Time technicians at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (Formerly the National Bureau of Standards) set a new level of precision in 1949 by inventing the atomic clock. It counted the oscillations of the nitrogen atom in an ammonia molecule–and was reliable to within one second in three years. More recently, NIST switched to an atomic clock based on the vibrations of cesium atoms. It will need 300,000 years to gain or lose a single second. But NIST scientists are working on a still-better model: a single mercury ion will be trapped in a vacuum by laser beams and cooled to its lowest possible energy level. The atom’s oscillations will then be so stable that the new timepiece should be accurate to within one second in 10 billion years–the total life span of stars similar to our sun. – Business Week, reported in Resource, Mar/April, 1990.
Wow! That seems pretty reliable. What do we mean when we say something is RELIABLE? We mean that it is something we can count on… A reliable car will start morning after morning. A reliable employee will show up and do their job day in and day out…. What we are actually saying is this: reliability means it will perform according to our specifications. It will, simply put, do what we want done, when we want it done, the way we want it done.
Let me ask a penetrating question: Does God think you are a reliable person? Can He trust you to do what He wants you to do, and when He calls you to do it?
One of the places we need reliability is in our building of homes and common structures in society. If you ever had a house built, I am sure you would agree that the most reliable builder is the one who follows the properly approved plans you give them. That is our focus today, because our story is about a time when God gave men plans to build a worship place for Him. God didn’t reveal the pattern of the worship place because He wanted the people of Israel to move close to Him – but so that He could move in and dwell with them. I know because He said so.
Exodus 25:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. 3 “This is the contribution which you are to raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, 4 blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, 5 rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, 6 oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. 9 “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. …40 “See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.
Boil down what we have just heard from God’s Word. He said, “Take a collection. Get this list. Build the way I specify. I want to live within your community.” God specified the exact pattern He desired the Tabernacle builders to use – and as the coming occupant of the structure, He wanted things built in accordance with His choices…nothing more, nothing less.
Key Principle: God has specific requirements that He has stated that invite Him into the midst of His people to dwell with them. If we would be His people today, an unchanging God seeks reliable builders both in our worship and our daily walk – in order that we would allow Him to feel at home with us.
To that end, let me ask you two other penetrating questions: Do you think that God should settle for anything we want to give Him? Doesn’t it make perfect sense that He should be able to determine what He wants and expect us to become that?
The pattern of our text indicated that God knew what He wanted, and what He did not. The history of the people in the story reveals that God didn’t accept any compromise of the plan of the building, nor did he excuse the compromised character of the people who built it. If God said fire was only to come from the brazen altar to be taken to light the incense altar inside the Tabernacle, and two priests got tipsy with wine and brought their own lighter into the incense altar – God opened up the ground and swallowed them up. He knew what He wanted, and He demanded His people pay attention to what He wanted.
I wonder what would happen if we applied the same standard of our personal faithfulness to God and His Word that we expect from other areas of our lives? If your car started once every three tries, would you consider it reliable? If your postman skipped delivery every Monday and Thursday, would you consider him trustworthy? If you didn’t go to work once or twice a week so that you could just take “time for yourself” would you see yourself as a reliable employee? If your refrigerator stopped working for a day or two every now and then, would you say, “Oh well, it work most of the time.”? If your water heater provided an icy cold shower a few mornings a week, would you think it was dependable? If you skipped paying a few of electricity bill payments do you think your provider would mind?
We need to set aside the silly and haphazard way we have approached God, and pay attention to what He has said pleases Him.
Now let’s be clear… We do not do this to earn a relationship with Him – we can only do this AFTER we have one. The people in the story were already God’s people. He already saved them. Yet, as His people, there was much they needed to learn. They wanted Him to dwell with them in comfort and joy – and so do we. We want Him to be at home in us and with us. Before we go a step further in our text, I want to break away from the beginnings of the Tabernacle construction to follow up on the phrase God said in Exodus 25:8: “…that I may dwell among them.” Let’s have a look at the words of David on his personal preparation for spending time with God in Psalm 15. I know of no other text that will help pull out the steps in a more clear presentation. These words are essential to understanding what we will see as the story of the Tabernacle unfolds in the coming lessons.
As we turn to look at Psalm 15 for a few moments, let me ask you an easy question… “Did you ever observe what happens when young people fall in love?” In a desire to impress that young man or woman, they do crazy things. Some find the shower regularly for the very first time since momma was bathing them. Some comb their hair…. Astounding! These changes remind us of some of the laws of human change. One such law is: With the right incentive, we can change.
