4/23/12

Remembering Chuck Colson

with: Chuck Colson

FamilyLife Today pays tribute to Chuck Colson, a man whose life and ministry, Prison Fellowship, has impacted hundreds of thousands for Christ. Hear Dennis Rainey’s 2005 interview with Colson, the former White House Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon, as he reflects on what really matters in life.  To learn more about this servant of Christ and how you can help continue the legacy he leaves behind, visit ColsonCenter.org.

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Purchase resources mentioned in the program at shop.familylife.com.  References to conferences, resources, or other promotions may be obsolete.

About Chuck Colson:
Chuck Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship, as well as a speaker and author of many books including How Now Shall We Live?, Born Again and The Good Life. In 1991, Mr. Colson started a daily radio broadcast called BreakPoint.
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Bob:   One of our great leaders, an apologist for the Christian faith, a servant of Christ, and a servant of others, Chuck Colson, has gone home to be with the Lord. 

 

Chuck:  I've gotten so convinced of the truth of the biblical worldview, as applied in life, against any other worldview.  I'm convinced if I could argue the case that the biblical worldview is the only one that conforms to reality, that I would win that case—hands down, intellectually—by reason, by arguments, by logic.  But that doesn't get you to God.  As a matter of fact, sometimes the more you know, the tougher it gets.

Bob:   This is a special edition of FamilyLife Today. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we pause to reflect on the life and the legacy of Chuck Colson.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  I guess by now many of our listeners have probably heard the news.  There have been notices in most papers about the death of Chuck Colson.  Of course, most newspapers are printing the news of his death because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal back in the 70s; but most of us, as we reflect back on Chuck Colson’s life, it has less to do with Watergate and more to do with his service to Christ over the last 40 years of his life.

Dennis:  The word that comes to my mind is “redemption”.  Here’s a man who was a lawbreaker; brilliant.  What a phenomenal thinker and a mind.  Chuck Colson had, at the very top of his game in the White House, made some serious moral judgments and mistakes and went to prison for it.  But right before he went to prison, he met the One who ultimately sets the prisoners free, Jesus Christ. 

As a result, he engaged in a different mission.  It wasn’t a mission of power from the White House.  It was a mission from the throne room of God for what God had for Chuck Colson.  One of the curious things, I think, about his life that we can celebrate today is that the TV interviewers, Larry King and Dan Rather—they all marveled.  Here he was—he’d been in the White House; now he’s working with prisoners.  He’s going into prisons—death row—and talking to people who won’t ever see freedom, won’t ever know it, and talking to them about their relationship with Jesus Christ—their eternal destiny and where they’re going to spend all of eternity.

Bob:  Yes.  I remember being cynical about the news of Chuck Colson’s conversion when it first came out in the 70s.  Then, I remember gradually gaining admiration, respect for him.

Dennis:  Oh, my.  Yes.

Bob:  And then in the 80s being very moved by his writing—reading Born Again, Loving God, Kingdoms in Conflict—and really coming to admire and respect how his life was being invested for Christ.

Dennis:  Bob, you and I first interviewed Chuck back in 2005.  I had not met him until then; but that began a relationship with Chuck, very casual, initially—just first interviewing him on the broadcast about The Good Life, a book he’d written.  But we went on to develop a friendship. 

I’ll tell a couple of stories, here at the end of the broadcast, about Chuck; but I knew that getting Chuck Colson to leave south Florida to come to Little Rock, Arkansas—the chances were slim to none.

Bob:  To be on a radio program—just for a day—getting him out of south Florida.

Dennis:  So, now, I can admit.  I played the heaviest card with Chuck I could play.  I said, “Chuck, your daughter Emily has written a really good book about her autistic son that she raised as a single parent.  His name was Max.  The book was Dancing with Max.   I said, “Why don’t you come up; spend a couple of days up here.  We’ll do some broadcasts with Emily on her book; and I’ll feed you my world-famous—one of the best meals you’ll ever eat—my blackened salmon.”  To my surprise, Chuck came.

