Protective Shield

One of the best things about living in the Outer Banks is the constant sound of birds and waterfowl. When I was growing up, we camped every summer all along the Eastern seaboard. I loved to sit on the beach and listen to the sounds of seagulls calling to one another. That sound was always associated in my mind with vacation, my parent’s love, family fun, and the freedom that camping with friends brought.

I recently came home from a long trip away and as I stepped out of my car, the first sound I heard was a seagull laughing. I was home.

In this lovely Psalm, we are reminded of the strength of a bird’s pinions. The word pinions refers to the wings including the flight feathers. According to scientists at HawkQuest, an environmental education nonprofit in Colorado, a bald eagle’s gripping strength is ten times stronger than the average grip of an adult human hand. A bald eagle can exert upwards of 400 pounds per square inch (psi). God’s creation is amazing, isn’t it? Such majesty and strength in something that is literally as light as a feather.

As you read this psalm today, I want you to think of a time when you felt attacked, defeated, or threatened by something that looked too big to combat. It might be a person, situation, an illness, a bad decision, or a false accusation. It might be depression or divorce. Whatever has you in a hunter’s trap, know this: God is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than any of that.

Psalm 91 (Common English Bible)

Living in the Most High’s shelter,
    camping in the Almighty’s shade,
I say to the Lord, “You are my refuge, my stronghold!
    You are my God—the one I trust!”

God will save you from the hunter’s trap
    and from deadly sickness.
God will protect you with his pinions;
    you’ll find refuge under his wings.
    His faithfulness is a protective shield.
Don’t be afraid of terrors at night,
    arrows that fly in daylight,
    or sickness that prowls in the dark,
    destruction that ravages at noontime.

God’s faithfulness to you is your protective shield. You can take comfort in knowing that God is your refuge. He is your stronghold. He is your protector.

14 God says, “Because you are devoted to me,
    I’ll rescue you.
    I’ll protect you because you know my name.
15 Whenever you cry out to me, I’ll answer.
    I’ll be with you in troubling times.
    I’ll save you and glorify you.
16     I’ll fill you full with old age.
    I’ll show you my salvation.”

So, cry out! Seek the Lord in your distress and you will be found. God will save you and glorify you! Thanks be to God.

Pinion Protection by Michelle Robertson

Second Chance God

Meet Rain.

Rain is a very large bald eagle who lives in Sitka, Alaska. She was brought to the Alaska Raptor Center after being found on the ground in Juneau. As soon as the vet got close to Rain, she discovered the cause of Rain’s injury by the way Rain smelled. Rain had flown too close to a power line and had been electrocuted. Her right wingtip was burned.

They were able to surgically remove the damaged wing tip, but after weeks of flying lessons, it was determined that Rain would only ever be able to fly/hop short distances. She would not survive being released back into her forest, which is the goal of the Raptor center. Every year they rehabilitate over 200 damaged eagles, owls, hawks, etc. with the goal of sending them back home safely.

So, what about the ones who will never fly again?

This remarkable facility has a “Raptor-in-Residence” program where birds who can’t be returned to their natural habitats are allowed to live out a full life at this 17-acre aviary oasis. They are well cared for and well fed. And it was apparent that they are also very, very well loved by the staff and volunteers who work there.

In Rain’s case, it was discovered that she seemed to like being around people. During all of her recovery and flight training, she responded well to her handlers and displayed a calm curiosity about the humans around her. So, Rain now serves as a Raptor rehab resident and participates in their educational efforts with visitors and school children. She sits calmly on her trainer’s arm perch and looks around at the visitors with a curiosity usually reserved for cats. She also enjoys the salmon treats that the trainer gives her throughout the talk. What a life! 

When I met Rain, I was instantly reminded of these beautiful words from the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 40:31  (Common English Bible)

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength;
they will fly up on wings like eagles;
they will run and not be tired;
they will walk and not be weary.

Have you ever been “burned” by flying too close to something dangerous? Are you exhausted with things right now? Has your strength run out?

Remember Rain. She is a reminder that those who hope in the Creator will be renewed, strengthened, and won’t grow weary. And don’t forget this: God is a God of second chances. He has a plan for your life, and it is a plan to give you a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

May you soar like an eagle today!

Rain by Kenn Haas Jr.

