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Sermon Ross Woodhouse 20200105

 

How do we see God?

 

I’ve mentioned here before I love the beach, I haven’t got there much, yet Karyn will tell you I have no interest in sitting on the sand sunning myself, I want to be in that water! Right in. Some are a little more cautious, just want a little water around the ankles and knees, safety first.  I’m always thinking of a spiritual connection – and here’s what God is saying to me, for this year, it may seem a little simple, little absurd but work with me – how much of God do I want to experience (encounter, etc) this year? Little of God or like, fully immersed in Him, everything of God I can get?

How much of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Father God do I want to experience this year? You might have your own version of this question…we might think there’s a simple response. God wants all of us, so of course, I want to give all of myself to him, and I want to experience the fullness of all he is able to provide.

For me, it’s not such an absurd question. Why? Because the fullness of God may be right there, his Spirit wanting to fill me each day, but it only happens when I am intentional when I’m hungry when I desire more. What would each day this year look like, if every day started with an intention to practice his presence all day? Why do we need to talk about such things? Because being in his presence, being aware (conscious) he’s with me, affects everything I do, say and think. And this starts with realizing he is holy…seeing that God is always there!

Who of you, each time we meet, would not want to experience and encounter God and the power of his Spirit in all His fullness? I think we all want that, don’t we?

The idea behind such messages as this is the belief that our worship experience in this place can take on a new dimension…dynamic, vibrant, exciting, transforming…“Worship (that) is our response to the reality of God in every part of daily living”

It’s a potentially scary thing isn’t it, when we say to God, you do what you want here this morning Lord, I’m ready for anything? We want you to have the freedom to be God among us. When we ask God such a thing we’re also willing to lay down anything that’s between me and God, anything I love more than him, that I give more attention and affection to than him, we’re willing to let go of[1] 

When was the last time that any of us are able to say, “I know I met with God today, he showed me this, he ‘said’ this, convicted me in this”. We’ve already determined we need to be intentional, however, what is required to have an encounter with the living God, one that will change us?

For the next two Sundays, I want to talk about worship, the presence of God, encountering God. Today we’re going to take a look at a passage where the prophet Isaiah met with God and what that did in (and for?) him. We’re going to look at Isaiah’s vision (commissioning) and encounter with God to help us unpack these themes a little…

As I read and re-read these chapters in Isaiah, though dealing with serious matters in terms of God’s judgment I find myself being awestruck with all God is…

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  “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.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it, he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us? ” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

This was Isaiah’s encounter with God, but he is stating for himself what is true for all Israel and indeed what can be true for us today.  So let me summarise in a sentence the context of these verses: we need to see our hopeless state in light of the Holiness of God.[2]

I believe this passage that teaches us about worship and gives us a biblical example of an encounter with God, shows us two key areas:

  • The process that God desires to take us through in worship
  • Our responses that God desires to take us through when we worship

 

So let’s look at the process. The first thing is, God was revealed in a very special way during Isaiah’s encounter. Look at Isaiah 6:1 “And it was in the year that King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord.”

 

The revelation of God

It’s very significant that Isaiah would begin with these words. Significant because King Uzziah had been on the throne for decades (52 years, from the age of 16). He had been a strong, godly king, a good leader that people had placed their security in until pride led to his undoing (burning incense in the temple; see 2 Chr26).

And it was when King Uzziah died, feeling the emptiness of a lack of leadership in the country, and a need for something significant to happen, that God spoke to Isaiah in this encounter. As he came close to God he looked on the throne and saw the Lord. Isaiah says, I saw him, and it was just the train of his robe that filled the temple.

We’ve seen pictures of brides (mostly royal brides) whose dresses have these long trains, fills the aisle, and then gathered around them covering the steps in front of them afterwards. Here, the train of God’s robe fills the entire heavenly temple…and the heavenly creatures covered themselves such was the magnificence and the glory of God. The point is they couldn’t look on the Lord such was their reverence for him.

I wonder if we’ve lost some of that – reverence for God? This is why it’s good to talk about his holiness and what worship really means?