Long ago, King David knew what it was like to see people change their clothing, and their behavior based on being in the presence of power. If they wanted the king’s attention, there was an expected pattern of behavior. As a king, he confronted the tendency people have to change their behavior radically in order to gain access to his presence. King David took that observation and went in a different direction than most of us would have. He decided that if people changed themselves to be acceptable in his presence, he too must carefully examine his life and decide if he had sufficiently prepared himself to be in the presence of his Holy King – to walk in intimacy with his God. David already concluded that the changes were WORTH THE SACRIFICE, and devised, under the influence of the Spirit, a preparatory inspection checklist he could use to gear himself up for intense and prolonged worship and intimacy with God.
Though it isn’t talked about enough, in my view, we are responsible for our own preparation to worship. A worship team cannot draw you in to worship a God you have walked away from all week. We have to change – and it takes forethought and effort. Be warned: the changes have been revealed. We don’t have to THINK UP what God would want us to do to prepare… He told us here in the poetic frames of David in the Psalm.
Let me admit something: Writer upon writer has concluded that Psalm 15 is a response to time with God, so what I am teaching goes against the grain. Yet, in close inspection of the passage, I cannot accept that based on the opening question of David. The question wasn’t “How will I be changed if I am with you.” That is the question many commentators seem to approach the passage with. The question is not about the EFFECTS OF WORSHIP as much as the PREPARATIONS FOR INTIMACY with God. Seems to be asking: “What kind of person is truly prepared to be in Your presence and remain close to You, O Lord?” He then formed a seven step checklist that it looks like he used to get ready for worship.
The text opens in 15:1 “Master, who may dwell (goor) in your tent (ohel)? Who can live (shawkan) on the place of your holy mountain (har kodesh)?”
The question reveals that some choices were already made by David. First, he wanted to come into the presence of God, and dwell there – or prolong the time they shared together. Second, he presumed that NOT EVERYONE was ready simply because they wanted time with God. The mountain of God was HOLY (kodesh) or distinct from any other place. The question reveals that David understood that we cannot be casual with the holy. We must prepare. We must acknowledge its supreme difference from the normal.
Before we dismiss this quickly, we must recall that OUR BODIES are called holy to the Lord. Our relationships among brothers are part of what God calls holy. Our choices in the world are to be holy…. All of these prepare us to enter worship.
I hear far too little about preparation for worship, and far too much about how worship should change us. (Jesus reminded the disciples that the soil is also important to growth – not simply the seed and sower). I do not argue that worship should and will change us – I argue that preparation was also part of the plan of God. We need to take responsibility for preparation – and not spiritualize our laziness and inertia in making right choices to prepare our hearts to meet God.
Keep reading the Psalm. Each verse contains three specific attributes of a “twelve attribute” checklist – I organized them into seven steps by category. There is a case to be made that the twelfth is actually an observation, but we will not dwell on that distinction for the time being. Psalm 15:2 includes the first three specifics that appear to deal primarily with inner attitudes that set the stage for all the others. “הולך תמים ופעל צדק ודבר אמת בלבבו׃“
Psalm 15:2 “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart”.
STEP ONE: CHECK MY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO BLEMISHES IN THE MIRROR
Attentive to sin blemishes (holech tamim): One whose “goings are unblemished” (tawmim- 15:2a). The idea included the attention to avoid sinful practices, as well as the daily maintenance of proper life.
Shalem is a word for completed and perfect in Hebrew, but that is not used here. The other Hebrew word for “perfect” is tawmim, meaning absolutely complete, right (related to tawmid, “continual,” perpetual,” “daily”). Thus tawmim meant morally perfect, not just living up to all the light you have or according to your own conscience (which can be enlightened or not).
When I was a kid, my mother told us what time we needed to be ready for church. We appeared, like a whole team (I come from a large family) at the front sidewalk before we climbed into the panel van to go to church. We were to be clean. We were to have church clothes. We were to be 100% ready. Mud on the clothing, dirt on the hands, grease in the hair – were all wholly unacceptable. Trying to cover dirt was unacceptable. The same is true here.
Rev. Gordan Runyan wrote: “This verse is saying that the worshipper must be sincere. “Sincere” comes from two Greek words that you might’ve heard spoken in the marketplaces. Our Sincere comes from Sine and Cera. Together, they mean “No Wax.” When a potter fired his wares in the oven back then, it was common for the clay to crack. An unscrupulous potter would then take some wax and use it to fill in the cracks, then paint over it all and try to pass it off as a good piece of pottery. But a shrewd buyer of pottery knew that a simple test could show him if the pot was truly good or not. He held it up to the sunlight. Spots filled with wax would be plainly evident then as the light penetrated and shone through. A pot with no wax was thus a “sincere” pot. It had no wax. It really was consistent with its advertising. There is no wax in the true worshipper. He is not like the Pharisee, saying on the outside that he loves God and obeys. Neither is he like the modern Evangelical Christian, who loudly proclaims his heartfelt love for Jesus, but cannot bring himself to keep the commandments. The cup is washed inside and out. He speaks the truth in his heart, and that truth is consistent with how he acts.”
