Wise Ted

I suppose you could call this a postscript to yesterday’s Day 21 of our 21-Day Challenge. I thought of this story as I was writing yesterday about our experience ministering to the students at Gordon College. This was a similar trip, taken with a number of pastors and laymen from Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, California, to speak at another Christian college, this time it was Malone College, (now Malone University) in Canton, Ohio.

One of the lay people with us was Ted Wise, an influential figure in the Jesus movement of the early 1970s. Ted is definitely one-of-a-kind. He was led to Christ by the Holy Spirit in a vision on an acid trip. Following which he found a Bible and holed himself up for the next 6 months doing nothing but study it. The uncanny thing about this was, when he showed up at our church a few months after that, here was a man who knew the things of God, but he had been taught completely by the Holy Spirit and the word of God. There were no other influences in his life. On top of that, he was a man with a keen mind and an even keener spirit that manifested the gifts of wisdom and discernment. So when he spoke, his language was completely free of church talk, evangelical talk — anything we would have recognized as “Christian” from our well-documented Christian experiences and ways of talking about them. He spoke truth with a piercing clarity that always went to the heart of an issue, and he rarely held anything back.

So it was that he pierced my evangelical veil on that trip in front of about 200 students in the lounge of a large dormitory. Students were jammed in the “L”-shaped room, sitting on the floor, on the furniture and standing up against the walls. There was a heightened awareness in the air that God was doing something special, and the students were there because they didn’t want to miss it. It was my first opportunity to travel with these men who had taught me the new covenant and I was eager to “try it out.”

We had decided that in our evening meetings which were to run all week, each one of the team members would share his testimony, and then Ray Stedman would speak from the new covenant. Because of the entertainment value of music and it’s ability to break the ice, I was the first one. So after singing a couple songs, I launched into my testimony, and very near the first few sentences, I said, in an attempt to capture the self-righteous nature of my early Christian experience, “I used to be a golden boy.” No sooner did I get that statement out, than a voice came booming from the back of the room, “What do you mean ‘used to be’?” It was Ted Wise. Hey, wait a minute. Aren’t we supposed to be on each other’s side here?

I stood there like the emperor with no clothes. I honestly don’t think I recovered very well. I have no idea what I said after that, but in a way I don’t think it mattered, because what the experience said to everyone was that this wasn’t going to be about us. This was going to be about what we brought them from the Lord, and that would remain when we were gone.

So does this mean we all need a Ted Wise with us wherever we go? No, but there’s something about this that needs to be a part of who we are and what we tell. This kind of relentless honesty needs to be a guard against veiling our insecurities and inadequacies. Ted did the same thing my wife does when she is in the room when I speak. She keeps me honest. We need to figure out how to keep ourselves honest. I think this is what Paul meant when he said he speaks with an awareness that he is standing before the Lord. Remember what happens to the veil when we turn to the Lord.? This is the freedom of ministry in the new covenant.

Frederick Buechner in his book Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, paints an unforgettable picture of a preacher who immediately before standing up to lecture a roomful of distinguished theologians at an ivy league divinity school, cuts his face shaving. Buechner captures beautifully all those feelings of inadequacy, and how the preacher hates what has happened, and yet he knows why it happened, so he will stand up there anyway, and know, as he pulls the cord on the little lamp at the lectern, that he is who he is, and whatever of value that might come from him in the next few moments will come from the Lord. Isn’t that the way we should be all the time?

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

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