The Good Life (Part 1) - Chuck Colson
Does it seem to you that people today appear interested in spiritual things, but when you start talking about authentic biblical Christianity, they tune you out?
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The Good Life
Day 1 of 2
Guest: Chuck Colson
From the Series: Coming to Grips With Grace
Bob: Does it seem to you that people today appear interested in spiritual things, but when you start talking about authentic biblical Christianity, they tune you out? Here's Chuck Colson.
Chuck: We live in a time what's called "post-modernism," which means there is no truth, everything is relative, so there's no standards, no yardsticks, nothing to measure your life by, and what I'm saying to people is, "Yeah, that's where the secular world is." And if we hit them with a Bible, they're going to turn away. They're just going to say, "Here comes one of these people preaching at us. This is the Bible Belt." But if you start talking to them about the meaning of their lives and where they're going to find fulfillment in life, you can engage them.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 29th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk about how to engage the culture in a spiritual conversation with our guest, Chuck Colson, today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, it's not often when somebody comes to faith in Christ that it makes national news headlines. But I remember back when I was – I guess I was in high school or in college when the news came that Chuck Colson had found Christ, and the reason I remember it is because, honestly, if I'm telling the truth, I was kind of cynical about the whole thing, and I thought, "Oh, yeah, I bet he found Christ." You know, the guy is trying to get out of a prison term, and he thinks maybe religion will help him out a little bit with that. Did you think – do you remember hearing about it?
Dennis: I do. And, frankly, I remember having some of those same thoughts, and he joins us on the broadcast. It was the real deal. Chuck, I’m glad it wasn't a fake.
Chuck: Thirty-two years ago, if it was a fake, I've certainly maintained it over these years. But you guys weren't alone. I mean, 90 percent of the world believed I was just looking for sympathy.
Bob: Well, and Larry King has said to you – he has been impressed by – he's been witnessed to by the fact that you persevered in your faith.
Chuck: Every time I have an interview with Larry King over the years, and I've had many of them, he would say, "You know, I just am so impressed. You keep doing this." And a number of the secular interviewers will say, "You're really doing something with your life that I should have been doing in my life." Dan Rather said that to me this past spring.
So maybe that's the witness, and when you say publicity, goodness, most of our listeners won't remember Eric Sevareid or Walter Cronkite, but they devoted almost an entire broadcast on CBS News to my conversion. It was bigger news than Watergate, because it was so improbable. "The Boston Globe" said "If Mr. Colson can find God and be forgiven, there is hope for everybody."
Dennis: And there is.
Chuck: And there is. My life proves that.
Dennis: There really is. You write in your book, you just released a new book called "The Good Life." You mentioned that this book is like looking in a rearview mirror.
Chuck: Yeah, it is.
Dennis: And you're looking back over how you describe a tumultuous life. You know, if you would have said that to me 25 years ago, Chuck, I'd have said, "Well, yeah, maybe you, because of where you came from, being with Nixon in the White House and going to prison and all the fallout of making national news with a crime," but you know what? Now, being 57 years old, I understand what you mean. Life is tumultuous and looking back over it, we can live a good life if we have our hope in the right place.
Chuck: Yes, it's true. Everybody thinks that you can go through life, and it's a breeze. People who haven't had a major crisis in life, people who haven't fallen on their face, just have to wait for their turn, because it will happen. You think you've got life all together, the world rolls over on top of you.
But I've tried to write this book – you're quite right – looking at my life through the rearview mirror. I'm 73 years old. You learn a lot; you learn a lot from your own experiences; you learn from your own failures, which I've had my share, certainly; and you learn from the lessons of other people's lives. And so "Born Again" was written prospectively. I told the story of my conversion, coming out of politics, coming to Christ, going to prison, and that was sort of a forward look at a new life in Christ.
Now, 32 years later, let's look back and see what really happened – what worked out, what didn't work out. And I wrote this basically – I think you fellows know, I wrote it principally for seekers. People today are searching for questions about meaning and purpose and what is life all about and how do I find my fulfillment and why am I here and what's my purpose, what am I going to do with my life? So I wrote this, hopefully, because my life has been such a rollercoaster, up and down, that people would look at my life and then learn some of the lessons that I've learned, and it leads you to only one place, as all of us know.
