Pastor-author Max Lucado

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Minister and award-winning Christian writer explains why we really lead a better life when we’re living for others.

Considering himself a minister first and a writer second, Max Lucado never intended to be either when he was growing up in West Texas. His life's course changed when he took a required Bible class as an Abilene Christian University student. He's been dubbed "America's Best Preacher" and, since '88, has presided over the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX. Lucado is also a best-selling and award-winning Christian writer, whose work appears regularly on best-seller lists and has inspired a branded line of greeting cards and gift books.


Tavis Smiley: Max Lucado is a renowned preacher who serves as the minister of preaching at the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio. He is also a best-selling author whose books have sold now more than 65 million copies around the world.
His latest text is called “Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference.” Max Lucado, good to have you on this program.
Max Lucado: Thank you very much. It’s a great privilege.
Tavis: You doing all right?
Lucado: I’m good.
Tavis: Oh, I’m honored to have you. I was immediately struck by this book, as I am most of your stuff, but this one specifically because of the title – “Outlive Your Life.” How is that possible?
Lucado: I think it is. I think down deep we all want to as well. We want to leave a legacy, we want to do more than just live. We want to make a difference while we’re here. I know for some people, life is real tough. It’s hard, and they think, how in the world could I ever do more than just put food on the table and meet the obligations that I have?
But one of the secrets in life, as you’ve discovered and many people have, is that it’s we really lead a better life when we’re living for others than we do when we’re living for ourselves, and I think that’s the way for our creator intended for it to be, is that if we can live for other people, we really leave this world in a different way.
If you have a Christian heritage like I am, our works go with us into the next life. That, to me, is a real exciting part of Christian service, is that there is a part of the service for the forgotten, for the poor, for the disenfranchised, for the lonely that’s going to be remembered, even in the life that is to come.
Tavis: How do people begin the process, Max, of even thinking about their legacy. That is to say, thinking about processing, trying to outlive their life, when people are having trouble trying to live their lives? In other words, when you’re trying to make it in the here and now, the right now, how do you think about the “and then?”
Lucado: Great question. I think the first thing is to realize that no one can do everything, but everybody can do something. The problems, as you know, are just so immense. We’re overwhelmed with the statistics, yet the statistics are important. One point seven-five billion people right now are destitute; a billion people are hungry right now. Twenty-seven thousand people die every day of preventable diseases.
I hear numbers like that and they just kind of knock me down and I say, “Man, I don’t even know where to start.” Probably the place not to start is to think, well, I’ve got to solve all that. The place to start is walking down the street, and next time I see a person in need I’m going to see what I can do to help that person.
Or volunteering at a school, somebody who’s trying to learn to read. Being a part of an organization that’s taking care of people in the inner city. Giving my best abilities, energies and skills to try to make where I live a better place. I think we can all start doing something there, and we can trust that the composite, the sum total of all of those – some people doing a lot, other people doing what seems to be not much but as much as they can, that all that’s going to work together and really make this world better.
Tavis: Is it, as you said a moment ago, just about seeing what the need is and trying to respond to that need, and in the process you create a legacy, or is it more deliberate?
In other words, I was in a conversation the other day with some friends and we’re talking about presidents, and I made the point at this dinner party that it seems to me that every president has the same goal in his first term, which is to get reelected, and every president has the same goal in his second term, which is to focus on the legacy.
If you go back through history, that’s what it boils down to – first term, you’ve got to get reelected. Second term, you’ve got to start working on this legacy now.
So I ask, having said that, whether or not creating our own legacy and out living our own lives is just following the need and responding to it wherever we find it, or is it more deliberate, where this is what I’m going to spend my life’s work on, this is my calling, this is my vocation, this is what I’m going to do and this is going to be my legacy?
Lucado: I think it’s more deliberate, I really do. I think we analyze the abilities that we’ve been given and the opportunities that we have. Not everybody can be a Tavis Smiley. Not everybody can have a successful program like this.
