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A conversation with Max Lucado - S11.E1

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WORLD Radio - A conversation with Max Lucado - S11.E1

Finding fresh strength and purpose in the power of the Holy Spirit


Max Lucado Photo courtesy of maxlucado.com

WARREN SMITH: I’m Warren Smith, and I’d like to welcome you to a new season of Listening In. Today you’ll be listening in on my conversation with pastor and author Max Lucado. He has a new book, and it’s called Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit.

MAX LUCADO: I pray in the mornings and I say, Lord, today, I've got this, this, this and this, would you go ahead of me, please? Would you help me? I tend to get anxious, or I tend to get worried or I tend to get wound up. Would you please go ahead of me?

WS: It’s possible that Max Lucado is the best-selling Christian author of all time. His books have sold a hundred-million copies in 56 languages. They’ve included children’s books, Bible commentaries, and fiction. He has been called “America’s pastor” by Christianity Today, but he is actually the real pastor of a real church. He has been the pastor of San Antonio’s Oak Hills Church since 1988, nearly 35 years.

So is it possible that a man with this kind of experience can learn something new about God. Max Lucado says yes. And, in fact, the book we are discussing today includes a startling anecdote about Lucado’s own relationship with the Holy Spirit that will come as a surprise to many long-time readers.

But I’ll let Max tell that story, which he does near the end of our conversation today. It’s a conversation that Max Lucado had with me from his office in San Antonio.

UNDERWRITING SPOT: Now We Live invites and equips Christians to propel faith into action. This free, worldview Bible study will spark rich discussions about some of life’s most foundational questions. These six videos from Summit Ministries offer life-on-life discipleship for churches, small groups, and families. Get free access today at summit.org/listeningin.

WS: Max, welcome to the program, it's really a great pleasure to have you to talk about your new book "Help Is Here." And, you know, one of the things that I loved about the book, in fact, a couple of things I loved about the book. One was that it wasn't super heavy theologically, but you scored some theological points from time to time, often in a humorous way. 

So for example, you said, Don't call the Holy Spirit an it, it's a He, it's a person, one God, three persons. Well, of course, those who have some theological training will know that you're, you know, getting your licks in for the Trinity, that you're making a very clear point, theological point, but you're doing it in a fun way. Another thing that I really loved was ton of Scripture, again, not theologically heavy, but a ton of Scripture. And the third thing was a lot of great stories. And I'm going to ask you about some of those stories here, going along. But just to actually get to a question here, Max, was that just strategy isn't what you were intending to do here?

ML: Well, I guess so I, I tend to do, I tend to use a lot of stories. When I write or teach. I love stories. I think they're great tools. And I think they just stick with us. So I tend to use a lot of stories. And I love to use humor. Humor can sneak up on people, you know, and it's a great tool to reach out to folks. And scriptures, man, guilty as charged, I hope I hope I use a lot of Scripture. A topic like the Holy Spirit can be overwhelming for folks. And I love to like to think that I could craft a some messages about the Holy Spirit that would cause the topic to not be so intimidating for people.

WS: You know, one of the things I've read a lot of books over the years and a lot of instructional material about the Holy Spirit. And a lot of times what happens is that people want to find out what my spiritual gifts are, whether you believe in speaking in tongues, you know, whether you believe in other sign gifts, and that tends to be what folks lead with. You get to that you get to all that stuff. But that's not what you lead with. You really go through a biblical exegesis of who the Holy Spirit is. A helper, an advocate, a friend, and so on. Once again, was that part your strategy? Was that what you were trying to do?

ML: Yes, sir. And I think you're, I think you're right on Warren. I think that we gravitate toward some of these questions that tend to be controversial, or opinionated. And we might do so I'm trying to be very careful how I say this, because the think they're very important questions, very important questions. But I think they're secondary to the big idea. And that is the Holy Spirit, is the presence of God in the world today, executing God's will, in the lives of through the lie in the lives and through the lives of believers. And it this goes without saying that I'm gonna say it anyway. Jesus is the only expert on the Holy Spirit. Right. 

