Our guests today address the key to finding hope in a sometimes dark world with an encouraging message for every generation; from teenagers to Baby Boomers. Pastor Max Lucado is a New York Times bestselling author who has a new book called Unshakable Hope, in which he offers guidance for overcoming sadness and despair, renewing a sense of purpose, and triumphantly facing our fears of the future. Christian musician Phil Joel is best known for his long-standing role as bass player and vocalist for the multi-platinum-selling band Newsboys. Phil shares his journey to becoming a part of the Newsboys, and how, with his new band Zealand, he brings hope to young people, enabling them to draw closer to God through worship.
A Hope That Cannot Be Shaken: Max Lucado and Phil Joel – Jesus Calling Episode #106
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Our guests today address finding hope in our world, both in our current generation and in our youth culture: pastor Max Lucado and Christian musician Phil Joel.
First up is Max Lucado, a New York Times bestselling author who has written a new book called Unshakable Hope, in which he offers encouraging guidance for overcoming sadness and despair, renewing a sense of purpose, and triumphantly facing our fears of the future.
Max Lucado: I decided to write a book on hope when I came across what I thought was a very disturbing statistic. And that’s the fact that suicides have gone up 24 percent since 1999.
”A very disturbing statistic…And that’s the fact that suicides have gone up 24 percent since 1999.” – Max Lucado
You know, if you don’t have any hope then you don’t have reason or power to live tomorrow. And so I thought, How can we best give people hope? And so this book was my attempt to give give readers some practical ways to start building their lives on God’s promises, and thereby discover a lot of hope.
“If you don’t have any hope then you don’t have reason or power to live tomorrow.” – Max Lucado
Building Hope with God’s Promises
I can think of several occasions when God’s promises spoke directly to me, most recently because of some changes at the church where I serve in San Antonio.
I’ve stepped back in as senior minister. I was senior minister for 20 years, and then I was a teaching minister, and then I needed to step back in at the age of 62. And I came across a promise in the Book of Psalms where the psalmist says, “I know, oh Lord, that you will use me, even though my hair is gray.” That’s kind of a loose translation. And I thought, Now there’s a promise I can stand on. Because I think as we get older, I know we probably should think, Oh, I have more experience. I’m more qualified than ever. But sometimes we think, I’m a little too old for this.
But I thought, I’m going to stand on that promise that if God places me here, He can use me, even though my hair—even though in my case it’s more thin than gray. But either way, it really helped me. And I still stand on that promise today.
As pastors, we’re called to give people hope. Sometimes this hope comes through information, sometimes inspiration, usually through both. And so pastors need to be busy about the task of increasing the hope level in society, and we do this in our church. Finding ways to do this can be a challenge. But understanding that the Bible is stitched together with these promises, over 7000 of them—that the go-to place for pastors. If we can learn to tap into these promises and teach our church to use them, then we’ve done our churches a great favor.
“Pastors need to be busy about the task of increasing the hope level in society, and we do this in our church.” – Max Lucado
Our Anchor in the Storm
I chose these promises specifically because I filtered my selection process through my role as a pastor. Every pastor—really, every person—but especially pastors tend to find themselves in conversations with people who need encouragement. And I have found that the best way to encourage people is just to give them a scripture, a word from from God’s Word. And so these are those that, through the years, I found myself going and turning to over and over and over.
For example, often find myself encouraging people with the promise from the Book of Psalms: “Sorrow may come for the night but joy comes with the morning.” You know, somebody in the midst of a difficult time a season of sadness, they don’t need you to come in and fix it. They know you can’t. But they need somebody to say, “Yeah, sorrow comes. But joy will come in the morning.” That is to say, “Just give it time. You can bet that joy is going to come back.” That’s a promise I turn to a lot. And so that is one of the many promises that we can equip ourselves with to face the challenges of life.
I think the Bible compares hope to an anchor for many reasons. One: anchors are universal. Anybody who’s ever been in a boat knows the purpose of an anchor, especially anybody who’s been in a boat during a storm, you know the importance of an anchor. But an anchor serves as a picture for how we Christians find our hope. You know, you do not anchor the boat to itself. You do not anchor the boat to other boats. And you don’t anchor the boat to something on the surface. You anchor the boat to something deep and solid.
