The amazing transformation of Charles Colson:
Many secularists, atheists, misotheists, and sceptics will try to tell you that Christianity is just a fantasy, just a crutch, just an illusion, and just a waste of time – harmful in fact. They might try to dismiss it out of hand, but they do so at great cost.
They of course have to deal with hundreds of millions – probably billions – of lives that have been radically transformed over the centuries because of this one God-Man, Christ Jesus. This website features numerous testimonies of those whose lives have been completely turned around because of what Christ did at Calvary for lost sinners. And that includes my own story.
I like to feature these stories, and I have just come across one moments ago that is worth sharing in full. A half century ago a career politician convicted of various crimes became a full-on believer in Christ – and he helped countless others in so many ways, including so many folks in the world’s prisons.
I refer of course to Chuck Colson. For those unfamiliar with the man and his amazing story, I discuss it in various places, including this piece written just after he passed away in 2012: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/22/notable-christians-charles-colson/
I usually do not post whole pieces by others, but this touching write-up about Colson from his daughter Emily Colson is well worth featuring in its entirety. And many thanks to my friend Hugh for alerting me to it today on the social media. Here then is her entire piece:
50 years ago, August 12, 1973, my dad, Chuck Colson, gave his life to Christ.
Millions of lives have been changed. Including my own.
The phone used to ring at all hours. “This is the White House operator,” the voice would say. “The President is calling for Mr. Colson.” Dad would dash into his study, swing the double doors shut, and sternly order me to hang up my end of the phone…as if his curious young daughter might actually consider staying on the line.
My dad was at the height of his career, Special Counsel to President Nixon, with an office next to the president’s. One night Dad brought me into the Oval Office when the president was out for the evening. He coaxed me to sit at the President’s huge mahogany desk, I’m sure for his own amusement – his doe-eyed daughter swallowed up by this seat of power.
My memory is fuzzy, but I may have…accidentally mind you… left my tape recorder in the President’s desk. I remember looking across that highly polished desk to see my dad, who was standing at attention like a Marine, looking back at me. He was so confident.
Yet I couldn’t see the emptiness he felt inside, the “the God-shaped hole,” as Blaise Pascal called it, which is in every human heart. A hole so large and so profound that even the greatest successes in life cannot fill it. Then came August 12, 1973.
My dad never told anyone where he was going that hot summer night, right at the height of the Watergate scandal. He had called his friend and colleague, Tom Phillips, who at the time was President of the largest corporation in Massachusetts. Tom had told my dad that he’d committed his life to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade. It was the first time Tom had shared his faith with anyone. All my dad knew is that there was something very different about Tom; he had peace. And in the midst of the crushing pressures of Watergate, it was peace my dad desperately needed.
As my dad retold so movingly in his book, “Born Again,” Tom welcomed my dad into his home, listened intently, and then read aloud from a chapter on pride from C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.” The truth of it sliced through all bravado. As the evening ended, Tom invited his friend to pray with him, but my dad declined. Instead, Tom prayed for him, and handed my dad his copy of “Mere Christianity.”
When my dad got back into his car in Tom’s driveway, this tough former Marine captain, President Nixon’s “hatchet man,” was crying so hard he couldn’t get the keys into the ignition. Finally, he drove a few hundred yards from Tom’s driveway and pulled over on the side of that dark country road.
“God, I’m don’t know how to find you, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow, I want to give myself to You.” He didn’t know how to say more, so he repeated over and over the words, “Take me.”
When the news finally broke, all I knew was that my dad was a Jesus Freak, and Jesus Freaks don’t wear pin striped suits. At the time, I didn’t understand. I thought if you believed in God, attended church every now and then, even prayed sometimes, there really wasn’t any more to it.
But what happened to my dad was different. This wasn’t part-way, or passive, or routine. And this certainly wasn’t an emotional whim. Dad headed for the coast of Maine for a week and studied the book Tom had given him as if he were preparing for a case in court. At the top of a legal pad he wrote, “Is there a God?”
He came away convinced, and made the most rational decision of his life. Believing with both mind and heart that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, the Son of God, my dad gave his life to Christ. It’s the same decision you and I will face when confronted with the truth.
What happened to my dad requires a laying down of one’s whole self, which was as unpopular 50 years ago as it is today, and inviting into your heart the One who created you, the One who sacrificed His life to save you, the One who will give you a new life in Him.
The One who is waiting to fill that God-shaped hole in your heart. Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25. This life-changing decision didn’t protect my dad from hardship; he went to prison. But God redeemed that hardship.
Chuck Colson was released from prison in 1975 and founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which became the largest ministry to prisoners and their families in the world. He didn’t go back to practicing law, or accept any of the lucrative offers that came his way. Instead, he spent the remaining 37 years of his life going into some of the darkest places, reaching the most forgotten people, to share the hope and freedom and new life only Christ can bring. He later founded the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, a ministry to equip Christians to live out their faith in and for a hurting world. And to redeem a fallen culture for Christ.
Millions of lives have been changed.
Including my own.
When my dad gave his life to Christ, I got my dad back.
For the very first time.
The father I longed to know when he was chasing after power and prestige and success, became a man with a changed heart. A father I loved deeply. And a man who deeply loved his whole family. God redeemed everything the locusts and the politics devoured. It’s as if Chuck Colson found all that truly matters on that dark country road 50 years ago.
Dad died on April 21, 2012. But because of the decision he made for Christ, in the heat of August 1973, this wasn’t the end of the story. Chuck Colson entered into the presence, and the all-consuming overwhelming love, of the One to whom he committed his life: Jesus Christ.
Our family left the hospital that day and gathered in Dad’s office at Prison Fellowship headquarters outside of Washington, DC. We wandered around with swollen eyes, looking at the bits and pieces of memorabilia on the walls: a White House ID badge, photos with prisoners and presidents and friends and staff, and with children of prisoners receiving Angel Tree gifts. And everywhere there were pictures of us, his family.
I sat down at my dad’s desk. It was such an ordinary work surface, a desk like all the others in the building. This wasn’t a highly polished mahogany desk. There was no great seat of power. Files were stacked along the sides, projects yet to be finished. And my heart ached with the loss of my dad.
I ran my hands along the surface of the desk, and then something caught my eye – a simple oak plaque along the top of my dad’s desk, with three words carved into the wood. Three words describing a radically changed life.
Suddenly, I was overcome with gratitude. I leaned back in my dad’s chair, closed my eyes for a moment, and let the words wash over me.
“FAITHFULNESS NOT SUCCESS”
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
God bless you Chuck and Emily.