And so I That's why I started with what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit, how he helped us understand the role of the Spirit in the act of conversion, you know, through the Nicodemus story. And then especially John 14, 15, and 16, where Jesus helps us see, the presence of the Holy Spirit is our comforter, counselor, our friend. And so I wanted, I think he tells us, the big idea that the spirit is there to help us in our salvation, and to sustain us throughout our lives is our friend. So if we can get those big ideas, then we can all kind of take a deep breath and say, Now, let's dig into some of these more, you know, polemic, divisive or challenging questions of the role of the Holy Spirit in search of gifts.

WS: And you get a lot of this with stories, as we've already mentioned, Max, and what I'd like to do is to ask you to maybe recount some of those stories that are in the book and what lessons you were attempting to draw. So for example, very early in the book, and I think this was a great way to tee up the subject. You talk about a hiking guide, and going hiking with the guide versus going hiking without a guide. Would you tell that story quickly?

ML: Yeah, It's just a, it's just a parable I had been, you know, imagine that you get an invitation, the opportunity to go on a vacation, and you want to hike these mountains. But the first day, you just are so exhausted. And you see another group coming up. And they have a guide and this guide, actually has Sherpas, who helped people carry their backpacks and gives them tips along the way. And there you are by yourself, and you're worn out. Second day is no better, you have blisters, your feet are tired, you can't third days, even worse. But everyday you see this guide. And every day you learn more about the guide and how he provides meals, how he provides encouragement. And then finally, at the end of the vacation, the guide spots you and the hotel says we've been looking for you every day, your your package that you bought included this guide to help you up a mountain trail. 

That's, that's what I feel like I'm trying to do in the book. I feel like and I know from personal experience, how weary the trail of life can be. And and what if there is a guide? What if there is a supernatural helper? What if there is a heaven sent friend to help us as we as we walk this trail of faith? I believe the answer is yes. I do believe many of us are trying it on our own. And we don't have to.

WS: Yeah. And of course you make the point too that we don't have you don't have to buy the buy the vacation package. Right? I mean, the Holy Spirit is a free gift delivered to us, by God himself at the moment of salvation. And we just often ignore that free gift even as we're laboring and struggling through their Christian life. Why?

ML: Why do you think that is? Warren? Why do you think we ignore?

WS: Oh, now your target? See, I'm supposed to be the interviewer?

ML: I'm curious. You know, I wonder I've wondered that. You know what?

WS: Yeah, I think that's it's a great question. I you know, I my my opinion of that it just an opinion. I, you know, I'm not theologically trained is that Satan never creates. he corrupts. that God creates and Satan corrupts.

And I think that God that, you know, God put us on this earth to work. I mean, you know, work, you know, we hear we read about work in God when, during God's creation of the earth. And then Adam was given what to do. In other words, that work is not something that is the result of the fall, we are given work as a gift of God even before the fall. But because Satan can't create anything he corrupts, I think in some ways, he's corrupted that notion of work. And he wants us to think that, that we have to do it. And we have to do things on our own, that that the Holy Spirit is not available to us. And so again, Max a layman's theological opinion.

ML: That's a good word. You know, the devil corrupts everything. And I think if he could, I don't think the devils as smart as some people make him out to be. I think that he wants to disassociate distance us from the power of God. And if he can do so through creating controversy, or confusion, he'll corrupt this beautiful idea of the Holy Spirit. I think you're absolutely right.

WS: Well, if there is anything true and what I just said, it was at least in part informed by another story that you tell in your book, and that is sort of the difference between rowing and sailing, that you know, that that, that we want to row, that we don't want to appropriate, take advantage of the power of the wind, which of course, even in Scripture, we have the Holy Spirit as described to us as a wind. So can you say a little bit more about that as well? That metaphor?

