Sep 28 2010

Out Live Your Life - Don't Write Off Anyone

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*

 

Chapter 13

Don’t Write Off Anyone

Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

—Acts 9:17

Ananias hurries through the narrow Damascus streets.1 His dense and bristling beard does not hide his serious face. Friends call as he passes, but he doesn’t pause. He murmurs as he goes, “Saul? Saul? No way. Can’t be true.”

He wonders if he misheard the instructions. Wonders if he should turn around and inform his wife. Wonders if he should stop and tell someone where he is headed in case he never returns. But he doesn’t. Friends would call him a fool. His wife would tell him not to go.

But he has to. He scampers through the courtyard of chickens, towering camels, and little donkeys. He steps past the shop of the tailor and doesn’t respond to the greeting of the tanner. He keeps moving until he reaches the street called Straight. The inn has low arches and large rooms with mattresses. Nice by Damascus standards, the place of choice by any person of significance or power, and Saul is certainly both.

Ananias and the other Christians have been preparing for him. Some of the disciples have left the city. Others have gone into hiding. Saul’s reputation as a Christian killer preceded him. But the idea of Saul the Christ follower?

That was the message of the vision. Ananias replays it one more time.

Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight. (Acts 9:11–12)

Ananias nearly choked on his matzo. This isn’t possible! He reminded God of Saul’s hard heart. “I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem” (v. 13). Saul a Christian? Sure, as soon as a turtle learns to two-step.

But God wasn’t teasing. “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (v. 15).

Ananias rehashes the words as he walks. The name Saul doesn’t couple well with chosen vessel. Saul the thick head—yes. Saul the critic—okay. But Saul the chosen vessel? Ananias shakes his head at the thought. By now he is halfway down Straight Street and seriously considering turning around and going home. He would have, except the two guards spot him.

“What brings you here?” they shout from the second story. They stand at attention. Their faces are wintry with unrest.

Ananias knows who they are—soldiers from the temple. Traveling companions of Saul.

“I’ve been sent to help the rabbi.”

They lower their spears. “We hope you can. Something has happened to him. He doesn’t eat or drink. Scarcely speaks.”

Ananias can’t turn back now. He ascends the stone stairs. The guards step aside, and Ananias steps into the doorway. He gasps at what he sees. A gaunt man sitting cross-legged on the floor, half shadowed by a shaft of sunlight. Hollow-cheeked and dry-lipped, he rocks back and forth, groaning a prayer.

“How long has he been like this?”

“Three days.”

Saul’s head sits large on his shoulders. He has a beaked nose and a bushy ridge for eyebrows. The food on the plate and the water in the cup sit untouched on the floor. His eyes stare out of their sockets in the direction of an open window. A crusty film covers them. Saul doesn’t even wave the flies away from his face. Ananias hesitates. If this is a setup, he is history. If not, the moment is.

This encounter deserves something special: a drumroll, a stained-glass reenactment in a church window, some pages in a book called You, on a Pew? Before we read about Augustine and the child’s voice or C. S. Lewis and the Inklings, we need to read about Saul, stubborn Saul, and the disciple who took a chance on him.

No one could fault Ananias’s reluctance. Saul saw Christians as couriers of a plague. He stood near the high priest at Stephen’s trial. He watched over the coats of stone throwers at the execution. He nodded in approval at Stephen’s final breath. And when the Sanhedrin needed a hit man to terrorize the church, Saul stepped forward. He became the Angel of Death. He descended on the Christians in a fury “uttering threats with every breath” (Acts 9:1 nlt). He “persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13).

Ananias knew what Saul had done to the church in Jerusalem. What he was about to learn, however, is what Jesus had done to Saul on the road to Damascus.

The trip was Saul’s idea. The city had seen large numbers of conversions. When word of the revival reached Saul, he made his request: “Send me.” So the fiery young Hebrew left Jerusalem on his first missionary journey, hell-bent on stopping the church. The journey to Damascus was a long one, 150 miles. Saul likely rode horseback, careful to bypass the Gentile villages. This was a holy journey.

It was also a hot journey. The lowland between Mount Hermon and Damascus could melt silver. The sun struck like spears; the heat made waves out of the horizon. Somewhere on this thirsty trail, Jesus knocked Saul to the ground and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).

Saul jammed his fists into his eye sockets as if they were filled with sand. He rolled onto his knees and lowered his head down to the earth. “‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (v. 5). When Saul lifted his head to look, the living centers of his eyes had vanished. He was blind. He had the vacant stare of a Roman statue.

