Series 24: For The Love Of Faith Icons | Episode 01
Max Lucado: The Beauty of Disagreeing Agreeably
It’s a brand-new year, a brand-new decade—and a brand-new series! “For the Love of Faith Icons” finds Jen talking to some of the most well-loved leaders in the faith, the kinds of folks who have had a chance to see themselves and the world evolve spiritually, and who can handle our biggest questions while admitting they have their own. We couldn’t be more pleased to start off these inspiring and thought-provoking discussions with none other than beloved pastor and speaker Max Lucado. For decades, Max has been leading us with warmth and good humor, gently asking us to think about who we are in the world as people of faith and what we’re striving to represent, especially in these divisive times. Max and Jen talk about some of the biggest issues on our minds—namely, what unity can look like among different groups who disagree with one another among believers and non-believers alike. Max implores us to work together to communicate, to love one another, and to model this for others. As Max says, “We can be respectful. We do not have the right to be arrogant and to point a finger. Of all the people who should not be arrogant it is those of us who believe we are saved by grace.”
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, everybody. Welcome, Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast.
So, I’m so happy that you’re here, you guys. This is why I clapped, I felt like I had to welcome you with a clap, because today we’re kicking off a brand new year, a brand new decade, and a brand new series. And I just am telling you right now, you’re going to love it.
So, obviously we’ve just kind of wiped the slate clean again and turned the page in our calendar. We’re in 2020. So, we’re thinking about who am I going to be, not just this year, but who am I going to be this decade? Right? What’s ahead of me? What’s in store?
So I thought there was probably no better way to start the year than to seek guidance from some people how have come before us and have deeply paved the way. They have laid a lot of tracks down that we have walked on. And so right now in this new series, we are talking to women and men who are leaders in the faith. Some kind of in this broad sort of faith space, some in the church. We’ve known them for decades, and they have shown us over and over that they can handle some our deepest questions and lend leadership to these really big spaces. And that’s what we need, we need kind of a high capacity right now. So we are going to be looking to leaders who have seen some things, and they have the perspective to back it up.
Guys, today’s episode is so dear. I don’t know how else to describe it. It is so dear, it is so encouraging. There’s a moment that it is so tender and fragile that, well, you’ll hear me sniffling in the background because it just pushed me right into tears. This is just going to be nurturing to you. I’m happy that you’re listening today because you’re going to walk away feeling nurtured, and loved, and encouraged. Because my first guest in this series is someone that we know, we love, we hold so impossibly precious to us. He has been this very warm, and humble, and discerning presence for such a long time and I’m glad he’s here. He’s been called “America’s Pastor” by Christianity Today, Reader’s Digest called him “best preacher in America.” The New York Times said, “This is one of the most influential leaders in social media.”
So of course, I’m talking about Max Lucado. Max has been in ministry for decades and he’s the teaching pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio where, you guys, he has served for more than 30 years. That kind of longevity is so rare. This is bonkers. This sentence is so bonkers. He has sold more than 100 million books. What? 100 million. Because Max has this way of communicating something so significant and profound, but in a way that is so approachable, and generous. And he’s funny too, which you’re going to see, which is so great. Because even an iconic teacher can make us laugh.
His most recent book is called How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations, which we’ll talk a little bit about. But we talk about a lot. He talks about some real sorrow in his childhood, and how exactly Jesus met him in it. It’s so impossibly precious. We talk about his voice in culture right now, which he has raised with humble but profound leadership as he has called things to task. I asked him about that. The future of the church, I’ve asked him about how are we ever going to come together? How is there ever going to be healing in our culture? It’s all in here, you guys. And it was really impactful for me and I know it will be for you.
So welcome to the podcast in 2020. Welcome to a new decade. Welcome to this series about faith icons. I hope that it serves you well. I hope that you walk away stronger, encouraged, challenged, and deeply moved by what we have to learn from some of the greatest leaders in our generation. So without any further ado, here is my amazing conversation with the incomparable Max Lucado.
Jen: I feel like it’s a lucky day for me. And I’m so happy to have you on the show today, Max, thank you so much for being here.
Max: Oh, you don’t know how honored I am. I’m just so thrilled. I think so highly of you. You energize me, to listen to your podcast. The other day I caught myself needing to get out of the car, but I was listening to your podcast and I just sat, and I just sat, and I just sat. You make it so easy and delightful, and yet profound at the same time.
Jen: Thank you. What a nice thing to say.
Max: You’ve got a real skill for this.
Jen: Thank you.
Max: And your heart . . . And you know what else I like, Jen?
Max: You bring me in touch with a circle of believers that I might not typically have contact with, you know?
Max: You expand my circle, and that’s good for me. I don’t really like my preconceptions to be tested.
Jen: Sure, who does?
Max: But it’s good for me, and sometimes when I listen to your podcast, I feel stretched tighter than a trampoline skin. But it’s good, it’s good. And I really need that and I appreciate it.
Jen: Oh. That is so kind to say. Thank you for that. And you’ve touched on a handful of things in there that I really want to unpack with you. I was just telling you before we started recording just how much your work has meant, your ministry has meant to me and millions of us for so long. And one thing that you have is this incredible longevity and this very long story of grace, and love, and mercy. Which is so increasingly rare. So we are very interested today to sort of mine the depths of your experience and learn from that.
But I wonder if you would be so kind, most of my listeners obviously know who you are and have for years, but I would love to hear first, if you wouldn’t mind, about kind of where you are right now in this stage of your life. What’s going on in your family, in your home, in your ministry, what you’re focusing on? We kind of want to know what is today’s Max?
Max: Well, the big news in our family is the era of grandchildren. And they really do live up to their expectations.
Jen: That’s great.
