A New Normal: A new sermon series – Ps 84
Here we are following one of the most bizarre weeks we’ve ever had. Did anybody anticipate the world basically coming to a standstill the 3rd week of March? On New Years Eve at midnight as you were giving people hugs and having a toast to 2020, did you think within 2 1/2 months you would be quarantined at home practicing the art of social distancing? I don’t think anybody thought that-Cheers to 2020, looking forward to some isolation and maintaining a 6 ft distance from people! Although, let’s be honest, this is the introvert’s dream. I read a funny statement on Instagram that said-Nation’s nerds wake up in utopia where everyone stays inside, sport are cancelled and social interactions are forbidden. Or another Instagram post said-Man glad science has finally affirmed his natural instinct to stay as far away from other people as possible. So hopefully you’re not too excited about this concept of staying home and social distancing-but haven’t we all had some really bizarre experiences this week.
Who hasn’t gone into a grocery store and been amazed at the empty shelves of cleaning supplies, meat and pasta? I was at Stop and Shop on Tuesday night where they were closing and I had 7 minutes to finish my shopping-I literally bought the last bottle of ketchup on the shelf! Or who ever fathomed a world where toilet paper and paper towels are the hot commodity? I was standing outside of Costco in the long line to get in and people were coming out of the store with toilet paper and paper towels in their cart-and then they made the announcement-we’re all out! Everybody in line groaned and started leaving. But no restaurants are open, no movie theaters are open, no malls, no gyms. When they said all gyms are shut down-I thought that included me-that I was to shut down and do nothing all week! But with gyms closed and kids home from school-what are people supposed to do-but go outside and enjoy nature. I couldn’t believe the amount of people on the bike trail at Bethpage this past Wednesday afternoon as we went out there as a family. It was like Saturday at the park or a Sunday afternoon. All sorts of families were biking, walking, running, enjoying the fresh air. What a great thing! Hopefully you’ve gotten outside with your family. And here’s some other great things-who’s played a board game with your family this week, who’s started in on a good book, who’s made some crafts or done something creative? Bottom line-who’s made a new schedule at home? Especially for students as homeschooling is essential-as parents now we’re all having to be teachers, or maybe you’re working from home and doing video conferences from your laptop-everybody’s forced to create a new schedule. We have a new schedule hanging up on our refrigerator. But everybody is trying to figure this out and start to navigate the new normal-because we have no idea when things will return to normal. I don’t know about you-but I’ve heard that phrase over and over from people this week-welcome to the new normal. Here’s the new normal, what is the new normal? I got an alumni email from Dallas Seminary where I attended and the president of the school started off by saying-
It is no mystery that our world is going through an unprecedented time of crisis and challenge. With the mass cancelations and delays of everything from travel to sporting events to amusement parks, not to mention the closing of schools at every level, I can’t remember anything in my life that had the potential, as does the Covid -19 virus, to affect families at every age level and area of life.
That’s so true. None of can say this hasn’t majorly impacted our lives. This virus, this pandemic, this event in our world-has affected everybody in nearly every facet of life. Nothing is like it was a week ago-it truly is a new normal. That’s what we’ve titled our new sermon series. We’re going to put Joseph on hold for the time being-he’ll be there when this is over. And instead we’re going to look into God’s Word to see how He would have us navigate this new season of life. What direction can we find? What hope can we discover? What truths can we cling to?
So I want you to open your Bibles to Ps 84. And while you’re doing that I hope you’ve had a chance to watch last week’s video. We had no idea what was in store when we recorded that-we just knew everyone needed to stay home. But we looked at Phil 4:4-7. And we talked about how this peace isn’t based on our understanding of things. And yet I’ll be the first to say that my feeling of peace is largely based on whether I understand what’s going on, why it’s happening, what the outcome or future will be. If it makes sense to me-and I can figure it out-then I’ll be at peace. But that’s not the case now. Something like the coronavirus really requires a peace that passes all understanding-because we have no idea what’s going on, there’s no way to understand it. And that’s okay because we have a God who does understand; a God who’s completely in control and the coronavirus wasn’t a surprise for Him. Our peace isn’t resting upon nations or world leaders who know what they’re doing. Our peace rests on God who made this world and completely knows what He’s doing. And so we looked at Jesus’ words in conjunction with Phil 4 where Jesus said in John 14:27. And I love that because who hasn’t watched a lot of news this week or checked news updates online-and the world hasn’t given us much peace to cling to. But Jesus says His peace isn’t like the world’s peace-not at all-because it’s His peace. His peace that He gives to you and me and all who have a relationship with Him through faith.
