Head for the Mountains

Dear Friends,

These are unusual days; there is no doubt about it. Have you ever known a time in the US when anything other than weather or war has caused this scale of shut-down? But, here we are – all trying to figure out how best to move forward and navigate our world and our lives. Staying at home – staying out of groups larger than 10 – washing our hands a lot – is the new norm for a while.

And while this new norm may be odd, while it may crank up our uncertainties, it does afford us a chance to worship. It offers and affords us a chance to be quiet and reflective, to pray, to read our Bible, and to allow God by His Spirit to enrich us spiritually. While it was best for us to put off meeting together for a while, that doesn’t mean that we have to put off spending time with the Lord and even using some of the same devotional material to do so.

A few days ago, I started putting some things together and posting it on my blog and on a Facebook page set up for Windsor Avenue Presbyterian Church and Bethel Presbyterian Church. I will be updating those blogs every few days, hoping bethelWAPCto provide some encouragement and support for my friends and family. Today, I am posting a devotional which is a worship service – of sorts. It begins with a Call to Worship and carries on to a Benediction. I’ve included a hymn and a reflection on Psalm 91. My hope is that you can either share it with your family or simply use it in your personal devotions.

These days are strange – indeed – but they can also be days that God’s people bear witness to our neighbors. To do so, however, we should allow God to give us strength through fellowship with Him. My hope is that this small devotional effort may help you to walk more closely with Jesus – to see God as your refuge and fortress – even as you listen to the Spirit’s leading in how to show the love of Christ.

Please know that if you need me or know of any way that I can be of help to anyone, I am here. I will help to deliver food, or medicine, or serve in any way. There are a lot of people who are willing to step in and help; just let me know (mark.hutton58@gmail.com).

May the Lord Bless you and give you His Shalom –

PAX

Mark


Call to Worship

O come, let us sing to the Lord and shout with joy to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving, singing joyful songs of praise.

Hymn: How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder Consider all the worlds thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

how great thou artRefrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Refrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.

Refrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration, And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!

Refrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

Confession:

Father, in you we live and move and have our being, your face is hidden from us by our sins, and in your mercy, we forget in the blindness of our hearts: Clean us up Lord, from all our offenses, and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires, so that we might humble our hearts and our stubborn heads so that we may draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in you our refuge and strength and fortress; we ask this through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness (Rom. 8:34; 2 Cor. 5:17)

Hear the good news! Christ died for us. Christ rose for us. Christ reigns in power for us. Christ prays for us. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Believe the good news of the gospel: In Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen! Thanks Be to God!

Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.

Psalms-Detail

Scripture Reading from Psalm 91(also good to use with Lectio Divina)

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

[2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

[3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

and from the deadly pestilence.

[4] He will cover you with his pinions,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

[5] You will not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

[6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

[7] A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

[8] You will only look with your eyes

and see the recompense of the wicked.

[9] Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—

the Most High, who is my refuge—

[10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

[12] On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

[13] You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

[14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

[15] When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

[16] With long life I will satisfy him

and show him my salvation.”

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.

Prayer for Illumination:

Guide us, O God, by Your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 Reflection on Psalm 91 by Dr. Mark A. Hutton

I grew up in Bristol, TN and our home was part of a valley that stretches all the way down to Bristol Motor Speedway – which is the fastest short-track in NASCAR and home BMSto the largest NCAA Football Game ever played. Our little neck of the woods close enough to the Speedway that we could hear the race cars and dragsters as they powered down the track, which one reason they call that valley – “Thunder Valley.”

BMS valleyI have to say that our piece of that valley was a little slice of heaven to my friends and me. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a bunch of other boys. Those rolling hills were to us – mountains. And the creek that ran the length of the valley was to us a river. We felt safe there among the trees. The hillsides – those mountains – loomed large in our collective imagination and they were a playground for my friends and me. We spent hours running up and down those hills, ducking behind fallen trees. We even built – what we thought – were elaborate, impenetrable forts – just like the ones we saw in John Wayne westerns and TV shows like Daniel Boone, Gun Smoke. We’d get inside our fort and wait – we’d pop up from behind the “walls” and pretend our BB Guns were everything from imaginary Winchesters to bazookas to M-16s.

stick fort
This is an awesome stick fort…wayyyy more awesome than anything we ever built but you get the idea – learn how to build one at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdPR_hOt2ms

The enemy was always the same. Coming of age at the tail-end of the Cold War, we were always on the lookout for Soviet invaders. In fact, we were sort of conditioned to be prepared at any moment for the sky to be filled with planes – with enemy troops drooping in – or bombs to cascade down. It was a time to grow up but it was also a time cold warwhen people still built nuclear shelters in their back-yards, and elementary schools practiced nuclear drills – which never made a lot of sense. We’d duck underneath our desks – as if that was somehow going to save us.

