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Sermon Central Staff
THE RING OF SALVATION
It began at West Point in 1835. It is a practice that has endured almost 200 years. You may have chosen to obtain one, and undoubtedly you waited anxiously for it to arrive. Others of you werenít really that into it and decided to pass. Some of you in the room may still wear it proudly as a pronouncement of accomplishment. Some of you may have simply discarded it into a drawer to be forgotten. You may have used it is to symbolize commitment or exclusiveness. When it was returned to you it may have been accompanied by pain and even a steady stream of tears. However, you would never have ascribed the power of life and death to this high school tradition.
Who knew that this tradition would also become the story of Easter?
You know the Easter Story or you wouldnít be here today. The story of God who sent His Son to become man to die for us. A Son who bears our burden of our sin and becomes the great sacrifice. A Son who defeats death and comes to life again.
Most of us have heard it until we have become numb to it, but perhaps if I tell you the story a little differently today.
"By all rules, Skinner was a dead man." With these words Arthur Bressi begins his retelling of the day he found his best friend in a World War II Japanese concentration camp.
The two were high school buddies. They grew up together in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania---playing ball, skipping school, double-dating. Arthur and Skinner were inseparable. It made sense, then, that when one joined the army, the other would as well. They rode the same troopship to the Philippines. Thatís where they were separated. Skinner was on a rescue mission when Bataan fell to the Japanese in 1942. Arthur Bressi was captured a month later.
Through the prison grapevine, Arthur learned the whereabouts of his friend. Skinner was near death in a nearby camp. Arthur volunteered for work detail in the hope that his company might pass through the other camp. One day they did.
Arthur requested and was granted five minutes to find and speak to his friend. He knew to go to the sick side of the camp. It was divided into two sections--one for those expected to recover, the other for those given no hope. Those expected to die lived in a barracks called "zero ward." Thatís where Arthur found Skinner. He called his name, and out of the barracks walked the seventy-nine-pound shadow of the friend he had once known. He writes:
"I stood at the wire fence of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on Luzon and watched my childhood buddy, caked in filth and racked with the pain of multiple diseases, totter toward me. He was dead; only his boisterous spirit hadnít left his body. I wanted to look away, but couldnít. His blue eyes, watery and dulled, locked on me and wouldnít let go.
"Malaria. Dysentery. Pellagra. Scurvy. Beriberi. Skinnerís body was a dormitory for tropical diseases. He couldnít eat. He couldnít drink. He was nearly gone."
Arthur didnít know what to do or say. His five minutes were nearly up. He began to finger the heavy knot of the handkerchief tied around his neck. In it was his high-school class ring. At the risk of punishment, heíd smuggled the ring into camp. Knowing the likelihood of catching a disease and the scarcity of treatment, he had been saving it to barter for medicine or food for himself. But one look at Skinner, and he knew he couldnít save it any longer.
As he told his friend good-bye, he slipped the ring through the fence into Skinnerís frail hand and told him to "wheel and deal" with it. Skinner objected, but Arthur insisted. He turned and left, not knowing if he would ever see his friend alive again.
Skinner took the ring and buried it in the barracks floor.
The next day he took the biggest risk of his life. He approached the "kindest" of the guards and passed him the ring through the fence. The guard asked, "Is it valuable?" Skinner assured him that it was. The soldier smiled and slipped the ring into his pocket and left.
A couple of days later he walked past Skinner and let a packet drop at his feet. Sulfanilamide tablets. A day later he returned with limes to combat the scurvy. Then came a new pair of pants and some canned beef.
Within three weeks Skinner was on his feet. Within three months he was taken to the healthy side of the sick camp. In time he was able to work. As far as Skinner knew, he was the only American ever to leave the Zero Ward alive.
The ring elevated his position in the camp. The ring secured restoration. The ring brought provision. The common class ring brought salvation.
That is the Easter Story! Arthurís ring is the perfect illustration of what happened at Easter. However, there is another ring account that also communicates the power of Easter to us.
