Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Notes: Outlive Your Life (3/5)

As a preacher myself, I have always appreciated Max Lucado's ability to tell a great story and use inspiring illustrations.  In fact, I have used in the past and probably will use again in the future some of his illustrations as they can be immensely helpful in up-front communication.  Outlive Your Life reads like a book full of Lucado's best sermon illustrations from his messages in the book of Acts.  While interesting by themselves, the stories and illustrations don't give the book the unity it so desperately needs.  What is this book really about?  Is it an exposition of the book of Acts?  Is Max showing us how to live like the apostles?  Is he calling us to live for the cause of compassion and justice?  Is he encouraging us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all peoples?  Is the book a devotional guide on how to get outside our personal shells?  Is it a call to prayer?  A call to courage?

In reality, the book is all of that and more.  I think Lucado desires the main narrative to be one of helping those in need, with the book of Acts as his structural support.  However, with his amazing repertoire of illustrations and stories and personal adventures, the book goes too many directions at once.   The chapters are really short moral exhortations built on a biblical theme taken from one verse in Acts.  While each chapters stands on it's own and is individually inspiring, the connections between chapters are not clear.  And here is why that is problematic: the book of Acts is historical narrative.  The author Luke is putting stories together and ordering his writing for a reason.  Context matters and the arc of the book of Acts is important to understanding the individual stories.

I make that observation to ask a question that I wish Lucado had spent more time with in his book because I think it is the foundational question of the book of Acts.  What about the apostles' encounter with Jesus's life, death, and resurrection and their subsequent filling by the Holy Spirit had moved them from "regular Joe's" to courageous evangelists and compassionate missionaries?  And second, what about their message (the gospel of the Risen Christ) made them especially considerate of the hurting and needy?  While Christians today need a reminder of the moral example of the early church, we even more need a reminder of what they believed that led them to live that way.  We can be told inspiring stories and given encouraging reminders to live for others, but if our worldview does not support that lifestyle, the changes will only last as long as the emotions we feel from reading the stories.

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