Close Encounters: The Challenge
Many of you have seen the movie “Close Encounters”. it was released in 1977 and it took the movie world by storm. It instantly became a classic and is still considered by many as one of the top Sci-Fi movies of all times. It won an Oscar and was nominated for 29 other awards of which it won 10.
Steven Spielburg’s, masterpiece tag line was simply (1) Close Encounter of the First Kind – Sighting of a UFO. (2) Close Encounter of the Second Kind – Physical Evidence. (3) Close Encounter of the Third Kind – Contact. WE ARE NOT ALONE
Although, until recently I never saw this movie, the title has stuck in my mind for years. I believe it is because it speaks to the very essence of what I long for and look for in my walk with God. I want, desire, and cry out for a close encounter of the third kind with Him. I have had close encounters of the first kind – sightings of Him. From my earliest days as a child in church I have seen Him work. I have close encounters of the second kind – physical evidence of Him. I have watched Him step into the physical realm and move on my behalf. However, I am holding out for me and holding out for you for a close encounter of the third kind – contact. Daily interaction. Daily communion. Daily presence. Daily relationship.
I have come to the conclusion that we encounter many things when we talk about God and church. On a regular basis we encounter men. We encounter slick presentations. We encounter professional lighting, professional sound, professional programs, and slick promos. We encounter church. We encounter emotional moments. We encounter exhilarating times of worship. But my question is when was the last time that you had a close encounter with God? Notice I didn’t say when was the last time you were impressed with a church. When was the last time you were impressed by the music, the lights, the logo, the people. When was the last time you had a close encounter with God?
As you read 2 Chronicles 5:11-14, you’ll notice, what a clattering cacophony, that day in Jerusalem! What an assault on the ears! You could hardly hear yourself think. I don’t suppose they had rock concerts three thousand years ago, but it must have been a little like a rock concert. Loud, boisterous, uncontrollable!
The clank of cartwheels as a team of oxen made its way up the stony streets. The lowing of oxen and the bleating of hundreds of sheep, all of them jammed into a makeshift corral; and, every few minutes, pitiful moaning from these animals, doomed for the altar of sacrifice. Noise! Too much noise!
The people themselves were noisy too. The whole nation had gathered in the city, and the sounds of street vendors mingled with the gossipy laughter of the women, the raucous chattering of the men, and the impromptu games of the children. Everywhere there was noise.
Even where you might have thought there might have been a little dignity, there was noise. Among the priests, God’s chosen, you might have thought that the priests would at least be quiet and dignified. But, you know, if Israelite priests were anything like today’s Pentecostal preachers, they filled the corridors with loud chatter. “Hey, Isaac, guess how many people came to our shrine last Sabbath?” “Jacob, I hear that the pulpit is open over at Mount Moriah. Could I get you to recommend me?” Loud, busy, ambitious chatter even among the priests.
And then there were the Levites, the musicians. Talk about noise! Look at all the equipment these people had for high-powered noise-making! Trumpets, cymbals, harps, and lyres, electric guitars, drums. Well, have you ever been to a National Symphony concert, and before the concert begins, every member of the orchestra is fiddling, blowing, banging, tuning, practicing. It’s an awful noisy mess!
Our text says that all of the people were there; hey, I have a tough time on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons just getting eight 6 year old kids to be quiet long enough to hear me give them a coaching point, and so I can just imagine what it must be like when a whole nation gets together. Noise, sound and fury, signifying … well, I’m not sure what it signified, but it sure was sound and fury.
Now right in the middle of all that confusion, a worship service was scheduled to begin. A procession carried the ancient ark of the covenant up into the newly built Temple, and the singers, the trumpet players burst out with even more sound, the king prayed and the people shouted … and suddenly, there was a presence. A cloud. A brooding light. They called it glory … I call it A Close Encounter.
Something came over the people. I can imagine them falling silent. I can sense the last notes of the trumpets dying away in the twilight. I can feel the singers closing their lips. I can see the priests, appointed to stand at God’s altar, sinking to their knees, awed, beyond comprehension. I can see everyone lost in wonder, love, and praise. “Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. This house is full of Thy glory.” The had just experienced a Close Encounter with the Almighty God!
First of all notice there is a diference between an encounter and a close encounter. For instance, how many of you have driving down the road and you are driving just a little bit fast and you see a police officer coming towards you and just before he passes by you he hits his lights and wags a finger at you to get you to slow down? That is an encounter.
However, how many of you have been in the same situation only to have the officer pass you, slam on his breaks, whip his car around violently, get behind you and pull you to the side of the road? That is a close encounter. There is a huge difference . . . probably about a $200 or $300 difference.
How many of you have been in a restaurant or airport when someone famous has walked in? My friends and I sang Christmas Carols to Eduardo Frie, the president of Chile and his familiy in front of his house. Once, I even sat three rows behind Carlos Valderama, perhaps Colombia’s most famous soccer player on a plane.Those are encounters.