Tavis: Thank God. I don’t need more competition. (Laughter)
Lucado: Not everybody can create a foundation that’s worth a billion dollars, but all of us can figure out those things we do. I urge people to analyze your life and look back over your life and find those things you’ve done well, and then find the things that you enjoy doing. I really think God loves us too much to give us an assignment we don’t enjoy doing.
Some people have a real heart for the orphans. Some people have a real heart for justice. Some people have a real heart for education. What causes your heart to race? What makes you pull your shoe off and pound on the table? What gets you going?
When you find a need and a skill and you stand at the intersection at that need and skill and you respond to that in a way to honor, I believe, God, more than just yourself, but to care for your fellow man and to honor God, I think that’s a successful life. Everybody can do that to one degree or another.
Tavis: It sounds to me – you tell me if I’m right or wrong – it sounds to me like if I take what you have just said at face value, then what’s in this particular book, even though you unapologetically come from a Christian base, it sounds to me that even agnostics and atheists can at least buy into that notion.
Lucado: By all means. You talk about a common ground we can all work on – we’re really polarized as a country right now. It just seems like we’re going on the 11th out of the 12 rounds. It’s just so hard.
But the common ground we can all stand on is compassion, that we all care about the world. We may have differing philosophies as to how people got into the mess that they’re in, but boy, we can all agree that there’s too many people hungry, there’s too many orphans, there’s too many sick people dying of preventable diseases.
So compassion gives us a common ground to stand on, Tavis, regardless of your faith background. It gives us a chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder rather than go fist-to-fist with somebody.
I think that gives us an opportunity, then, for some good, honest dialogue about the things about which we might have differences, but let’s work together. I live in San Antonio, Texas, and we’re seeing our city come together in trying to find a solution for the inner city problems.
I don’t take any credit for this. There’s another team that has worked and rallied organizations, nonprofit organizations, to get under the same roof. They’ve done some successful fundraising and now they’re all under the same roof, working together, trying to help solve the challenge of what to do with the inner city and the homeless. It’s a phenomenal story. It can happen. It can happen. It just takes a little bit of hard work.
Tavis: I believe it can happen, Max, and I believe you’re right, that it just takes a little hard work. I guess what troubles me, and I suspect there are many others watching right now who will probably empathize with the point that I’m trying to make here, which is it seems to me that the church, the very church from which you come, the very church from which I come, has too many disparate opinions about that word, “compassion.”
I’m just sitting here thinking as you’re talking about these examples popping into my head where I think that the church as we know it is inconsistent on this notion of compassion. We’re inconsistent on compassion where immigrants are concerned – witness the debate that we’re in.
We’re inconsistent on compassion about this mosque in New York – a heated topic. We’re inconsistent about compassion where the environment is concerned. I know folk in the church who are kinder to animals than they are to Negroes.
We’re inconsistent about this notion of compassion, so I’m just pushing back, respectfully. I think you’re right, but I’m wondering if it’s more aspirational – that is, this notion that we can and do agree on compassion, than it is actual.
Lucado: I think you’re very pragmatic in your observation. I think you’re right on target. What I tried to do in the book is call people back to the first 12 chapters of the Book of Acts, which as you know is really the history of the church.
Those were the early days of the church in Jerusalem, and you look at the church in Jerusalem and it’s not like the church we see today, and of course that saddens us. But it gives us hope and makes us think, well, maybe it could happen again.
It is a church of compassion. It is a church of racial equity. It is a church that breaks down walls of bias. You talk about an ancient wall of bias between the Jew and the Samaritan, and yet the New Testament Church opened the doors and immediately into the Samaritan culture and built bridges instead of walls.
As you know, one of the most famous conversions early in the Book of Acts is the Ethiopian eunuch, and there was a White disciple named Philip reaching out to the Black man from Ethiopia, and they built a bond. They go into the water together and both are baptized. It’s a beautiful picture.
I think every page in the Book of Acts is a picture of how God intends for his church to behave, and every generation since then has been trying to go back and rediscover that, and that’s part of what this message is about.