Max: I mean, they’re just so great. We have two grandchildren, one of them happens to be named Max, so he’s my hero.
Jen: Nice. Sure.
Max: He turns two, he’s about to turn two. And his big sister is Rosie. They only live about 10 minutes from us in San Antonio.
Jen: Oh, that’s nice.
Max: I’m still at the same church, I’ve been at the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio since 1988.
Max: I’ve moved here from Brazil, and then we just stayed here. I think that’s going to be part of our conversation, you know, in terms of longevity, and avoiding cynicism, and keeping faith fresh. Part of that is this church that has put up with me all these years. Right now I’m in a role in the church that we call teaching pastor.
Max: And that means that I’m not in charge of the staff anymore, which is great for me and really great for them.
Max: And I’m learning, I’m learning. My exciting thing these days is a greater love and appreciation for the Holy Spirit. I feel like my heart has been activated to a deeper appreciation for what he does, and how desperately we need him or her, however you want to call the Holy Spirit. So, that’s a nutshell right there.
Jen: That’s great.
Max: My golf game still stinks, and my dog still loves me.
Jen: That is a wonderful synopsis.
Well, before we kind of knock into some of this other stuff, I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about what you’re discovering about the Holy Spirit. Did that have sort of a genesis in your life? Or was there an impetus for a real renewed focus there? What does that look like also pragmatically for you?
Max: It comes out of this last year. I think we really need some help in the way faith is being lived out in The United States. There’s just so much controversy and especially with an election year coming up it’s just so much. Oh, it’s just nauseating. It’s discouraging.
Jen: It is.
Max: And so I was praying about this early on, it just really dawned on me that what we need is revival. I mean, not revival in the sense of, “You’ve got to join my church.”
Max: But revival in the sense of a renewed love for Christ, or renewed power to live out our lives. And that led me into a time of prayer in which I needed that in my own life. I was dry, I felt like I was getting bitter, and cynical, and angry. So I began praying for a fresh downpour of the Holy Spirit. And received a real gift, or a visitation of the Spirit in July of 2019, in which I came to . . . okay, what it has done for me, Jen, is remind me that this thing we’re a part of is supernatural. It’s supernatural.
Jen: That’s great.
Max: And I think I’ve been to every possible church growth seminar.
Jen: Sure. I bet you have.
Max: And tried every trick, and pondered every controversy. But you know, when it comes right down to it what infected and empowered the church as recorded in the Book of Acts was just the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jen: Yeah, that was it.
Max: This supernatural downpour. And so I’m praying for that. I really am. I’m praying for some type of supernatural visitation from God upon my heart, and upon all of us. So I think I’m as energized and optimistic as I ever have been. But not because we as a group of ecclesiastical leaders have got it figured out.
Max: In fact, I think we’re kind of at each other’s throats like we’ve never been.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: But that’s a good thing, because when we’re in the storm, Christ shows up walking on the water. And I’m praying that something like that’s going to happen.
Jen: That’s really encouraging to hear that path in has renewed your optimism and your hope. I feel like that’s . . . We’re so depleted of hope and optimism right now, and almost just feel like the tail is wagging the dog in all the wrong ways for the faith community. So, hearing you say as someone who’s been faithful for so long, that even with you in this seasoned space of maturity still can, your hope can still be renewed. And cynicism will not have the last word is incredibly encouraging. And I think that gives us a real North Star to reach for.
As you mentioned, we’re coming up on just what we know is going to be a hard year. We know 2020 is going to just be full of contention and, well, just going to run the gamut. And so to that end I want to say that it’s been really refreshing to have your voice as part of the larger cultural conversation these last handful of years. I’m really grateful for the leadership that you’ve chosen to lend, and the way in which you did it.
I wonder if you could talk about that for just a moment, why it has been important for you to lead in kind of a public way, to comment in kind of a public way about things that were going on in the world, even knowing that this may be a hard thing to discuss, or this may be a challenging conversation to center. And yet, you’ve done it in your really signature way, with so much mercy, so much love and tenderness.
And so, I’m curious if you could talk about that decision that you’ve made to sort of step into some certain places publicly?
Max: Well, you are sure making it sound like I’m smart.
Max: I’m not. You’re very kind, but I’m as perplexed as anybody else is about this.
Max: And I’ve never seen anything like these days. I never have. I don’t like the way that the gospel is being interwoven with a political party or a political stance. It just scares me. That part really troubles me. I think, for example, I think about, I don’t know, let me just imagine a millennial.
Max: You know, who’s passing through a time of desperation.
Max: And they recall somebody saying, “Try Jesus.” Or they recall the name Jesus, and they say, “Where do I go?” And when they go and look online, they walk away with the impression that to be a Jesus follower is to be beholden to a certain political platform.
Jen: Sure, yeah.
Max: And that’s disastrous, Jen.
Jen: That’s right
Max: That’s disastrous.
Max: To be a Jesus follower is to be in love as you are, as you state so clearly. It’s just the most fascinating, wonderful being to ever walk the planet.
Max: Who lived a life that’s a model for a life that we can live, who died a death, I believe, for the redemption of humanity. Who defeated death so that we can be assured that our death is defeated, too.
Max: And is preparing us for a kingdom in which this earth will be replenished, and our purpose will be reestablished. It’s just the most wonderful story.
Jen: It’s a great story.
Max: And for that to be reduced down. And for somebody to think that to be a Christian is to align themselves with what’s being said, you know, on the talk shows, that’s what troubles me.
Jen: Sure. Right.
Max: You know? And so it’s really out of that concern that the times that I have weighed in, I have weighed in. I’m really concerned about the character of . . . I have high regard for the Oval Office itself, but I think leadership is character, and leadership sets tone. And I feel kind of like our whole country, our parents are going through a divorce, and we’re the kids.