And there is a picture of what God desires for us to do with our own lives. We’re all going to be caught up in storms, so we would be wise not to anchor to a person, or to a possession, to a position. But we would be wise to anchor to a rock that is deep and hidden and that cannot be affected by the storm. Of course, in our case, that rock is Jesus Christ. We anchor our lives to Him. And when the storms come, sure, the wind’s going to blow and the boat’s going to bounce. But still, when the storm comes, we know we’ll survive because we’re anchored to the Rock.
“We’re all going to be caught up in storms, so we would be wise not to anchor to a person, or to a possession, to a position.” – Max Lucado
You know, this message is important for our kids because they’re not getting hope anywhere else. You can bet that the songs they’re listening to aren’t telling them to have hope, or the messages they’re seeing on television aren’t giving them a sure place to go for hope. Or they’re giving them places to turn to for hope, only to find themselves disappointed. They’re finding themselves at dead-end streets or at empty wells. They’re thinking that romance will give them hope, or a new tattoo would give them hope, or a new boyfriend would give them hope. And we’ve all been around the block enough to know that simply doesn’t work. It simply doesn’t work. So if we can equip our kids early to turn to God for hope and to trust His Word as the source of hope, we’ve done exactly what we need to do. We’ve given them a place to go for hope
“If we can equip our kids early to turn to God for hope and to trust His Word as the source of hope, we’ve done exactly what we need to do. We’ve given them a place to go for hope.” – Max Lucado
Why We Can Have Hope, No Matter What
I think the message of Unshakable Hope is extremely important for our world today because we are in a secularistic culture. That is to say, we are in a culture that does not value the unseen or the divine. It values only what we can touch or taste or smell or feel.
“We are in a culture that does not value the unseen or the divine. It values only what we can touch or taste or smell or feel.” – Max Lucado
So it’s difficult to find hope in what we touch, taste, see, or feel because it’s all passing. It’s all rusting. It’s all decaying. So how can you find hope in that?
Secularism has a way of sucking hope out of the society because it bases life on everything between birth and hearse. Christ, however, invites us to lift up our eyes and to place our hope in divine presence. Consequently we have hope, regardless of what storms blow through, regardless of what countries threaten our country, regardless of what the economy does. It’s not to say it’s easy, but it is to say there is a source of hope, and that is these great and precious promises of God.
“Secularism has a way of sucking hope out of the society because it bases life on everything between birth and hearse.” – Max Lucado
Peter said that these great and precious promises of God allow us to participate in the divine nature. That is to say, we begin to breathe the air of heaven. We began to hear the sounds of heaven. We participate in where God is. So that’s what these promises do. They’re kind of like brick stones on the path that lead us into the very presence of God.
“There is a source of hope, and that is these great and precious promises of God.” – Max Lucado
Choose To Rest On God’s Promises
You know Jesus told the story of the two builders: one who built a house on the sand, and the other who built his house on the rock. Both builders had a choice. Both chose. The one who built on the sand did so for some reason. Maybe it was easy to get to, maybe it was affordable. But he made a choice. “Okay, I’m just going to build my house on this sand.” Well, that turned out to be a bad choice. He didn’t have to make that choice.
And so Jesus urges us to be careful—careful about where we’re building our house of faith, or where we’re building our lives. And I think that’s the word I would give to people. Every day we have the choice: are we going to stand on the circumstances of life, the pain in life, the problems of life? Or are we today going to build our lives on the promises of God? And making that daily choice is the most important choice we can make.
“Every day we have the choice: are we going to stand on the circumstances of life, the pain in life, the problems of life? Or are we today going to build our lives on the promises of God? And making that daily choice is the most important choice we can make.” – Max Lucado
Narrator: To learn more about Max’s new book, Unshakable Hope, visit MaxLucado.com.
Narrator: We’ll be back after this brief message about country music’s CMA Fest television event.
Narrator: Watch the music event of the summer, CMA Fest, Wednesday, August 8 at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT on ABC, hosted by Thomas Rhett and Kelsea Ballerini. See more than 20 of your favorite artists perform their latest hits, including Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton, Jake Owen, Darius Rucker, and more!
That’s CMA Fest on Wednesday, August 8 at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT, only on ABC.
