There’s a lot of negativity right now.
One morning while I was in Colombia, I awoke early.
I made the terrible mistake of checking the news.
I thought: “I need something less negative.”
So, I did the exact opposite and opened Facebook.
More dirty politics.
I was starting to feel a bit depressed from all the negativity when Daniela woke up. I was happy to see her and excited to start the day with this beautiful ray of sunshine.
But first, she needed to take her medicine.
And the only way to get her to take her medicine is to bribe her with Spanish YouTube Kids’ songs
I sat her on my lap and pulled up the video on my phone called Cinco Patitos. Maybe you know its English counterpart:
Five little ducks went out one day.
Over the hills and far away.
Mother duck said, “Quack-quack-quack-quack.”
But only four little ducks came back.
As the song progresses, the mother duck slowly loses all five of her ducks.
As I watching this video, I saw the sadness on the cartoon mother duck’s face, and for the first time ever fashioning myself a parent, I thought to myself:
This song is horrible!
Where did all the ducklings go?
Did one of them get COVID?
Was one of them abducted?
Why didn’t the government do more to protect the duckling from disappearance?
And my mind was filled with more negativity.
Even in kids’ songs!
Negativity is everywhere.
Where do we turn to escape it?
Where do we find a place without negativity?
God’s got an answer for us. Before we look at it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Place without Negativity
Check out the first verse of Psalm 84:
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! (v.1)
That’s the adjective the writer uses here.
Not even pretty.
That’s a word reserved for the finest occasions in life.
A snow-capped mountain with a sunset backdrop.
A fine meal at a five-star restaurant.
A bride walking down the aisle.
But here the adjective is used to describe God’s dwelling place.
Does sound lovely.
And immediately leads to the question:
Where is God’s dwelling place?
Scripturally, there are a couple of different Sunday School answers that might fit under the category: “Place where God Dwells.” Let’s examine each in context to determine what the Psalmist is talking about.
This is a very common Sunday School answer and it is one hundred percent accurate. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “‘Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?,’ declares the Lord, ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’” This is the reason theologians call God, omnipresent. It’s a scholarly term that means, “God is everywhere.”
He’s on the shores of the Outer Banks.
He’s on the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge trail.
He’s in downtown Raleigh.
He’s on the streets of Durham.
He’s here at 1100 Newton Road.
And he’s 2,172 miles away in Bogota, Colombia.
There’s something about that answer that doesn’t make sense in this section.
Because while God is everywhere, it seems strange to refer to some places on earth as God’s dwelling.
A dwelling implies residence.
Where God puts his feet up.
Where God is cozy.
I don’t believe it’s correct to say that a strip club is God’s dwelling place.
I don’t think a meth lab is God’s stomping grounds.
It is absolutely wrong to say that the local KKK meeting is where God likes to hang out.
To be fair: God’s there.
But it’s not his dwelling place.
This leads to a second common Sunday School answer. God is in heaven (which is exactly what Psalm 115:3 says, “God is in heaven.”)
And unlike earth, heaven is absolutely, 100% guaranteed void of any negativity.
Think about that:
For example, when we returned home this week, we were able to get all the mail we had missed out on during our six-week hiatus.
Can you guess what much of that mail was?
Political attack ads.
A whole stack of them.
Taller than all seven books in the Harry Potter series.
There aren’t political attack ads in heaven.
Because there isn’t negativity.
There aren’t any COVID testing sites in heaven.
There are not any angry emojis in heaven.
There are not any angry talking heads on CNN or Fox News in heaven.
There are not any racist slurs.
Heaven is lovely because there isn’t even a smidgen of an ounce of negativity.
But I don’t know if heaven is what the Psalmist is talking about here.
Because as you read the rest of the Psalm it becomes apparent that the Psalmist is longing for a place he can physically get to in this lifetime.
He talks about people traveling great distances to get there.
As a place that birds can get to.
It’s a physical place.
The phrase “God’s dwelling place” in this Psalm has to be something physical you can get to on earth.
And it has to be somewhere that give you a glimpse of the positivity of heaven.
Friends, it’s the only Sunday School answer we haven’t considered yet.
The author of this Psalm was one of the Sons of Korah. Does that sound familiar? We looked at a Psalm of this writer way back during our Anxiety sermon series. Psalm 42. It was written by one of the Sons of Korah who had been separated from Jerusalem during a civil war. As a result, his soul longed for returning to the temple where he could worship God, just like a deer pants for streams of water.
If this Psalm was written around the same time as Psalm 42.
Then, the “God’s dwelling place” referred to is none other than the temple.
But what about modern times?
We don’t have a temple.
We have a...
Jesus said this to his disciples, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
This is more than just a, “I’m everywhere,” statement by Jesus .
Here he promises to be with his people when they gather in his name.
He promises to be in his word.
He promises to be in Sacrament.
He promises to be with his people.
This was key for Jesus’ disciples to hear. Because very soon after these words were spoken, Jesus would be killed.
He would rise.
He would physically ascend to heaven.
And Jesus’ disciples would be left behind.
They would be persecuted.
They would have to gather together in small, hidden rooms for fear of being hauled off and thrown into the lion’s den because of their faith…
Jesus would dwell with them.
II. Yearning for God’s Dwelling Place
At the time that this Psalm was written, the people gathered to worship God in the temple. This Psalmist couldn’t wait to get back there. In verse 2 he writes, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Again, the writer was a priest who had separated been separated by civil war from God’s house.
If ever there’s been a time in history that people could understand what this guy was feeling, 2020 is it.
Do you yearn for this place?
