Tag Archives: Charles Colson

Taking a hold of Jesus because He took a hold of us

In chapter 22 of Loving God, Charles Colson tells of an obscure saint, Myrtie Howell, who was 91 and confined to a wheelchair in an old folk’s home.  She had lost most her loved ones and had reached the end of herself and her emotional resources.  Myrtie cried out to God  and said “What more can I do for You?  Take me, I’m ready to die.”  As clear as a bell, God spoke to her heart, telling her to write to prisoners.  That she did, and began corresponding with hundreds of incarcerated men and women around the country.  She found true joy, as did her pen pals as she shared the love of Jesus with them.

She was probably in her late 80’s when she asked the question that we all need to ask God NOW.  That questions is “God, what do You want to do with my life?”  “How do I take a hold of the very reason and purpose that you saved me and created me for?”  Myrtie was at the end of herself, old and abandoned with no props to keep her distracted from keeping on living without finding that purpose that God gave her.

The whole purpose driven life idea shouldn’t be that we come up with a purpose for our lives, or find purpose in our jobs and family and hobbies and try to make something out of them.  The idea is that we ask God what His purpose for us is.  Then we wait and listen for the answer and finally–we set about doing it.

In Galatians 2:19 Paul wrote: “I died to the law so that I might live for Christ.”  We died to self so that we could live for Christ.  That is why He saved us according to Ephesians 2:10 “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do.”

We are busy, all of us.  Busier by the minute.  What if we asked God what He wanted us to be busy about?  And then we listened for His answer and then we did it?  Did you know that you can hear God’s voice if you listen for it?

He speaks primarily through the Bible.  He tells us who He is and where we came from and where we’re going.  But another way that He speaks is when we’re reading the Bible, the Holy Spirit engages with us in a way that doesn’t happen when we’re not in the Word.  That’s what gives us a spiritual appetite.  I’m convinced that’s why most Christians are arm chair quarterbacks, not using their gifts or engaged in their Father’s business.  They’re not reading the Bible and meditating on it at all or at best, infrequently.  They have no desire for gathering with fellow believers and if they do serve in some capacity it is a duty and not a joy.  Or, when they do, it is mostly without fruit.

God also speaks to our spirits.  Romans 8 talks about the Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are His children.  God speaks through an inaudible voice, through other people at times, through dreams, promptings and through placing thoughts in our minds that didn’t come from us.  We need to stop and listen to His voice.

Myrtie truly began living for Christ when she called out to Him, heard His command to write to prisoners and then did it.

Now it’s our turn.

Taking a Stand

Charles Colson tells the story of a judge, Bill Bontrager, who becomes a Christian and sees justice and mercy from an entirely different lens that radically altered his life.  He took a stand for a young man who had committed crimes, but now needed a chance to make a new way of life.  In the process, he lost his judgeship and his reputation.  People who knew Bontrager described his situation by saying

“well, he’s just gone radical, that’s all.”

Hmmm.  I’ve thought this thought too many times before.  What would it look like for me if I “went radical?”  What would it look like for our church, or our nation if a large number of Christians “went radical?”  Colson mentions guys who brought about social change, like William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Colson wrote about contra mundrum–against the world.  His time in prison made him see the world through the eyes of the powerless, he wrote on pg. 171.  “God views society not through the princes of power, but through the eyes of the sick and needy, the oppressed and the downtrodden.”

Would going radical mean stepping away from the podium of power and pursuing downward mobility instead of upward mobility?  Would we spend ourselves on the poor, as Isaiah 58 calls for, and begin to  better identify with the outcasts and not the movers and shakers?  Would I sit by a loner who smells and not with my friends?

Think of “powerful” people that you know, ones right around you.  Are they powerful because they have money, sports talent, good looks or a charismatic personality?  Do they hold a position of influence?  Jesus announced to Pilot “My kingdom is not of this world,” and in doing so, took the stinger out of the bee.  He didn’t cow down to their social games and influence, demonstrating to His disciples and to us that that’s how we should be: understanding that we are aliens and strangers and having an eye on a heavenly city.  That’s when we find real power, like what the Apostles found in the book of Acts.  They announced they would obey God and not man and would die for it, and the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong that when believers got together and prayed the building shook.  Now that’s power!

Colson wrote on pg. 172

  “The Christian who breaks radically with the power of the world is far from powerless–another kingdom paradox…If we would love God, we must love His justice and act upon it.  We surrender the illusion of power and find it replaced by True Power.”

