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

 

Sep 22 2010

Out Live Your Life - Stand Up for the Have-Nots (Chapter 10)

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Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado

 

Chapter 10

Stand Up for the Have-Nots

The Greek-speaking widows were not given their share when the food supplies were handed out each day.

—Acts 6:1 (cev)

Jim Wallis took some scissors to his Bible. He was a seminary student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when he and some classmates decided to eliminate a few verses. They performed surgery on all sixty-six books, beginning with Genesis and not stopping until Revelation. Each time a verse spoke to the topic of poverty, wealth, justice, or oppression, they cut it out. They wanted to see what a compassionless Bible looked like. By the time they finished, nearly two thousand verses lay on the floor, and a book of tattered pages remained.

 

 

Cut concern for the poor out of the Bible, and you cut the heart out of it. God makes the poor his priority. When the hungry pray, he listens. When orphans cry, he sees. And when the widows in Jerusalem were neglected, he commissioned his best and brightest disciples to help them.

 

Rapid church growth brought needy people, and among the needy people were widows. They had no source of income. When they buried their husbands, they buried their financial security. Government support? Company pension? The Widows Job Corp? Didn’t exist. According to the culture of their day, the extended family provided support. But extended families disowned Christian relatives, leaving the widows of the church with only one place to turn . . . the church. The congregation responded with a daily distribution of food, clothing, and money.

 

That’s when the trouble began.

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1 nlt)

The Greek-speaking widows were overlooked. Why? They were outsiders. Immigrants. These women didn’t grow up in Judea or Galilee. They hailed from the distant lands of Greece, Rome, and Syria. If they spoke Aramaic at all, they did so with an accent.

 

Consequently, they were “neglected in the daily distribution” (nkjv). The driver of the Meals on Wheels truck skipped their houses. The manager of the food pantry permitted Hebrew women the first pick. The food bank director separated requests into two stacks: locals and immigrants.

 

How did the church respond? I’m picturing a called meeting of the apostles, a circle of bearded faces: Andrew, John, Peter, Thomas, and the others. They heard the concerns of the women and pondered their options. They could dismiss them entirely. They could ignore the needy, neglect the neglected. After all, the apostles were spiritual leaders. They fed souls, not stomachs. They dealt in matters of sin and salvation, not sandals and soup. Couldn’t they dismiss the disparity as an unnecessary concern? They could, except for one problem. Their Master didn’t.

 

Jesus, in his first message, declared his passion for the poor. Early in his ministry he returned to his hometown of Nazareth to deliver an inaugural address of sorts. He entered the same synagogue where he had worshipped as a young man and looked into the faces of the villagers. They were simple folk: stonecutters, carpenters, and craftsmen. They survived on minimal wages and lived beneath the shadow of Roman oppression. There wasn’t much good news in Nazareth.

 

But this day was special. Jesus was in town. The hometown boy who had made the big time. They asked him to read Scripture, and he accepted. “And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written” (Luke 4:17).

 

This is the only such moment in all the Gospels. Jesus quoted Scripture many times. But the Son of God selecting and reading Scripture? This is it. On the singular occasion we know of, which verse did he choose? He shuffled the scroll toward the end of the text and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18, quoting Isaiah 61:1).

 

Jesus lifted his eyes from the parchment and quoted the rest of the words. The crowd, who cherished the words as much as he did, mouthed the lines along with him. “To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

 

Jesus had a target audience. The poor. The brokenhearted. Captives. The blind and oppressed.

 

His to-do list? Help for the body and soul, strength for the physical and the spiritual, therapy for the temporal and eternal. “This is my mission statement,” Jesus declared. The Nazareth Manifesto.

 

Preach the gospel to the poor.

 

Heal the brokenhearted.

 

Proclaim liberty to the captives.

 

Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.

 

Set at liberty those who are oppressed.

 

And proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

 

“Acceptable year of the Lord” describes, perhaps more than any other words, Jesus’ radical commitment to the poor. They are reminiscent of the year of Jubilee, a twice-in-a-century celebration intended to press the restart button on the machinery of justice. Beginning on the Day of Atonement, all the fields were allowed to rest. No farming permitted.

 

The fallow land could recover from forty-nine years of planting and harvesting.

