Thursday, April 26, 2012

Well done, Chuck...Well done

What an amazing, awesome life story. Not a sports story and certainly not a baseball story, but if baseball is a game of redemption (and I believe it is) than we need to know what the word means. The definition is personified in the narrative of Chuck Colson's life story.

from Google:
1. The action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil: "God's plans for the redemption of his world".

2. A thing that saves someone from error or evil: "his marginalization from the Hollywood jungle proved to be his redemption".

Justice Fellowship Remembers Chuck Colson:

Justice Fellowship Remembers Chuck Colson
by Ryan Sanders|April 23, 2012

Evangelical Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices on Saturday, April 21, 2012 with the passing of Charles W. “Chuck” Colson. After a brief illness, Colson passed away at a Northern Virginia hospital with his wife and family at his bedside.

Colson journeyed from obstructing justice to justice reform -- spending almost four decades as a champion for prison ministry, criminal justice reform and worldview teaching."

Justice Fellowship was founded by Colson in 1983 as an outgrowth of his ministry in prisons, Prison Fellowship. As he worked to help prisoners transform through the truth and power of Jesus Christ, Colson realized a second emphasis was also needed -- to help transform the injustices within our criminal justice system.

Colson’s call for alternative punishments for non-violent offenders was often effective because Colson’s conservative credentials enabled him to line up conservative legislators in support of what had traditionally been seen as a liberal set of reforms.

from Prison Fellowship Blog:
A Redemption Story
by Ronald W. Nikkel|April 24, 2012

“…all my achievements meant nothing in God’s economy.
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…
only when I lost everything I thought made Chuck Colson a great guy
had I found the true self God intended me to be and the true purpose of my life.
It is not what we do that matters,
but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us.
God doesn’t want our success;
He wants us.
He doesn’t demand our achievements;
He demands our obedience…
Victory comes through defeat;
Healing through brokenness;
Finding self through losing self.”1

Redemption – it is an old word that hearkens back to a time when slaves could be bought by benefactors to be granted freedom; and when poor prisoners languishing helplessly in decrepit debtor’s jails could be released free and clear by someone gratuitously paying off their debts. Nowadays we tend to think of redemption as something we can do for ourselves, as in compensating for our failures by becoming more successful; or by overcoming our weaknesses through continuous self-improvement and self-control.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people around the world who saw in Chuck Colson a man who redeemed himself from the Watergate scandal by doing good for others. It took many of those people a few years to come to such a conclusion because they viewed his “jailhouse religion” as a gimmick that would not last very long. Admittedly, when I first heard Chuck Colson tell the story of his newfound faith I was among the skeptics. Yet there was something very compelling about his upside down view of God working more poignantly through human brokenness and weakness than through power and achievement. I soon realized that Chuck’s story was not that of a man trying to clamber and claw his way back into respectability and success. It was instead, a provocative story that saw him returning to the places of his own brokenness and humiliation – prison.

Setting captives free
Remembering the life and legacy of Watergate operative, ex-con, and Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson | Emily Belz

WASHINGTON—When President Richard Nixon's knee-capper went to prison after pleading guilty to a Watergate-related crime, he touched off one of the most compelling stories of conversion and a redeemed life in the modern American church.

Colson started his career as a hard-nosed political giant whom Nixon once told to "break all the [expletive] china" to get a job done. But he became a giant for a generation of evangelical Christians. After serving time in prison, he founded Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry to inmates and their families that has grown into the largest prison ministry in the world—with programs in nearly all U.S. prisons and in 115 countries. An avid writer and speaker, Colson also shaped the church's dialogue about religious freedom, culture, marriage, and abortion.

During the Watergate scandal, Colson's self assurance and religious apathy broke one night after a Christian businessman and friend, Tom Phillips, prayed for him. Phillips read this passage to Colson from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity: "Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. ... As long as you are proud you cannot know God."

Colson said in his bestselling memoir Born Again that the passage described him exactly and precipitated his conversion. Prominent members of The Fellowship—Doug Coe and Sen. Harold Hughes—discipled him in his early faith, along with Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul. When Colson's conversion became public, many doubted the sincerity of Nixon's "hatchet man." One columnist wrote, "If he isn't embarrassed by this sudden excess of piety, then surely the Lord must be."

In June 1974 Colson pled guilty to attempting to spread damaging information about Ellsberg and obstructing justice. The judge sentenced Colson to one to three years in prison. At the time Nixon sent him a handwritten note saying Watergate would become a "footnote in history," and the country would remember Colson fondly. Though Watergate isn't yet a footnote, Nixon was right about Colson's reputation.

At a federal prison in Alabama, Colson the inmate found a small but steadily growing Christian group within the walls, as he recounts in Born Again. Upon his release seven months later, he decided to start a prison ministry. The logo since Prison Fellowship's earliest days has featured a bent reed, referencing Isaiah 42:3: "A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." It reflected Colson's belief that no one—not the most hardened criminal nor the most egotistical Washingtonian—was beyond hope.

Prison, on the other hand, was not rehabilitating, Colson said he learned, but rather a "steady, gradual corrosion of a man's soul."

"A lot of people falsely accuse Chuck of being overly political—but Chuck's whole emphasis has been to say that the root problem is a spiritual problem," said Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and a close personal friend. George and Colson wrote a column together for many years in Christianity Today. "He was an evangelist at his deepest heart ... but he realized that preaching the gospel is not just dropping tracts from a blimp."

As Prison Fellowship got off the ground in the late 1970s, the Moral Majority also formed, and criminal justice wasn't on the agenda. "When Chuck would go around and talk about prisoners and prison reform, it was a splash of cold water," said Cromartie. "Chuck was pricking the evangelical conscience" and making sure that "the most forgotten people in our society" weren't forgotten. He later began Justice Fellowship, a public policy arm to push for criminal justice reforms.

When people think of Colson, "First they think of Watergate," said Robert George. "They'll think of Chuck as an activist, an organizer, and institution grower. What is often overlooked is Chuck as an intellectual leader" springing from his "high view of the relationship of reason and faith."

In 2010, Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George (no relation) composed the Manhattan Declaration, a statement of the church's values on marriage, religious freedom, and abortion that half a million people since have signed, including evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican leaders.

Colson penned the now well known last lines of the Manhattan Declaration: "We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's."

In his final speech, he challenged the Wilberforce audience concerning public hostility toward Christians, saying, "If things are bad, don't think it's going to be solved by an election. It's going to be solved by us."

But he warned his audience not to listen to caricatures of Christians: "We're also 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. A better way of life. It's the great proposal."

Amen to that. RIP Chuck Colson.
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