An outstanding man died on April 21, 2012. Chuck Colson (born in 1931) was a great author, speaker, and prison reformer.
He had gone from being a high-priced lawyer to senior counsel for President Nixon to an inmate in federal prison, sentenced for Watergate-related crimes.
Before he went to prison, he had a dramatic conversion after a friend gave him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ classic book, Mere Christianity. He describes the transformation Christ made in his life in his book, Born Again, the first of about 30 titles he produced.
I have had the privilege of interviewing Chuck Colson about half a dozen times for Christian radio and television programs. He was always a great and insightful guest.
I remember one of those times in the mid-1990s. As I recall, it was a Saturday night, I got to interview him after he spoke at a conference at the Broward County Convention Center. His assistant told him that there was a crowd waiting for him outside the room where we were doing the interview. But he told Mr. Colson he knew a way the two of them could escape through a back exit.
It was late. Colson had just given a long public speech, then he had to endure a TV interview with me. One could easily see how he would have chosen to simply slip away with his aide.
But Colson preferred to go meet with the crowd to talk with them. He was a very nice man—the man I got to see on camera and off-camera.
Having served for seven months, after Chuck Colson got out of prison, he went on to found Prison Fellowship in 1976. This is a ministry that has had tremendous impact in touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of inmates around the world. The main goal has been to change convicted criminals into godly men and women through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Chuck told me in a 2009 interview that Prison Fellowship is established in 114 countries across the globe. Just in the U.S., it has a presence in more than 1300 prisons. Among many of their activities is providing Christmas gifts each year for the families of incarcerated men and women through the Angel Tree Project.
Chuck Colson did a daily three minute radio commentary on some 1,400 outlets across the country, reaching about eight million listeners a week.
And Colson was the driving force behind the Manhattan Declaration—a statement geared toward uniting Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians to take a stand for life, for marriage, and for religious liberty in a culture that is increasingly hostile to them.
In his book, Loving God, Colson reflected back on his life, “my mind began to drift back in time…to scholarships and honors earned, cases argued and won, great decisions make from lofty government offices. My life had been the perfect success story, the great American dream fulfilled. But all at once I realized that it was not my success God had used to enable me to help those in this prison, or in hundreds of others just like it. My life of success was not what made this morning so glorious—all of my achievements meant nothing in God’s economy” [emphasis his, p. 24].
Colson had begun to learn that God could use his shortcomings more than his accomplishments. He continues, “No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure—that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life. He chose the one experience in which I could not glory for His glory.”
This is a great lesson for all of us. Even we mess things up, if we turn it all over to the Lord, He can use our lives for His glory and others’ good. As has been said so often before, the ability God cares about the most is our availability.
Chuck Colson was a great trophy of the grace of God. Chuck Colson will be missed.