A conversation with Max Lucado by Andrew Greer for CCMmagazine.com
Max Lucado is perhaps one of the most well known pastors in the world. His long-time post at San Antonio’s Oak Hills Church has helped grow the church into a multi-site campus hosting services for thousands of spiritual seekers each week and facilitating ministries across the globe. He is also a writer decades deep into a bibliography of bestselling inspirations. But ask the prominent preacher which of his professions he considers primary these days and his answer is simple, “Author.”
Though his choice might seem curious for a man who has been called, “America’s Pastor,”* Lucado, now 63, says his pastoral role is often a springboard for his published offerings. In fact, after presenting his congregation with a sermon series themed by the promises of God he cherishes most, Lucado’s list resulted in a new book, Unshakeable Hope: Building Our Lives on the Promises of God (Thomas Nelson). DOWNLOAD THE FIRST CHAPTER FREE…CLICK HERE
On the heels of its release, Max and I sat down for candid exchange about culture, Christianity, and discovering God in the middle of the often-messy mix. So whether you relate to him as a pastoral type, or resource him as a trusted voice on the published page, join us for this very special conversation with Max Lucado.
Andrew: You have said every one of your books is inspired by sermons. Do you consider yourself a pastor or an author first?
Max: Increasingly, an author. I think if I had to choose, I’d say I’m a writer who pastors instead of a pastor who writes. I wouldn’t have always said that, but I think just in the last three or four years, I’ve sensed that. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, you know? I’m 63-years-old. I’ve been at this church for 30 years. I see that long term I’ll be writing, if I ever retire from active church leadership.
Andrew: Do you feel like now in your sixties, some of that life experience is creating a new depth in your writing?
Max: Maybe. Here’s what I’m enjoying: Over these years of writing, I’ve developed an audience — I don’t know if that’s a good word — but I have a somewhat extensive group of people around the world who’ve read my books for many, many years, and my relationship with them is somewhat pastoral. And the reason I say that is I receive responses from them saying, “OK, we’re ready for next year’s book.” Or, “This is the one that’s meant a lot to me over the years.” We’re not getting to know each other anymore. That’s what I enjoy. I enjoy meeting these people who’ve read my books. My first one came out in 1986, so that’s a long time.
Andrew: The new book is subtitled Building Our Lives on the Promises of God. I think for a lot of people like myself, who have a background in the Christian church, that phrase sounds stabilizing or really comforting. But when I think about, What are the promises of God? How do I discover them? How do I apply them?, all of that is a bit more ambiguous. How do we uncover those promises and then begin to foundation our lives practically on them?
Max: Those are both great questions. Where would you start, you know? And yet, the quest is worth the effort, or I guess I should say the discovery is worth the quest.
There are over 7,000 promises in the Bible. In writing this book, I selected my favorite promises, promises that have meant much to me through the years and promises that come from a sampling of the Old Testament and the New Testament with the hope the reader would be prompted to do the same, that they would begin collecting promises that mean a lot to them. That they would just simply ask the Lord, “What promises do you want me to understand and to build my life upon?” And I’m very confident that the Lord, who wants us to know His promises, would reveal them. Then that takes me into the simple act of reading the Bible. There are many books available for somebody if they just want a list of promises. But I selected the fourteen that have meant a lot to me through the years, and that I’ve used a lot in ministry.
Andrew: So this is not a laundry list of promises, but more of a seeking out what are those promises that God is revealing to me personally?
Max: It’s an invitation to create your own list. It’s an opportunity to see how to study a promise, how to look at it in its context, and then how to apply it in your life, but by no means is it an exhaustive list of all the promises. I don’t know of a book that could do that. But hopefully it’ll whet people’s appetite to create their own list.
Andrew: So there are fourteen promises highlighted in this book. Is there one that is most meaningful throughout your life, or even recently?
Max: No doubt. And I know why. In the last three weeks, I’ve conducted three funerals, [including one] for a 19-year-old, who was killed in a car accident. In each and every case, I turn to Psalm 30 and verse 5: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
There are seasons in life where we don’t think joy is going to come. We’re so overwhelmed by grief, so mired in the mud of sorrow, that we honestly don’t know if joy will come. I find it very helpful to tell people, “As difficult as you think it is, God has promised that sun’s going to come out again. I know the world’s covered in grayness now and your world is lost in sorrow and the weeping’s going to last for the night and the next night and the next night, but joy comes.” So that one has meant a lot to me in the last few weeks.
Andrew: If you live long enough, grief is one of our most common human experiences. When someone is in the throes of grief, platitudes can be harmful. But to remind someone of a promise of God when they’re really in the pit of grief, can that be different than a trite platitude?
Max: Well, I can understand how they could come across as superficial if presented in an uncaring or cavalier fashion. They could come across as dismissive of a person’s grief, but they don’t have to. I believe that to admonish someone is to deposit a seed of truth in the midst of his or her difficulty. If I can take a promise and I can, with genuine heart, with an honest heart, just say, “I know it’s hard. A verse that’s meant a lot to me has been Romans 8:28, and it says, ‘All things work together for good,’ so hang on to that.” You know, there’s a tone in which a person can say that, that it doesn’t come across as uncaring. I just think it’s all in the sincerity. If I genuinely care about that person, it’s going to come out in the way I talk.
