I have been blessed to have a number of very significant men invest in my life. Some of them have been world-class, but not well known, but others were highly placed and internationally famous. I marvel at how God has directed my path and arranged for me to know and be influenced by these men. I could write about each of them (and probably will), but this article is about Dr. Richard (Dick) Halverson. Dicks words of encouragement, as well as reproofs plus his thought provoking questions, shaped my life. I was fortunate to have him as a mentor because He was one of the most Christ-Centered men I have ever known. In fact, he has been gone for more than twenty years, and is still influencing me because I am currently re-reading his book, “The Timelessness of Jesus Christ.”
A short bio of Dick will help you understand a bit about the man who had such a tremendous influence on my life. When I first met him in 1964, he was a pastor in Bethesda, Maryland, which is a suburb of Washington D.C. He left the pastorate after 23 years when he was appointed Chaplain of the United States Senate. He held that position from 1981 until a few months before his death in 1995. He authored 15 books and wrote the introduction for “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. That was a good choice because Dick read Oswald every day for sixty years.
There is much that I could share here, but in order to keep this short, I will just give a couple of encounters that dramatically redirected my spiritual journey. Not too long after we met, Dick noticed that I was overly focused on evangelism and discipleship. I had been taught by a Para-church ministry that this is the goal of a Christ-Centered life. Dick helped me to understand that the goal of a Christ-Centered life, is a Christ-Centered life. I was not aware that I was focused on the secondary, but Dick sensed that men rather than God had called me to that focus. Only a person who loves you will speak truth into your life, and Scripture confirms that; “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Pro. 27:6)
Let me relate a conversation we had that illustrates that point. Dick had the gift of discernment and exhortation, and he could be very direct. His preferred method of communication was often a question, which he would answer himself. On this day he said;
“Glenn, your evangelistic agenda is so strong, it prompts me to ask;
Was Jesus an evangelist?” Then he said firmly, “No, He was not an evangelist.
Was He a healer? No, He was not a healer.
Was He a social worker? No, He was not a social worker.
Then he asked a question that I was supposed to answer. “Who was Jesus?”
“He was the son of God, I answered.”
“That’s correct, so as the Son of God what did he think about when He got up in the morning. Did He think, I’m going to bring someone into the Kingdom, or I’m going to heal someone today or I am going to feed people today? No, these were not His focus, His only thought was, what is my Fathers will and His ministry flowed out that.” Then he looked me straight in the eye and said; “Why don’t you try to think, speak, and act like Jesus rather than the founder of an evangelistic ministry? That means you would need to get rid of your agenda and listen to the will of your heavenly Father, moment by moment.”
That encounter caused me to desire a spirit directed life and God has graciously taught me how to walk in the Spirit. Evangelism/discipleship still happens, but it is not my focus, Jesus is.
Dick was normally very encouraging, but as I’ve said, he loved enough to confront as well. On another occasion, we were discussing some minor theological point…Well, maybe it was a debate. I have already said he is the most Christ centered man I’ve ever known and I was debating him. Oh, the foolishness of a young man. He looked at me as if he had just discovered something wonderful about me and said; “Glenn, I think you know more theology than the Apostles knew.” I remember that for a millisecond I actually thought he was affirming my knowledge of Scripture. But then, I realized no, he had just stuck a knife in my gut and twisted it, to let out a little spiritual pride. There wasn’t much conversation after that because what could I say when I had just been devastated by a man I respected so greatly. Again, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Pro. 27:6)
As I was driving away after dropping him at his hotel, I had a series of thoughts out of nowhere that truly stunned me. “I do know more theology than the Apostles knew.” They didn’t have the inspired teaching of Paul about salvation by grace, spiritual gifts, the church epistles, or the Second Coming of Christ. They didn’t have the unfolding of future events from the vision given to an elderly John on the Isle of Patmos. Then reality quickly set in, while they didn’t have Romans, Corinthians, the Revelation, etc., they had something that was more vital and dynamic with Jesus than I had. My salvation wasn’t in doubt, but I began to think about the fact that while I knew more information than they did, they knew Jesus in a way that I had not yet discovered. That produced a longing for intimacy with Jesus that I had only heard about. So I began to constantly think and pray about, how I can achieve that intimacy.
Some months later, I was the speaker at Woodleaf, a Young Life High School camp in northern California. One morning at daybreak, I went up on the hill behind the speaker’s cabin, to prepare for the day. As I was sitting against a tree, a verse jumped into my head. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” and “I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:7-8) At that moment this verse became very personal and very real to me, so like Paul the Apostle, I decided that this was my hearts cry. Then without any previous thought I involuntarily held out my cupped hands, and in a symbolic and metaphorical sense, they contained every doctrinal conviction I had, including the virgin birth, salvation by grace, etc. I lifted my hands to heaven, started to weep, and said out loud; “I will trade all of these for a heart connection with Jesus like the Apostles had.” It seems clear to me now that the Lord took me at my word and began a process that continues until the present.* While not one of my doctrinal convictions changed, this needed to happen so I could move beyond right doctrine and commitment, to intimacy with Jesus.
It would take a book to explain all I learned from him, but the intent of these abridged comments was simply to remember, honor, and publically thank my friend and mentor, Dick Halverson.
*For more details on how God led me to listen to the gospels, read my paper, “Re-Examining the Gospels.”