Atmosphere Or Presence?

 "Inside the Tent of Meeting the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, stayed behind in the Tent of Meeting." Exodus 33:11

 

This past summer, I was visiting a friend and joined him in the class he was teaching in his church. The church was in the midst of losing their pastor, who had founded the work, and who'd enjoyed a very fruitful ministry there. This was a good church. In the course of the class, my friend asked those present what it was about the church that drew them to it, what most stood out? The answers were good answers, and in their way, important parts of any healthy church. But there was a "theme" to them. Everyone seemed to mention how friendly, welcoming, and warm the church was. How they felt loved. Again, a healthy church, no matter its size, should exhibit these traits. What struck me however, is that no one said that they came because there was such a presence, a manifestation of God in the church. The foremost attraction appeared to be the atmosphere of the church, and not the presence of Him. There is a distinct difference, and I'm not sure that we haven't become far more dependent and desirous of having a very attractive atmosphere in our fellowships than we are of experiencing the manifest presence of God. In short, I think we promote and depend upon the church's atmosphere to the neglect of cultivating His presence. Indeed, I think we confuse the two as being the same.

In the late 80's movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner's character, a farmer, hears a voice tell him, "Build it, and they will come." The "it" being a baseball field that will then draw the ghosts of baseball's greatest players. I think something of that has taken root in our fellowships. Build the right programs and ministries. Build the right worship team, and the right songs. And yes, build the right kind of atmosphere.....and they will come. The thing is, they will come. But dare we ask the question, just what are they coming to, and what are they coming for? The Tent of Meeting was made of animal skins. It could not have held any real attraction to the flesh, yet the Father dwelt there in His glory. Charles Strickland, perhaps the most anointed preacher I ever heard once said you could have a church built in the midst of a garbage dump, and if the presence of God was mightily upon it, people will come. People who are not looking for and don't much care about what the atmosphere might be, but who desperately need and are being drawn to Him. God is in the house, and that is enough.

I want to be a man such as Joshua, who so loved to be with Him that he wanted nothing more than to be in the richness of His presence. I want to be part of a church like that. A church where it is hard to disengage from Him. A church that invites us to linger in His presence. A church where it is difficult to hurry off to our next appointment. Yes, a church that is welcoming, loving, and warm. But a church that is all of these things not because they have worked to be such, and we can be in the flesh, but because it all flows out of His presence among us. When that happens, we are in an atmosphere, but it is the atmosphere of heaven. And our day to day lives are marked by our living in such an atmosphere. So much so that we no longer "go to church," but come together in Him, experiencing Him together. Worshiping Him....even in a warehouse, a barn, a cave........or a stable. He manifests Himself there. Really, do we need anything more? Could we want anything more?

Blessings,
Pastor O             

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