Narrator: Welcome back. Our next guest is musician Phil Joel, best known for his long-standing role as bass player and vocalist for the multi platinum-selling band Newsboys, and now frontman for the band Zealand. Phil shares some of his background and upbringing, his journey to becoming a part of the Newsboys, and how, with his band Zealand, he desires to bring hope to teenagers, enabling them to draw closer to God through worship.
Adopted into God’s Family
Growing up in New Zealand–it’s a pretty wonderful country, and a pretty great place to grow up.
Getting back to the beginning of my existence, I was an adopted kid. I was adopted as a baby into a Christian home, which is pretty special–and in New Zealand–it was super special. Adoption is massive, and it’s just the greatest gift anyone could give a kid. But the fact I was adopted into a Christian home was something special, because Christianity down there is not quite what it is here in the U.S. I think five percent of the population would call themselves Christians. My parents did a really great job of letting me know that I was not biologically theirs, but that I was adopted. They did a great job of letting me feel kind of special in that, like, “Wow, this is a privilege. This is a really cool thing.”
“Adoption is massive, and it’s just the greatest gift anyone could give a kid.” – Phil Joel
But as an adopted child you do struggle with different things: trust issues, connection issues, and these sorts of things, I think, take a little more effort on the parental front to make sure that an adopted kid feels valued.
I grew up going to church and all that kind of good stuff. [I was] just regular kid, riding skateboards, falling off my BMX bike.
And then at a certain point, someone gave me a guitar. And I thought, Ooh, I like this. This is kind of me. I feel something good about this. As an adopted kid, oftentimes your senses are kind of on the ready, on alert, waiting for those sorts of moments. Because you want to connect with something that resonates within you, that you get a sense is beyond your conditioning, something part of you that is genetically in there. So music was that for me. I got really excited about it and dove into playing guitar and singing and all that good stuff.
Following God Across the Ocean
Becoming a Newsboy was a bit of an adventure. Early on, I was in a band in New Zealand, and we opened for Newsboys. And I got to know the guys when they were touring down in New Zealand. And then they came back to the US—they just sort of moved over to the States. The bass player decided to leave. And so they gave me a call and said, “Hey, Phil, what are you doing?” It was pretty funny.
They called me honestly at three o’clock in the morning. I was sleeping on friend’s couch. I really didn’t have an idea of what was going on in my life.
I knew the Lord was doing something. He was moving in my life in a new way, and I knew He was up to something. And I’d actually gone ahead and gotten my passport ready. I’d never been on a big plane, never been out of the country. I got a visa to come to the US. I was kind of ready—my bags were pretty much packed. I was coming. I was going to come over here for something else, and I was kind of readying myself for that. And then the phone rang, and it was the Newsboys, and it just clicked. I was like, This is what you’ve been preparing me for, Lord. Okay.
So I basically got on on on a plane the next day and flew to the USA, flew Los Angeles. I got picked up and got swept up into the into a life of madness within the Newsboys world. So and that was in 1994.
I mean, that’s still one of those touchstone things in my life, to realize or remember that God can do whatever He wants. He can pick up the phone, and then the phone can ring, and it can be whoever on the phone. He can make those connections and move someone from one side of the planet to the other in order to get them positioned to do whatever it is He has them to do. So you know, it helps me [to remember], Trust God. He knows what He’s doing.
“Trust God. He knows what He’s doing.” – Phil Joel
Relationship with God Is a Two-Way Street
That’s exactly what He wants to do for everybody. He wants us to walk in relationship, and that’s obviously a two-way thing. It’s communication both from us. Yes, praying, offering up our requests and whatnot. But it’s also listening and saying, “Lord, what are you speaking to me today? What are you showing me?”
Jesus Calling–it came at a time for us when we’d hit this kind of moment, Heather and I, in our lives when we realized we knew a lot about God. We’ve grown up in church. Here I was in the middle of Christian music doing my thing traveling as a professional Christian, basically. We hit this realization that we knew a lot about God, but we just didn’t really know Him. And we wanted to know Him and we wanted to hear from Him.