Shaking and Quaking

Last week I sat in the living room listening to a two-year old and his grandfather as they were playing. Using magnetic pieces of plastic and a lot of imagination, they were building things. A structure was built and then the two-year old would yell, “Layne runned over it!” and suddenly the structure they had put together was demolished. Then the process would start over again. With Godzilla-like power, buildings fell under his tiny but mighty foot, and the grandfather laughed and laughed.

Our Psalm today talks about the power of God in similar terms. God is strong. The Lord is great. The nations shake and the earth quakes in his presence:

Psalm 99 (Common English Bible)

The Lord rules—
    the nations shake!
    He sits enthroned on the winged heavenly creatures—
    the earth quakes!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them thank your great and awesome name.
    He is holy!

Strong king who loves justice,
    you are the one who established what is fair.
    You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob.

We see a different aspect of God’s power now, as the psalmist extols God’s love for justice and righteousness. These are qualities of strength that we need in our leaders. God is our strong king, and no human power can compare.

Magnify the Lord, our God!
    Bow low at his footstool!
    He is holy!

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel too among those who called on his name.
They cried out to the Lord, and he himself answered them—
    he spoke to them from a pillar of cloud.
They kept the laws and the rules God gave to them.

In recalling the leaders of the past, the psalmist points to the covenant relationship of a God who rules through designated people. The laws and rules of God allow the covenant relationship to flourish when both sides adhere to God’s will and God’s rule. You can see the admiration the psalmist has for a God who speaks to his people from a pillar of cloud and answers them when the cry out to him.

Lord our God, you answered them.
    To them you were a God who forgives
    but also the one who avenged their wrong deeds.

Are you crying out to God today? Do you need the benefit of his power, the gentleness of his forgiveness, the satisfaction of his vengeance, and the swift relief of his answer? Our psalm today reminds us to cry out to him, and he will answer. When we submit our situation to our mighty God, he comes to our aid. It is time to bow low before him.
Magnify the Lord our God!
    Bow low at his holy mountain
    because the Lord our God is holy!

Magnify! by Michelle Robertson

Beautiful Things

What can you do when your heart is heavy with concern for someone you love? I have a colleague who is dealing with the murder of his daughter and her unborn child. An arrest has finally been made, and we are praying that justice will prevail. Another friend is watching her marriage crumble after decades of being together. A neighbor is struggling to negotiate the depths of her mother’s dementia, and a young woman I know has just received the news that the baby she is carrying has Down Syndrome. When someone you care about is hurting, you hurt.

A few days ago when I woke up early to write, this Psalm popped up in the lectionary assignments for this week. I had already been reminded of all four of these situations before I logged into my lectionary library, and here was David’s reminder for all of us about what we can do in the heaviest of situations. Before you read it, think about what is troubling you today, and pray that God will enable you to lay that burden down at the foot of the cross. Then read this as his answer to you:

Psalm 16 (Common English Bible)

Protect me, God, because I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord.
    Apart from you, I have nothing good.”

God is our only place of refuge when we are in trouble. I remember once being chased by bullies on the way home from school one day. This may be the moment when I happily discovered that I am a decent runner. All I kept thinking was that as soon as I reached my house and the safety of my mother, I would be okay. David is reminding us that we can run home to God whenever we are in trouble.

Now as for the “holy ones” in the land,
    the “magnificent ones” that I was so happy about;
    let their suffering increase because
        they hurried after a different god.
I won’t participate in their blood offerings;
    I won’t let their names cross my lips.

David has realized that following after people who don’t follow after God is a fruitless and useless pursuit. Does that resonate with you today?

You, Lord, are my portion, my cup;
    you control my destiny.
The property lines have fallen beautifully for me;
    yes, I have a lovely home.

This brings me such comfort! To know that all these people I have been praying for are completely being cared for by the Lord, who is the one who controls their destiny, is a blessing beyond measure. It also reminds me that God is God … and we are not.

I will bless the Lord who advises me;
    even at night I am instructed
    in the depths of my mind.
I always put the Lord in front of me;
    I will not stumble because he is on my right side.
That’s why my heart celebrates and my mood is joyous;
    yes, my whole body will rest in safety
10     because you won’t abandon my life to the grave;
    you won’t let your faithful follower see the pit.

My prayer for you today is that you can tap into the kind of relief that David describes when he says that his heart celebrates and his mood is joyous knowing that his whole body will rest in safety. Our life crises are not beyond God’s reach! God is on our right side.

