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FOURTH OF JULY – Allegiance & Liberty

Illustration for Christian speaker.

Here’s a remarkable story that might serve as a useful sermon illustration as the Fourth of July approaches when we think about what our allegiances mean and what kind of liberty we champion.
It involves two men from very similar backgrounds in the French city of Lyon: Klaus Barbie and John Weidner. Their two allegiances during World War II took them to vastly different places.
The story could also, of course, illustrate the importance of our choices, period.
I thought I’d give you all the details so you can pick what you want.

THE BUTCHER AND THE RESCUER

November, l942. The French city of Lyon. German
troops and Panzer tanks rumble through the streets. The
Nazi’s have decided to invade all of southern France after
the allied liberation of Morocco and Algeria. Now this
charming, commercial city of fountains and winding streets
must bear the burden of German occupation, and the terror of
the Gestapo. The stage is set for two adversaries to work
out their destinies in a fierce contest for human lives:
John Weidner working desperately to save them. Klaus Barbie
scheming to have them destroyed.

They could not have been more different. Klaus Barbie,
the Gestapo chief in Lyon, who brutally crushed all
resistance. John Weidner the head of the Dutch-Paris
network headquartered in Lyon which helped Jews escape from
the clutches of the Nazis.
One man believed heart and soul in conquest and
domination. The other believed in saving human life.
One man subjected his prisoners to terrible cruelties.
The other never carried a weapon, though he constantly
subjected himself to danger.
One man thought nothing of beating to death those who
wouldn’t divulge enough information. The other endured
torture rather than place others at risk.
One man sent men, women and children off to gruesome
deaths in concentration camps. The other slipped families
across the border to safety and a new life.
Klaus Barbie and John Weidner. They could not have
been more different.
After the war, Weidner was honored by Israel, Holland
and the United States for his heroism and selfless devotion.
Klaus Barbie, after many years in hiding, was finally
apprehended and sent to France, where he stood trial and was
exposed as the Butcher of Lyon, convicted of crimes against
humanity, and imprisoned for life.

Two men light years apart, and yet here is the amazing
thing: their backgrounds were remarkably similar. That’s
right, the Butcher and the Rescuer both grew up amid similar
circumstances.
John Weidner, as one might expect, was raised in a good
Christian home; his father, in fact, was a pastor and teacher.
It was a warm, nurturing home
with a kindly father and beloved mother. Mr. and Mrs.
Weidner taught John to stand up for right, no matter what.
He vividly remembered his father being taken to Swiss
prisons for one-day terms on several occasions because he
kept John out of state school on Saturday, their day of
worship. Freedom of conscience was enshrined as a sacred
value in the Weidner household.
John attended a Christian college near
Colonges, France, where his
resolve to serve God alone was further strengthened. So we
see in John Weidner’s background influences that helped
shape him as a heroic rescuer.
But, remarkably enough, we see the same influences in
Klaus Barbie’s early life. He also had the advantage of a
Christian upbringing. His parents were Catholic believers,
his mother was so devout that she was remembered as “an
angel, a Madonna” by others in their small German village.
And Klaus grew up especially devoted to her. He was also
close to his brother Kurt, a handicapped boy who died in
childhood.
Klaus’s father worked as a schoolmaster and was a
rather strict man who had a problem with drinking. But
neighbors always thought of Klaus as a sweet-natured little
boy, whom they often invited to meals in their homes. One
old man recalled, “He was so harmless. We all thought he
would make a priest.”
Klaus grew up a devout boy; at one point he considered
studying theology. During his later teenage years he
attended a distinguished secondary school and boarded in
church-run hostels. Klaus Barbie became more independent
from his family, but his interests remained idealistic and
strongly colored by Christianity. He joined a Catholic
young men’s group and also a sports association run by the
church. Klaus even participated in a group which undertook
relief work among the destitute and unfortunate. He would
later remember: “I paid many visits to prisoners, who made a
deep impression on me. In conversation with these people, I
heard many tales of bitter human suffering and
misfortune…”
Nothing in this man’s background suggested that he
would eventually become the “Butcher of Lyon.” Barbie
probably did suffer to some extent because of the alcoholism
of his father, and may have been mistreated somewhat. But
other influences for good certainly seem to have dominated
his youth: the close relationship with his devout mother,
and his many activities with the church.
Here certainly was another budding John Weidner,
idealistic, committed to Christian principles, earnest in
his endeavors.
So what made the difference? How did one become a
calloused butcher and the other a self-sacrificing rescuer?
Looking back at their respective stories, we find signs of a
parting of the ways.

