A Changed Man

He was Nixon’s “hatchet man.”  Charles “Chuck” Colson admits he would have walked over his “own grandmother if necessary” to get Richard Nixon re-elected.  He also confessed he was “valuable to the President…because I was willing…to be ruthless in getting things done.”  As President Nixon’s Special Counsel there were questions about his level of involvement in the Watergate scandal.  He was eventually indicted for obstruction of justice in the Watergate affair on March 1, 1974.

While awaiting his arrest for these charges he had an opportunity to visit an old friend, Thomas L. Phillips chairman of the board for Raytheon Company.  Colson later said he noticed an inner peace and calm about his friend and asked the reason for it.  Thomas told him of his conversion to Christianity.  When Colson questioned his friend’s decision, Thomas gave him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity.  After reading it, Colson gave his life to Jesus Christ.

When news eventually leaked out about his conversion there were those who had known him before who ridiculed him and claimed it was just a ploy to garner sympathy from the court and a reduced sentence.  He would later serve seven months in a federal prison, not for his actions in the Watergate conspiracy, but for pleading guilty to an obstruction of justice in the break-in of psychiatrist Daniel Ellsberg’s office.  You may recall Ellsberg is the one who leaked the Pentagon Papers that led to criticism of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

When Colson reported to the Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama to serve his sentence, he was already a free man.  Christ had declared “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (John 8:32).”  In the course of serving his sentence he believed God was calling him to a prison ministry.

Upon his release chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976.  Prison Fellowship has become the largest prison outreach program in the United States and led to the founding of Prison Fellowship International that is conducting prison outreach in 112 counties around the world.  He started the Justice Fellowship in 1983 to address penal reform with the United States legislature.

Colson became a tireless advocate of the Christian worldview.  He founded The Chuck Colson Center for a Christian Worldview to promote a Christian perspective of reality. In a host of different forums he has defended the biblical viewpoint on the sanctity of life, the institution of marriage, and religious freedom.  These three issues led to his partnership with several other religious leaders to publish the Manhattan Declaration, a document that has been cosigned by more than a half million supporters as a call to action in defending these issues.  He began a radio ministry entitled BreakPoint to further the spread of the Christian perspective.  Prison Fellowship encouraged and supported the formation of Angel Tree that ministers to the needs of the other victims of crime, inmates’ children.  Since its inception Angel Tree has reached out to help over six million children.

Chuck Colson has received numerous honorary doctorates and awards for his humanitarian work with inmate families, the faith based programs he has started.  He has been responsible in bringing to countless inmates the only truly effective program for inmate rehabilitation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  His true reward will not be comprised of the recognition of earthly institutions, but the greeting of those in heaven who would not have been there but for his service.

On April 21, 2012, Chuck Colson passed from this life into the next where he met his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and greeted his reward.  His dramatic midlife conversion and the subsequent influence on our country and the international community can be likened to that of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.  While there are those who will scoff at his conversion and may attempt to belittle his achievements, the last thirty-five years of his life spent in the dedication of his calling are convincing proof that Chuck Colson was a changed man.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

 

What Would Jesus Do?

     In 1896 Charles M. Sheldon, a Congregationalist pastor, wrote a book entitled “In His Steps” and subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?”  The theme of the book is predicated on 1 Peter 2:21, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”  While the book is a fictional account it accurately mirrors reality in many respects.  Let me give you a synopsis.     
     An unemployed man who is down on this luck visits Henry Maxwell, pastor of an affluent church in the city of Raymond one Friday morning.  The man had been a typesetter who had lost his job with the advent of linotype.  Reverend Maxwell is making final preparations for the Sunday morning service and is annoyed by the man’s intrusion.
     The man explains his situation to Pastor Maxwell.  Since he has a wife and family, he has had to travel to seek work to support them, and wants to know if the pastor is aware of any job opportunities.  Pastor Maxwell tells the man he is not aware of anyone who might be hiring and sends the man on his way.    
     The following Sunday the man attends the morning worship service at Reverend Maxwell’s church.  At the close of the service, before the congregation can retire, in desperation, the man steps forward to address the church and present his case to God’s people.  While making his plea the man, weak from hunger and ill from exposure, collapses.    
     Reverend Maxwell has the man taken to his home and calls for a doctor.  The medical attention is too little too late and the man dies within the week.  His death has a profound effect on Henry Maxwell.  At the close of a following church service Pastor Maxwell asks for volunteers.  He wants to know who would be willing to commit to making decisions during the next year based on a simple question, what would Jesus do?    
     Most of his parishioners file out of the church ignoring his challenge.  They think he is overreacting to recent events and is displaying an undue fanaticism, but some stay.  A young heiress, a railroad superintendent, a newspaper publisher, a wealthy merchant, a writer, a singer and others covenant together with their pastor to make every decision in their lives for the next year by asking themselves, what would Jesus do?    
     The rest of the book is an account of their experiences.  One suffers financial reverses in this business.  Another looses a position of influence and social standing.  They were ridiculed by friends and misunderstood by their families.  But through all their troubles and triumphs, their sorrows and joys, they accomplished much good in their community for the glory of God.    
     In the 1990s church youth groups wore cloth bracelets with the initials WWJD, an abbreviation for, what would Jesus do?  For a short time this question enjoyed a resurgence among Christian young people and to some degree gained a foothold in the lives of Christian adults.  Like most well-intended movements it eventually lost its attraction and faded into memory, but I still think the question has a legitimate and Christ-honoring goal.    
     There are some who hold on to the idea that we can redeem ourselves by changing the way we live.  That is a completely unbiblical perspective.  There is nothing we can do to earn the gift of eternal or merit its reward.  Our actions are not the cause of our salvation, but they should be a consequence of our salvation.  We do not live a certain way to be saved, we walk “in His steps” because we are saved.    
     Sure, the book is a fictional story.  Henry Maxwell and the other characters in Sheldon’s book are not real.  But the analogy to reality in what he wrote cannot be ignored.  Pastor Maxwell asked for volunteers to commit a year of decisions based on the question, what would Jesus do?  But the call of Christ is much greater.  He is not asking for just a year.  He is asking believers to give their all for Him, because he gave His all for us.    
     So, what’s it going to be?  What are you going to do?  For who or what are you going to live?   What would Jesus do?