Andrew: The culture we exist within today is anxious. It’s riddled with fear. Is that due to a lack of understanding of the promises of God?
Max: I mention early on in the book that the suicide rate has increased — I think the number’s twenty-four percent — since the year 2000, which is a staggering number, and all of us know somebody who’s orchestrated their own departure. I sure don’t want to suggest there’s a simple answer to that because there are many, many layers of complexity in that, but somewhere in that there has to be an absence of hope. When a person feels like they have utterly exhausted every reason to wake up tomorrow, then they’ve run out of hope. And I cannot help but think that as a secular society, which is what we’re in, we have trained leaders of our generation not to speak spiritual talk, and so young people grow up without role models, specifically if they don’t grow up in a home of faith. They’re not taught where to go to for hope, or the places they do go to for hope leave them hopeless. They just don’t work. This is just hunch on my part, but I think we may be paying a price for the increased secularization of society.
The book I wrote last year was called Anxious for Nothing, and I really dug into this whole idea of why is it that young people are the most anxious? One study says that young people today carry the same level of anxiety that psychiatric patients had in the 1950s. It’s a tough time to grow up. Another psychologist said by the time our kids go off to college, they’re wrapped tighter than Egyptian mummies. Again, I don’t know if there are simple explanations for that — I don’t want to put it on a bumper sticker-level answer — but hope comes from understanding why we’re on the earth, and where we’re headed after this earth. It really comes down to that.
Andrew: It seems this secularization has resulted in a disconnection from our true identity, which is that we are a reflection of God and loved without condition. I’m thinking of a quote of yours: “How much sadness would evaporate if every person simply chose to believe this: I was made for God’s glory and am being made into his image.”
Max: I think it’s the first promises in Scripture, when God said, “Let us make mankind in our own image.” I know it doesn’t sound like a promise, but it is a promise. It’s a promise that says I am made by God to be an image bearer for God, and that’s a great promise. And I think that’s the kind of promise that can help me stabilize my identity.
What would happen, how much sadness would be gone, if I really understood my job today is not to promote Max; my job today is to reflect God? And how would I view my neighbor, or how would I view my grocer? How would I view the immigrant if I saw them as God’s idea, also made in the image of God? That every person matters for that very reason? I really think that gets so much to the core of this issue, that those are the kind of promises that could shape a society that would believe them.
Andrew: It would also eliminate some of our divides, would it not? Again, if I understand that I am made and cultured in the image of God, like you said, that changes how I see someone else. That’s getting down to a deeper level of existence and connectivity to one another.
Max: Absolutely. You mentioned the divided culture in which we live. We’re just all so angry at each other that we’re unable to sit down and have a good conversation about the right solution. I think that’s where we start — understanding who we are, what our identity is, and seeing if we can’t find common ground there.
Andrew: Today, in our 2018 world, if you had to offer up one recommendation to someone who is truly seeking hope in a culture that is more and more given to despair, what would that be?
Max: The big idea of this book is: Build your life, not on the pain of life or on the problems of life, but on God’s promises. At the risk of oversimplifying, every person is either building their life on pain, problems, or promises. You can tell I’m a preacher, right? [Laughs] There’s the alliteration. But every person, they find their identity in the pain they’re going through or the problems they’re solving, and then every so often, you meet somebody who truly stands on God’s promises. You listen to these people talk and their language is sugared with phrases like, “But God said,” “But I read in the Bible,” “But I believe that.” They have these anchors in their conversation.
I mentioned speaking at a funeral for a 19-year-old who was killed in a car wreck, and I got an email from his mother. Can you imagine? She said that the mornings are terrible. She said, “I wake up every morning, and my first thought is, I’m hoping this is a nightmare, and when I realize it isn’t, the grief comes over me again.” But then one of her next sentences said, “But God is with me.” But God is with me. So there it is, that little “But God.” It’s there. She’s overwhelmed, but she’s not giving in to despair. She wouldn’t say it like this, but instead of standing on the pain of life, she’s standing on a promise, and that promise could be the one that she heard from the lips of Jesus, “Though I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Subconsciously, she’s choosing to stand on the promise.
Now, it’s still terrible. In time though, in time, that pain is going to begin to diminish because she’s choosing to stand on the promise. She could just mire herself down in the pain. No one would fault her for doing so, but if she has any hope, it’s in a promise that God is with her. And so that’s what I’m hoping to do. When I presented these sermons to the church, I just said, “Create your own list. As you read through Scripture, underline promises that mean something to you. Create a list of them, five promises, ten promises. Then tuck them in your purse, put them in your pocket.” I’m hoping to whet people’s appetite to create their list of promises that would be their go-to verses.
For more on Max, visit: www.maxlucado.com