Bob:  He took the bait.

Dennis:  He took the bait.  He wanted Emily to be on our broadcast and help with the book.  I think that speaks of who he was.  He was a family man.  He really loved Patty.  He loved his children, and he wanted to invest in their lives.  His coming here was a statement about Emily, “I want to do all I can to continue to help her and Max succeed in life.”

Bob:  That first conversation we had with Chuck on FamilyLife Today, around the book The Good Life, really captured what was at the center of his life—how he understood his mission and how he understood what the good life was all about.  I think it’s fitting, today, as we reflect on a life well-lived, to hear some of Chuck’s own reflection on what really matters in life and how your life ought to be prioritized.

[Pre-recorded Message]

Dennis:   There is a scene that I think really sets the stage for your book.  It's early in the book, but it tells the story of how you got together with a group of people and announced your conversion.  You said there was polite applause, and you were near some bay or some sound.  A man—I love the way you described it.  He was leaning back, with a cocktail in his hand.  He basically said, “Mr. Colson, as you can see, all of us here have lived the good life.  We have it all.”  It was evidently people who owned yachts, and three and four homes, around the world.

Chuck:  It was Hope Sound in Florida, which is one of the watering spots for the truly rich, and famous, and wealthy, from all over the world.  This woman was a lovely, beautiful, Christian woman—took her back yard, which looks over the bay—and the bay was full of beautiful, 70-, 80-, 100-foot yachts.  She put a tent out, and she had a           5 o’clock party.  Everybody came in their white dinner jackets and long gowns because they were heading off to different parties for the evening. 

I gave my testimony because she had arranged it this way.  I would give my testimony and then take questions and answers.  I gave my testimony; and most people were looking away, or they had this studied indifference about them.  They didn't want to appear to be affected by it.  All the questions were then about Watergate, Nixon, the presidency, prison. 

Just as it was getting ready to get over—and it was not an easy experience—just as it was about to end, this man, leaning against the tent pole, legs crossed, a cocktail in one hand, looks at me and says, "Mr. Colson, you had this dramatic experience going from the White House to prison; but what are you going to say to the rest of us here?"  He said.  "You can see," and he sweeps his hand, overlooking at the bay, "You can see that we really—we have the good life.  We don't have these kinds of problems." 

I said, "Well, you may not have had them yet.  You will.  If there's anybody here who has really had a life without problems, I'd sure like to talk to him afterwards because everybody has their share of problems.  If you don't now, you will when you're lying on your deathbed and all of these things will have no meaning to you because you know your life is about to end."

It was like letting air out of a bellows.  I mean, they just—whoosh!  You could feel people exhaling.  There wasn't a sound.  Nobody applauded.  The hostess got up and said, "Well, make yourselves comfortable.  Mr. Colson will stay and answer questions."  I had a stream of people, and my wife did as well.  We did a dinner that night—coming up and telling me, "My son is on drugs, and I can't find him," and, "My husband's got four mistresses.  I don't know how to deal with it."  I mean, it was just a never-ending series of problems.

There was one study, I cite in the book, finds that—empirically, finds that people can become content and happy in a middle-class lifestyle.  Money in excess of that doesn't do anything.  It does not increase their happiness by any measure, and very often creates unhappiness.  I showed some examples of that in the book.  One of the biggest myths I want to get rid of is that the purpose of life is—the object of life is to make money, and be successful, and be powerful.

I tell the story of Dennis Kozlowski, who recently was convicted in the Tyco scandal—a poor kid growing up in Newark, New Jersey.  He works his way through school, is a whiz in the company, gets to be CEO at an early age, starts getting million-dollar salaries—multimillion-dollar salaries—and then starts stealing the place blind, and ends up with a $2.2 million party for his trophy-wife in Sardinia, on an island, with nymphets running around the place, and with an ice statue of Michelangelo, pouring out vodka.  And that's the good life?  Nah, he's going to be in prison the rest of his life.

