We are so grateful to share a conversation with our friend, Max Lucado, with us you. He has blessed my husband and I throughout our marriage, and I'll tell you what, he has such a pastor's heart.
Together, we discuss what it looks like to follow Jesus all the days of your life, starting from when you're young, to when you're old, and how to actually give Jesus away. Max is so gifted at telling stories. He captures people's hearts with the creativity of God and the great love of God.
Max, I want to start with how you fell in love with Jesus. When did you decide you were going to follow Him?
My story had a few starts and stops along the way. I was raised in a great home, but I was also raised in a home that had alcoholism in the family tree. I became a Christian at the age of 10, and then I became a heavy drinker at the age of 15. Alcoholism took the loss of my big brother, and it also took the lives of several members of our extended family. In fact, I have an early childhood memory of going to rehab centers to visit my aunts with my dad. Alcoholism was so prevalent in our family.
When I started drinking at the age of 15, Coors replaced Christ for me. I’m not trying to be clever, but I mean, that's pretty well what happened. For about five years, I was the kind of guy that you would not have wanted your daughter to ever go out with. I mean, I was just a mess, and I was headed off the deep end.
We grew up in a small West Texas town. My parents said that if I went to a Christian college, they would pay for my tuition. But if I went to a state college, I was on my own. Well, I'm dumb, but not stupid. So I ended up at a delightful school in a small town called Abilene to attend Abilene Christian College.
To me, it was a wonderful place. Going to school there required me to take Bible classes, and that was my dad's idea. He thought if he could get me to read the Bible every week, there would be hope for me. And sure enough, it took two years. In the spring of my sophomore year, I was 20 years old.
My biggest struggle was not to believe in God, but to believe that God would believe in me.
My story is a major prodigal son story. I smelled like a pig, and to think that God could forgive me and then use me, that was the turnaround.
I ended up going into ministry. I actually went into missionary work and lived in South America for much of the eighties. Then I took a job as a pastor in San Antonio in ‘88. And that's where I've been ever since! I’m semi-retired.
I still teach at the church about 20 weekends a year. And with the rest of my time I’m either writing or playing with my grandchildren.
I want to hear you describe Jesus, because that's one of my favorite things you do in your writings.
Jesus is the only picture of God ever taken. If you want to see God, look at Jesus.
He's the ultimate revealer of eternal things. He's the only ruler. I've been thinking a lot these days about John 3:16 and the phrase, “one and only son” for God. The Greek phrase is monogenic, which means, “a unique gene”. The DNA of God was placed in Jesus.
I liked that phrase, “the only picture of God ever taken”. I think that to see God, you look at Jesus Christ.
That's so good. So, when you sit down to communicate that to somebody, whether it's in person or writing, what do you think the greatest barrier is for any age to receive Jesus and to understand who He is?
What a great question. I tend to think about teaching from the assumption that people want help. If I assume that I'm talking to people who want help, the barrier would be, “I'm unworthy of God's help” or, “I've screwed up too much; I've made too big a mess out of my life.”
That's the barrier that I love to help people walk through because that's the barrier that I faced and continue to struggle with myself. Could I ever out sin God's grace? Could I ever write too many checks on His account of mercy? Well, if I could, I'm in trouble.
I love the idea that it’s God who so loved the world, not Max who so loved God. It’s God’s love that holds me to Him, not my love that attracts Him to me.
He is love. He’s not loving, He is love. I can’t improve on the “tree-ness” of a tree, the “sky-ness” of the sky, or the “rock-ness” of a rock. And I can’t improve on the love of God. My good deeds don’t make Him love me more. My bad deeds don’t make Him love me less.
That's a hard thing for us to imagine, because everybody else treats us according to our behavior. But God doesn’t. He treats us according to His character, and His character is a merciful, loving God. And I think that’s great news.
Following Jesus is different from any other religion, right? When I've struggled with Christianity, this is what I come back to. I will never measure up, and I know that in my bones. So, to be a Christian is such a gift, because I know I can rest. It's about the work of God, and not me.
I’ve realized there’s really only two religions. Religion that says, “done” or religion that says, “do”.
The religion of God through Jesus Christ says the work is done. Every other religion says do, and you have to hope that you’ve “done enough”.
Salvation by grace through faith says that we can trust it’s done. Believe and rest. Set yourself down in the hammock of God’s goodness. Every other religion says, “do it”, and hopefully you’ll be reincarnated, or accepted.
Therefore, following Jesus Is a no brainer to me. Because of the empty tomb, I can place my faith in the work that’s finished on the cross.
I want to talk about what it looks like to trust Jesus in our everyday moments. You’re so great at helping others see how Jesus is available to us every minute of every day.
Well, some days it's easier than others. For example, the last two or three days I've felt myself in a bit of a slump. I think it's just the wear and tear of the world.
