God is in the House!

 (2 Chronicles 5:7-14)

In getting ready for our Sunday morning worship celebrations you may not realize the preparations that take place to ensure everything goes as smooth as it can, without causing undue distractions. Those who help plan and execute the worship experience do so with care and with the hope all who attend experience God.

But what happens when the preparation and the execution of worship gets in the way of God? I'm not suggesting we shouldn't plan and prepare, because we should, after all we need to give God something to work with on Sunday mornings. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't strive to do our best if we're leading worship, after all doesn't God deserve our best.

What I'm suggesting is that if all the planning, preparation, and execution of the worship celebration overshadow God, then we're missing the point of worship.

You see worship has nothing to do with us, it has nothing to do with us receiving anything from our time here together, it's all about God, and God deserves our undivided attention and praise. Many folks don't realize this. Many come to church looking to get something out of it, but that's the wrong attitude, that's our consumer attitude speaking to us, not our follower attitude speaking.

Now often we will leave, I hope, feeling we did get something out of worship, that something has changed within us, but that's not the ultimate purpose of worship. You see if we come to truly worship God, our focus is on God, and when our focus is on God something usually happens, and we experience those ah-ha moments and we're changed in some way, not by what we've done, but by what God has done in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our friends in our scripture reading this morning had made all kinds of preparations as they were getting the Temple reading to be dedicated by Solomon. This was a big day, an important day. Everything was in its place and all the creatures and priests we're standing where they were supposed too; they had consecrated themselves, and they were ready for a grand celebration. The musicians were dressed and were looking fine, and they too were standing in their designated places waiting with anticipation for the celebration to begin.

But then what happens, the Temple of the Lord was suddenly filled with a cloud, and the priests couldn't perform their planned service because of the cloud. The cloud was God, and the glory of the Lord filled the house of God, and God took over.

Again, worship isn't about us, worship is entirely about God. We can make all the preparations we want, we can decorate, we can be dressed in our finest clothes, but at the end of the day if we aren't here to worship God, if we're not allowing God to fill his house, we're not worshipping.

I read a quote from a old time preacher this week commenting on God sending fire from heaven onto Mt. Carmel during the days of Elijah (1 Kings 18). He said, "The manifest presence of God is when God shows up, and he shows off!" You see we're in God's house, he's not in ours, so when God comes in, he comes in not to sit in the back pew, but to take over. And when God is in the house it's obvious to everyone that he's present and in charge. And when our worship is about God, all human agendas fade away in the awesome presence of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Even in our preparation we try to prepare what God wants, by seeking his guidance and leadership through prayer.

Now you will hear me talk about worship attendance at our congregational meeting in a couple of weeks. This one human indicator of congregational participation that we track. And this number is important because it's one indicator of vitality and commitment, it's also important because each number represents a person and as every person is important to God, every person who calls Trinity their church home or visits Trinity, is important to me and to this congregation.

Every Sunday morning on my way to church, as I drive along I am praying and talking to God about the morning's worship celebration. I pray for all kinds of things with the hope our worship is pleasing to the Lord. And among my many prayer requests has been that the church be full.

But more recently my primary prayer before each worship celebration has changed slightly, it's become that everyone present for worship experience God, that God is present during our worship time, and that we as the body of Christ truly worship him. Because if God is in the house we will have an awesome worship experience and God's name will most certainly be glorified. And when God is glorified lives will be changed, and that's really what it's all about. We can do all the preparation we want, but if God is not the focus we won't be worshiping, and God might as well not be here.

Now when I speak of worship I'm not suggesting that God's people engage in an emotional display of "hey look at me kind of worship," or a listen to how well I sing, speak, or offer a prayer kind-of attitude. When God is in the house none of this really matters, because our focus becomes God and not on what we're doing. And our reactions to God's presence become very genuine and heart-felt.

Experiencing God and worshipping God is something very real. I'm talking about what was experienced a long time ago by those in the Temple, "when the priests couldn't stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God" (2 Chron. 5:14).

