Thursday, February 23, 2012

Triumph and Tragedy - Whitney Houston

It's now been almost two weeks since the death of Whitney Houston at the age of 48. I don't normally pay too much attention to the hype surrounding the death of celebrities, but I have been watching and reading with interest the pieces and articles about Whitney. I believe she was one of the greatest talents of our generation, but also one of its saddest characters. Her challenges, once fame took hold, are well documented and put her in storied company.

I look out on my church on any given Sunday and see a lot of talented children and young people. They, all of them, have dreams. Many of them have probably pictured themselves on a stage with the bright lights on and the house lights down, playing to a packed crowd. That was one of my dreams. It's amazing how many of the greatest stars got their start singing in church choirs or doing special songs on Sunday morning.

I think of people like Elvis Presley, who actually was cut from the choir of his church! Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Katy PerryAvril Lavigne, Bobby McFerrin, Tina Turner, Johnny Cash and a host of others got their starts this way. Yet, for many of them, success did not bring them happiness - far from it. It has really made me stop and think over the past couple of weeks.

Whitney and Elvis and Johnny Cash, at least, appeared to be very sincere in their faith. Elvis did a number of gospel albums and regularly performed gospel songs in his concerts. Johnny Cash publicly returned to his faith before he died. Whitney appeared with Be Be and Ce Ce Winans on numerous occasions, and, according to Be Be, wanted to go on tour with them. Both Elvis and Whitney spoke often and openly of their faith, yet both of their lives spiralled out of control due to substance abuse.

Many blame former husband, Bobby Brown, for Whitney's fall from grace, but others have pointed out that she was a "party girl" long before Bobby was in her life. No, it seems that there was a conscious choice to involve herself in a scene that was far removed from her church background. The same can certainly be said of Elvis, and of Britney Spears.

A trade-off was made: the glamorous life of a star took the place of a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's the parables and teachings of Jesus lived out in real life. In Matthew 16:26 Jesus said, "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" In The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl, Jesus teaches that a relationship with God is to be valued above all other treasures.

He speaks to this directly in Matthew 22:37-38 when He said, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment." Yet this kind of commitment is foreign to a great many North American "Christians." We have become used to a Christianity that accommodates and excuses. Rather than making God a priority in our lives, many settle for including Him, like one of many options. He's an influence - but not the Lord. He's an interest - but not the focus. When that occurs, our lives can spiral out of control.

We have seen this in the lives of these and many other celebrities, but we also see it in the lives of many ordinary people who have attended church at one time or another. They profess to "love God," and we believe them to be sincere. But Jesus asked a good question in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?"

So, what are we to make, then, of the claims that Whitney was a Christian, and Elvis was a Christian? Do those who live lives contrary to the clear commands of Scripture go to heaven? Here we turn to what has been called the "scandal of grace." Grace is defined as "the unmerited favour of God." It cannot be earned. Heaven is not for "good" people; it is for sinners saved by grace. If Whitney Houston and Elvis Presley called upon Jesus Christ in sincerity and accepted His sacrifice for their sins, I have no doubt that God received them as His children. But we look to 1 Corinthians 3, which speaks of people whose works produce no eternal reward but who will be saved "though only as one escaping through the flames."

One of the greatest tragedies I find in all of this is the wasted potential; the years spent wandering in the wilderness, destroying their God-given gift. I just find it so sad.

From what I've seen and heard, Whitney was a wonderful person, but one who was a slave to alcohol and drugs (both illicit and prescription). A friend of mine shared that her pastor was giving counsel to Whitney on a regular basis. We all heard the many reports of other Christians who were sought out by Whitney. I believe that she sincerely desired to live her life as a Christ-follower. Fame exacts a heavy price.

Each of us can learn a lesson from these stars' very public tragedies. We must be sure that we get our priorities in order. It's like the leadership lesson of "The Mason Jar," if we don't put the most important things in our lives first, there's no room for them later. I teach this on a regular basis because I believe it's one of the most important things we can learn. Put God first and the other issues will take care of themselves. Much of it comes down to trust.

Do we really trust God with our dreams? What if God wants me to be a missionary in Africa rather than make it in Hollywood? Here's what we need to remember: God made you and knows you better than you know yourself. He knows how you're wired and what will provide you with fulfillment. He wants what is best for you. Make the decision early on to trust God with your future and live your life accordingly.

I think a large part of the reason that more people don't do this is that our culture views faith as merely a quaint relic of the past that can be a source of comfort. The Biblical view of Christianity is all encompassing. It informs and affects every area of our lives. As C.S. Lewis rightly said: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

So what can we learn from the tragic lives of Whitney and Elvis and the rest?

Fame is not all that it's cracked up to be and the rich and famous are often to be pitied rather than envied.

Having a purpose beyond simply fame or wealth for their own sake can help avoid pitfalls.
See Tim Tebow as an example, who views the fact that he has gained some notoriety as simply a greater opportunity to make a positive difference in people's lives.

Building your life on principles enables you to keep a moral compass.
See the words of Jesus at the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

In all of our lives we will have challenges and problems, some our own making, some not. It is there that our foundation will be tested. Let's avoid the big crash, there's too much at stake.

Related Articles:
I Love Me!
“Put God First” - The Principle of Priority
What Is A Christ-follower?
Tim Tebow Mania
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