ML: Yeah, yeah, it again, the whole book is built around the metaphors of the Holy Spirit. And one of the metaphors one of the word pictures is wind, wind. And Jesus said that the spirit is from where it comes, where it goes, we do not know its wind. And I think that wind can come across can come in our lives sometimes like a hurricane. Sometimes it's a gentle breeze. But the thing about the wind is, it's invisible. And we may think we can figure out where it comes from, but we really don't know. And so the Holy Spirit in like manner is the wind. And in the in the book I tell a story about the the to true story, you know, one person to one lady, who rowed around the world, in a boat, another lady sailed around the world, in a boat. And I want to be the lady who sails. I don't want to Row row row by boat of salvation. And I believe that's the promise of Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he will, he will be the wind in our sails. Now, it does fall to us to raise the sail. It does fall to us to say, Lord, I need you, I avail myself of this great power and strength that you give me. And I think I need to do that every day. But the bit, the big message is that we don't have to do this on our own. But we have the spirit to strengthen and to lead us.

WS: Yeah. Another idea that I want to spend a few minutes on Max is, it's an idea that you have, I don't know, if you've, if I would say you've made it a theme of your life. But I've certainly seen this ideas show up in some of your previous books. So for example, in "anxious for nothing," you talk about this, you know, the idea that Satan is the author of fear, and God is the author of peace. And that, you know, one of the expectations that we one of the commandments, I should say that we see in Scripture over and over again is fear not fear not fear not. And you talk about the Holy Spirit as being that person at work in the world, delivering peace to Christian believers who rest in the spirit.

ML: Yeah. Excuse me. And again, here's our metaphor. Maybe the most famous word picture to describe the Holy Spirit is the Dove. That calming, pure, assuring you know, bird that that is a picture of God's peace. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended, one scripture says, like a dove, Luke's Gospel says, as a dove. And so the Holy Spirit came to be the presence in the world of this calming creature. When the Holy Spirit first appears in Scripture, he hovers over the face of the deep in Genesis chapter one, during the time of creation, before the creation was complete, there was a Holy Spirit hovering over the face of the deep. That's, that's kind of the picture in my mind of a of a bird that hovers, that extends its wings over its young to protect them. So the Holy Spirit is that dove, that presence of peace in our world that can help us to calm down. 

So how do we access this? It's one thing to say there's the presence of, of peace, the Holy Spirit to bring us peace. But how do we access the presence of peace? Well, I think first of all, we simply acknowledge that we can be people of peace. We simply acknowledge we can. And we acknowledge that God wants us to have a peace that passes understanding, a peace that comes from him. My peace I give unto you, Jesus said not as the kind of world gifts, but I give a piece that will last. And so it first of all, we simply acknowledge it's there. Number two, I think we requested we say, Lord, I need your peace today. 

On good days, I wish that Warren I could say I did this every day. But on the days I'm kind of in my game, I pray in the mornings and I say, Lord, today, I've got this, this, this and this, would you go ahead of me, please? Would you help me? I tend to get anxious, or I tend to get worried or I tend to get wound up. Would you please go ahead of me? Because the path to peace is always paved with prayer. So we invite the Holy Spirit to come into our day. And even now, as you and I are talking, I'm thinking you might have a listener who has never even said yes to Jesus, much less to the Holy Spirit. So I would say to that listener, just say yes to Christ, say, yes, I trust you. I don't understand you. But yes, and please bring the Holy Spirit into my life so I can experience that peace. And that's a gift that will come. It's a gift. It's not something we earn. It's not something we, you know, conjure up. But just trust with childlike faith, the belief that the Holy Spirit will be there, and I think you'll be amazed at the level of peace that you receive.

WS: That's such a good word, Max, thank you so much for that. And let's just stipulate for the record that we cannot unpack everything that is in this book, if you want to know what's in the book go get the book go read the book. But Max, there's something near the end of the book that I do want you to talk a little bit about. And that is that you have had relatively late in life, I hope you have many, many years yet ahead. But relatively recently, you've had an experience with the Holy Spirit that was new. When you describe it in the book, would you describe it here?

