Pursuing Holiness: Part 1
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.”
4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
In Hebrew, it’s Qadosh. In Greek, it’s Hagios. The word is HOLY. We’re going to spend some time looking at holiness and what it means.
- What did the word, “holy,” mean to Old and New Testament writers and what does it mean for us today?
- What are some of the Characteristics that make up the holiness of God and how should that change the way we see, love, and pursue God
- Should we pursue holiness in our own lives, and what are the implications if we earnestly did so?
- How do we pursue holiness in our lives and in the life of Byhalia Church?
As many of you know, I’ve been transparent about my concerns related to the direction of The United Methodist Church. More recently, my heart is deeply troubled over challenges by many national leaders, bishops, and boards of our denomination related to the authority of Scripture as it applies to human sexuality. Friends, this is a sinking Titanic whose hull is about to split in half because of the deep & heavy waters of division over that issue.
But long before the election of a gay bishop or the marriage of same-sex couples in UMC churches across the land, our denomination had lost it’s way from our Wesleyan roots and the early Methodist’s mission: To spread Scriptural Holiness Across the Land.
A few weeks ago when on my spiritual retreat, I picked up a book I read in seminary by one of my professors, Dr. Steve Seamands, entitled, “Holiness of Heart and Life.” My heart leapt with joy and hope with every turn of the page as I learned—once again—the reality of God’s holiness and our call to pursue it. So, in the coming weeks we will explore what the Holiness of God looks like and our response to God’s holiness.
Using some of Seamands’ thoughts as well as my own, I hope to paint a more clear understanding of what it means to see God as holy and what it means for us to be and live out His holiness. Our primary text will be Isaiah 6, but we will look at many others in our pursuit of holiness of heart and life.
The vision of God and the call of Isaiah begins with these opening words in Isaiah 6:1à “In the year that King Uzziah died…” This may not seem like a particularly important opening statement. Sure, it helps us place Isaiah’s call in historical context. Uzziah was king of Judah from 792 to 740 B.C., 52 years! Next to Solomon, Uzziah, who’s name means, “Yahweh his strength,” was the greatest king of Judah. He was a victorious general and a brilliant administrator, and took the kingdom of Judah to dazzling heights of prosperity and glory.
Uzziah was the only king Isaiah had ever known and the king was likely his hero and idol of sorts. Uzziah not only sat upon the throne of the palace, but also sat upon the throne of Isaiah’s heart, along with every other Jewish boy in Judah. Isaiah would have had dreams for his own life that were wrapped up in the power and glory of this stately king.
We can do that too, can’t we? We can put our hopes in politicians, in policies, in economic ideologies. Even our religious practices get connected and somehow dependent on the success of our nationalistic ideals. It can make us proud of the wrong things. It can distract us from our Creator and the mission we have to reflect God’s image. Instead, we can reflect the image of our culture…our vocations…our hobbies.
As long as everything is going according to OUR perception of “good and right,” we may miss the reality that we are as far away from God as the man on the moon! Uzziah’s reign started out in faithful obedience to God, just like Solomon’s. But it ended in shame. Here’s what happened.
Uzziah got proud as he grew strong and in his arrogance, he thought he could neglect God’s order of things by acting the part of a priest. One day he went into the Temple—into the Holy Place where only priests were allowed to go—and he offered his sacrifice to the Lord. What’s the harm, right? WRONG! God set things up in a way to preserve the holiness and integrity of worship. So, Uzziah went in a proud king, but he staggered out a leper, unclean, broken, and humiliated. From that time until his death, Uzziah ruled Judah as an outcast. He died in despair and separation.
Now, not only was the throne of Israel emptied when Uzziah died, but the throne of Isaiah’s heart was emptied, too. So here’s the lesson for us today: God often allows us to go through some deep surgery of detachment from every idolatrous attachment in order to empty our thrones so HE ALONE can fill them.
We don’t usually see God or seek God as long as our idols fill our felt needs. We have all the material goods we need…we get to spend our time doing what we please…we are relatively free from pain or struggles…so why do we need to seek God’s holiness? But let those idols of good health, self-reliance, consumerism and nationalism fall off our thrones, and God’s got our attention!
“In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord…” Isaiah was at a place of brokenness and humility and it was THEN that he saw the Lord. Seamands declares, “if there is going to be a renewal of holiness of heart and life among us, it will only happen as we allow ourselves to be broken and humbled, and as we cry out in desperation to God.” A 16th century Roman Catholic Archbishop, François Fénelon, put it like this, “The work of God can be built only upon the ruin of ourselves.” I like that.
My time alone with God a few weeks ago was one of those times when I saw myself ruined and desperate for God to build something new, beautiful, and holy in me.
I’m reading another book by pastor and author, James MacDonald entitled, “Vertical Church.” In the introduction, he makes a good point that, ever since the Fall recorded in Genesis 3, looking up has become the least natural thing we do. It’s a lot easier, he says, to look down and even all around than to throw our heads back and look upward. Moses made a simple request of God that changed everything for him: “Show me your glory.” What would we be like if we pursued the glory of God rather than the glory of ourselves?
There’s an amazing story of God’s power and glory found in II Chronicles 20 when Uzziah’s grandfather, King Jehoshaphat found himself in a tight spot. The Moabites and Ammonites came to make war against Jehoshaphat. Instead of looking down in defeat or all around at his enemies and at his own army, Jehoshaphat looked up! He prayed a powerful prayer that included these words: “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” The rest of that story is that God almighty kicked butt while the choir sang praise choruses!
“In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up.” What part of you needs to die in order for you to be able to see God’s glory? What habit, hang-up, or hurt needs to be surrendered for you to be open to real change in your life? Are you willing to humble yourself and stay in the presence of God long enough to see His glory and to be transformed by it?
TRANSITION TO 24-7 PRAYER MINISTRY
Another major revelation occurred to me while I was away alone with God for several days. God impressed upon me that, while I prayed, I was not A MAN OF PRAYER and that I serve with a people who—for the most part—are not A PEOPLE OF PRAYER.
We will spend much more time on the need and practice of prayer—as we have in the past—in coming weeks. But God impressed upon me the need for ALL of us to be more in the presence of God through continual prayer. Prayer is referenced nearly 100 times in the NT. Last week’s text from Romans 12:9-18 included this exhortation: be constant in prayer. We’re told in Philippians 4:6 to pray about everything. Ephesians 6:8 tells us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer.
With that in mind, I felt a strong urge to begin 40 Days of continual prayer beginning March 1st and continuing through Easter Sunday, April 16th. This 24-7 Prayer Ministry has unanimous support from your board and a room in the main building is being prepared right away.
I want each of you to take seriously your spiritual condition and your need for more of the holiness of God exhibited in your life. I believe that the change God wants to do in each of us begins with prayer. In a minute, after our closing song, I will explain in more detail how you can get involved.
Let’s tie this all together. PRAYZNMOR, come on up. Isaiah was probably a lot like you and me. He did the church thing. After all, Isaiah he WAS in the Temple on the occasion that he saw a vision of God’s glory and received his call to be a prophet. He was proud to be an Israelite Jew, just as most of us are proud to be American and to be Christian. But his life was missing something crucial. He had placed the wrong king on the throne of his heart. It was not until his worldview…his way of life and practice got challenged by the death of Uzziah that Isaiah was in a position to see God for who He is.
Is that you? It certainly can be me. But I don’t want it to be. I desperately yearn to position myself to experience all God has for me and this community. I pray you do, too, and that you will join me in praying for God’s glory to be made apparent to us in the coming days and months as we continually seek him. Let’s worship our holy God together.