(RNS) Prolific author Max Lucado talked to Religion News Service about grace, the topic of his 29th book, and answered a range of questions from people who follow RNS on Twitter. Lucado, 57, is the minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church, a nondenominational congregation in San Antonio.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You write that people don't have a deep understanding of grace. What's the difference between grace and mercy?
A: My hunch is that most people have settled for a wimpy grace. It's something that doesn't change their lives. There is a difference between grace and mercy. Mercy is the decision of God not to punish us. But grace is the decision of God to save and bless us.
Q: (at)tunde_ogunyinka wants to know: What is the one thing you can't do without each day?
A. I think the one thing that I cannot do without each day is hope. If you put me in a position where you took all my hope away, I'm not sure I could make it through the day.
Q: (at)kaykay_ayodeji asked: Which book or writer has inspired your style of writing?
A: Early in my writing I was influenced by a man named Frederick Buechner. Back in the'90s I read many of his books and it really influenced my thinking and my writing. He has a slight irreverence that I thought was refreshing but it's not an irreverence that's unbiblical. It's just real appreciation for God's greatness. It's like it released him to be a happy writer.
Q: (at)Anewdawnnatural wonders: What was going on in your personal life at the time you wrote "Fear Not"?
A: Personally our family was going through a lot of transition. Our daughters were leaving one by one, leaving the nest, graduating from high school, going off to college, graduating from college, going off into their professional lives. And then the nation was going into the recession. I saw fear on my heart and I could see fear on the face of my church members. So that was what got me thinking, "Let's just look at all the times Jesus said don't be afraid."
Q: (at)gcruz_87 asked your thoughts on the Holy Spirit, which some say is female.
A: I don't think God is a gender. He presents himself as a father but he comes to us with the tenderness of a mother. In some of the parables, he is the housewife who cleans the house looking for the lost coin. So I think we can miss the point if we get too concerned about the gender of God.
He calls himself "he" because we have to have some type of pronoun, right? But he's holy. He's not like us. He's above us and beyond us.
Q: (at)timbo9677 asked: How should Christians decide who to vote for in the elections?
A: First, we pray. That's the call of Scripture to Christians. Our job during times of national decisions is to lead the way in prayer. Then, I believe you select a president who best represents what you think are the values that God wants us to have, and line yourself up with either one candidate or the other based upon the character or the values of that candidate.
Q: (at)benp711 wants to know: What do you think about Israel threatening Iran?
A. I've never been one to say I know exactly that we're in the last days, but there's some things happening these days, both good and bad, that make me wonder if we may be heading into the final generation. One of the good things that's happening is that little by little we're taking the gospel to the whole world. But at the same time there is this resistance. And Israel and Iran are going to potentially trigger some type of conflict that could trigger the last days. I do not know when Christ is coming back. No one knows. But I do think the environment is getting more and more to the point where we can look for his return.
Q: You gave a personal example of overcoming a taste for beer, which you swore off at age 21 but began craving again a few years ago. How did grace play a part in that?
A: I accepted the forgiveness of God. I got off track as an adult and because I believe in God's grace, I believe that gave me strength then to get that little part of my life realigned, to not play games about it, to confess it, to ask for forgiveness from God and ask others to forgive me as well and then move on. It could have been a major disaster in my life but really it was just a little blip on the radar screen because I believe in grace.
Q: Let's let (at)lracemaTanya ask the last question: What are your future goals?
A: I don't have any desire to retire in the sense of not doing anything. Because as long as the Lord gives me strength I want to keep writing and keep preaching. I love what I do.