His guards rushed to help. They led him to the Damascus inn and walked him up the stairwell.

By the time Ananias arrives, blind Saul has begun to see Jesus in a different light.

Ananias enters and sits on the stone floor. He takes the hand of the had-been terrorist and feels it tremble. He observes Saul’s quivering lips. Taking note of the sword and spear resting in the corner, Ananias realizes Christ has already done the work. All that remains is for Ananias to show Saul the next step. “Brother Saul . . . ” (How sweet those words must have sounded. Saul surely wept upon hearing them.)

Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (v. 17)

Tears rush like a tide against the crusts on Saul’s eyes. The scaly covering loosens and falls away. He blinks and sees the face of his new friend.

Within the hour he’s stepping out of the waters of baptism. Within a few days he’s preaching in a synagogue. The first of a thousand sermons. Saul soon becomes Paul, and Paul preaches from the hills of Athens, pens letters from the bowels of prisons, and ultimately sires a genealogy of theologians, including Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin.

God used Paul to touch the world. But he first used Ananias to touch Paul. Has God given you a similar assignment? Has God given you a Saul?

A mother recently talked to me about her son. He’s serving time in a maximum-security unit for robbery. Everyone else, even his father, has given up on the young man. But his mom has a different outlook. She really thinks her son’s best years are ahead of him. “He’s a good boy,” she said firmly. “When he gets out of there, he’s going to make something out of his life.”

Another Saul, another Ananias.

I ran into a friend in a bookstore. He recently celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary. He teared up as he described the saint he married and the jerk his wife married. “I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t treat people with respect. Six weeks into the marriage, I came home one day to find her crying in the bathtub about the mistake she had made. But she never gave up on me.”

Another Saul, another Ananias.

And you? Everyone else has written off your Saul. “He’s too far gone.” “She’s too hard . . . too addicted . . . too old . . . too cold.” No one gives your Saul a prayer. But you are beginning to realize that maybe God is at work behind the scenes. Maybe it’s too soon to throw in the towel . . . You begin to believe.

Don’t resist these thoughts.

Joseph didn’t. His brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery. Yet he welcomed them into his palace.

David didn’t. King Saul had a vendetta against David, but David had a soft spot for Saul. He called him “the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:10).

Hosea didn’t. His wife, Gomer, was queen of the red-light district, but Hosea kept his front door open. And she came home.

Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did. He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving. And in the life of a wild-eyed, bloodthirsty extremist, he saw an apostle of grace. He believed in Saul. And he believed in Saul through Ananias.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Don’t give up on your Saul. When others write him off, give him another chance. Stay strong. Call him brother. Call her sister. Tell your Saul about Jesus, and pray. And remember this: God never sends you where he hasn’t already been. By the time you reach your Saul, who knows what you’ll find.

My favorite Ananias-type story involves a couple of college roommates. The Ananias of the pair was a tolerant soul. He tolerated his friend’s late-night drunkenness, midnight throw-ups, and all day sleep-ins. He didn’t complain when his friend disappeared for the weekend or smoked cigarettes in the car. He could have requested a roommate who went to church more or cursed less or cared about something other than impressing girls.

But he hung with his personal Saul, seeming to think that something good could happen if the guy could pull his life together. So he kept cleaning up the mess, inviting his roommate to church, and covering his back.

I don’t remember a bright light or a loud voice. I’ve never traveled a desert road to Damascus. But I distinctly remember Jesus knocking me off my perch and flipping on the light. It took four semesters, but Steve’s example and Jesus’ message finally got through.

So if this book lifts your spirit, you might thank God for my Ananias, Steve Green. Even more, you might listen to that voice in your heart and look on your map for a street called Straight.

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.

(1 Timothy 1:16 niv)

O Lord, nobody lies beyond the grasp of your grace. Who in my life do I see as hopeless? What man or woman who currently seems far from you do you want to bring into your family, in part through me? What Saul is out there to whom I could become an Ananias? Father, I pray that you would show your greatness and your power by using me in some way to introduce an “unlikely candidate” to your son. Help me triumph over my fears and obliterate my misconceptions as you work through me to bring someone else, through faith, into the circle of your love. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   Name a very public or famous person whom nobody would expect to convert to Christianity. Why does it seem so unlikely that the person would become a Christian?

 

2.   Share a story either about yourself or someone whom you know personally that made an unexpected radical conversion to God.