How do we break radically from the power of the world and of our culture?

There’s a song that runs through my head occasionally, “You don’t own me.”  Money, possessions, social games and status–you don’t own me.  Jesus does.  My kingdom is not of this world.  I should identify more with the poor and oppressed and not those who will make me look better because I’m with them.

I’m reading a book right now called The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn.  He writes of how Jesus calls us away from earthly treasures, which are fleeting to heavenly treasures, which are eternal.  I’m just scratching the surface of what he’s encouraging, and want to sink deep into it enough to really change me.  Alcorn writes on pg. 19,

  “The money God entrusts to us here on earth is eternal investment capital.  Every day is an opportunity to buy up more shares in His kingdom.  You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”

Radically breaking with the power of this world has to do with breaking from the hold that money, possessions and financial security has on us.  It means spending our money on entirely different things than what the world does.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3 that what he once considered gain, he know counts as loss.  All of his accomplishments and things that brought him self esteem were now like a pile of dung to him in the face of kingdom things.

I don’t know why missionaries have to be our only role models when it comes to being radical.  Why can’t we do it here by spending our time on the same kind of people Jesus spent his time with, and our money, and our resources?  I don’t need to move to another place, I just need to put my eyes and heart in a different place.  That’s taking a stand and making a statement to the world “You don’t own me.  Jesus does.”

Losing and Gaining

These thoughts are from the book Loving God,  (Charles Colson, 1983) and its accompanying study guide.  It is interesting thatColson wrote this book in 1983 and he began by describing our culture as self absorbed and isolated, with even Christians caught up in a “what’s in it for me” kind of faith.  How much more so does that ring true 20 years later, without us even realizing it!  Colson told of how he was grappling for a faith that was more concerned with how to put more into his faith as opposed to how to get more out of it.

In his early faith journey,  Charles asked people what they thought it meant to love God.  No one seemed to have a distinct answer, and while some stammered and fumbled with an answer, others defined what it meant by measuring church attendance or tithing.  Many explained loving God as a feeling in their hearts, “as if it were something akin to a romantic encounter” (pg. 15).  Colson turned to a lecture series on the holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, which was what God used to open his eyes to God’s absolute holiness, the majesty of God and God’s  call to discipleship.

On pg. 16, Colson commented on what Lenin did for Marx, publishing a book What is to Be Done? in which he spelled out the absolute of action to take Marx’s theories and apply them to life.  Turning to individual Christians and the church he asked “What would happen if we were actually to apply God’s truth for the glory of His kingdom?”  Good question…

Later, on pg. 24-25, Charles told of his prison experience as a result of Watergate, and wrote “My life of success was not what made this morning so glorious–all of my achievements meant nothing in God’s economy.  No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure–that I was an ex-convict.  My greatest humiliation–being sent to prison–was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life.  He chose the one experience in which I could not glory for His glory.”

He continues, “It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us.  God doesn’t want our success.  He wants us.  He doesn’t demand our achievements.  He demands our obedience.”    Can you picture that in a graduation speech?

I try to cover up my failures and run from them, and God does the opposite–He uses them.  Wouldn’t He be more glorified by me not messing up or being inadequate?  Apparently not.  He uses our weakness, and picks the things we can’t glory in for His upside down kingdom–one where victory comes through defeat, gaining our lives through losing them, being first by being last, finding self by losing self…

In Judges 7:2 God told Gideon why He wanted the Israelite army trimmed from 30,000 to 300: “In order that Israel may not boast and say that her own strength saved her.”  Oh, we may not say that, but we think it and rely on it, until God uses a prison experience to radically change and turn our lives upside down.  We fight so desperately to keep it right side up!

Colson didn’t set a year goal or a five year goal to have his life radically changed by being sent to prison.  Nor can we, because that is God’s business to ordain.  Our job is to give Him our hearts, minds and souls.  To seek His kingdom first, to obey and apply and give up our lives to find them in the end all for the sake of Jesus.

 David Platt wrote in his book Radical:  “We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves vs. abandoning ourselves.  In direct contrast to the American dream, God actually exalts in our inability.  He intentionally puts us in situations where we come face to face with our need for Him…We can dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really obeyed Him, rather than twisting Jesus into a version we’re comfortable with–one that doesn’t mind materialism, who wants us to be balanced and avoid dangerous extremes.”

May we pray with Paul in Philippians 3:10-12 “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, becoming like Him in His death and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  I press on to take a hold of that for which Christ Jesus took a hold of me.”