March 29, 2020
A New Normal: A new sermon series – Ps 84
This strange week in our world continues. Again-I’m struck by the fact that in the middle of March, 2020 it’s like the world came to a screeching halt. Who would have thought that we would be concerned about the size number of a gathering? Normally at church we’re excited about packing out this place, excited when it’s really full and there’s hardly any seats and we’re overflowing. This morning we’re excited that there’s 6 people here. Job well done, team-6 people in the sanctuary-now that we’re getting into the groove-maybe we can cut it to 5 next week! We’re excited about small numbers! Instead of thinking about how to get close to people, we’re thinking about how to stay apart and distance ourselves. I’m sure you’ve thought about this if you’ve been anywhere-to the store or at the park or even talking to your neighbors. Have I maintained a good distance from everybody? The old ‘80s song by The Police is like prophecy-Don’t Stand So Close to Me. Or here’s a picture I saw from a deli-pic. Keep the numbers small, everybody stay apart, and don’t even thinking about petting the cat! But I’m sure you’ve had an interaction with someone about staying apart. It’s the friendly hands up, stay away, elbow greeting! The handshake or the hug is totally outlawed!
But your life probably falls into one of two categories. You are either someone who’s life got instantly super busy at work-and we have healthcare workers and nurses in our church, those who work at grocery stores, those who are required to interact with people in their jobs-and we need to be praying for those people-for strength and safety. Those who have family members who’ve had the coronavirus and are having to care for them and self-quarantine. Or your life is largely spent at home right now-whether working from home, or told by your job to stay home, or you’re a student home from school or a parent trying to figure out this online homeschooling routine. Now that may be a great thing-you may be loving it-or you might be going stir crazy and your kids are driving you crazy. Who’s a little stir crazy stuck inside? Who’s loving this saying I never want it to end? If you are forced to stay at home for your job or school-let me ask the real question-who’s stayed in their pajamas all day? You can raise your hand because we’re all home and no one will know! Or who’s done a Zoom conference-where you have a nice shirt on to look good for the video-but underneath your desk, out of camera sight you’re wearing shorts or pajama pants? How crazy is all this-and if we’re honest-we’ve probably all had mixed thoughts about it-there’s things we love about this new normal-but things we dearly miss. I’m sure at some point this week-and probably more than once-you’ve said-I wish things were back to normal. I just want things to go back to the way they were pre-virus. That’s going to be the new designation now-pre-virus vs. post-virus. But who doesn’t miss going out to eat at a restaurant, seeing your friends at school; who doesn’t miss being at work and seeing people face to face instead of all this video conferencing, who does’t miss the way your hands used to feel because now they’re so dried out from being washed all the time! But we want to see the world return to the way it was before Coronavirus arrived and we had to worry about group sizes and staying apart. Maybe you worry things will never be the same again-and who knows! We don’t know what’s in store for us-anymore than we knew in January or February what awaited us in March. Truly March Madness! But again-be reminded that we have a God who does know. Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at Phil 4:6-7. That’s an incredible promise! If there was ever a verse to write down on the old 3×5 card and memorize it’s this! God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds. I love how expansive that is-God’s peace is there to calm your emotions when they’re getting the best of you; God’s peace is there to calm your thoughts when you’re starting to freak out, jump to conclusions and expect the worst. God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds.
And then I love how it continues by saying in v. 8. I don’t know about you-but my thinking has largely been devoted to Coronavirus-watching the news, hearing updates, checking online, wondering how it’s affecting my life, what things have changed in my life-and yet a verse like this tells me to recenter my thoughts on the things of Christ. To reflect on the things that are worthy of praise, the things that are good and excellent, the things that are true according to God’s Word-because my mind can easily think about all the what-ifs and unknowns. And right now our world is full of what-ifs and unknowns. We can all certainly agree that what-ifs and unknowns are the new normal right now. What if the virus gets worse and it spreads to more and more people? What if there aren’t enough hospital beds and masks and ventilators for everybody? What if I get the virus? What if I lose my job and don’t go back to work? What if the economy does come crashing down? What if there’s a food shortage? What if my kids never go back to school and this online home learning becomes the new normal? What if we keep having online church? There are all sorts of what-ifs, unknowns, uncertainties all around us. And it seems to be changing constantly, moment by moment, every day. So what we think about matters. How you focus your thoughts is crucial-that’s what this verse is saying-v. 8.