 

3.   “Has God given you a Saul?” Is there someone in your life whom most people have given up on and dismissed? How could you be an Ananias for that person?

 

4.   What does Scripture say about reaching out to those in need? How can you be more sensitive to the Father’s promptings in this area?

 

5.   How would you describe your conversion? Was it sudden or gradual? What are you doing to help others experience conversion?

Ideas for Action

          If you struggled to think of a potential Saul in your life, try to meet someone who could become that person. What kind of routine environment would help you become friends with people who are far from God—or even opposed to God? Remember, God may be leading you to that place just as he led Ananias to Straight Street.

 

         Schedule time with a person who has converted to Christ and may need a mature Christian to disciple him or her. Start the process by simply asking that individual to retell his or her story, and then ask how you could help in the next leg of the journey.

 “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.”

Sep 27 2010

Out Live Your Life - Blast A Few Walls (Chapter 12)

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

Chapter 12

Blast a Few Walls

“See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

—Acts 8:36, 37

 

Fans rooted for the competition. Cheerleaders switched loyalties. The coach helped the opposition score points. Parents yelled for the competition.

 

What was this?

 

This was the brainchild of a big-hearted football coach in Grapevine, Texas. Kris Hogan skippers the successful program of Faith Christian High School. He has seventy players, eleven coaches, quality equipment, and parents who care, make banners, attend pep rallies, and wouldn’t miss a game for their own funeral.

 

They took their 7–2 record into a contest with Gainesville State School. Gainesville’s players, by contrast, wear seven-year-old shoulder pads and last decade’s helmets and show up at each game wearing handcuffs. Their parents don’t watch them play, but twelve uniformed officers do. That’s because Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility.

 

The school doesn’t have a stadium, cheerleading squad, or half a hope of winning. Gainesville was 0–8 going into the Grapevine game. They’d scored two touchdowns all year.

 

The whole situation didn’t seem fair. So Coach Hogan devised a plan. He asked the fans to step across the field and, for one night only, to cheer for the other side. More than two hundred volunteered.

 

They formed a forty-yard spirit line. They painted “Go Tornadoes!” on a banner that the Gainesville squad could burst through. They sat on the Gainesville side of the stadium. They even learned the names of Gainesville players so they could yell for individuals.

 

The prisoners had heard people scream their names but never like this. Gerald, a lineman who will serve three years, said, “People are a little afraid of us when we come to the games. You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us. By our names!”

 

After the game the teams gathered in the middle of the field to say a prayer. One of the incarcerated players asked to lead it. Coach Hogan agreed, not knowing what to expect. “Lord,” the boy said, “I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank you, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

Grapevine fans weren’t finished. After the game they waited beside the Gainesville bus to give each player a good-bye gift—burger, fries, candy, soda, a Bible, an encouraging letter, and a round of applause. As their prison bus left the parking lot, the players pressed stunned faces against the windows and wondered what had just hit them.

 

Here’s what hit them: a squad of bigotry-demolition experts. Their assignment? Blast bias into dust. Their weapons? A fusillade of “You still matter” and “Someone still cares.” Their mission? Break down barricades that separate God’s children from each other.

 

Do any walls bisect your world? There you stand on one side. And on the other? The person you’ve learned to disregard, perhaps even disdain. The teen with the tats. The boss with the bucks. The immigrant with the hard-to-understand accent. The person on the opposite side of your political fence. The beggar who sits outside your church every week.

 

Or the Samaritans outside Jerusalem.

 

Talk about a wall, ancient and tall. “Jews,” as John wrote in his gospel, “refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans” (John 4:9 nlt). The two cultures had hated each other for a thousand years. The feud involved claims of defection, intermarriage, and disloyalty to the temple. Samaritans were blacklisted. Their beds, utensils—even their spittle—were considered unclean. No orthodox Jew would travel into the region. Most Jews would gladly double the length of their trip rather than go through Samaria.

 

Jesus, however, played by a different set of rules. He spent the better part of a day on the turf of a Samaritan woman, drinking water from her ladle, discussing her questions (John 4:1–26). He stepped across the cultural taboo as if it were a sleeping dog in the doorway. Jesus loves to break down walls.

 

That’s why he sent Philip to Samaria.

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed . . .

When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. (Acts 8:57, 12)

 

The city broke out into a revival. Peter and John heard about the response and traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria to confirm it. “When they had come down, [they] prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (vv. 1517).

