Guest Editorial: Numbering our days
by Doug Melton
Editor’s Note: BGCO President Doug Melton served as chaplain for the week for Oklahoma House of Representatives Feb. 14-17. This column is an edited compilation of his devotional remarks to the legislators on Feb. 17, the day following the death of Edmond, First Pastor Alan Day.
I want to say again that I thank the Lord for the grace that He has shown me in allowing me to be a part of the proceedings this week. It really has been a joy to be with you.
In the years I have had the opportunity to preach, there have only been a handful of times when what I had prepared to preach I changed at the 11th hour. This is one of those occasions. I did it back in 1995 during the Murrah Building bombing; in 2001, over the attack in New York City; when the tsunami hit in southeast Asia, I changed that following Sunday what I was going to preach.
And what happened last night (Feb. 16) in the passing of a dear brother in Christ, Alan Day, pastor of Edmond, First, greatly impacted my life and changed what I was going to share with you this morning.
And so would you bear with me as I share with you out of the 39th Psalm. The psalmist writes, “I said, I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence. But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before You. Each man’s life is but a breath.
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions. (Psalm 39:1-8a)
I have found that there are a limited number of times in our lives when we actually do number our days. One of those times is following a great event, such as the birth of a child. I’ll get to go to the hospital and see a young couple and I’ll say, “Oh, congratulations,” and they will say, “Yes, she’s only 2 days old.” Or I’ve talked with drug addicts or alcoholics, and he or she will say, “Pastor, I’ve been clean now for 48 days.” We number our days after a great event.
We number our days following a great event, or I’ve found that we number our days leading up to a great event. I get to do pre-marital counseling and I love doing that. That’s when a couple is getting ready to get married, and I’ll sit down with the bride-to-be and groom-to-be, and we talk about marriage and what it takes to have a great marriage. And often times, when I walk in the counseling room with them, one of the first statements I make is, “So tell me how you guys are doing.” And often times, I’ll hear the bride say, “Oh we’re doing great! Only 27 more days!” I’ve often found it’s the bride who knows exactly how many days are left.
A little girl was sitting next to her mother at a wedding and the little girl said, “Mommy, how come the bride has on white?” And her mother said, “well, honey, that’s because it represents joy. This is the happiest day of her life.” And the girl said, “Well, mommy, then how come the groom has on black?” That’s a great question.
We number our days leading up to a great event. This week, I was visiting in the hospital a dear lady in our church. There is an operation she desperately needs, but because of pneumonia in one lung, they can’t put her under (anesthesia) to perform the operation. And so the family has asked the question, how much time do we have without being able to do that surgery. The doctors have said it’s only about 10 days to two weeks. We number our days leading up to a great event. Friends, I want you to remember what Scripture says to us, “Lord, teach us to number our days.”
There is a great event that has already happened, and one that is coming. First, Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, He raised from the dead and ascended back to the Father. Second, He is coming back. But I want you to know that if the Lord tarries, then every single one of us who is here today will someday reach the end of our earthly life, “for it is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment.”
And all of us want to think that in the short time we’ve had on this Earth that we’ve done good in our life. We want to know that we’ve done something profitable in our lives. And the sad reality is that, often, we think that doing something good is what’s going to get us into Heaven. We think that there are great scales in the sky, and if I’ve done enough good—if the good outweighs the bad—then maybe I’ll get to go to Heaven. But I want you to know, there are two things wrong with that.
First, we cannot do enough good to get into Heaven; I cannot earn my way into Heaven. “For if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died in vain.” There is absolutely no reason for Christ to die on the cross if I can get into Heaven based on my good works. And here’s the second reason why there’s something wrong with trying to get into Heaven based on works: I’ve sinned against a holy God. And so the psalmist writes, “What do I look for? My hope is in You. Save me from all my transgressions.”
There have been people in my life whom I have offended, and I can go to that person and say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness. But friends, I want you to know that first and foremost, our sin is against a holy God. Who will forgive me for that sin? You see, I can’t earn my way into Heaven by being good; but also there is sin in my life, sin against a holy God. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “There is none that is righteous, no not one.”
So where is my hope? My hope is in the only One Who gave His life for me and Who loves me. His name is Jesus Christ. He died on the cross for my sins and my only hope is in Him. Alan Day knew in Whom he had placed his faith. His faith was in Jesus Christ. God had saved Alan from all of his sins. Now I know that that brother is in the presence of God because he stood faultless before the throne. How did he stand faultless before the throne? Was he a perfect man? No, but he was covered in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Would you this day learn to number your days? Our days are but a breath. Ask the Lord to show you the end of your life—and place your hope and faith in Jesus Christ—and He will save you.
Doug Melton is pastor of Oklahoma City, Southern Hills and president of the Baptist General
Convention of Oklahoma.