doing.” Identify and recruit persons to help your goals and/or team.
       
  • All the words and all the work. These people are passionate and people-centered. They identify needs and are problem-solvers. They understand how to take initiative and make a wide impact with the help of others. They invite input and feedback and implement strategies and reproducible systems. They invest and inspire others to follow their pattern of responsibility and influence.
    • Apply: Journal a gratitude list and thank others for being part of your journey.

APPLY/THINK

Some final thoughts and applications…

  • Flee youthful immaturity
  • Older age is the time to pickup your pace, widen your stride, and run with all your might for the finish line. None of us can afford to shuffle across the finish line. Retirement season of Christianity is anathema. Too many are dying to retire but they are missing what it means to truly live. There should be a sense of urgency in our Christian life, not being passive but pressing on; and we should not presume we have tomorrow.
    • Life is short. Eternity is forever. Hell is hot. Heaven is real. Jesus is alive and returning soon. Judgment is coming.   
  • Jonathan Edwards prayed, “stamp eternity on my eyelids” (Jonathan Edwards).  

17  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us The only work that will outlive us is what is done for the Lord and spiritually investing in next generation.

  • God put your hand on our hands…
  • Israel’s future generations would have continued to wander in circles if this Psalm isn’t prayed. And so will we.

[1] www.theringer.com/2022/3/3/22956353/fatherhood-cancer-jonathan-tjarks

[2] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2018/08/19/the-faithful-psalm-90/

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Exultant, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 11.

[4] Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51–100, vol. 20, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 435.

[5] https://biblehub.com/hebrew/5999.htm

[6] https://biblehub.com/hebrew/205.htm

[7] https://twitter.com/jdgreear/status/1529637160038633472

[8] See last week’s message: https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2022/05/29/in-the-ring-neighboring-psalm-101/

[9] https://growinggodlygenerations.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/life-develpment-plan.pdf

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