 

This is a curious turn of events. Why hadn’t the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit? On the Day of Pentecost, Peter promised the gift of the Spirit to those who repented and were baptized. How then can we explain the baptism of the Samaritans, which, according to Luke, was not accompanied by the Spirit? Why delay the gift?

 

Simple. To celebrate the falling of a wall. The gospel, for the first time, was breaching an ancient bias. God marked the moment with a ticker-tape parade of sorts. He rolled out the welcome mat and sent his apostles to verify the revival and place hands on the Samaritans. Let any doubt be gone: God accepts all people.

 

But he wasn’t finished. He sent Philip on a second cross-cultural mission.

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (vv. 2629)

Walls separated Philip from the eunuch. The Ethiopian was dark skinned; Philip was light. The official hailed from distant Africa; Philip grew up nearby. The traveler was rich enough to travel. And who was Philip but a simple refugee, banished from Jerusalem? And don’t overlook the delicate matter of differing testosterone levels. Philip, we later learn, was the father of four girls (Acts 21:9). The official was a eunuch. No wife or kids or plans for either. The lives of the two men could not have been more different.

 

But Philip didn’t hesitate. He “preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:35–36).

 

No small question. A black, influential, effeminate official from Africa turns to the white, simple, virile Christian from Jerusalem and asks, “Is there any reason I can’t have what you have?”

 

What if Philip had said, “Now that you mention it, yes. Sorry. We don’t take your type”?

 

But Philip, charter member of the bigotry-demolition team, blasted through the wall and invited, “‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’” (v. 37).

 

Next thing you know, the eunuch is stepping out of the baptism waters, whistling “Jesus Loves Me,” Philip is on to his next assignment, and the church has her first non-Jewish convert.

 

And we are a bit dizzy. What do we do with a chapter like this? Samaria. Peter and John arriving. Holy Spirit falling. Gaza. Ethiopian official. Philip. What do these events teach us?

 

They teach us how God feels about the person on the other side of the wall.

He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance . . . Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. (Eph. 2:1416 msg)

The cross of Christ creates a new people, a people unhindered by skin color or family feud. A new citizenry based, not on common ancestry or geography, but on a common Savior.

 

My friend Buckner Fanning experienced this firsthand. He was a marine in World War II, stationed in Nagasaki three weeks after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Can you imagine a young American soldier amid the rubble and wreckage of the demolished city? Radiation-burned victims wandering the streets. Atomic fallout showering on the city. Bodies burned to a casket black. Survivors shuffling through the streets, searching for family, food, and hope. The conquering soldier feeling not victory but grief for the suffering around him.

 

Instead of anger and revenge, Buckner found an oasis of grace. While patrolling the narrow streets, he came upon a sign that bore an English phrase: Methodist Church. He noted the location and resolved to return the next Sunday morning.

 

When he did, he entered a partially collapsed structure. Windows, shattered. Walls, buckled. The young marine stepped through the rubble, unsure how he would be received.

 

Fifteen or so Japanese were setting up chairs and removing debris. When the uniformed American entered their midst, they stopped and turned.

 

He knew only one word in Japanese. He heard it. Brother. “They welcomed me as a friend,” Buckner relates, the power of the moment still resonating more than sixty years after the events. They offered him a seat. He opened his Bible and, not understanding the sermon, sat and observed. During communion the worshippers brought him the elements. In that quiet moment the enmity of their nations and the hurt of the war was set aside as one Christian served another the body and blood of Christ.

 

Another wall came a-tumblin’ down.

 

What walls are in your world?

 

Brian Overcast is knocking down walls in Morelia, Mexico. As director of the NOÉ Center (New Opportunities in Education), Brian and his team address the illegal immigration problem from a unique angle. Staff members told me recently, “Mexicans don’t want to cross the border. If they could stay home, they would. But they can’t because they can’t get jobs. So we teach them English. With English skills they can get accepted into one of Mexico’s low-cost universities and find a career at home. Others see illegal immigrants; we see opportunities.”

 

Another wall down.

 

We can’t outlive our lives if we can’t get beyond our biases. Who are your Samaritans? Ethiopian eunuchs? Whom have you been taught to distrust and avoid?

 

It’s time to remove a few bricks.

 

Welcome the day God takes you to your Samaria—not so distant in miles but different in styles, tastes, tongues, and traditions.

 

And if you meet an Ethiopian eunuch, so different yet so sincere, don’t refuse that person. Don’t let class, race, gender, politics, geography, or culture hinder God’s work. For the end of the matter is this: when we cross the field and cheer for the other side, everyone wins.