“We hit this realization that we knew a lot about God, but we just didn’t really know Him.” – Phil Joel
Because we had, at this point, we’d already been married for about four or five years. We had our first child, and something kind of hit: the weight of life, the reality of life, and the responsibility of being a parent, I think, was a big part of it. But at that time, we decided to get up in the morning and spend time opening up our Bibles, opening up our hearts, and spending time with the Lord, and asking Him to speak. And guess what happened? He began to speak. We were consistent with it, and I think that’s a big thing. Every morning we were on that alarm clock, we kept coming back to meet with Him and say, “Hello. We need you. We want to hear from you. Speak to us.” And He began doing that. And so we’d write these things down in their journals and compare notes. Heather would be on one side of the house, I’d be on the other, and we’d come together—we still do this every morning—and we’d talk about what we feel the Lord showing us.
And so then Heather’s mother gave us a copy of Jesus Calling. And it just made total sense. This was what the Lord was showing the author of Jesus Calling. And we were going, “That’s what He’s been doing to us. He’s been speaking and showing us things.” We’d get up in the morning, spend out time with the Lord—and we just talked about it this morning—just saying, “Hey, we don’t exactly know where everything’s going.”
The Origins of the Band Zealand
At the moment, my main ministry focus is a band called Zealand. And we find ourselves generally in front of teenagers, although at the moment, we are on tour with Newsboys. Newsboys United is keeping us busy.
The name of the band came about because I was on a plane one day. I’d been writing songs, and they were kind of zealous, you know, “Yeah!” Excitable expressions of worship or seeing the Lord in the things He was showing. And, I don’t know, it just kind of hit me. Zealand! And of course I’m from New Zealand, but Zealand, yeah! We want to see people zealous for the Lamb. We want to see people get excited about who God is and what He has in store for each of us and the relationship that is available. So it kind of makes sense. And obviously, being from New Zealand, that’s sort of a link there, too. And one of the other guys in the band, who happens to be my cousin, is from New Zealand, as well. But more importantly, we want to see people just get excited about who God is because He is an exciting God who has an exciting future and hope there for everybody if we just reach for it.
“We want to see people zealous for the Lamb. We want to see people get excited about who God is and what He has in store for each of us and the relationship that is available.” – Phil Joel
We don’t exactly know what’s next, but we do know what our heart beats for and what we’d love to see. But it’s up to the Lord.
Social Media: The Quiet Obsession
We really have a heart of the next generation coming through. And know, teenagers today are facing unique struggles, but they live in a wonderful, exciting kind of time, I think. You know we’re real quick to sort of go, “Oh, things are falling apart.” But honestly, it’s is a very exciting time in history to be alive. And there are great opportunities to serve and love on people and be the body of Christ and good stuff.
In this day and age, there are so many distractions. And there are things that we feel are pulling kids’ hearts away from who they should be, from the relationships they need to be living and walking in, and primarily their relationship with the Lord.
One of the big things that we like to address is the fact that we live in this wild social-media-saturated culture right now. We’re all comparing and looking at one another, and kind of obsessed with putting our best face forward and projecting a great image of who we are. And we’re sort of missing out on a real relationship: real relationship, number one, with God, and number two, with the people that God has put in our lives. So I think I might be a Christian musician, but I think one of our heartbeats right now is to help the next generation see some of the things that are coming at them and learn how to be responsible with their media choices.
“We live in this wild social-media-saturated culture right now. We’re all comparing and looking at one another, and kind of obsessed with putting our best face forward and projecting a great image of who we are. And we’re sort of missing out on a real relationship: real relationship, number one, with God, and number two, with the people that God has put in our lives.” – Phil Joel
I did a big tour about six years ago. And someone said to me, “Hey, you’ve really got to get your socials dialed in. You got to get on Facebook, and you’ve got to open this stuff up and let people know that what you’re doing, blah blah blah.” So I kind of agreed, somewhat reluctantly, that I felt, Okay, this is probably something I should do.
So I opened up the old Facebook account and whatnot and instantly got a lot of followers. It was pretty exciting. And I was like, Wow, okay, people are interested in what I’m doing. And so I began posting and doing the deal. And it really didn’t take long before I kind of got obsessed with it. It’s quiet. It’s a quiet little obsession. It starts pretty gently, but I guess it’s like anything.
And my kids had to sit me down and say “Dad, we don’t like you on social media. You’ve changed, and we’re missing you.” And I knew exactly what they were saying.
And I said “I’m sorry. I don’t like me on social media either.”
