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)

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 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.

 

Sep 21 2010

God Chicks and the Men They Love - Holly & Phillip Wagner

Are you a GodChick?  Holly and Phillip Wagner share in their book "GodChicks and the Men They Love" that a GodChick is "a woman who understands her value, enjoys her relationship with God and loves others (while having fun on this journey called life!)".  They join us this morning with great insight into relationships - whether you are married or not.

 

Chapter 10: Give Me Five! from Oasis Church on Vimeo.

Sep 21 2010

Out Live Your Life - Do Good Quietly (Chapter 9)

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 9

Do Good, Quietly

Ananias—his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him—sold a piece of land, secretly kept part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.

—Acts 5:1–2 (msg)

The couple sat at the kitchen table and stared at the fifteen-thousand-dollar check. The silence was a respite. The last half hour had been twelve rounds of verbal jabs and uppercuts. She blamed him for the idea. “You just had to give the money away.”

 

He snapped back, “You didn’t complain when everyone clapped for you at church, now did you?”

 

“Who would have thought that piece of dirt would bring this kind of price?”

 

Ananias hadn’t expected to get fifteen thousand dollars. Ten thousand at best. Eight thousand at least. But fifteen thousand for an undeveloped acre off a one-lane road south of Jerusalem? He had inherited the property from his Uncle Ernie, who had left this note with the will: “Hang on to the land, Andy. You never know. If the road expands from one lane to four, you’ve got a nest egg.”

 

So Ananias had taken the advice, locked the deed in a safe, and never thought about it until Sapphira, his wife, got wind of a generous deed done by Barnabas.

 

“He sold his beachfront condo and gave the money to the church.”

 

“You’re kidding. The condo in Jaffa?”

 

“That’s what I heard.”

 

“Whoa, that’s prime real estate.”

 

Ananias knew Barnabas from Rotary. Of course, everyone knew Barnabas.

 

The guy had more friends than the temple had priests. Ananias couldn’t help but notice the tone people used when discussing Barnabas’s gift. Respect. Appreciation. It would be nice to be thought of that way.

 

So he mentioned the acre to Sapphira. “We’re never going to build on it. I’m sure we can get eight thousand dollars. Let’s give the money to the church.”

 

“All of it?”

 

“Why not?”

 

They would have been better off just doing it, just keeping their mouths shut and giving the gift. They didn’t need to tell a soul. But Ananias never excelled at mouth management.

 

During the next Sunday’s worship service, the apostle Peter opened the floor for testimonials and prayer requests. Ananias popped up and took his place at the front.

 

“Sapphira and I’ve been blessed beyond words since coming here to the Jerusalem church. We want to say thank you. We are selling an acre, and we pledge to give every mite to the Widows’ Fund.”

 

The congregation, several thousand members strong, broke into applause. Ananias gestured for Sapphira to wave . . . she did. She stood and turned a full circle and blew a kiss toward Ananias. He returned the gesture and then saluted Peter. But Peter was not smiling. Ananias chose not to think much of it and stepped back to his seat. Later that night he called a real-estate agent and listed the property. He fell asleep with the thought of a foyer named after him.

 

Uncle Ernie’s hunch about road expansion was spot-on. Two land developers wanted the property. Neither winced at the ten-thousand-dollar price tag. By the time the bidding was finished, the couple had a check for fifteen thousand.

So they sat at their kitchen table in silence. Sapphira stirred her coffee.

 

“What if we tell them we sold the property for just ten thousand dollars?”

 

“What?”

 

“Who has to know?”

 

Ananias thought for a moment. “Yeah, we’ll just let everyone think we closed at ten thousand. That way we get credit for the gift and a little cash for something special.”

 

She smiled. “Like a five-thousand-dollar down payment on a Jaffa condo?”

 

“No harm in that.”

 

“No harm at all.”

 

And so on the following Sunday, Ananias stood in front of the church again.

 

He waved a check and announced, “We sold the property for ten thousand dollars!” and he placed the check in the offering basket. He basked in the applause, signaled for Sapphira to stand. She did.

 

They thought their cover-up was a success.

 

On Sunday afternoon the apostles called Ananias to a meeting.

 

“They surely want to thank us,” he told Sapphira as he tightened his necktie.

 

“Probably wondering if we’d be self-conscious at a recognition banquet.”

 

“I’d be okay with one,” she assured him.

 

He smiled and walked out the door, never thinking he wouldn’t return.

 

According to Luke the meeting lasted only long enough for Peter to ask four questions and render a single verdict.

 

Question 1: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?” (Acts 5:3). So much for the cover-up. Luke’s phrase for keep back means “misappropriate.” The apostles sniffed out the couple’s scheme for what it was: financial fraud.

 

Question 2: “While it remained, was it not your own?” (v. 4). No one forced the couple to sell the property. They acted of their own accord and free will.

 

Question 3: “After it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (v. 4). At any point the couple could have changed their minds or altered their contribution. The sin was not in keeping a portion of the proceeds but in pretending they gave it all. They wanted the appearance of sacrifice without the sacrifice.

 

Question 4: “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?” (v. 4). This deceitful act was not an impulsive stumble but a calculated, premeditated swindle. Ananias had every intention of misleading the church. Did he not realize he was lying to God?

 

Peter made it clear with this verdict: “‘You have not lied to men but to God.’

 

Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last” (vv. 4–5).

 

The body of Ananias was wrapped and buried before Sapphira had any clue what had happened. When she came to meet with Peter, she expected a word of appreciation. Peter gave her a chance to come clean.

