March 17, 2020 -Jesus, Our Rock of Refuge! Psalm 71:1-12

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In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!

Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day.

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.

For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together and say, “God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.”

O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me. Psalm 71:1-12 (ESV)

Learning and praying the Psalms is a rich source of learning about God and His character, but even more importantly, they are a rich source of comfort and peace for us in times of crisis and trouble.

The most well known hymn of the Lutheran tradition, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” was written by Martin Luther.  Luther was not a popular man during his lifetime, because he challenged the status quo of the church.  Those who fight error and corruption within a system are seldom popular. Luther knew death threats, the outside influence of plague, and the personal agony of losing his own children, yet by the grace of God he was able to keep the faith and keep pointing others to Jesus and the truth of the written Word that has been given to us.

Jesus is our refuge, our fortress, our safe place. Nothing or no one else is a true refuge.  No one else can defend us and save us from the natural consequence of our rebellion and our inheritance from our first parents.  No one else gives us the gift of eternal life, bought and paid for in His own blood.

May we pray along with the Psalmist:  Jesus, thank You for purchasing me at the cost of Your own Body and Blood.  Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

February 7, 2020- Wisdom, Love and Reflecting Light- Psalm 36

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Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.

He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Psalm 36 (ESV)

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The moon can only reflect the light of the sun.  It is muted, a satellite, a mirror, rather than the source. All that as we as creatures can do is act as satellites or mirrors to God, our Source of light.

The summary of the Law- the Shema- taught in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” is the primary wisdom lesson taught in Scripture.  The next most important wisdom lesson of Scripture is taught in multiple places- the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom– (Proverbs 9:10) and is one that points us back again to the foundational truth of the Shema. 

We learn the converse of this corollary in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”

Contrary to popular knowledge, human beings apart from God have nothing but darkness to offer.  Just as the moon cannot reflect light unless the sun shines on it, we cannot reflect light apart from having the light of God shine on us.

Jesus Himself taught that: No one is good but God alone. (Luke 18:19)

We know that the Law is good, but we are powerless in our own strength to obey it.

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

It seems a little odd that this Psalm both affirms the reality that all we can do is to reflect God’s light, and seemingly opposite reality that we take refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Even as God was speaking to Moses, we learn God did not reveal Himself to Moses entirely, but shielded him from the fullness of His glory.  The purity and the intensity of the full on light and power of God would destroy Moses and any other sinful, mortal human.  We cannot stand alone in the presence of God and live.

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23 (ESV)

Jesus is our Light and Life, but also our Refuge.  In Jesus, we are shielded from God’s wrath- as our sins have been paid for by Him- even as we reflect His light in the world.

Lord, we thank You both for the light You reflect off of us, and for the safety of Your refuge in Jesus.  Give us the wisdom to “put on our baptism as daily wear” and to trust in you that we are forgiven and that You will give us what we need to stay faithful to you and to serve our neighbors in all we do.

 

February 16, 2018- The Wait- Psalm 25:15-21

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My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how numerous are my enemies, and how fiercely they hate me!

Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you. Psalm 25:15-21 (NIV)

There are times in which we seem to be “stuck in the wait”- living in a place of uncertainty and longing for a breakthrough of some sort. Whether it be living with illness, or being in need of a change in life’s circumstances, or in enduring a trial, there are times when the wait seems endless and interminable.

The psalmist keeps on pointing us to the Lord and His sovereignty and strength throughout Psalm 25. God is the only One who can get us out of the predicaments we find ourselves in.

It’s easy to get ourselves into challenging situations. Sometimes we land in challenging situations through our own ignorance or error.  Other times we are put in these situations through no fault or negligence of our own.

Regardless of how we found ourselves “stuck in the wait,” the answer is the same. We are told throughout Scripture to trust God and know that He is our refuge. Time and time again throughout the Psalms we are reminded that God is our refuge.  Sometimes all we can do, when we are at the end of ourselves and we have no other alternative but to wait and to endure, is rest in God our refuge.

Meditation is the spiritual discipline in which we fix our minds on God. When we are lingering and “stuck in the wait” there is no better time to meditate on the truth of God’s love and provision for us.

There should also an element of surrender in our meditation. We know that God is true to His promises and that He has created us for His purpose. We can trust the good news and comfort we find in the Scriptures.