However, if the president of Chile, Eduardo Frei, had looked down to me and engaged me in conversations, or if Valderama had switched seats to sit by me just because he wanted to get to know me and get some of my patented international soccer expertise . . . my encounter would have given way to close encounters. There is a huge difference.
I submit to you that as church folks living in the Bible belt that most of us have become accustom to encounters with God. Too many of us have been attending church for years, faithfully, religiously, and we have been having encounters. We settle for weekly encounters with God. We see Him at a distance. We see physical evidence of Him in our life. But I want to challenge you that we need more than just an encounter. We need a close encounter!
Your call, you decide. The challenge that lies before us as a body and as individuals is whether we will settle for an encounter from time to time? Will we call it good church when we get goosebumps, get to dance a little, get to shout a little, raise our hands in worship? Or will we hold out and hold on for a life changing, world wrecking, city shaking, addiction breaking, marriage restoring, teenager rescuing close encounter with our God?
See I must be honest this morning, we haven’t planted Life Church to see how smart we can be or how fashionable or trendy we can be. We didn’t just have some talented people who needed a stage on which to let their gifts be ooh and awed over. We didn’t plant so we could have a venue for group breakfast, or childcare facility. We have planted because we are hungry for a close encounter with God.
I have encountered many things. I have tried many things. But what I have decided is that those things don’t satisfy. And I want you to have that same kind of encounter with God. That your encounter with God will knock you off my feet and high horse and knocks the anger, the bitterness, the lust, the apathy, the critical spirit, the prejudice right out of you and leaves you transformed.
In order for us to see his happen we have to make a choice and a decision. We have to determine the type of church that Life Church will be. There are two options for this church that can be found in Scripture.
OPTION 1: CASUAL CHURCH. The first church is found in Ezekiel 44:11-14, They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. 12 But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign LORD. 13 They are not to come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their detestable practices. 14 Yet I will put them in charge of the duties of the temple and all the work that is to be done in it.
The Message Bible says in vs 13 – 14 “They’re fired from the priesthood. No longer will they come into my presence and take care of my holy things. No more access to The Holy Place! They’ll have to live with what they’ve done, carry the shame of their vile and obscene lives. 14From now on, their job is to sweep up and run errands. That’s it”
Unfortunately we have churches like this. They can come in and have charge of the house. They can minister in the house. They can offer sacrifices in the house. They can sing in the house, praise in the house, and do church in the house and never come near to Him. They can be satisfied with doing the business of the King, sweeping up and running errands and never really encounter Him. They can answer correctly when asked if they went to church this Sunday. They can put a sticker on their car so that everyone will know that they belong. They can know all the words and the secret handshakes. They can have the things of God and never really have God. That is an option. We can settle for an encounter.
OPTION 2: ALL IN CHURCH. Or we can make up our minds that Life Church is about more than that. We can make up our minds, determine in our hearts that as a body we aren’t about to settle for sweeping up and running errands. That there has to be more than that. We have to set our face like flint and fight for this place to be like the church described in 2 Chronicles 5:11-14. “The priests then withdrew from the Holy Place. All the priests who were there had consecrated themselves, regardless of their divisions. 12 All the Levites who were musicians … stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. 13 The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God”
We can have a church, where regardless of your rank or assignment, you can be an usher, a janitor, a musician or the preacher and it won’t matter you can experience the same amount of glory as the next person. The glory will be just as strong in the parking lot as it is in the sanctuary. Just as powerful in the nursery as it is in the Altars. What matters is that we are all after the same thing. We can have a church where the glory of the Lord is so strong that none of us can stand it. We can have a church where the close encounter is so close that all we can do is stand in awe. We can have a church where the move of God is so profound and so pronounced that a city will have to sit up and take notice, that sinners will flock to find out what is happening, that starved will find spiritual food as well as physical food, that drug addict will feel short-changed, that the unloved will find the love for which they have so longed.
We have a choice. We can settle for the encounters that have satisfied us for so long. But as for me and my house, as for me and my team if we are going to have another Ezekiel 44 church then shut the doors right now. Let this service be the end rather than the beginning. If people are going to walk in here and leave exactly how they came in bound, broken, devastated, addicted, sick then take all the equipment back and get me an application for Starbucks! I am determined and desperate for us to have a church where we have such a close encounter with God that stuff will fall off and stay off!
I declare to you the man was right when he said, “A church is not a church until God decides that it will become a place of divine visitation. The building may be one of architectural splendor and exquisite design, but it is not a church until God issues a certificate of divine occupancy and takes up residence there!” We need God to occupy our place. Without His presence we are nothing more than a social club.
So my challenge is, will you stop at an encounter? Will you be satisfied with a little taste here and there? Will you wink and say, “yeah they have a cool little church” or will you join us as we pursue His presence at all costs. My prayer today is that together we will press in until God issues a certificate of divine occupancy in this place! God we long for a close encounter, let it start today!
How does this happen? You will have to come back and let me tell you over the next three weeks. But I believe we can start today!
Ask yourself the question right now, have you had an encounter or a close encounter? Ask yourself the question right now, are you willing to settle for an encounter or will you ask for more? When was the last time that you had a close encounter?