And so to do that this morning I want you to open your Bibles to Ps. 91. If you tuned in last week, we looked at Ps 84 and we talked about how to make this new normal a spiritual oasis in our lives, how to go from social distancing to spiritual deepening. Today we want to see where our source of confidence and encouragement comes from in the midst of all these what-ifs and uncertainties. If you’ve watched the video at the start of our online service the words of this Psalm have been scrolling across the screen. So look at how it starts-Ps 91:1-2. Now the original setting of this Psalm was an army getting ready to face the threats of battle and plague. You can picture a group of soldiers huddled together at night not sure what they’re going to face on the battlefield the next morning. They could easily be swept away by fears and worries and thoughts of terror. As a family in the evenings during this time we’ve been watching through the Lord of the Rings extended editions on blu-ray. What that means is that every movie is like 3 or 4 hours long and takes us several sittings to get through-but it’s been a great series to watch during this time of stay-at-home, shelter-in-place. And if there was ever a movie series with lots of big battles, it’s LOTR. We just finished watching the 2nd film The Two Towers which ends with that awesome battle at Helm’s Deep. And all the men and the elves are gathered together in their fortress while this giant army of orcs marshals on the battlefield and advances toward them. And you can see the look of terror on their faces wondering how in the world they’re going to defeat them, it’s such a vast army, such a great opponent-what are they going to do? That’s the nature of why this psalm was written, God’s people were ready for a battle-and it was a great opponent filled with terror on every side. And I don’t think it’s any different for us right now in our world. This global pandemic, coronavirus seems like a giant army, this invisible threat, advancing upon us-what are we to do? How will we face it and deal with it? Will we emerge victorious?
The answer to the soldiers ready for battle in Psalm 91 is the same answer for us today-v. 1-2. It’s all about where your source of shelter is found. Notice how it said He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High. It didn’t say he who occasionally touches base with the Most High; He who offers up a random prayer to the Most High, He who gives a shout out to the Most High. It’s he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High-meaning he who resides; he who lives in, rests upon, remains, he who lodges, settles in, pitches their tent and stays put in the shelter of the Most High. Are you spiritually dwelling in the shelter of the Most High? Are you clinging to Him, trusting in Him, calling out to Him? The challenge is to Go from shelter-in-place to shelter-in-Christ. We hear this phrase all the time now-shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, no non-essential businesses open, only the essential ones. What’s essential for you and me is to shelter in Christ. I love how it uses that phrase-shelter of the Most High because obviously that refers to God our Maker and Creator. He is the Most High-there is no one higher or greater or stronger than Him. But what did Gabriel tell Mary when he showed up-Luke 1:31-32. That’s Jesus’ true identity! Or look at how its stated in Mark 5:6-7. This is spoken by a demon-possessed man. It’s the demon speaking through this guy-and the demon isn’t saying this in praise to Jesus. Quite the opposite-he’s stating a fact of the universe that really scares him because he’s a demon and he knows who Jesus is and what He’s capable of. Jesus is the Son of the Most High God. He is more powerful and greater and stronger than anything else in existence. That’s what Most High means. It didn’t say fairly high, nearly high, mostly high-it said Most High. Higher than anyone or anything else-and because Jesus has loved us and saved us and forgiven us-we now have a relationship with Him-the Son of the Most High. That means we can do exactly what Ps 91 is saying-v. 1. And the shadow of the Almighty is that place of care and protection. When this Psalm was written they lived in a land where the sun was oppressive and hot, its daytime heat could be very dangerous and life-threatening. Hiding inside the shadows was cool and life-saving. It was that respite and relief from the ongoing heat. And that’s exactly what the Lord’s shadow does for us. It’s that respite and relief from all the fears and uncertainties that try to oppress us right now. We have to abide under His protective shadow-to Go from shelter-in-place to shelter-in-Christ.
Look at how this imagery continues-v. 3. Could there be a more timely statement than that? Deliverance from the deadly pestilence! That doesn’t mean you won’t get coronavirus; that doesn’t mean your life or your world won’t be turned upside down by it. For most of us it already has. Life is turned upside down and deeply affected-will it ever go back to normal again? But this verse is saying that God is one who delivers you through this new normal. He’s the God who brings you to the other side. He’s the God who gives you life and hope, the God who brings you peace. The snare of the fowler refers to a guy who trapped birds. I don’t know a lot of fowlers these days-but when there’s a trap out there that you can’t see ready to ensnare you God is right there to deliver you out of it. That instead of lying there stuck and helpless in the trap-the image is of God coming alongside you, undoing the trap and providing escape and release. It’s easy to feel helpless or stuck right now; to picture ourselves in a snare thinking there’s nothing I can do to fix this situation or change it. This whole event is out of my hands-which it is. Way too often in life we’re under that illusion of control-that with all our technology and advancements and intelligence we’ll rise up and make this world great-but as coronavirus has swept in-that invisible enemy-we’ve quickly been reminded of how not in control we are-of how dependent we are. And yet this verse didn’t say God wants you to take control and get yourself out from being stuck, for you to take matters into your own hands and figure out what to do-it says He will deliver you. This Psalm is all about the actions of what God does for us as we trust in Him.