ML: Absolutely. Absolutely. No one was more surprised than I was, no one was. And I love this story, do I, I was I'm 67 years old now. On July 9, of, well, whenever three years ago was I was 64. I had been reading about the Holy Spirit, studying about the Holy Spirit. And I came across a phrase from the pen of the apostle Paul, he said earnestly desire, the gifts of the Spirit. Earnestly desire the gifts of the Spirit. And I didn't earnestly desire to gifts. I mean, I wasn't being rebellious. I just hadn't thought about that. And so I said, Lord, is there any gift you would give me, is there anything and I just prayed, and I prayed not just once, but for several days in a row. And early in the morning on July 9, as I was praying, I felt an utterance from deep within me. Some staccato like, phrases began to come out of my mouth. And I realized that I was doing what the Scripture calls praying in tongues. And I come from a background that said, that stopped way back in the days of the first century church. And I respect I respect people's opinion. 

But all I can say is that I did and I do. I do. I don't think it makes me more special. I don't think it makes me more sanely. In fact, I often chuckle I think, well, maybe the Lord knew I needed more help, because I was weak and so he gave me this, this additional gift. It it is, I think, a wonderful gift. I love to pray in tongues. I do so nearly every day, some days I don't. I don't force it. But most of the days I do. And I just pray as long as the Lord prays through me. And I have had enough conversations I've been around the church long enough to know, there's some people who say you shouldn't do that. Don't do that. And that to say, Okay, I respect you. But I'm, I'll use that gift as long as the Lord gives it and enjoy it.

WS: Well, Max, I do not go to your church. So I don't know, maybe you've already preached on this and told this, but it is telling this story in your book the first time you've told it?

ML: Yes, no, I have shared it with the church. I did. shared it with the church. I was preaching a series on the Holy Spirit. And I wanted to share this experience with the church. So I met with our Elders first because I didn't want them to get caught off guard because and then as I was sharing it with our elders, I came to learn that many of the elders have had the same experience. So it was a wonderful thing. We all kind of smiled and said, Look what what God is doing. I don't want to elevate that gift, though out of his place. I think the Apostle Paul was very careful. And you know, he said, If I could, how did that phrase go, Warren, if I could pray with...

WS: ...with the tongues of men and angels is that word?

ML: Yeah. I'm thinking of a different phrase. He said, I would rather have one. Oh, my goodness, I should have come more prepared. But basically, he said, I would rather have one word of exhortation. More than a thousand words in praying in a tongue because exhortation builds you up. And and he was about building up the body of the church, never dividing the body of the church. So if I were to ever brag on that gift, or use that gift to show up, that would be an utter misuse of that gift. Everything should build up the church, strengthen the church, never show off the saint. And so forgive me even now, if in telling that story, I have left the impression that I'm special or something. Now I only share it because it's just part of my story.

WS: Right. Well, I appreciate that very much. And since you mentioned that you were you are preaching on the Holy Spirit. And now of course you've got a book out. I did want to pivot in our conversation of a good match and the few minutes that we have left enough to kind of a lightning round of I have questions and one of the one of them would be about your writing process. You are incredibly prolific. I'm in 100 books, 150 books, how many books have you written at this?

ML: Yeah, somewhere in there.

WS: So do you find that often your books begin as sermons? 

ML: They always do. They always do. Now, I have written three fiction books, obviously those did not. But everything else except for fiction and children's books begins as a sermon.

WS: Yeah, yeah. And what does it look like for you in terms of the actual writing? Do you do you transcribe your sermons? In other words, you preach from talking point and then transcribe your becomes the rough draft of the book?

ML: Great question. I write a manuscript for the sermon. It is very thorough. And then I take that manuscript and I beat it up, I tighten it up, I strengthen it, I see what worked and what didn't work, and then that will become a chapter in the book.

