Whitney Houston: A Eulogy

In the gospel According to Matthew, Jesus says, “you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).[1]

This saying places emphasis on identity and uniqueness. A disciple is unique because of who he is. The identity of a disciple makes him unique. In this case, Jesus identifies a disciple as a light-bearer. What makes a light-bearer unique is what he is contrasted against, darkness. By saying “you are the light,” Jesus should be understood to be implying that there is darkness all around and that the disciple is not like that darkness. Without darkness, it wouldn’t matter if the lamp is placed “under a bowl.”

The light-bearer, who now knows who he is, is told to “let your light shine before men” (5:16). Knowledge of identity precedes that of mission (in this case). Having to be who he is in an environment that is not conducive to who he is, is what the light-bearer is told to do. If he is indeed who he claims to be, then he will be who he is, for he can’t be anything else.

A light-bearer does “good deeds” that are not intended towards glorifying himself, but his “Father in heaven.” This final part of the saying is truly the ultimate purpose of a light-bearer’s existence: glorifying God. Indeed, humanity finds true self-fulfillment in a life that brings praise to the “Father in heaven.” Thus, a light-bearer, when his entire life is viewed as a whole, will ultimately reflect the God whose light he bears.

Whitney Houston was a star, a light that stood out against others that surrounded her, a city on a hill. And she still is all that. Although she now sleeps the sleep of the dead her contribution to this world, especially in music, is colossal. No one can ignore the elephant in the room. The world is full of singers, but none of them sounds like Whitney.

Whitney is missed by her family and close friends. They are the ones who are primarily affected by her death. They are the ones who have watched her grow up to be the star that she is today. Before the lights were fixated on her, they were the ones that first saw someone of worth. At this time, they are in pain. They are not now concerned with what legacy she leaves behind (although they will do their best to make sure that she is remembered as positively as possible). They are grieving over the loss of Whitney, the person.

They are not the only ones that are grieving. Fans of Whitney are grieving also. Fans are grieving over the loss of someone they admire; sing songs recorded by; and watched performances by. They are in disbelief. They weren’t ready for this type of news. For them, it came like a “bat out of hell.” They are forced to say goodbye to a shining light they believe is gone too soon. They are left only with CDs, pictures, and videos of the starlet in all her glory, not enough for hearts that are broken.

Undoubtedly, in Whitney’s official eulogy there will be great praise for what she has accomplished in over 40 years of life. It is a feat that many of will never attain to, let alone aspire to do so. She will be lifted up in grand sermonic discourses describing her towering and iconic status. So great will the praises be that, if it was possible, they would usher Whitney into the gates of heaven—a place she certainly be said to be in. Truly, her family will be proud. But what kind of light was Whitney? Did she leave behind a legacy that praises the “Father in heaven”?

To claim to have an answer to that question would be pompous on my part. Some may be offended that one would even ask such a thing. Only God truly knows whether or not she brought glory to His name. All that can be done now by we who are still living is evaluation of our own lives in an attempt to sort out whether we are living a life that praises God. It is much better to make assessments of ourselves than others. Although we would never admit to this, we tend to make great mistakes when it comes to the latter.

The death of such a young star reminds us that we cannot continue to exist forever. At some point, this life will come to an end, one way or another. Before it does, however, we can take a deeper look at (1) who we are, (2) what we have done and are doing, and (3) who that did and is glorifying: God or the other. The death of Whitney forces us to reflect collectively, as those who are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

As we look over Whitney’s life, let us look at ours and sort out what type of lights are we. The heights that can be obtain means nothing if our “Father in heaven” is not praised. That is truly what we were born to do. Although Whitney is resting in peace, we will not be able to have any peace now unless we are living to what we are destined to be.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures in this article are taken from the New International Version.


The Great Commission

Part of being a Christian is to engage oneself in the carrying out of the great commission (Matt. 28:16-20). Typically, in a Sabbath morning Adventist worship service, there is a segment set aside for reporting on and motivating the members to evangelize. The passage concerning the great commission is often read, however, perhaps due to  the scheduling of the segment, or the seriousness with which it is taken and/or presented, profoundly tangible results are rarely seen.

In response to this apparent crisis, some have form evangelistic groups consisting of a coalition of the willing to flood the surrounding neighborhoods with pamphlets and books. Others have sought to fulfill the mandate through one on one conversations with those they meet while engaging in daily affairs. I prefer the latter. How one chooses to respond to the innate call of presenting the good news they have received to others must be grounded in fundamental concepts as observable in Matthew 28:16-20. This is not to suggest that one will be unable to tell the good news without a breakdown of this passage, however, it is to bring attention to what we usually miss in our haste to do what we think we ought to.

Analysis of this passage reveals that Jesus sandwiches the command (vs. 19 and 20a) between two statements concerning Himself. The first statement is one in which He assures the disciples– οἱ ἕνδεκα, “the eleven,” since Judas was no longer a part–of the authority that He has on heaven and earth (28:18). This authority is not one that He takes, but one that is “given” (28:19 NIV). We ought to deduce that God is functioning as the giver. The second statement is one in which He assures them of His continuous presence (28:20b). As if this was the last thing that needed saying, the gospel abruptly ends.

The word that is translated as “authority” in the NIV and “power” in the KJV is the Greek word ἐξουσία (exousia). The fact that He has “all” of it in “heaven and on earth” emphasizes the totality of this authority. It is unlimited and unmatched. The different spheres of reality–things visible and invisible–are all subject to this authority. Furthermore, the One with such an authority also promises His continuous presence. These were the assurances given from a tangible being that had resurrected from the dead.

Before any explanation is given on the command, there is something to note concerning whom Jesus was speaking to and the condition in which some of them were in. Jesus was speaking to disciples consisting of some who doubted if He was really there in the flesh. In spite of the doubt, “they [all] worshiped” and were commanded. Jesus did not make any distinction between those who doubted and those who didn’t, He called all of them to the task of disciple making.

There is a need to escape the habit of categorizing individuals in terms of evangelistic qualifications. In fact, we don’t know what God can do with the ones whom we believe to be inadequate. In the case of the disciples, some doubted. Today, there might be many reasons why some may think that certain individuals are not capable. Let’s not forget that it takes disciples to make disciples and none of them were perfect. The ones who continued on with Jesus were striving forward in spite of their deficiencies.

What is the great commission? It is God’s mission for His people, first through the first century disciples, then followed by preceding believers. In a way, the great commission was always God’s plan for His people. We are sent out to participate in the act of making disciples. Disciple making does not only involve baptizing, but it involves teaching. Usually, there is much excitement concerning baptism but no one is around when the water dries. The new believer is left to fend for his/herself while we watch and criticize their sincerity.

Perhaps it’s time we start really reflecting on what is our mission as the people of God. Some time ago I wrote a piece entitled, “Ecclesiology: Introductory Thoughts About the Church.” I hope to continue that series in two blogs in the future by first writing on the nature of the church, and then it’s mission–which is introduced here. I look forward to your comments.