Jen: Wow, that’s a great way to put it.
Max: We almost need a marriage counselor—
Max: A family therapy session to sit us all down and help us talk it through. So, that’s where my heart is on this. I don’t have any easy solutions.
Jen: No, there aren’t any.
Max: But if I could sit down and talk to that millennial, and say, “Hey, this is not Jesus.”
Jen: That’s great.
Max: Oh my goodness. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take for us to disentangle from this, Jen.
Jen: I know. I thank you for everything you just said. That is so encouraging and instructive. I’ve been really moved by your leadership in that space.
And that’s my hope, too. I was mentioning to you earlier, I just have a bunch of kids and they’re all in their teens and early adulthood. Oldest is about to be 22. And I so deeply want to hand them the baton of faith and have them know what it is to be dazzled by, what it is to be fascinated by Jesus. And that it’s all still good. The good news is still really good, it always was. And it always will be.
So I do feel a real mantle, a real sense of responsibility. So I’m sort of in the middle. I’m 45, so I’m kind of in the middle of this leadership generation. Such a responsibility to help some of this disentanglement, like you just so eloquently mentioned. And I’m hopeful for it, I really am.
It helps me, I don’t know if you ever think like this, but it helps me to have this long view of history. Both political history and the history of the church. And of like God’s hand in every generation. That is when I can kind of bring my head down out of the atmosphere and go, “I don’t believe that we’re going to be the generation in which God just falls off his throne right out of the sky.” I don’t think we can do it. I don’t think we have it in us.
Jen: I think he’s going to make it. I think he’s going to survive us. And so just knowing that the through line of what matters and lasts, it’s managed its way all the way to our doorstep through every single century.
Max: That’s right, that’s right. Yeah, yeah.
Jen: The best we can do in here is be faithful and lead as faithfully as we can, which you’ve done for so long.
I want to talk about one of your books, How Happiness Happens. That’s a great title. It’s called How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy—because I appreciate the subtitle, because you really dismantle anybody’s maybe knee-jerk response, like, “Well, this must be easy for someone.” Because the subtitle is Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations. Now you’re singing our song. Now we’re like, “Oh, I have a place here.”
You’ve got a whole chapter on accepting others. This kind of goes back to something you were just talking about. Obviously, clearly, in this world . . . I mean, not just in this world, in the church, and then in our subcultures, and then the subcultures of those faith subcultures. We are not going to agree with everybody, people are not going to always agree with each other, or with us, or the things we hold near and dear. So, we’ve got to find a way through because that’s a guaranteed rule, that we are not all going to have unanimity on all things.
What it feels like the low-hanging fruit offered to us is, “If you don’t agree with me exactly, then you’re against me.” Right?
Max: Yeah, yeah.
Jen: And so here’s something that you wrote in that book that sheds a lot of light. You wrote, “We are creatures of comfort, and creatures of habit. We like the familiar and predictable. We like agreement over conflict, peace over disruption. These are the things that make us feel happy, content, and at rest. And all these things—comfort, familiarity, agreement—are achievable,” True, “as long as we interact only with people who are just like us. People who are part of the same political party, church denomination, ethnic group, or country. People who like what we like, and dislike what we dislike.”
You nailed it. That’s 100%, there we can live. I guess.
So how do we push through that? How do we disrupt that very what feels like stable, peaceful, space in order to really, really reach toward a wider table?
Max: I think this is such an important topic.
Jen: Me too.
Max: And so thank you so much for bringing it up.
I think from the big picture, Jen, we don’t have the option.
Okay, so let’s talk about believers and then we’ll talk about relationship with unbelievers.
Max: With believers, I didn’t pick you. You know? You didn’t pick me.
Max: God picked us both.
Jen: That’s good.
Max: And so the question is not, “Are we going to get along?” The question is, “How are we going to get along?”
It’s like my relationship in my family. I’m one of four siblings, I’m the baby in the family. My older brother has already passed over into heaven. But he and I did not get along that well. Boy, you couldn’t be more different than my brother and I were. Yet I did not, when it came to sitting down at the table, I did not get a vote.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: My parents created him. We come from the same DNA. And so biblically speaking, we’re never told to create unity—we’re just told to maintain unity.
Jen: Great point.
Max: And so you and I, when it comes to the table, whether literally the Lord’s table, or figuratively the community table, you’re my sister, and I’m your brother. And that is stated. That’s grounded. You may be an Episcopalian, I may be a wild-eyed charismatic. I don’t know.
Max: But if you and I both call God our god, and Jesus our savior-brother, the Holy Spirit our power, the Father our strength. If we agree on those big rocks, then we got to figure out a way to be together. And so I think that’s step number one, it’s not an option.
Max: So then I think step number two is we’ve got to keep talking. I think you and I share a deep concern. I’ve heard on your program our tendency to silo, to silo.
Max: I’ve often used the word “cluster.”
Max: We cluster, we cluster. And we like it. We’re birds of a feather, you know?
Max: And the downside of living in a country with great religious freedom, it’s hard to state that there would be a downside, but there is a downside.
Max: And that is all these churches pop up. So we go to the people who are just like us, and we assume that is it. We’ve got a corner and we’ve cracked the code on a certain teaching or philosophy. I really think that the division of the church, that division has really been the tool of the devil through the ages.
Jen: Yeah, right.
Max: And our inability to work together to communicate, to love one another, to model this for others . . . well, we’re paying a price for it.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: But it’s not too late, it’s not too late. And if we can come together and realize that what is at core is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and then let everything else be of secondary importance, and learn the beauty of disagreeing agreeably.
Jen: That’s good.
Max: Then a wonderful movement can break out. But as long as we’re picking at each other, as long as we’re doubling up our fists, as long as we’re speaking about one another in a way that does not honor God.