 

In addition, all the slaves were freed. Anyone who had been sold into slavery or who had sold himself into slavery to pay off debt was released. Bondage ended.

 

And as if the soil sabbatical and slave emancipation weren’t enough, all property was returned to its original owners. In the agricultural society, land was capital. Families could lose their land through calamity, sickness, or even laziness. The Jubilee provision guaranteed that every family, at least twice a century, would have the opportunity to get back on its feet.

Consider the impact of this Jubilee decree. A drought destroys a farmer’s crop and leaves the family impoverished. In order to survive, the farmer decides to sell his property and hire out as a day laborer. A sharp investor swoops into the region and buys the farm and also a neighbor’s. Within short order the developer has a monopoly, and the farmer has nothing but a prayer.

 

But then comes the year of Jubilee, what one scholar described as a “regularly scheduled revolution.” God shakes the social Etch A Sketch, and everyone is given a clean slate. This injunction was intended to prevent a permanent underclass of poverty and slavery. People could still be rich, very rich, but they could not build their wealth on the backs of the very poor.

 

As far as we know, the people of Israel never practiced the year of Jubilee. Still, Jesus alluded to it in his inaugural address. What does this say about God’s heart? At least this: he values a level playing field. In his society the Have-a-Lots and the Have-a-Littles are never to be so far apart that they can’t see each other.

 

Can they see each other today?

 

Not very well. According to a United Nations Human Development Report, three quarters of the world’s income goes to 20 percent of the world’s population. Statistics can stagnate, so try this word picture.

 

Ten dairy farmers occupy the same valley. Among them, they own ten milk cows. But the cows aren’t evenly distributed among the ten farmers—not one cow to one farmer. It’s more like this: two of the farmers own eight cows, and the other eight farmers share two cows. Does that seem fair?

 

The two of us who own the eight cows might say, “I worked for my cows.” Or “It’s not my fault that we have more cows.” Perhaps we should try this question: Why do a few of us have so much and most of us have so little?

 

I spent the better part of a morning pondering such a question on the Ethiopian farm of Dadhi. Dadhi is a sturdy but struggling husband and father. His dirt-floored mud hut would fit easily in my garage. His wife’s handwoven baskets decorate his walls. Straw mats are rolled and stored against the sides, awaiting nightfall when all seven family members will sleep on them. Dadhi’s five children smile quickly and hug tightly. They don’t know how poor they are.

 

Dadhi does. He earns less than a dollar a day at a nearby farm. He’d work his own land, except a plague took the life of his ox. His only one. With no ox, he can’t plow. With no plowed field, he can’t sow a crop. If he can’t sow a crop, he can’t harvest one.

 

All he needs is an ox.

 

Dadhi is energetic and industrious. He has mastered a trade and been faithful to his wife. He’s committed no crimes. Neighbors respect him. He seems every bit as intelligent as I am, likely more so. He and I share the same aspirations and dreams. I scribbled out a chart, listing our many mutual attributes.

Attributes

Dadhi

Max

Physically able

X

X

Willing to work

X

X

Trained to do a job

X

X

Loves family

X

X

Sober and drug free

X

X

Good reputation

X

You tell me

 

We have much in common. Then why the disparity? Why does it take Dadhi a year to earn what I can spend on a sport coat?

 

Part of the complex answer is this: he was born in the wrong place. He is, as Bono said, “an accident of latitude.” A latitude void of unemployment insurance, disability payments, college grants, Social Security, and government supplements. A latitude largely vacant of libraries, vaccinations, clean water, and paved roads. I benefited from each of those.

 

Dadhi has none of them.

 

In the game of life, many of us who cross home plate do so because we were born on third base. Others aren’t even on a team.

 

You don’t have to travel sixteen hours in a plane to find a Dadhi or two. They live in the convalescent home you pass on the way to work, gather at the unemployment office on the corner. They are the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the blind.

 

Some people are poor because they are lazy. They need to get off their duffs. Others, however, are poor because parasites weaken their bodies, because they spend six hours a day collecting water, because rebel armies ravaged their farms, or because AIDS took their parents.

 

Couldn’t such people use a bit of Jubilee?

 

Of course they could. So . . .