Everyone – it seemed – was preparing for a Soviet invasion. And – in those days, every movie had a Russian as a villain. Today, if you watch the show Stranger Things you’ll get the idea that people believed the Soviets were behind stranger-things-season-2-recap-1148916every corner. And in Bristol, TN – there were all these stories that the Soviets had missiles aimed at us because of a plant called Raytheon.

Well, one afternoon, while my friends and I were playing, we spotted a small plane flying very low through the valley. The plane was a small plane – like a Cessna or a Piper. It was coming from the speedway, in fact, we could hear the cars roaring around the track. We noticed the plane for two reasons. First, it was flying low, not too far above the tree-line. That wasn’t normal. Second, it had something attached to it – a huge sign – a message – trailing behind it. Of course, none of us had seen such a thing.cessna pulling ad

Now again – my friends and I had been conditioned to be ready for WWIII to break out at any minute. And there we were, standing in my yard, BB Guns in hand and a plane flew over with a message – a message to all of us – to all Americans everywhere – the message we’d all expected and dreaded – and we – a rag-tagged bunch of 10-year-old boys were the first to see it. It said, “HEAD FOR THE MOUNTAINS” in big, bold, block letters.

We freaked. We thought – this is it – the Russians are coming, and we’ve got to get to the mountains. That plane was sent jut for us – alerting us to run for cover – to run for mountains!

And what better place to go than the mountains – for in those mountains we had constructed an impenetrable wooden fort. It made perfect sense.

Safely tucked away in our fort – BB-Guns at the ready – we waited for the tanks and trucks and soldiers and bombs to start (think Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Red DawnGray). We stayed up there for what we thought were hours, but it was probably more like twenty minutes. We were there until my friend’s dad made the trek into the woods to tell him it was time to go get a haircut. We told him he couldn’t go – the Russians were coming – a plane had told us to “Head to the Mountains.”

Of course, he started laughing – because there was a race that day – and the plane we saw flying over was just an ad – you know – Busch Beer – at the time their slogan was “Head for the mountains…”busch beer

Yes, I know but I never said we were a bunch of smart boys. We weren’t all that smart – but you know what’s amazing? There wasn’t an adult in our group – not one – and yet these dumb boys – running from a beer slogan knew enough to know to not run for the mountains – we knew enough to run for shelter – to run to our fort. We knew enough to know that in the midst of what we perceived to be a near and present danger – we knew needed a fortress – a refuge – a place to be safe. We needed refuge and a fortress.

When we sensed that trouble was coming, we ran for a refuge and a fortress.

These days we aren’t really all that concerned about Soviets, well – not like we were in the 50’s to the 80’s – but we are concerned about an unseen foe. We are facing a pandemic and there isn’t a single state in our union that isn’t dealing with it in one form sars-cov-19or another. Scores of people worldwide are dealing with this virus and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t been impacted by it. We are living in strange times – times of a clear and present danger – and during times like these – instinctively – we look for a refuge – a fortress.

Friends – it is into that very thing that God speaks very clearly.

In fact, the Psalmists knew a thing or two about the need for a refuge and a fortress. The Old Testament Book of Psalms is filled with places where the Psalmist sees God as a refuge and a fortress. One such text is Psalm 91. There is such beauty and hope and strength in this Psalm. Ps 91 has helped me along in my walk with Christ – especially during the times that I have needed a refuge and a fortress. Perhaps it will help you as well.

Psalms-DetailHere is our text again – Psalm 91:

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

[2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

[3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

and from the deadly pestilence.

[4] He will cover you with his pinions,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

[5] You will not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

[6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

[7] A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

[8] You will only look with your eyes

and see the recompense of the wicked.

[9] Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—

the Most High, who is my refuge—

[10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

[12] On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

[13] You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

[14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

[15] When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

[16] With long life I will satisfy him

and show him my salvation.” (ESV)

This text is so timely. Here – the Psalmist not only affirms his faith – which is something we ought to do as often as possible – but he also lays out his troubles – but not in a whinny-sing-song sort of way. He lays things out as they are – as we should – but as he recognizes the dangers, he does so in light of God’s promise to be our refuge and our fortress. He knows that nothing touches God’s people unless by God’s permission. But the great surprise of this text comes in verse 11 and then again in verses 14-16 – where the Lord speaks.

Let’s take a quick look. In verse 1 & 2 the Psalmist begins with a sort of affirmation of faith, doesn’t he? Listen to him. He says,

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High (‘elyon) will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (El Shaddai). [2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

That is a statement of faith! It is a bold declaration of someone who knows that God is their refuge and fortress. In fact, look at the names the Psalmist uses for God in these two verses.

Most High – God – ‘elyon– “the divine title “Most High” pictures God as the exalted ruler of the universe who vindicates the innocent and judges the wicked” (Net Bible).

