Our Shelter

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 (NIV)

Anyone who lives in the areas of our country which regularly experience tornadoes, knows the importance of having a strong shelter when a tornado approaches. The unusual results of a tornado passing through an area shows the power and unexplainable damage which a tornado has the potential to do. Shelter is important in other times of natural disaster as well.

The psalm for today declares the truth of God being a shelter, or refuge, for us when trouble enters our lives. Images of natural disasters are presented as representatives of life’s troubles. The psalmist points out that where God dwells there is protection, nothing can withstand the power of God. Even wars and the instruments of war are subdued by God. So we can silence our fears and relax in the knowledge that God is THE God.

There are many situations in life that can devastate us. Our fears come from experiences which we have had and others which we have witnessed. At times, our fears can overwhelm us. During these times, the psalmist reminds us to be still. Our first step should be to acknowledge God is God. Then we recall the many times when God has provided shelter and protection. This psalm can be assuring to us that when God resides in our lives, we have the guarantee of God’s protective power which can overcome anything in life.

Trust

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 146 (NIV)

Trust is something which is earned. Through consistent actions, an individual can acquire the trust of others. Children are quicker to trust others because they have less life experience involving people not demonstrating actions consistent with their promises. Many of us may struggle on both sides of the trust coin. We see unfulfilled promises and lose trust in individuals and human institutions. At times, we are incapable or choose not to fulfill promises which we make to others. In both situations, trust crumbles. We become wary of others. Once trust deteriorates, it takes time and effort to rebuild.

The psalmist speaks to us today about trust. In the words of the psalm, we are warned not to place our full trust in humans and human leaders. Even the most trustworthy have a finite ability to follow through on plans and promises. The psalmist tells us to place our trust in the Lord. This is followed by a litany of how the Lord has consistently cared for the most vulnerable of our society. By listing these consistent care patterns, the psalmist is making a case to support trusting in God. In addition, we are reminded that the Lordis faithful, the faithfulness endures forever because the Lord is forever.

All of us experience challenges in our lives. The Lord places individuals in our lives to assist us during these times. Institutions have been created out of necessity to address larger issues. The important thing to remember is humans, and the institutions which we create, have limits and will fail at times. Trust in these will be broken, rebuilt, and then broken again. Only the Lord can be trusted every time. First, and foremost, trust in the Lord who is forever and consistently provides for all in need. As the Lord works through humans and our institutions, good is provided. A healthy perspective is important. Remember, humans and institutions will have times when they do not carry out the Lord’s work and will break our trust. Only God can be trusted completely so place your trust in the Lord.

Source of Help

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 (NIV)

There are times in life when one feels surrounded by troubles. These troubles can be personal in nature or may be in the world which surrounds us. When we are experiencing a time of trouble, we search for help in dealing with and overcoming the trouble. We may turn to family and friends. The trouble may be such that we need to seek out professional assistance like a doctor, a lawyer, a financial advisor, or a member of the clergy. If it is a societal issue, turning to an elected official or a nonprofit organization might be our best course of action. In troubled times, searching for help is the right thing to do.

The psalmist today reminds us where the best source of help can be found. The Lord is a proven source of help, strength and refuge. Even though God is always present, we can overlook this reality. As we recall the works of the Lord, we see reliability, dependability, peace, protection, and strength. It is important during troubling times in our lives to take the time to be still and remember God is God.

Shelter

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27 (NIV)

The winter months remind us how fortunate we are to have houses in which we live. The winds and elements can be brutal this time of year. Our houses provide protection from whatever the weather may be like, not only in winter but throughout the entire year. The house in which we dwell also offers a sense of safety for us. We have less to fear from those who wish to do us physical harm or attempt to steal our belongings when we are secure inside our house. For those who do not have a house, they are susceptible to the ravishing weather extremes or those who would bring harm upon them. Fear is a constant part of their lives.

The psalm for today speaks of the protection which is found in the Lord. In reading this psalm, one can understand the desire and request made in verse 4, a request to live in the shelter (house) of the Lord throughout life. The reason for such a request is the knowledge that with the Lord is protection. Being with the Land also presents the opportunity to learn the correct way to live and remain safe.

The house, apartment, condominium in which we dwell provides protection for our physical selves. Living in the shelter of the Lord provides protection for our spiritual being. Like the psalmist we are led to give thanks and have confidence in what the Lord  has provided for us both physically and spiritually. We must also be mindful of those who, for whatever reasons, do not have access to these two forms of shelter. Wherever, and however, we maybbe able to increase access, our mission should be to make it so.