God is not Fooled

A volleyball coach and science teacher at Rockwall Heritage Christian Academy in Texas was fired for getting pregnant outside of marriage.  The academy has a morals clause requiring their faculty to be role models of the Christian faith.  The school terminated Cathy Samford’s employment claiming her pregnancy out of wedlock violated the morals clause of her contract.

Of course, she has hired an attorney and will file a discrimination suit against the school.  Besides the loss of salary, she has also lost her health insurance that would have helped with her medical bills.  Her legal outlook is not hopeful because the United States Supreme Court gives private religious schools broad authority in determining conditions of employment because it is considered a ministry.  Just last month in a similar case the Court ruled 9 to 0 in favor of the school.  That was not exactly a close call.

I am not going to address the legal issues involved in this matter; that will be settled in another forum and at another time.  It is something the teacher said that caught my attention.  She said, “I looked it up and thought, ‘they can’t do this,’ we all have different views and interpretations.  It’s not necessarily the Christian thing to do to throw somebody aside because of those.”

What are these “different views and interpretations” she is referring to.  What interpretation of the Bible permits sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage?  Is it “the Christian thing to do” to have sexual relations outside of marriage?  Rather than being penitent, she seems to give every appearance of being indignant.  She claims to be in a “committed relationship” and plans to marry.  Those are just words.  She made a commitment when she signed the employment contract with the morals clause.  It was a commitment she did not keep, because those were just words.  There is a huge difference in saying you are committed and being committed.

We live in a culture in which personal liberty affords every person the freedom to do as they please; many do.  I would not advocate a change in the personal liberties we enjoy under the United States Constitution.  These same liberties afford the Christian the right to live as he should in relation to the dictates of his conscience and the teachings of Scripture.  While Ms. Samford has a right to exercise her liberty, she also had a responsibility to keep her commitments, to keep her word.

When Joseph became aware that Mary was pregnant, and knowing he was not the father, even amidst being hurt and feeling betrayed, he still tried to do the right thing.  He “being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly (Mathew 1:19, NASB).”  Though he believed he had been wronged, Joseph still sought to do the right thing.

If I were the school administrator, I would do what is right for the school and its students, and what is right for Ms. Samford.  I would be gracious and merciful in this situation.  I would offer Ms. Samford a severance package that would provide some remuneration, and insurance coverage to full term of the pregnancy.  In return, I would expect Ms. Samford to accept her dismissal and forsake any legal challenge.  Since she is in a “committed relationship” she is not left alone to deal with her circumstances.  I am sure the father does not mind bearing his fair share of the financial responsibility of the pregnancy and standing by her through all that is ahead.

There are two issues about this situation that give me pause for reflection.  One of the issues is the fact that so many of our relationships today must be defined by some sort of contractual language.  There was a time in this country when a man’s word was his bond.  That does not seem to be the case anymore.  There was a time when it would have been understood that an employee of a Christian school would be dismissed if he were found to be living an immoral life.  Now that has to spelled-out in the employment contract and is still subject to being challenged in court.