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him. Nahum 1:1 (NIV)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

January 19, 2018- A Fortress of Love- Psalm 62:5-8, 1 John 4:7-12

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Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8 (NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12 (NIV)

One of the greatest proofs for God in the world can be found in our families, friends and communities. We find support, accountability and strength in community. Sometimes we as Americans want to follow Jesus with a sort of “me-n-Jesus” loner mentality, but living in God’s kingdom means that we live in the context of community- even when there are disagreements and hardships and in those times when being part of a community isn’t easy.  Jesus said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5)  A vine has many more than just one branch.  As Jesus followers we need each other.  The Body of Christ necessarily has many parts that need to work together as a whole.

It is important for us to have a one on one relationship with God that we tend in prayer, study, meditation and in cultivating spiritual disciplines, but it is equally important that our relationship with God is also lived out in our community and in the world at large.

We should find joy and strength and support in our fellow Jesus followers. Because of Jesus we have the capacity to love one another and to live in a way that shows the world Who we belong to.

We as God’s people, God’s community, are meant to be a refuge for each other, not because we are such fantastic people, (we aren’t) but because God loves us. He loved us first. This is an important point.  On our own we aren’t always all that lovable. We can be downright ugly at times.

Forgiveness is a big hallmark of Christian community. All of us are saints and sinners at the same time.  None of us can live up to God’s ideal, but we all have been given the gift of God-with-us as our refuge. We have been given the privilege to experience the presence of God in community.  We pray that we would have the eyes to see others the way God sees them.  We can pray to see others with eyes of love, and to respond to them accordingly.

November 3, 2017- Fear the Lord, He IS our Refuge, Psalm 34:1-9, Romans 8:37-39

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I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. Psalm 34:1-9 (NRSV)

 

On first glance, there is a paradox in the teaching of this Psalm. At one time we are being instructed to seek the Lord, and He delivered me from all my fears. Then we are told to fear the Lord.

We can be losing a bit of the meaning of this Psalm in the translation. The word that is translated as “fear” in English (as in “fear the Lord”) can be taken to mean the state of having a reverent respect and awe of the Lord.  If we read the Psalm in this way, that fears are those things that we dread, (such as a fear of pain or fear of poverty) and that the fear of the Lord is not that we dread the Lord, but that we hold Him in awe and respect, it takes on a powerful meaning.

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In much of Scripture (and all throughout the Psalms) God underscores that He is our refuge.  The tiny little word is means everything here.  God provides our food, our shelter, our clothing, even the air we breathe, but He is our refuge.  Our safe place, our shelter, is not just provided by God.  He is our safe place and our shelter.

If someone or something is going to destroy us, it has to get through God first. Think about that for a moment.

Of course our thoughts go to physical death or injury or illness- and those things can and do strike our bodies, but there is life beyond our bodies and beyond this world.

In this confidence, even knowing that there are powers that can cause us pain and/or take our mortal lives in this world, God is our refuge. We can stand knowing that we are in Him, that He is all around us, in us and through us.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

October 26, 2017 – Refuge- Psalm 46

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God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

 “Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46 (NRSV)

Many of us are familiar with verse 10 of Psalm 46- “Be still and know that I am God.” But this verse of comfort only illustrates a small part of the bigger reality of our limitless God.  God Who is beyond our understanding, Who is everywhere in all places and all times- all at the same time- cares enough about His humble creatures to calm our fears, and to offer us protection and shelter.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of worry and to feel that the only way to solve our problems is to run. It’s at those times when God comes to us saying, “Be still.  Settle down.  Trust Me. I will give you what you need to stand.”  God is constant and reliable even when nothing else is.

The phrase “God is our refuge” is used three times in this Psalm. Repetition means the writer wants us to get it. God is our refuge.  Not stuff.  Not running away from problems, or running to compulsive behaviors, or overwork or alcohol or drugs or whatever one’s personal “thing” might be.

Definition of refuge: (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online)

1 :shelter or protection from danger or distress

2 :a place that provides shelter or protection

3 :something to which one has recourse in difficulty

God is our refuge. God is our Help in times of trouble.

We are also called, as the Body of Christ, to stand with those among us who are in times of trouble. Even if we have nothing more to offer than prayer, or words of comfort, or a shoulder to cry on, in those small ways we are bringing about God’s Kingdom here on earth.