Tavis: I wonder whether or not it’s your sense that most of us these days truly believe in your subtitle, that we were made to make a difference. I ask that again because I run into all kinds – I have a foundation, I’m constantly working and talking to young people.
I just fundamentally do not believe that most young people today believe – and in part they don’t believe it because ain’t nobody trying to convince them of it, nobody’s trying to put that in them.
I’m just not convinced that we live in a nation now where most of us believe, especially the young people believe, that they were, in fact, created, made for a purpose, and that purpose is to make a difference.
Lucado: I think that’s a good point. There’s such a tendency to get inside our shells, and every message that young people hear, every message we all hear is that it’s all about you, it’s all about me. So I’ve got to gather all I can, can all I can, keep all I can, as long as I can. That’s a very difficult message.
A couple of things here on this book. One thing that I discovered that – and I don’t know how I’d been preaching all these years, I just didn’t realize – some of the basic opportunities that await us.
There’s enough food on the globe right now to feed everybody in the world. That’s astounding to me. There are some of the most successful nonprofit, both faith-based and non-faith-based, humanitarian organizations that have ever existed.
I’m convinced that we have tools at our disposal now that can allow this generation to if not eradicate, at least make a dent in human suffering. I think it’s just time for us to take that step, and boy, I agree with you, Tavis. If the church would lead the way, if the church would lead the way, I think that’s what people expect out of the followers of Christ.
Because even if you don’t believe in Christ, you’ve heard that he loved the poor. So when they see an inconsistency there and they see Christians who are not concerned about the poor saying that they’re followers of Christ, when Jesus made the topic of his very first sermon the poor – he said, “I am here to preach. The spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach the gospel to the poor,” he couldn’t even begin his first sermon without taking about it.
I think that’s where our burden has to be, and I’m hoping that’s a direction we’re headed.
Tavis: How much are you willing, Max, to indict the church? That’s always a strange phrase for me to use with the church, because I’m not sure that there is this entity, “the church,” these days, as there used to be back in the day. But that’s another issue.
How willing are you to indict the church on what’s wrong with the world that we live in today? (Laughter) If you’re right about the fact that if the church were to take the lead, that we could address these issues more aggressively of homeless and poverty, et cetera, et cetera.
Again, if Jesus’ life is about anything it’s about that. I think you’re right, the church isn’t stepping up in the way that it should, but how willing are you to indict the church?
Lucado: Well, I would give the church a round of applause first. You think of the – if you use the term church in a broad term, you think of the amazing amounts of compassion that are happening right now. Our church just sent a group to Haiti, as a lot of churches have done, and the churches are carrying a lot of the load, it seems to me, in some of these struggling countries in terms of just boots on the ground, staying in there, not giving up, touching the needs of the people.
So I certainly wouldn’t be hard on the church, yet I would say that there are so many things we could do better. Tavis, if the church would only increase its giving to compassion by about 1 percent, it’s a phenomenal amount of money that could be given just to the poor – just 1 percent.
I’m not convinced that the real compassion is taking place in the Western culture as much as we’re seeing out of the Korean churches, and even in churches of China and South America. It could be that they are more closely connected to struggling and suffering than many of us are.
Tavis: Respectfully, I don’t think that they’re closer to struggling and suffering. I think it’s a sad indictment on the church in this country, given that we live in the most prosperous nation in the world. How can we be the church in the most prosperous nation in the world and to your example now fall behind Korea and other nations when it comes to ecclesia, to doing the work that needs to be done? How is that even possible?
Lucado: The shell. We get inside our shells, we really do. One of the things that the church in the United States is struggling with now is this idea that the church exists to serve me, rather than the church exists to equip me to serve others.
Tavis: That’s that whole prosperity gospel thing.
Lucado: Exactly, exactly.
Tavis: It ain’t about giving, it’s about you can have, you can become, you can – yeah.
Lucado: Yeah. I’ve been a pastor all my life and I’m pretty patient. (Laughs) But boy, it really pushes my button when one of my church members says, “You’re not doing things the way I want them to be done.” It just – I don’t know how we can get to the point where we can be reminded that the church exists to equip us to be better people than to entertain me.