The other issue is that many who live as they please think they are still living a Christian lifestyle.  They either do not read the Bible, or having read it, believe it is alright to disregard its moral teachings.  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked [fooled]; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Galatians 6:7, NASB).”  God is patient; he gives us time to repent and turn to Him.  But do not mistake His patience for His permission.

The Resurrection

“Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  He is not here, but He has risen (Luke 24:5-6).”

The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most pivotal event in Christianity and human history.  Christianity is founded upon it and human history is divided by it.  This year on April 8, 2012, Christians around the world from every nation, race and tongue will celebrate Easter Sunday commemorating this singular event.

As Easter approaches the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foremost in the thoughts of the faithful and those not so faithful.  Undoubtedly critics will arise.  Enemies of the faith point to the miracles declared in the Bible as evidence that it is filled with myths and fairy tales.  The Scriptures, they say, cannot be trusted or believed.

Of those miracles recorded in Holy Writ probably the hardest to believe is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To most, the idea that a dead man can live again seems incredible.  But this truth is central to the Christian creed, and, indeed, Christianity stands or falls on its historical authenticity.  So, what happened almost two thousand years ago?

I have maintained there is a difference in faith and blind faith.  Are Christians called to blindly believe in the Resurrection?  Where is the evidence for it?  While faith will always be a necessary ingredient in the life of every believer, we have not been left totally in the dark.  The evidence of the Resurrection can be clearly seen in the lives of the disciples, and the faith that was founded on their eyewitness accounts.

Anticipating that the disciples would attempt to steal the body of Christ and fake his resurrection, the Sanhedrin requested the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to place a Roman seal on the tomb of Christ and to post a Roman guard to prevent the theft of the body.  Pilate agreed.

The following statement is a loose adaptation from the words of Scottish theologian Dr. Principal Hill.

If you do not believe Christ rose from the dead you must believe the following.  That a handful of fishermen, one ex-tax collector, and some unemployed fellow followers, who were born to a lower class and had no inside connections, who were overcome by grief at the death of their teacher, and whose hopes that He was the Messiah had been shattered when He was crucified, and were afraid of being arrested, regained their composure, formulated a plan, and within three days executed it so well, they completely outwitted the Jewish and Roman authorities, caught unawares and over-powered a fully armed Roman detail superior in number, and did it under cover of darkness without raising an alarm or awakening a single citizen in overcrowded Jerusalem.  They hid the body of Christ so well it was never discovered.  These same men then proceed to preach this lie of the Resurrection of Christ without ever profiting from it and, in fact, they were disinherited, pilloried, and persecuted, so they could trick the world into being good and honest.  Each was eventually martyred, and not one attempted to save himself by revealing the truth.  You must believe they suffered ridicule, beatings, persecutions, and death for what they knew to be a lie.  If you can believe that then you should not have any problem believing in miracles.

History is inundated with accounts of those who have died for what they believed.  But those who sacrificed their lives for the things they believed did so believing them to be true.  I am not aware of a single instance in the history of mankind in which someone died for what he knew to be false.  If, as some say, the disciples stole the body of Christ and hid it, is it reasonable to believe they gave the remainder of their lives to suffer privations, persecutions and death knowing that the Resurrection was a lie?

What did Peter see that transformed him from the fearful follower who had denied Christ three times, to the man who, when standing before the same Sanhedrin that had condemned Christ, declared, “We must obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross…we are witnesses of these things (Acts 5:29-32).”  How could Peter fear death when he had spoken with the One who had conquered it?  No, ours is not a blind faith.

 

Save All You Can

It is picturesque, even idyllic.  It is the highest peak in the Corbieres mountain range.  And the Corbieres Mountains are the foothills to the Pyrenees Range that forms the geological barrier between France and Spain.  This summit that rises from the Southern French countryside is called Pic de Bugarach, the “Bugarag Heights.”

As beautiful as the mountain is, it is also a geographically oddity.  Rock samples from its peak appear to be older than those taken closer to the foot of the mountain, hence its nickname the “upside-down mountain.”  Geologists believe the mountain was a volcano that blew its top that while airborne flipped and landed back on the top of itself.  This would explain the older rock samples being on top of younger samples.

This geographical oddity has given rise to a strange following.  About 20,000 New Age believers are camped at the mountain’s base.  They believe the mountain’s geographical makeup is the ideal home to a host of aliens that reside in a spaceship in the mountain.  They believe that just before the supposed Mayan Doomsday predicted to be December 21 this year, the aliens will emerge to rescue these believers and whisk them away to some safer far-flung corner of the universe.

They have other followers who may join them before the fateful day swelling their numbers to around 100,000.  This made me wonder just how big that spaceship is and if the aliens have any reservations left.  I may seem to be poking fun at these New Age folks, but that may hide the serious and tragic events that can be spawned by such misguided hope.