Skinner attempted to refuse the very ring that would ultimately save his life. He almost declined the life-giving gift his friend could give him.
I wonder if there are some here that have refused the gift of life that Christ has tried to provide for you? It is the greatest gift a loving father could ever extend to you . . . the gift of His eternal love! If you donít accept the great gift of His love you are doomed to death in bondage.
Skinner leveraged the ring and it gained him privileges and a new lease on life. I wonder if maybe you are here today and even though you have taken hold of the ring of salvation you have failed to leverage the authority, provision, and the freedom that such a relationship with Christ can afford? You are saved, but you are still living in the prison! The ring of Christís love and resurrected life can bring complete and total freedom today.
(From a sermon by Charles Sligh, Fellowship of the Ring, 4/20/2011)
Sermon Central Staff
BUILD CHARACTER INTO YOUR CHILDREN
David Kraft was a big, strong man -- all muscle. At the age of 32, he was six feet, two inches tall and weighed 200 pounds. He had been to seminary and ended up working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, because of his athletic background.
Then he was diagnosed with cancer. It wracked his body, and over a period of time, he dropped from 200 pounds to 80 pounds.
When he was about ready to pass from this life into eternity, he asked his father to come into his hospital room. Lying there in bed, he looked up and said, "Dad, do you remember when I was a little boy, how you used to hold me in your arm close to your chest?"
David's father nodded. Then David said, "Do you think, Dad, you could do that one more time? One last time?"
Again his father nodded. He bent down to pick up his 32-year-old, six-foot, two-inch, 80 pound son, and held him close to his chest, so that the son's face was right next to the father's face. They were eyeball to eyeball. Tears were streaming down both faces, and the son said to his father, "Thank you for building the kind of character into my life that can enable me to face even a moment like this." (Ron Lee Davis, "Introducing Christ to Your Child," Preaching Today, Tape No.92)
Men, I dare you to be that kind of father (or grandfather) to your children. Dare to build into them the kind of character that will enable them to face anything in life. Then you will be a real leader, not only in your home, but among your peers, as well.
(From a sermon by C. Philip Green, Loving Leadership, 6/17/2010)
FELLOWSHIP @ THE NEIGHBOURHOOD BAR
Research that shows the more friendships a person has in a congregation, the less likely they are to become inactive or leave. I once read about a survey of 400 church drop-outs who were asked why they left their churches. Over 75% of the respondents said, ďI didnít feel anyone cared whether I was there or not.Ē
These are shocking results, especially as church should be one of the most caring places in the world!
The neighbourhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. Itís an imitation, dispensing alcohol instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a Permissive, Accepting, and Inclusive fellowship. It is Unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually donít tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know & be known, to love & be loved & so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.
AN ARM AROUND ME--COMMUNION MEDITATION
Jackie Robinson was the first black person to play major league baseball. Breaking baseballís color barrier, he faced jeering crowds in every stadium. Players would stomp on his feet and kick him.
While playing one day in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he made an error. The fans began to ridicule him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans jeered. Then, shortstop Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Jackie Robinson and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career.
We are sometimes like Jackie Robinson, full of shame. Sometimes, like Jackie, our shame is from nothing we've done. Sometimes our shame is from our own sin and guilt. And like Pee Wee Reese, Jesus comes and slips his arm around us, and bears our shame for us. ...
One of the most powerful prayers in the midst of suffering I have read was uncovered from the horrors of Ravensbruck concentration camp. Ravensbruck was a concentration camp built in 1939 for women. Over 90,000 women and children perished in Ravensbruck, murdered by the Nazis. Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote The Hiding Place, was imprisoned there too. The prayer, found in the clothing of a dead child, says:
O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
1 Thessalonians 5:18-5:18
1 Kings 3:16-3:28
1 John 2:15-2:17
2 Corinthians 9:12-10:1
ILLUSTRATION… Discipleship Journal, 11-12/92
A recent survey of Discipleship Journal readers ranked areas of greatest spiritual challenge to them:
5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness
5. (Tie) Sexual lust
Survey respondents noted temptations were more potent when…
they had neglected their time with God (81 percent)
and when they were physically tired (57 percent).