WS: Yeah, well, you have written other than just books. So if I could pivot back to a few years ago, you wrote a pre what became a pretty famous op ed, for I can't remember what it was the Washington Post of The New York Times now about decency, and you did that within the presidential political season. And then you got a lot of criticism for that. And also, you also got a lot of praise of praises, maybe not quite the right word, but you got a lot of interest in that. Can you summarize your key telling in that editorial, and yeah, now that looking back from I think he wrote it in 2016, we're six years later. How do you feel about having done that? Because you're not really known as a political pastor.

ML: Yeah, I wrote it about then candidate Trump, not President Trump. I would never write a critical article about a president. I just wouldn't, even if I, I just wouldn't. I don't think that's respectful. I really respect the office of president. But he was a candidate. And he was saying things that I still find difficult. And, and so I just wrote an article called decency for President. And I didn't think it was that big of a deal. But you're right, it caused a firestorm. I mean, a firestorm. We literally, our our internet went down because of all that. It was something else. I feel good about doing it. I would never though as soon as he was elected I zip my mouth. I respect the office. I feel like anybody who's in office is there because God put him there. Because He's sovereign. So whether I want him there or not, is secondary to God's purpose. And so yeah. 

WS: What I think is my final question for you is this...when I get a chance to talk to somebody like you who's been, you know, up the creek, and over the hill, as they say, been around a little bit and more to the point because I write, you know, I do a lot of investigative journalism, I write a lot about scams and scandals within the church. And when I get the chance to, you know, talk to someone like you who has had a long and faithful career career not tainted by scandal. I like to ask these two questions, number one, and maybe you can take this one. Secondly, how do you want to be remembered what, you know, what do you want your legacy to be? But also kind of related to that, how do you remain faithful? What are the disciplines in your life as somebody who could probably pretty much do what they wanted, but chooses to do what they should do to remain faithful to the gospel and to their calling? What are some of those disciplines in your life? And how do you want to be remembered?

ML: Yeah. Well, I would ask that you pray for me, pray for me. I live in a healthy fear that I will bring embarrassment to the cause of God into the church. It's a healthy fear. I just, it turns my stomach to think that I would do something and I know I could. I mean, I'm, which leads to the second question. I think what I want to be remembered as is a saved sinner. I was well on my way to being an alcoholic when the Lord got my attention. I think if I was alive, if I hadn't been saved, I'd be dead by now would have gone through who knows how many marriages, I would have ruined so many lives. I know the kind of man I would have been and it's not a pretty picture. So I'm a saved sinner. And I live in fear that I would ever bring reproach upon the church. So, so please pray for me that I don't please pray for me. I think the there's a there is an attack against pastors these days. It's it seems like it I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just maybe I just know more pastors. I don't know. But it seems like it's a rough season.

WS: You’ve been listening in on my conversation with Max Lucado. Max Lucado’s new book is “Help Is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit.”

One more quick word about Max Lucado before we go: When the global pandemic began in 2020, he started a daily video check-in. Those short videos have now been viewed more than 40-million times, and have been turned into a podcast called “The Lucado Encouraging Word Podcast.” It’s now one of the top religion podcasts, with more than 4-million lifetime downloads.

Listening In comes to you from WORLD News Group, and this program is just one of the many podcasts and publications available. To find out more about our complete family of products visit WNG.org.

On our next program: Dr. William Edgar. Bill Edgar is both a theologian and a jazz musician. His new book explores the intersection of his two passions. It’s called A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel. And because we’re kicking off a new season of Listening In, you won’t have to wait a week. We’re dropping the Max Lucado and the Bill Edgar episodes together to begin this season with a bang. We hope you enjoy this Listening In double-header.

UNDERWRITING SPOT: Now We Live invites and equips Christians to propel faith into action. This free, worldview Bible study will spark rich discussions about some of life’s most foundational questions. Watch Summit Ministries’ worldview video series for free at summit.org/listeningin. These six videos from Summit Ministries offer life-on-life discipleship for churches, small groups, and families. Get free access today at summit.org/listeningin.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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