It’s that entertainment mentality that’s really tough to overcome, and I think it’s because everything else in life is entertainment, it’s me focused. So we assume, well, the church exists to take care of me, too. I write my little check and the church takes care of me.
But at the same time, though, there are some wonderful churches doing some phenomenal things, and I am very encouraged by the younger generation. There just seems to be a rawness and a freshness about them that is going to take real seriously this challenge that we have.
Tavis: What’s your sense of we say, at least, that we live in a nation where there is a separation of church and state? That’s what we say; we know that that’s not the case. We know that politicians use their faith more in their campaign (unintelligible) one agrees or disagrees. There are a lot of politicians who are putting their faith out front, so they’re not ashamed about that.
On the other side, there are a whole lot of churches who are engaging themselves in the politics of our nation. What’s your sense of how this intersection of church and politic is hurting or helping, depending on your perspective (unintelligible) we’re facing.
Lucado: This is going to be a tension that’s always going to exist. It has always existed and it’s going to exist. No government – the United States government does not exist to promote any religion but just to protect the expression of any religion. I’m not one –
Tavis: Unless you’re a mosque in New York City. But I digress. Go ahead.
Lucado: (Laughs) I’m not one that really wants the government to endorse or criticize my church. I think that’s up to the Christians or the Muslims or the Jews, whoever that person is. That’s up to us, to promote our own faith. We just need the government to be that greenhouse that permits our faith to grow.
It’s a tension. It’s a tense issue. I don’t think we’re doing that good in that topic. I feel like since the government wanting to meddle just a little bit and to direct things – again, I like the image of a greenhouse. Just let people express their faith.
It’s up to me to promote my faith and somebody else to promote theirs. Let the government just protect our right to do so.
Tavis: I’ve said many times on this program that we live in the most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America ever, and I get the sense that because of that reality, so many of us, particularly in these difficult, hard, economically challenging times, because of that reality I find that so many of us are turning nativist.
How does that reality challenge each of us trying to find ways to outlive our own lives?
Lucado: Again, here’s where those of us of faith should set the standard. We should really set the pace, because while we appreciate our ancestry as Americans or even our ethnic ancestry and our color of skin, we believe that our real citizenship is in Heaven.
So we want opportunities to help as many people as possible, because this life is terribly short, it’s passing very quickly, and I want to help as many people as possible while I’m here. Ideally, there’s the Christian posture.
So we should be less about protecting any type of identity affiliated to a country or even our ethnic background. We should be more about the fact that we’re here for a short time and Heaven is going to be a rainbow of people, multiculture, every generation. So let’s reach out to as many people while we can and help as many people as possible to get there.
Tavis: Finally, there are so many things in the book that I resonate with, but there’s a particular passage in the book where you talk about doing good quietly. Every one of us wants to be appreciated and respected and regarded for the good that we do. Nothing wrong with that. But I think we live in a world where everything is about chest-thumping.
Everything we do, we’ve got to go tell and broadcast and tell everybody what we’re doing so that not enough folk are doing good, and sho’ enough ain’t enough folk doing good quietly. So how do you, in this age, do good quietly, because that doesn’t seem to be the strategy?
Lucado: Well, the challenge that we find in the Book of Acts again, and which is what the book is based on, is that some of the strongest church discipline was toward the people who tried to get credit for the things that they did. It’s a strong chapter in the Book of Acts. There were a couple of people who died, if you remember. For a person reading that the first time, they think, what in the world is happening here?
It seems to me what God is saying is the church is never a place to show off. Do your good deeds quietly. Serve; don’t seek to be seen. Never let the church become a place where it’s just a Las Vegas display place for you to show off. If we can get to that point where we just serve quietly, like our master did, I think a revolution can take place.
Tavis: Well, I’m going quietly now (laughter) at the end of this conversation. His name, Max Lucado. The new book, “Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference.” Max, good to have you on the program.
Lucado: Thank you so much. It’s a great honor.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm