By Joy Allmond
Some might say our world seems more hopeless than ever. But pastor and author Max Lucado offers a different perspective: Jesus is still building His church, and God’s promises hold as true as ever.
Lucado recently spoke with Facts & Trends about how church leaders can help people navigate choppy cultural waters, and how observing a sense of despair led him to write his latest book, Unshakable Hope.
What drove you to write Unshakable Hope in the first place?
This book was born out of an alarming stat I stumbled across that said the suicide rate has increased by 24 percent in the last 18 years. I’m a pastor, and that really struck my heart. I began thinking, How did that happen?
I believe that’s a complex question. But I also believe there must be something in these acts of despair that suggest an absence of hope. If a person has no desire to live another day, there must some void of hope. And I thought, How can I contribute to the conversation of hope—how can I stir hope?
I put together a series of lessons for my church on God’s promises. And my angle at hope was this: Let’s build our lives not on the problems of life but on the promises of God. So I began studying promises. I knew there were lots of promises, but I didn’t know there were over 7,000.
Obviously, I had to select certain promises on which to focus for the book. So I began making my own list of promises that have meant a lot to me over the years, and ones I’ve used on a regular basis when ministering to people.
And that’s what I encourage people to do—make their own list to equip themselves with what they need to face the challenges of life.
Why is it especially important for a church leader to read these promises and have renewed hope?
I think people who are struggling with desperation need God’s Word. I tend to believe that Scripture truly is the Word of God—not just a collection of thoughts. There’s something mysteriously holy about the words in the Bible.
When I take those words and apply them or present them to a person who’s passing through a hard time, I’m doing more than just giving them good advice. I’m depositing an admonition in them that will bear fruit. And so I think for those of us who have a high regard for Scripture, the sooner we can deposit Scripture in a person’s heart, the sooner we can minister to them.
I’m talking this afternoon with a family whose 19-year-old was killed in a car accident. It’s terrible. They’re brokenhearted, and they should be. In the conversation, I will remind them Psalm 23 says though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death … God is with us, and urge them to remember what that passage says.
I have to be careful not to do it in a preachy tone, or condescending or cavalier way. But I do think they have attacks from the devil right now, and we have to get some Scripture into their thought process.
There’s been some recent upheaval in evangelicalism—racial issues, sexual misconduct, etc. How can any layperson or leader who’s troubled by this take the message of this book and apply it to our situation right now?
Let’s assume someone is in a church and a person or leader they look up to in the church is accused—and found guilty—of sexual misconduct.
What that person is standing on in terms of faith is so important. If their faith is built upon that mentor or that pastor, I would call that a shaky faith. Every Christian, at some point in life, will be disappointed by another Christian. It’s just going to happen. So my encouragement would be rather than build your life on someone else’s character or personality, it would be a good time to look at the promises of Jesus.
He said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” He’s still building His church. Even though the church may go through difficulties and we may be embarrassed, that’s nothing that’s never happened before, and the church continues.
This is a tough time, but Jesus is the One building the church. And He’s not going to fail.
Often, when things are shaken up a bit, regardless of circumstances, there are situations inside and outside the church that call for justice. How can God’s justice give us hope?
There are several types of promises in the Bible. Generally, some of those promises make us feel good, and some of those promises sober us. One of those is in Acts 17, where God said through the Apostle Paul that there will be a day He will judge the world.
This particular promise speaks to that need we feel for justice. That is a God-given desire. It is right to want evil to be punished and good to be rewarded. It’s just the way we’re wired. So God has said He will take care of that.
Don’t think for a minute God us twiddling his thumbs or idly sitting by. He has set a day in which evil is going to be judged. If I don’t know that promise or if I don’t trust it, I’m setting myself up for a sense of despair, thinking people just get off scot-free.
But God is the one who will hold them accountable. I think that’s the kind of promise that speaks to that deep desire for justice we have.
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JOY ALLMOND (@joyallmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.