In the early l930s, the Nazi brown shirts began
throwing their weight around the town of Trier where Klaus
Barbie lived. In l933, soon after Adolf Hitler became
Fuhrer, Barbie joined the Hitler Youth. He was nineteen,
and, although at first unsympathetic to the Nazi’s, he was
swept up like millions of other Germans in their dramatic
victory. Apparently it was the blazing nationalism of the
movement that won him over at first. Hitler’s National
Socialists promised to right the wrongs of the humiliating
Treaty of Versailles and give Germany once again the proud
place in the world which it deserved.
Klaus Barbie allowed his ideals to be captured by the
patriotic fervor of the brown shirts. Also, the Nazi’s had
begun to tone down their anti-Christian rhetoric about this
time. Hitler was promising to respect the rights of
Protestants and Catholics. And in the town of Trier, Nazi
dignitaries stood side by side with the bishop at the town
cathedral during its most important public festival. Church
and the new state seemed to be getting along just fine.
So at first, Klaus Barbie could tell himself that he
wasn’t turning his back on his faith by joining the Hitler
Youth. He volunteered for six months work in the Labour
Service, wielding a pick and shovel in a northern province,
and returned more convinced than ever that the National
Socialists were building a new, more vital Germany.
Soon Barbie’s dedication earned him a job with the SS,
the Nazi party’s own secret service. They were the elite,
the proud supermen chosen by Hitler himself, representing
order and discipline in their sleek black uniforms. Barbie
began informing on people who criticized the party or worked
against it. His sense of allegiance had begun to center
completely on this dynamic new political movement. He began
to believe its doctrine implicitly, accept its world-view,
and most ominous of all, absorb its hatred of the weak.
He’d sworn ultimate allegiance to the Fuhrer, pledging,
“obedience unto death, so help me God.”
At the age of 25, Barbie married Regina Willms, after
the SS had made sure their ancestors were racially pure. On
the marriage documents both listed their religious
affiliation as “believer in God.” That was a term adopted
by the Nazis who rejected formal Christianity.
Klaus Barbie’s allegiance had become all the more
clear. For a time he may have tried to hold his religious
faith and his Nazi commitment side by side. But now there
could be no question of any Christian belief competing with
his duties as an SS man. The Fuhrer had become his absolute
lord.
In May of l940 Barbie was assigned to work as an SS
officer in newly-conquered Holland. He was responsible for
investigating anti-Nazi activity in Amsterdam. By now he’d
become completely dedicated to Nazi ideals and took an
active part in the campaign against Dutch Jews. He was
involved in the round-up and deportation of nearly 300
Jewish men, who were all eventually murdered.
By l942 Barbie had distinguished himself enough to be
assigned to the French city of Lyon as head of the Gestapo
there. Lyon had become the center of the French Resistance
movement, and Barbie’s job was to crush it. The stage was
now set for Barbie to emerge as the “Butcher.”
He had given his ultimate allegiance to a political
force that had turned into a monstrous killing machine; he
had accepted its ideology without question. Klaus Barbie
had cut himself off from his Christian roots; there would be
no return.

John Weidner made different choices, leading to a very
different allegiance. Through youth and early adulthood he
maintained a strong faith in the God of the Bible. Its
principles remained the authoritative guide for his life.
For a time he worked as a salesman of religious books. In
the early l930s he started a textile business in the city of
Lyon.
When the Nazis overran France, John decided to try to
flee to England where he could hopefully be of service to
Holland, his native country. John didn’t manage to get out;
but he did decide to remain faithful to His God, no matter
how dark the situation might become. When he had to say
farewell to his sister Gabrielle, John told her, “Pray that
God will lead me to do only those things which will be an
honor to Him.”
In occupied France, John watched as more and more Jews
were harassed and herded into camps. It was becoming harder
and harder for them to leave the country. Seeing all those
people in desperate straits, John had to make a decision:
would he risk his own security, even his own life, to help
them? John knew the teachings of Scripture too well to
hesitate. He began forming groups to help people in the
camps; he talked officials into giving him papers as a
social worker so he could distribute food and arrange
secretly for travel permits and false identification
papers. He used money from his textile business to pay
legal fees for lawyers to get some out of the camps.
Then, as the situation worsened, John began forming an
organization, called “Dutch-Paris” which would actually take
internees and others in danger all the way out of France to
the safety of neutral Switzerland.
In all this, John Weidner prayed and thought a great
deal. He would have to use illegal means to gain people’s
freedom. Was it justified? This man wasn’t just giving his
allegiance to some political group or ideology. He didn’t
want to be motivated by hatred; he wanted always to be
faithful to the God of the Bible. And he decided that
saving people from certain death was his chosen work at this
time. As he worked and organized and planned, John said, “I
feel the hand of God leading me onward. These countless
refugees need the help of a compassionate friend. They need
the love of God demonstrated amid the torment and terror of
this awful war. I believe the work our organization is
doing will show the love that only He can give.”
That was what pushed John Weidner into his great and
perilous adventure leading the Dutch-Paris underground. It
was his ultimate allegiance that drove him to become the
“Rescuer of Lyon.”
Klaus Barbie and John Weidner divided over the question
of allegiance; they chose different masters. Jesus Christ
had something very clear to say about our ultimate
allegiance. In Luke 16:13 He warned:

