Charles Colson died earlier today at the age of 80. If you are old enough to have been alive during the Nixon watergate years or if you have read or heard about the history of that time, you know that Colson wasn’t always the worker for God. When he was brought to work in the Whitehouse for Nixon it wasn’t because he was a nice guy. He was a former marine, known for his toughness and his single-mindedness. He was brought in to lead in Nixon’s re-election. When the crimes of watergate began to unfold, Colson was convicted of crimes and received a one to three year sentence in prison. He served for seven months. But before he went to prison and after the Watergate events had taken place, someone gave him a copy of “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. He read it and went to meet with a friend who had recently become a follower of Christ. As he left the man’s house that night he was convicted by God for his sins. After spending time in prayer he started a completely new direction in his life.
When he got out of prison he had found his mission for life. He launched a prison ministry that would change the lives of thousands of people over the next forty years of his life. Colson wrote some thirty books many of which became best sellers in the religious world. When he was first converted to Christ, lots of folks, including me thought it was just a way of trying to get a lighter sentence. It took several years of Colson writing, serving, speaking and doing all kinds of good for the cause of Christ for me to finally become convinced that he was for real. Often his books were on topics that were deeply controversial. He never took a weak side on anything. No matter how people around him thought on matters, he stood strong for what he believed was right. In the process he wrote some of the greatest books on basic matters of Christianity one can read. He has written great doctrinal book in which he described the body of Christ as described in the Bible. He stood like a rock on moral issues such as abortion.
While there were things he said and did that I felt he missed some things but he never seemed to take a position on anything just to get along with others. On this the day that Charles Colson died, I believe he left behind a powerful influence for good and for God. His very conversion shouts the message that the gospel of Christ is powerful enough to bring about the changes needed in any life. Not only his influence personally, but his work in prison ministry that resulted in thousands of people who had been involved in horrible ways of living, to conversion, to being born again and to getting started in a new way of life that thinks of others instead of just self.
Colson was a man with a burden for people in prison. He cared for lots of others, really for all kinds of people that were hurting. But his experience as a prisoner changed his whole life. Think of how many excuses he never was willing to use. He could have claimed that he had been mistreated and didn’t deserve what he got. He could have talked about how awful prison life was and have used that as a reason to never do anything worthwhile with his life. After all he was now a felon. He lost so many great privileges. But he refused to focus on what was lost and looked instead at the people who were lost and needed a savior. He worked to get the gospel of Christ into the prisons for the benefit of all kinds of people.
Can you imagine what people must have been saying to him when he got out of prison and started talking about what he wanted to do with his life? Colson’s life stands as a powerful example that people can change, people can care for each other and people can do so much more than most people would ever dream. I thank God for the life and work of Charles Colson.