You may recall that one man who embraced Harold Camping’s predictions spent his life savings advertising the end of times on the side of buses in New York City.  He is still here and broke.  But his experience highlights the sad consequences that followed misguided predictions.  The English writer G. K. Chesterton is purported to have remarked, “It has often been supposed that when people stop believing in God, they believe in nothing.  Alas, it is worse than that.  When people stop believing in God they will believe in anything.”

Many of the world’s current events seem to be a fulfillment of Christ’s predictions in the first few verses of Matthew’s twenty-fourth chapter.  These descriptions are characterized by Christ as “the beginning of birth pangs.”

Before I go further, I think an explanation of prophecy should be made.  I believe prophecy is an admixture of some things God has predestined and some things God foresees.  I believe the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew is a good example.  The proliferation of false Christs and prophets, wars and rumors of wars, and famines and earthquakes in various locations around the world have been foreseen by God.  As people increasingly turn from God is seems clear they will turn on one another, and become increasingly prey to deception.  Famines will surely result from competition and conflict over dwindling food resources.

As things worsen on the world scene, many will cast about searching for any prospect of hope like a drowning man struggling to be rescued.  They forsake the truth of the Scriptures to indiscriminately embrace any false offer of hope.  As times grow difficult their desperation will increase.

Surprisingly, I am not disturbed or depressed as human history inexorably approaches the culmination of this age.  I am at peace with whatever God’s will brings knowing it will provide an unprecedented opportunity to share the true hope offered in Christ.  D. L. Moody once explained his passion to reach the lost by saying he viewed the earth as a shipwrecked vessel and God had given him in the Gospel a lifeboat and this imperative, “Moody, save all you can.”

As the storm clouds gather, let those of us who believe prepare for the harvest to come.  Let us focus not on becoming comfortable in this world, because this world is not our home, “but according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).”

And, as the Lord tarries, save all you can.

 

The Primitive Mind

Not all scientists are disbelievers, but many are.  If you are an anthropologist or a sociologist and you do not believe in God, then you need to formulate an explanation for the observable phenomena of religion.  That explanation goes like this, more or less, primitive man developed a belief system to explain what he observed in nature and did not understand.  And all modern religions evolved from this or a similar belief system predicated on ignorance.

Scientists seem to suffer from this mindset as well.  The more they learn about the universe seems to pose more questions about what they have yet to learn.  It seems that our ignorance grows exponentially with the acquisition of knowledge.  Consider what Sir Isaac Newton said in his day, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me.”  The more we learn, the more we need to discover

I have been doing some research for a two-day seminar entitled Faith and Science: Do They Contradict?  My research into inorganic evolution (how the universe and earth began and were formed et cetera) led to some interesting statements.

One of those came from Lawrence Krauss professor of physics at Arizona State University.  Krauss is an award-winning theoretical physicist and has written a book entitled A Universe from Nothing sharing his cosmological theories.  Krauss is also opposed to the Christian cosmology of Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is the view that the universe is replete with observable order and purpose inferring a Designer.  In the same way a watch infers a watchmaker, the detailed complexity and delicately balanced sequencing of DNA implies an Intelligent Designer.  This explanation is rejected by Krauss.

This is odd because of something Krauss said during the filming of How the Universe Works: Big Bang.  Regarding the beginning of the universe he says, “In that moment of creation, the shape and structure and size of the universe were decided.”  The use of the word “creation” is not unusual because it can be used in a sense that has no divine connotations, but when he says the shape, structure and size of the universe were “decided” that is not consistent with opposition to Intelligent Design.

Krauss would probably say it was a slip of the tongue, or he did not mean it to be used in the sense of inferring some form of deity or supernatural intelligence, and I would not want the discussion of the origin of the universe to devolve into a debate of semantics.  But it is interesting that when scientists try to explain the unexplainable they seem to unwittingly personify the event.  Actually, when you consider the significance and scope of the Big Bang, saying something was “decided” implies more than a personification, it apotheosizes the event.

This sort of Freudian slip or parapraxis is common when scientists speak about things they have not observed or cannot explain.  They unconsciously tend to deify the event.  Paul writes, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise they became fools (Romans 1:21-22).”  Are such statements an unconscious recognition of the Creator, an Intelligent Designer?

If you listen carefully when scientists talk about the unobserved past they make these sort of comments repeatedly and I am sure they would argue they are no indication of a belief in God, but Paul speaks yet again “that which is known about God is evident within them: for God made it evident to them (Romans 1:19).”  Paul would say they are “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).”

Paul is clear when he states that the disavowal of God is a suppression of the truth.  Scientists may deny the God of nature, but they cannot deny that they do not speak of Nature as if it is a god.  Despite the knowledge they have amassed and the technological advancements they have made, they cannot escape that primitive mindset.