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate
the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one
and despise the other. Luke 16:13

If we give our allegiance to anyone or anything besides
God, it will eventually eat up our faith. We can’t serve
two masters. Klaus Barbie became the property of one; he
accepted a monstrous Nazi god and became a monster himself.
He became what no one seeing him in his youth could have
imagined. What a difference it makes—who we give our
allegiance to.

Allegiance made the difference between Klaus Barbie and
John Weidner. Neither one began life as a saint or as a
brute; each one began life grounded in the Christian faith.
But they parted ways at that critical point—the point of
ultimate allegiance, loyalty, devotion. And their
allegiances took them poles apart.
Barbie became the Butcher of Lyon. John Weidner became
the selfless rescuer.
One incident reveals in a
dramatic way just what his values were.
Weidner was escorting a family of refugees, named Smit,
over the Saleve Mountain and on to freedom in Switzerland.
As they were crossing the summit, one member of the group,
Grandmother Smit, began to lag behind. She gasped, “I can’t
keep up; I’m just an old woman. I don’t think I can make
it.”
John encouraged her. “You’re doing fine,” he said,
“Just keep walking steadily.” But soon she was pleading,
“Let me die. It’s MY life. Just let me lie down here and
die. You can go on without me; it won’t make any
difference.”
But it DID make a difference to John Weidner. During
dark moments he often quoted a verse from Isaiah to himself
that said, “He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to
proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the
prison to them that are bound.” That was the kind of work
God did, and he had given his wholehearted allegiance to
Him, no matter what the cost. Grandmother Smit was slowing
the pace considerably. Every extra moment spent on this
mountain added to the danger of discovery by a border
patrol. The sun was sinking in the west. Would they have
light enough to make it safely down the mountain?
But this one old woman who felt utterly useless DID
matter. Her was precious in God’s eyes. John Weidner could
not abandon her. So he placed her arm around his neck and
carried her along, a few difficult steps at a time, and
fortunately, the whole Smit family made it across the border
to safety.
John Weidner and Klaus Barbie. How differently these
two men looked at human life. What a difference our
allegiances make.

Widner’s story comes from a book called “FLEE THE CAPTOR”
Herbert Ford, Southern Publishing Association

Barbie’s story comes from “THE BUTCHER OF LYON”

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One of my principle motivations in sharing illustrations for Christian speakers is to provide real-life stories, not just illustrations that are analogies. My passion is to help Christian speakers be able to SHOW what God is like, how He works in our lives, how the Christian faith works—not just TELL.

Father’s Day – A Son’s Sacrifice

Illustration for Christian speaker.

Here’s an illustration about the cross that might work especially well around Father’s Day.
It’s a story about Rudyard Kipling the father, and his son’s sacrifice.