Resisting temptation was accomplished by prayer (84 percent), avoiding compromising
situations (76 percent), Bible study (66 percent), and being accountable to someone (52 percent).
Last week, Bernie came to the church door. He showed up about five minutes before I was getting ready to leave for an appointment, and my first response to his arrival was, oh, no, not now.
Bernie had been drinking Ė I could smell it on his breath. He was sweating profusely and was a little bit shaky, though he spoke clearly without slurring. Bernie asked if I could help him, and I asked what I could do for him. He said he was an alcoholic, and he needed a ride to Hillcrest Hospital, because heíd been part of a 12 step alcohol program, and had ďfallen off the wagon.Ē
I thought, OK, I can take him to the hospital on my way to my appointment. I was relieved he hadnít asked for money, because we cannot give any money to someone who has been drinking.
In my five-minute ride to the hospital, where I dropped him off at the emergency room, Bernie told me he really loved Jesus, but was having a hard time staying off the alcohol. I told him that admitting himself to this program at the hospital was a good step, and that I was sure the Lord would help him. Bernie was clearly hurting physically, but seemed genuinely touched that I would help him in this small way.
When we got to the drop-off point in front of the ER, Bernie thanked me Ė almost excessively Ė for helping him. He reached over across the seat and wanted a hug. Smell, sweat and all, I hugged Bernie, and he hung on tightly for a moment as I assured him of Godís love and care for Him. As he stumbled away from the van, he called back for me to pray for him, and I assured him I would. And I did, as I drove on to my appointment Ė I did pray that Bernie would find help and find compassion from the Lord.
And the Lord spoke to me clearly that, despite my initial attitude, all Bernie really needed was compassion.
I watched as Bernie sort of stumbled into the ER at Hillcrest. I was ashamed of my initial attitude, and the Lord said to me clearly: all he needed was a little compassion. All he needed was to be treated with respect and dignity.
And at that moment, I knew God would have me bring this message to TCF this morning.
Weíre in a time in our fellowship when we need this reminder - of the source of compassion, and of how God uses us as His tools of compassion.
You may have heard the phrase, ďBeen there, done thatĒ Ė itís the title of this message. Itís a phrase that represents the idea that someone has already experienced something. When someone says that to you, it means they have some understanding of what theyíre discussing with you. In some ways, it might mean that they have sympathy for you, maybe even real compassion, if thatís whatís called for.
In the vernacular, it mostly means they can relate to you and your experiences, and admittedly, itís often a dismissive way of expressing that, whether good or bad, theyíve ďbeen there, and done that.Ē
In our Christian lives, in times of difficulty or suffering, itís often helpful to talk to someone who can relate to your experience. Now, Iíve never been an alcoholic like Bernie, but I know what it is to be hurting, for different reasons than Bernie,
and more importantly, I know the source of real compassion, and real comfort.
His compassion and comfort are revealed in His Word. The Word of God is living and active, and itís for this time and this place, whenever and wherever this time and place might be.
God can speak to us through His Word, just as clearly as Iím speaking to you, by using these words written almost two millennia ago.
2 Cor. 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
GETTING PAST YOUR PAST
Consider Charles Colson, the aide to Richard Nixon who was sent to jail for Watergate. As as a result of his experience as a convicted felon, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, now the worldís largest Christian outreach to prisoners and their families. Prison Fellowship has more than 50,000 volunteers working in hundreds of prisons in 88 countries around the world. A ministry that has blessed millions of people got started twenty-five years ago because Charles Colson committed a crime. Godís eternal purposes for that man included even the sin that sent him to prison. It was a part of Godís plan from the very beginning.
But the story that matters most to you isnít Peterís, or Paulís, or even Charles Colsonís. Itís yours. And what I want to say to you this morning is that the story of your life has not been ruined, not by your sin or anyone elseís. Godís good plan for your life is not buried under the mistakes of the past. God has a plan for your life, a good plan, a wise plan, a loving plan, a sovereign plan, and that plan is still in effect. You havenít missed it. He is working ...