Max: Well, no wonder nobody wants to . . . I mean, who wants to join a table where everybody’s squabbling?
Max: So this is a big deal.
Jen: I agree.
Max: In fact if I could just add real quickly?
Max: When it comes to unbelievers, we can be respectful. We do not have the right to be arrogant and to point a finger. Of all the people who should not be arrogant it is those of us who believe we are saved by grace.
Jen: Right. Right.
Max: We believed that if it weren’t for God’s grace we would have spun out of control by now.
Jen: Totally, doesn’t even make sense.
Max: So we of all people should be humble, walking humbly through the world and not casting stones. And so I think we could just do a little bit better.
Jen: I agree.
Max: But I’m hopeful that we will.
Jen: Well you know that’s been sort of central part of your messaging for a long time, really, that is. You cashed in your chips on that idea, on that value, on that deep undercurrent of faith a long time ago. And I really appreciate your consistency on that because you have been saying that. And yet, now I feel at this exact season we’re in such need of it. I mean, not that we ever weren’t, but particularly right now, I’m so grateful that you have developed such deep roots into that system, into that tree of humility and of goodwill toward one another, and kind disagreement—which is going to happen.
Max: That’s a good phrase.
Jen: There’s this idea that maybe the end game that we’re hoping for is that if we can just make our case strong enough and clear enough, we’ll just get everybody to agree with us, or to see it our way. But frankly, that’s not it. I think we’ve got to really challenge the rules of the system, which is, we may get to the end of the whole thing and still very deeply have different ideas about it. Or different convictions, or beliefs.
Jen: And even there we can be generous in nature toward one another. We can be kindhearted, our words can be beautiful, and we can still love one another. It is possible to get to that end game, even in a family that has a lot of different ideas. And that’s what you’ve told us, you’ve taught us that.
Max: I try, but I’ve screwed it up a lot, too.
Jen: Well, same.
Max: I’m working on it.
Two days ago I went to downtown San Antonio to have lunch with a pastor of a downtown church that is caught up in the controversy over whether or not to have gay marriages.
Jen: Oh, yeah.
Max: And so they’ve landed on the side of yes, they will. They will have gay marriages. It is an old church. And they have about 200 active members.
Max: But listen to this, they feed about 800 homeless people a week.
Max: About 800 homeless people a week. Now, I didn’t go online to see what is said about this church in social media, I would imagine it’s not always positive because of the stance they’ve taken on gay marriage. Well, I was with him and meeting their staff, and walking through their building. That topic never came up. I was just fascinated and humbled at their ability to care for the homeless and the poor.
Jen: That’s great.
Max: And we connected right there. We connected right there. And there’s fellowship there, there’s fellowship.
Max: Does that make sense?
Jen: Oh, 100%. I mean, if anything has ever been clear in scripture as we like to say that everything is, it’s that our part of our faith community’s responsibility is to care deeply for the poor and for the marginalized, and hurting in our communities. Yes, of course there’s fellowship around that.
Max: Well, so I left thinking, “Okay. I don’t know, there’s probably a lot of things that our churches where we’re different.”
Max: And yet for us to dismiss, blanketly dismiss large portions of our church family—again, getting back to point A, and that is we don’t get a choice. We worship the same God and we would come to the same table.
Jen: That’s right. Yeah.
Max: We might practice our faith slightly differently on some things. And we’re still all working it through, by the way. We’re still working it through.
Jen: Absolutely, absolutely.
Max: But we’ve got to applaud what the different aspects. When somebody’s really living out their faith, we need to make a big deal about that, rather than point out the areas in which we’re different. And I think if we can start doing that, if we can start doing that, we might be again getting around the table and talking through some of these things in a way that would be healthier for other people.
Jen: That is a great story, and a great example. I love it.
You mentioned just a second ago something I’d like to hear you talk more about. You talked about kind of the big rocks, and I learned that you have what you say, three big rocks that sort of form the cornerstone of your faith. And have helped you be happy in ministry and stay in harmony with God’s church. That feels important right now. With so much kind of noise and everything swirling around, at all times everything just feels so tight and so volatile. It feels like coming to something simple, finding a simplicity in our faith, sort of these through lines of the big things is really useful as a great filter through which we can consider everything in front of us right now.
So, I wonder if you can talk about what those are, those big rocks to you? And have they always been the same? Or did they shift a little bit according to just the season of life and ministry you’re in?
Max: How much time do you have?
Jen: For you? All day. All day
Max: Well, we’re talking about our list of non-negotiables. Right?
Max: And I believe we’ve got to keep that list a tight and as brief as possible.
Jen: Yeah, that’s great.
Max: What happened to me, the super short version is I was a mess when I came to Christ. I know some people say that, but I really was. You would not have wanted your daughter to go out with me, I was not a good man. When I was 20 years old, I came to faith. I decided that I wanted to become a missionary, and to get into Brazil as a missionary, you had to have a seminary degree, so I went and got a seminary degree.
Max: And in the midst of that seminary degree, I had a wonderful professor of New Testament. And the day that really this all crystallized for me was the day that he lead us into an exercise in which he put a target up on the . . . Back then we used blackboards, I know we don’t anymore. But with chalk he drew like an archer would use shooting at a target. And he began asking us, “What are the big issues of the Christian faith?”
Well, you get a bunch of seminarians talking about that—
Max: You know, it’s going to be fun. So, people were throwing up everything from the end times to charismatic movement, to authority of the Bible, to role of women in the church. Just a variety of things.
Max: And so he made a list and then he said, “Okay, now place which one of these goes on the bullseye. Which one of these is the core, which one of these are the most important? Or which of these are absolutely essential for fellowship and moving forward in faith?” Now there’s a good question, there’s a good question.
