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April 24, 2012

Column #1,600

Chuck Colson – “God’s Man”

(first of a two-part series)

By Mike McManus

            “Charles W. Colson, who as a political saboteur for President Richard M. Nixon masterminded some of the dirty tricks that led to the President’s downfall, then emerged from prison to become an important evangelical leader, saying he had been `born again,’ died on Saturday in Falls Church, Va. He was 80.”

            This obituary in the New York Times was accurate, except for the implication that he was born again in prison. Actually, it happened months earlier, making him willing to go from an office in the White House next to the President to the disgrace of prison.

            Ten years later, in his book, “Loving God,” Chuck Colson described his conversion from “the White House `hatchet man’ the  ex-Marine infantry captain” to a man crying when “I was confronted with my own sin – not just Watergate’s dirty tricks but the sin deep within me…It was painful, and I could not escape. I cried out to God and found myself driven irresistibly into His waiting arms.  That was the night I gave my life to Jesus Christ.”

            I confess I was one of the skeptics about his foxhole conversion. But I have known no man who better exemplified the resurrected life than Chuck Colson, whose remarkable career I have covered for three decades. He signed my copy of “Loving God” in 1983.

            He had already created Prison Fellowship, a ministry to fulfill the vision described by Jesus in his first sermon, quoting Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners…”

            It was not easy. When Colson first visited Delaware State Prison he met every man in solitary, and asked to meet with Christian inmates. Only eight showed up, all of whom were lifers.  A few months later two Prison Fellowship staffers with 20 volunteers conducted America’s first in-prison two hour seminar. Within a week 75 met Christ.

            Chuck returned on Easter with many volunteers, judges and state officials who were served breakfast by 100 enthusiastic inmates. One who spoke was Sam Casalvera, who was not the same rebellious convict Chuck had met in solitary. Now he read his poem:

            “I heard you were coming to worship once more/ With souls who were floundering when you came before.

            “We had direction but needed a push./ You made us a promise and also a wish.

            “Your promise was kept – Prison Fellowship you sent./ Whatever I write can’t tell you what it meant./ Some who attended made your wish come true./ they gave their life to Jesus as you did too.”

            Over the years, Colson visited hundreds of prisons to help transform lives. Eric Metaxas, author of “Bonhoffer,” who introduced Chuck to make his last speech, told me that Chuck “embraced his humiliation that took him to the foot of the cross, but spent the rest of his life reaching out to prisoners. This redemption was obvious and authentic.”

            Peter Mahon, a volunteer in Minnesota, was with Colson in 2003 when he conceived the idea of training 100 Centurions a year. “He wanted to devote the time he had remaining to equipping Christians to apply their worldview to all of life. He put out a call on (his radio show) BreakPoint, to those willing to study for year.”

            One of the first Centurions, Becky Powell, a retired teacher, recalls reading a book a month, a daily devotion by T.M. Moore, and attending three, three-day weekend “residencies” at PF’s headquarters in Lansdowne, VA.  Last year she and another volunteer began the first statewide Centurion program in Michigan. “Chuck tried to make a movement. If we can multiply this, we can get a critical mass of people to influence the culture for Christ.”

            In his last sermon, Colson described the Obama Administration’s imposing of a mandate on Christian religious organizations “to provide insurance for things which violate our conscience” such as contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion drugs. He quoted Cardinal Wuerl of Washington calling it “the most serious invasion of the church by government ever.”

            Colson noted that Christians are “seen as wanting to impose our views on people. Don’t let them tell you that. We don’t impose anything. We propose.  We propose an invitation to the wedding feast, to come to a better way of living. It’s the great proposal. We couldn’t impose if we wanted to impose. And we don’t want to impose. In our democracy you can’t.”

            Moments later he collapsed, dying three weeks later.

            Chuck Colson eloquently served his Lord to the very end.

© Copyright 2002 Michael J. McManus

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