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Friday, February 27, 2009

Making God Visible

Philip Yancey, in a talk given on the topic of prayer told the story of Joanna, a woman of the South African Colored race who with her husband lived near one of the most notorious prisons in South Africa. This particular prison housed the most violent criminals. Conditions inside were horrible. As many as fifty people were housed in the same cell, with rows of bunks three high in addition to mattresses on the floor. The prisoners were allowed outside the cell only one hour a day. Bathroom facilities consisted of a single garbage can inside the cell. The stench inside the prison was overpowering. Violence was an everyday occurrence. The year prior to Joanna’s involvement at the prison, violence had to be quelled three out of every four days. Then Joanna felt God calling her to minister to the prisoners who were incarcerated in that prison. A year later there were only two incidents of violence during the entire year. Something miraculous had happened. The British Broadcasting Corporation was so intrigued by what had gone on that they filmed two documentaries on the prison and what had happened there. When Yancey, on a trip to South Africa, met with Joanna, he asked her how she had been able to do the work of God inside that prison. She replied that God was always present there. She only made him visible.

She only made him visible! God is present in the slums, the refugee camps, and the prisons. He is present in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. He is present in our slums, our ghettos and our drug houses. He is present in New Orleans and in the Mississippi and Louisiana towns not yet rebuilt in the aftermath of Katrina. He only asks that we make him visible.

We can easily ask the question “How do we make God visible?” There is no precise answer. There are many ways. For one person it may be going down to the Katrina ravaged south and helping rebuild a poor widow’s home. For another it may be sitting with a friend who is dying or listening to someone who is facing a difficult situation. For a third, it is befriending an at risk child. It may be taking a meal to a family who has experienced grief. There are as many ways as there are people. But each has one thing in common – demonstrating the love of God to those in need.

. When one of his disciples asked Jesus to show them God, he replied “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). Jesus was making God visible all along. When John the Baptist, languishing in prison sent a message asking if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus told John that the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed, the deaf hear and the gospel is preached. Jesus was demonstrating the love of God to those in need. By healing and loving people he was making God visible and showing that he was the Messiah. He visibly did the things the prophets said the Messiah would do.

God calls us to make him visible too. Today we live in a society that has little use for God. Religion is being removed from the public square. People are becoming less and less knowledgeable about God. In such a society, many people will only see God through us. Joanna definitely made him visible. As we look at our lives, are we also making God visible?

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