 

First, let the church act on behalf of the poor. The apostles did. “So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers” (Acts 6:2 nlt). They assembled the entire church. The problem of inequity warranted a churchwide conversation. The leaders wanted every member to know that this church took poverty seriously. The ultimate solution to poverty is found in the compassion of God’s people. Scripture endorses not forced communism but Spirit-led volunteerism among God’s people.

 

Second, let the brightest among us direct us. “And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility” (v. 3 nlt).

 

The first church meeting led to the first task force. The apostles unleashed their best people on their biggest problem. The challenge demands this. “Poverty,” as Rich Stearns, president of World Vision in the United States, told me, “is rocket science.” Simple solutions simply don’t exist. Most of us don’t know what to do about the avalanche of national debt, the withholding of life-saving medicines, the corruption at the seaports, and the abduction of children. Most of us don’t know what to do, but someone does!

 

Some people are pouring every ounce of God-given wisdom into the resolution of these problems. We need specialist organizations, such as World Vision, Compassion International, Living Water, and the International Justice Mission. We need our brightest and best to continue the legacy of the Jerusalem task force of Acts 6.

 

And one more idea. Get ticked off. Riled up enough to respond. Righteous anger would do a world of good. Poverty is not the lack of charity but the lack of justice. Why do two of us have eight cows while the rest of us have two? Why do a billion people go to bed hungry every night?  Why do nearly thirty thousand children die every day, one every three seconds, from hunger and preventable diseases? It’s just not fair. Why not do something about it?

 

Again, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Some people can fast and pray about social sin. Others can study and speak out. What about you? Get out of your comfort zone, for Christ’s sake. Why not teach an inner-city Bible study? Use your vacation to build houses in hurricane-ravaged towns? Run for public office? Help a farmer get an ox?

 

Speaking of which, I received a note from Dadhi the other day. It included a photo of him and a new family member. A new three-hundred-pound, four-legged family member. Both of them were smiling. I’m thinking God was too.

 

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

(James 1:27 nlt)

Dear Lord, you promised we would always have the poor among us. Help me to make sure that the reverse is also true: that I am always among the poor—helping, encouraging, and lending a hand wherever I can. Enable me to love the invisible God by serving the very visible poor in my corner of the world. Help me to be creative without being condescending, encouraging without being egotistic, and fearless without being foolish. May the poor bless you because of me, and may my efforts somehow reduce the number of the poor. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   The church in Jerusalem had overlooked Greek-speaking widows and sought to resolve the problem (Acts 6). What groups or individuals are overlooked in your community? Why are they forgotten or ignored?

 

2.   Who is the target audience of your church? Describe the kind of person who is most likely to visit. If your church tried to become more like the people highlighted by Jesus in Luke 4:14–21, what adjustments would you have to make? What steps could you take to reach out to and worship with the poor, brokenhearted, captive, and blind?

 

3.   Why do you think the people of Israel never practiced the revolutionary concept of Jubilee? Describe what Jubilee would look like in your area if this law went into effect immediately. What mini-Jubilees can you establish in your heart and habits even though this radical concept is not the law of the land?

 

4.   Max mentioned several of the brightest and best organizations that are doing great work on poverty (World Vision, Compassion International, Living Water, and the International Justice Mission). What organizations would you add, and why?

Ideas for Action

 This week find out more about what your church is already doing with the poor. Volunteer to get involved personally, to improve the work, or to fund it more intentionally.

 

 Rich Stearns told Max, “Poverty is rocket science.” Consult the best thinkers on the more-complicated issues related to poverty. Learn about well-informed poverty solutions and strategies by visiting the Web sites of the excellent organizations mentioned in this chapter: www.wvi.org, www.compassion.com, www.water.cc, www.ijm.org.

 

■ “Cut concern for the poor out of the Bible, and you cut the heart out of it.” Take time this week to study just a few of the nearly two thousand scriptures on poverty, wealth, justice, and oppression. Start with the following verses:

 

Exodus 23:6

Leviticus 19:15; 23:22; 25:35, 39

Deuteronomy 15:7–11; 24:10–15

Psalm 35:10

Proverbs 14:21; 22:22–23; 31:9

Isaiah 10:1–3; 58:6–7

Jeremiah 5:26–29

Matthew 19:21

Luke 12:32–33; 14:12–14

Acts 4:33–35

James 2:1–4

 

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.