Holiness. It doesn't get the press today that it did when I was a kid, growing up in the Free Methodist Church. But it still matters.
When we think of holiness we usually think of God. One of the members of the Trinity is none other than the Holy Spirit! We remember Isaiah's experience, when he saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and he heard the seraphs singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory" (Isaiah 6:1-3).
We think of the places -- the temple, Zion (God's holy hill) -- and days, and the holy Scriptures.
But us? Do we apply the term to us flawed humans? God does! He calls us to be holy.
What does that even mean?
We are fallen and broken. We were born into a fallen and broken world and even by our very best efforts cannot live up to the standard of holiness that the Lord desires. But through Christ our broken lives are made new and we enter into a relationship with the holy God!
It is through the work of God in our lives, helping us deal with out the junk that needs to be redeemed and, as Pastor Pat says, the coping mechanisms that we have developed over the years, that we are made more and more into the likeness of Christ. As we give him free reign in our lives, he makes us new. He shines through us more and more, drawing people to himself as they see him alive in us.
Holiness is not what we do. It is what God does in us as we pursue him, as we hunger after him, and as we let him conform us to his own image.
Holiness still matters. In our world, where badly behaving celebrities make more news than righteous folks, the transformed lives of holy people impact our world. It is a practical, lived-out-daily experience of letting the grace of God flow through our lives, touching every part of us: affecting our attitudes; gracing our speech; filling us with compassion for others; keeping us sensitive to God.
Mitch Thomas, a youth pastor, understood the importance of holiness. He passed away in 2008, at the age of 28, after a 17 month struggle with leukemia. His dad, Matt Thomas, is a Free Methodist bishop, and he shared Mitch's story at our annual Leadership Summit last weekend. I spoke with Mitch's mom, Marlene, and she gave me permission to share their story.
It was during the three months that he was on a cancer ward in a Seattle hospital that Mitch's high view of holiness reaped immense rewards. Here, in his dad's words, is what happened.
Mitch and his father (Bishop Matt) would take daily walks in the halls in an attempt to sustain his lung function and prolong his life. On those walks, he would greet everyone he saw and use that as ministry time. One day, shortly before the end, Mitch was unable to walk due to the progression of the cancer and reaction to medications. Matt was stopped by several people while walking down the hall with the consistent comments that Mitch was missed that day and how impactful he was in their lives. It was a veritable gauntlet of appreciative people. Many of them (patients, staff and a doctor) spoke about how they had never met anyone like him who had transformed a war. One patient put it this way, "If I talk to Mitch, I have a good day. If I don't, it is usually a bad day."
After Mitch recovered that afternoon, Matt asked him, "What do you think is the difference between you and many of the folks on the ward? They all speak so glowingly of you and have found hope through you. Why?" He responded, "It has become clear to me that holiness matters. I have no regrets, no moral issues to settle, no relationships to repair, no decisions to undo and no priorities to rearrange. My heart is clear. My memories are sweet. My relationships are outstanding. My ministry has been rewarding. M Jesus is always near. I am just fighting a physical illness while experiencing the riches of God in every other way. Walking in the Spirit, and allowing the Spirit to walk in me is living in holiness. I have [an] illness -- that's all. If I carried spiritual sickness, lacked forgiveness, harbored bitterness, lacked purpose of carried regret; the illness would be unbearable. I have none of that. It pays to be clean. Then when pain comes, it stands alone with little force behind its punch. For me, everything that is not pain is peace. Peace is a wonderful fruit of holiness."You can read Matt Thomas' full blog post here. This post expresses the hope in Christ that the Thomas family experienced through this unthinkable experience.