Joy and Satisfaction, in the Sanctuary of the LORD: Psalm 84

Why is your church building a special place? Is it attractive? … paid for? … built, project by precious project, by your church family? Go ahead, boast (in Christ!) about these things. They’re all good.

But, if we think big-picture, your church facility takes on greater meaning when we understand that it is a sanctuary—a meeting place set apart for God’s special purposes.

The place where the Old Testament worshipper went to find the grace and favor of the LORD was the Temple, the special set-apart place for meeting with God. In Psalm 84, we encounter a Hebrew pilgrim making his way up to Zion and the sanctuary of the LORD. In his ascent, we gather truths known to all God’s worshippers, no matter their place in the redemptive story:

Joyful and satisfied believers long to be in the sanctuary of the LORDHow lovely is your dwelling place … (ESV, verse 1). That is, the particular place where God dwells—not because it’s attractive, but because God is there! O LORD of hosts. That is “of armies,” as in, all the powers of heaven and earth . Take the two ideas together and you have the great, omnipresent (everywhere) God localizing his presence to a particular place to meet with man. Blessed are those who dwell in your house (verse 4), even, apparently, the birds who make their homes in the rafters of the Temple (verse 3). If birds are blessed, how much greater the man who gets to live there in God’s presence.

And then, I ask,  at this point in my reading: Do desire to meet with God like this? Is there a sense in my Tuesdays mornings and Thursdays evenings that I’m building toward a meeting with the presence of God Himself? When I leave my place of worship, do I sense that I’m being launched into my week to live out the truths of God’s Word, learned in the midst of His people? 

Joyful and satisfied believers prepare to be in the sanctuary of the LORD. Here, our pilgrim departs. Blessed are those … in whose heart are the highways to Zion (verse 5). Strength will be found in God for the way, until they should appear before Him. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion (verse 7).

And, I ask: What margins do I build into my week, that I might appear before God in worship, and in my right mind? Do my wife and I forgo the feature length movie on Saturday night that would put us to bed after midnight; instead, maybe, choosing the 45 minute episode that would have us turn in at 10:00? Or, would a melatonin and an earlier bedtime be still better? 

Joyful and satisfied believers lift up their king in the sanctuary of the LORD. The pilgrim enters the holy city and prays, apparently, for his Davidic king. So we take the image of the “shield” (verse 9), set parallel to the “anointed” whose face the LORD will consider.

And, I ask: How am I to relate to a king, our last American King being George III, long deposed, and Presidents Obama and Trump hardly being Davidic Kings … Ah, but I notice, we do have a Davidic King! …  the once and forever King whose lifted-high praise is, in the end, the main goal of my gathering with others in my own sanctuary. 

Then, finally, joyful and satisfied believers find grace and favor in the sanctuary of the LORD. The pilgrim enters the courts of God, and finds grace and favor. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere (verse 10). Better to take low position at the threshold of God’s presence, than dwell in intimacy with those who don’t know God. For God, like a “sun” shines grace on His people, and like a “shield” protects them and gives them glory. O LORD, “of armies” blessed is the one who trust in you! Joy and satisfaction belong no longer only to those dwelling in the sanctuary, but to all who enter in by trust.

And, I ask again, now from my place in God’s redemption story, viewing Psalm 84 through the work of Jesus on the cross: Why is my own church building a special place? 

And, I remember, the Temple has passed away. In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8.13). And, I remember further, Jesus is the temple through whose sacrificed body we now approach God. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up … he was speaking about the temple of his body (Jn 2.19 … 21). And, then I ponder how, when I trusted Christ, I entered his church, described (among other pictures) as God’s temple. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (1 Cor 3.16).

And then I get it, the reason why my church meeting place is so special. The place where the joyful, satisfied follower of Christ finds the grace and favor of the LORD is in the midst of God’s people. 

So, tomorrow I enter our church building. We’ll lift high Jesus and learn from his Word. That meeting is worth longing for and preparing for, because there, through God’s people, we’ll know God’s grace and favor.

And that will make our sanctuary (beautiful and paid for, as it is) a very special place.

Find a friend or somebody you’re accountable to and ask and answer a few questions:

In the flow of your week, how do you think of Sunday morning? 

How do you prepare for worship each week? What margins do you put in place that help you separate out Sunday morning as different than any other time of the week? 

Do you ever think of Jesus as your king? How does this distinction add to what you understand yourself to be doing when you gather with your church family for worship? 

In what ways does God meet with you to show you grace and favor when you gather with His people for worship? 

How does Psalm 84 change the way you will worship God next time you enter your church facility? 

“Going on” in Christ—Freedom to Boast in Christ: Galatians 6.11-18

Go ahead. Boast a little … Your kids behaving themselves? Good thing. Have you won a basketball game? Avoided an accident? Had something especially good to eat lately? A good coffee, maybe? Or, caught a really big fish this week? … All good stuff. But, is this all worth boasting about?

Paul draws together all the arguments from his letter to the Galatians with one, powerful, concrete, wonderfully terrible image: But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (6.14, ESV).