Max: Well, we all kind of placed them around. But you know what? None of them made it to the center. None of them made it to the center. He said, “Okay, so what goes on the center?”
And as we’re in this interview I just opened my Bible to the passage he had us open ours to. And that’s 1 Corinthians 15. And this is the Apostle Paul, he said, “I passed onto you what was most important in what had also been passed onto me. Christ died for our sins, just as the scripture said. He was buried, he was raised from the dead on the third day just as the scriptures said. He was seen by Peter, and then by the 12, and then more than 500 of the followers at one time. Most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by the Apostles.”
So, I think if the Apostle Paul had been in that class, he would have written, “Death, burial, and resurrection.” And placed it right there in core.
Max: And that has simplified my faith, Jen, for so many years. Because it has enabled me to have legitimate . . . have differences.
Max: With people with whom I have great respect.
Max: And land in two different spots on very difficult issues. But still find ample room for fellowship, and love, and respect.
Max: I think what we tend to do is we each create our own list of essentials, and that list gets longer, and longer, and longer, and longer.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: And gets so long that we look up and we say, “Nobody shares my list.”
Max: Right? When it should be the opposite, I think . I think. I can find fellowship with Richard Rohr , right?
Jen: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, of course.
Max: Even though we come from two entirely different worlds.
Jen: Sure. But to your point, when that is what our faith is organized around, that’s enough. That’s it. That’s the core of it. That’s the good news of it, that’s the truth of it. And it’s not that the things in the second, and third, and fourth tiers don’t matter, because they do matter and they’re worthy of our attention, and our discussion, and our robust, even, debates sometimes around it for the sake of the good of the world, and faithfulness. But that’s at the middle, and that’s enough to hold. And I have found that to be profoundly true in my life, too.
Some of the people I hold most dear, that’s basically our three-pronged similarities. We depart from there, and yet they are precious, beloved to me. I learn from them. I respect them. I learn from their mentorship, and modeling. And it’s all possible. I hope that’s what listeners hear today, that that’s not a pie in the sky idea or approach to unity inside of faith. It’s very, very possible and it’s very beautiful.
Max: You know, there’s a beautiful story in the Gospel of Mark about the disciples who came up to Jesus, and they said, “Teacher, we saw somebody using your name to force demons out of a person. We told him to stop.”
Jen: Yes. Right.
Max: It’s great, it’s great.
Jen: I love that story.
Max: It’s in Mark Chapter 9, if somebody ever wants to read it. And then he says, “We told him stop because he does not belong to our group.”
Jen: That’s right.
Max: Is that not funny?
Jen: It’s crazy.
Max: Right there, in the presence of Christ, they’re telling somebody, “Well, because he’s not in our group we’re telling this person to quit it.”
But Jesus had a good word for them. He said, “Examine the fruit, and examine the faith.” He said, “Be careful.” Jesus, the next verse, said, “Don’t stop him. Because anyone who uses my name to do powerful things will not easily say evil things about me.”
I think we do ourselves a great favor when we resign from the posture of having to control everything in the church.
Max: Christ is in charge, he’s the one building the church. We’re still going to love one another. We’re still going to have vigorous debates and discussions. We’re going to recognize that we’re going to sometimes land in two different spots. But that’s okay, that’s okay.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Max: Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. I’m in charge of him, and as long as he’s doing good things, I can put it to use.”
Jen: Golly. That is just as true and relevant this very exact day as it was the day he said it. That holds so much instruction for me. Thanks for bringing that particular bit of the story up. I find that challenging in all the best ways.
I want to talk about something else. I think you might be one of the most prolific writers in the northern hemisphere. And it is really something, Max, I commend. Because of course, I’m a fellow writer, I know the amount of work that is. I understand exactly what that translates to in terms of blood, sweat, and tears. And so the fact that you’ve kept your hand to that work for so long is marvelous.
So, the book you have coming out in a few weeks is called Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name. You said something in that book that really intrigued me. You wrote, “When we learn more about Jesus, we understand more of who we were created to be.”
I like that, and I would love to hear you talk about that a little bit more. Because what I notice in my community is that a sense of identity is very fractured right now. We’ve received many competing and conflicting messages from the time we were young about who we are, and who we are meant to be.
So you offering sort of a through line here on kind of getting that square and straight, I find very important for right now. Can you talk more about that?
Max: I can, I can. And can I do so by being a bit honest about the moment I met Christ, if I can?
Jen: Please do.
Max: It was really the stormiest season of my life. I was young, I was 12 years of age. I was just old enough to know baseball, and football, and bike riding. I remember I had a crush on a girl, and I had a bottle of English Leather cologne. You know, it’s just in that 12, 13-year age group. And I was old enough to learn a few things, but I was not old enough to process what came my way when I was 12. And that was to be sexually molested at the hands of an adult man.
He came into my world under the guise of a mentor. He had befriended several families in our small town. I grew up in a little town in West Texas, a little map dot of a town. He was very friendly, he was charming, he was generous. What no one knew is that he had an eye out for young boys.
Max: And he’d have us over for burgers, and take us on drives in his truck. He took us hunting and fishing, he taught us jokes, and answered all our questions about girls. He owned the kind of magazines that my dad didn’t allow. But then he would do and made us do things that I don’t think is appropriate for me to repeat, but I’ll never forget.
Jen: Sure, of course.
Max: One weekend camp out he took us way out in the country in this pickup truck. And among the pack of tents and sleeping bags were a few bottles of whiskey. And he drank his way through the weekend, and he worked his way through the tents of each boy.
Jen: I’m sorry.
Max: And he told us not to tell our parents because that would imply that we were to blame for his behavior. And he was keeping us from trouble, he said, by keeping a secret. He was a scoundrel, he was a scoundrel.
Jen: Sure, yeah. Predator.