STEP TWO: CHECK MY ENERGY
Active in seeking right acts (“and works righteousness” is v’pual tsedek): accomplishes what is right and just (15:2b). Am I actively working with my energies to accomplish positive tasks in the life of people? It is one thing to focus on walking in a way that is unblemished, but a whole different matter to be positively producing right acts with my time, talent and treasure – all received from my God to live this life.
Who have you been deliberately helping this week but yourself? Are you able to draw a line back to specific things that helped another that didn’t also somehow make YOUR LIFE better – so that you know you weren’t really just doing it to help yourself? Have you been a DELIBERATELY POSITIVE PART of someone’s week? Check your energy to be ready for worship. Don’t just be AGAINST EVIL in life, be helping GOOD.
STEP THREE: CHECK MY INTEGRITY LEVELS
Authentic (“and speaks truth in his heart” is v’debar emet b’lev-vo 15:2b): One who declares in words (debar) truth (ehmeth) in or from his heart (layvawv). I believe, if you really think about it, that it is easy to lie to myself. It is easy to convince myself that my actions and words had sound reasons that were rooted in Biblical values, and cover the tracks of my self motivation.
I must constantly check my heart, with God’s Word and the light of God’s Spirit. I must really face the fact that I can be self deceived. If I regard lies in my heart, God’s Word will be torqued around inside and produce more hardened justifications and self affirming feelings, rather than challenge my inner strong self and cause my knees to buckle to His holy distinctiveness. My hunger for His presence must press me to search deeply into the recesses of my heart before I can dwell in intimacy with Him. Isn’t that why David called upon God to “try his thoughts”…
STEP FOUR: CHECK MY TONGUE
Psalm 15:3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
Psalm 15:3 includes three more specifics that seem to relate to SPEECH and the use of the tongue: לא רגל על לשנו לא עשה לרעהו רעה וחרפה לא נשא על קרבו׃
- Guarded and gracious in speech (“does not slander” is lo rawgal al-lishanu – 15:3a): He who has no hidden words that speak from behind others (rawgal: to go on foot as if to spy from rehgel: foot – 15:3).
Recently I have been challenged anew with the casual way I could easily speak about others. I cannot allow this if I am prepared for a prolonged intimacy with God. I exclude myself from His inner confidences and hold myself outside the chamber if I casually treat the use of my words concerning others. I must guard my mouth. James could not have been clearer (see James 1) about the devastating nature of the “tongues fire” damage.
- Positive (not provocative- לא עשה לרעהו רעה): Does not devise inequity or trouble for his neighbor (15:3b). Though the grammar does not exclusively include only the tongue, the context demands that I address verbal traps I may have set for people. The issue of not planning trouble for my neighbor is not ONLY about what I could say, but it is certainly in part about the use of words. I cannot become casual with another man’s heart, another man’s reputation – I must treasure others and their care if I am prepared to stand in the presence of the Master. The idea continues profoundly in the next phrase…
- Loyal : (וחרפה לא נשא על קרבו) One who will not allow (lo nasa: does not take in) his neighbor to be ashamed (Charpaph is reproach from charpaw: upbraid or blaspheme) or taunted (15:3b). The idea is that this one will not accept upbraiding of his neighbor, but loyally comes to his defense. A true worshipper defends his neighbor’s good name. I will not only cease from casually speaking badly of another, I will refuse to be in the place where such speech occurs. I will stop it, because it will blemish my heart and make me as unusable as a dropped scalpel in an operating room. I must check my tongue for loyalty, and behind disloyal speech I will find a hunger to be affirmed by others that is both unhealthy and unholy. My value comes from my Master – not my friends. The hunger to be seen as important is a manifestation of immaturity and ungodliness. It must be tamed and quieted inside, and then sacrificed on a holy altar before God.