And that’s what brings us to Ps 84. This is one of my favorite Psalms-it always has been. I can still remember being in high school youth group and we were talking about what we’d read in our devotions the past week-and one girl in our youth group shared how God had really spoken to her from Ps 84. She shared some of the verses and it sounded fascinating. So that night after I went home I read it myself for my quiet time. It was awesome! God really spoke to me-and the part that stood out to me back then-and still stands out to me today-is in the middle-verses 5-7. Now this Psalm is officially considered a Psalm of Ascent. If you look at Psalms 120-134 they’re all subtitled Psalms of Ascent-this one isn’t in that group-but it’s still called that. What does a Psalm of Ascent mean? Back when it was written these were songs that worshippers would sing as they traveled from their homes up to Jerusalem where they would worship God in the temple. They were literally ascending in their journey from the lowlands and plains to the physical temple in the city of Jerusalem. So this is a journeying song, kind of like road-trip music, a song on the old mix tape you put in the car and listen to as you drove somewhere. Back to v. 5. And Zion is another name of Jerusalem, it’s that poetic, spiritual name for Jerusalem. Blessed are those who’s hearts are set on the highways to Jerusalem, the highways to the temple to worship God. Now of course, here on this side of the cross, in light of the NT, we’re not required as believers to actually journey to Jerusalem and ascend to the temple. Just after Jesus took His last breath and gave up His spirit and died the temple curtain was torn in two so we have spiritual access by faith into His presence to worship. As it says in Heb 4:16. That happens spiritually. Even now this morning, as we are all scattered across our different homes and unable to physically be together in our church building, we, as the church, are still drawing near to the throne of grace and experiencing the joy of the Lord’s presence. Our hearts can still be on the highways to Zion, the highways to the Lord, even though we’re sitting on our coaches in our living rooms or around our kitchen tables-or even still in bed. Online church is comfortable! But these verses are still completely true because they describe the state of our hearts-v. 5.
And listen to how it continues-v. 6. Now the Valley of Baca was a dry desert, an arid place on the way to Jerusalem. The Hebrew word baca can be translated as weeping or balsam tree. Two rather different concepts-and yet Bible scholars recognize that it ultimately describes the convergence of those two thoughts. It’s a dry, desert place-a hard place, a place of difficulty and struggle for plants and living things to grow; a place that would normally be a place of weeping-but yet where this balsam tree can still grow and thrive. That where everything else is struggling, this tree is alive and flourishing. And the reason is because of the Lord’s presence and blessing. These worshippers are like that tree and they’re traveling to Jerusalem through this dry, arid desert and are transforming it from a place of weeping into a place of joy and praise-v. 6. I love this visual image of an otherwise dry desert now becoming an oasis of abundance from the springs and rains and pools. That this dry desert is now flourishing-because it’s a perfect picture of our spiritual lives. It’s a perfect picture of what we’re going through right now in our world. We are in the Valley of Coronavirus-and it’s one of confusion and uncertainty, it’s one of struggle and challenges where normal life is turned upside down. School, work and finances are all in a state of turmoil-the shelves at the grocery store have all dried up, it’s a valley of stress and even weeping-and yet it can be a spiritual oasis. It can be a valley transformed into a place of joy because of the Lord. It says in v. 7. It didn’t say the Valley of Baca got easy. It didn’t say it stopped being a valley and became a lush rainforest-it said the worshippers went from strength to strength, they went from one spring of water to the next in their journey. The place was still a bone dry desert-but they flourished because they went from one rainfall to the next, from one pool of refreshment to the next until they reached the Lord. They looked for God’s blessings, they were watered and nourished by His Word, they tasted the Lord’s joy, they rested on His peace-and turned an otherwise hard, dry, difficult journey through a desert into an oasis of joy.
