Refuge

“Refuge,” © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

Quite honestly, I don’t know what actually happened. I have no idea how it came about…

The day started off well enough. The flutter of soft cherry blossoms signaled spring, and the artist in me wished to bring beauty to my garden. Just after breakfast, I casually mentioned to my husband that I was going to stop by the local nursery on my round of errands.

His face brightened and he said, “Pick up some flowers for the window boxes while you are there.” Either he shares my love of gardening or he was happy to avoid any form of shopping. Your guess is as good as mine.

Even so, I welcomed the enthusiastic endorsement, and added a stop at the nursery to my long list of “to-do.” I would complete my errands in record time since I had an appointment to keep mid-afternoon. After several stops, I finally pulled into the nursery’s parking lot.

Because I had a lot of plants to purchase, I grabbed a flatbed trolley and scampered through the greenhouse. I reached for many beautiful flowers and lovely leafy bushes.

Just before I checked out, I spied a spectacular petunia at the end of an aisle. So I popped it in my cart, placing it right next to the verbena and geraniums. Then, I pulled my cart up to the register.

I was visiting with the cashier when a petite, blond, grandmother tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” she said curtly. “Did you take THAT from my cart?” she demanded, pointing to the purple petunia in my cart.

I was dumbfounded. “Why no,” I stammered. “I didn’t take it, but would you like it? I promise you I didn’t take it. I got it over there,” I explained, waving my hand in the general direction of the greenhouse aisles. “I’d be happy to let you have it,” I trailed.

She looked dubious. “No,” she said. “You answered my question.”

As I unloaded my cart for the cashier, my mind whirled. I tried to recall if there were a Refuge, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkcart parked at the end of the greenhouse aisle.

I supposed it possible that in my hurry that I mistook a flatbed for part of the aisle. But it did not seem likely. Even so, the grandmother obviously believed I had kidnapped her petunia.

I turned and stepped toward the lady. Touching her arm gently, I offered, “Are you sure you would not like the plant? I would much rather you have it than for you to think that I took it from you. The plant isn’t that important to me…”

She shook her head. “No, you answered my question,” she said firmly.

Evidently, there was nothing I could say or do that would persuade her that I had not intentionally nabbed her prized petunia.

I stood at the cashier uncertain as to whether I should insist she take the plant. But she had turned away, and so I reluctantly placed the plant on the counter before me.

I felt terrible. Perhaps, I had inadvertently and unconsciously done something to offend the grandmother. I didn’t know. But at that moment, I longed to hide.

Like Anne Shirley who mistakenly sold Rachel Lynde’s Jersey cow, I felt I had somehow gotten myself into yet another scrape.

I do that a lot. Get into trouble accidentally, that is.

Thus, more often than not, I find myself looking for refuge from angry grandmothers armed with swinging pocketbooks.

Okay, so I exaggerate just a little. But when I feel I have offended, I honestly wish to hide. After all, Rachel Lynde can be a formidable adversary.

I think everyone has accidentally offended someone at some point on the journey. And many of us have paid a high price for our blunders.

David certainly knew what it was to run from someone he had unintentionally offended. King Saul hated him.

David probably found the situation puzzling. After all, he had served Saul well. He had valiantly fought Saul’s enemies; he’d killed Goliath.

Yet, when people began to praise David more than they did Saul, Saul grew suspicious. In fact, Saul said, “Now what more can he (David) have but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:8b)

Refuge, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkDavid offended by simply serving well. And Saul’s insecurity soon gave way to jealousy and resentment. You see, Saul had previously rebelled against God and as a result, he lost God’s blessing.

Thus, Saul knew his days were numbered as king, and he scrambled to hang onto power. All his anger, bitterness and resentment found focus in his fear of David. After all, David enjoyed God’s blessing and the praise of God’s people.

Saul thus began his campaign against David. One day, David arrived to play the harp. But music that day did not calm the angry beast. Saul’s resentment reached a fever pitch, and he threw a spear at David. Twice.

Indeed, it seemed David could do nothing to alleviate Saul’s fear and suspicion. Saul’s distrust ran deep.

Matters were further complicated when Saul arranged a marriage between his daughter Michal and David. Saul secretly hoped to destroy David through Michal. But Michal loved David. And so did David’s new brother-in-law and best friend, Jonathan.

Saul’s plans obviously backfired. Both Michal and Jonathan warned David of Saul’s murderous intentions. Indeed, in the family circle, it was no secret that Saul craved revenge.

As a result, David  fled for his life. But even that did not solve the problem. Saul pursued David.

Saul could not bear the thought of David’s ongoing popularity. The king would not share praise with another.

For this reason, David spent years hiding in caves. He lived on the run. He moved from place to place with his loyal followers.

And although David repeatedly had opportunities to kill Saul, David refrained. He waited and trusted God for protection.