Max: Well, that weekend, Jen, I came home on a Sunday afternoon just feeling filthy. Just filthy. And had no clue what to do with it.
Jen: Of course.
Max: Of course, I’d missed that church that morning. My parents were very active in the church, and on that Sunday we’d had a communion service. So if I ever needed a communion service, I needed on that day. And so I staged my own little Eucharist. I waited until my mom and dad had gone to bed, and I went into the kitchen. I couldn’t find any crackers in the fridge but I found some potatoes from the Sunday lunch. I couldn’t find any juice, so I used milk. And I placed the potatoes on a saucer, and I poured the milk into a glass. And right there in the kitchen I celebrated the crucifixion of Christ and the redemption of my soul.
Max: I don’t know if you can imagine this image of a pajama-clad, red-headed, freckle-faced boy standing near the kitchen sink and breaking the potato and sipping the milk. But I want to tell you something: Jesus met me, right there. He did. And don’t ask me how I know he met me, but I just know he did. And it was very personal, and it was very supernatural. And that moment has meant more and more to me the older I have gotten. Because I have realized that Jesus can come into the deepest, darkest moments of life. and brought healing.
Max: Now, Jen, this story is meaningful to me because Jesus healed me right then at that very moment. I didn’t have any lingering effects. That man, by the way, was chased out of our town. I don’t know what ever happened to him. But Jesus healed me. He healed me.
Max: And so when I think about Jesus, I think about a Jesus who can do that for people, who can do that. And I have a feeling that some of the listeners today are in those type of dark moments.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: In a marriage, or in a job, or just in college, or hurt, or brokenhearted, or angry. And I just . . . Oh, how I desire for people to sense that not a religion, not some type of fabricated emotional . . . I mean, look at that kid. He’s breaking bread with potatoes and milk, for crying out loud.
Jen: Yes, yes.
Max: But it the best prayer I could offer. It was the best prayer I could offer. And so I believe that Jesus hears us in those moments. And that’s the Jesus that I love.
Jen: Yes, me too.
Max: That’s the Jesus that I love. And I know that we’ve messed up the communication of him. But he’s bigger than our mess ups. And that’s my desire, is that people would have that kind of healing in their lives. So thanks for letting me share that story.
Jen: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I’m telling you what, Jesus is the reason I am still so committed to the game. I’m telling you, I just can’t get away from that guy.
Jen: And for all the reasons that you just said. You know, I think back to what you spoke about a minute ago about sort of the cornerstones, death, burial, resurrection. And what keeps me coming back to Jesus is his . . . And then again, something else you said earlier. The supernatural way in which he sees through death, burial, and resurrection in our lives. Things die and they’re in the grave, even. And we think, “There’s no life left in this. There’s no way for this to come back, to breathe air again. This will just stay six feet under.”
And yet, in him, miraculously over things as common as potatoes and a glass of milk, life returns.
Jen: He can bring us back to life, and he brings forth resurrection in really dead and dark places. And it’s just real. I mean, honestly if it wasn’t real, I’d have walked away a long time ago because there’s got to be easier work to do. I’ve got to be good at something else.
Max: Oh, I know. I know.
Jen: Something just to let me skate through life. But that’s what it is. And I really appreciate that profound story because that same power is available to every single one of us, we’re so loved by Jesus.
I think another thing that I love about him when I look back at his life, the Gospel’s so incredibly hopeful for me always, was how deeply and radically inclusive he was.
Jen: I’ve been in the Bible my whole life. So there’s a temptation to just sort of skip over some of the stories because I’ve heard them so many times. And they’ve been stripped of some of their power just because they’re familiar.
But just the fact, for example, to pick one category of many, the fact that Jesus would never denigrate women, and that he included them in his inner circle. He included them in his teachings. He chose to teach on hillsides instead of the inner sanctuary of the temple where women weren’t allowed.
Jen: And he refused to call them names like some of his contemporaries did and treated them well above their cultural status at the time.
Max: Yeah, he welcomed Mary to sit at his feet. You know?
Jen: Oh, I mean, it’s powerful stuff.
Jen: And it just was so radical. And so that is a real North Star for me as a leader, to make sure that at least in that respect, I am working so hard at being more like Jesus. And I’m looking around at the people groups who are easily denigrated, they’re called names. They are typecasted. They are dehumanized or villainized. Because that’s just a real human tendency, which is to group people, put a label over them, and then make a judgment about the whole group that keeps them out or down.
And so I would love to hear you talk a little bit about what you’ve learned as a pastor all these years pastoring every kind of person. I mean, in your church, I am sure you’ve had every single type of person walk in your doors. And what the power of inclusion has meant in the life of your church, and then like ultimately in your own personal faith?
Max: Well, that little sermon you just gave, I hope it’s recorded. It needs to be put on the internet.
Jen: The good news is, that’s what we’re doing here.
Max: I know. Duh. Wake up, Max. Of course.
You know what we need to do is have a weekend seminar sometime Jen, and invite all our friends and call it “What We Love About Jesus.”
Jen: That’s good.
Max: And just get together and talk about what we love about him. My, my. You know, you’re right. The way he loved the Samaritan woman.
Max: The way he intentionally, he intentionally positioned himself at the well because he knew she’d be showing up.
Jen: That’s right
Max: And the way he treated her with grace and truth, the way he stood up for the woman caught in the act of adultery. Oh my goodness, you talk about an act of blatant sexism. Where’s the guy? Where’s the guy? You know. And how he defended her, how he said, “No one condemns you. Neither do I condemn you.” What a word. I mean, every time you turn the page.
I really relate to people like Peter. You know, I’m hot and cold. I make promises, and then I break them.
Jen: Oh, same. He’s my favorite disciple.
