Lord God Almighty please bless these words as they are being prepared and in their speaking.
I once spent about 30 hours in Rome. That’s all.
To my utter disappointment the Sistine Chapel was closed for repair, so much of Michelangelo’s glorious painting was out of reach.
In St. Peter’s I saw his Pietà, which was even more beautiful than any photograph had revealed,
but the deepest impression, one that has remained with me for almost 2 decades, was of 70 deacons rehearsing for their ordination on the next day.
Late on a May afternoon, 70 would-be deacons in white robes lay prostrate on the floor of St. Peter’s.
I have no idea what was in the hearts of those men but the image was one of humility and dedication, of holiness and submission.
Whatever is in our hearts, minds and spirits about the Lord God will govern our lives.
It will govern all our daily attitudes and behaviour - how we see ourselves, how we treat others, how we react to trouble, to stress, to work and to play, to love, to temptation, to fidelity and everything else we encounter and experience.
So it is vital that our knowledge of the Lord be as close to the truth of what He has revealed about Himself as it can possibly be.
I say close because none of us ever gets it fully right.
This is one reason why we need the correcting balance of each other found in Christian community.
And because none of us can ever know God fully, we also need one another to expand and round out our knowledge of Him.
For example, one person may know the Lord as the Lord of detail who meets him day to day in the turmoil of life;
Another may know Him more as the Almighty, high and lifted up as in the image from the call of Isaiah in the 6th chapter of Isaiah.
If we do not know who the Lord God is, then we will be guilty of idolatry - not in the manner of creating a physical idol but in the manner of mentally recreating God in our own image.
As A.W. Tozer has said “ idolatry of God is entertaining thoughts and ideas that are unworthy of Him”
Psalm 50: 21 says, “ you thought that I was someone like yourself”
Isaiah 55: 8 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. This is the word of the Lord”
A church that gets the wrong ideas about God, is a church that will soon lose its effectiveness and will eventually decline.
Such a decline is always preceded by a reduction in the understanding of God in the church’s theology.
There is a terrific temptation, both personal and corporate, to remake God as less than He is because then we can be in control.
Our personal will can rule, our wishes dominate and our agenda run the church and our lives.
This is the mirror opposite of what God wants and how He calls us to follow Christ.
God is totally other, above and beyond anything we can imagine.
We could not tolerate the fullness of His presence for a split second.
To see the truth of this, we need only look at the examples in Scripture of what happens to individuals when God shows up:
They hide, they cover their faces, and they radiate a reflection of His glory so powerful that a veil is needed to shield the rest of the people from that glory.
They fall on their faces and beg the Lord to depart from them;
They declare themselves sinful, unworthy.
The Holiness of God is so other that it is beyond our imagination and our comprehension.
Tozer described it thus; “We know nothing like divine holiness.
It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.
Only the Spirit of God can impart to the human spirit the knowledge of the holy.”
Isaiah 57: 15 reads “ Thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
So here we have this extraordinary situation - a God, who is so Holy as to be beyond our comprehending and knowing, actually dwelling within the spirits
of those who are contrite and humble (Old Testament) and those who believe on the name of Jesus and have received Him as their Saviour and Lord (New Testament)
He is a Holy God, but also a God who desires our love and companionship so much that He has not kept Himself aloof and far removed from us. He has personally invaded, in C.S. Lewis’ words, “the enemy occupied territory of this world.”
He has bought us back from our sin by the blood of His Son Jesus.
He has torn the curtain in the Temple that hid His Holy of Holies and made it possible for the likes of us to reach Him directly through Jesus.
And He has given us the privilege of His “Great Commission” to go into all the world on His behalf and make disciples in every nation.
Now we, bearing the Holy Spirit, must be the Body of Christ in this world.
The task and responsibility are ours.
We will be accountable one day for this trust.
And what a lousy job we have recently been doing!
Among our many sins we have got caught up in “Me Christianity”.
It’s been all about my salvation, my happiness, my knowledge of the Lord, my way of understanding Scripture.