The Father Behind the Cross
Steven Mosley

Rudyard Kipling liked to take his children for picnics in the hills of Sussex Downs. He played games for hours with them, and he told them stories.
This great British author had fascinated countless readers with tales of life in far-away India, where he grew up. He would become world-famous with the publication of “The Jungle Book,” and “Just So Stories.”
But nothing gave him greater satisfaction than telling his children stories, like the story of how the leopard got his spots and the zebra his stripes. They wanted to hear that over and over again.
Kipling adored his two daughters, Josephine and Elsie. And when his wife Carrie bore him a third child, he was overjoyed when the doctor called out, “You have a son.”
Now the family was complete. Kipling was determined to give his children a happy childhood, one very unlike his own.
Rudyard had to be separated from his parents at the tender age of six. He and his sister said farewell in Bombay and were shipped off to England, where they could attend “proper schools.” The woman paid to board them had a mean streak. She would beat and taunt Rudyard, who was small and frail for his age. Sometimes he was locked in a cold, damp cellar for hours.
Years later, Kipling determined that his kids were going to have plenty of sunshine. And he enjoyed watching them grow up, playing on the grassy hills of
Sussex.
Kipling took special pride in his son, John. He’d always been a bright, cheerful, uncomplaining child. And he developed into a tall, handsome boy, who
loved to play rugby.
One winter day in 1910 Kipling began to pen some thoughts for his twelve-year-old son. He wanted to express certain ideals to live by. The result was a poem called “If” which would inspire millions. It ended with these words:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Your is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–what is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

John Kipling did grow up to be a man. And in 1915, with a war raging in Europe, he decided to do his part. His father managed to get him a commission as a second lieutenant with the Irish Guards.
But then came news of the heavy casualties in the trenches. Wave after wave of recruits were sailing across the channel to France.
John might be called to go over any time now. He was eager to serve, but he was only 17. He required parental consent to go to the front.
Rudyard Kipling faced a difficult choice.
He’d visited the front; he’d written about the fighting; he didn’t want his son to have to go into that carnage. And yet everything he’d taught the boy about duty and never shirking responsibility was moving John in that direction.
Rudyard Kipling had been warning about German aggression for years. Now his son wanted to back up his father’s words with action.
So Kipling gave his consent. On August 15 John waved good-by from the railing of a ship, with a tip of his officer’s cap. His mother thought he looked “very smart and straight and brave.”
It was the last time his family would ever see him.
Six weeks later a telegram from the War Office reported–John Kipling, Missing in Action. Last seen during a battle in Loos, France.
Rudyard Kipling was heartbroken. He tried desperately to learn something, anything, about his son’s fate. Traveling over to France, he trudged from one muddy outpost hospital to another. He searched among the wounded. He hunted down men from John’s battalion.
But he never found his son. He’d been lost in the Great War.
Later Rudyard Kipling would try to deal with his grief by working with the Imperial War Graves Commission. He proposed that a Stone of Sacrifice be erected at each cemetery honoring the war dead. It would represent soldiers whose bodies were never identified. It would be inscribed with these words: “Known But Unto God.”
Known But Unto God. That memorial was a father’s anguished hope that God did know about that lost son, that God did understand.
I would like to suggest that God does know, far more than we can imagine. Because he too watched a Beloved Son grow intto maturity. He too endured tragedy. He too has a story to tell, and a memorial to erect. It’s a memorial for each one of us.
When Jesus of Nazareth began to increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with everyone, as Luke tells us, Joseph was proud of his fine son. But he wasn’t the only one. There was another Father, hidden in the shadows, watching over this boy. There was a Heavenly Father who treasured every step his divine Son took toward becoming a Man.
And one day this Father’s just couldn’t contain his pride. It burst out at the Jordan River, at the moment when John the Baptist lifted Jesus out of the water of baptism. Matthew 3:17 tells us:

And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

God the Father was well pleased with his beloved Son–and he had to tell people about it. Jesus was beginning his ministry. He was responding to the call of duty. He would teach the multitudes and heal the sick and comfort the afflicted throughout Judea and Galilee. He would live out the principles of grace and love and truth that his Father in Heaven had instilled in him. He would mirror God’s character so well that he could say, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.”
Yes this was a son to be proud of.
But one day, three years later, the Heavenly Father had to face a terrible choice. Jesus was agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was facing a terrible ordeal ahead. He had to make a great sacrifice in the war between good and evil. He had to take on the sins of the world in his own body. It was the only way to make people free.
The Father had watched him walk steadily toward his rendezvous with destiny in Jerusalem. He would not shirk his responsibility. But now, in that garden, the Son of God crumbled to the ground. The weight of sin seemed overwhelming. Sweating great drops of blood he cried out:

Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done. Luke 22:42

In those moments Jesus couldn’t see beyond that cup of divine wrath against sin. He only felt a terrible separation from his beloved Father. He wondered if there was some other way out.
And the Heavenly Father had to make a terrible choice. He didn’t want to see his boy suffer. He didn’t want to see him beaten and mocked and spit on. He didn’t want to see him tortured at Golgotha. He would have done anything to spare this Beloved Son from that agony.
And yet, and yet, everything that this Father and Son believed, everything they stood for, everything they cherished, was moving them toward the cross.
They had made a pact with each other long before; they had resolved to do whatever it took to rescue human beings from sin and death. And it was going to take this. It was going to take the cross.
That’s the terrible choice this Father had to make.
Most of us are familiar with images of Christ’s sufferings on the cross, nailed between two thieves. Many have painted vivid pictures of what he must have gone through, rejected by man, abandoned by heaven.
But there was another one who suffered too, hidden in the shadows. There was a Father who gave up his Son into our calloused hands. There was a Father ho had to watch silently as his boy was brutalized.
He was wounded too, deeply wounded. His son was lost, terribly lost. Hell had closed in around him like some great war that swallows up the noblest and the bravest.
Rudyard Kipling knew a little bit about that kind of sorrow. He knew about it as he wandered from one muddy hospital to another in France, looking for some word of John, his one and only son. He felt that wound when he realized the boy had disappeared without a trace.
The Heavenly Father had to watch his Son be consumed by sin, torn apart by transgression. He had to turn away when his boy cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
A Father doesn’t forget a cry like that. Those words are seared into his memory.
Yes there was a Father behind the cross, there was another who suffered in the shadows.
And do you realize that it’s God the Father who turned the cross into a monument? Yes he had to have a monument for his son’s sacrifice, like Rudyard ipling did.
My son gave up his life for you. That’s the inscription on the cross. All the sacrifice that cross represents is “Known But Unto God.” But God wants us to know about that monument. He wants us to know what it means, why it was necessary, what it can do for us.
During the dark days of World War I, Rudyard Kipling had a hard time coming to terms with his loss. He began to wonder if the death of his son had any meaning. Had it made any difference? The fighting dragged on and on.
One day he received a rumpled, brown-paper package in the mail. It was addressed simply to Monsieur Kipling. The painstaking scrawl indicated it had been sent from the front.
Kipling opened the package and found a red box inside. It contained a French translation of his novel Kim. And the book had been pierced by a bullet hole–that stopped at the last 20 pages. A string had been tied through the hole, and dangling from it was the Maltese Cross, France’s medal for bravery in war.
It belonged to a young French soldier named Maurice. He explained in a letter that Kipling’s book had saved his life. Had it not been in his pocket when he went into battle, the bullet would have pierced his heart. Maurice asked Kipling to accept the book and the medal as tokens of his gratitude.
Rudyard Kipling had received many honors as a celebrated British author. He’d even won a Nobel Prize for literature. But no honor moved him as much as
this one. God had made him a part of sparing someone’s life. Maybe there was a meaning to it all. Maybe there was a point to all the sacrifice.
And that is the point to the sacrifice Jesus made. That is the meaning that the Heavenly Father sees. Someone’s life can be spared. Your life can be spared. Many lives can be spared.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross meant that, “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death.” (Hebrews 3:14)
Paul tells us that Christ delivered us from this present evil age “according to the will of our God and Father.” (Galatians 1:5)
God the Father and God the Son were together in that sacrifice, in that giving of themselves. That’s why we can be delivered from an evil age into the
Kingdom of Heaven.
Paul the Apostle knew the part the Father played in the drama of redemption. And so he wanted to give God the Father glory. He wanted to turn the monument of the cross into a medal that the Father holds in his hands, a medal that says, “You’ve saved this life; I’m forever grateful.”
Rudyard Kipling and that French soldier Maurice kept up a correspondence over the years. They developed a friendship that helpped Kipling deal with the loss of his own son. And one day Maurice wrote that his wife had given birth to a boy. Would Kipling consent to be the godfather?
Kipling looked out his study window. He remembered that joyful moment when he first held his son in his arms. Now Maurice knew that magical feeling–because his life had been spared. And Kipling realized that no memorial would do more justice to his brave son’s memory than this tiny infant, full of promise.
So he wrote back, saying he would be delighted. Rudyard Kipling became the child’s godfather. Maurice named him, Jean, French for John. And Kipling
presented the infant with a gift, that book with the bullet hole in it and the Maltese cross, Maurice’s medal. He thought it only fitting that this child should have it.
Do you know what gives God the Father his greatest joy? Do you know what he finds most rewarding about the sacrifice he and his Son made? It’s seeing many other children born in faith, born again into the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s what makes it all worth while. The Apostle John says it so eloquently. 1 John 3:1:

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! 1 John 3:1

What manner of love indeed. Because of his sacrifice we can be called children of God, we can be accepted into the divine family, we can grow up secure in his love.
That’s the honor that God gives us. He enables us to clutch that cross in our hands like a medal. He wants us to know that the sacrifice was worth it—because of what it can mean to us. He wants us to know it was worth it–just to see the light come on in his child’s eyes.