Does your heart and your flesh cry out to be with God’s people?
Are you about to faint?
Are you kinda glad that COVID happened? It has really freed up your weekend?
Does your heart yearn for the latest episode of The Bachelor more than seeing that one church guy again?
Honestly, is there a part of you that is thankful you have an excuse not to go, because then you don’t have to run the risk of seeing that guy with a political opinion different than yours?
I don’t mean to guilt you into putting your physical lives in danger.
Not at all. Not remotely. That’s not what I’m saying.
If you don’t have some kind of yearning.
If you don’t have some kind of want.
Even a smidgen of, “I’d like to gather again.”
I do have deep concern for your souls.
If your heart isn’t yearning for the place where God’s people gather…
It’s hard to see how your heart is yearning for God’s people.
And if you’re heart isn’t yearning for God’s people…
Then, how can your heart be yearning for God?
And if your heart isn’t yearning for God…?
You are in spiritual danger.
To put it another way, God calls his people his “body”.
Now it isn’t very common for someone to say to me, “Phil, I like you. But I really hate your left kneecap.”
You can’t love a person and hate their body part.
Similarly, you can’t claim to love God and want nothing to do with his people.
A heart not yearning for God’s DWELLING PLACE reveals a lack of yearning for GOD.
And if you don’t yearn for God.
This is terrifying.
Because you might be on the verge of getting exactly what you want.
Not being near God or his people.
Thankfully even when we weren’t yearning for God…
God’s heart yearned for you.
He abandoned his heavenly throne.
He came to the negativity of this place called earth.
He experienced an ungodly amount of negativity.
He took on all the negativity of your sins.
He died and came back to life.
He conquered death itself that we too might conquer death itself and enter the eternally perfect courts of heaven.
God YEARNS to dwell with YOU.
God yearned to dwell with you so much that he died for you.
And God yearns to dwell with you so much that he is calling to you right now.
But that isn’t just for his own sake.
It isn’t to boost his ego.
It isn’t so that God can call up his buddy Moses and say, “Guess who hung at my house last week?
God yearns to dwell with you for your sake.
Not just in heaven.
Look at what the Psalmist writes next:
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Back in the day, the temple was an incredible structure. It was made with large columns with trellises near. It was an easy spot for a little pigeon to hide in. High above the city, he could see danger from a mile away. Hidden in the crevices, he was protected. Tucked into the little nest, he was safe.
If God does that when birds go to God’s dwelling place.
What will he do for you?
God BLESSES time dwelling with him.
He uplifts his people.
He encourages his people.
He comforts his people.
He rebukes his people.
He strengthens his people.
He inspires his people.
He cheers his people on.
He does that for his people.
Through his people.
In the place where his people dwell.
III. What Now?
(1) Do WHATEVER It Takes TO Dwell with God
Check out the next verses of the Psalm:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. (v 5-7)
In Old Testament times, it was common to make a pilgrimage to God’s temple in Jerusalem. Since the temple was in the south, those in the north would have to travel about a hundred miles just to get to the temple.
The place that is mentioned here is the Valley of Baca. That’s not even a real place. It means “valley of sorrows.” The point is that even though the journey might be long and filled with sorrows (i.e. “I have a blister on my right heel from walking in these sandals for so long)…
The blessing of gathering with God and his people made all the pain worth it.
Do the same.
If it means going to Saturday worship because there’s a smaller crew of people, do it…even if you can’t hang out with your friends as early.
If it means putting on a mask even though it’s a bit uncomfortable, but it allows you to gather, do it.
If it means turning off your phone while you sit in front of the laptop to ensure you can get the most out of online worship, do it.
Because honestly, people are doing whatever it takes to get to the voting booth this year.
Why not do whatever it takes to dwell with God and his people?
(2) Do WHATEVER It Takes as You Are IN God’s Dwelling
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
At the temple, one of the jobs was to open the giant doors to the temple and close the doors behind the people that went in.
That must not have been a very glamorous job.
No one cheers for the doorkeeper.
No one celebrates the doorkeeper.
No one gives out awards for the best doorkeeper in the business.
Yet the Psalmist was happy to be a doorkeeper.
Not ‘cause he loved holding doors.
Because it meant he was in God’s house.
Same thing, friends.
God wants us to be thrilled to do whatever he calls us to do because we are doing it in God’s house.
Whether it’s baking cookies…
Or holding the oven door open for the guy making cookies.
Whether it’s singing music.
Or holding the folder open for the guy singing music.
Whether it’s holding the door.
Or disinfecting the handles for the guy who holds the doors.
Look at how the Psalmist concludes this song --
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. (v.11-12)
Did you hear that?
Did you hear what God withholds from those dwelling with him?
No good thing.
All good things are yours as we gather around God’s Word.
Look at our church sanctuary when you have a chance.
What do you see when you look at it?
This wood on this altar that has some chips in it.
The carpet that’s stained.
The baptismal font that has some warping in it.
Sometimes the pews that have Oreo crumbs on them.
The cushions near the altar that are somewhat faded.
But look again.
This is so much more than that.
This altar is where the life changing Gospel has been preached to a man who thought his drug-filled past meant God could never love him.
This carpet is where I was standing as I prayed with a mother who had lost a child.
This baptismal font is where my shaky, water filled hands have delivered God’s baptismal promises to a beautiful newborn girl.
These pews are where I sat as I held the hands of family who had lost a loved one and shared the promises of the resurrection.
The cushions at this altar are we guilt stricken, conscience terrified sinners have knelt and heard God’s promises: This is my blood given for you.
How LOVELY is God’s dwelling place.