And so I kind of shut things down and haven’t looked back. And even in the midst of these last five years, starting a new band and getting signed to a new record deal, going out on tour, doing the whole thing, playing a song on the radio. And even in the midst of all that, I don’t have any social media presence, which is kind of bewildering to people. But hey, life goes on and things still work.
It’s not for everybody to take the stance that we’ve taken. But I think it’s really important that the option to not engage in these things is put on the table. You know, it’s almost like, “Oh, that’s not even an option. You have to do this.” No, you don’t. No one’s forcing you to do anything. You don’t have to engage in these kinds of ways. And for so many people, I just think they’re actually getting sicker. Being involved in these things, their real relationships are getting shallower. I’m watching youth culture get more depressed, more anxious, more fearful than ever before.
We want to be recognized, and we want to be enjoyed and loved and liked. And to me, social media is promising those things: that we’ll be seen understood and seen and liked. And it’s over-promising and under-delivering. It’s really not giving us what we’re after because what we’re after can only come from God. That’s it. So we have to get that straight first. We have to be getting that stuff from the Source. And He’s the source of those things. He sees us, He understands us, and He really likes us. And we have to be tapping into that.
That’s what keeps things really exciting as we walk with the Lord, man. We will never know where He’s going to lead us. He keeps things fresh, especially when we’re really consciously seeking him and asking him to speak.
Giving Hope to a New Generation of Worshipers
Narrator: Phil goes on to talk about his latest project with his band Zealand and how he continues to ask God to speak through him as his music reaches a new generation of worshipers.
Phil Joel: I think there’s fresh phrases—fresh expressions of who God is, what He’s doing, and what He’s about and how He sees us—that we need to explore. And so this record was really an attempt at doing that.
And even in calling it Liberated—it’s the title track, and it’s a very special song. But beyond that particular song, I felt kind of liberated in working on this record and as a band just writing the stuff and casting off the sort of, “Okay, it has to worship, and it has to be just like this, and it has to fit into the format of how a church can do it, and how it can be led at youth group or whatever.” I just got rid of that. I thought, No, don’t worry about that. Don’t think about that. Just write and record what it is you feel you’re meant to. And so that was really liberating, and I really cried out to the Lord, “Lord, what do you want this to look like?” And it came together in a very different way, and I’m really pleased with it.
It’s okay to be a little uncomfortable at different points and feel like, You know what? I’ve got to jump out of this box and find what I meant to be doing and how I uniquely need to be doing it.
And that’s the God we serve. He’s just so creative, and so fun, and so full of fresh vision for us. And as we seek Him, as we cry out to Him, as we spend time listening, He gives us stuff. He’s a good dad. You know, that’s why we covered that “Good Good Father” song because it is so brilliant. It made sense to me. He’s a good dad. He has good things for His kids.
It’s been an interesting journey throughout the years, and we keep we keep changing. But I think that’s kind of life in the Lord. He keeps moving you along, and changing things, and giving me a fresh vision and different ideas. So it’s been a wild and wacky little journey.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we visit with Ainsley Earhardt, the co-host of Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends.
Ainsley Earhardt: God says you will have trouble. John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” So He promises us that we will all have trouble. And if you haven’t had trouble in your life, you will. And I don’t say that to be negative. I say that because you have to rely on God, and God will get you through those valleys. He will walk you all the way up to the top of the mountain, and you will look down at your journey, and you will be glad you went through those struggles.
Narrator: This week’s featured passage comes from the January 26th entry of the Jesus Calling Audiobook.
Jesus Calling Audiobook Narrator: Give up the illusion that you deserve a problem-free life. Part of you is still hungering for the resolution of all difficulties. This is a false hope! As I told My disciples, in the world you will h`ave trouble. Link your hope not to problem solving in this life but to the promise of an eternity of problem-free life in heaven. Instead of seeking perfection in this fallen world, pour your energy into seeking Me: the Perfect One.
It is possible to enjoy Me and glorify Me in the mist of adverse circumstances. In fact, My Light shines most brightly through believers who trust Me in the dark. That kind of trust is supernatural: a production of My indwelling Spirit. When things seem all wrong, trust Me anyway. I am much less interested in right circumstances than in right responses to whatever comes your way.