The worst enemy

The late Chuck Colson was President Nixon’s counsel during the Watergate affair. He was an honors graduate of Brown University and George Washington Law School.  He’d been a captain in the Marine Corps. He had his own law firm. 

Early in his career, Colson had been proud of his personal ethics, and would go to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. He was “absolutely certain that no one could corrupt me.” 

But he became famous as the “Hatchet Man” and the “evil genius” of the Nixon Administration. He once bragged, “I would walk over my own grandmother,” to get Nixon re-elected in 1972.

While Colson was facing charges for his role in the Watergate affair, a friend gave him a copy of the book Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, and he became a Christian.  When he announced that he’d been “born again” the political pundits howled.

Colson had relearned the ancient truth that our culture has rejected—the Christian doctrine of sin. The problem is not that some of us are good and some of us are bad.  The problem is that all of us are sinners. It’s just that in some of us, the seeds of evil haven’t yet been watered. 

Colson said, “I had a self-righteousness about me. Self-righteousness is the worst enemy of all because you can’t see your own sins. I ended up going to prison because of that.”

Colson realized that he was exactly like the other prisoners. People he would have never had anything to do with before were now his brothers. 

Colson once visited a prison in Brazil that was run on Christian principles. The recidivism rate was only 4%, compared with 75% in the rest of the country. Colson was wondering how this was possible when his inmate guide took him to the cell once used for torture. The man said the cell block only had a single inmate. As they reached the cell, the inmate asked Colson if he was sure he wanted to go in. 

“Of course,” he said. “I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.”

So the man swung open the door. The only prisoner was a crucifix which had been carved by the inmates. The prisoner was Jesus hanging on a cross.

“He’s doing time for the rest of us,” the guide said.

The great cardiologist

I visited my cardiologist this week to follow up on the three stents he put in last month. The first thing he asked was, “How do you feel? Do you have more energy?”

I told him I felt the same as before. When he seemed surprised, I reminded him that I’d never had chest pains or shortness of breath. It was family history that led me to insist on getting my heart checked.

But the arteries in my heart had been eighty to ninety percent blocked, he said. I had to notice the difference.

But he had also put me on three new meds. Wouldn’t those cause drowsiness, I asked? He allowed that could be so.

But then he lowered the boom.

“You’re sedentary,” he said. “That’s why you didn’t notice the difference.”


I’d thought of myself as active. I walk around downtown (some). I do yard work, shovel snow. It turned out that I was an example of the topic of this week’s sermon: the universal, unlimited human capacity for self-deception.

First Samuel 15 is part of the great case study of Saul, the first king of ancient Israel. Saul was a decent guy; tall, good-looking. He had no ambitions to be king. In fact, when the Prophet Samuel anointed him, all Saul was interested in was finding his father’s lost donkeys. On the day his kingship was announced, they found him hiding among the baggage.

Saul was one of us.

At first, he deceived himself into thinking he was less than he was.

But it wasn’t long before he deceived himself into thinking he was greater than he was.

And God lowered the boom.

The good news is there is someone who looks right into our hearts, sees us just as we are, and loves us anyway.

The only one who can cure a self-deceived heart is the Great Cardiologist, Jesus Christ.

Cold warrior


After I graduated from the Air Force Academy, I spent the next two years learning to fly. I learned to navigate and then to defend the plane against enemy air defenses. I learned the systems of the B-52 and how to employ nuclear weapons.

Being a cold warrior meant spending every third week or so on alert, living in an alert facility, ready, when the klaxon sounded, to run to a bomber loaded and cocked at the end of the runway. It was my job to help decode the launch message. If the President ordered, we would take off, fly to the other side of the world, and unleash the greatest destructive power the world had ever seen.

I went on to assignments in reconnaissance, intelligence, and flight test, but the Soviet Union was always the focus. I spent years studying its weapons and tactics, strategy and ideology.

When the Berlin Wall fell, I felt I had helped win the Cold War.

So now, the Russian attack on Ukraine seems like an old nightmare.

But here’s the thing. In the Cold War it was clear who the enemy was. But every one of us faces a deadly threat that we’re mostly unaware of.

All conflict can be traced back to the story of the first murder in Genesis 4.

Cain was angry that the Lord had “not looked with favor” on his offering. 

God said, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, but you must master it.”

This foundational story of the Judeo-Christian tradition identifies sin as a predator, crouching, unseen, and deadly.

The horrific scenes coming out of Ukraine make clear the consequences when sin comes out of hiding and moves on a massive scale.

But notice that God was on alert for Cain’s simple anger. God’s first question outside the Garden of Eden was, “Why are you angry?”

So, before our anger goes from cold to hot, and the destruction widens, we need to ask that question of ourselves.

Safe place

“The safest place to be is at the center of God’s will.”

We’ve been talking here lately about “Clichés we love,” and that cliché is one of the most popular.

The words are often traced to a book called The Hiding Place, the memoir of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker during World War II. Corrie and her sister Betsie hid Jews from the Nazis in their home as part of the underground resistance movement.

One night, as an air battle raged overhead, Corrie couldn’t sleep. She heard Betsie in the kitchen and joined her for tea. Then a nearby explosion rattled the house. When the battle was over, Corrie went back to bed in the dark. She cut her hand on a jagged, ten-inch piece of shrapnel that was on her pillow. Frightened, Corrie ran to show it to Betsie. She started to say, “Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen….”

But Betsie interrupted. She said, “Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety—Oh Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it.”

Corrie and Betsie knew their Bibles. They knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people. They believed that it was God’s will that they should protect them.

In 1944, the Nazis raided their home, and Corrie, Betsie, and their father were arrested. Only Corrie survived the Nazi prisons.

So what does it mean to be safe in God’s will?

For thirty years, our church has supported church planting efforts in Ukraine.  Members of our church’s mission team visited there in 2018 and got to know the pastors of churches near Kyiv. Our mission team has continued to support them with prayer, instruction, and monetary gifts. As I write this, those pastors are driving people to relative safety from Russian aggression, then turning around and heading back into danger to rescue more.

Like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, they’re at the center of God’s will.