I opened my Bible at 1 Samuel, chapter 4, and my eye was caught by the title: "The Philistines Capture the Ark." I immediately heard the Lord say, "The enemy captured the Church."
The enemy has made us believe that "the Church" is a building, a place of worship, somewhere that we go to, but that was never intended. Any study of the word "church" in the Bible will show that it refers to a group of Believers and never to a building.
Jesus called His apostles to change the world, and we have miserably failed. He told us to love Him and to love our neighbors, and we have loved ourselves and our church buildings and let the world go to Hell. Jesus prayed for His followers to be in unity, and we have had division, after division, after division. That is the work of the enemy.
Jesus said that He would build His Church (see Matthew 16:18), and for 2,000 years we have tried to do it for Him. That's how the enemy got to steal it – we had stolen it first. Oh, I know it was the enemy, not you and me personally, but it is up to you and me personally to take it back. Do you remember Daniel's prayer? Daniel, who was innocent, identified with the sin of his people. Can we do the same?
Daniel 9:3-6 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with all who love Him and obey His commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name..."
Daniel identified with the sin of his nation. All across the world Christians have allowed the enemy to steal the real Church, and it is time for those of us who recognize that to repent and plead for mercy.
There is much we can learn from the Bible story which prompted this message, but briefly this is what I felt was important.
Don't Treat the Presence of God in Our Lives as a Superstition
1 Samuel, Chapters 4-7
The Israelites were having problems with the Philistines, so they took the Ark into battle with them as a sort of mascot or lucky charm. They were living under superstition. The enemy was very perturbed by the renewed enthusiasm among the Israelites and panicked, but quickly their army pulled themselves together and fought to win. The consequence was that the Ark was captured and taken into Philistine territory.
If the Church feels secure in the Lord as a good luck symbol, or as a superstition, it doesn't work! If we believe that "going to church" will get us through the battle of life and into Heaven, we are wrong. The enemy is strong and seems often to be much more together than the people of God.
A lot of God's people died, including the sons of Eli who had already been warned about their behavior (see 1 Samuel 3:11-14). What a responsibility it is to be a parent, a physical one and a spiritual one. If we don't parent the next generation, then the enemy will steal them from us.
When old Eli was told of his sons' deaths and of the Ark being taken, he died by falling off his chair and breaking his neck. The Bible tells us that he was heavy, and was negligent about his responsibilities.
How many Church leaders and Church members do you know, do I know, who have gotten heavy, well fed, in the house of God, but have not been good parents or good shepherds to their flock? Before I point any fingers, I have to remind myself that I am the Church. The Church is the people, not the building, neither is it the pastor or priest. It is you and me.
Jesus never asked us to build buildings, to have programmes or to make money, He asked us basically to love Him and to go and tell the nations of His love for us and for them. If we keep on the move, it is not so easy to get fat and heavy! If we don't treat the presence of God in our lives as a superstition, maybe we will win more battles.
Bow the Knee to the One True God
Whilst in Philistine territory, the Ark knocked the idol Dagon off his perch and rendered him headless and armless.
In the presence of the One True God, the idols are headless and armless; that means they cannot think and they cannot do anything! Hallelujah! Do we, the Church, live as though the enemy had no power over us?
How could the Philistines see what happened when they had the Ark (see 1 Samuel 5) and not just bow down and say that the Israelite God was the Sovereign Lord? What is it that stops people from wanting to be a part of the family of the only true God? How many people today have seen the work of our amazing God but refuse to bow the knee to Him? How tragic! There was sickness and oppression in the camp where God lived but He was not worshiped.
Do We Have the Holy Fear of the Lord?
In 1 Samuel 6 we read of the return of the Ark to it's proper people; what rejoicing there was that day. And what rejoicing there will be in our churches when the Glory returns. But the rejoicing was short lived because of the deaths of those who got too close, who took liberties that were not theirs.
