Oct 01 2010

Out Live Your Life - That's Jesus on that Fiddle (Chapter 16)

This has been an amazing journey, reading through this book together.  We hope God has illuminated your heart to something that will be your way to Outlive.  Thanks for journeying with us!  Lisa & Eric 

 

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 16

That’s Jesus Playing that Fiddle

Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

—Matthew 25:40 (msg)

At 7:51 a.m., January 12, 2007, a young musician took his position against a wall in a Washington, D.C. metro station. He wore jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He opened a violin case, removed his instrument, threw a few dollars and pocket change into the case as seed money, and began to play.

 

He played for the next forty-three minutes. He performed six classical pieces. During that time 1,097 people passed by. They tossed in money to the total of $32.17. Of the 1,097 people, seven—only seven—paused longer than sixty seconds. And of the seven, one—only one—recognized the violinist Joshua Bell.

 

Three days prior to this metro appearance staged by the Washington Post, Bell filled Boston’s Symphony Hall, where just fairly good tickets went for $100 a seat. Two weeks after the experiment, he played for a standing-room-only audience in Bethesda, Maryland. Joshua Bell’s talents can command $1,000 a minute. That day in the subway station, he barely earned enough to buy a cheap pair of shoes.

 

You can’t fault the instrument. He played a Stradivarius built in the golden period of Stradivari’s career. It’s worth $3.5 million. You can’t fault the music. Bell successfully played a piece from Johann Sebastian Bach that Bell called “one of the greatest achievements of any man in history.”

 

But scarcely anyone noticed. No one expected majesty in such a context. Shoe-shine stand to one side, kiosk to the other. People buying magazines, newspapers, chocolate bars, and lotto tickets. And who had time? This was a workday. This was the Washington workforce. Government workers mainly, on their way to budget meetings and management sessions. Who had time to notice beauty in the midst of busyness? Most did not.

 

Most of us will someday realize that we didn’t either. From the perspective of heaven, we’ll look back on these days—these busy, cluttered days—and realize, That was Jesus playing the violin. That was Jesus wearing the ragged clothes. That was Jesus in the orphanage . . . in the jail . . . in the cardboard shanty. The person needing my help was Jesus.

 

There are many reasons to help people in need.

 

“Benevolence is good for the world.”

 

“We all float on the same ocean. When the tide rises, it benefits everyone.”

 

“To deliver someone from poverty is to unleash that person’s potential as a researcher, educator, or doctor.”

 

“As we reduce poverty and disease, we reduce war and atrocities. Healthy, happy people don’t hurt each other.”

 

Compassion has a dozen advocates.

 

But for the Christian, none is higher than this: when we love those in need, we are loving Jesus. It is a mystery beyond science, a truth beyond statistics. But it is a message that

 

Jesus made crystal clear: when we love them, we love him.

 

This is the theme of his final sermon. The message he saved until last. He must want this point imprinted on our conscience. He depicted the final judgment scene. The last day, the great Day of Judgment. On that day Jesus will issue an irresistible command. All will come. From sunken ships and forgotten cemeteries, they will come. From royal tombs and grassy battlefields, they will come. From Abel, the first to die, to the person being buried at the moment Jesus calls, every human in history will be present.

 

All the angels will be present. The whole heavenly universe will witness the event. A staggering denouement. Jesus at some point will “separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32). Shepherds do this. They walk among the flock and, one by one, with the use of a staff direct goats in one direction and sheep in the other.

 

Graphic, this thought of the Good Shepherd stepping through the flock of humanity. You. Me. Our parents and kids. “Max, go this way.” “Ronaldo, over there.” “Maria, this side.”

 

How can one envision this moment without the sudden appearance of this urgent question: What determines his choice? How does Jesus separate the people?

 

Jesus gives the answer. Those on the right, the sheep, will be those who fed him when he was hungry, brought him water when he was thirsty, gave him lodging when he was lonely, clothing when he was naked, and comfort when he was sick or imprisoned. The sign of the saved is their concern for those in need. Compassion does not save them—or us.

 

Salvation is the work of Christ. Compassion is the consequence of salvation.

 

The sheep will react with a sincere question: when? When did we feed, visit, clothe, or comfort you (vv. 34–39)?