Be grateful for the shelter of the Lord and work to increase access for all people.

The Wait

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Psalm 130 (NIV)

Many individuals who I know struggle with waiting, myself included at times. Whether it is waiting for a package to arrive, or getting on a ride at an amusement park, or getting a tax refund, waiting can be difficult. The anticipation is overwhelming. Living in a society where instant gratification is more of norm than an exception causes the struggle of having to wait even more intense for many of us. The Israelites had to wait hundreds or thousands of years to see God’s promises fulfilled and we struggle with waiting fifteen minutes in the Starbucks drive through for our peppermint mocha.

The psalmist writes about a time of waiting. A cry comes out for the mercy of the Lord. Having the knowledge that the Lord offers forgiveness leads the people to promise to respond in service to the One. Yet the people wait in eager anticipation for the unfailing love and full redemption from the Lord. The Israelites wait.

We live on the other side of the waiting. In Jesus, the Christ, God has fulfilled the hopes of the psalmist. The unfailing love of God has been personified in Jesus. Full redemption has not only come to Israel but to all of us, Forgiveness has been guaranteed and exemplified by Christ.

For us, there is still waiting. Our waiting is no longer on the promised forgiveness and redemption but instead on the fullness and completion of the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus’s birth brought the kingdom to earth. Since Jesus’s arrival, the Lord has been about the work of fully establishing the kingdom through those who believe, servants of the Lord.  By sharing with others our own experiences of God’s unfailing love and forgiveness, we assist in establishing the kingdom. We share not only in words but by how we exemplify that love and forgiveness in our living.

As we wait, may we serve by assisting the Lord in establishing the kingdom on earth. May we share our hope with all.

Being Restored

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126 (NIV)

Have you noticed that we seem to live in a disposable world these days? Everything made appears to be made in a manner which assumes a limited period of usage and it is often cheaper to purchase a replacement rather than have a product repaired. We expect to throw everything away then acquire the latest model. Unfortunately, this way of thinking has been extended to even humans. When a person seems to have outlived their usefulness, we usher them out of our lives just as we throw away an object when it no longer is useful. There is no longer a view of permanency or a desire to restore.

God takes a much different view. The Lord is all about restoration, especially of people. Look at the story of Job. In the end, God restored and increased all of Job’s life (See Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8, 42:10-17). The psalmist writes of God’s restoring powers in the psalm for today. We hear of the Lord restoring the people and turning their sorrow to songs of joy. The Lord does not discard the people but instead restores them.

These words can prove to be important at times in our lives. We can feel worn out and useless. Others in our lives can seem to have discarded us. Sorrow can surround us and hope can seem to fade. The psalmist’s words remind us that we can be restored. We have a God who is in the human restoration business. A God who finds tremendous value in us. The Lord will turn our sorrowful tunes and tears into songs of great joy.

Making Requests

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us—[b]
so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67 (NIV)

We are quickly approaching our Christmas celebration and the end of another year. Many people have been sending greetings to one another. Usually these greetings communicate a desire for the receiver to have a merry Christmas and a blessed new year. When people think about what would make a merry Christmas, they may consider time spent with family and friends. The stronger thought which enters many minds is the hope to receive just the right gifts. Similarly, a blessed new year conjures thoughts of no problems, being prosperous, and maintaining positive physical and financial health. What truly is a merry Christmas and a blessed new year?

The writer of this psalm speaks of blessings from the Lord. The psalm begins with a familiar benediction, a hope that God will be gracious, will provide blessings, and be present. The reason for this request is so that the Lord’s ways will become known. Then the requests continue with a focus on the praise of God. Concluding the psalm is an acknowledgement of what the Lord has already provided with an additional request that God continues to bless the people.

Reading this psalm, it almost appears like a Christmas request list from a group of believers. A list given to God instead of Santa Claus. There is nothing here which would be misaligned with the hopes of all of God’s children. Yet I am stopped in my thoughts by a set of nagging questions…

  • What am I doing to make this wish list a reality?
  • How am I seeking God’s face?
  • In what ways do I encourage others to praise the Lord?
  • Am I showing God gratitude for the blessings already given?

Maybe these questions might be yours as well. Take a moment to ponder these questions. How do you respond? Are there changes you may need to make? What do your Christmas requests to God look like? How are you working to fulfill those requests?

