Here in America (and no doubt, around the world), we recently paid homage to the memory of a beautiful and talented woman named Whitney Houston. Without doubt, Ms. Houston was one of the most gifted singers who ever lived. But it isn't the human and public accolades that impress me most about her life; it's that she was discovered singing in church.
Interesting. Now, since I'm not God and I have no idea what His plans and purposes were for Ms. Houston when he "knit her together" in her mother's womb, I won't even attempt to speculate on what He intended for her. But according to the promise of Jeremiah 29:11, I can confidently say that His plans for her were for "good and not for evil, to give her a future and a hope." If Ms. Houston received Jesus as her Savior, I can also say with confidence that she is basking in His presence at this very moment.
However--and this however is not restricted to Ms. Houston but rather to all of us, particularly in the Church--regardless of gifts and talents endowed upon us by our gracious Creator, we have choices to make as we progress along our earthly journey. Will we pursue God's purpose for our lives...or be distracted by the glitz and glamor and empty promises of the world? This is a question we must all answer, but it particularly applies to those of us who write or sing or act...or do anything in the public eye.
Personally, I have struggled with this choice many times, and I don't doubt that you have too. And we will continue to do so until we breathe our last. For that reason I will never judge the final actions of someone like Whitney Houston, nor will I preclude the fact that her life and death can continue to be used by God to draw others to Himself. I applaud the pastor who said to Ms. Houston's mother at the funeral, "Your daughter is responsible for bringing the world to church today." Perhaps, above all her stunning earthly achievements, that is Whitney's greatest and most meaningful. And I don't doubt that it was a great comfort to a grieving mother's broken heart.
The world needs heroes. That's the reason actors and singers and other public figures soar to the top of the "idol" list. Sadly, that only adds pressure to already highly-pressurized lives. It's not unusual or unimaginable for unbelievers to obsess over these public figures--and to condemn them if they fall--but it should not be so among those of us who follow Jesus. Our Lord was and will always be the greatest public figure to walk this earth, and yet He became so due to His humility and selfless living. He is our ultimate role model, the One who sets the bar for our own lives. What that means for us is that rather than idolizing people like Whitney Houston--regardless of how enormously talented they may be--we should be praying for them. Instead of idolizing those the world worships, we should be emulating Christ and those who follow Him by laying down their lives for others.
Missionaries? Absolutely. Christians in countries who risk life and limb to witness and practice their faith? Without doubt the greatest heroes in the world. Though they may live and die in obscurity and few if any will attend their funerals or visit their final resting place on earth, these people willingly lay down their lives for others. If given the opportunity, they no doubt would have done so for Ms. Houston.
How can we best remember this singing icon and honor her memory? First, by trusting that she is "safely home" in her Father's hands--assuming she truly did receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior at some point in her life, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. Second, by praying that her life and death will continue to be used by our sovereign God to influence others for the His Kingdom. And while there is time, may we pray the same way for those celebrities and stars who still walk the earth and have opportunity to use their lives for good.