Pursuing Holiness: Part 3
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up.” Isaiah 6:1
We’ve been talking about holiness of heart and life and using Isaiah 6 as our launching pad to explore what it means to be holy as God is holy. In week one, we saw that Isaiah had to come to the end of himself…to dispel of the false god of his earthly Israelite king, Uzziah, sitting on the throne of his heart. Likewise, there are false gods on the thrones of our hearts that must be toppled before God can occupy his rightful place. Maybe yours is doubt or self-reliance, where you cannot trust God to be God over every aspect of your life. Maybe your god is possessions, position, or power. Maybe your identity is bound up too much in nationalism, or consumerism, or even denominationalism! We must humble ourselves, see those things for what they are, and seek God to be King of our lives.
The word holy/holiness is used over 835 times in OT. Holiness, from a biblical perspective, is the outshining of all that is God’s character and nature. “Be holy because I am holy.” What are some of those characteristics that make up the holiness of God? When we know what those are, and we know we are to reflect the image of God, then we can begin to shine as we are told to shine.
The first characteristic of God we explored last week was his UNRIVALED MAJESTY. God is holy other. God is transcendent…meaning superior to all that is NOT God. And only what God calls “holy” is holy, not what the culture says is holy. To be holy other, we have to be IN the world, but not OF the world. In other words, there is a separation from the world without being in isolation. We are to look at God’s Word to discover what He says about materialism and money for instance, or sex and human sexuality. For far too long we Christ-followers and the Christian church has looked no different than the culture around us. Dr. John Oswalt, in his book, “Called to Be Holy,” makes a profound and provocative statement : “The fate of the Christian Church in America and around the world depends upon what the Church does with the biblical doctrine of holiness.” If we don’t learn and apply what we read about God’s character and nature (which is holy), then it will not go well for us when judged by our Creator Covenant God!
Today let’s look a second aspect of God’s holiness: God’s GLORIOUS RADIANCE. Continuing with the vision of Isaiah in chapter 6, we will see the glory of God made manifest:
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Holiness as GLORY. The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was written by American writer Julia Ward Howe using the music from the song “John Brown’s Body.” The song links the judgment of the wicked at the end of the age with the American Civil War. It begins with these words, “Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord.” The chorus is even more profound: “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!” X3, “His truth is marching on.”
What does the word, “glory,” mean? According to A Theological Word Book of the Bible, the glory of God is “the term used to express that which men can apprehend, originally by sight of the presence of God on earth.” Glory is synonymous with “presence.” The Glory of God is the Presence of God.
When Isaiah heard and saw the seraphs in the Temple crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory,” they were declaring the manifest presence of God in earth. Throughout Scripture we see a close connection between the holiness of God and the glory of God. When Israel is delivered through the Red Sea, for instance, Moses sings this, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11) After the completion of the tabernacle in the wilderness, God tells Moses that he will meet the Israelites at the tabernacle where they “will be sanctified (made holy) by my glory.” (Exodus 29:43) The climax of Exodus is NOT the Passover, the Red Sea, but in chapter 40 when the presence of God came to rest on the tabernacle!
God is not content to just BE holy…God desires to MAKE holy! God wants the whole earth to be full of his glory. Moses asks God on Mt. Sinai, “Show me your glory.” E.g., show me your manifest presence. Let me be present with you always.
Now here’s kind of a paradox of sorts. God is present everywhere. We call that the omnipresence of God. We don’t have to be aware of God’s presence in order for God to BE present. But it is in OUR AWARENESS that God’s presence is made “MANIFEST.” That’s why the psalmist exhorts worshippers in Psalm 105:4 to come into an awareness of God’s presence: “Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.” It’s only in actively being aware of God’s presence around us do that experience the manifest presence, or glory, of God.
Some of us in this room have never experienced the glory of God. We may have attended church services every week of our lives, but we have not opened ourselves up for the manifest presence of God. I suspect Isaiah was like that. Week in and week out, he attended “church” like a faithful Jew, but that day was different. Something was different about Isaiah. He was in a position to receive what God had for him that day. And his life and the rest of Israel’s history would never be the same.
In short, we must learn to be present to God. So how do we do that? How do we seek the manifest presence of God? What can we do, as individuals and as collective worshippers of God, to cultivate a receptivity and responsiveness to God’s presence?
1. We must learn to seek God where he has already told us to seek him
Thank God we are not left in the dark about these things. In other religions of the ANE world, and even our world, the (false) gods were not readily available to their worshippers. It was sort of a cosmic, “hide and seek.” But God has been revealing himself, his ways, and his purposes to his creation from the beginning. In Romans 1, the Holy Spirit speaks through Paul about this: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Truth is, it’s not for lack of revelation that people remain closed to God’s transforming power. It’s because of rebellion and stubbornness that we refuse to see God and let him into our lives.
But for those who desire it, God is available. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV) Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you. Seek and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7 NIV
There are many “likely places” where God meets us. John Wesley called them “ordinary channels” through which God conveys his presence to us. They are also called “means of grace.” Here’s a few of those channels:
Prayer. This may be the most all-encompassing means of experiencing God’s presence. When we read the Gospels we see how many times Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to pray, often all night. It was only then when he was empowered to proclaim and demonstrate God’s kingdom through signs and wonders, sermons and teachings. [Invite to PRAYER ROOM
Searching the Scriptures. The Bible is a powerful avenue for us to be in the presence of God. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, able to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Can anything else man-made do that? Can any other living document “read your mail” like God’s Word can? That’s how you know you’re experiencing His manifest presence…when God’s Word brings you conviction, direction, comfort, peace, encouragement, strength, etc. No other book can do all that!