And that’s the challenge for each of us. To turn this strange, weird, stressful, uncertain, cooped-up, homeschooling, video-conferencing time in our lives into a spiritual oasis. What are the springs and pools and rains of refreshment God is bringing into your life right now-even on a daily basis? How are you able to be filled with joy instead of worrying and fear? How are you seeing His blessings and letting your soul be quenched by His peace? The reality is that you’ll get through this time. Lord willing the Coronavirus will pass and we’ll be released from our houses and the restraints of social distancing and return back to normal life. But how you get through this time matters, how you use this time matters. Will you to make it a place of springs? Did you catch how the Psalm is phrased-v. 6-7. These worshippers made the intentional choice to discover the springs of refreshment and utilize God’s strength. He always provides His strength for us-do you utilize and draw strength from Him? Will you be just as intentional as these travelers in the Psalm? So I challenge you to Go from social distancing to spiritual deepening. That every time you hear this newly coined phrase-social distancing-did we just invent this? Stay 6 ft apart. That every time you’re told to keep practicing social distancing, you turn it into a time of spiritual deepening and growth. That you would rely on the Lord more fully, turn to Him in prayer more quickly, and be filled with His joy more consistently. Will you go from strength to strength during this time? Or limp along from weariness to worry, or not even that but simply waste this time by staying home and watching Netflix all day? I think any time there’s a change in life, a down time, a lull, a season of rest, or an extended time at home like we’re experiencing-it’s an opportunity to make it a spiritual oasis in order to deepen our walk with Christ. And maybe for you this is actually a time of long work hours with all sorts of extra burdens because of the coronavirus. That means you need this time to be a spiritual oasis and draw on the Lord’s strength more than ever before. Don’t waste this time-this is a unique season in our world-use it well in your personal journey with Christ. Be consistent in your devotions, be faithful in reading God’s Word. We’ve all got our Bibles at home, there’s Bible apps on our phones, Bible reading plans. Maybe you’ve got a good Christian book that’s been sitting on your shelf or you’ve been meaning to read for a long time-now’s the time to do it! Go from strength to strength as the Lord provides His blessings. Look at how the Psalm concludes-v. 11-12-especially at a time like this!
So Go from social distancing to spiritual deepening. And take a look at one last verse in the psalm-v. 10. This is the heart and soul of this psalm because it reminds us of what really matters-and where we’re ultimately going in life. The worshippers journeying to the temple in Jerusalem realized that being in the temple courts, even just standing by the door, was better than anyplace else-because they were near the Lord’s presence. Once again we don’t have to go anywhere to be near the Lord’s presence-you can be in His courts, near Him, worshipping Him even now stuck in your own home. When it says a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere-you might be thinking of a thousand other places elsewhere from home you’d rather be. But this time at home-not in school or not going in to work-is the perfect time to be reminded of this-v. 10. This time more than any other time causes us to Lose the distractions-what really matters? You can’t go out to eat, you can’t go to the movies, you can’t go to the gym, or have a big party or see your friends at school or hang out with your work buddies. Normal life is put on hold-as we’re in the new normal-so as all those things are on hold what really matters? Ask yourself that question as the other distractions in your life have been momentarily silenced. What really matters? This verse would say being with one another, around the Lord’s presence is what matters most.
Like we said earlier-maybe you’ve played a board game with your family this week, maybe you’ve gone on a walk or bike ride together, maybe you’ve stayed inside and watched movies together. As all the other outside distractions die down realize that what really matters is each other. Continue to use this time to cherish your family and those closest to you. Don’t wish it away or just try to grin and bear it-until normal life returns. Finally-that’s done-back to other things. I read an email from FamilyLife ministries that said Home Isn’t Canceled. They said-Mom, Dad, we’re living in an unprecedented time. No sports. No distractions. No school. Just time. Unprecedented time. The very thing your kids crave with you. At home. And yet in the midst of massive uncertainty, I see an uncanny beauty. Everything else in our world is shutting down. But home is being restored as the main hub of society and regaining its rightful, holy place. I wonder and pray with hope-God, what are you up to? We believer your family can grow closer to God, grow stronger together, and serve your neighbors abundantly during the crisis. Let your new normal be rich times of laughter and enjoyment with your family and those closest to you. Let your new normal be where you recognize that a day in the Lord’s courts in better than a thousand elsewhere.
As we talk about time together as a family-ask yourselves what day would be better than a thousand elsewhere. And maybe you’d say Disneyworld. A day there is better than a thousand elsewhere. Or even though I haven’t been there yet-maybe I’d say a day at the new Galaxy’s Edge is better than a thousand elsewhere. Or maybe for you it’s a day in Paris, or a day hiking and skiing in the mountains, or a day at the beach. I’m sure there’s lots of days we can think of that would rank high on our list as better than a thousand elsewhere. But this verse is stating an absolutely essential and eternal truth-v. 10. And if you’ve put your faith in Christ, if you’ve trusted in Jesus to save you and forgive your sins. If you are a traveler through this life-just like these travelers in this Psalm-what awaits you isn’t just a day in His courts, not just being a doorkeeper in His house-but endless, eternal days, never-ending days within His house, as His son or daughter in God’s very presence around His throne-where His home has become your home. Listen to Rev 21:3. That day is real, it’s coming-and it is far better than a thousand anywhere else in the universe. One day your new normal will be a day where all your brothers and sisters in Christ are gathered together dwelling in the Lord’s house forever and ever. As you and your family are gathered in your house this morning-set your sights on that day in His house!