David later wrote, “God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1).

Without a doubt, David’s words embody authentic faith. If anyone understood the necessity of a place of refuge, David did.

To be sure, David knew what it meant to be misunderstood, to be hunted for an unintentional offense.

He recognized what conflict at work or within a family could do. He personally experienced pain as the result of someone’s bitterness and commitment to revenge.

Yet, David also knew where to find refuge. Refuge in time of trouble.Refuge, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermark

Recently, as I studied the life of Joshua, I found new depth of meaning for the word “refuge.” Finding refuge, actually, is the focus of Joshua 20. And I believe David likely wrote his Psalm within this context.

In the Law, God had not only addressed premeditated crimes, but He also made provision for the inadvertent offense.

That’s right.  Abba has always been a God of grace. And, after all, sometimes people accidentally hurt others.

Abba knows this. So, He instituted a safe-guard of grace for His people. He first hinted that there would be such a safety net in the book of Exodus, and later, Abba established the plan through Joshua.

In Joshua 20, God told Joshua that 6 cities were to be designated as “Cities of Refuge.” The cities would serve as a safe haven for any Hebrew who had accidentally killed another. It was God’s provision for manslaughter.

The offending individual could run to a city of refuge; present his case before the elders of that city and reside there in safety. The guilty party could find gracious refuge from the one who sought revenge.

In this way, a person could find immediate protection from certain death. The city also provided long-term sanctuary if the one who sought shelter remained in the city until his adversary died.

With this in mind, I read David’s Psalms with greater appreciation. David’s words take on even deeper significance: God is my city of refuge.

I love this beautiful portrait of grace. The city of refuge represents so much more than a simple, pragmatic means of dispensing civic justice.

Its symbolic significance becomes clear when I consider that you and I have offended. Some of it has been premeditated; sometimes, we have offended in ignorance.

Nevertheless, our failure has been noted. Of course, none of it is unusual. Our transgressions are common to all of humanity.

Scripture tells us that we have all missed the mark, (Romans 3:23).

But when Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden, Satan screamed for justice. In fact, he cries for blood now.

Like Saul, the once favored Lucifer rebelled against God. While his fate is sealed, he nevertheless bitterly seeks to destroy those that Abba favors in his effort to desperately hang onto what little power he has left.

For this reason, without Christ who died in our stead, you and I would be destined to remain on the run. Satan is a deadly enemy–an angry, resentful being whose thirst for revenge is never sated.

Refuge, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkBefore Christ, the storm raged; the wind howled. Our ship was doomed. Yet, Christ became our mighty fortress, a strong tower, our wall of protection, our city of refuge. When the furious devil called for our destruction, we ran home to Abba.

Of course, our haven isn’t just a one day event or a single decision. Our life in the city of refuge must be ongoing because the enemy yet lives and craves revenge.

I am so thankful that in Christ, we are not only saved from ultimate destruction, but that we also find grace to deflect the daily onslaughts of the enemy.

And I know from experience that the minute I step out of Abba’s protection, and try to do things my own way, the wind howls. The enemy continues to lurk outside the city, “seeking someone to devour,” (I Peter 5:8).

It’s true: our lives have been redeemed through Christ. But our enemy still remains.

And Satan uses every weapon in his arsenal to attempt to destroy us. His methods are as varied as life itself.

We face false accusations, conflict at work, and turmoil at home.

Satan specializes in encouraging bitterness, rage and revenge. He subtly manipulates those who leave the door open in unresolved anger. And we find ourselves pursued by some who have wrongfully misunderstood us.

We battle fatigue, physical illness, and many other obstacles on our journey.

And the enemy celebrates our every misstep with words of recrimination. He expertly shoots fiery darts from outside the city gates.

Thus, our daily dwelling place must be in Christ. Our very lives depend upon it.

Of course, unlike the early Hebrews, you and I carry our comfort and refuge with us. We do not run to a city dwelling made with hands.

Instead, Abba’s Spirit, the Comforter, lives in us. As we walk the open highways,  Christ ensures our safe arrival home.

And so, Jesus reminds us, “Abide in me, and I in you,” (John 15:4a)

In Him, we find security. In Him, we find refuge from the enemy that seeks to destroy all that Abba loves.

We are pursued by the angry prince of this world, but in Christ, the King of Kings, we Refuge, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkfind shelter…He is our walled city of refuge.

When you and I are falsely accused, when we are misunderstood, when we inadvertently hurt others or when some wish us harm, we run to Christ, our refuge.

He hears our case. He offers forgiveness and grace for our offenses. And in Him, we dwell securely.

Yes, through Christ, Abba the ultimate refuge for His children.

And in Him, we truly find grace and  strength.

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe,” ~Proverbs 18:10

“My soul, wait in silence for God only. For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation. My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.” ~Psalm 62:5-6