Max: Yeah, yeah. And yet of all the people, who gets to stand up and preach on Pentecost? The same one who had denied Christ 50 days earlier is preaching the greatest sermon in history, 50 days later.
Max: I mean, just these moments of new birth and fresh start.
Max: It’s just precious.
Jen: Yes it is.
Max: It is, it is.
Jen: And still possible, and still happening. It’s all around us if we’ll develop eyes to see it.
Jen: To see these places where God is bringing forth new life constantly. In big ways and small ways. And of course, not just in our favorite group, which is of course the one we’re in. But we’re going to have to be forced to admit that he is deeply at work all over the world.
Jen: In every community, in every culture. He is very much in charge of his own world. Very, very much in charge. I love it. To me that’s relieving, that, as you mentioned earlier, we don’t have to police this.
Max: We don’t.
Jen: This is not ours. This is not on our desk to police and organize what God is or is not doing in the world. Thank goodness. We can just celebrate it.
Max: You know, you asked about things that I learned along the way that help me.
Max: One of them is before I went to Brazil, I served at a little church in Miami, Florida. The senior pastor of the church fell under some criticism because accepted an invitation to speak at a church that was not like ours.
Max: It was a very sectarian criticism.
Max: And he was so helpful to me in working that through. He said, “Max, anytime anybody invites you to preach about Christ, regardless, if you can go, go.” That made such perfect sense to me.
Max: And so I said, “Okay. I take that as my mantra.”
Jen: That’s good.
Max: And so since then anytime anybody invites me to come, and if they’ll let me talk about Christ, I don’t care how conservative or liberal they are, how apolitical or political they are. If the calendar permits, that’s always the challenge. But if the calendar permits, I’m going to go. And through the years, well, early on I was surprised how much criticism I got for that. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but now I’ve kind of come to expect it.
Max: But I think that’s important. Especially for teachers like you and me. If given the opportunity to talk about Christ, I think the devil would like to shut us up when we talk about Christ. And so, we’ve got to stand against that. And we don’t have to agree with . . . Again, we’re getting back to, this is kind of our theme today, isn’t it?
Max: We don’t have to agree with somebody just because we show up.
Jen: Yeah. Gosh. I’d never go anywhere. Really.
Max: You’d have to preach in your living room, right?
Jen: That’s right. And even there, some of my family members would have to walk out the door.
Max: I know, I know. Oh, how funny. How we tend to cluster.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: How we tend to cluster. Clusters are safe places. And I think we do so because there’s so much fear in the world.
Max: And we find our, you know, homogeneous groups to be safe places. But we’ve got to step out of that. I mean, what’s the message of Christ? If he didn’t step out of his world, who became flesh to enter our world, and live among us. And as Christ works his way into us and through us, let’s just do the same. We’ll be better because of it.
I want to ask you one more question before we wrap it up. I’m thinking about everybody listening today, and I’m wondering if there isn’t someone who isn’t kind of hearing our conversation and considering Jesus, and what it means to come to him, and to abide in him. And the thought process in their brain is, “You people just don’t understand what I’ve done. Or where I’m at. Or what a complicated person I am right now, or what I’ve lost, or what I’ve experienced. Where I’ve failed, maybe.” And that coming to Jesus feels crazy, intimidating. Like, “I better get myself sort of shined up before I approach this person. This savior.”
So, what would you say to that person who feels reluctant, that they feel like maybe the card they have to play is to hide instead of draw near?
Max: I’d say I’m so sorry that life has been so hard.
Jen: Me too.
Max: It really is. We just get beat up. Man, we get beat up. And if that person would allow me, I would tell him the story about when Christ was on the cross, and the person hanging next to him was a man who was being crucified for some vile life that he had led. He began his moments hanging next to Christ by making fun of Christ with the other thief, but a few moments later, something in his heart changed and of all things, he said, “Could you remember me when you come into your kingdom?”
And Christ said, “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.”
And you know, there’s so much Gospel, so much good news in that story. Because I think about what that man, that thief knew about Christ. He didn’t know anything.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: He didn’t know anything. He had a hunch.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Max: He had a hunch that the man hanging next to him had some solution to his miserable life, and he prayed. And why did Christ save this man? Because he was about to die. He couldn’t be a leader in a church, he couldn’t write a check, or make a deposit, or give a gift. And here, I think it’s just so great, that in heaven right now, that thief is there.
Max: And he followed Christ into paradise. He was the first of the sheep to be rescued, and he proceeded all of us pastors, and theologians, and scholars.
Max: Everybody who kind of, you know, got a corner on the market.
Jen: That’s great.
Max: The first one, the first benefactor was this crook who said, “Any chance you could put in a good word for me?” And Jesus said he would.
Max: And the bottom line, Jen, as you know, is that Jesus never says, “Get cleaned up and then come in.” He says, “Come in, I’ll clean you up.” He says, “Come in.”
Max: So I would just say to that person, just cry out to the Christ, whatever form you understand him to be. Whatever form you understand him to be. Because nobody understands everything about him.
Max: And if it’s just a tiny bit, just ask him for help and trust. And some wonderful things are going to happen.
Jen: Yes, that’s the perfect ending.
I want to ask you just three quick little questions. These are three questions we’re asking everybody in this Faith Series, some of the greatest leaders in our time, and your friends, and contemporaries, of course. So here’s one of them, just kind of top of your head. Whatever comes to mind.
Who is one of the biggest mentors in the faith for you? I know, I had to say one because it’s hard to pick.
Max: There is a man I’ve never met, he’s a Presbyterian academic.
Max: By the name of Frederick Dale Bruner.
Max: And he wrote commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John that I love, I just cherish them. I’ve never had the privilege of meeting him, but I have read every word I think he has ever written. And a lot of people have not heard of him, and I don’t know how I stumbled across him. But I’d just love the chance to shake his hands someday. His commentary on John and Matthew are just godsends.