Bob: Well, it's interesting, because as I started reading through this book, I had the thought this is your Ecclesiastes.
Chuck: Yes, it is – vanity, vanity and striving after the wind, precisely.
Bob: All of life is that until you come to the end, and you say if there is no faith, if there is no hope, then there is nothing.
Chuck: Yes, the last words of Ecclesiastes capture it all.
Dennis: They really do. There is a scene that I think really sets the stage for your book, and 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 were near some bay or some sound …
Chuck: Hope Sound in Florida, which is one of the watering spots for the truly rich and famous and wealthy from all over the world. And 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, and she put a tent out, and she had a 5:00 party, and everybody came in their white dinner jackets and long gowns, because we were heading off to different parties for the evening, and 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, and 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 what 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, and 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, and Mr. Colson will stay and answer questions." And I had a stream of people, and my wife did as well – and 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 – times 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. And I showed some examples of that in the book. So one of the biggest myths I want to get rid of is that the purpose of life is to make money and be successful and be powerful.
I tell the story of Dennis Kozlowski who was recently convicted in the Tyco scandal. A poor kid growing up in Newark, New Jersey; 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 dealing the employees blind and ends up with a $2.2 million party for his trophy wife in Sardinia with [inaudible] 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. So 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, and his working office in the Executive Office Building, and 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.
And 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 my office waiting for me, and he's toasting me with all of the results coming in and talking about the fact that I'd made his presidency, and I can do anything I want from 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.
So I really had life made, and the next morning I woke up feeling miserable, and 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, and here I am, and what's it all about? I had this incredible period of emptiness.
And 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. And Tom Phillips, the president, just seemed so different. He was calm, and he was peaceful, and 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, and 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?
Chuck: Oh, no. I'd been in church twice a year, if that. And would say I was a Christian because I grew up an American, it's a Christian country, and I wasn't Jewish, so I must be a Christian. I had no idea what a Christian was, no clue.
And he said, "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.
And 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, and he witnessed to me; told me what had happened to him; told me his story – an amazing story. And he also read to me a chapter out of C.S. Lewis's book, "Mere Christianity," about the great sin – pride – and it was me Lewis was writing about, and 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. And I didn't give in, he wanted to pray with me, and 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.
Chuck: That's right, and I went out to get into my automobile and start to drive away and got about 100 yards 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." And that was the night that Jesus came into my life and 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, and then I saw a mission in life, and, 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, and 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, and 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." And that's what I write it in here – basically what I've discovered life is all about.
And I think what we Christians have to do today – I think it's really a difficult period, because we live in a time what's called "post-modernism," which means there is no truth, everything is relative, so there's no standards, no yardsticks, nothing to measure your life by, and what I'm saying to people is, "Yeah, that's where the secular world is." And if we hit them with a Bible, they're going to turn away. They're just going to say, "Here comes one of these people preaching at us. This is the Bible Belt." But if you start talking to them about the meaning of their lives and where they're going to find fulfillment in life, you can engage them.
Bob: Well, and we can be seduced, as believers, by the cultural message, which says, "You will find meaning and purpose and fulfillment" – I think materialism is the greatest seductress of our day, don't you?
Chuck: Absolutely, and it gets into the church. It's almost impossible for it not to affect Christians, because you can't turn on a radio, look at a billboard, go to a movie, even if you took PG movies, you're still going to get it. And you'll get it in college, in schools, where relativism is being taught, naturalism is being taught in all the public schools in America. So we Christians absorb all this stuff, and then we kind of give it a little bit of a holy varnish by saying, "Well, we're really Christians, and Sunday morning, at least, I'm going to be devoted to Christ." So we get affected by this. Yeah, we've got to look at ourselves and our values.
Dennis: Chuck, there's a scene that you paint vividly in your book of you've just been picked up by the federal marshals. You are being taken to this prison that was anything but like the White House, and you describe a peace, a lack of fear.
Now, I have to ask you – was it your newfound faith in Christ that was the basis of you moving toward three years of incarceration?
Chuck: Yes. You go through something like Watergate, where you pick up the newspaper every day and here are these charges made about you and headlines and screaming headlines, people saying outrageous things. You're in the middle of a battle for your life. It just totally absorbs you. It's very hard on the family. And so, all of a sudden, I made the decision, I pled guilty, I got my sentence, I'm going off to prison, and on the ride to the prison I was kind of, well, I'm relieved. It's over. In fact, the first night in prison I slept better than I'd slept at home in months because I knew what I had to do, and I knew what I was going to have to face, and I knew it was going to be tough, but I knew that Jesus would sustain me.