Look at how this is communicated in the next verse-v. 4a. And if you have the NIV it says He will cover you with His feathers-that’s what pinions are. They are the outer part of a bird’s wing-basically the flight feathers-the big, majestic feathers. I like this statement about pinions-crows pic. So that’s useful information next time you go to trivia night! But I love how specific this Psalm is-because when you think of a great bird the flight feathers, the pinions are what we picture. They’re what allows the bird to fly-but they’re also what provides protection for anything underneath. Wednesday afternoon as I was finishing at the church and walking up to the house-I saw this massive hawk perched on one of our trees. I hadn’t seen a hawk on our church property before-and he was gigantic. And then he took off in flight opening those huge wings-my first thought was if Callie our cat was outside-that hawk looked like he could literally pick her up and fly off with her using that massive wingspan. Here’s a picture of a hawk-look at those wing feathers. And this Psalm is directly telling us to picture ourselves underneath the wing feathers of God. Talk about a perfectly safe place to be! When it says to dwell in the shelter of the Most High-you can picture yourself high up in a tree or on a mountaintop, inside the nest where God’s wing feathers are completely covering you and surrounding you. That under those wings you find that place of refuge. Look at Ps. 57:1; 63:7. God watches over you like a great hawk or eagle, His massive wings surround you and protect you so that you can sing for joy-but that only happens when you’re in the shadow of His wings. Or back to v. 4a-the prepositions are so important. You have to be under his wings, in the shadow of his wings. Does that describe your life right now? Back to what we’ve been saying-to Go from shelter-in-place to shelter-in-Christ. Are you dwelling in Him? Look at what happens when you do-v. 5-6. Did you notice how every part of the day is covered in those verses? Night, daytime, noon-there isn’t one part of your day where the Lord isn’t with you, protecting you and watching over you. Sure we may be scared and uncertain about what’s going on-who isn’t? As the verse says there’s terror, arrows, pestilence, destruction. I don’t like any of those things. And that’s what our world feels like right now. Maybe you’ve had sleepless nights tossing and turning or throughout the day as the news is on and you get updates you feel that panic and worry start to rise and overtake you-but when you’re under the shelter of the Lord’s wing, when He’s your dwelling place there’s no better place to be.
Look at v. 9-10. I love how that’s phrased-because you have made the Lord your dwelling place. And I want you to go back to the beginning of the Psalm-v. 2. Did you notice what’s happening here? Who’s doing the talking? It’s the psalmist who’s written this. He’s saying these things so that he himself can hear them-and that’s so important. He’s telling himself-Hey listen up self, my refuge and my fortress is God in whom I trust. I’m not dwelling in my worry or my panic; it’s not me thinking I can figure this all out right now, it’s not me hoping for the best, or trying to ignore the news-or pretend this will all go away really soon. I will say of the Lord–v. 2. Don’t miss this concept-What you say to yourself matters! This is a biblical concept-it’s okay to talk to yourself. In fact, you have to talk to yourself. You have to silence your feelings which can be all over the place-up and down at any given moment of life. And instead you have to talk to yourself. At a time like this more than ever before-you have to speak to yourself the truth about who God is and how He is your shelter. I like what CJ Mahaney says-Cross Centered Life, 36-38. How about you? Are you listening to yourself and your feelings? Are you letting them take you on that emotional rollercoaster right now? Or are you talking to yourself? What you say to yourself matters! Are you speaking the truth? Are you doing what it says in v. 2?
Have you caught how spatial this is? What this is all about is being in a relationship with Jesus-the Son of the Most High. Dwelling in Him is a spiritual reality that happens right now by faith. That you are trusting in Jesus to save you, that He was the One who came for you to live the perfect life you never could live and die the death that you deserved to pay for your sins-and once you trust in that truth-you’re eternally saved and become His. I like how Paul speaks the truth to himself in Gal 2:20. That’s the best talking to yourself you could ever do. Hey self-this is what’s true about me. This is who I am-my old self is crucified with Christ, and now my new self is letting Christ live in me. And who is Christ-the One who loved me and gave up His life for me. This verse perfectly captures the heart of the gospel. Have you trusted in it? Have you by faith trusted in Jesus to save you? We live in a crazy world right now-the future is uncertain-Jesus is our only true hope. He’s the only One we can shelter in both now for this life-and for all eternity! Speak this truth to yourself!