My view is Isaiah wrote this to make the point that Uzziah might be dead but God is not, he cannot be forgotten: he is very much alive and at work, alive today, too. Like Uzziah many Kings, important people have come and gone, we are finite, but not God, God is always and forever. He is from everlasting to everlasting! (Psalm 90:2)

100 years from now most of us will be gone and there’ll possibly be billions of new people on the earth (unless Jesus…) But not God. He was the living God in 1966 when Theologian Thomas Altizer proclaimed him dead and Time magazine put it on the front cover.[3] In my research I discovered then, around 97% of Americans believed in God, yet had shrunk to about 63% by 2014[4]

Isaiah saw the Lord, God had caught his attention, but he was ready and receptive. What is our worship, if it’s not worship that see’s God?

I think of Job here. For all of his personal issues and challenges, he was able to see the Lord. (Job 42:4-6) “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.[5]

How ready and receptive are we to seeing the Lord? “Worship is our response to the reality of God in every part of daily living” Worship has to begin when we focus only on Him.

What do we think will happen – I know we’re certainly praying for this – what will happen, this year, when we gather together here, in our prayer meeting, services, small groups, in our hospitality, each one of us SEEING GOD? Do we realise the experience of Isaiah can happen here? God, is moving, doing stuff, it’s for us to get in step with him, to see him.

Yes, in the year that the king died[6], but what’s to note here is that it was this moment that sparked a (shall we say) spirit-filled ministry. Revival? IS God saying ready when you are?

Revival happens when we see less of ourselves and more of God. When we see ourselves in light of his holiness, disobedient, broken and in need of his grace and forgiveness. That’s when we’re beginning to see him…we’re only in a place to do what he wants us to do, be where he wants us to be, when we, see him…and that was the purpose behind Isaiah’s message

Many of us will be familiar with the infamous Watergate scandal in the USA that resulted in President Nixon resigning. One of those involved was Chuck Colson, known now as the founder of Prison Fellowship International, but back then served time in prison following which he made a commitment to follow Christ. His story is that on June 1, 1973, he was so confronted with his sin — not just the dirty tricks of Watergate, but the sin deep within me, the hidden evil that lives in every human heart. It was painful and I could not escape. I cried out to God and found myself drawn irresistibly into his waiting arms. That was the night I gave my life to Jesus Christ and began the greatest adventure of my life.

Here was the so-called White House hatchet man, willing to cry out to God in 1973, but also willing to repent several years later of a woefully inadequate view of God.

A friend suggested to Colson that he watch a series by R.C. Sproul on the holiness of God. Here’s what Colson writes: All I knew about Sproul was that he was a theologian, so I wasn’t enthusiastic…but at my friend’s urging I finally agreed to watch the (teaching). By the end of the sixth lecture, I was on my knees, deep in prayer, in awe of God’s absolute holiness. It was a life-changing experience as I gained a completely new understanding of the holy God I believe in and worship. My spiritual drought ended, but this taste for the majesty of God only made me thirst for more of him.[7]

Is God’s holiness such that we have a growing appreciation and appetite for him/ for his majesty? As the deer…The first key is that all significant worship begins by seeing the Lord…if we don’t “see” him, does worship to take place?

The next interesting part of Isaiah’s experience was…

 

The realisation of God’s holiness.

Once we see Him and He reveals Himself to us, we begin to realize and see His holiness and the (real) worship experience takes place. Real worship is throwing our sinful and broken self at his holy feet in utter dependence.

In verses 3 and 4, we see the creatures calling out to each other that day, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God.” Doorways and things are shaking and there’s smoke…power and glory of God shaking things up a little…

There’s an old song we sing sometimes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” When we worship and we really see Him and we see His holiness, our awareness of His presence grows and other ‘stuff’ begins to fade away. It does something in us (if we want it to) because we live in such an unholy, unhealthy, upside-down world. Realising his holiness gives us the ability to transcend stuff in life that is disappointing, discouraging, dismal and, unholy, it’s pulling me down, because despite what we feel, he is still, God! A little shaking drives us to God…

The heavenly creatures “called to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!’ When we say or sing Holy is the Lord what are we saying, what are we wanting to say? Anything we say is completely inadequate to describe God, no language comes close. So we do say it, but our minds and hearts know he is infinitely more.

