Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book Review: Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

Outlive Your Life is a new book by Max Lucado based on his sermon series preached from the Book of Acts. This book is meant to challenge the readers to get out of their comfort zone, and to act, and to behave and respond to God's call collectively as the church of Jesus Christ on this planet.

As Max prayed often "Dear Lord, thank You for Your wonderful Acts, What You did then, will You do it again? And what You did through them, will You do through us? In Jesus' name, Amen.

Chapter 1: Our Once-in-History Opportunity
In Chapter 1 Max paints a realistic picture on the world that we are living in. We, as the children of God (even within the Malaysian context as a whole), are living blessed lives materially and physically in the midst of sufferings, pain, poverty, hunger, AIDS, infectious diseases epidermic in other parts of the world. The statistic figures are just so overwhelming, so much so that it is painful to look at them. But these are the realities the world is facing. As he said it rightly, the problem is not in the supply, the problem is in the distribution.

Chapter 2: Calling Mr. Pot Roast
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NIV)

This chapter is about calling ordinary folks like you, me and the disciples to do His extraordinary tasks. The question is not about our ability, but our availability, or as Max called it, "God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called."

Chapter 3: Let God Unshell You
(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:11-12 NIV)

This chapter captures the very heart of the core message of this book. We are often so comfortably and cozily cuddle up in our own comfort zone. Our selfishness, our stubbornness, our ignorance, our "selective memory" (choosing to remember some events, while deliberately choosing to forget other painful aspects of our lives) can result in us ear-plugging our conscience to the pain around us. As Max said "Most of us have learned to insulate ourselves against the hurt of the hurting." But that is not what God intends us to be. God loves all nations, all people, all tribes, as shown in the Book of Acts in Chapter 2. The different languages of the nations are sweet tunes to His ears. He wants to unshell us out of our cliques, our comfort zones.

Chapter 4: Don't Forget the Bread
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39 NIV)

Essentially this chapter is about putting first things first. We can so often get distracted that our life priorities can get pretty messed up and mixed up. But not so with Peter in the book of Acts. Before the acts of the church begin, the Act of Jesus must be preached, understood, and accepted - that Jesus Christ died on the cross, so that we may have pardon for our sins.

Chapter 5: Team up
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:42-46 NIV)

Chapter 5 is about teaming up. Jesus did not issue individual assignments. Jesus issued a collective assignment for the entire church. As Max said, "None of us can do what all of us can do."

Chapter 6: Open Your Door, Open Your Heart
Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:45-47 NIV)

Chapter 6 is about challenging us to take the first step to open our hearts to love and care. Many reasons could have kept us from opening up our homes and hearts - the plan is not perfect, the event is not significant, the meals are not good-enough, etc, etc. The sentence from this chapter that challenges me is this: "If we wait until everything is perfect, we'll never issue an invitation. Remember this: what is common to you is a banquet to someone else."

Chapter 7: See the Need, Touch the Hurt
Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, "Look at us." So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." (Acts 3:1-6 NKJV)

If Chapter 6 is about the initiative we can take to offer love, Chapter 7 takes us further to challenge us to stop bustling our frenzied lives around so that we can take a good look at the hurt and the hurting. May we learn to stop by the Beautiful Gate, so that truly the man who is laying by that gate can become beautiful.

Chapter 8: Persecution: Prepare for it, Resist it.
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:18-20 NIV)

As the title suggests, this chapter is about persecution. I am personally convicted when Max shared about our unwillingness at times to give up "parking lots", let alone, talk about giving up our lives for our faith. But of course, the very fact that when we are outliving our lives, persecution is a possibility. As Max puts it succinctly:

"As long as you are stationary, no one will complain. Dogs don't bark at parked cars. But as soon as you accelerate - once you step out of drunkenness into sobriety, dishonesty into integrity, or lethargy into compassion - expect the yapping begin. Expect to be criticized. Expect to be mocked. Expect to be persecuted."
Chapter 9: Do Good, Quietly
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet. Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (Acts 5:1-5 NIV)

If Chapter 8 is on persecution from without, Chapter 9 is on corruption from within. It is about the story of Ananias and Sapphira. It is about hypocrisy. And this chapter cuts into the very core of me too. Max offers three suggestions to keep hypocrisy checked.

The first one is worth mentioning, as it is especially what I need:
Expect no credit for good deeds. In that way, if no one notices, you aren't disappointed. If someone does, you [can quickly deflate it] and 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."

Chapter 10: Stand Up for the Have-Nots
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1 NIV)

This chapter is about becoming a voice for the voice-less, and lending a hand to the helpless. To me, this chapter is more or less similar to chapters 5 and 6, but I am particularly touched and convicted by the story of Dadhi. Indeed, in the game of life, "why do a few of us have so much and most of us have so little?"

In any case, it is worth noting that while none of us can do everything, all of us can do something.

Chapter 11: Remember Who Holds You
"'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?' (Acts 7:49-50 NIV)

This chapter is about remembering who we are, and who God is, in the event that our heads get too swelled up, thinking that we have achieved all the successes by ourselves. Often we can get mixed up, thinking how big we are, and how small God is. We often forget who brought us out of our Egypt.

Chapter 12: Blast A Few Walls
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" [Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." The eunuch answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."]
(Acts 8:36-37 NIV)

This chapter is about cross cultural mission. It is about bridging the gap. It is about crossing over the other side of the fence. It is about reconciling a Jew and a Samaritan (John 4:1-26). It is about breaking down walls.

It is about a Philip accepting and sharing the gospel with a Ethiopian eunuch.

Chapter 13: Don't Write Off Anyone
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NIV)

While chapter 12 is about breaking down walls. chapter 13 is about not giving up on the person whom we are trying to build bridges with.

We can be an Ananias to a Saul, and we will never know who our Saul can turn out to be - a well-known evangelist who will change the course of history of mankind? When reading this chapter, I couldn't help but think of Mordecai Ham. Without a Mordecai Ham, there could possibly be no Billy Graham as we know of today. Without an Ananias, there would probably be no Saul or Paul who changed the course of history. God used Paul to touch the world. But before God used Paul, He first used Ananias to touch Paul. Don't give up on your Saul. When other writes him off, give him another chance. Stay strong. Call him brother or a sister.

Chapter 14: Stable The High Horse
He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28 NIV)

This chapter takes the discussion in Chapter 12 on differences we have with our neighbors to the next level. While chapter 12 is on breaking or tearing down walls, chapter 14 is about the warnings and dangers of erecting a wall, or applying labels God has not intended to. It is about a Jew (Peter) and a Gentile (Cornelius).

As Max puts it:
Labels relieve us of responsibility. Pigeonholing permits us to wash our hands and leave...Categorizing others creates distance and gives us a convenient exit strategy for avoiding involvement.
Chapter 15: Pray First, Pray Most
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. (Acts 12:5 NIV)

Chapter 15 highlights the importance of prayer. Remember: Satan keeps us from praying. He tries to position himself between us and God.

Chapter 16: That's Jesus Playing that Fiddle

This concluding chapter summarizes many of the points highlighted in earlier chapters, particularly on how we can spring ourselves to action. It is about not getting ourselves caught up until we forget to notice the beauty in the midst of our busyness. This is certainly contrary to what Jesus said:

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

In summary, I find this book to be entertaining and enlightening with moving stories weaved in between pages of sober warnings, convictions of hearts. and encouraging words. More importantly, this book is certainly not just for read, but it should be a book that springs us to our knees in prayer and our feet in action.

Click here to watch or listen to the sermon series that inspire this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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