Did you say church? That's not the answer I was looking for, but you won't lose any points if you did. These days, when Christians talk about God and buildings, we get a little mixed up in the lingo. Most of us call the building where Jesus' followers meet to worship Him a church. More accurately, it should be called the church's building because the church is actually the body of believers.
Two thousand years ago, if I had asked you to tell me a building you associate with God, you very likely would have said temple. The temple was uniquely different than a modern church building. When I teach kids, I sometimes say that the temple was kind of like the modern day church building because that is where believers gathered together, but the temple and church buildings have some significant differences. Before Christ died, God resided in the temple, in a portion called the Holy of Holies. (If you'd like more information, a quick internet search will show you facts, descriptions, and renderings of the Temple, including the Holy of Holies.) Today, God doesn't live in church buildings because He lives in His believers - the church. You see what the lingo gets so mixed up.
But even before the Temple, there was a tent, known as the tabernacle. The tabernacle didn’t look like the tents we go camping in, but it could be packed up and moved. We don't have a better modern word in our fixed-structure society, and so we call it a tent.
David was interested in where God lived. David wanted to build the temple for God, but God had other plans. (You can read a recent post on the topic: Solomon's Rise and Fall). More than just curiosity, a person's home says something about them. In thinking about God's home and who God is, David wrote:
Lord, who can live in your sacred tent?Who can stay on your holy mountain?
Anyone who lives without blame
and does what is right.
They speak the truth from their heart.
They don’t tell lies about other people.
They don’t do wrong to their neighbors.
They don’t say anything bad about them.
They hate evil people.
But they honor those who have respect for the Lord.
They keep their promises even when it hurts.
They do not change their mind.
They lend their money to poor people without charging interest.
They don’t accept money to harm those who aren’t guilty.
Anyone who lives like that
will always be secure.
(Psalm 15, NIRV)
When David asked God who could live in His tent, he wasn’t asking if he could go camping with God. David was making a point that God is holy. There's a reason why God's spirit dwelled in the Holy of Holies. He is perfect, and so only people who are right with God can be near God.
What kind of things does God want us to do to be right with Him? David lists a few of them: We should always tell the truth, and we should never lie. We should treat our neighbors and friends well. We should always keep our promises, even when it is hard. Actually, all those things can be hard! When the right thing is hard to do, God will help us do it. In my recent post, PSALM 13, I wrote briefly that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come to be with us forever. In John 14:26 Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Helper.” Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them what they needed to know. The Holy Spirit would help them remember what Jesus said. So, too, the Holy Spirit helps us to do what’s right. But to limit closeness to God to only those who do what's right would oversimplify the situation. It's what the Pharisees were often chastised by Jesus for. (My recent post MERCY explores this idea further.) Because of the Holy Spirit we don’t have to go to a tent, a temple, a church, or any other building to be close to God. God doesn’t live in a building. God lives in us!
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This series on the Psalms is actually modified from lessons I've been writing as children's curriculum. As I began writing for kids, I realized there was too much good stuff to not write a grown up version as well. If you have kids, or if you are a kid at heart, you may want to watch my friend deliver this message. And now I must go build a blanket fort...