Our Deliverance

I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

20 The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

Everyone of us has a variety of battles and difficult situations throughout our lives. Some of these bottles are physical in nature such as illnesses, disease, and injuries, Other battles can be mental ones like depression, low self-esteem, or feelings of inadequacy. While other battles might be spiritual ones for example, doubt, disbelief, and conflict of beliefs. Hopefully when we are engaged in these battles and difficult times, we cry out for assistance. Seeking qualified individuals to support us is the healthiest approach. Of course, our greatest support is found in the Lord. If we are open to the Lord’s assistance, others will be placed along our path to support and guide us.

The reading of a portion of today’s psalm speaks of the Lord’s assistance during a difficult time. A song of praise is being sung to the Lord. Deliverance from enemies, death and the grave is spoken of here. With great power the Lord enters the psalmist’s life. Rescued from difficult times by the hand of the Lord, the psalmist acknowledges the wonders of God.

Take a moment to reflect upon your own life. When have there been times in which the Lord has come powerfully into your situation? What about those moments when the Lord has interceded unnoticed and only upon looking back are you able to realize God was present? These times and situations can be during the battles in our lives. At times the battle we wage may be against ourselves because we can be our own enemy. Whatever the source and nature of our situation, we have a Lord who delights in each one of us. Our God stands ready to rescue and deliver us if we will allow it. Then we can join in this song of praise and declare the Lord’s mighty power.

Sing Praises

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

Psalm 145 (NIV)

There are people throughout history whose stories are passed from one generation to the next. Julius Caesar’s actions and details of his life have been passed on through over twenty-one hundred years. Other historical figures who have had their achievements and thoughts told in stories from one generation to the next include: King Henry VIII, Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Nero, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, George Washington, Stalin, Hitler, Harriet Tubman, and the list goes on. This list does not begin to include individuals recorded in the Bible or other religious figures such as Buddha or Muhammad. Some of these people have songs written about them and their lives. These songs can shed a positive or negative light upon them.

The song which is our reading today is a song of praise. There is  commitment to praise the Lord daily. The greatness of the Lord is declared unfathomable. Generation after generation will tell the accounts of the Lord’s mighty acts. Each generation celebrates the goodness and righteousness of the Lord. The Lord shows grace and compassion instead of anger. All receive goodness from the Lord. The kingdom of the Lord endures forever in splendor. The Lord is trustworthy and faithful. For anyone in need, the Lord is there. Anyone who cries out will be saved. All of this creates a beautiful image of the Lord.

Each day we are given  the opportunity to sing the praises of the Lord. We can create our own list of reasons to sing praises, just as the psalmist did here. We also have a responsibility to tell the next generation of the Lord’s work in our lives and in the lives of others. Our stories and songs should communicate to the next generation the character and nature of the Lord. May we speak the praises of the Lord for ever and ever.

Hope In Despair

Hear my prayer, Lord;
    let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
    when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
    when I call, answer me quickly.

For my days vanish like smoke;
    my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
    I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
    and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
    like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
    like a bird alone on a roof.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
    those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
    and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
    for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
    I wither away like grass.

12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
    your renown endures through all generations.

Psalm 102:1-12 (NIV)

This year has been filled with times and situations which can bring great despair to people. The last nine months of dealing with the effects of a global pandemic has taken a noticeable toll on the mental health of our nation. The economic distress which is a result of the pandemic has placed many businesses and people in a perilous state. Social unrest, unmasking of inequality, and dangerous human interactions have caused us to question our national institutions and behaviors. A very contentious election cycle has shaken our understanding of democracy and the principles which have sustained our nation. We cry out for an end to this pandemic. We beg for a better way to live out the words of the Declaration of Independence in regard to all people being equal. Our desire for honesty and adherence to the democratic principles which have made our nation a beacon of hope in the past, leads us to shout a heartfelt plea. All of this year’s events drive us to our knees in prayer and lament before our Lord.

The words of the psalmist found in Psalm 102 can be our words as we reflect on this year. The psalmist writes from a point of great despair. This psalm begins with a plea to the Lord to listen to this musical prayer. There is a sense of urgency found in the plea. Then the psalmist lists all the afflictions in life which lead to despair. Following the listing of hardship and feelings, the psalmist shifts direction by acknowledging the greatness of the Lord, a greatness which extends throughout all generations. Clearly the psalmist is raising up the source of hope in the midst of despair.

As I pointed out, this can easily become our own song. We can clearly list before the Lord all aspects of life which lead us to despair now. Our list will be both personal and corporate in nature. We desire deeply the Lord’s willingness to hear us and to respond quickly. In coming before the Lord with our pleas, we are affirming that we believe the Lord is great enough to turn the events of this year around. The greatness the Lord has displayed in previous generations is still present today. This greatness is truly what gives us hope.