Chapters posted will be made available on the Lisa & Eric page for one week. To purchase Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado, click here. All author royalties from the book will go towards building water wells in Uganda*
Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado
Remember Who Holds You
Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?
When my nephew Lawson was three years old, he asked me to play some basketball. A towheaded, spark plug of a boy, he delights in anything round and bouncy. When he spotted the basketball and goal in my driveway, he couldn’t resist.
The ball, however, was as big as his midsection. The basket was three times his height. His best heaves fell way short. So I set out to help him. I lowered the goal from ten feet to eight feet. I led him closer to the target. I showed him how to “granny toss” the ball. Nothing helped. The ball never threatened the net. So I gave him a lift. With one hand on his back and my other beneath his little bottom, I lifted him higher and higher until he was eye level with the rim.
“Make a basket, Lawson!” I urged. And he did. He rolled the ball over the iron hoop, and down it dropped. Swoosh! And how did little Lawson respond? Still cradled in my hands, he punched both fists into the air and declared, “All by myself! All by myself!”
A bit of an overstatement, don’t you think, little fellow? After all, who held you? Who steadied you? Who showed you the way? Aren’t you forgetting somebody?
Stephen asked the same questions of the Jewish religious leaders.
He was one of the seven men tasked to care for the Gentile widows. Luke describes him as “full of faith and power, [who] did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). His ministry, however, provoked antagonism. A sect of jealous enemies falsely accused him of blasphemy. They marched him to the council of the Sanhedrin and demanded that he defend himself. Did he ever!
He caused a stir before he even opened his mouth. “Everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s” (Acts 6:15 nlt). Glowing cheeks. Light pouring through the pores of his face. Did his beard shimmer? Did heaven bathe him in a tunnel of brightness? I don’t know how to imagine the scene. But I know how to interpret it. This was God speaking. The sermon emerges, not from Stephen’s mind, but from God’s heart. Every vowel, consonant, and clearing of the throat was his. This was no casual message.
Nor was it a lightweight message. Fifty-two verses that led the listeners from Abraham to Jesus. Two thousand years of Hebrew history resulted in one indictment: “You’re forgetting who holds you.”
Stephen began with God’s land grant.
Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. God told him, “Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.” So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live. (Acts 7:2–4 nlt)
The only reason the Jews enjoyed a square inch of real estate was the kindness of God. He “appeared,” “said,” “promised,” “spoke,” “said,” and “gave” (vv. 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8). Even then, Abraham’s children almost squandered it away. They sold their brother into Egyptian slavery, divvied up the loot, and contrived a tale about an accidental death. The family lived with the lie for decades (vv. 9–15). Is this the way God’s chosen people behave?
But God intervened. He “was with [Joseph],” “delivered,” “gave him favor,” “gave . . . wisdom,” and “made [Joseph] governor” (vv. 9–10). When the people forgot God, God pursued the people.
Stephen continued with the story of Moses, “a beautiful child in God’s eyes” (v. 20 nlt). Stephen recounted Moses’ childhood among the Egyptians, his forty years of isolation, and his role as ruler and savior.
[Moses] led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years . . .
Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us. (vv. 36, 38 nlt)
Once again God was the Great Initiator. He placed Moses in the household of Pharaoh and educated him in the Ivy League schools of Egypt. He trained him in the way of the wilderness and equipped him with the power to part the Red Sea. God gave food in the desert and the law on the mountain. And how did the people respond? They forgot him.
They demanded return tickets on the first Greyhound back to Egypt. They actually made this request:
“Make us gods we can see and follow. This Moses who got us out here miles from nowhere—who knows what’s happened to him!” That was the time when they made a calf-idol, brought sacrifices to it, and congratulated each other on the wonderful religious program they had put together.
God wasn’t at all pleased. (vv. 40–42 msg)
Stephen’s message echoed like the pounding of a kettledrum in the assembly hall. Our ancestors forgot who brought us here. They forgot who carried us. They turned away from God, and now you’ve tried to put him in a box!
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness . . . until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house. (vv. 44–47)
Stephen wasn’t showing disrespect to the tabernacle or the temple. Both were built in accordance with God’s will. The mistake was not in their constructing the places of worship but in thinking the structures could contain God.
However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?” (vv. 48–50)
Translation? God cannot be localized. He has no address. No one has a monopoly on him. No temple can contain him.
These words didn’t settle well with the Sanhedrin. The temple was the pride of the people: huge stones, glittering gold, massive archways, and, most of all, the Holy of Holies—the house of God. Jews kept this bumper sticker on their oxcarts: “Don’t mess with the temple.” Yet Stephen challenged their big heads with a huge point: You’ve forgotten how big God is.
So far, no good. You boast about a land you did not conquer, a law you did not follow, and a stone box that wouldn’t encase God’s pinkie finger. Your view of self? Too big. Your view of God? Too small. So small that you missed him when he came to town.
Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition—traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels—gift-wrapped!—and you squandered it! (vv. 52–53 msg)
Stephen might as well have told the Confederates that “Dixie” was a Yankee saloon song. The council stood in anger. They “gnashed at him with their teeth” (v. 54). They bared their fangs like angry jackals pouncing on fresh meat. “They . . . stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (vv. 57–58).
Frightening thing, this pride. It would rather kill the truth than consider it.
Doesn’t it sneak up on us? We begin spiritual journeys as small people. The act of conversion is a humbling one. We confess sins, beg for mercy, bend our knees. We let someone lower us into the waters of baptism. We begin as self-effacing souls. Timid children who extend muddy hands to our sinless God. We relate to the thief on the cross, identify with David’s forgiven adultery, and find hope in Peter’s forgiven betrayal. We challenge Paul’s claim to the chief-of-sinners title, wondering if anyone could need or treasure grace as much as we do.
