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Category: Grace

The Hesitant Bride

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Topic: Commitment
Scripture: Revelation 19:7
Author: Thomas Bevers

I had an uncomfortable experience at a wedding recently. Everything was going along as planned until it came time for the minister to ask that all-important question of the bride, “Do you take so-and-so to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

Just then, for some unknown reason, there was an incredibly long and unbelievably awkward silence.

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Overcoming Evil With Good in Charleston, SC

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Topic: Forgiveness
Scripture: Romans 12:21; 1 Corinthians 13:8, 13; Matthew 5:44-45; 1 Peter 3:9
Source: “Chris Singleton Opens Up About Losing Mother In Charleston Mass Shooting” by Maxwell Strachan, Posted HUFFINGTON POST, 06/19/2015
Author: Illustration Exchange

“Chris Singleton, whose mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, died during the shooting rampage in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday [6/17/15], delivered a powerful message to the world on Thursday evening: No matter how much hate there is in the world, it’s no match for love,” reports the HUFFINGTON POST.

Singleton is a 2nd year baseball player at Charleston Southern University, a faith-based school affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention. His coach and teammates stood beside him as he addressed reporters just hours after learning of his mother’s murder. “Love is stronger than hate,” said Singleton. “So if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where the love is.”

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Join The Wretched Club

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Topic: Witness
Scripture: I Timothy 1:15-16
Source: “The Duggar Disaster” by Todd Friel, posted CHRISTIAN POST/Christian Post Blog, 5/22/15
Author: Todd Friel

“There are two groups of people who should not be shocked to discover that a member of the Duggar family is a sinner,” says Todd Friel, writing for the CHRISTIAN POST, “Christians and non-Christians.” This, he says, is what makes the Josh Duggar story a disaster.

Christian Surprise

The subject line from an email sent by a popular Christian website stated: “Christian world rocked.” Really?

Based on his own admission, Josh sinned, repented and got saved. Why in the world would Christians be appalled to discover an unregenerate 14-year-old boy acted wickedly? …

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Relax or Die

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Topic: Sabbath
Scripture: Mark 2:27; Hebrews 12:29; Romans 2:12; Matthew 11:28-29; 1 Corinthians 3:12-13; Galatians 3:24
Source: “‘They Were So Pure,’ Father Says of 7 Kids Killed in Fire” by Michael Balsamo ASSOCIATED PRESS, posted On ABCNews.go.com, March 22, 2015
Author: Illustration Exchange

A Brooklyn father came home to his worst nightmare to find that a house fire had killed seven of his eight children and critically burned his wife and surviving child. The house, itself, was a total loss.

The cause of the fire was determined to be the use of a malfunctioning hot plate. It sparked a fire which rapidly spread up the stairs, trapping the children in their bedrooms.

The Sassoon family, members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, moved to Brooklyn less than two years prior. The father escorted the remains of his children back to Israel for burial.

Why, you might ask, was the hotplate left on while the family was sleeping?

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Standing In For Tom Cruise

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Topic: Salvation
Scripture: 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 2:17
Source: “Standing In” by Bryson Smith, as published on Perspective.org.au, Perspective Vol8 No4, 2001, from an article published in the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, Sunday Life Section, Sept 17, 2000
Author: Bryson Smith 

“I [once] read an interesting article … all about movie stand-ins,” says Bryson Smith. “They’re the people who replace movie stars in scenes that are dangerous or just uncomfortable. Like Glenn Duhigg, an ex-lawyer who worked as the stand-in for Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2.”

As Duhigg himself recalls:

It sounds very glamorous saying you’re the stand-in for Tom Cruise but I don’t think many people realize the long hours and constant demands that deflate your ego very quickly. The days are long. Whatever scene Tom was in, I would be the one standing there, being him sometimes for ages as the crew set up the shot – getting the lighting just right and the props just so. I’d be standing there for hours out in the weather, getting drenched in the rain or sun stroke out in the heat. And then Tom would just walk on the set from his air-conditioned caravan or out of his beautiful sports car once the scene was ready.” As one of the other stand-ins said, “I realized very quickly the difference between being a star and being a stand-in.”

[Bryson Smith is a member of the ministry team at Dubbo Presbyterian Church, an evangelical church in rural Australia.]

