Friday, August 5, 2011

No Matter What

There are times when you read Scripture and find a story that’s a spectacular display of God’s glory and holiness. God enters the everyday life of a fairly average person and shows himself in an amazing fashion. The person is left changed forever.

Several hundred years before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah was given a vision of God that left him physically and emotionally “ruined.” The image he saw was the Lord seated on his throne in majestic fashion. All around him were angels singing the words, “Holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” The place filled with smoke and shook with an earthquake. Isaiah declared himself unworthy to see this site. His sin or uncleanness forced him to feel completely out of place. But when an angel touched his unclean lips with a hot coal, he was declared clean and his guilt was removed; a redeemed Isaiah who had encountered a holy God offered himself as a messenger for God’s news to his people.

During Jesus’ ministry, a cosmic battle between God and Satan continued and a glimpse of that battle was seen when Jesus interacted with a demon-possessed man. The story tells of a man who lived in the tombs. The people in that area called him Legion because they believed he was possessed by many demons. When Jesus passed by, Legion came out to greet him, but not to pick a fight. The demons knew that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God. They recognized him and pleaded with Jesus not to be tortured. The demons saw their evilness in light of his holiness and fell in fear. Jesus’ response was to cast the demons out of the man and into pigs which then ran off a cliff to their death. The freed man was forever changed and accepted an invitation to become a messenger for Jesus’ Good News.

As we reflect on these amazing stories, there are times we crave a vision or an encounter like these. As scary as these scenarios must have been to anyone who witnessed them, many of us long to see God in his full glory and holiness. And, if we’re honest, we’d admit that if only we could have an experience like Isaiah or Legion, we’d be better messengers for God. But, is God’s holiness only displayed in the dramatic?

Recently, I attended the funeral of a friend’s 72 year old father. My friend’s dad’s name was Chuck and he passed away due to complications from a brain tumor. I had only met Chuck a couple of times but I knew him from the stories his son had told me. The funeral was a packed house, always an indicator of someone’s impact in life. My friend spoke first, giving touching and personal words of honor to his dad. Chuck’s pastor spoke next and he read fond memories that the grandkids had compiled. But, it was Gary, Chuck’s friend and longtime colleague, who really captured my attention.

Gary and Chuck were school teachers together for many years in a Detroit suburban area school. Gary said that Chuck always wore his Christian faith on his sleeve; and in the early years of their friendship, Gary resented Chuck’s discussions of God, Jesus, and salvation. Gary claims to have tortured Chuck and set out to make him miserable in his attempts to lead Gary to Christ. But after four and a half years, Gary gave in to God’s calling in his life and he received Jesus as his personal Savior. Gary’s life was forever changed. He said that before Christ entered his life, “you wouldn’t have liked me very much and I wouldn’t have given a nickel about you.” Gary has spent the last 32 years being a vibrant messenger for the Good News of Jesus, telling anyone who listens about God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice so our sins can be forgiven. He thanked Chuck for being a patient, persistent, loving friend but made it very clear in saying, “it wasn’t Chuck, but it was Christ in Chuck that changed me forever.”

Chuck’s pastor had mentioned that after the diagnosis, Chuck stood in front of their little Baptist church and proclaimed, “No matter what, God will be glorified.” He was determined to allow God’s glory and holiness to be clear and evident even in a battle with a killer of a tumor.

There’s a cosmic battle being waged every day around us. It’s a good versus evil, God versus Satan story. In this battle, God can display his glory and holiness in any way he wants. It can be spectacular or subtle, but my job is to see his holiness as he displays it and not to demand it to be as I want to see it. As I write, I’m wearing an inscribed rubber wristband given to me by one of Chuck’s daughters that reminds me today to look for God’s glory. It says “No Matter What.” His holiness can be seen in countless ways today. Just this morning I saw God’s glory through some subtle but valuable things: a tiger lily on the side of the road, the loving smile of my wife, a convicting word found in Scripture, and the reflection on a eulogy from a man’s old friend. These things renew my desire to be a messenger of God’s Good News.

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