 

Jesus’ answer will sound something like this. “Remember when you got off the subway? It was a wintry Washington morning. Commuters were bundled and busy and focused on their work. You were too, mind you. But then you saw me. Yes, that was me! Standing between the coffee kiosk and the newsstand, that was me. I was wearing a baseball cap and a scarf and playing a fiddle. The mob rushed past as if I were a plastic plant. But you stopped. I knew you were busy. You looked at your watch twice. But still you stopped and remembered me. You stepped over to the coffee stand, bought me a cup, and brought it over. I want you to know I never forgot that.”

 

Jesus will recount, one by one, all the acts of kindness. Every deed done to improve the lot of another person. Even the small ones. In fact, they all seem small. Giving water.

 

Offering food. Sharing clothing. As Chrysostom pointed out, “We do not hear, ‘I was sick and you healed me,’ or ‘I was in prison and you liberated me.’” The works of mercy are simple deeds. And yet, in these simple deeds we serve Jesus. Astounding this truth: we serve Christ by serving needy people.

 

The Jerusalem church understood this. How else can we explain their explosion across the world? We’ve only considered a handful of their stories. What began on Pentecost with the 120 disciples spilled into every corner of the world. Antioch. Corinth. Ephesus. Rome. The book of Acts, unlike other New Testament books, has no conclusion. That’s because the work has not been finished.

 

Many years ago I heard a woman discuss this work. She visited a Catholic church in downtown Miami, Florida, in 1979. The small sanctuary overflowed with people. I was surprised.

 

The event wasn’t publicized. I happened to hear of the noon-hour presentation through a friend. I was living only a few blocks from the church. I showed up a few minutes early in hopes of a front-row seat. I should have arrived two hours early. People packed every pew and aisle. Some sat in windowsills. I found a spot against the back wall and waited. I don’t know if the air conditioning was broken or nonexistent, but the windows were open, and the south coast air was stuffy. The audience was chatty and restless. Yet when she entered the room, all stirring stopped.

 

No music. No long introduction. No fanfare from any public officials. No entourage. Just three, maybe four, younger versions of herself, the local priest, and her.

 

The father issued a brief word of welcome and told a joke about placing a milk crate behind the lectern so we could see his guest. He wasn’t kidding. He positioned it, and she stepped up, and those blue eyes looked out at us. What a face. Vertical lines chiseled around her mouth. Her nose, larger than most women would prefer. Thin lips, as if drawn with a pencil, and a smile naked of pretense.

 

She wore her characteristic white Indian sari with a blue border that represented the Missionaries of Charity, the order she had founded in 1949. Her sixty-nine years had bent her already small frame. But there was nothing small about Mother Teresa’s presence.

 

“Give me your unborn children,” she offered. (Opening words or just the ones I remember most? I don’t know.) “Don’t abort them. If you cannot raise them, I will. They are precious to God.”

 

Who would have ever pegged this slight Albanian woman as a change agent? Born in a cauldron of ethnic strife, the Balkans. Shy and introverted as a child. Of fragile health. One of three children. Daughter of a generous but unremarkable businessman. Yet somewhere along her journey, she became convinced that Jesus walked in the “distressing disguise of the poor,” and she set out to love him by loving them. In 1989 she told a reporter that her Missionaries had picked up around fifty-four thousand people from the streets of Calcutta and that twenty-three thousand or so had died in their care.

 

I wonder if God creates people like Mother Teresa so he can prove his point: “See, you can do something today that will outlive your life.”

 

There are several billion reasons to consider his challenge. Some of them live in your neighborhood; others live in jungles you can’t find and have names you can’t pronounce.

 

Some of them play in cardboard slums or sell sex on a busy street. Some of them walk three hours for water or wait all day for a shot of penicillin. Some of them brought their woes on themselves, and others inherited the mess from their parents.

 

None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus.

 

Who would want to miss a chance to do that?

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”

(Matthew 25:34–36 nlt)

 

O Lord, where did I see you yesterday . . . and didn’t recognize you? Where will I encounter you today . . . and fail to identify you? O my Father, give me eyes to see, a heart to respond, and hands and feet to serve you wherever you encounter me! Transform me, Lord, by your Spirit into a servant of Christ, who delights to meet the needs of those around me. Make me a billboard of your grace, a living advertisement for the riches of your compassion. I long to hear you say to me one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And I pray that today I would be that faithful servant who does well at doing good. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

 Questions for Discussion

1.   What various motivations move people to act compassionately?

 

2.   For Christians, what is the key motivator to compassionate action?

 

3.   On the Day of Judgment, how will Jesus separate the righteous from the unrighteous, according to Matthew 25:31–46? Why is this passage so hard to take at face value?