We know that 80% of the town of Meulaboh in Aceh, Indonesia was destroyed by the Tsunami waves and 80% of the people also died. This is one of the towns that was hit the hardest.
But there is a fantastic testimony from Meulaboh. In that town are about 400 Christians. They wanted to celebrate Christmas on December 25th but were not allowed to do so by the Muslims of Meulaboh. They were told if they wanted to celebrate Christmas they needed to go outside the city of Meulaboh on a high hill and there celebrate Christmas.
Because the Christians desired to celebrate Christmas the 400 believers left the city on December 25th and after they celebrated Christmas they stayed overnight on the hill.
As we all know the morning of December 26 there was the earthquake followed by the Tsunami waves destroying most of the city of Meulaboh and thousands were killed. The 400 believers were on the mountain and were all saved from destruction.
Now the Muslims of Meulaboh are saying that the God of the Christians punished them for forbidding the Christians from celebrating Christmas in the city. Others are questioning why so many Muslims died while not even one of the Christians died there.
Had the Christians insisted on their rights to celebrate Christmas in the city, they would have all died.
Pastor Calvary Life Fellowship in Indonesia.
While I was working in the V Corps Chaplainís office in Frankfurt, Germany; I came in contact with many wonderful Christian individuals. One of the most inspiring was a German by the name of Carl Scholz. In speaking to him one day, he related to me of how that during the Second World War he served as a Nazi soldier, but not believing fully in what they were doing, he tried to desert, but failing in his attempt, was captured and thrown into prison. He was accused as a deserter, and thus was sentenced to die before a firing squad along with another of his conrades.
When the day came they were both marched to the outskirts of the town, and the spot where they were supposted to be executed. Not hearing the change of orders, Carl didnít realize that all rifles were to be turned to his conrade instead, letting him live. Rifles fired, and in shock, he also fell to the ground. They picked him up and again was placed in prison. The months passed, and finally Carl was set free. The war had also ended, and not having any place to go to, he went from war-torn village to the next. One last hope was his only living relative, his mother...and by the time that he found her, he realized that she was entombed in the communist side of Berlin. Again lossing all hope, he made his dwellings in the bomb stricken buildings, drinking more and more with each passing day.
Finally receiving word that his mother had been killed while trying to escape the communist, he felt his last hope fly out of his body. He said to himself, "Now, whatís the use of living!" So, he went down to a near-by river hoping to drown his sorrows by throwing himself into the river. As he was about to jump he heard soft singing coming from a near-by wooden building. He could well remember the words...
"When Jesus comes the tempterís Powír is broken,
When Jesus comes, the tears are wiped away;
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory,
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay."
Hearing such sweet words, he came closer to the building wanting to hear more about this Jesus. As he approached the door, he read those gentle words which have meant so much to millions of individuals throughout the ages...
"Gott Ist Liebe - God is Love;
Gott Ist Leben - God is Life!"
He went inside, and there for the first time he heard the wonderous love that God had for him. And how He send his only Begotten Son to die on the cross so that he could have life - and have it more abundantly! Eternal Life! Praise God! Carl found Christ at that moment! The young missionary said, "Christ says, íCome unto me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give ye restí" Carl said to himself, "If there is anyone here burdened down itís me! I am tired of this life I am living." And that night, Carl went to the altar and said, "Lord, if itís true that you can change the worst sinner like this missionary says, change me! If itís true that you can give rest...give it to me! If itís true that you can straighten out the most twisted life...straighten out mine!" And that night the Christ that had saved Carl from the firing squad also broke the chains of bondage of sin that had his life captive, and he got up from that altar a new person. Christ had saved him...he had forgiven his many sins.
And now, Carl has been preaching and helping in the Berean Missionary Fellowship in Erzhausen, Germany, and bringing others to Christ with his wonderous testimony of salvation.