Dennis:  You know, there is a generation of our listeners who really have never heard the story of how you came to faith in Christ.  To set the stage for how this book has come about, how your Ecclesiastes began to be written, take us back to the White House.  You were working for President Nixon—had one of the most prestigious jobs there.  You were a powerful man, an attorney.  You and your wife Patty were raising your family at the time.

Bob:   Were you counsel to the President?  Was that your—

Chuck:  I was Special Counsel to the President, yes; and I was in the office.  As a matter of fact, my office was immediately next to his—his working office in the Executive Office Building.  We were very close.  I was one of the four or five people closest to the President.  I really came up with the strategy for the 1972 campaign, which was a landslide victory for the President—historic landslide victory, as a matter of fact.

When the election was over, that night, as a matter of fact, when the voting was taking place, Nixon had me and Bob Haldeman—just two of us—in his office.  We sat there until 2 in the morning.  Patty and my kids were in the next—my office, waiting for me.  He's toasting me with all of the vote results coming in and talking about the fact that I'd made his presidency, and I can do anything I want in the Cabinet—go practice law—and I'd make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, which I had done before I'd gone to the White House. 

I really had life made.  The next morning, I woke up feeling miserable.  For two or three months, I would sit in my office and look out over the beautiful, manicured lawns of the south lawn of the White House and think about, "Boy, this is pretty good,” you know.  “A grandson of immigrants comes to this country, rises to the top, earns a scholarship to college, and had been a success at everything he'd ever done.  Here I am, and what's it all about?”  I had this incredible period of emptiness. 

Then, I went to Boston one day, after I left the White House.  I went back to my law firm.  I had a meeting with the President of Raytheon, one of the largest corporations in America, because I was once again to be their counsel.  I had been counsel before I went to the White House, and now I was coming back to be counsel again.  Tom Phillips, the President, just seemed so different.  He was calm, and he was peaceful.  We had a great conversation; and he started asking me about me, and my family, and how I was weathering in Watergate.

I said, "Tom, you've changed.  What's happened to you?"  He said, "Yes, I've accepted Jesus Christ and committed my life to Him."  He kind of looked away when he did that, almost like he was embarrassed to say it.  But he shocked me!  I took a firm grip on the bottom of the chair.  I'd never heard anyone say something like that—that boldly.

Dennis:  Now, wait a second.  You hadn't grown up in the church, then?

Chuck:  Oh, no.  I'd been in church twice a year, if that—and would say I was a Christian because I grew up in America—and it is a Christian country—and I wasn't Jewish, so I must be a Christian.  I had no idea what a Christian was—no clue! 

He said to me, "I've given my life to Jesus Christ."  It was shocking words; but over those next several months, I began to think about that conversation, and wonder what he really meant, and why he was so peaceful, and why his personality had changed so dramatically.  So, in the summer of 1973, in the darkest days of Watergate—the world caving in—I went back and spent an evening on his porch of his home, outside of Boston—a hot August night.  He witnessed to me—told me what had happened to him—told me his story—an amazing story! 

He also read to me a chapter out of C.S. Lewis' book, Mere Christianity, about the great sin—the great sin—pride.  It was me—Lewis was writing about.  I realized my life I thought was idealistic—I was trying to do all these things for my family, I was trying to serve my country.  It was all about me, and it was pride.  I didn't give in.  He wanted to pray with me.  He led a prayer; but I didn't.

 

Dennis:  You resisted.

Chuck:  I resisted, sure.  I'm too proud – a big-time Washington lawyer, a friend of the President of the United States.

Dennis:  You didn't want to bow to anybody, huh?