 

4.   Which group was surprised at Jesus’ choice in Matthew 25? Was it the sheep, the goats, or both? Why would they be surprised?

 

5.   How are you trying to outlive your life now in ways you were not six months ago?

Ideas for Action

          Go back through this book in the next few days, and note the verses or quotes that most gripped your heart. On a separate sheet of paper or a few cards, write down these words and put them in a place that will keep the truths in front of you. Place them on your bathroom mirror, in your car, on your desk, in your purse, in your wallet, or on your door. Don’t forget the message and mission you have taken from Outlive Your Life.

 

          Finalize your personal action plan with the goal of outliving your life. Determine how your gifts, passion, and opportunities best fit into God’s plan to serve your neighborhood, community, and world. Overlay that template on your personal calendar to put your plan into action.

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 30 2010

Out Live Your Life - Pray First; Pray Most (Chapter 15)

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 15

Pray First; Pray Most

But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.

—Acts 12:5 (nlt)

King Herod suffered from a Hitler-level obsession with popularity. He murdered the apostle James to curry favor with the populace. The execution bumped his approval rating, so he jailed Peter and resolved to behead him on the anniversary of Jesus’ death. (Would you like a little salt with that wound?)

 

He placed the apostle under the watchful eye of sixteen Navy Seal sorts and told them, with no tongue in cheek, “He escapes, you die.” (Quality control, Herod style.) They bound

 

Peter in chains and secured him three doors deep into the prison.

 

And what could the church do about it? The problem of an imprisoned Peter stood Goliath-tall over the humble community. They had no recourse: no clout, no political chips to cash. They had nothing but fear-drenched questions. “Who’s next? First James, then Peter. Is Herod going to purge the church leadership?”

 

The church still faces her Goliaths. World hunger. Clergy scandal. Stingy Christians. Corrupt officials. Pea-brained and hard-hearted dictators. Peter in prison is just the first of a long list of challenges too big for the church.

 

So our Jerusalem ancestors left us a strategy. When the problem is bigger than we are—we pray! “But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him” (Acts 12:5 nlt).

 

They didn’t picket the prison, petition the government, protest the arrest, or prepare for Peter’s funeral. They prayed. They prayed as if prayer was their only hope, for indeed it was.

 

They prayed “very earnestly for him.”

 

One of our Brazilian church leaders taught me something about earnest prayer. He met Christ during a yearlong stay in a drug-rehab center. His therapy included three one-hour sessions of prayer a day. Patients weren’t required to pray, but they were required to attend the prayer meeting. Dozens of recovering drug addicts spent sixty uninterrupted minutes on their knees.

 

I expressed amazement and confessed that my prayers were short and formal. He invited (dared?) me to meet him for prayer. I did the next day. We knelt on the concrete floor of our small church auditorium and began to talk to God. Change that. I talked; he cried, wailed, begged, cajoled, and pleaded. He pounded his fists on the floor, shook a fist toward heaven, confessed, and reconfessed every sin. He recited every promise in the Bible as if God needed a reminder. He prayed like Moses.

 

When God determined to destroy the Israelites for their golden calf stunt, “Moses begged the Lord his God and said, ‘Lord, don’t let your anger destroy your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with your great power and strength. Don’t let the people of Egypt say, “The Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt for an evil purpose.” . . . Remember the men who served you—Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You promised with an oath to them’” (Ex. 32:11–13 ncv).

 

Moses on Mount Sinai is not calm and quiet, with folded hands and a serene expression. He’s on his face one minute, in God’s the next. He’s on his knees, pointing his finger, lifting his hands. Shedding tears. Shredding his cloak. Wrestling like Jacob at Jabbok for the lives of his people.

 

And God heard him! “So the Lord changed his mind and did not destroy the people as he had said he might” (v.14 ncv).

 

Our passionate prayers move the heart of God. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Prayer does not change God’s nature; who he is will never be altered. Prayer does, however, impact the flow of history. God has wired his world for power, but he calls on us to flip the switch.

 

And the Jerusalem church did just that.

The church prayed very earnestly for him.

The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. (Acts 12:5–8 nlt)

The apostle, who once wondered how Christ could sleep in a storm, now snoozes through his own.