STEP FIVE: CHECK MY ROOM (CHOSEN ENVIRONMENT)
Psalm 15:4 “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD…”
Speaking of “checking my room” may require a bit of explanation. In 15:4 David includes three more phrases of preparation for God’s presence:
נבזה בעיניו נמאס ואת יראי יהוה יכבד נשבע להרע ולא ימר׃
The first two phrases related to the place in whick I choose to keep myself. There are choices involved in the room I choose to be in as I prepare to walk intimately with the Master. Do I spend my time surrounded by people that understand His Holiness and draw me toward Him, or do I casually encamp with those who have declared themselves to be His enemies, and than walk into His presence? The first phrases are both selective ideals:
- Selective Rejection (negative): (“in whose eyes a reprobate is despised” is niv’zeh: despises + b’einav:in his eyes + nimas: from mawas: one who deliberately rejects) One who sets aside a rejector of God and His ways – 15:4. I dare not choose to pitch my tent in the camp of the scornful and agnostic men and then walk from that place into the tent of God on the Holy Hill. If I am not uncomfortable with the work of evil men, my heart is not right and ready. If I am not broken by their hardness, and wounded by their careless pride, I am not ready to worship.
- Selective Affirmation (positive): (v’et-yirah YHWH v’chabbed) but places weight (kawbad) on those who revere the Lord! (15:4b). I am not only to be negatively selective (to move out of a room filled with those who despise my Master, but I am to select a room where others who seek His Holy presence and place weight on intimacy with Him are dwelling. The wrong room pulls me down, the right room moves me forward in righteous hunger, and righteous yearning.
Let me say it clearly: Who you hang out with affects your worship of God. What you laugh at in the world affects your worship. Where you were last night, and the night before has much more to do with what will happen today than you may believe!
STEP SIX: CHECK MY COMMITMENT (FOLLOW THROUGH)
Psalm 15:4b “…He swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
- Unwavering: (nishbah: covenant + l’harah + to his hurt + v’lo yamir) He who keeps his word when he covenants to do something, refusing to exchange it when difficult (15:4b). It is easy for me to want the benefits of a relationship without the work in the relationship. It is easy for me to make promises but walk away from them when my attention is pulled elsewhere. The approach to the Holy One is a consuming vision. I must hunger to be in His presence more than I hunger for other things. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer said was absolutely true: “When I sin, I do not hate God – I simply forget God.” I must not forget. I must not place Him second. I must make the commitment to walk with Him, and show the desire by standing my other commitments. In a day awash in broken promises, contracts, mortgages, marriages – believers must stand apart from the culture of casual commitment.
STEP SEVEN: CHECK MY PRIORITIES
Psalm 15:5 “He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.”
In the next two phrases, David revealed an attitude that can be uncovered in looking carefully at the use of money (Psalm 15:5):
כספו לא נתן בנשך ושחד על נקי לא לקח עשה אלה לא ימוט לעולם׃
- Am I Generous? (כספו לא נתן בנשך ) He who gives his substance (kehsef) without an angle to personally gain from it (neshek: today a “weapon” but from the word “to bite” nawshak – 5:5a). Do I use money to “bite” another? Is this about THEM or about MY GAIN?
All that I have came from God’s good hand. If I want to be in His presence and walk in intimacy with Him, can I treat things as more important than the people of my life? If I am “flexible” and lenient on myself for the sake of business, I allow a blemish in my heart to grow. It will eventually grow to displace my hunger for Him – it will be a hunger to use what He has given me to ease my life at the expense of others. Could it be that some of my wealth was given so that I could care for others with no benefit beyond pleasing my Master?
- Honest: (“nor does he take a bribe” is v’shochad: a bribe + al- naki: the innocent + lo lakach oseh eleh: nor take does these) He who cannot be bought to say something against innocent ones for personal gain (15:5B). This is logical next step when people are less important than money and gain in my life. The point to these last two is that OTHER PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT than my personal gain, or I am not prepared to walk with God.
THE ULTIMATE BENEFIT: STABILITY – CHECKLIST COMPLETE
Psalm 15:5b “…He who does these things will never be shaken.
Stability: לא ימוט לעולם׃ (lo yimot: won’t totter or collapse + l’olam: forever): “He who does these things will not totter (mote)!”
Not long ago the world was once again deeply torn by the heartbreak of an earthquake that struck Port au Prince, Haiti. After that, the Chilean government began the grim task of digging out people from the piles of rubble that shook their country. We know what earthquakes can do to the cities of the world… There are no words to describe the suffering of people in these places, and our prayers and help is sent continually to aid where we can. Anyone, anywhere can be rocked by the earth shifting. When the earth shifts, buildings fall. We design them for some movement, but nothing is designed for the power of a near 9 point quake.
In the same way, there is virtually nothing that can make a man stable against the shaking and shifting of his culture, the rattling of a failing body, the painful tremors of an unfaithful friend – like the stability of intimacy with his God…so I must deliberately prepare myself for the much needed worship.
God has specific requirements that He has stated that invite Him into the midst of His people to dwell with them. If we would be His people today, an unchanging God seeks reliable builders both in our worship and our daily walk – in order that we would allow Him to feel at home with us.