Cure for the Common Life
It is summertime, when a West Texan's dreams turn to water. Rainfall is scare here. Earth and scorching sun are separated only by expansive sky and clouds of dust. Tumbleweeds, unable to grip the dry soil or resist the wind's pull, blow wildly across dry fields and hot pavement. West Texans dream of water in the summer time. They know what it means to be thirsty.
Max Lucado, 49, is a product of West Texas, was raised in the small town of Andrews, which he describes as "summers skillet-hot and winters wind-tunnel cold, populated by friendly people, pump jacks, windmills, and cattle on treeless prairies." His father, Jack, was a hobo during the Great Depression, but after a few wild and rowdy years, he settled as oil field mechanic. His mother, Thelma, was a nurse and worked in the cotton fields before marrying and having four children, with Max as the youngest. Max says his parents instilled strong values in their children - moral behavior and hard work - values he initially rebelled against.
Like many in West Texas, Max's family was in church anytime the doors were open. But during his teenage years, he decided to leave behind many of the moralistic teachings of his parents and his church. When he was 16, he spent the hot Texas summer digging ditches for oil field pipelines. Max started acting like the older men he worked with - drinking beer and chasing girls. Then, while he was chugging six packs with a buddy on the hood of a car and watching stars in the West Texas sky, he began to wonder if there was more to life than what he was doing. His question started him on his journey to know more about God. "But I didn't think a relationship with God was the solution," he says. "I thought the solution might be a good career, or getting into politics or social concerns."
His parents offered to pay for Max to attend a church-sponsored school near Andrews called Abilene Christian University. He took up their offer and decided to put his energies into becoming a lawyer. As a freshman, Max was still a "reckless character," smoking, drinking and partying. But a required Bible course during his sophomore year changed the course of Max's life. He was fascinated with the professor's portrayal of Jesus, and he was convinced he wanted to be a follower. "Maybe this is why I write about Jesus so much," says Lucado. "He forgives what I did then, and what I do now."
Then a mission trip to Brazil during his junior year solidified Max's change of heart - no longer did he want to be in law, he wanted to be a missionary. To go back to Brazil full-time, Max needed a graduate degree in theology and two years of experience as a pastor. He moved to Miami for his first pastoral position. It was there he found two lifelong loves - his wife Denalyn and his writing. As associate minister, he was responsible for working with the singles group and writing a column for the church's newsletter. During a singles' church event, he met Denalyn Preston, another recent Abilene Christian graduate who had come to Miami to teach. The columns from the church newsletter eventually became his first book, On the Anvil (Tyndale House, 1985).
After two years of marriage, Max and Denalyn moved to Rio de Janeiro as missionaries to start churches with Brazilians. But the Lucados were not an overnight success. Most church events were greeted with low interest and even lower attendance. It was then that Max started to realize for himself what has become the core of every book he has written-God's boundless grace. Says Max: "I discovered you teach the grace you experience. If I didn't let God forgive me, then inadvertently, I knew I would teach a conditional grace. If I felt forgiven, there would be a joyful grace." Max and the mission team went on to start three other successful, thriving churches in Brazil. "Brazil did a lot more for me than I did for Brazil," says Max. "When a person comes to the end of himself, he begins to find God."
With his preaching in full swing, Max decided to see if his writings could be published. On a lark, he re-worked the newsletter columns from his Miami days into a manuscript, mailing it to fifteen publishers. After rejection letters from 14 publishers, On the Anvil was eventually published by Tyndale House.
In 1987 Max's father died of Lou Gehrig's disease. Max knew it was time, after five years in Brazil, to bring his wife and young daughters home to be closer to his mother. In 1988, Lucado was hired to be the minister at Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas. In the states, his writing career began to flourish. Almost two decades later, Max is now one of the most recognized inspirational authors in the US, second only to Billy Graham, with more than 39 million books in print. His latest book, Come Thirsty (W Publishing Group, Fall 2004), will join more than 50 previous Lucado titles published in more than 20 languages worldwide.
The dry days seem to have vanished in a flood of success for Lucado. Christianity Today magazine recently dubbed him "America's Pastor." Publishers Weekly, the general market publication for books and bookselling, recently proclaimed "there aren't many authors bigger than Lucado." His books are regular fixtures on national bestseller lists including The New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). In addition to books, Lucado's words have been published into many different products including children's books, video, CD-ROM, DVDs, music CDs, mass paperback booklets, apparel, giftware, bookmarks, calendars, study Bibles, workbooks, curricula, plush products and a gift card line from Dayspring.
All this publishing success has drawn more than a little attention to a previously low-profile Texas author and minister. Lucado has been featured in a wide range of media, including USA Today, "Larry King Live" and "NBC Nightly News." He has spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast before the President of the United States. He has traveled with internationally-renowned musicians as the special speaker on their music tours, such as the highly-successful "Come Together & Worship Tour" (sponsored by Chevrolet) with Grammy-Award winning artists Michael W. Smith and Third Day.
But Max still remembers his roots in the dry West Texas soil. He acknowledges that he is a simple Texas pastor with a simple message, a message about living water. "Like water, Jesus goes where we can't. I simply invite readers to do what I must do for my own dehydrated heart, drink deeply and often," says Lucado.