God’s shelter

Good morning, Friends!

I hope you’re all doing well this week in spite of everything. No question, these are hard times we’re living through!

People ask me what they should be reading right now. Often I say, “Read the Psalms.”

The Psalms are one of the secret weapons of the Bible. They’re prayers which have been tested by time. They talk about all the challenges of life – the hard times, the fears, the feeling of being lost, the feeling of being confused. The Psalms are pretty good medicine.

I’d like to share one of my favorite Psalms with you this time. It’s Psalm 91. Psalm 91 has so many phrases of faith and comfort in it. It always helps me to feel stronger and more confident.

Please turn to Psalm 91 in your Bible, and let’s read it together.

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
You will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his feathers,
under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and armor.

You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the poisonous snake,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;

I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.

With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

Psalm 91

In Hebrew, the Psalms are called Tehillim, which means praises. The book of Psalms is a collection of prayers where people praise God.

When we read through the Psalm, did you notice how many dangers it listed?

Snares or traps. Pestilence – another word for epidemic. Fear and terror. Unexpected attacks. People dying all around. Evil. Falling rocks. Lions and snakes. You’d think the writer might have thrown in dead car batteries and leaky roofs. It’s quite a catalog!

But then, I want you to go back and read through the Psalm, and notice how many different ways that God helps. It talks about being sheltered, delivered and in God’s shadow.

It talks about being covered by the feathers of God’s wings – as though God were a mother hen or maybe a mother eagle, and we’re being both protected and warmed.

The Psalm talks about being shielded and guarded, with evil being kept away. It talks about our prayers being answered. It talks about being rescued and honored.

At the very end, it talks about living a long time, about being filled and satisfied, and being saved.

This is a prayer for hard times. These words were written by someone who was in serious trouble. But they were also written by a person of great faith.

“I’m in trouble – but God is here for me. I’m in a trap, but God will set me free. I’m in the midst of an epidemic – but God will shelter me in his shadow, and protect me under his own strong wings. God is my safety. God is my shield and my armor. God is my refuge and my dwelling place. Over and over, it talks about no matter what danger we’re facing, God is here to help us.”

These are truly scary times. We’re in the midst of an epidemic. It’s an invisible enemy that we can’t see. What we can see are the things it causes: the closed stores and businesses, the closed schools, the canceled events.

We can see these visible things, but the epidemic itself is invisible. And an invisible enemy who has so much power to close everything down is terrifying.

We expect our leaders to tell us what to do and how to be safe, but our leaders are running around in circles. We hear one thing one day, and something else the next day.

It’s a strange and terrifying time, a confusing time, a wrenching time that has affected everyone. I think that everyone has been scared, including me.

A Psalm like this one helps us to remember, that fear doesn’t have the last word.

Yes, we’re afraid – but God is bigger than what we’re so afraid of. Yes, we are confused – but we need to remember that God is our refuge, no matter what happens.

The Psalm talks about God in many different ways. God is the Most High. God is the Almighty. God is the Lord, whose very name means power and freedom.

Whenever we hear God mentioned, in any of these ways, we can start to feel better. Just saying the name of the Lord, is like having a strong friend here to help you.

So many times, when we call out the name of God, we’re in despair. It’s like God is our last chance, and not a very good one, either.

We need to make that call to God our first response, not our last response. God is our first responder, the one we call first for help, our best friend, our help in time of trouble.

When we’re in the kind of trouble we’re facing now, our prayers often sound like, “God, get me out of here!” We want out, we want gone, we want to be someplace else altogether. “Stop the world – I want to get off!”

But most of the prayers of the Bible say something different. Instead of saying, “Get me out of here, God!”, the prayers of the Bible say, “Lord, be here with me now. Please be here. Be with me. Don’t leave me alone. Don’t go off and abandon me.”

Do you see the difference? We want God to rescue us – to get us out of our situation. But a lot of the time, what God does instead is to lift us up and help us till we can get our feet on solid ground, but then God keeps us here, so we can help each other.

The big thing this Psalm does is it talks about fear. We are so afraid of this virus. We’re afraid of what it might do to us. And we’re afraid that it might kill the people we love.

We’re terrified of all the economic damage it’s causing. What’s going to happen to our jobs? To our homes? To our businesses and our savings? What about all our young people who are losing school time?

Fear and frustration are doing almost as much damage as the virus itself. When I think about all the things which are being damaged – our churches, our institutions, our national life together – all the things people have spent lifetimes building up – when I think about all the damage that’s happening, I’m almost undone. It’s hard not to be paralyzed by fear.

And the Bible says, over and over, don’t be afraid. Or it says, OK, if we are afraid, let’s remember that God is bigger than this. God is so much bigger than all these troubles.

I want to close by reading another favorite Scripture, this time from the New Testament, from a letter which Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 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 8:35, 38-39

Friends, thank you for joining us here today. We’re all looking forward to the time when we can worship together again face-to-face. We don’t know when that time will be, but we know it will happen.

Until that time, please remember that you’re not alone. Our prayers are with you. Your friends are just a text or a phone call or an e-mail away.

If you have questions or if you need prayers, please call me. I’m here in the office at Springfield Friends almost every day.

If you belong to the Springfield family, please continue to support our meeting. We do need your help!

If you belong to some other fellowship, please support them, and help everyone you can.

May God bless you and keep you during this difficult time. Keep your faith strong, and your love for each other. Be patient with everyone – the other person may be having a hard day, too!
Stay healthy and stay safe, in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

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