Almighty – El Shaddai “the divine name used here is “Shaddai” (שַׁדַּי, shadday). Shaddai (or El Shaddai) is the Sovereign God of the world who grants life/blesses and kills/judges” (Net Bible).

Notice too – what else is happening in these two verses. Notice that he is stating that God is his refuge and his fortress.

What’s the difference between a refuge and a fortress? A refuge is a place where your needs are met: food, water, relationships – all those things. A fortress is a place of protection. Notice, that God is his safe place; his security is in God.

That sounds to me like an affirmation of faith. It sounds like someone who is affirming his or her faith. I will say to the Lord – my refuge – my fortress – in you I trust. In other words, the Psalmist is teaching us that only God – God – himself – sustains and protects.

But there is something else tied in with this affirmation of faith. It is an admission of need. That is one of the toughest things to do for so many people. It is tough for some folks to admit that they need help or that there really are dangers around them.

But there is a lesson to be learned from our current situation. Our country – the world – is being brought to a halt – to a near stand-still – by something we can’t see with the naked eye.

Did you ever think you’d see a day when nearly every school in the country has closed for the remainder of the school year? Did you ever think you’d see a day when sporting events around the world are shut down? But here we are – things have closed – not for weather, nor war but because of a virus.

Friends – this sort of thing should make us stop and think and realize just how fragile and vulnerable we really are.

And these troubles aren’t imaginary troubles. They are very real. And he lists them out in verse 3-10. But he doesn’t whine. He is stating things as they are – real concerns – but notice he does so considering his faith in God as his refuge, fortress and his trust in God. He lists things out – not as one who fears – but one who knows that nothing will enter his life without God’s permission – nothing comes his way unless the Lord has ordained it.

The Psalmist lists his troubles out in light of his affirmation of faith.

Look at Psalm 91:3-10, you’ll discover that the Psalmist lists out some things that, well, were very real to him but he does knowing that God is his refuge and fortress.

What he lists out are very real concerns – and they are even concerns that we share. For instance, he says, “you will not fear the terror of the night.”

It is at night – just when we start to rest – that anxieties come creeping in for some people. Fear of running out of money, food, or some other trouble creeps in. But God as my refuge and fortress – I will not fear the terror of the night.

Nor will we fear the pestilence that stalks in the darkness. They dealt with pestilence in those days. You know, plagues, illness, disease. We are dealing with a pestilence. Thousands of people have become infected with this virus.

But God’s people – according to this Psalm – do not fear the pestilence – because God is their refuge and fortress – and nothing comes into our lives unless it comes through God first. That isn’t to say that God’s people aren’t impacted or don’t become infected. It is to say that we do not fear it because we know that nothing can come into our lives unless the Lord allows us – and intends to use it for His glory and to advance His kingdom.

In faith – the Psalmist is saying he will not fear it – because God is his refuge, his fortress – his trust.

Oddly enough, it turns out we have some of the same concerns – the same troubles – that were troubling the Psalmist all those centuries ago. But notice that he lists them out – just as we ought to list ours out – but with an understanding that God is our refuge, our fortress – and in him we place all our trust.

But now our text comes with a surprise. In a lot of psalms, the psalmist will affirm his faith – list out his concerns and return to faith. But here, in Psalm 91 – we get to hear from God himself!

Look at 11-13.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

[12] On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

[13] You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

This is part of the surprise of Psalm 91.

It is here that we get a glimpse into what’s coming because this part of the Psalm wasn’t simply meant for the Psalmist – it is what we call a Messianic Psalm. In other words, it is one of those places in the Old Testament that points to the future Messiah. This is a text that points – as we understand it – to Jesus. In fact, it is a text that Satan tried to use against Jesus when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness.

One of the best parts of Psalm 91 is that even as it reminds us that God is our refuge and fortress it points us to the way that God is our refuge and fortress and our salvation because it points us to Jesus.

That’s the reason we need not fear the terrors of the night, nor pestilence, nor plague. No matter what comes – it only comes into our lives with God’s permission – and ultimately – those who have their hope in the Lord are secure – because of all that God has done in and through Jesus.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness. And this text points to the person, word, and work of Jesus. We need not fear. Our refuge and our fortress is secure in Christ – not just for now but for all eternity.

That is the ultimate care for us – the ultimate in way of making provision for us – protecting us – our refuge and fortress is in Jesus.

But wait – there’s more.but wait theres more

Within this Psalm, we have yet another surprise. If you take a look at verse 14 you’ll notice quotation marks. This is to indicate that we have another speaker – and we are to see that these are the very words of God.

