Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

A Christmas parable. With over 100 books to his name, Max Lucado, leader of the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, has been called “America’s Pastor” by Christianity Today and has established himself as both an uncommonly inspirational orator and a master storyteller.  The Christmas Candle, his latest work, caught the eye of movie producer Tom Newman who thought the book’s charming story of miracles in a fictional 1890’s English village had the makings of a family Christmas movie in the classic tradition. The film which, BTW, features singer Susan Boyle‘s acting debut (in a surprisingely-significant supporting role), opens in over 400 theaters nationwide this weekend.

I spoke with Max Lucado about the movie, his message for those facing tough times this Christmas season and why, despite having a new movie out, he doesn’t consider himself to be in the entertainment business.

JWK: How did the idea for The Christmas Candle come to you?

MAX LUCADO: Well, I wish it was more dramatic. I actually came up with the idea while attending a high school Christmas banquet with my daughters. They were singing in a choir. They attended an Episcopalian high school and it was all decked out in kind of the Anglican format of traditional candles and robes. I felt like I’d been transported back into (olde) England. So, I just started thinking about (whether) there’s a story in here somewhere and by the time the banquet was over I had an idea about candles and angels. By midnight that night I had it sketched out. It took several months to get around to writing it but that’s where it started.

JWK: What do you hope people take from your story?

ML: I just think the Christmas message is pretty simple — and that is that God does uncommon things through common people in common places. He did so in Gladbury in the story. He certainly did so in Bethlehem. I’m hoping that people seeing the movie or reading the book will walk away with the hope that God will do the same thing in their lives.

JWK: What’s it like seeing your story transported onto the screen?

ML: It’s a little scary. Fortunately, we had great screenplay writers who stayed very true to the spirit of the book. They expanded it some because the book is so short. So, I felt confident that they would do a great job (with the movie) because I had read the script. Then I was able to visit the filming of the movie and I saw how seriously everyone was taking it. Even so, I was a little nervous to see it the first time. It turned out, I think, really well.

JWK: What was it like to meet Susan Boyle?

ML: I never got to meet her. I was on the set but she came after I was there.

JWK: I heard you speak before the screening and you were talking about the difficulties some people have making it through the Christmas season when — though it’s a joyous season — tough times can seem especially hard to get through. What would you say to some reading this interview who may be going through some really hard difficulties as Christmas approaches?

ML: First of all, you’re not alone. December is the most difficult month. This is empirically true.  Counselors tell us their busiest time of the year is December. Medications for insomnia or depression go up during the month of December. That old Merle Haggard song is true — If We Could Make It Through December. It’s not easy. So, I encourage people to know you’re not alone. A lot of people who experience loss feel that loss magnified in December. Everybody seems happy and you feel all alone. You’re not all alone. So, I would say let the Christmas message be personal to you this. Instead of the worst Christmas ever, it could be the best Christmas ever if you stop and think about the Bethlehem message — the message of God coming, drawing near. Really personalize it and receive it.

JWK: Are there any other stories that you’ve written or have in your mind that you think would make good movies?

ML: I’ve got other fiction books. One of them, I’ve just finished and I’m thinking it might have the potential (to be a film). But, you know, I really didn’t have the vision for this one. Tom Newman, the producer who heard the story and then read it, said “That would be a good movie.”

JWK: Now that you’ve pretty much entered the movie business, how would you define the mission of the entertainment industry — and how well is that mission being fulfilled?

ML: Well, I like to think that we’re in the message business more than the entertainment business because every movie really does have a message. Somebody somewhere is trying to make a point or advance a cause or promote their agenda. There’s nothing wrong with that. They try to do so in an entertaining fashion. So, I’m happy to be a part of a movie that has a message in it that I think is life-giving and is redemptive and brings encouragement and hope.

JWK: In general, do you feel the entertainment industry — or, perhaps, the message industry — is living up to its highest potential?

ML: I don’t get the impression that most sources of media — like television and movies — are trying to get out a positive message, necessarily. My impression is they’re trying to get a message out that promotes their personal opinion, position or belief and they’re trying to do something that makes money. They want to turn a buck. So, to that extent, they’re succeeding. Where they fall short is just that I don’t like their message — and they probably feel the same about me.  The wonder of a free-market society like ours is that we can all do our best to package our message in an entertaining fashion and present it — and then everybody votes with their footsteps.

Note: I’ll post a review of The Christmas Candle tomorrow.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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