Imagine those who have lost their jobs, or imagine those who have come face to face with the backlash of racism, or imagine those who have had to deal with the immediacy of COVID. My heart goes out to you, if that’s your story. Personally, I've been slugging through the last three days in my own life.
I trust that God doesn’t have to have my good mood to do a good work.
If He does, I’m in trouble. And I do want to be obedient, even on days that it’s difficult. I want to keep my word. I want to love my wife. I want to get my job done. I want to be respectful to people. And I want to show up. I want to get on the team.
Some days I do this better than others, but let’s not ever let the presence of Christ be contingent upon our performance. Let's let the presence of Christ be contingent upon His promise to be with us.
If we ever make it contingent upon our performance, we’ve just created another system, right? He’s with us on the days we feel close, but He’s also with us on the days we don’t.
That is really comforting to me, because get caught believing those lies.
I was just talking about this with my daughter, and her relationship with Jesus is just like this. It seems to go up and down. I told her, He’s always with you. He’s not up and down. You might feel that way, but He’s steady.
I think we tend to feel like God is really distant. When I look back at my college journals, every entry seems to start with an apology for not meeting with God for awhile. But He’s right there. He’s always available. We go up and down, and we can try to make those dips smaller, but He doesn’t go anywhere.
We've got to let the facts and promises of scripture override the feelings, because our feelings are not dependable.
Sometimes we have to take our feelings out, and give them a good talking to. They’re just not reliable. Our feelings emerge from this complicated body in which we live in.
Our bodies can be influenced by something we ate, and what the weather is, you know? Let's stand on promises instead.
Jesus said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus said, “I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). I'm going stand on those promises, because we're going to ebb and flow, and come and go. But that's why we go back to the promises of Christ. He says it’s done. The work is done. He’s never going to let us go.
Salvation is done, but sanctification is ongoing.
We're saved, and nobody can take that away from us. But sanctification is the process in which we grow in our fruitfulness, joy, understanding, wisdom, and hope. And He’s not going to let us go, ever.
I want to go back in your life a little, and talk about why you wanted to write children's books.
I love children’s books because they’re so much fun to write. They’re a lot easier to write than grownup books. I started writing stories for kids when I had little kids myself. I have three daughters, and now they’re all in their thirties. But when they were young, we would have story time at night, and we would makeup stories together. That’s where my love for children’s stories started.
We have to talk about one book in particular, You Are Special. because I've never read it to my children without crying. You understand the heart of humans, and the heart of God. Connecting those two things is your supernatural gift.
And I don't cry at all the kids' books I read. But what really got me is the recognition that we complicate everything. God is like, you know what? I just really like you and I want to be with you.
It's really that simple to me. You know, of all the books I've written, do I have a favorite? I always say You Are Special is my favorite.
I wrote it on assignment. Here's what happened. There's a publisher in the Chicago area called Crossway. At the time, Lane Dennis was the president. I agreed to write a book that included seven children's stories, and each story would accompany a painting by a wonderful artist.
I got a call from Lane on a Monday or Tuesday and he said, “we thank you so much for your six stories, but just a reminder, you promise seven and it's due Friday.” Well, I'm a pastor, and at that time I was a full time senior pastor. And I said, “I thought I sent you seven. And I don’t have time to crank out another story this week.”
So, that’s how You Are Special came about. I cleared off some time on Thursday, walked into my office and I just sat there and said, “okay, I got to come up with a story.”
I had noodled around with this little idea of stars and dots with my kids because you know, self-image and the way kids treat kids can be so rough. I would tell them, you know, if somebody comes up and says something mean to you, it's like they're putting a dot on you. So, you just knock that dot off. And if somebody comes up and puts a star on you, that's a compliment. The idea was there, and within about three or four hours, it was supernatural. It came together so quickly.
So, I sent it to him. The book came out about a year later, and Lane said, “people keep asking us about this one particular story You Are Special. So, we want to take it out of the book and turn it into a standalone children's book.” After that, it took off.
Sometimes I talk to people about writing, or preaching, or preparing messages. I always say, “sometimes you’re inspired, but sometimes you just make a commitment, and you have a deadline. The Spirit can use obligation as much as inspiration to get the job done.”
Stuff like that keeps us humble. It’s not in our power, but by the Spirit. I mean, there’s not another way. We just depend on God.
I want you to talk about the legacy you pray that you’re leaving. Obviously, your greatest legacy will be through your kids, your grandkids, and the generations to come through your family, because that's probably the biggest investment you’re making.
But even in your writing, what do you pray people remember about you one day, and what they learned from you?
I like to write books for people who don't like to read books.
I try to talk to that person who seldom picks up a book. Not because they don't want to, but because maybe they're too busy, or maybe because they're overwhelmed by the idea of reading a book about the Bible, or about theology. I really like to talk to that person.
