Strong Enough to Trust
He is perhaps the best-known Christian author of our time. His books have sold 33 million copies. His videos, CDs, and calendars are a publisher’s dream. Yet Pastor Lucado seems as surprised as anyone. When a recent awe-struck visitor to his church complimented him, Max replied, “Isn’t it something what God can do with an old drunk?” And he meant it. “In high school I developed a drinking problem,” he told Servant. “It would take me six beers to feel the buzz. I came from a family of alcoholics. I don’t even like to think about the messes I would have made had not Christ intervened.” His humility is contagious, as is his love for the Savior he preaches about. “The Christ of your galaxies is the Christ of your Mondays,” Max writes. “Relax. You have a friend in high places. Does the child of Arnold Schwarzenegger worry about tight pickle-jar lids? If the daughter of Bill Gates can’t turn on her computer, does she panic? No. Nor should you.” In this interview with Servant, Max talks about his new book, Next Door Savior.
Max Lucado: Hello, Phil, it’s good to hear your voice. How are you?
Phil Callaway: Great. Were you out on the golf course yet?
No, I’m not much of a golfer any more. I’m not real sure why, but the last 3 or 4 years I’ve kind of hung up the sticks.
The Lord got hold of you?
[Laughter] I went through de-tox. Now my big deal is cycling. I go out almost every day.
Good for you. Is the terrain fairly flat there?
No, it’s hilly but it makes for a great workout. It’s fun. I have a group I ride with for exercise.
Have you been pretty busy?
Busy, but manageable. How about you?
The same, I think. I’ve been able to do a lot with my family, so I’m very thankful. My kids are all teenagers now—how about yours’?
I have one in college, one’s a high school senior, one’s a high school freshman. What are you writing?
I just did my first novel called Growing Up On The Edge Of The World. The theme is grace. Did you have some grand plans when you started writing?
No, still don’t. I guess I’ll just keep going until there’s no more water in the well.
Does it still amaze you what God can to do?
It amazes me that people like the books. I think I’m into the rhythm now of not being surprised that I can finish a book. I’m still thankful and it’s still the best day of the year when I do, but I’ve gotten over that surprise.
Well, let’s get started. We’ll be running this in Servant pretty quick and I’ll send you some copies.
You’ve written a number of books about the life of Christ. What makes Next Door Savior different?
A couple of factors separate it from the others. One is that it takes the reader all the way through the life of Christ and the other is that it’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to an apologetic, more of an intellectual defense of who Jesus is. I would never do it like a scholar because I’m not one but I did want to equip the reader with an understanding of why we can intellectually say that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. What separates him from other would-be Messiahs that come down the pike? So, yes, I’ve written several books about Christ; this one is written for those who need just a little bit more fiber in their faith to believe who he says he is. I think it’s also a good book to give to seekers; people who are wondering who Christ is. By taking them from the birth of Christ right through to the ascension of Christ it gives them a big picture as to the personality of Christ.
You’ve written on the beatitudes and the crucifixion, but this book is more of an overview of Christ’s life. Where did the idea come from?
Not long after the 9-11 incident Larry King invited me to be on his show with a Catholic, a Jewish rabbi, and two Muslims. Surprisingly, I was the only one trying to point out what was unique about my faith. The others said that if we all just love God it’s going to turn out all right in the end. That’s a very common notion in our culture. I began to wonder if our church here in San Antonio knows what separates Christ from Buddha or Mohamed. So I began a serious of lessons called “Next Door Savior,” about Christ as the God-man. That’s what separates Jesus from Abraham or Joseph Smith. He’s all God and all man. Either we accept or reject it.
How did that relationship with Larry King come about? Have you been on before?
I guess I just got on his interview list. Yes, I’ve been on the show half a dozen times and I’ve been asked half a dozen more that I couldn’t. I don’t know how it happened. The first time I did the show it was with Pat Boone and I just have a casual acquaintance with him. But he was the one who suggested my name.
Interesting. Somebody actually taped that show and we watched it in Sunday School.
It’s a little scary because you don’t know what the questions are. You have a general idea. What makes it even more scary is that you don’t know when you’re next, especially when you’re at a remote location and you can’t see his eyes.
You did a tremendous job.
