The best sign of the magnificence of God is a transformed life.
Several years ago, a speaker at the North American Christian Convention concluded his talk by having a number of people parade across the stage, each holding those cardboard signs often held by homeless people. Etched in permanent marker, the first side told of a past life: homeless, divorced, suicidal, addicted, or lonely.
Then each person turned their sign around and we read of a new life: transformed, freed, filled with joy, and alone no more. The smile on each face cast the personal touch – this wasn’t just a sermon illustration. This change really did happen.
Isabel (not her real name) could have filled a refrigerator box with the details of her transformed life.
I met Isabel the day before my mother’s surgery while our family was poking around an import store just to have something to do to fill the hours. As we interacted with the store owner, in response to something I told her, she suddenly launched into her life story. We ceased our meandering and stood spellbound as we heard a story of abuse, betrayal, depression, release and transformation.
With Isabel’s permission, I’d like to share her story with you.
Born in Honduras, Isabel suffered abuse at the hands of both her father and step-father while her mother turned her head. Isabel survived a house fire at a young age. At fifteen years old, she was kidnapped. Anger at her mother and despair at her life sucked her into the drug culture. Several times she tried to commit suicide.
In all of this, she knew nothing of God.
When she reached the United States, at one point, someone handed her a scrap of paper that simply said, “If you would like to know more about Jesus, call this number.” She ignored the message but kept the note.
Meanwhile, she married into an abusive situation and had a child. At age 21, with an 18 month old baby, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and faced the reality that she might die. Even though she had tried to commit suicide several times, now she did not want to die. She had a child she needed to live for.
“God if you are real,” Isabel spoke into the unknown, “show me. If You prove to me that You are real, I promise I will find out more about this Jesus.”
As Isabel told this next part, she had tears in her eyes and her English failed her. She told how she had a vision of a man dressed in glowing white robes that came toward her. Something like fish scales fell from her eyes and in her dream, she realized she was coming face to face with the Living Lord. It was only years later that she read the account in Acts 9 about Saul on the road to Damascus and realized her experience was much like Saul’s.
How appropriate that her experience simulated the Apostle Pauls’ encounter with Jesus. Paul told his apprentice in 1 Timothy 1:15,16:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners –of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
Catch what that verse is saying! Did you ever wonder why God selected Paul to be the first messenger of the Gospel to the Gentiles? Why a former murderer? Why someone who originally opposed the faith? Why not someone like Peter, John or Andrew?
Yeah, good ole’ Andrew! He would have been my choice. Or what about that little boy who had the faith to share his lunch with Jesus? He had a good doctrinal grounding. No, God chose Paul because Paul was a living example of the fact that God can absolutely turn around a life headed in the wrong direction.
That was God’s plan for Isabel as well.
Today, Isabel has three children with a loving husband. She is a small business owner of a flourishing import shop. Her life is totally turned around. She told us how her business was only a tool, a platform for proclaiming Christ. “I evaluate every person who enters my store to see if they are ready to hear my story,” she told us. “Sometimes it’s not right, sometimes they aren’t ready. But I pray for God to show me who I can tell about Jesus.”
My feet shifted several times. I felt like I was standing on holy ground, for surely the presence of the magnificent Lord was in that place. My family, normally conservative in our expression of worship, gathered in a spontaneous prayer circle and praised the Lord for His interest and ability to rescue lives from the mired pit of sin and self-destruction. We prayed that God would mightily use Isabel to reflect His grace to those He brought into her store.
Do you know someone who is entangled in sin’s clutches either through their own choices or the evil and wickedness imposed by others? Do you ever wonder if it is too late for that person to experience the love and forgiveness of Jesus? It isn’t. Look at Isabel, oh, look at Isabel!
You can be part of the process. Pray fervently for that person to discover Jesus. Pray also that God will show you how He can use you to bring healing and restoration to that person.