My only boast is in Christ who makes me a new creation through the Gospel. 

That’s a hard teaching when there’s so many big fish and near accidents and good coffees that delight us. Do I have to put away all the “good” things of life to think rightly and only of Jesus?

We struggle here, because we forget (or, don’t properly believe) where we’ve come from. In (even before) the beginning, God existed. Holy unto Himself. Like consuming fire, He will not suffer the presence of sin. For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12.29, from Deut 4). He, our same God, created a world and a people through His eternal Son. For by him all things were created … all things were created through him and for him (Col 1.15). We sin, and by all rights will be obliterated, removed from God’s presence—no pleasure to follow, nothing good, nothing we were made to enjoy, certainly not God’s presence. That’s now bedrock reality, Ground Zero for sinful humanity.

How does God respond? By sending His Son who meets us. Where? At the cross. And, in a way I struggle to get my mind around, we, those He’s called to Himself by faith, died with Jesus on that very cross. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live (2.20a) … And, then, in a way still more profound, we were raised with Jesus to share his life. … the life I life I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (2.20b).

Then, on Monday of this week, our friend Adam catches a big fish. And, he lets my boys hold it. And, we’re so happy! Now … who gets the credit for our happiness? Where was that happiness bought? … At the CROSS!

Now, when we boast, we brag, rejoice, glory and exult in the work of Jesus. And, we do this as new creations, free to enjoy the good of this world, because at the cross Jesus bought back those pleasures for his people.

“Every legitimate pleasure is a means to a higher end” (C.S. Lewis). The end, Paul would add, of boasting in Christ’s work, at the cross.

“Every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes an evidence of blood-bought Calvary love and an occasion for boasting in the cross” (John Piper, 2000).

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim 4.4). In other words, at the cross.

So, parents, kids do their homework and their chores this week? Celebrate! Kids, win a game recently? Jump for joy! Taken in a steaming, hot and strong cup of coffee or cup of chocolate recently? Give thanks. But, remember where the pleasure comes from. And, boast like crazy. In Christ, because of his work, at the cross.

Find a friend and think about these questions from Galatians 6.11-18:

How does this passage change the way you think about those things you’re excited about? 

Why is it so hard to get your mind around the idea of any kind of boasting as a positive thing? (It might help to note that in its 37 uses this word is alternatively translated in the ESV as “brag, rejoice, exult, or glorify”.

Do I really believe that God is holy and I am undeserving of His presence? How does the power of the cross depend on starting in the right place in thinking about God and myself? 

How does Paul’s logic apply to pain in this world as well? The same word is used in Rom 5.3-4. How might Christ’s work be significant in our pain, just as it is in our pleasure, and why might we boast in our suffering?

Noting Paul’s reference to the insignificance of circumcision (the sign of being under law), and noting Gal 5.6 as well, how might boasting in Christ free me to love and serve others? 

Noting Paul’s closing of the letter in Gal 6.17, how does boasting in Christ leave a mark? 




Going on in Christ—Freedom to Love and Serve: Galatians 5.25-6.10

Wood heat … simple. The process in getting those snow-soaked logs stacked in the basement … less so.

Likewise, the first time I and my three children (those old enough to toss a log of firewood) set out to fill our basement, the goal was simple enough: stack wood in the basement. The process proved less so—break loose the frozen logs, stack them on our wooden sled, slide them across the yard, push them down the chute to our basement, and stack them in the basement. Simple enough, it would seem.

But, human nature turned up. “Topping” proved the most enjoyable, and so got done the quickest. “Hauling” turned out to be the most tedious, and so barely got done at all. After hands froze, nobody wanted to work outside. And, the job took too long and only got done after I’d schnertzed a bit at everybody.

At our second attempt, more recently this winter, we rethought the matter—match our strengths to our roles, but then use our strengths to help each other. Seven year-old Henry topped. I hauled and carried, of course. Ten year-old Jack pushed logs down the chute. Almost-teenager Katja stacked the wood. If one got ahead of the other, he or she would slide other to cover the other’s weakness. We caught a rhythm and found freedom in relationship. The wood got stacked, and we got warm, in the end. This was love and service in the Northwoods world of necessity.


This week at Woodland, we are, at long last, come to Paul the Apostle’s discussion of relationships in light of the Gospel. What does freedom look like in relationships? 

As in last week’s passage, we will ” … keep in step with the Spirit” (5.25). But, relational freedom involves others. And, walking in the Spirit with others in mind turns out to involve the giving up of “conceit” (5.26, ESV). Paul’s qualifiers show us that conceit involves the person who “provokes” another—the kind of man who positions himself in the right circles, so as to guard his turf. Appearing to have a high self-esteem, this man really lives in bondage to the way he feels others think of him. Conceit, likewise, involves the other sort of person who envies—the kind of woman who feels ill-will toward the advantage of others. Having low self-esteem, this woman (or man) holds a grudge, so as to avoid releasing her claim on those who have hurt her. Both kinds of people live in dependence to what others think of them. Neither is free to love and serve. Both live under “law”.