I’ve learned to go equipped with what I want to say, no matter what the questions are.
What else separates Jesus from the rest?
If you were in India about 490 B.C. and asked Buddha “Can you defeat death?” he would say, “You are disillusioned. Seek enlightenment.” If you asked Socrates “Do you have power over the grave?” he might have scratched his head and called you “turkey brains.” If you asked Muhammad if he were Allah incarnate, he would have ripped his robe and demanded you be banished for heresy. But travel back in time to Jerusalem and you will find disciples who went from meeting behind locked doors to a willingness to die for their faith. The only explanation is the risen Christ.
You describe Jesus as the “friend of flops.” What do you mean?
One of my favorite stories in the whole Bible is story of the friendship he made with Matthew the tax collector. We say that phrase, “Matthew, the tax collector,” and it doesn’t really shock us. Maybe we should say, “Matthew, the embezzler” or “Matthew, the drug peddler.” We’re talking about somebody who had been put out of society, who had turned against his own people, was working for the Romans and taking money from his own people. So for Jesus to befriend him and go to his house to hang out with people who were not a part of the religious circles is so engaging and so winsome and offers so much hope for somebody who thinks God is only the friend of those who are good. But the whole idea that Jesus would become a friend of flops is one of the great jewels of the gospel message.
How can we live that way? How can we become the friend of flops?
For me to be a friend of a flop means that I would accept and enter his world and love him or her, never endorsing misbehavior but always accepting and loving that person. That’s what Jesus did. He wanted to reach not only Matthew, but all of Matthew’s world. And so Matthew had this party and invited all his friends to his house. And when the religious heat comes in, the religious leaders, they’re stunned that Jesus would be hanging out with these people. He tells them, these are the people I came to reach. The Pharisees were not well but they would not admit they were sick so Jesus goes to those who admit they’re sick. I think that’s the example for us. The main point in that chapter is that sometimes a follower of Christ means being normal enough to hang out with normal people. I was asked to play golf recently with a “Matthew.” On the ninth hole, he said, “I’m so glad you’re normal.” I think he meant, “I’m so glad you didn’t get in my face or club me with a King James driver.” A single mom in Arkansas had a frail baby. Her neighbor stopped by every few days and kept the child so she could shop. Soon her neighbor shared her faith and the woman did what Matthew did, she followed Christ. Friends objected. They said, “Do you know what those people teach?” The single mom said, “Here is what I know. They held my baby.” Jesus didn’t endorse Matthew’s behavior, he just accepted and loved him and entered his world. The religious leaders were stunned that Jesus would be with these people. He told them it’s the sick who need a doctor, and sometimes the most godly thing we can do is hang out with people who need God.
You’ve written about discouraged people. Who do you think of in the Bible when you think of discouraged people?
That’s Peter, James and John who have fished all night and caught absolutely nothing. They’re brought their boats in, cleaned the nets, and they’re ready to go home and sleep all day and Jesus says, Try it again, this time with me in the boat. Of all the wonderful messages from that event, one of the messages is When you’re discouraged, you’ve tried and tried and you’ve come home fishless and you’re worn out with no desire to every try again, it’s never too late to try again. But include me. Invite me to come along with you. And that’s one of the great stories. To me the connection between that story and when Jesus appeared to his followers after his resurrection, the intentional parallel there is just phenomenal because the same thing had happened. They had fished all night and Peter again was discouraged as if to say, “If you don’t get it the first time, I don’t give up on you; I’ll come and do it again.”
This book is also for discouraged people. Why does God allow us to “go fishless” sometimes?
Perhaps it’s to shape our character and draw us closer to Him. What appears to be our problem might actually be God’s purpose. But you must ask two questions. Have you given Christ your boat? Your heartache? Your struggle? Secondly, have you gone deep? The payload of your second effort might not be the fish you catch, but the God you see.
We talk about apologetics and going through all these steps, and I think that is one of the things that actually convinced me of the legitimacy of Scripture is that God never hid the fact that there were some pretty sappy people on Jesus’ family tree. He certainly could have. Why didn’t He?