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Easter – Tangible Hope

Illustration for Christian speaker.

I ran across this story, from an old script I did, which I really love as an illustration for Easter and the hope we have in Christ.

A Piece of Bread to Hold

Steven Mosley.

Soon after World War II ended in Europe, American soldiers set up camps in various cities for orphans. These kids had been staying alive by scavenging
for food among bombed-out ruins and bullet-marked streets. In the camps they
finally found a place of safety. No planes would be droning overhead to bomb
them. No enemy troops would come bursting in during the night. They were well clothed, had three good meals a day, and the compassionate care of camp
workers.
But the youngsters still had trouble sleeping at night. No one could
figure out exactly why. Finally a team of psychologists studied the situation
and made a suggestion.
Every night each child was given a piece of bread before going to sleep–a
piece of bread just to hold. If one of the orphans was still hungry he was
given an extra piece to eat. But every child, the psychologists instructed,
was to have a piece of bread to hold in their hand as they dozed off.
Soon after this, the children began to sleep well all through the night.
They knew there would be bread for tomorrow.
What these orphans needed, after all they’d been through, was a confident
hope they could hang on to.

One evening, eleven men gather in a locked upper room to talk about
their future–which looks terribly grim. Suddenly an unexpected guest walks
into the room. Their mouths drop; they blink their eyes. They too look like
they’ve seen a ghost. But this ghost asks them to touch Him. This ghost sits
down and eats a piece of broiled fish. And they can hardly believe what’s
happening because their amazement and joy knows no bounds. (Luke 24:41)
This is one of the most intensely joyful scenes in the entire Bible.
The black despair of the disciples suddenly gave way to exhilarating hope. And
this hope would become the center of their lives. Jesus’ resurrection was like
a piece of bread in the hands of an orphan: tangible proof that they could have
confidence in tomorrow. These almost-orphaned disciples could know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Bread of Life would always be with them. They’d
seen Jesus conquer death itself; they finally grasped the hope of eternal life.

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Valentine’s Day – Love & Faith in a Storm

These resources for Christian speakers key on the special days of the year that we most reflect on in a worship service.

Holidays are a time for Christian speakers to bring time-honored celebrations into the perspective of grace.

Illustration for Christian speaker.

Thought I’d send this along in case you could use a Valentine’s Day sermon illustration.
While doing some research I came across a true story of a newlywed couple’s love and faith in the midst of a sinking ship that, to me, rivals the drama of “Titanic.” I actually turned it into a script for television a few years back.
I’m sending just the story portion of my script. Feel free to use it in any church communication you’d like.
It may be too long to use in a sermon but you might find parts of it useful.

ADDIE’S UNSINKABLE FAITH
STEVEN MOSLEY

In the summer of 1988, a team of treasure hunters led by Tommy Thompson finally discovered the vessel they’d spent years looking for. The SS Central America lay upright on the Atlantic Ocean floor off the coast of Carolina, 8,000 feet below the surface. It was like a ghost appearing out of the past. And it was a ghost loaded with gold, two tons of it.

No shipwreck this deep had ever been recovered. But Thompson’s team used a sophisticated technology to bring thousands of coins and bars of gold up to the surface. It would prove to be the greatest treasure ever found in the sea.

The story of the SS Central America was being lifted from the depths bit by bit, artifact by artifact. But one of its greatest stories actually had nothing to do with all that gold on the ocean floor. It’s greatest story revolved around the extraordinary faith of a young newlywed named, Addie Easton. We can piece her story together from the journal that she left us.

The SS Central America sailed out of Havana, Cuba on the morning of September 8, 1857, bound for the coast of Florida. She was one of a new generation of side-wheeler steamers that regularly made the run between Panama and the New York Harbor. The ship faced into moderate breezes in fine weather.