Application:

“But you see,” says Smith, “on the cross, Jesus Christ was our stand-in. He endured the discomfort, the pain, the punishment from God, all in our place. He accepted God’s anger on himself instead of us. He was our stand-in.

“Amazing that he would do that, because really he’s the important one. You wouldn’t expect Tom Cruise to stand-in for that bloke Glenn Duhigg. No, no. Tom’s the important one! And yet, even though Jesus is the important one, a divine king come to earth, yet he stood in for us.”

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

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Police Dole Out Gifts Not Tickets

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Topic: Christmas
Scripture: Isaiah 9:6
Source: “These Drivers Thought They Were Getting Tickets. Instead, Police Gave Them Christmas Gifts” by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, posted HUFFINGTON POST, 12/12/14
Author: Kate Abbey-Lambertz / Illustration Exchange

“Getting pulled over by a police officer can make a good day bad and a bad day worse. Unless, of course, he helps you with your Christmas shopping instead of writing you a ticket,” reports the HUFFINGTON POST:

In a video released Tuesday, the police department in Lowell, Michigan, did just that.* Over two days in November, Officer Scot VanSolkema stopped unsuspecting drivers for minor infractions, like illegally tinted windows, that the department might normally let slide, according to Today.

After he pulled them over, VanSolkema made small talk and sneakily asked drivers what they or their kids wanted for Christmas. Meanwhile, a group of helpers were standing by at a nearby store. As soon as they heard a driver’s Christmas wish, they’d race to find, buy, wrap and deliver it to VanSolkema.

Instead of tickets, the officer handed over gifts, like a new TV and an electric scooter. Drivers had reactions that turned from irritation into confusion before melting into joy, and, in some cases, hugs.

*Click link to source above to view the video.

Application:

Isn’t it sad that those who have been tasked with the job of “keeping the peace” usually evoke such a sense of fear and dread within us? There’s no doubt that those Lowell, Michigan, citizens were convinced that the officer approaching their car was there to drop the hammer and nail them on one infraction or another.

Some of that stems from our own sense of guilt and shame. We’re just sure that we must have done something wrong! And some of it stems from an expectation that those who are charged with keeping the law take some sort of perverted delight in catching us when we break it.

But on this day, all expectations were shattered. It’s important to note that the officer pulled over the drivers for legitimate reasons (illegal tinting or a burned out turn signal). Yet he chose to look right past the driver’s guilt to the driver’s need for those yet unfulfilled gifts on their Christmas lists.

This is exactly the way our gracious God chooses to deal with us each and every day!

While many of us see Him as the great “law keeper” in the sky, just waiting to nail us on one thing or another, the reality is exactly the opposite. He’s the great keeper of the peace Who has Himself already satisfied all the requirements of the Law, so that He can look right past our guilt to our need. And the best part is HE is our gift!

It shatters our expectations. It’s confusing. But let the reality sink in, then just melt into the joy!

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

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Sign Away Your Soul for WiFi

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Topic: Listening To God
Scripture: Ephesians 2:8-9; Luke 22:20
Source: “Londoners accidentally pay for free Wi-Fi with a firstborn, because no one reads anymore” by Rachel Feltman, posted WASHINGTON POST, September 29, 2014
Author: Rachel Feltman / Illustration Exchange

The WASHINGTON POST reports on a recent study of how flippantly people regard the terms and conditions of even the most basic of contracts:

In an experiment sponsored by security firm F-Secure, an open Wi-Fi network was set up in a busy public area. When people connected, they were presented with lengthy terms and conditions.

But to see just how little attention we pay when checking that agreement box, F-Secure included a “Herod clause” — one that offered up free Wi-Fi in exchange for the company’s permanent ownership of the user’s firstborn child.

A company would probably have trouble getting you to hand over your pride and joy (even if you were technically contractually obligated), so don’t panic. But this hapless agreement to terms is pretty common: A 2011 survey found that 58 percent of adults would rather read an instruction manual … than go through online terms and conditions. Even the phone book was a more palatable read for 12 percent of those surveyed. …

This new study isn’t the first of its kind: On April Fool’s Day in 2010, a host of U.K. shoppers were tricked into signing away their immortal souls.

Application:

Did you know that the term The New Testament actually means The New Contract? That being said, how much attention have you given to the terms and conditions of God’s contract with you?