11 You teach me the way of life.
    In your presence is total celebration.
Beautiful things are always in your right hand.

I hope you can take a moment to breathe into that last line: beautiful things are always in God’s right hand. Even in times when you can’t see it, they are there. Lord, give us insight and patience as we wait for our vision to clear. Your presence with us is a total celebration … thanks be to God.

Refuge by David Bevel Jones

There Is No God

Let’s talk about fools today. We often assume that when we call someone a fool, we are describing an intellectual incapacity. We think about foolishness as a lack of common sense, or making poor decisions. When a friend does something foolish, we respond with “Well, that was stupid!” Foolish behavior is seen as a function of the mind, and fools lack the wherewithal to “know better.” Fools are imprudent and silly.

In David’s time, however, the word fool was more a factor of heart than mind. Foolish behavior came from a place of morality, not intellect. Thus fools were the ones who were morally bankrupt evildoers, regardless of intelligence. Fools believed there is no God.

David makes it clear in Psalm 14 that he considers anyone who rejects God to be corrupt and perverse. He complains that there are few people who seek God, stating that everyone has gone astray. He draws a clear line between those who accept God for who he is and those who contend that there is no God:

Psalm 14 (New Revised Standard Version)

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.

You can almost feel David’s disdain for anyone who denies God. He is solidly in the camp of those who call upon the Lord for everything, and so he has no patience or respect for godless evildoers.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great terror,
    for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is their refuge.

Here is the application for modern day readers: those who call upon God will find a refuge of safety in that relationship. Knowing that God is real puts one in the camp of the righteous, where God resides. It is not only the smart choice, it is the only safe choice. God is our strength. God is our restoration. God is our deliverance.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Do you know someone who denies the existence of God? They, too, may make this assertion from a heart-perspective rather than a head-perspective. Ask questions. Have they been hurt by the church? Have they suffered at the hand of “religion?” Have they felt condemnation from those who know God?

Listening to the heart is much better than lecturing to the mind. When people see God in your actions as you offer unconditional love, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, they can see with their hearts that God is real.

You’re the only Jesus some will ever see. Go and preach the Gospel with your winsome ways, and only use words when absolutely necessary.

God is our Refuge by Michelle Robertson

Deliverance

Deliverance. What a curious word! Think of the many things that get delivered. Mail gets delivered. Pizzas get delivered. Newspapers get delivered. Babies get delivered. People in jeopardy get delivered. Souls get delivered.

Have you ever asked God to deliver you from something?

It is not uncommon when you find yourself in a place of great distress to ask God to deliver you from it. Illness, abuse, violence, unfulfilling jobs, hateful bosses, out-of-control teenagers….Lord, in your mercy, deliver us. Even atheists pray in foxholes.

I have had many a broken-hearted spouse come to me seeking God’s deliverance from the awful pain of betrayal. Sometimes he delivers them from the marriage, and freedom is restored. Other times he delivers them from their own grudge-holding, and facilitates forgiveness and reconciliation.

One thing is sure: God is our refuge and strength. He is our Deliverer.

Take a look at the beautiful language of Psalm 31, but before you do, ponder this: is there something from which you need to be delivered? Some sin, a destructive habit, an overwhelming loneliness, a feeling of shame, debilitating anger, or a negative personality trait? These things can feel like a fishing net that has wound itself around your ankles. You can’t move. You are trapped.

Think of that net, and imagine that you are at the foot of the cross asking Jesus to cut you loose as you pray this prayer:

Psalm 31

In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be ashamed;
Deliver me in Your righteousness.
Bow down Your ear to me,
Deliver me speedily;
Be my rock of refuge,
A fortress of defense to save me.

For You are my rock and my fortress;
Therefore, for Your name’s sake,
Lead me and guide me.
Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me,
For You are my strength.
Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

I’m sure you recognize verse 5 as the last thing Jesus said as he died on the cross. Jesus was quoting this scripture at the moment that God delivered him, cutting the crucifixion-net free and releasing his spirit as he left the earth.

So too will he do for you, if you trust him to release you from whatever has entangled you.

You don’t have to stay entrapped. You don’t have to be caught in despair. You may have done things that led you straight into a net that was laid out for you, but you don’t have to stay there. All you have to do is ask to be pulled out.

Behold! Your deliverer comes.

Old Net by Michelle Robertson