Bob: Even as you recount that, I'm thinking of the paradox that must have been a part of your life. You were a Marine, right?
Bob: The Marine Corps is all about character.
Chuck: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Bob: Chuck Colson in the White House was the antithesis of character.
Chuck: Well, he didn't know it at the time. He thought he was being the embodiment of the Marine Corps character. The Marine Corps character is "Semper Fidelis," "Always Faithful" – "Can Do" – whatever the job is, you're going to do it – it doesn't matter – walk through fire and bullets. So when Nixon would say, "We've made a decision," and there were times when I argued with him, because I thought he was wrong sometimes, but once he made the decision, he was the guy that got elected president, I wasn't. I was there to serve him. I had two choices – obey the order or resign. So if I chose to obey the order and continue to serve him, I ended up doing things now, as I look back on it – for example, what I went to prison for was giving a file, an FBI file about Daniel Ellsberg, who stole the Pentagon Papers, giving it to a reporter. That's a terrible thing to do.
Ironically, that's what Deep Throat did. Now, all these years later, we've discovered it at the same time. But Nixon told me to do that, and I didn't question it. I had friends who were in the Marines who were in Vietnam, I had Jack McCain, the Navy admiral's son, John McCain, was a POW. I figured we've got to stop this guy Ellsberg, or we're going to put American lives at risk. So I did it. For me, the ends justified the means.
Bob: Maybe instead of calling this the Ecclesiastes of Chuck Colson, it's the "Confessions of Chuck Colson."
Chuck: Well, it is that, too.
Bob: Augustin starts with that great statement that "The heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee."
Chuck: "In Thee," yes, and Augustin wrote in his confessions of all the things he had done in his life, and they were many. I mean, all the mistresses he had, and the debauchery that he lived in, and I could identify with Augustin. What he said was his principal sin, however, of course, was stealing the pear off the pear tree of his neighbor. And the reason it was his principal sin and the most convicting one is he didn't need the pear, because he had his own.
So what he said is the heart is desperately wicked, because we enjoy sin. That was the powerful thing about Augustin, and that's the powerful thing I've realized, and that's why I say in this book, you cannot live the good life until you recognize the evil within yourself. The good life is impossible without recognizing evil in yourself.
Dennis: Yes, and it's all centered around who God is, and that we must live our lives and not only who He is but that we will give an account someday. In fact, we've been talking about your Ecclesiastical book here, let's read the last couple of verses from the real Ecclesiastes – "The conclusion, when all has been heard is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person." And then the way the book concludes is chilling, "because God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."
And the undeniable truth is we have been made in the image of God. We are spiritual creatures, and I really pray, Chuck, that God breathes his favor upon this book, and I just wanted to say, too, at the conclusion of this broadcast, thank you for being faithful. I am 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 and, personally, I'm 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, so I do what I do out of gratitude to God for what He has done for me.
Bob: Yes, and because you have shared with many through the years about what Christ has done for you in your books – in "Born Again," in "Loving God," "Kingdoms in Conflict," and now this new book, "The Good Life." You have pointed people to Christ through your life and through what you've written.
We've got copies of your new book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and as with all of your books, it is provocative, it's challenging, and it's the kind of book that someone could pass along to somebody who doesn't know Christ. You can go to our website at FamilyLife.com if you're interested in getting a copy of the book. Click the button at the bottom of the screen that says, "Go," and that will take you right to the page where you can get more information about Chuck Colson's book, "The Good Life," and other resources available from us here at FamilyLife.
In fact, a book that was influential in your life, you mentioned "Mere Christianity," by C.S. Lewis, we've got that in our FamilyLife Resource Center as well. And if any of our listeners want to get both your book and "Mere Christianity," we'll send them a copy of the audio CD of our conversation together at no additional cost.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. You click the "Go" button at the bottom of the screen to take you right to the page where you'll get more information about resources. Or you can call 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
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Well, tomorrow we're back with our guest, Chuck Colson. We're going to talk more about how we can engage people in a conversation about what really matters in life and how they can live the good life. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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