When it comes to a relationship with God, far too many of us would rather read the phone book than read the Bible, wherein we’d discover that no amount of religiosity, morality, or good deeds are sufficient to gain an eternal relationship with God.

No, we must come to God on His terms: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). These are the terms of His contract, the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20).

Ignore these terms and conditions and you actually could end up signing away your immortal soul.

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Even Missing Words Matter

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Topic: Grace
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-9
Source: Fowler Bible Collection
Author: Larry Kuhl

In 1631, Robert Barker and Martin Lucus, the royal printers of London, published what was supposed to be a reprint of the King James Bible but instead it became known as “The Wicked Bible,” due to a simple elimination of a three letter word. It seems that in publishing  Exodus 20:14 the printers left out the word “not” from  the seventh commandment, making the text read: “Thou shalt commit adultery”. Unfortunately this mistake was only discovered after the Bibles were released for sale!

This error cost these two respected publishers their license, a large fine, as well as their reputation.  An order immediately went out from the King to have all of these publications destroyed. Only twelve copies are known to have survived.

Application:

Like the “The Wicked Bible,” sometimes we say or do things we regret. Nevertheless, once our sins have been published, they can’t be retracted. Words and deeds matter. Even missing words and deeds can make a big difference.

Thank God for the grace and forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ, Who took our sins, small and great, on Himself as He hung on the cross, that we may become the “righteousness of God in Him.”

What a blessed life we have in Christ!  God doesn’t take our license away when we mess up! He generously gives us another opportunity to begin again, and again, and again. Grace always prevails with our God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

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The End Is Just The Beginning

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Topic: Perspective
Source: The Last Battle, pp. 183-184
Author: C.S. Lewis / Illustration Exchange

To put this life in perspective we must set it beside the life to come.  Lewis does that for us in the final paragraph of the Chronicles of Narnia. In the final scene, Aslan assures Peter, Edmund, and Lucy with these words:

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream has ended; this is morning.”

Lewis then brings the story to a final conclusion:

“And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Application:

The current life is not the best life we will ever live. As Lewis suggests, “every chapter” will be “better than the one before.” This is not the longest life we will ever live. As Lewis also suggested, this life is merely the “title page” to eternity.

Nevertheless, this may will be the most important life we will ever live. For it is during this brief, adventure filled journey that so many decisions of eternal consequence are made. It is now, during this life, that we are presented with the choice to become followers of Christ.  It is now, in this life, that free grace begins to be experienced.

The entrance way by which we enter the Kingdom of God is found on this side of eternity.

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way” (Matthew 7:13, NLT).

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Cleaning Fairy Arrested for Unsolicited Housework

Printer Friendly Topic: Manipulation
Author: Kim Palmer, Reuters
Scripture: Revelation 3:20
Source: “‘Cleaning fairy’ arrested after shovelling snow without permission” By Kim Palmer, Reuters , published on Yahoo News, Thu, Jan 24, 2013
Contributor: Illustration Exchange

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – The Ohio woman dubbed “the cleaning fairy” by local media because she broke into a home and cleaned it without permission, was arrested on Tuesday after police found her shoveling snow from a driveway without the owner’s consent, police said.

Police in Elyria, a city 30 miles southwest of Cleveland, arrested Susan Warren, 53, on an outstanding warrant stemming from the separate incident last year where she entered a suburban Cleveland home, did some light cleaning and left a note charging the owner $75. …

According to Sherry Bush, the owner of the home, she called Warren to question if she had cleaned the wrong home by mistake and was told by Warren that there was no mistake, that she “does this all the time” and thought she was doing Bush a favor.

It would seem that both the homeowners and the police found the unsolicited cleanings much more an intrusion than a “favor.”

Application:

No one considers it a “favor” when someone forces something, even a good thing, on them. Rather than gratitude, it will only lead to resentment.

There is no better “favor” than the salvation that God offers to the world as an absolutely free gift. Nevertheless, God isn’t in the business of forcing favors we don’t want. Rather, His offer is as gracious as the gift itself.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

Note: An alternative application would be to use this story as a picture of the co-dependent person who offers help beyond the boundaries of what’s appropriate.