It shows how far he’s willing to go to connect, he put himself right in the muck and the mire of humanity, so much so that some of his ancestors were nothing to boast about. Of course some of us as spiritual descendents are nothing to boast about either. There are many reasons why, one of them is to fulfill prophesy, the other is to authenticate scripture. But to me the reason that is most compelling is that he knows what you and I are going to go through and he intentionally placed himself in that situation so that we can approach the throne of grace without any fear. When we pray, when we talk to him, he knows exactly how we feel.
I was talking to some teens recently and I told them God was “loser-friendly.” I hear that message coming through in this book. How should the message of Next Door Savior change the way we live and think and act if we really grasp these truths?
That’s a great question. All of your questions are. I think it will create a greater amazement for Christ because the concept of all-man, all-God in one person is beyond what any of any of us can comprehend. And so we can spend a lifetime pondering it, studying it, thinking about it, and never comprehend it. And so I think it will create a deeper sense of worship for us. A couple of things that surprised me in the book, one thing in particular is the whole idea that Jesus never left his flesh on earth. In the very last chapter, this idea was on my mind for a whole year and I can’t remember where it came from, but I’d always perceived that Christ in heaven is spirit because God is spirit, but I began thinking about that and I began looking for that scripture that says that Jesus left his fleshly body on earth and ascended into heaven and he is now in a spiritual state. And he very well may be, this is anything but a cardinal doctrine, you know, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that he ascended into heaven in his resurrected body. His body could be touched by the apostles, he ate fish, I mean, it was a supernatural body that could go through wall, but it was still a body that had flesh and bones just like I have. So as I began digging around it occurred to me that it seems that Jesus right now in the center of heaven encircled by the angels, being worshipped for ever and ever is still in that Nazarene body. That’s a phenomenal thought, to think that even there he still understands who I am, he still knows what it’s like to be human. I may be way off base on that, I still haven’t found anything that convinces me I’m not, but it’s a compelling thought that right in the midst of the heavenlies, God is exercising control over the universe through a human body.
Why was it so important that Jesus enter our world?
It fulfilled prophesy and authenticates Scripture and achieved redemption. It showed how far He’s willing to go to connect. And He knows what you and I are going to go through and He intentionally placed himself in that situation so that we can approach the throne of grace without any fear. When we pray, when we talk to Him, He knows exactly how we feel.
Is there a danger in trying to make Jesus too human? Do we risk minimizing His divinity?
The challenge is to elevate the divinity and accept the humanity. Look where he was born. Nazareth would never have been a household word had Jesus not lived there, just a remote one-camel town on the edge of Roman radar screens. Even Israel was far from the epicenter of activity in that day. Most of those Roman soldiers sent to Israel had never even heard of it. That’s how human Jesus was willing to become. He was known as a carpenter first, not a miracle worker. The author of the Torah was taught the Torah. The maker of the world had a bellybutton! It was His idea, not ours.
How should the message of Next Door Savior change the way we live and think and act?
I hope it will create a greater amazement for Christ because the concept of all-man, all-God in one person is beyond what any of us can comprehend even if we spend a lifetime pondering it.
You’ve been one of the most successful authors of all time. What helps you keep it in perspective?
I’m not sure I always do. I don’t like my attitude sometimes. But on the good days what helps is that first I’m a pastor of a church and I really like being connected to the church. Some people do really well as writers, but I don’t think I would do quite so well. Being a pastor forces me to engage in the weekly discipline of preparing messages. And it also gives me the chance to see if those messages are connecting or not. Some messages that I think are just great aren’t and some that I think are not so important, the Lord really uses, so it helps me see what really matters to Him.
Nine years ago in Servant I asked you what you’d like to be remembered for. You said, “I’ll continue writing as long as God provides the material, but I’d feel like a failure if my children didn’t remember me as a good father. That’s what keeps me going. That and trying to break 90 on the golf course.”
Well, I gave up on the last one. But I’d say the same today. If it’s God’s will, I’d like to continue to write for the rest of my life, but the things that pushes my button the most are my daughters. And communicating the message that the God who rules the universe has walked your streets. Even though He’s in heaven, He’s never left the neighborhood.
That comes through in your writing, your love for them.
They’re great girls.
Thanks for your time. Perhaps I’ll see you next summer at CBA.
I’d like that.
God bless you and keep you.
For more on Max's incredible ministry, visit him here.
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