 

Let’s give this scene the chuckle it deserves. An angel descends from heaven onto earth. Only God knows how many demons he battled en route. He navigates the Jerusalem streets until he reaches Herod’s prison. He passes through three sets of iron doors and a squad of soldiers until he stands in front of Peter. Brightness explodes like a July sun in Death Valley. But Peter sleeps through the wake-up call. The old fisherman dreams of Galilean sea bass.

 

“Peter.”

No response.

“Peter!”

Zzzzz.

“Peter!!!”

 

Do angels elbow or wing people? Either way, shackles clang on the floor. The angel has to remind groggy Peter how to re-robe. First your sandals. Now your robe. Doors swing open in succession. And somewhere on the avenue to Mary’s house, Peter realizes he isn’t dreaming. The angel points him in the right direction and departs, muttering something about bringing a trumpet next time.

 

Rightly stunned, Peter walks to Mary’s house. She, at that very hour, is hosting a prayer meeting on his behalf. His friends pack the place and fill the house with earnest intercession.

 

Peter surely smiles as he hears their prayers. He knocks on the door. The servant answers and, instead of opening it, races back to the prayer circle and announces:

“Peter is standing at the door!”

“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” (vv. 14–15 nlt)

I confess a sense of relief at that reading. Even the early followers struggled to believe God would hear them. Even when the answer knocked on the door, they hesitated.

 

We still do. Most of us struggle with prayer. We forget to pray, and when we remember, we hurry through prayers with hollow words. Our minds drift; our thoughts scatter like a covey of quail. Why is this? Prayer requires minimal effort. No location is prescribed. No particular clothing is required. No title or office is stipulated. Yet you’d think we were wrestling a greased pig.

 

Speaking of pigs, Satan seeks to interrupt our prayers. Our battle with prayer is not entirely our fault. The devil knows the stories; he witnessed the angel in Peter’s cell and the revival in Jerusalem. He knows what happens when we pray. “Our weapons have power from God that can destroy the enemy’s strong places” (2 Cor. 10:4 ncv).

 

Satan is not troubled when Max writes books or prepares sermons, but his knobby knees tremble when Max prays. Satan does not stutter or stumble when you walk through church doors or attend committee meetings. Demons aren’t flustered when you read this book. But the walls of hell shake when one person with an honest heart and faithful confession says, “Oh, God, how great thou art.”

 

Satan keeps you and me from prayer. He tries to position himself between us and God. But he scampers like a spooked dog when we move forward. So let’s do.

Humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. (James 4:78 nlt)

The Lord is close to everyone who prays to him, to all who truly pray to him. (Ps. 145:18 ncv)

 

When the children of Israel went to battle against the Amalekites, Moses selected the mountain of prayer over the valley of battle (Ex. 17:8–13). The Israelites won.

 

When Abraham learned about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he “remained standing before the Lord” rather than rush out to warn the cities (Gen. 18:22 niv).

 

Advisers informed Nehemiah that Jerusalem was in ruins. He laid a foundation of prayer before he laid a foundation of stone (Neh. 1:4).

 

Paul’s letters contain more requests for prayer than they do appeals for money, possessions, or comforts.

 

And Jesus. Our prayerful Jesus.

 

Awaking early to pray (Mark 1:35).

Dismissing people to pray (Matt. 14:23).

Ascending a mountain to pray (Luke 9:28).

Crafting a model prayer to teach us to pray (Matt. 6:9–13).

Cleansing the temple so others could pray (Matt. 21:12–13).

Stepping into a garden to pray (Luke 22:39–46).

 

Jesus immersed his words and work in prayer. Powerful things happen when we do the same.

 

Peggy Smith was eighty-four years old. Her sister, Christine, was eighty-two. The years had taken sight from the first and bent the body of the second. Neither could leave their house to attend church.

 

Yet their church needed them. They lived on the Isle of Lewis, off the coast of Scotland. A spiritual darkness had settled upon their village of Barvas. The congregation was losing people, and the youth were mocking the faith, speaking of conversion as a plague. In October 1949 the Presbytery of Free Church called upon their members to pray.

 

But what could two elderly, housebound sisters do? Quite a lot, they determined. They turned their cottage into an all-night house of prayer. From 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., two nights each week, they asked God to have mercy on their city. After several months Peggy told Christine that God had spoken these words to her: “I will pour water upon him who is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.”

 

She was so sure of the message, she urged her pastor to conduct a revival and invite well-known evangelist Duncan Campbell to speak. The pastor did, but Campbell reluctantly declined. Peggy received the news with confidence. “God hath said he is coming, and he will be here within a fortnight.” God changed Campbell’s calendar, and within two weeks the meeting began.