 

“Tell me whether you sold the land for so much” (v. 8).

(Come on, Sapphira, tell the truth. You’re in over your head. Just shoot straight, and you may live to tell about it.) She doesn’t.

 

“Yes, for so much.”

 

“How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out” (vv. 8–9).

 

As they carry Sapphira to join her husband in the cemetery, we shake our heads. Dare we wonder out loud what we’re wondering inside? Ask the question we all think? Since no one else will ask it, I will.

 

Was that really necessary?

 

Ananias and Sapphira deserved punishment, for sure. They deserved a stiff sentence. But the death sentence? Does the punishment fit the crime? What they did was bad, but was it that bad?

 

Let’s think about it. Exactly what did they do?

 

They used the church for self-promotion. They leveraged God’s family for personal gain. They attempted to turn a congregation into a personal stage across which they could strut.

 

God has a strong word for such behavior: hypocrisy. When Jesus used it, people ducked for cover. He lambasted the Pharisees with this blowtorch:

All their works they do to be seen by men . . . They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, “Rabbi, Rabbi.” . . . But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers . . . You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. (Matt. 23:5–7, 13–14, 25)

Jesus never spoke to anyone else with such intensity. But when he saw the religious hypocrite, he flipped on the spotlight and exposed every self-righteous mole and pimple. “They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men” (Matt. 6:5).

 

This is the working definition of hypocrisy: “to be seen by men.” The Greek word for hypocrite, hypokritēs, originally meant “actor.” First-century actors wore masks. A hypocrite, then, is one who puts on a mask, a false face.

 

Jesus did not say, “Do not do good works.” Nor did he instruct, “Do not let your works be seen.” We must do good works, and some works, such as benevolence or teaching, must be seen in order to have an impact. So let’s be clear. To do a good thing is a good thing. To do good to be seen is not. In fact, to do good to be seen is a serious offense. Here’s why.

 

Hypocrisy turns people away from God. When God-hungry souls walk into a congregation of wannabe superstars, what happens? When God seekers see singers strut like Las Vegas entertainers . . . When they hear the preacher—a man of slick words, dress, and hair—play to the crowd and exclude God . . .

 

When other attendees dress to be seen and make much to-do over their gifts and offerings . . . When people enter a church to see God yet can’t see God because of the church, don’t think for a second that God doesn’t react. “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding” (Matt. 6:1 msg).

 

Hypocrisy turns people against God. So God has a no-tolerance policy. Let the cold, lifeless bodies of the embezzling couple issue their intended warning. Let’s take hypocrisy as seriously as God does. How can we?

 

Expect no credit for good deeds. None. If no one notices, you aren’t disappointed. If someone does, you give the credit to God.

 

Ask yourself this question: If no one knew of the good I do, would I still do it? If not, you’re doing it to be seen by people.

 

Give financial gifts in secret. Money stirs the phony within us. We like to be seen earning it. And we like to be seen giving it. So “when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3 nlt).

 

Don’t fake spirituality. When you go to church, don’t select a seat just to be seen or sing just to be heard. If you raise your hands in worship, raise holy ones, not showy ones. When you talk, don’t doctor your vocabulary with trendy religious terms. Nothing nauseates more than a fake “Praise the Lord” or a shallow “Hallelujah” or an insincere “Glory be to God.”

 

Bottom line: don’t make a theater production out of your faith. “Watch me!

 

Watch me!” is a call used on the playground, not in God’s kingdom. Silence the trumpets. Cancel the parade.

 

Enough with the name-dropping. If accolades come, politely deflect them before you believe them. Slay the desire to be noticed. Stir the desire to serve God.

 

Heed the counsel of Christ: “First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” (Matt. 23:26 nlt). Focus on the inside, and the outside will take care of itself. Lay your motives before God daily, hourly. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Ps. 139:2324 nlt).

 

Do good things. Just don’t do them to be noticed. You can be too good for your own good, you know.

 

 

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

(Matthew 6:3–4 niv)

Lord, you hate hypocrisy. It turns others away from you. Blunt my natural inclination to seek personal recognition for whatever good things you allow me to do. I don’t want to be a phony, but neither do I want to be a glory hound. Fill me with your Spirit, and teach me to follow his example in gladly giving all glory to your Son. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   The Acts 5 story of Ananias and Sapphira is an intense one. The consequences of their early church conspiracy were grave—literally. However, Max asks, “Was that really necessary?” What do you think?

 

2.   How does the church regard such offenses today?

 

3.   Have you seen examples of hypocrisy in the church that have adversely affected its reputation? What specific changes can Christians make to counter a general reputation for hypocrisy?

 

4.   In Matthew 23, Jesus levels accusations against the Pharisees and scribes, or teachers of the law. List these seven indictments on a separate sheet of paper. How would you describe Jesus’ tone in this passage? What common threads do you see in the list?

 

5.   How will you live differently after reading Matthew 23, Acts 5, and this chapter of Outlive Your Life?

Ideas for Action

  “Expect no credit for good deeds.” Think of someone you know who is in need. What tangible thing could you do for that person this week—in secret? Identify a person who has made a significant impact on your life. Send a letter thanking that individual for all he or she has done, but be sure the letter cannot be traced back to you.

 

  “Don’t fake spirituality.” Search the Scriptures to see what indicates false spirituality and what indicates authentic spirituality. Spend time in prayer, asking God to show you any area in which your spirituality is weak.