 

Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.

(Romans 15:7 nlt)

Lord, in how many ways does my foolish heart make false distinctions among your people? Reveal them to me. How often do I judge someone as unworthy of you by the way I treat him or her? Rebuke me in your love. Where can I blast a wall or remove a barrier that keeps your children apart from one another? Give me some dynamite and the skill and courage to use it for your glory. What can I do in my sphere of influence to bring the love of Christ to someone who may feel ostracized or estranged from you? Lend me divine insight, and bless me with the resolve to be your hands and feet. May I be a bridge and not a wall. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   Philip went to Samaria, and the grace of God blasted the walls between the Jews and Samaritans. Max asks you, “Do any walls bisect your world?” What divisions do you see dominating your culture? What unspoken rules of separation promote a subconscious prejudice? How long has this wall been there? What are the root causes? What keeps it going?

 

2.   Describe yourself with the categories Max used to describe Philip (skin, hometown, economics, relationships, etc.). Now describe someone quite the opposite of you in these categories. Name someone you know who resembles the latter.

 

3.   As Christians, how well do we live out Galatians 3:28–29 and erase the divisions between us? Where have we succeeded? Where have we failed?

 

4.   How could you tell a person on the other side of a dividing wall that he or she matters to you? What could you do to show that person you care?

Ideas for Action

■ Be honest with yourself about your prejudices. Spend some quiet time thinking about this. Make a list of groups of people you tend to prejudge or categorize. Pray over that piece of paper, asking God to change your heart. Then shred the list, embracing the freedom that comes with unbiased eyes.

 

 Grow in your cross-cultural awareness. Learn about the group that lives on the other side of a dividing social wall in your community or region. Eat where they eat, shop where they shop, and meet people. Listen to their stories. Find out what you have in common. Find out what differences are crucial, and be sensitive to them.

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.

 

Sep 23 2010

The Story of Your Life ... Linda's Story

 

 

Matthew West has a new album coming out October 5th called "The Story of Your Life" ... songs inspired by letters from people just like you.  Today we catch up with Matthew and connect him with a woman whose story has touched Matthew (and thousands of others) and inspired a new song.  Linda's story is below ...

 

 

The Reason For The World

 

Linda

McAlester, OK

 

matthew...you already know our story so well, but this tues, march 2, is the 1st anniversary of losing our precious ryan...the things that have transpired over this past year have been the most amazing things we have ever seen and more than ryan could have imagined...he prayed to be a light for God, to make a difference, to be famous and be able to share Gods love in a huge way...his prayer to NOT go through the motions put us all in a path that we never dreamed would happen...today we gathered at his grave and his granfather spoke and said "ryan has touched more lives in his death than he ever could have in his life"...so this was ryans legacy, and his prayer to reach others was answered...our family is incomplete until we are together again.....

 

Matthew’s commentary:

 

Ryan McAfee was an amazing 18 year old kid from a small town in Oklahoma who loved his family, his friends, but most of all he loved God.  Everywhere he went, he impacted the lives of those around him.  Ryan was involved in car accident and his life came to a tragic end, leaving his family and friends holding broken hearts and unanswered prayers. 

 

I was informed that my song, “The Motions” was played at Ryan’s memorial service, because it was one of his favorite songs, and he had posted the lyrics on his facebook page the day before he passed away.   I reached out to this family when I heard this, and we have become good friends since.   Ryan’s older brother even went on tour with me, speaking to audiences across the country about his brother’s life and death.  To this day, Ryan’s life continues to touch many others. 

 

But even as a family tries to pick up the pieces in the wake of such a tragedy, the questions don’t always go away so quickly.  As a mother says goodbye to her son, in the deepest part of her heartbreak, she cannot find a good reason why this has happened.  This is the reality of our limited view as humans.  We cannot see the big picture, and we were never designed to.  God is all knowing, the holder of tomorrow.  The one who knows the reason why bad things happen to good people. 

 

But the hope that we can hold on to in times of tragedy, the anchor for our souls when we are treading water in a sea of grief is this promise that He has “prepared a place” for us.  This place called Heaven is a place where every tear will be wiped away, and every question answered.  This is the promise that makes me long for home.   

Sep 23 2010

Out Live Your Life - Remember Who Holds You (Chapter 11)

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

Chapter 11

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?

—Acts 7:49–50

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. 4850)

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