We come to God humbly. No swagger, no boasts, no “all by myself” declarations. We flex no muscles and claim no achievements. We cup sullied hearts in hands and offer them to God as we would a crushed, scentless flower: “Can you bring life to this?”
And he does. He does. We don’t. He works the miracle of salvation. He immerses us in mercy. He stitches together our shredded souls. He deposits his Spirit and implants heavenly gifts. Our big God blesses our small faith.
We understand the roles. He is the Milky Way galaxy. We are the sand flea. He is U2, and we are the neighborhood garage band, and that’s okay. We need a big God because we’ve made a big mess of our lives.
Gradually our big God changes us. And, gratefully, we lust less, love more, lash out less, look heavenward more. We pay bills, pay attention to spouses, pay respect to parents.
People notice the difference. They applaud us. Promote us. Admire us. Appoint us. We dare to outlive our lives. We—who came to Christ as sinful, soiled, and small—accomplish things. We build orphanages, lead companies, deliver the confused out of depression and the sick out of disease. Why, we even write books. We don’t feel so small anymore.
People talk to us as if we are something special.
“You have great influence.”
“What strong faith you have.”
“We need mighty saints like you.”
Feels nice. Kudos become ladder rungs, and we begin to elevate ourselves. We shed our smallness, discard the Clark Kent glasses, and don a Superman swagger. We forget.
We forget who brought us here.
We behave like the tick in the ear of the elephant. The big animal broke loose from the herd and charged across a wooden bridge. The worn-out bridge shivered and groaned, barely able to support the weight. When they reached the other side, the tick puffed out its chest and declared, “Boy, did we shake that bridge.”
We think we’re shaking up the world when actually we’re just along for the ride.
Take time to remember. “Look at what you were when God called you” (1 Cor. 1:26 ncv). Remember who held you in the beginning. Remember who holds you today.
Moses did. He served as the prince of Egypt and emancipator of the slaves, yet “Moses was . . . more humble than anyone else” (Num. 12:3 niv). The apostle Paul knew to go low and not high. He was saved through a personal visit from Jesus, granted a vision of the heavens and the ability to raise the dead. But when he introduced himself, he simply stated, “I, Paul, am God’s slave” (Titus 1:1 msg). John the Baptist was a blood relative of Jesus and one of the most famous evangelists in history. But he is remembered in Scripture as the one who resolved: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
And what about John Newton? This former slave trader served as a minister from 1764 until his death in 1807. He was a confidant of well-known leaders such as Hannah More and William Wilberforce. His hundreds of hymns fill churches with music. Yet on his deathbed the writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace” said these words to a young minister: “I’m going on before you, but you’ll soon come after me. When you arrive, our friendship will no doubt cause you to inquire for me. But I can tell you already where you’ll most likely find me. I’ll be sitting at the feet of the thief whom Jesus saved in His dying moments on the cross.”
John Newton never forgot who had lifted him up.
The greatest example of this humility is none other than Jesus Christ. Who had more reason to boast than he? Yet he never did. He walked on water but never strutted on the beach.
He turned a basket into a buffet but never demanded applause. A liberator and a prophet came to visit him, but he never dropped names in his sermon. He could have. “Just the other day I was conferring with Moses and Elijah.” But Jesus never thumped his chest. He refused even to take credit. “I can do nothing on my own” (John 5:30 nrsv). He was utterly reliant upon the Father and the Holy Spirit. “All by myself”? Jesus never spoke such words. If he didn’t, how dare we?
We can rise too high but can never stoop too low. What gift are you giving that he did not first give? What truth are you teaching that he didn’t first teach? You love. But who loved you first? You serve. But who served the most? What are you doing for God that he could not do alone?
How kind of him to use us. How wise of us to remember.
Stephen remembered. And since he remembered Jesus, Jesus remembered him. As Stephen’s accusers reached for their rocks, he looked toward Christ. “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Acts 7:55 nlt).
Stephen stood on behalf of Christ, and in the end, Christ returned the favor.
What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?
(1 Corinthians 4:7 nlt)
My Father, I desire that the attitude of John the Baptist might be my own—that Jesus would increase even as I decrease. Give me an ever-larger picture of you so I might see myself with ever-increasing clarity and revel each day in your amazing grace. Keep foolish pride far from me, and give me the sense to humble myself in healthy ways that bring strength and joy to everyone around me. Remind me constantly, Lord, that you hold my life and breath and eternal future in your loving hands and that every good thing I have comes from you. Never let me forget that although without you I can do nothing, in Christ I can do all things. The difference is you. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
Questions for Discussion
1. Which personal achievements make you feel most grateful? How much did God have to do with them? How could you thank God for his help and tell others about it?
2. In what seasons of life is it tempting to have a too-small view of God or a too-large view of yourself? What helpful habits could you develop to keep these two tendencies in check?
3. What instruction on pride and humility do you find in James 4:6–10? In what ways do you see humble people experiencing grace? When have you seen proud people opposed?
4. How does James 4:13–17 help you talk about the future with humility?
5. Humility and pride are opposites. However, wisdom may be a helpful path to cultivating humility and beating pride. How might a wise view of reality combat a too-high or too-low view of self?
Ideas for Action
■ Do not miss what God is up to in your city. Use a journal to track moments when you see God moving. When did he show up in a way that you noticed? How did things go differently because someone was living as Christ would?
■ The next time you receive praise, respond intentionally. Beware of dismissing it entirely by saying the accomplishment was nothing. Spread the praise around to others who helped you achieve it. Even better, praise others who helped,
but then give God the glory for it all.
Reprinted by permission. Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference by Max Lucado, 2010, copyright date, Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved