Saturday, April 21, 2012

charles colson and second chances

Charles Colson (October 16, 1931 - April 21, 2012)

Second chances are undeserved. I have discovered this first-hand. I have transgressed more times than I care to admit, yet a new sun rises and I’m given another shot at life. There is nothing I have done or could do to earn such second chances. They are sheer grace.

The second chance is granted in spite of track records. Call it an act of faith—believing a person can produce a certain outcome when all they have demonstrated in the past is failure. Second chances are God’s way of hoping. Granting others a second chance can be our way of hoping, too.

Perhaps there was none more acquainted with the freedom that comes from second chances than Charles Colson. In Life Sentence Colson told of his role in the Nixon Watergate scandal so as to recount the extravagance of unreasonable grace as he’d received it personally.

He reached the end of himself, knew first-hand the dead-end of unchecked ambition. In prison he had no choice but to follow a new path. He was (in his words) born again. Think of it as a second chance of eternal duration.

“Yeah, right,” others scoffed. “That sure seems convenient. ‘Born again’, eh? Sounds more like an easy out. Why should a low-life like Colson be granted a second chance? Do you have any idea how many people he’s hurt? He should have to pay for what he’s done! There is no reason he should get off scott-free like that.”

That’s right. There is no reason. But there it is: forgiveness.

And, in receiving that forgiveness, Colson was free (yes, of guilt!). He was guilty but he was declared “not guilty” by the merciful King.

And in being set free, Colson’s relationships were put right. He obtained a right relationship with God—thanks to the forgiveness of Jesus—and he did what he could to set right the relationships he’d marred through his abuse of power.

There is a justice in mercy. Grace has a way of “putting things right again.” It is an Artist’s way of telling a story, turning left to take a person right.

So, Colson devoted his life to ministering this mercy to those who deserved it least: convicted prisoners. He founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry that specializes in second chances for the undeserving.

Many disagreed with Colson’s stance on capital punishment. Many adhered to the justice of “eye-for-eye” so they criticized Colson for his opposition to the death penalty. But Colson had a first-hand experience of the power of second chances. Who was he to deny another human the gift of hope? Yes, he believed everyone has incredible capacity to sin (he considered himself chief among them) but he believed the Spirit’s capacity to regenerate is greater.

In 1993, Colson was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Over the course of his life, his radio program (BreakPoint) was heard on more than 1,400 outlets nationwide. He had been awarded some 15 honorary doctorates, was the author of more than 30 books and countless articles. Yet what made this man great was his understanding of his smallness.

His story of conversion impacted my life in tremendous ways. I read many of his writings that addressed all kinds of issues. I admired his intellect but what will stand out about this man is the transformative work of grace that spoke to me by his life story. Charles Colson’s life says, “Don’t ever doubt the power of forgiveness to change a person.” Let mercy be the subject of your life sentence and hope be the verb.

For this reason, I will not remember Charles Colson primarily as an academic nor a politician. I will remember him as a simple prisoner of Jesus. Something tells me this is how he would want to be remembered.

I am grateful to God for his life for I, too, am still in need of second chances.

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