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An Admonition from Chuck Colson: You Are A Symbol of Hope

The Charles W. Colson Scholarship was designed to equip former inmates for ministry. Here is Colson's message to the 2006 recipients.
An Admonition from Chuck Colson: You Are A Symbol of Hope
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Hi. I'm Chuck Colson. I'm glad to have this opportunity by way of this video to bring a message to all of you who are Colson Scholars at Wheaton. It's a great honor that you have been chosen to have this scholarship at one of the great institutions in America. I might just tell you a little bit of background on how the Colson Scholarship came to be.

Many years ago, a couple of friends of mine who were on the board here at Prison Fellowship got together and decided it would be a wonderful thing if they set up a scholarship fund just for ex-offenders to come to the premier Christian institution, Wheaton. And so they started this fund and it was unnamed. They came to me and asked if I would let my name be used with it and I said no, because I really was against this idea of Christian celebrities having things named for them. What it does is to exalt man instead of exalting God. And so I really resisted. Then when the program got started, Ken Wessner, who was really the guiding force behind this, and Jack Eckerd, who was a member of this board, very successful businessman, between them they made this possible.

Wessner came to me, and he said, "You know, it would be a lot easier for those young men and women coming out of prison to be respected on the Wheaton campus if they had your name. So I thought about that and prayed about it for a good period of time. And I finally came back to Ken and said, "Yeah, if something's going to be named for me, rather than a builder or rather than something that exalts the individual, I would like these men and women to be known as Colson scholars, because that means they've come from the broken background I came from. That means they know what it is to be broken in life. And they therefore know the grace and glory of God in ways that people who sit in church pews and have never experienced this do."

And maybe it will help distinguish them on the Wheaton campus. And every time somebody looks at them, they will think about that rascal, Chuck Colson, the toughest of the Nixon tough guys, the White House Hatchet Man, reportedly said he would run over his own grandmother. That's not true. But that scoundrel of the Nixon days, who was then converted, and then spent the rest of his life working in prisons. So maybe it will remind them of that. Maybe it will remind them of their responsibility as a Christian to live their faith out in a way that we've been doing through this ministry of Prison Fellowship, reaching out to hurting and suffering people.

But with that name goes a responsibility. I'm humbled by it, but I'm half tempted to say, "Well now, you guys, you men and women with those scholarships, had better do well, because you've got my name out there as well." So my reputation's on the line. But that doesn't matter. What really matters is that you are bearing a witness for Jesus Christ on that campus and on behalf of the hundreds of thousands, 2.3 million people in prison in America today. You have been selected out, you have been called by God, you have been given an extraordinary privilege and opportunity. And a tremendous opportunity for witness on their behalf.

The thing that's hard on me the most, in all these years that I've been a Christian, 33 years now, is the fact that I thought to myself, "If I mess up in one little way, everybody's going to look back and say, 'Oh, Colson. We knew this thing wasn't real. We knew these Christians aren't real. We knew these Christians; it's just an act that they put on. It's just a false kind of piety.'"

And I knew I could never make a single mistake. I couldn't get angry at a ticket counter waiting for someone to wait on me. At all times, for the last 33 years, I have had to be extremely careful that I didn't give anybody an excuse to question my sincerity in my conversion to Christ.

And one of the things that haunted me was the fact that when I left prison, I told those guys that we, in the dormitory I was in, Maxwell Prison in Montgomery, Alabama, I said, "I won't forget you. I'll do something."

I didn't know what I was going to do at the time. I didn't feel called into ministry at that point, but I knew that I wanted to help the people that I'd come to know in prison.

I came to know them and love them, and I had an epiphany of sorts in prison because I was reading a Designed for Discipleship Bible Study by Navigators. I came to that part in Hebrews 2 where it talks about Jesus became for a time lower than the angels, so he would not be ashamed to call us his brothers.

And I looked around me at all these people in prison: dope dealers, drug dealers, there were car thieves, there were swindlers, and a few murderers. Just about the usual collection you'll find in any prison. And a lot of the small-time offenders as well. I looked around at those guys and I thought, "You know, every single one of them is made in God's image."

Every single one of them is as good as I am. I was in the White House, I was President Nixon's assistant. So what? We're all in this thing together. And I felt a tremendous love for those people in prison when I read that verse of Scripture. If Jesus was not ashamed to call us his brothers, I'm not ashamed of these, my brothers and sisters in this prison.

And I came out of that prison with really a passionate desire to do something to help them. A really deep conviction that that's why I'd been in prison, even before I made the decision to go into full time ministry. But I felt a responsibility that I would not let Jesus down, and I would not let down the people I'd left behind in that prison.

Now let me be very blunt with you. You have been singled out among all of them. Hundreds of thousands of inmates who would love an opportunity to have a scholarship to one of the great universities in America.

You've got one. You're now an example. You're now looked upon as that person who came out of prison, out of that broken experiences, was converted by Jesus Christ, and is now a scholar at Wheaton College, a prestigious place. If you mess up, you mess up and embarrass not only the Lord ... and God forbid you would ever do that ... but you let down all of those people who are in prison now who look at us in Prison Fellowship and they say, "You give us hope. You give us a belief that we can make something of our lives."

I had a fellow come up to me in prison one day. His teeth were out and he was all beaten up. You could tell he'd been through an awful lot—underside of life. Most of life he'd lived on the underside. And he said to me, "You know, people all my life have told me I'd never amount to anything."

And he said, "After listening to you today, I know I can be somebody." Lord, I want to put this one on you as a heavy load. There are lots of people like that. There are hundreds of thousands who want to be somebody and have been told they're nobody. And their hope of being somebody is they can be somebody like you.

Now, we all face temptations. I've been a Christian now for over three decades. And yet, there have been many, many times when I've had temptations. And nobody is free from them. I don't think we're every fully sanctified in this life. I know there are Christian traditions that do believe that.

But I'm struggling. I'm working out my sanctification and my salvation with fear and trembling, and struggling to learn and study and gain in piety and gain in knowledge of God and gain in passion for service. And I've continued to do that, even as I've got older I've found more passion, more growth, more experience.

But those temptations are always there. And you're but one brief weak moment away from slipping. If you do, get up quick, dust yourself off, kick the dust off your feet, and keep moving. But you have a double responsibility, a doubly heavy load. Much greater than a normal person, because you've been singled out.

You've been made a witness. You've been made an example. You are a symbol of hope to so many forgotten and broken people—mostly in prison, but remember there's a lot of people out there too that look at somebody like you and they say, "Ah, come on. He couldn't make it."

I had about 60 or 70% of the American public, according to polls, saying Colson will never make it because I was such a celebrated conversion. You're celebrated in the very same way, and in the very same tradition. So always keep your eyes focused on Jesus. Remember that he's the only reason that you're alive.

Remember what he has done in your life on the cross, dying for your sins and then giving you a second chance and an opportunity to get a great education at a great institution. You mustn't let him down. You must keep persevering and growing in holiness and love for God every day. Make the most of this education experience as well.

I think back on my own experience when I got a scholarship to Brown University, and I was the first person in my family to go to college. And I remember enjoying the fraternity parties a little too much, and not studying as hard as I was capable of studying. And never getting as much out of college as I could have. And I've since been making up for it. I have studied harder and more. I've discovered that learning is a lifetime process. I've grown to love it.

But take advantage of this time. You'll never have a better opportunity. Deepen your understanding of life and the world, and have your mind renewed. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Take this great experience at Wheaton to renew your mind and to deepen in your discipleship to Christ.

And above all, to stand out as a witness. Let the people see you walking by and say, "You know, that fellow came out of a tough background in prison. His life was broken. But look what Jesus has done." There's no greater accolade that you can get from people around you then when you hear them say, "Look what Jesus has done through that life." Let God be glorified. Let Jesus be lifted up in your life.

Do these things out of gratitude and love for him, that his Kingdom might be advanced, and that he might be lifted up and exalted before all people. God bless you all.

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An Admonition from Chuck Colson: You Are A Symbol of Hope