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Psalms Series One

Let Me Paint You A Picture

Psalm 84

One of the wonders of the Bible is that our Lord uses the experiences and praises of the Jews of the Old Testament as pictures of the nature of New Testament experience. We will see that today in Psalm 84. The picture today is that of three concentric circles. In the inner circle, hidden from the view of all but God, is the spiritual life of the Christian. Next is the outer life, and finally that life as viewed by others. These are the Temple, the Pilgrimage and the Worship. Psalms such as this do not define doctrine; they illustrate it.

The Temple

The Old Testament picture of the Temple is very explicit. Chapters are written about how it was built; instructions were given in great detail. In Psalm 84 we see the result, as seen by the ancient Jew:

{84:1} For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm. How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! {2} My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. {3} 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, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. {4} Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah ‑‑ Psalms 84:1‑4 (NIV)

The temple of the New Testament is the Christian, as Paul says. Here we see some characteristics which might interest us:

First, there is the beauty of the Temple. Where God resides, the building is beautiful. Pardon the repetition, but I know this from living with her. When I first married my wife, I did not regard her as particularly beautiful (I'm nothing to look at either, so we're even). Indeed, among our friends we call our "UCLA bunch" (college chums) I rated her fourth among four. But over the years all the bodies have aged - and the spirits have come out. Now we know who found the real beauty of the group.

How is this beauty of soul achieved? Think how women achieve physical beauty. Exercise, cosmetics, surgery - they all start with desire. Looking in the mirror and saying "not quite what I wanted." Here we see the way to spiritual beauty - the yearning for God. This is a natural yearning, and only Christ can satisfy it:

{13} Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, {14} but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." ‑‑ John 4:13‑14 (NIV)

The phrase "cry out" in the NIV is translated "shout for joy" in the RSV and Jerusalem versions. There is really no conflict; yearning in any sense comes out. Witness Job in his yearning for God:

{25} I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. {26} And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; {27} I myself will see him with my own eyes‑‑I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! ‑‑ Job 19:25‑27 (NIV)

From the oldest to newest books of the Bible ("even so, come") we see this yearning on the part of the Christian to meet God.

The personal nature of this relationship is also shown in this Psalm. Notice the use of the sparrow as nesting near the altar, and remember Christ's words:

{29} Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. ‑‑ Matthew 10:29 (NIV)

Even the most insignificant of people can draw close to God. And not only the insignificant, but also those even less likely to be suspected of being "church people." Have you ever seen a swallow in flight? It is not a smooth flight - rather it dips and darts in all directions. Even the nest of the swallow is hard to find - hidden up under the eaves. Yet even such creatures (this is the only mention of such in the Bible) are welcome in the Lord's own house.

This section also includes a bit of poetry which is almost a throwaway, yet a great lesson. The Psalmist refers to God and Lord Almighty (Yahweh Sabaoth = Lord of Hosts?) and in the same passage as My King and My God. God rules over the host; God is also in a personal relationship to us.

Pilgrimage

There is a difference between "getting there" and "going." Think not? Some people travel to far away places - they say "we did Thailand last year, and this year we're going to do India," or something like that. The emphasis is on going to someplace to experience it. Other times we will say things like "we came to Fullerton two years ago." One implies the adventure of going; the other implies the satisfaction of arriving. Christians get to do both. It's called pilgrimage.

{5} Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. {6} As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. {7} They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. {8} Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob. Selah {9} Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.

‑‑ Psalms 84:5‑9 (NIV)

In this world we do the "going." Strength in this world starts with the desire of the Christian to go where God wants him to go. How often we tell God that we do not like our circumstance, or we wish he would not place us in thus and such a position. We are just passing through, as the old spiritual says. If we set our hearts on pilgrimage they would be ever so much lighter.

Pilgrimage does not, as so many think, mean walking through as much as it does (in the Hebrew) setting up a temporary lodging. "Pitching the tent nightly closer to home" is the closest I can get to this feeling in English. Corrie ten Boom tells this story to illustrate the guiding principle of pilgrimage:  

When Corrie Ten Boom of The Hiding Place fame was a little girl in Holland, her first realization of death came after a visit to the home of a neighbor who had died. It impressed her that some day her parents would also die. Corrie's father comforted her with words of wisdom. "Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?"

"Why, just before we get on the train," she replied.

"Exactly," her father said, "and our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things too. Don't run out ahead of Him Corrie.

When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need ‑‑ just in time."

You see the point? We "arrive" only in heaven. Here on earth we are pilgrims. Hence we must ask for our daily bread. Sometimes that bread will arrive with tears. The Valley of Baca translates "Valley of Weeping." The name refers to the trees in the valley, which are Palestinian alders. They "weep" sap. The valley itself is mentioned one other time in the Old Testament - it's also called the Valley of Rephraim. Rephraim were the original inhabitants - they were giants - but by the time the Israelites conquered the land they had been wiped out. Hence "Rephraim" also meant "ghosts" to the Hebrews. Tears, giants or ghosts - these are in our trials. The tears we weep at loss; the fears of the giants in our lives and worst of all the ghosts of our pasts join to terrify us.

But in all these things we are more than conquerors! We take the valley of weeping and make it a fertile place; we go "from strength to strength." This is the life of victory, the pilgrimage of triumph which leads us to the Father's throne.

The Psalmist concludes this section as I might. Now that I have stated what you want (vs. 5-7) it's my prayer that you make me such a man! (vs. 8-9)

Worship

By worship I mean service, for they are the same word in the New Testament. The Psalmist puts it this way:

{10} 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. {11} 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. {12} O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you. ‑‑ Psalms 84:10‑12 (NIV)

John Milton took these words and twisted them around backwards and put them in Satan's mouth (Paradise Lost): "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." These are the words of pride, and they accurately reflect the sentiments of our generation. As Milton would have pointed out, however, Satan rules this earth - and is condemned to Hell.

The Christian refuse to try and stand on his own two feet, proud to be dependent upon no one. The Christian looks to God as sun and shield, instead. Sun - as in light to my path. Shield, to defend me against the tempter. As Proverbs puts it,

{5} "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. ‑‑ Proverbs 30:5 (NIV)

What the world sees is the strange sight of the Christian taking refuge in God, not in the strength of this world. For those who trust, the world also sees the blessing of God on that same Christian.

While typing up this lesson I was trying hard to think of an illustration. I couldn't bring one up, so I took a walk. Across the street, at Cal State Fullerton, in the middle of a large grassy quad, there was a young man with a trumpet. He was practicing scales. Now, you can't practice a trumpet quietly. It occurred to me: Pride is letting them hear you in performance. Humility is letting them hear you practice.

And that's us: practicing Christians, in every sense of the word. We are the doorkeepers in the house of the Lord. It doesn't appear to be a noble position to those in the world; indeed, the lowest one around. But if someone else is to get inside, someone has to open the door - right? Remember the words of the Lord:

{24} "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into  practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. {25} The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. {26} But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. ‑‑ Matthew 7:24‑26 (NIV)

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