Taking Refuge

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In the front of the little white Bible my parents gave me, when I was old enough to keep it mostly white, was an inscription. I found it recently. In my mother’s delicate handwriting on the page inside the cover, I saw “Our prayer for you. Psalm 91.”

Am I the only one who doesn’t remember numbers or scripture references and who seldom takes the time to look them up? I have to admit that unless it is a very common reference like John 3:16, I nod and move on when a card is signed,
Best wishes on your birthday!
1 Samuel 21:14

“Thank you for your kind thoughts,” I say, and set it on the shelf until enough time has passed to drop it in the recycling bin without insulting anyone.

In the process of paring down our book collection a few years ago, I found my old Bible and read the flyleaf. At the time I felt the Lord was asking me to read Psalm 91 over and over, for weeks, because I wasn’t getting it. Somehow I knew it was important to get it.

I didn’t think it was meant for me. Such promises must have been written to a king, or maybe the Messiah. It felt presumptuous in a pathologically narcissistic way to think that I could take a passage of scripture written in another time for someone else and apply it to myself.

“Its too good for the likes of me,” I thought.

Psalm 91 kept showing up, though, in songs, in stories, in podcasts, sermons and accidental openings to that page.

Does Psalm 91 apply to everyone?” I asked the Lord. The answer is in the first verse. Who is this for? No. It’s not for everyone. It’s for those who take refuge in the shelter of the Most High.

Taking shelter is an action. It means choosing to run to God and not away from him. It means abiding in him, dwelling with him, staying close to him in the secret place in my spirit where we meet and spend time together. It means taking shelter under his wings instead of demanding explanations or running off to fix things myself. It’s believing there is something greater than my own understanding. It’s submitting by letting him help me. It’s admitting that God is God and I am not.

I don’t think baby birds can see much when they’re under Mama bird’s wings. It’s dark in there. I’m sure they are curious about what is going on outside where lights are flashing and siren voices screaming in alarm.

I don’t understand what is going on out in the world right now. What I am getting is a lot of reminders of Psalm 91. This is a time to run under his wings and submit to the one who offers protection.

I get it now.

Psalm 91

He who takes refuge in the shelter of the Most High
will be safe in the shadow of the Almighty.
He will say to the Eternal, “My shelter, my mighty fortress,
my God, I place all my trust in You.”
For He will rescue you from the snares set by your enemies who entrap you
and from deadly plagues.

Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers,
will protect you under His great wings;

You will not dread the terrors that haunt the night
or enemy arrows that fly in the day
or the plagues that lurk in darkness
or the disasters that wreak havoc at noon.

A thousand may fall on your left,
ten thousand may die on your right,
but these horrors won’t come near you.
Only your eyes will witness
the punishment that awaits the evil,
but you will not suffer because of it.
For you made the Eternal refuge,
the Most High your only home.
No evil will come to you;
plagues will be turned away at your door.

He will command His heavenly messengers to guard you,
to keep you safe in every way.
They will hold you up in their hands
so that you will not crash, or fall, or even graze your foot on a stone.
You will walk on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the lion and the serpent underfoot.

“Because he clings to Me in love,
I will rescue him from harm;
I will set him above danger.
Because he has known Me by name,
He will call on Me, and I will answer.
I’ll be with him through hard times;
I’ll rescue him and grant him honor.
I’ll reward him with many good years on this earth
and let him witness My salvation.”

-The Passion Translation

Marty Goetz sings a beautiful version:

 

 

Sanctuary

Photo: A sojourner at the bird sanctuary

There is a bird sanctuary on the edge of town. Many migrating birds stop there. Sojourners.

As I strolled around the lake I thought about sanctuary. I remember the Hunchback of Notre Dame crying, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” in the old black and white movie. For him it was a place of freedom from persecution.

Sanctuary means a holy place, a place set apart for a dedicated purpose. The world’s greed and ugliness cannot harass or even dare to enter sanctuary, but those who do not rely on their own strength are welcome. For those who trust in the Lord, His throne has been set apart as a sanctuary.

A glorious throne set on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. (Jeremiah 17:12)

As the much-loved bride of Christ who depends entirely on His mercy we can boldly approach the throne and know that the King of the universe holds out his scepter to us. He offers us sanctuary.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

God is good.

The wonder of love and the power of grace

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8IMG_0394 dutch harbour cut out

For so many years my sleep was erased by “what-ifs.” The opposite of love is not hate; it is fear. Hate is simply one of fear’s many manifestations.

I was so afraid that pursuing God would be another disappointment. I was afraid that I would get to the finish line and he would inform me I was disqualified on a technicality because I had missed meeting some requirement no one told me about, or done something out of order, or didn’t try hard enough -or tried too hard.

I once had a music student who failed a Royal Conservatory exam because I made a mistake. I misread a page number and taught her a song that was on the approved list for the next higher grade level. Did she sing poorly? Not that song. She sang it beautifully; she actually did more than required -and that was the problem. Being informed that she had done something wrong threw her concentration and she did not do well in the sight singing and ear trainng requirements she needed to perform later. Even when I explained to the powers that it was not the girl’s fault, but mine, my pleas were met by the recitation of rule book and the necessity of the penalty of docking a large percentage of her mark. I felt absolutely horrible.

I assured her that she did not fail. The goal was to sing, to develop her talent  and enjoy music; she had done that. She nodded, but she still felt rejected. I could see she was crushed in spirit. She quit singing shortly after that.

In a way, this was like my experience with churchianity. Even when I exceeded what was expected, I felt like I missed the approval mark. I was accused of “showing off” or “not being submissive.”  I was judged by a book of man-made rules and found wanting –but I was the one who chose to be a human approval junkie, essentially turning “church”  into an idol, something to be appeased, something it was never intended to be.

I felt rejected, crushed, and after a while just gave up. I feared I would never be good enough. Fear morphed into anger, and anger congealed into bitterness as hard as concrete. The same walls that served as a defense against pain also trapped offense inside and kept out joy.

After many years of long, dark, sleepless nights I heard the voice of the One who knew what it felt like to be rejected and condemned by the religious establishment. He sang me a love song and said, “If your fear of me keeps you away, you have no idea of who I am or what love is.”

He threw pebbles at my window and called me to come away with Him.

I did.

He wooed me on long walks in the woods, on mountain tops and valleys, in snow storms and desert heat. He spoke kindly and patiently as to a wounded child and invited me to let him pull the stronghold walls down.

He didn’t give me a definition of grace; he gave me a demonstration.

There is no fear in His love. He loves patiently, gently, relentlessly, unselfishly, kindly, perfectly –and perfect love casts out fear.

I hear the music again. My heart sings.