This is one of the best definitions of spiritual renewal, or revival, I think there is, "the glory of the Lord filling the room." The Lord shows up and all those present fall to their knees in heart or posture in reverent worship. How awesome is that?

In Acts 4 we learn of a prayer meeting where the disciples poured out their hearts to God, "the place where they were meeting was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (v.31)

These people didn't have microphones, special lighting, air conditioning, padded pews, and all kinds of other things we enjoy in the church today. But what they did have was the presence of God.

What if the Holy Spirit were to come and shake out our sin, our apathy, our pride, our me-centeredness, and our satisfaction with the church as usual? What if the Holy Spirit were to come and say here I am, bow down and worship. You see we don't always need a special song, a certain hymn, a planned prayer, or a planned sermon to experience God. If we truly want to experience God, we need to worship God, and if we really want to worship God then we need to focus on God. Our Sunday morning worship is a means to worship God by drawing us closer to him as the body of Christ.

If we come today for no other reason than to hear Bill play his sax, hear Megan lead our singing, or to hear the children's message, we're coming for the wrong reason. If we've come to worship God by using these events during worship to help us focus on God then chances are we will experience God and recognize he is in the house.

This past May at Annual Conference we had just completed a long couple of hours of business and it was time for worship. And I can't explain it, but when the organist fired up his tribute to Charles Wesley with his version of "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" something wonderful happened. You could just sense the presence of God swoop over the room and fill it with his cloud of glory. It was as if God had just walked into the room and had taken over, and every single person knew it.

As I looked around I saw tears, smiles, eyes closed as each note was absorbed, and people were singing, man what a moment. It was like a little touch of heaven on earth, and it left us all wanting to worship more. God was in the house, to be sure! The music invoked in each of us the ability to worship and then experience God's presence first hand.

Over the years I've also experienced these same heavenly incursions, here as we worship. There are times I just know we're worshipping God, and there are other times it seems like we're just going through the motions. And maybe it's just me, but I know I've had these different experiences. I know personally when I've worshipped and I know when I've just gone through the motions. I can feel it. When I'm worshipping I'm energized, when I'm going through the motions I'm sluggish and the time just seems to drags on and on. Any one else ever feel like this?

James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you." Notice, James reminds us we have to focus on God first. It does absolutely no good to reach out to human beings ahead of reaching out to God. You see when we get close to God, he moves close to us, and then things really begin to happen and people come running to get in on the action.

If you ever leave worship and feel as if you really experienced God and that your life was changed in some way, it's because you were placing God first, you came to worship God and in return God was drawn close to you, and you felt something.

If you ever leave worship saying that was a waist of time, then you need to ask yourself, "did I come to worship God, or was I focused on something else, for whatever reason?" When we place God ahead of ourselves we in turn are blessed.

We can plan and prepare all we want to provide a worship experience, but it's up to each of us to come with an attitude of worship if we truly want to experience God. Those who plan worship cannot make us experience God; we can only try to create an environment where experiencing God is possible.

Now when we come to worship we have to come expecting to encounter God, we have to come wanting to encounter God, and we have to come knowing that through our experience God may change us in some way. If we expect something to happen chances are it will, because whether we realize it or not, expectation leads us to look for what we hope for.

To be the church, to be a place of worship, we must remain focused on the presence of God. A church with the motto, "Come as you are" is no good, if the reality of the motto continues on by saying, "and leave as you came." This means people have not been touched in their soul by Jesus Christ. This means worship never really occurred. This means they didn't experience God. True worship leaves us changed in some way.

The truth is its God's believers, not the unbelievers that are holding back another great spiritual awakening. The revival our country, our community and the world so desperately needs is being stifled because God isn't always in the house.

God wants to return to his people, to his houses of worship in all his glory. He's knocking at the doors of our churches; he's knocking at the door to our hearts. Are we willing to answer and let him in? Amen.

In addition to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible the following resources inspired and/or were used in part in the preparation of this sermon: 1. "When God Comes to Church" by Steve Gaines, Leadership Magazine, Summer 2007

Read other messages by Pastor Wade