Jen: I cannot wait to look those up. Everybody listening, we’ll link over to him and his body of work. Thank you for putting him on my radar. I am always looking for faithful pastors to sort of help walk me through scripture, just as a preacher myself, too. So, thank you for that. Here’s the next one.
If you could ask God maybe a single question, what would you ask?
Max: Boy. I would ask him . . . Oh my goodness.
Jen: That’s a hard one. I’m honestly not sure what I would say.
Max: It’s a great one.
Max: It’s a great one. It’s a great one. I would ask him . . . Okay, I’ll probably change this five minutes from now. And say, “Oh, I wish I’d thought of that.”
Jen: No worries.
Max: “How are you going to wrap all this up?”
Jen: Oh, good question.
Max: “How are you going to wrap this up? Really, how are you going to do it? Is there going to be a thousand-year rain? Is there going to be a judgment? Is all that supposed to be literal or is it symbolic?” I’m not discouraged as I read that, all the different interpretations of end times, but I’m genuinely curious.
Max: And some teachers talk like they have it all figured out.
Max: I don’t. I don’t. So if I could ask him a question I think I’d say, “Okay, tell me how it’s going to work so I can tell everybody else and we’ll quit . . .”
Jen: I love that question. I’m so curious too, “How’s this going?”
Max: “How’s this going to end?”
Jen: Okay, here’s the last one. This is actually a question that we ask every guest in every single series. I read it in a book by Barbara Brown Taylor. Her question is, and you can answer literally however you want, it can be as sincere and sobering or it can be small and silly, you pick. The question, “What is saving your life right now?”
Max: My grandchildren are just such a source of life to me. I love them.
I have an old Jeep that has no top on it, that makes me feel like I’m 20 again when I’m driving around in it.
Jen: That’s fun.
Max: And I’ve discovered Crossfit.
Jen: Oh, did you?
Max: I did! I’m not saying that to impress. I am the old man in the group, they lower all the weights, they put me over in a corner so I don’t look too stupid. But I love it. I show up almost every day, and I go through the work out. It’s a fun community. I’ve been at it about a year, and it’s so much fun.
Jen: Good for you! And I meant that sincerely. Good for you. And all my friends who are involved in the Crossfit group say the exact same thing you just did, which is not only is it sort of an obvious health benefit, but it’s a really special and unique community, which is a great byproduct of your diligence, that you get this kind of builtin group of cheerleaders and friends.
Jen: So good for you.
I want to thank you so much, Max, for not just being on the show today which is a real gift to me and my listeners, but just being a leader in the church, and in the world in this little short minute we all have on earth. I’m so grateful that I’m getting to share some planet space with you and learn from your leadership. It means so much to me, and has meant so much to community, too. You are very dear to us. And we see you, as you know, as one of our mentors. And one of our pastors who’ve, you’ve pastored us is what you’ve done from afar. And through all the work that you put into the world, and all the ministry that you’ve been so faithful to complete.
So I want to, on behalf of my community, just say we are incredibly grateful to all that you’ve taught us. To all that you’ve taught us, and all that you’ve lead us. For your just nonstop grace and humility, which is, boy, we miss that right now. And so when we can find our leaders who continue to demonstrate and to hang onto it even though it doesn’t fit with the going trend. We’re thankful for it. And so many blessings to you on your continued ministry, and on your church, and on your beautiful daughters. On your amazing grandchildren. You are deeply loved by me, and by my community.
So thank you for a million things, but definitely for being on today.
Max: Hey, Jen, stop it! Stop it!
Jen: I will not!
Max: Stop it, stop it.
Jen: That’s it.
Max: You’re not giving me a chance to tell you what a great person you are, and I don’t want to turn this into a love fest, I don’t.
Max: But you are. You’re an inspiration to me, and again, you’re challenging me and stretching me. We love all your heart. And we find common ground on the cross of Christ and the promise of his return. And let’s just stand side by side and keep loving each other, loving the church.
Jen: Amen, that’s it.
Max: And let’s pray for that revival.
Max: Let’s pray for a fresh downpour of . . . You know, I read about what happened in the Jesus movement back in the 60s, and the 70s. I’d love for that to happen again.
Max: Bring out the hippies! Let’s decorate a few of those Volkswagen minivans again, you know?
Jen: That’s great.
Max: But we need some hope.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Max: And you’re a source for all of us.
Jen: Thank you, thank you.
Max: God bless you.
Jen: Thank you, Max, you too.
Well, that’s it for me. I have had all the encouragement that I need for the remainder of 2020. So, if that serves you in any way at all, that’s just bonus because I felt like that was my own personal pastoring spiritual leadership and counseling session. So dear, so precious is Max Lucado. And so grateful for him and his work.
Guys, this whole series, way more of this where it came from. We have some leaders that you love. That you’ve loved for a long time, that have led for a lot of years. You won’t want to miss a single episode in the Faith Icon Series. So much more to come.
So, thank you for being with us. We have so many dreams for the podcast in 2020 and it all centers on you. All of it. Our listeners mean the world to us, just the world. We care so much about you, we are so grateful for your loyalty, for your commitment. Every time you like a podcast, or listen to it, or download it, or share it, or rate it, or review it. I’m just telling you, it means so much to us. Thank you for all that you’ve done for this show. We have so much energy to give you this year. We have so many guests to bring you, so many important conversations that you’ve asked for. We’re dreaming big dreams, guys.
So, on behalf of our producer, Laura, and her whole amazing team, and then of course my assistant and partner, Amanda—grateful to bring you another year of the podcast. We hope 2020 will be the best one yet.
Okay, guys. See you next week.