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A Day In The Life Of A Pastor

Printer Friendly Topic: Salvation
Author: Mitchell Dillon
Scripture: John 14:6
Source: Illustration Exchange

One of the essential responsibilities of the pastor is to visit the sick. This past week I set out for the ICU to visit a man who was recovering from complications brought about by a recent heart attack. I arrived at the front desk of the ward only to be told by the nurse that he was upstairs for tests and wouldn’t be down for a while, but that his daughter was in the room waiting for him to return. So I went in and introduced myself to her as the pastor of a church where her mother and father occasionally visit with friends.

She was thrilled to meet me and so appreciative that I would come to visit her dad. We hugged and I assured her that there where a lot of people praying for her father. As we waited together we began to talked about the weather, grandchildren, how the Miami Heat were playing. We were having a great time getting to know each other.

Finally, I asked her about the special therapy I knew they had planned for her father. “My father isn’t receiving that treatment,” she said, tilting her head slightly and staring curiously at me .

“Oh, umm,” I stumbled, “I was pretty sure that’s what I was told.”

Then she asked, “What was the last name of the man you came to visit today?” Yikes! The receptionist had given me the room number of another man with the same first name as the man I was actually there to visit! Can you say AWKWARD! As I slinked out the door I profusely apologized for the misunderstanding.

Application:

What is so interesting to me about this little mishap is how it points out the significance of a shared relationship. We had connected over what we thought was a common relationship. Once that relationship was removed, the connection went with it. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus was warning us of when He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Remove a relationship with Jesus and you lose any connection with the Father.

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Flash Your Lights For Warning

Author: Illustration Exchange Printer Friendly
Contributor: Illustration Exchange
Scripture: Galatians 6:1
Published: “Headlight flashing OK, Missouri judge says” by JIM SALTER, Associated Press, published Yahoo.com, 2/6/14

We’ve all done it: Flashed our own lights at an oncoming vehicle which has yet to turn on its own lights, or to warn of upcoming poor road conditions like standing water or a lane obstruction. But when it comes to flashing our lights to warn oncoming traffic of a speed trap, we have cause for pause. Maybe we’re afraid to intervene because the warning is considered illegal in many states. Or maybe we think the guy speeding toward us deserves to get caught–it would serve him right!

Either way, a federal court in Missouri has now ruled that penalizing drivers for the headlight flash violates their First Amendment right to free speech. “The order,” reports the Associated Press, “stems from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of Michael Elli. On Nov. 17, 2012, Elli flashed his headlights to warn oncoming vehicles of a radar set up by Ellisville police.”

So what’s so wrong about warning drivers of impending consequences? Well, if you’re the police, the warning may rob you of meeting your quota for speeding tickets. If you’re the municipality in which the warning takes place, you may be robbed of your income from the offender’s fees and fines. But if you’re the offender who receives and heeds the warning, you have everything to gain.

The Missouri judge, in his ruling, said that the flashing of headlights was essentially a good thing, sending “a message to bring one’s driving in conformity with the law — whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.”

Application:

What’s your excuse for not warning a brother or sister of impending consequences for their reckless behavior. Maybe you’re simply afraid to intervene–afraid of getting involved in a sticky situation. Or maybe you think they deserve what’s coming–it would serve them right!

Maybe we should all approach a fair warning to an erring brother like the federal judge in Missouri, considering a warning essentially a good thing, sending a message to bring another’s behavior into conformity with God’s law, sparing them and others of the harmful consequences. In the end, when we help others safely and cautiously navigate the roads of life, we all have something to gain.

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1, NLT).

(Free Sermon Illustration from Illustration Exchange)

Highlight Reels

Author: John Reed Printer Friendly
Source: Illustration Exchange
Scripture: Isaiah 43:25; Revelation 14:13

The world of sports provides a beautiful picture of God’s grace.  We see it when the sportscaster shows “highlight reels” of our favorite athletes from years gone by.  In the editing process, they extract the mistakes, the fumbles, the strike outs, the missed shots.  Instead, every time Michael Jordon or Larry Bird shoot the ball, they make the basket.  If all you knew about these legends was what you saw from a “highlight reel,” you’d think they never missed a shot!

Application:

This is a picture of how our lives will be remembered in eternity. By God’s grace, we are promised that our sins will not be remembered. God will edit them all out. In Isaiah 43:25 we read, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

So what’s left? A highlight reel filled with nothing but our greatest moments. And that’s what will be remembered in heaven–all the positive and loving things we’ve done. As the Apostle John wrote of the tribulation saints, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!'” (Revelation 14:13).

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