By contrast, freedom in Christ means that we no longer depend on other people to validate us. Instead, we depend on Christ, and His Spirit helps us love and serve without fear. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (6.2). Freedom in relationship then involves restoring one another, resting in Christ’s sufficiency, and remembering that God’s opinion of us is all that matters. Freedom in relationship, likewise, involves freedom to love and serve generously … for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (6.7).

Freedom in relationship looks like freedom to love and serve fearlessly and generously in the power of the Spirit. 

At the end of the day (pictured, I believe, by the “load” of 6.5, the judgment or opinion of God), only the opinion of God regarding our lives matters. Refusing to be in bondage to either the praise or criticism of others opens vistas of freedom for love and service. When we walk by the Spirit we’re able to go on with Christ in our relationships with other without fear, because God’s opinion matters more than that of other people.

Find a friend or small group and consider these questions:

What are some concepts in our study of Galatians thus far that have “pushed” you, in either your understanding of the Christian life or your ability to live them out?


Are any of these ideas unclear to you? 


Have you ever thought of the idea of “conceit” as involving both inflated self-esteem and low self-esteem? What common root do you find in both of these social sins?


Why is there freedom in considering God’s opinion of me once I’ve trusted in Christ? How is this the opposite of “conceit”?


Where have you, personally, found freedom in your life as a result of considering the opinion of God? How has this freed you to love and serve without fear? 


How does “bearing one another’s burdens” fulfill the Law of Christ? 


Where do you need to love and serve as a result of your freedom in relationship? 




Going on in Christ—Freedom from “License”: Gal 5.13-24

Battle! That’s what we get when we move out in Christian freedom.

Last week at Woodland, we discussed how the Gospel, rightly applied, leads to freedom from law—the sense that we must do something to be right with God. This week, we learn that the same gospel frees us from license—the sense that we’re okay, just the way we are; the impression that we can live any way we want to live.

Freedom from license means victory over sin by the power of the Spirit. 

The right image is the battle. And, this battle requires preparation (verses 13-15). Now, being free in Christ, we’re not to serve the “flesh”—that part of us that still seeks to save ourselves apart from Christ; that aspect of our yet unredeemed selves that sits at the center of an elaborate program of self-salvation. If we do, we’ll “bite” and “devour” one another. Picture a snake pit!

Instead, we’re to use our freedom to fulfill the Law of Christ: Love your neighbor as yourself (Deut 19; Matt 22). But, how?

Have you ever noticed how often, when God give His people something to do, the Spirit turns up? But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (verse 16). This image shows how we’re to yield to the Spirit of God in the midst of the battle. Like an ancient student walking alongside and following the lead of his teacher, we’re to follow the lead of God’s Spirit, the warm, personal, reassuring presence of Christ in us (4:6). Yielding to His leadership reminds us that, while we don’t do anything to earn salvation, there is effort in the Christian life. Our role takes the form of cooperation with the Spirit of God who helps us in the confusion of the battle.

Note the language of desire. While we in our dim passions might fumble around in our opposition to the Spirit, His Spirit opposes our flesh (verses 16-18). Confusion results, as in a battle. But, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law (verse 18). The Spirit will prevail in those who respond to God’s Spirit with the well-known “fruit” of the Spirit as evidence.

Putting ourselves in the place to yield to the Spirit is then the key. Recognizing that we can’t achieve freedom in the Christian life on our own, we still have to put ourselves in the place for the Spirit to work on us. You can’t fall asleep by trying, but it sure helps to be in bed. Maybe, your mechanic alone can fix your car, but you still need to take it to the shop. Call it “aggressive-passivity,” maybe.

Practically, yielding to the Spirit will look like meeting with God in His Word, the Spirit’s chosen theatre of operation. Yielding to the Spirit will likewise involve preaching the Gospel to ourselves: we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ, not our goodness through self-effort in our circumstances. Those who follow the Spirit’s lead will grow in the Spirit’s fruit and take on His desires. Having … crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (verse 24), their Christian experience of freedom will begin to match their new identity in Christ.

We will know victory in the battle with the flesh!

Find a friend and consider the following questions:

How does this passage, as well as previous passages in Galatians, show that the Spirit replaces the former work of the Old Testament Law? 

What does this section tell us about the “normal” Christian life? What part does desire play in the Christian experience? 

In the language of this passage, what is really happening when we, however briefly, choose to sin? 

What do you think about the idea of “aggressive-passivity”? What does God do in bringing about our Christian freedom? What do we do? 

How is this discussion about Christian freedom different than a discussion about trusting Christ for salvation? (Hint: think of the difference between entering the Christian life and “going on” as we grow in Christ.)

Why is spending time in God’s Word so critical in knowing Christian freedom?

How do we go about preaching the Gospel to ourselves? What are some “Gospel-problem” areas in your life? (think: last week’s message) where you might preach the Gospel to yourself?