The Lord’s Super (or Holy Communion). In the story commonly known as the Walk to Emmaus, two disciples of Jesus Christ were despondent about the death of their Savior and puzzled about his empty tomb. Jesus walked with them and opened up the Scriptures to them. But it was not until the breaking of the bread that these two recognized the manifest presence of the Risen Lord! Holy Communion can open us up to the real presence of God in our lives.
Fasting. A lesser engaged but powerful avenue for God’s manifest presence is the spiritual discipline of fasting. Fasting detaches from the things of this world (namely food) and increases our spiritual sensitivity. It’s interesting that, in the midst of teaching on prayer (including what we call the Lord’s Prayer) in Matt 6:16-18, Jesus teaches about fasting. He begins with these words, “WHEN you fast…” It was expected that his followers would deny themselves of the earthly food in order to rely more on the heavenly food. Many of us who have not experienced the manifest presence of God or certain answers to prayer for direction or discernment MAY find more clarity if we fasted for a short while and spent that time in prayer.
Christian Conferencing (a.k.a. Small Group) “For where two are three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20). We gather for fellowship, accountability, encouragement, study, and even service in the name of Jesus Christ.
In Acts 2:42, the early church offered a great model of some of these means of grace. Listen: “The devoted themselves to the apostles teaching [searching the Scriptures] and fellowship [Christian conferencing], to the breaking of bread [the Lord’s Supper], and the prayers (prayer).
If we are to be a holy people, if there is going to be a renewal of holiness of heart and life among us, if we are going to be open and receptive to God’s manifest presence…His glory, then changes will need to take place both individually and corporately. Change in our character into the image of God can only happen when we put ourselves in a position to change. There’s no quick fix…no magic pill in a bottle that promises you major holiness in 6 weeks or your money back!
Let’s be honest. Most of us in this room will leave hear perhaps WANTING to make some changes in our lives, but we will not follow through. The commitment is too great and the results are not guaranteed like they do in an info-mercial. God will surely meet with us, but sometimes it make look and feel like something other than we expected. It probably will NOT include seraphs with 6 wings, smoke, and thunder. It may like a still small voice that Elijah heard. It may be the image of a smiling Jesus like I saw in Estes Chapel on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary, or a voice in my ear at 3:15 am on a Sunday morning telling me to leave real estate. But God’s glory will be present!
Would you like to experience the glory of God? Would you? Then I suggest you begin making some changes in your life. Start small if it helps. If you never pray, get up 15 minutes earlier and open yourself up to God in prayer. Pray the Psalms if it helps. If you practice prayer, why not commit to praying one hour a week in the Prayer Room over the next 40 days?
If you never read the Bible, commit to reading one chapter from the OT, one from the NT, and one from the Psalms every day. It doesn’t matter as much about the methodology as the intentionality. If you never fast, skip lunch one day a week during Lent. As you fast, pray, read God’s Word, and give $5-10 a week to an outreach ministry that feeds the hungry.
In addition to seeking God’s presence in places He’s already told us about, let me mention a couple of other unlikely places that we should seek God’s manifest presence. First, we can seek God in the ordinary, humdrum dealings of life. In the 17th century there was a Carmelite monk known as Brother Lawrence who made it his “chief ambition to “practice the presence of God” in the midst of daily activities, even peeling potatoes! There’s a great book about his life named after his ambition that worth reading. What if we went through our day with this prayer on our lips, “Lord, I know you are here. Please make we aware of your presence.”
Finally, we can see God’s presence in the face of human need. Jesus said to his followers , “When you’ve done it to the least of these my bother and sisters, you have done it to me.” There is great disparity between those who have much and those who have nothing. Sometimes we prefer to look the other way. But what if, when avoiding eye contact with the beggar on the corner of Shelby and Lamar, we are missing out on seeing the face of Christ? What if, when making excuses that prison ministry is for someone with more time, we are the ones imprisoned by our own empty and shallow experiences of God’s manifest presence through the eyes of one of God’s creation who just needs to know somebody cares? Do we need to cover the story of the Good Samaritan this morning to know what Jesus thinks about the importance of loving our neighbor? Didn’t think so.
Okay, we covered a lot of ground this morning. We’ve been talking about seeing the glory…the manifest presence…of God. It’s not a matter of IF God is with us. The real issue is ARE WE PRESENT WITH GOD? It’s a question all of us must ask and answer. And if you don’t like the answer, change your attitude. What do I mean by that? Pilots will tell you that attitude of the aircraft is just as important as altitude. Attitude is the orientation of the aircraft relative to the Earth’s horizon. The Attitude Indicator instrument tells the pitch (whether the nose of the craft is up or down) and bank (whether the wings are tilted side to side). If we are not experiencing God’s presence, we need to make an attitude adjustment so our faces are above the horizon, so to speak. Our attitude will affect our altitude.
In Revelation 3, Jesus gives us this powerful promise: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens he door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus wants to reveal himself…his character, nature, manifest presence…to us. Are we listening? Are we opening the doors of our hearts to allow God to come and tabernacle with us?
Do you want to experience the manifest presence of God? What adjustments do you need to make so that God can begin to radiate His presence…His glory…through you and me? AMEN.