1 Samuel 2:2: “There is none holy like the Lord, there is none beside thee.” Isaiah 40:25: “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.” Hosea 11:9: “I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.”

Being in the presence of God changes our perspective…WORSHIP. I believe that’s what God was showing Isaiah in this vision, with the creatures, “calling to one another…Holy, holy”.

When we see the holiness of God, our spirits are lifted up and makes us want to become more like Him. That is worship.  This worship – realising Gods holiness – can’t be manufactured, drummed up, hyped up. We can so easily come to rely on music and other components to help us feel as though we’re connecting with God, and sometimes we are[8]…worship though is being so aware of his majesty and holiness, our natural inclination is to love him, we don’t need anything apart from knowing, he is holy

I want to make a comment and I say this carefully: we don’t necessarily come into this space to feel God present, we come knowing in faith he is present.[9]  We don’t come ‘into a time of worship’, this is a continuation of our worship. The environment is a factor, but it matters little when I know God is here. Who knows what might happen if only we stop resisting what his Spirit is wanting to do is us?

There’s another significant thing that happened with Isaiah, but perhaps one we rarely talk about, and that is if we are face to face with God’s holiness we can’t help but recognise our sinfulness…

 

The recognition of our sinfulness

As soon as Isaiah saw God as Holy, what did he do?  He said, “Woe is me!” He 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.” (Isaiah 6:5)

One evidence of knowing that we’re close to God and seeing his holiness is that we’re faced with our sinfulness, inadequacy and shortcomings. We realize the truth of Romans 3:23. “all have sinned and all have come short of God’s glory.”

Being in the presence of God, and seeing his holiness, causes us to see our sinfulness and therefore, because of Jesus, appreciate his grace. The opposite of this, of course, is complacency, hardening of our hearts, we forget our state before God, which is why coming before God every day is so vital, to worship; acknowledging our sin and accepting his grace.

And the irony of Isaiah’s encounter with God in chapter 6 is that his ministry would do the very opposite of what had happened with him. His preaching would harden hearts, dull ears and closed eyes (Isaiah 6:10). God’s judgement, the price of disobedience.

We have the benefit of learning from such stories and getting ourselves right with God, putting ourselves in the best place to see him. Which brings us to the last and probably most obvious point all this leads into a true encounter with God leads to a response

 

A natural response of our lives

What do I mean…? The response of a real worship experience is a change in commitment to God.

Let me explain: worship leads to commitment, and committing ourselves to God is worship. Because, when we ‘see’ God in His fullness and we realise his holiness, our response is similar to that of Isaiah’s – “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?” Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8-9)

Our first and arguably natural response in being confronted with His presence is “Lord, take me.  I’m available.” That sort of availability and growing denial of self…is worship!

I think of Isaac Watts’ great hymn:

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did ever such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

If we come into the presence of God, we’ll make commitments to God, he turns our heart in servanthood to Jesus. If we have, or will have our ‘lips touched with the burning coal’ as Isaiah had as part of his commissioning and worship experience, we need to be ready for anything.

Worship is commitment to God, it stretches even to doing the stuff that we might not otherwise do or is way outside our comfort zones (no hesitation with Isaiah). Because worship is not thinking what is right and comfortable for me, it is accepting what is right from the Lord for me to do. Worship is not God accommodating my wants because that would make me sovereign, it is obeying what he wants, from me… 

What might God be ‘commissioning’ you to today?

 

TAKEAWAYS

See the Lord

See his holiness – we need a fresh vision of the blazing holiness of God!

See our sinfulness

See our need to respond, in worship[10]

 

 

 

 

[1] Religious habits, etc

[2] Judah had enjoyed a long period of material prosperity but had at this point turned their backs on God.

[3] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/holy-holy-holy-is-the-lord-of-hosts

[4] https://time.com/isgoddead/ and https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/belief-in-god/

[5] Note the similarity to Isaiah’s encounter

[6] Significant but to mark the year…

[7] Adapted from: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/holy-holy-holy-is-the-lord-of-hosts and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Colson

 

[8] No invalidation…

[9] Bit like prayer, I don’t need to feel he’s heard me I know in faith he has heard me

[10] Adapted from John Maxwell