Listen to what God says as an answer to the Psalmist affirmation of faith:

[14] “Because he (that’s you and me – that’s anyone who has put their faith in Christ) “Because he (a person) holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. [15] When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Here is something you ought to do. Take that bit of text and insert your name there; any time you start to feel anxious – in any situation – put your name in there – like this “Because ______ holds fast to Jesus in love, I the Lord will deliver him/her; I will protect _______, because ________ knows my name. When ______ calls to me, I will answer ________; I will be with _______ in trouble; I will rescue _______ and honor him. With long life I will satisfy ________ and show him / her my salvation.”

There is great joy here because, first, notice that God meets us in our faith and in our troubles. God meets us there and He promises to be our refuge, our fortress. He promises to protect us. That means that nothing – and I mean nothing – comes into the life of the believer without God allowing it. That doesn’t mean that we will not have to face things but it means we enter things as God’s protected servant that has work to do to advance His kingdom and purposes no matter the circumstance. It doesn’t mean we are immune from a virus but it means we don’t fear them either – because God will see us through them – ultimately to our salvation.

In fact, as one theologian said, “It is the great faith of the speaker that evokes this response of assurance. Yahweh responds because the speaker had yearned passionately for Yahweh. Yahweh is faithful and responsive to those who rely on him…we can deal with “real life threats looking them straight in the face” knowing that “none will prevail against” our Lord (The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary).

Second – there is something else here that is critically important. We need to notice that God gets the final word. And notice the final word: Not only does He say that he will be with us in trouble, he says I will “show him my salvation.” Friends, we have seen the salvation of the Lord in the person of Jesus.

Again, it does not say that we will not have trouble; it says God will go with us into those troubles and deliver us. We will see God’s salvation. It is in Jesus and in Jesus alone that we have our salvation.

In fact, Romans 10 tells us that salvation is in Christ. Listen to it, [9] because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. [11] For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. [13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13 ESV).

Let me conclude here.

There is a great quote from an old preacher. He said, “It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord…Ill to him is no ill, but only good in a mysterious form. Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honor, death is his gain.’ The earlier words of Paul, in Romans 8:28, are in the great preacher’s mind as he explains, ‘No evil in the strict sense can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good” (Wilcock 79-82).

We need not fear the terrors of the night – we need not fear pestilence – we need not fear anything at all- we need not fear a virus. We have God’s promises to us that He is our refuge and our fortress.

But friends there is something tucked within this that we must see as it is. And this is critically important.

It is the wise person who acknowledges that they need a refuge and a fortress. That’s a tough thing for a lot of folks. It can be tough to admit that there is something they can’t handle. It is the wise person who sees that it is only in God that we have a refuge and a fortress – even to withstand the insanity of our days – the fear and anxiety that is ravaging the security of so many – is real. This viral threat to so many in our country and community is real.

But God’s people need not fear – nor be anxious – even as we do the work of the church by helping those who can’t help themselves – by loving neighbor – serving Christ. God has made it possible for us to hide under the shadow of His wings and we know He is our refuge and our fortress.

God gets the final word. That final word is Christ – our salvation – our refuge – our fortress. We trust in him as our fortress in tough and strange days.

Just as the Psalmist reaffirmed his faith in troublesome days – I’d like to invite you now to reaffirm your faith with the Apostles’ Creed…

Affirmation of Faith:

apostlescreed-1024x572Christian what is it that you believe: “I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

Prayers of the people and the Lord’s Prayer

It is important that we bow our hearts before the Lord and lay before him the concerns of our hearts and the concerns we have for all those around us. We do so – again – not as folks who fear but as folks who have faith and assurance that the Lord is our refuge and our fortress.

prayerFather, we bow our hearts before you. We want to trust you with everything and your word tells us that we should cast all our cares before you. So Lord, we do so now. We cast all our cares before you. So, Lord, in your mercy, we ask that you hear our prayers – as we lift up folks all around us. Almighty God, in Christ you taught us to pray, and promised that we would receive all that we ask in his name. Hear now our prayers Lord –

  • Hear now our prayers for the church around the world – help your people to bear witness to who you are in this moment of uncertainty and anxiety;
  • Hear now our prayers for our loved ones;
  • Hear now our prayers for those who work in the health industry…give them wisdom, hope, stamina;
  • Hear now our prayers for our church…as we look to you to hold us together and to help us be the light of Christ in this community;
  • Hear now our prayers for the healing of the world needs from this pandemic;
  • Hear now our prayers for peace and justice in the world;
  • Hear now our prayers for our nation’s leaders;
  • Hear now our prayers for our community;

Lord hear our prayer – for we pray in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray saying,

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Benediction

Friends, God loves you. He’s made his love known to you through His Son, through His Spirit, through His Word, and through the fellowship we have with one another. Now He sends us out into the world to bear witness to His deep and abiding love. He does so with this blessing: “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you His shalom.” Go now in the Shalom of Christ.

8.27.18_Shalom-1024x683

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