The best-selling author and pastor talks about his personal bout with fear and preaching to nonbelievers at Easter
Known as a “master storyteller,” pastor/author Max Lucado’s publishing career has yielded more than 60 books, including his twenty-fifth trade title, Fearless (Thomas Nelson). The message of confronting fear with hope and faith began during spring 2008 with the 16-message series to Lucado’s Oak Hills Church congregation (all of Lucado’s books have started as sermon series). But in the process of preparing the series, the message of Fearless took a personal turn when Lucado came face-to-face with what would become the topic of chapter 10—fear of life’s final moments. In September 2007, he underwent heart surgery, an experience he candidly writes about in the book.
Lucado has experienced change in his pastoral life as well. Very good change, he says, referring to the addition of former Willow Creek Teaching Pastor Randy Frazee as senior minister of Oak Hills. Almost two years ago, Frazee returned to Texas to help Lucado, a West Texas native, lead the San Antonio, Texas, church. The new dynamic has worked well, affording Frazee time to strategize for the church’s growth (Oak Hills was the No. 22 Fastest-Growing and No. 55 Largest church on the 2009 Outreach 100 lists). In 2009, the church added two sites with plans for three to four more mission sites before the end of 2009.
As minister of writing and preaching, Lucado remains connected to Oak Hills, with 2010 marking his 22nd year there. The year brings another milestone—his twenty-fifth year in publishing. To celebrate, the 54-year-old Lucado will release the new book, currently titled Outlive Your Life (Thomas Nelson), with the accompanying outreach call to see sponsorships of 25,000 needy children by year’s end.
In this interview by Lindy Lowry, Lucado shares in-depth about these past and upcoming challenges and feats. Plus, the painter of some of the most stirring word pictures of the cross and resurrection offers his thoughts on preaching to believers and nonbelievers for the upcoming Easter season.
‘Do Not Fear’
What inspired you to preach a message series on fear? As you looked at what Scripture says about the subject, what insights did you discover?
One day it occurred to me, Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how many times Jesus said to not be afraid? I came up with a list of about 20 times, then I got curious about how many other commands Jesus gave us about fear. I enlisted the help of a friend who does great research, and the two of us found about 125 commands. The second most common command, to love God and neighbors, appears on only eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement He made more than any other was, “don’t be afraid.”
Do you think these messages resonated with people who don’t yet know Christ as their Savior? In chapter three, you offer an invitation to know Christ.
If a person doesn’t believe in God, I’m not sure quite what to tell him, in terms of dealing with fear. That question came up several times in Brazil from people conducting interviews who said, “Well, I don’t believe in God,” and quite honestly, I don’t know what to say to that but “Why? Try believing in God because the other alternative is to try to believe in yourself, and you’ll disappoint yourself.” I think we can put on a sense of false bravado for a while, but boy, when you start to face death, disease, airplanes that go down in turbulence—those kinds of life realities—you need somebody bigger than you.
As you were writing the book, you encountered your own life realities. The message of Fearless became extremely personal.
Yeah, I’ve always been a really healthy person, but I apparently had this genetic heart problem and it began to give me trouble about four years ago. Two or three times a day, my heart rate would jump up to 120, 130. About three years ago, I was diagnosed more specifically. And then about two years ago, I had surgery, heart surgery. To be honest, I have not really been a fearful person. I think I’m pretty pragmatic. I usually say, “Well, either God will control it or He won’t.” I have my levels of anxiety, but not as much as some people I’ve talked to. But this health issue gave me a particular dose of fear. Any procedure that requires four hours of probes inside your heart is enough to warrant an added prayer.
You write about your surgery in the context of facing the fear of our last moment of life, then offer the promise of the cross and resurrection—that we can face death with certainty and hope. As church leaders start to think about Easter 2010, what advice do you have for preaching to the believers and nonbelievers in their midst?
The night before the surgery, I took the elevator down to the lobby of the Cleveland Clinic, found a quiet corner and began to think, What if something goes wrong? What if this is my final night on earth? I wrote letters to my wife and daughters, beginning with, “If you’re reading this, something went wrong in the surgery.” I think that last moment of life is one of the fundamental fears people have—either the fear of eternity or the fear of passing into eternity. We have to equip each other to face that. Christianity has the corner on this market because no other religion offers the same promise—the absolute truth that the next life is going to be better than this life.
So I would say, boy, we’ve got to camp right here on this topic. That’s what the apostle Paul did when he said, “I preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” So we should speak to people’s minds, but come at it with an apologetic angle and help people see logically why we can believe in the resurrection of Christ. Secondly, let’s talk to the heart and bathe people in the promises that Jesus made like, “I’m going to prepare a place for you”; “I will come back and take you with me to be where I am.” People need to feel that in their hearts. We can tell people things like, “Your final breath on this earth will be your first moment to see the face of Jesus. He’ll not leave you alone in that.”