 

For five weeks Duncan Campbell preached in Barvas parish. Large crowds gathered in four services at 7 p.m., 10 p.m., midnight, and 3 a.m. The move of God upon the people was undeniable. Hundreds of people were converted. Drinking places closed for lack of patrons. Saloons emptied, and the church grew. The Isle of Lewis tasted the presence of God. All because two women prayed.

 

So:

Let’s pray, first. Traveling to help the hungry? Be sure to bathe your mission in prayer. Working to disentangle the knots of injustice? Pray. Weary with a world of racism and division? So is God. And he would love to talk to you about it.

 

Let’s pray, most. Did God call us to preach without ceasing? Or teach without ceasing? Or have committee meetings without ceasing? Or sing without ceasing? No, but he did call us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

 

Did Jesus declare: My house shall be called a house of study? Fellowship? Music? A house of exposition? A house of activities? No, but he did say, “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Mark 11:17 niv).

 

No other spiritual activity is guaranteed such results. “When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action” (Matt. 18:19 msg). He is moved by the humble, prayerful heart.

 

In late 1964 Communist Simba rebels besieged the town of Bunia in Zaire. They arrested and executed many citizens. A pastor by the name of Zebedayo Idu was one of their victims. They sentenced him to death before a firing squad and placed him in jail for the night. The next morning he and a large number of prisoners were herded onto a truck and driven to a public place for execution. With no explanation the official told the prisoners to line up and number off—“one, two, one, two, one, two.” The ones were placed in front of the firing squad. The twos were taken back to the prison. Pastor Zebedayo was among those who were spared.

 

Back in the jail cell, the prisoners could hear the sound of gunfire. The minister took advantage of the dramatic moment to share the story of Jesus and the hope of heaven. Eight of the prisoners gave their lives to God that day. About the time Pastor Idu finished sharing, an excited messenger came to the door with a release order. The pastor had been arrested by mistake and was free to leave.

 

He said good-bye to the prisoners and hurried to his home next to the chapel. There he discovered a crowd of believers urgently praying for his release. When they saw the answer to their prayers walk through the door, their prayer service became a praise service.

 

The same God who heard the prayers from Jerusalem heard the prayers from Zaire. He’s still listening. Are we still praying?

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ.

(Colossians 4:2–3 nlt)

 

God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you created all that exists, and you sustain all through your infinite wisdom and boundless power. Yet you invite me to come to you in prayer, boldly and with the expectation that you will hear and answer me. Teach me, Lord, to take full advantage of this privilege, especially in regard to reaching others with

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   How would you describe the way Moses prayed to God in Exodus 32? In your own words, recount how Max describes the way his Brazilian church leader prayed. In what ways are your prayer times different from these descriptions? What could you do to become more fervent (passionate) in prayer?

 

2.   What typical tactics does Satan use to keep you from prayer? How can you counter these with your own prayer strategies?

 

3.   What is the role of prayer in the life of your church? How could you adjust your approach to prayer in your church to make it more meaningful?

 

4.   Tell about a time when your prayer life seemed richer than it is now. What was different then?

 

5.   What could you do to reenergize your prayer times? What postures could you take? What lists could you use? What prayer activities could you try? What scriptures could you use as prayers? Who could join you for prayer as an inspiration?

Ideas for Action

          Do a study this week on Jesus and prayer. Use the following verses from this chapter and other examples of Jesus praying or teaching about prayer to guide you:

 

Matthew 5:44; 6:6–13; 14:13, 23; 19:13; 21:12–13; 21:22; 24:20

Mark 1:35; 6:46; 9:28–29

Luke 6:12–16; 9:18–20; 18:1–8; 18:9–14; 22:39–46; 23:33–34

John 11:41; 17:1, 9, 20

 

         You may already pray before every meal and at the start of every day, but this week pray before you do these other things as well:

before you start your car

before you exercise

before you do the first thing you always do at work

before you turn on your computer

before you pick up the phone

before you go into a meeting

before you walk back into your home at the end of the day

before you turn on the television

before you open a book

before you go to sleep

before you __

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 29 2010

Out Live Your Life - Stable the High Horse (Chapter 14)

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 14

Stable the High Horse

God has shown me that he doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit.

—Acts 10:28 (cev)

Molokai, a ruby on the pearl necklace of the Hawaiian Islands. Tourists travel to Molokai for its quiet charm, gentle breezes, and soft surf. But Father Damien came for a different reason. He came to help people die.

 

He came to Molokai because leprosy came here first. No one knows exactly how the disease reached Hawaii. The first documented case was dated around 1840. But while no one can trace the source of the disease, no one can deny its results. Disfigurement, decay, and panic.

 

The government responded with a civil version of Old Testament segregation. They deposited the diseased on a triangular thrust of land called Kalaupapa. Surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by the highest sea wall in the world, it was a natural prison.

 

Hard to get to. Harder still to get away from.

 

The lepers lived a discarded existence in shanties with minimal food. Ships would draw close to shore, and sailors would dump supplies into the water, hoping the crates would float toward land. Society sent the lepers a clear message: you aren’t valuable anymore.

 

But Father Damien’s message was different. He’d already served in the islands for a decade when, in 1873, at the age of thirty-three, he wrote his provincial and offered, “I want to sacrifice myself for the poor lepers.”

 

He immersed himself into their world, dressing sores, hugging children, burying the dead. His choir members sang through rags, and congregants received communion with stumped hands. Because they mattered to God, they mattered to him. When he referred to his congregation, he didn’t say “my brothers and sisters” but “we lepers.” He became one of them. Literally.

 

Somewhere along the way, through a touch of kindness or in the sharing of a communion wafer, the disease passed from member to priest. Damien became a leper. And on April 15, 1889, four days shy of Good Friday, he died.

 

We’ve learned to treat leprosy. We don’t quarantine people anymore. We’ve done away with such settlements. But have we done away with the attitude? Do we still see some people as inferior?

 

We did on our elementary school playground. All the boys in Mrs. Amburgy’s first-grade class bonded together to express our male superiority. We met daily at recess and, with arms interlocked, marched around the playground, shouting, “Boys are better than girls! Boys are better than girls!” Frankly, I didn’t agree, but I enjoyed the fraternity. The girls, in response, formed their own club. They paraded around the school, announcing their disdain for boys. We were a happy campus.

 

People are prone to pecking orders. We love the high horse. The boy over the girl or girl over boy. The affluent over the destitute. The educated over the dropout. The old timer over the newcomer. The Jew over the Gentile.

 

An impassable gulf yawned between Jews and Gentiles in the days of the early church. A Jew could not drink milk drawn by Gentiles or eat their food. Jews could not aid a Gentile mother in her hour of need. Jewish physicians could not attend to non-Jewish patients.

 

No Jew would have anything to do with a Gentile. They were unclean.

 

Unless that Jew, of course, was Jesus. Suspicions of a new order began to surface because of his curious conversation with the Canaanite woman. Her daughter was dying, and her prayer was urgent. Yet her ancestry was Gentile. “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel,” Jesus told her. “That’s true, Lord,” she replied, “but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:24, 27 nlt).

 

Jesus healed the woman’s daughter and made his position clear. He was more concerned about bringing everyone in than shutting certain people out.

 

This was the tension Peter felt. His culture said, “Keep your distance from Gentiles.” His Christ said, “Build bridges to Gentiles.” And Peter had to make a choice. An encounter with

 

Cornelius forced his decision.

 

Cornelius was an officer in the Roman army. Both Gentile and bad guy. (Think British redcoat in eighteenth-century Boston.) He ate the wrong food, hung with the wrong crowd, and swore allegiance to Caesar. He didn’t quote the Torah or descend from Abraham. Toga on his body and ham in his freezer. No yarmulke on his head or beard on his face. Hardly deacon material. Uncircumcised, unkosher, unclean. Look at him.

 

Yet look at him again. Closely. He helped needy people and sympathized with Jewish ethics. He was kind and devout. “One who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Cornelius was even on a first-name basis with an angel. The angel told him to get in touch with Peter, who was staying at a friend’s house thirty miles away in the seaside town of Joppa. Cornelius sent three men to find him.

 

Peter, meanwhile, was doing his best to pray with a growling stomach. “He became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat’” (vv. 10–13).

 

The sheet contained enough unkosher food to uncurl the payos of any Hasidic Jew. Peter absolutely and resolutely refused. “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (v. 14).

 

But God wasn’t kidding about this. He three-peated the vision, leaving poor Peter in a quandary. Peter was pondering the pigs in the blanket when he heard a knock at the door. At the sound of the knock, he heard the call of God’s Spirit in his heart. “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them” (vv. 19–20).

 

“Doubting nothing” can also be translated “make no distinction” or “indulge in no prejudice” or “discard all partiality.” This was a huge moment for Peter.

 

Much to his credit, Peter invited the messengers to spend the night and headed out the next morning to meet Cornelius. When Peter arrived, Cornelius fell at his feet. Peter insisted he stand up and then confessed how difficult this decision had been. “You know that we Jews are not allowed to have anything to do with other people. But God has shown me that he doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit” (v. 28 cev).

 

Peter told Cornelius about Jesus and the gospel, and before Peter could issue an invitation, the presence of the Spirit was among them, and they were replicating Pentecost—speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Peter offered to baptize Cornelius and his friends. They accepted. They offered him a bed. Peter accepted. By the end of the visit, he was making his own ham sandwiches.

 

And us? We are still pondering verse 28: “God has shown me that he doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit.”

 

Life is so much easier without this command. As long as we can call people common or unfit, we can plant them on Kalaupapa and go our separate ways. Labels relieve us of responsibility. Pigeonholing permits us to wash our hands and leave.

 

“Oh, I know John. He is an alcoholic.” (Translation: “Why can’t he control himself?”)

 

“The new boss is a liberal Democrat.” (Translation: “Can’t he see how misguided he is?”)

 

“Oh, I know her. She’s divorced.” (Translation: “She has a lot of baggage.”)

 

Categorizing others creates distance and gives us a convenient exit strategy for avoiding involvement.

 

Jesus took an entirely different approach. He was all about including people, not excluding them. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 msg). Jesus touched lepers and loved foreigners and spent so much time with partygoers that people called him a “lush, a friend of the riffraff” (Matt. 11:19 msg).

 

Racism couldn’t keep him from the Samaritan woman, demons couldn’t keep him from the demoniac. His Facebook page included the likes of Zacchaeus the Ponzi-meister,

 

Matthew the IRS agent, and some floozy he met at Simon’s house. Jesus spent thirty-three years walking in the mess of this world. “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” (Phil. 2:6–7 msg).

 

His example sends this message: no playground displays of superiority. “Don’t call any person common or unfit.”

 

My friend Roosevelt would agree. He is a leader in our congregation and one of the nicest guys in the history of humanity. He lives next door to a single mom who was cited by their homeowners’ association for an unkempt lawn. A jungle of overgrown bushes and untrimmed trees obscured her house. The association warned her to get her yard cleaned up.

 

The warning was followed by a police officer’s visit. The officer gave her two weeks to do the work or appear in court. Her yard was a blight on the street, maybe even a health hazard.

 

Roosevelt, however, paid his neighbor, Terry, a visit. There is always a story behind the door, and he found a sad one. She had just weathered a rough divorce, was recovering from surgery, and was working a night shift at the hospital and extra hours to make ends meet. Her only son was stationed in Iraq. Terry was in survival mode: alone, sick, and exhausted. Lawn care? The least of her concerns.

 

So Roosevelt recruited several neighbors, and the families spent a Saturday morning getting things in order. They cut shrubs and branches and carted out a dozen bags of leaves.

 

A few days later Terry sent this message to the board of the homeowners’ association:

Dear Sirs,

I am hoping that you can make the neighborhood aware of what a great group of neighbors I have. These neighbors unselfishly toiled in my yard.

Their actions encouraged and reminded me that there are still some compassionate people residing here, people who care enough to reach out to strangers in their times of need to help lessen their burdens. These residents are to be commended, and I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for their hard work, positive attitude, and enthusiasm. This is all the more amazing considering my grandfather was a rabbi, and I have mezuzah at my front door!

Roosevelt’s response was a Christlike response. Rather than see people as problems, Christ saw them as opportunities.

 

May we consider a few more Cornelius moments?

 

You and your buddies enter the cafeteria, carrying your lunch trays. As you take your seat at the table, one of the guys elbows you and says, “Get a load of the new kid.” You have no trouble spotting him. He’s the only student wearing a turban. Your friend makes this wisecrack: “Still wearing his towel from the shower.”

 

You might have made a joke yourself, except yesterday your pastor shared the story of Peter and Cornelius and read this verse: “God has shown me that he doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit” (Acts 10:28 cev).

 

Hmmm.

 

The guy in the next cubicle wears boots, chews tobacco, and drives a truck with a rifle rack. You wear loafers, eat health food, and drive a hybrid, except on Fridays when you pedal your bike to work. He makes racist jokes. Doesn’t he notice that you are black? He has a Rebel flag as a screen saver. Your great-grandfather was a slave. You’d love to distance yourself from this redneck.

 

Yet this morning’s Bible study included this challenge: “God has shown me that he doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit” (v. 28 cev).

 

Now what do you do?

 

One more. You are the superintendent of an orphanage. In dealing with the birth certificates, you come across a troubling word: illegitimate. As you research further, you learn that the word is a permanent label, never to be removed from the certificate.

 

This is what Edna Gladney discovered. And she couldn’t bear the thought of it. If legitimate means to be legal, lawful, and valid, what does illegitimate mean? Can you imagine living with such a label?

 

Mrs. Gladney couldn’t. It took her three years, but in 1936 she successfully lobbied the Texas legislature to remove the term from birth documents.

 

God calls us to change the way we look at people. Not to see them as Gentiles or Jews, insiders or outsiders, liberals or conservatives. Not to label. To label is to libel. “We have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16 nlt).

 

Let’s view people differently; let’s view them as we do ourselves. Blemished, perhaps. Unfinished, for certain. Yet once rescued and restored, we may shed light, like the two stained-glass windows in my office.

 

My brother found them on a junkyard heap. Some church had discarded them. Dee, a handy carpenter, reclaimed them. He repainted the chipped wood, repaired the worn frame. He sealed some of the cracks in the colored glass. The windows aren’t perfect. But if suspended where the sun can pass through, they cascade multicolored light into the room.

In our lifetimes you and I are going to come across some discarded people. Tossed out. Sometimes tossed out by a church. And we get to choose. Neglect or rescue? Label them or love them? We know Jesus’ choice. Just look at what he did with us.

 

You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

and with your blood you purchased men for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

(Revelation 5:9 niv)

 

Father, you have used all types of people for your holy purposes: prostitutes, murderers, persecutors, liars, thieves, swindlers, the illiterate, the ignorant, the blind, the lame. Grant me the grace to treat everyone I meet as someone for whom Jesus died and rose again. Let there be no unwholesome or unholy distinctions in my eyes and no unworthy favoritism in my actions. Rather, make me into a vessel through whom Jesus shines. In Christ’s name I pray, amen.

Questions for Discussion

1.   What was the social pecking order when you were growing up? How about today? Who is at the top, who is at the bottom, and where are you in the order?

 

2.   In what situations do you hear offensive labeling? Have you found yourself inadvertently following suit? How can you be a leader of change in this environment?

 

3.   Recall a time when you were in a situation similar to that of Peter in Acts 10. When have the customs or behaviors of another culture or race felt uncomfortable or even offensive to you? What would be your reaction if God called you to take up the habits and practices of another group so you could reach out to them?

 

4.   Why did Cornelius not look the part even though he was a Christ follower? What surface judgments do people use today to measure spirituality?

 

5.   How could you make time for some marginalized Christians in your life?

Ideas for Action

 Make a new rule for the next two months: No one sits alone. When you enter any room, resist the urge to sit where you always sit and with the people you always join. First, scan the lunchroom or the boardroom, the stands or the sanctuary, the cafeteria or the theater, and find someone who is sitting alone. Then choose to sit with the marginalized. After two months you might consider making the rule permanent.

 

 Attend a worship service in a church with a predominantly different ethnicity or culture than your own. Adapt to that environment—do what they are doing as much as possible. Take note of what you admire about their worship and church life. Consider how it feels to be the odd man out. See what happens when, like Peter, you experience God within a different cultural setting.

 

 

 

Sep 28 2010

Out Live Your Life - Don't Write Off Anyone

Chapters posted will be made available on the Lisa & Eric page for one week.  To purchase Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado, click here. All author royalties from the book will go towards building water wells in Uganda*

 

Chapter 13

Don’t Write Off Anyone

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

—Acts 9:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve been sent to help the rabbi.”

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

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

“How long has he been like this?”

“Three days.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Saul, another Ananias.

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

Another Saul, another Ananias.

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

Don’t resist these thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

(1 Timothy 1:16 niv)

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

 

Questions for Discussion

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Ideas for Action

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

 

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

 “Reprinted by permission.  Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference by Max Lucado, 2010, copyright date, Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee.  All rights reserved.”