One of my favorite fairy tales is "The Emperor's New Clothes." The emperor's tailor deceived him, and told him that only the most wise and intelligent people could see his new robe that seemed invisible. In reality, there was no robe at all, but the emperor did not want to appear ignorant, so the emperor paraded around naked telling everybody he was wearing his new robe. Nobody wanted to tell him he was naked, until a little boy who didn't know any better than to tell the truth, laughed and said he was naked. Many Christians are many churches are like that. They are parading around thinking they have the presence of God in their lives, when in fact they are spiritually naked, in desperate need of God's glory to fill their lives and churches.
The Israelites tended to think that if they had the ark of the covenant with them, they had God with them. Yet on two occasions, their misuse of the ark caused God's glory to depart from them. In 1 Samuel 4, we read the story of how the ark of the covenant was captured in battle with Israel's arch-enemies, the Philistines. Eli was the priest, and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, assisted him in the tabernacle with worship, but they were wicked men who manipulated people's offerings (1 Samuel 2:12-17) and actually slept with women in the Lord's tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:22). Eli scolded them about it, but didn't do anything to stop them. So when the Philistines came to attack Israel, Hophni and Phinehas brought the ark of the covenant into the battle, and the Israelites they had God in a box and they would automatically win the battle. Their attitude reminds me of Americans who kill their unborn, have sex with whomever, and drop a dollar in the church offering plate at Easter, but when terrorists attack they rush to church, wave American flags and sing "God bless America" and think that God is somehow obligated to rush to their rescue. Well, God cannot be put in a box, and God certainly was not about to appear in His glory in the presence of these wicked men, Hohni and Phinehas. So when they brought the ark into the Israelite camp, the soldiers roared with excitement, but the glory of God was not there. The Philistines defeated them, killed Hophni and Phinehas, and captured the ark. Eli's daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, gave birth to a child as she heard the news of the battle. She named her child "Ichabod," which means "the glory has departed." Today God has written Ichabod over many a church and ministry. Many churches across America have closed their doors. Others just need somebody to preach their funeral, because they are dead. In a different experience with the ark of the covenant, King David saw the glory of God depart. We read in 1 Chronicles 13 of how David was bringing the ark to his new capital in Jerusalem, carried in an ox cart. Several men were guiding the cart, including a man named Uzzah. When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah reached out to hold the ark and keep it from falling, and the Lord struck Uzzah dead on the spot. At first glance this offense does not seem to make sense. Why did God do this? But in 1 Chronicles 15:13 we read that the Lord burst out in anger because they did not use priests to handle the ark and did not use the "proper procedure" (HCSB). In other words, they were careless with something that was holy. Similarly, many churches across America have sold their souls to please people. They have relaxed moral standards to try to attract more people, and in the process have become careless with what is holy.