So, if I have a legacy through the books I write, it would be that I made it accessible, that I put the cookies on a shelf where they could be reached.
A win for me is when maybe a wife comes up to me and says, “you know, my husband doesn't read any books, but I saw him the other day reading.”
Sometimes when you're struggling, you don't need an intellectual exercise. Instead, you need the peace of God.
I think about your passion for people and I wonder, is that from God? Did you always love people? Because over time, being a pastor can be hard I know a lot of pastors eventually would say they get a bit worn out on people, if they were really honest. But it genuinely feels like you really love people.
Well, you’re being generous! I'm thinking about a friend who called about three or four days ago and he asked me to come to this three-day event. He didn’t want me to speak, he just wanted me to come and hang out. It was at a nice hotel, and my only responsibility was to talk to people. And this was a good friend of mine asking. So, I was honest with him and I said, “that’s not my idea of a relaxing weekend.”
If I want to relax on the weekend, my wife and I escape to our little lake house and hang out, and go on boat rides. I told him I’m happy to go hang out with people, but that’s ministry to me. My job for the weekend would be to say hello to everybody, love on people, see what's going on, listen to stories, and see if I have any advice to share. And I told him that I'm really happy to do that, but I'll confess, it's a decision.
I do love people, but I have to decide to go be with people.
When I’d come home after church on a Sunday afternoon, I’m toast. I'm just toast. And I know many pastors who just love it. Every conversation gets them pumped up for the next month. For me, every conversation gets me a little more toward empty. So, I have to go and retreat.
I really do love people, but I have to take them in limited doses.
I think that's so helpful, and I’m grateful for that answer, because it really is hard sometimes! Your way of loving people might be in your office, or writing a book. That might be the most loving thing you can do.
I appear pretty extroverted, but I get very overwhelmed, too. I knew what you were going to say when you were invited to that hotel, because I would’ve said the same thing. My enjoy three or four friends over for a long dinner. That’s a “fill up” for me. But I don’t think you’re alone in how you feel at all.
So, when you’re with your grandkids, what does it look like for you to invest in them as their granddad? We’re watching the number of anxiety diagnoses just go through the roof these days. What is your hope for this next generation? What can parents do to help their kids who are struggling with fear or anxiety?
Yeah, it is off the charts. You are absolutely correct. It's devastating.
Last weekend, a guy texted me at 5:00 AM. His daughter had attempted to take her life the night before at about 11:00 PM. They got to her and got her to a hospital, and gratefully she’s okay, and things are better, but that's an all too common story these days.
I think part of it has to do with the onslaught of bad news, just one layer after another. I think another has to do with the rapid pace of change. You know, we've had more change in the last 30 years than in the last 300. The world is moving at a frantic pace.
You know, we've had more change in the last 30 years than in the last 300. The world is moving at a frantic pace.
The third contributing factor is the secular society. We’ve raised a generation who hasn’t been urged to consider a higher power.
We've taught class after class without ever mentioning God, without referencing God, and not mentioning that there's somebody, somewhere, who will help you get through life.
Many of us were blessed to find ourselves in a home where our parents did their best, but lots of kids don't even have that. So, all of those layers together create a generation of people who are spent.
It’s not an easy time to be a young person, but here's my hope. I think society is about to say secularism did not work. We’ve got all this “know how” but absolutely no “know why.” We’re talking through tiny little instruments that can fit in our pockets, yet most people don't know why they're on this earth. That's what secularism did for us?
I'm praying that there's going to be a resurgence, a return, a revival that’s going to say, “okay, I was made for something more than this world, and who is it? What is it?”
I'm praying that we, as the church, are ready. Because good days are about to happen. I'm really optimistic and hopeful.
I am too. I love hearing you say that. It affirms where I’ve been with the Lord, which is that this season is a stripping away and pruning us. This will cause the church to grow, to flourish, and there's going to be a new sense of hunger.
Research has been done on what people are Googling, and of course, anxiety is a huge one, but religion is a huge one as well. People are researching, “is there a God?” They’re asking questions.
What a moment for the church to stay steadfast and to keep our eyes on the hope we have in Jesus. Also to do the work of loving people, being there for them, and helping them process.
I think we could walk out of this and see the church grow. It might look different, but I do believe the church is growing. People are praying, people are committed to teaching their kids about God, and there’s almost this desperation in us that I think is going to be a spark.
I’m really hopeful. I’m part of a group that meets over Zoom on Wednesdays with pastors from all over San Antonio who lead prayer groups. We're doing our best to figure out how we can get the whole city together to pray.
I’ve also been meeting with some black pastors, and they are so gracious and so full of hope and encouragement. They're helping me see some things I could do better. So, I'm experiencing some personal breakthroughs. And this is happening all over the world.