Frankly we fell asleep at the wheel.
Where is the missionary spirit, the desire to tell others about God’s love and salvation?
Where is the excitement that we have been entrusted with such a huge task?
Where is the zeal and enthusiasm for winning souls for Jesus?
We fell asleep at the wheel and our denomination in North America ran away while we slept.
Now we face the consequences. A denomination that is about to sell it’s very soul. A mission field that is no longer far away, but all around us right in our own backyard.
Now suddenly we are asleep no longer but, winded and out of breath, running down the road trying to catch up with what is happening in and to our church.
The remedy for our malady is not to get busy, although the Lord knows we already are.
Before we can do the Lord’s work we must be like Him.
The remedy for our plight is to become Holy ourselves.
As deep calls to deep, like calls to like.
If we are to dwell with Him for all eternity, we must become like Him.
Christ must be formed in us.
So it follows that our transformation into Christ-likeness will lead to holiness.
God tells us in Leviticus 19: 2 “ You must be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Where on earth is such a heavenly characteristic and commodity to be found?
Surprisingly, the answer is in the ordinary.
Unless God calls us to it, you and I do not have to go out into the desert as the desert fathers did.
We don’t have to sit on a pillar for 36 years as St Simeon Stylites did.
We don’t have to go to the streets of Calcutta to comfort the dying as Mother Theresa did.
We have to train for and grow into personal holiness exactly where we find ourselves today, tomorrow and next week.
Holiness like happiness is a by-product of something else.
If you go out to seek it, it will elude you.
Loving the Lord your God and obeying Him to the best of your ability every moment of every day, and therefore loving others as you love yourself, will eventually bring holiness.
You know it is said that after a long marriage a husband and wife grow to be like each other, and sometimes people even grow to look like the dogs they love.
The same thing applies to intimacy with God.
If we love and fellowship constantly with Him, eventually, when you and I are least aware of it, we will begin to reflect some of His character, nature and qualities.
Brother Lawrence found holiness as a lay brother doing his work among the pots and pans of his monastic kitchen.
The description of his growth in the spiritual life through his daily diligence in the kitchen has come down to us in the record of 4 short conversations with a cleric who visited him and 16 brief letters written by him to spiritual correspondents.
How many would be tempted to say, “I will pray when I have finished the dishes.”
“I will pray when summonsed to the chapel.”
Brother Lawrence prayed as he washed and dried dishes, as he swept and scrubbed the floor, as he waited on the monks.
He prayed constantly.
I am sure the thought that his conversations and letters would become a spiritual classic on holiness never crossed his mind.
Brother Lawrence let God make him holy in the circumstances of his daily life.
This is what we need to do in ours.
Holiness will not begin when everything is sorted out; it begins right in the middle of the mess.
C.S.Lewis said, “How little people know who think that holiness is dull; when one meets the real thing it is irresistible.”
And part of the passage to holiness will be the call to suffer for the Gospel.
There is nothing new in this. Christians have suffered for the Gospel throughout the ages.
What makes this more difficult is that the source of the attack often comes from within; which is not new either, this has happened within the church in many ways over many centuries.
We will be ridiculed, criticized for holding quaint doctrinal views that are outdated and outmoded.
How we react and behave will be very important.
We must not give back as we get.
Nor does this does not mean we lie down and play dead.
But let us commit ourselves to clear thinking, sound doctrine, and gentle but firm words.
Listen to the words from Paul’s second letter to Timothy,
v8. Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling.
v14. The Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you”
The truth of the Gospel still stands, it will always stand.
This is the time for us to stand up and be counted.
But let us do it with wisdom and with courage,
with gentleness and firmness,
with much prayer and with a willingness to pay the price.
Desiree then told the story of Canon Erasmus Bitarabeho and how our North American issue is affecting Christian Muslim relations in Uganda.
In brief: that after his country was finally making some headway against polygamy, they now see that the Western church is moving towards
homosexual marriage, and it is unravelling for them all the good teaching done so far. A disastrous role to model.