Chuck:  That's right.  I went out to get into my automobile and start to drive away—and got about 100 yards, and quit and had to stop the car—I was crying too hard.  I called out to God.  I said, "Come into my life.  If this is true, I want to know You.  I want to be forgiven."  That was the night that Jesus came into my life.  Nothing has been the same since, and nothing can ever be the same again. 

The world all scoffed, as you guys noted at the beginning of the program; but it was okay.  I persevered, and my faith really sustained me through prison.  Then, I saw a mission in life.  Of course, that's the great paradox.  One of the things I talk about in this book is that everything about life is a paradox.  It's not the way it appears.

We get this idea about what's good in life, but usually what turns out to be best for us is the thing we least expect or maybe don't want.  The greatest thing that ever happened in my life was going to prison.  I've been doing a lot of interviews lately.  People, perhaps have seen it on Deep Throat, which has been a red-hot topic.  Deep Throat never goes away, and so I’ve been on the national media with it. 

I’ve said to every reporter, "Thank God for Watergate.  Thank God for what happened to me.  Because I went through this, I've discovered what life is really all about."  That's what I write in here—basically, what I've discovered life is all about.

Dennis:  You actually said that in a 60 Minutes interview.

Chuck:  I did.  Yes.  (Laughter)

Dennis:  And Mike Wallace—it stunned him that you said that, “Thank God for Watergate.” 

Chuck:  He stopped the interview.  That was on the 20th anniversary of Watergate.  He was sitting on my porch at home.  He brought his camera crew.  Mike and I had been pretty good friends, actually, through the years.  He was sitting there; and I said, “Yes, I thank God for Watergate.”  He just—he was at a loss for words, and they stopped.  When you saw that on the screen, there was a break at that point because he didn’t know how to respond to that.

Dennis:  There was one other scene that you didn’t write about in your book, but I have to wonder if it happened.  That was the scene with your family—where the reality of your choice, your guilty verdict, and the reality of prison came pressing in, and you faced your wife and your children.  Was there a scene like that when you broke emotionally with your family?

Chuck:  Just once, when I broke emotionally.  Yes.  No, we talked about it; and I told the kids.  First, I talked to Patty.  She was really shaken when I made the decision because it meant going to prison, and I got a three-year sentence.  I actually served seven months; but it was a tough deal, and she took it very well.  She’s been a great, strong support.

The kids took it in different ways.  The two boys were dismayed because they passionately believed I was innocent and should fight for it.  The only time I broke down was with my daughter, who is a really sweet, wonderful—then—a sweet, wonderful child—is now a sweet, wonderful woman.

Dennis:  Talking about Emily?

Chuck:  Emily, yes.  I was putting her on a plane, to go back to school; and I said, “I hope I haven’t disappointed you, Emily.”  She turned around and threw her arms around me and said, “I’m proud of you, Daddy.”  That’s a great moment.

Dennis:  Thank you for being faithful.  I’m sure there have been many traps in leadership, since you came to faith, that have been far more significant, maybe, than the one that sent you to prison because they would have brought disrepute to your testimony, and to your character, and who you are as a man. 

Personally, I am glad Bob and I were wrong, back when we heard of your conversion, and that the cynicism that many felt has been disproved by a life well-lived and by someone who is finishing strong.  I just personally want to say, “Thank you,” to you for, not just living the good life, but for following the King faithfully and representing Him exceptionally well.

Chuck:  Well, I thank you very much, Dennis.  Those are kind words.  I have to tell you that I've just been a man doing his duty.  When I think of what my Savior did for me, that night in the driveway, when it became so clear to me that my sins had been forgiven, I would be dead today were it not for that.  I would have suffocated in the stench of my own sin.  I do what I do out of gratitude to God for what He has done for me.

[Studio]

Bob:   Again, that is Chuck Colson from an interview we did with him in 2005, as we reflect today on his home-going, and the fact that not only was his life well-lived, but now his eternity has begun.  He’s home.