This verse (v. 19) scares me, and I see too many people who are too familiar with God. Yes, Jesus is our Friend, our Husband, but He is also the King of kings and Lord of lords, and we must never forget that. He is the Holy God and we must worship Him as such. There has to be a holy fear of our God who is an all-consuming fire (see Hebrews 12:29).
What Do We Turn to for Security?
1 Samuel, chapter 7, begins with the purifying of Israel and God's people throwing away their idols, so that He could bring them victory. Is it time for us, the Church, to throw away our idols and become the holy people that He has been waiting for?
Please, please do not imagine for a moment that I am talking about churches with statues. God is speaking to me about idols in my life. Remember, I am the Church, and you are the Church. What are our idols? Whatever we turn to for security. Whoever you turn to when things go wrong. Whatever we talk about and think about the most: family, position, sports, finance, health, food, our own particular church or denomination, our pastor, our jobs, the lies we believe.
Even the Bible can become an idol. Many people read it and can quote it, but don't obey what it says. They continue to read it daily as a religious exercise, almost as a superstition. We think we are safe because we have done that. That's what the Israelites thought when they took the Ark into battle with them! It didn't work because they had not gotten rid of the idols! They were taking God for granted. Do we?
Stop Just Going to Church and Start Being the Church
The Lord told me that the enemy had captured the Church. If we think about it, we can see it, can't we? We don't think or act like the early disciples did. Do we do much more than Jesus did, as He suggested?
John 14:12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Do we have the love of Jesus, the water of life, flowing from our innermost being?
John 7:38 Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."
The enemy has persuaded most of the Church that these things are not for today. He has given all of us a fear of man (which is really submission to the enemy), and he has told us that we will get sick, that we don't have supernatural power.
When I was touring the U.S. last year, the Lord gave me a message that basically said, "Stop just going to church and start being the Church."
Many Believers do not even go to church because they are hurt or offended by someone or something in the past. These things are a stumbling block to us and to others and need to be dealt with. St. Paul urges us not to stop meeting together!
Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Many people believe "the Day is approaching," and it is time to be obedient to everything the Lord is saying. When we are obedient, we will see the victory that the Israelites saw in 1 Samuel 7:10: "While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites."
When the Lord thunders, the enemy panics! But then so do we if we have not been fully obedient. What happened was that God's people had fasted and repented, and then God did what was necessary. He won the battle for them. Hallelujah!
When the Glory of the Lord Appears, Where Will We Be?
I believe this whole story is a message for God's people today. Many words are coming forth about the Glory returning to the Church, and we rejoice, but we must have that holy fear, too. A verse from our story reminds us of that:
"Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?" (1 Samuel 6:20).
Maybe it is time to remember the words of Ezra and of Malachi.
Ezra 9:15 O LORD, God of Israel, You are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before You in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in Your presence."
Malachi 3:2 But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap.
When the glory appears and the Lord reclaims His Church, where will I be? Where will you be? Will I be rejoicing and know without any doubt that I have done what He has asked me to do? I hope so.
When the Lord reclaims His Church, where will my neighbors be? Alive or dead? That is my responsibility. I know that we are not all called to be evangelists, but we are all called to pray continually (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Do I do that? Do you? When we are in a grocery store, at the checkout, in a traffic jam, on the bus, walking in the park, are we praying for those we can see? If I don't pray for my butcher, baker, bank clerk, taxi driver, cinema manager, then who will?
I know there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:1), and I don't want to be a killjoy, but I do believe it is time for much of the Church, that's you and me, to repent of lethargy, to repent of allowing the enemy to rule over us for so long, to allow the Holy Spirit to stir the flame, and to become what Jesus wants.
He wants His Church back – a beautiful Bride full of passion for her coming Husband. The Church is me, the Church is you, the Church is wherever two or three are gathered in His name. Let's become that beautiful Bride together.
Best-selling Author, Transported by the Lion of Judah