Dennis:  I just talked with Howard Hendricks earlier this week, Bob.  It was a late birthday call—he’s 88.  Chuck is enjoying what Prof is longing for right now.  He said, “Dennis, I just want to go to where God is.  I know God’s here now, but I long to see Him as I get older.  I want to see Him face-to-face.” 

Chuck is breathing, as Bill Bright would say, “celestial air”, and enjoying a place where there is no more sin, there is no more struggle with self and selfishness, and other people’s sin.  He’s enjoying and bathing in pure love.  I love what Psalm 116, verse 15 reminds us.  Now this is the truth, folks, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” 

Chuck Colson’s life was precious.  He was a great gift to the Body of Christ.  Rather than talking about his global ministry, here at the end of this broadcast, I want to talk about three things that I’m going to forever remember about Chuck.

First of all, he knew how to have fun.  He came out to the house, while he was here doing the broadcast with Emily; and Emily joined him.  We had dinner together, and I fed him.  He hated to admit it—he really did—you could tell.  Begrudgingly, at the end of the meal—I had fed him my blackened salmon.  He had started the meal bragging about his—I believe it was sea bass that he cooks.  He goes, “I just have to tell you, Dennis.  My sea bass is the best in the world;” but at the end of the meal he goes, “Man!  I hate to admit this.  I really, really do; but this is right up there with it.”  He knew how to have fun.

Secondly, he was a man of incredible encouragement.  When he was here, Bob, he saw The Art of Marriage®.  You created it, and he wanted to see more.  He was so excited about what you’d done, Bob, and what FamilyLife was doing about putting tools in the hands of laymen.  The reason is—he was doing the same thing around his whole character project.

Bob:  That’s where your passion and his passion came together.

Dennis:  Oh, man.  It didn’t collide.  It just melded into one.  He was all about what we’re about here at FamilyLife.

The third thing— even though I just knew him, really from a friendship-standpoint, only briefly—his belief in me as a man.  One of the things I write about in my book, Stepping Up, is how all of us, regardless of our age, need an older man who believes in us.  I’ve had a number of those in my lifetime; and Chuck was a recent addition, in a very special way, who really expressed a personal belief in me. 

In fact, he spent some time with our speakers—back in January—with the speakers who speak at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways.  He came down and invested—I think it may have been the next to last speaking engagement Chuck did.  He had not been feeling well.  He ventured out, though, because we were close by, and spoke to our speakers and invested in our lives. 

The last thing, Bob, in terms of his belief in me—we talked while I was at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC—by phone.  He invited me to come to a meeting he was hosting.  Interestingly, the meeting he invited me to come to was the meeting where he ended up falling ill to this blood clot in his brain that has ultimately taken his life.  He really wanted me to come to that because we wanted to talk about, “How do we get the Body of Christ together on the same page about the institution of marriage, in protecting human life, and religious liberty?” 

He was a good man and a good friend.  I am sorry I wasn’t able to attend that meeting; but I tell you, I’ll always remember my times with Chuck Colson.

Bob:  I hope our listeners will—if they have never read any of Chuck’s writing, a great place to start is the story of his conversion—the book Born Again, which he wrote back in the 70s—or read his book, Loving God.  So many great books that he wrote.  I just encourage you—we encourage you—if you didn’t get to know Chuck before his passing, now is a good time to get to know him.  I think these are books that will still be read 50 and 100 years from now. 

Dennis:  Unquestionably, that’s going to happen.  In fact, just as you were talking, Bob, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if enough people got Born Again and passed it out to a friend, who goes, ‘That was Chuck Colson, that Watergate guy.  What happened to him?  Why did he work with prisoners?’”  Give them that book.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if that became a New York Times best-seller, again?—here, on Chuck’s coronation—the time of his home-going.

Bob:  Well, again, we have interrupted our normal plans for today to remember and reflect on the life and the legacy of Chuck Colson, who has just gone home to be with the Lord. 

 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team for their help in putting today’s program together.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back, again, next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

 

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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