But a few days out to sea, the Central America ran into a hurricane. A furious wind lashed at the ship. And the ocean churned with enormous waves.

Still, this steamer was well put together. And Captain William Herndon believed that as long as he could keep the boilers fired with coal, as long as he could keep the wheels turning with a full head of steam, his ship could head into the waves and ride out any storm.

Soon, however, the battering of the storm took its toll. The Central America began to leak. The boiler room began filling with sea water. Every able-bodied man aboard, some 500 of them, began bailing. They worked for 30 straight hours with little sustenance or sleep. They fought off certain death by passing seawater in buckets from below decks to be dumped back into the Atlantic.

But it was a losing battle. On September 11, the ship’s boilers went out for good. Captain Herndon could no longer steer his ship. The steamer was blown sideways into the swells. Waves as tall as hotels slammed into her broadside. The Central America was going down.

Two tons of gold was going down with her. What the Central America had picked up in Panama was a group of passengers who’d sailed from San Francisco — and the California Gold Rush. Many had struck it rich. They were loaded. They were coming back to make huge deposits in the New York banks.

But now, all that gold couldn’t restart the boilers. It couldn’t keep the Central America headed into the waves. It couldn’t rescue their sinking ship.

All the gold and silver was going to the bottom. But there was one couple there on the Central America, newlyweds Ansel and Addie Easton, who weren’t just grasping for the wind. They managed to hang onto something that wasn’t sinking.

ADDIE’S JOURNAL: “A few hours only at most were between us and eternity. They continued the bailing vigorously all night long, my own dear husband taking his turn and when he was exhausted returning to my side; and after he was a little rested, resuming his place. We talked to each other very calmly, and we mingled our prayers to Him who was our only hope and refuge. And He answered us and in answer He gave us such sweet consolation in such trying hours. How little do we realize in our earthly security the preciousness when all human hope has fled, of trusting, whether we live or die in an Almighty Power. I could not think of anything I had ever done to merit His love, but yet I still felt that we were in the palm of His hands and resigned to His will.”

Addie and Ansel found “sweet consolation” in the midst of that storm. And they found a connection, a connection to God’s almighty power.

Gold sinks to the bottom, but faith rises to the top. That’s the way it’s always been. Faith rises to the top in the most trying of circumstances.

God can fill us with joy and peace IN BELIEVING (Romans 15:13). That’s what the God of hope does. It happens as we exercise faith. This God of hope can make us “abound in hope.” Addie Easton was exercising that faith — even as the Central America was breaking up in that hurricane. You can even sense the joy and peace she and Ansel had, in believing.

ADDIE’S JOURNAL: “All that fearful night we watched and prayed, not knowing but that each hour might be our last. My sweet, dear husband and I, we talked calmly about our dear, dear friends, about our very brief happiness together, our hopes for the future. Life had never seemed so attractive and precious to either of us, and yet I think we could both say ‘Thy will be done.’ We resolved that when the moment came we would tie ourselves together and the same wave would engulf us both.”

As the Central America was tossed about in the storm, Ansel Easton joined those who were desperately trying to bail water. When exhausted he’d rest a bit by Addie’s side. Addie herself tried to join the line of men passing buckets to the upper deck, but they wouldn’t let her.

During one of their moments together, Addie turned to her husband and said, “Ansel, if you hadn’t married me, you wouldn’t be in all this trouble.”

Ansel looked back at her and replied tenderly, “If I knew it all beforehand, I should do the same again.”

And at that moment this new bride knew that this man beside her meant every word of it.

ADDIE’S JOURNAL: “Here in the midst of mortal peril, with death before me, with all the joys of life, so wonderfully loved, disappearing, my dear husband’s words made even the storm and the shipwreck nothing.”

While others were anguishing and fretting over what to do with the gold in their carpet bags, Ansel and Addie calmly resolved to go down together hand in hand.

Gold sinks to the bottom. Faith rises to the top.

Why did the storm and shipwreck become almost “nothing” for Addie? Because she had placed her faith in a good man, because she knew beyond a doubt that the man beside her was faithful and true and would be with her until the end.

Ansel Easton proved himself a good, faithful man to the end. One afternoon, someone spotted a sail on the horizon, another ship was approaching. It proved to be a two-masted brig, the Marine, bound for Boston. As she passed close, the passengers of the Central America cheered and wept, believing they were saved.

But the Marine herself had been battered by the storm. She was waterlogged and partially dis-masted. She had a hard time keeping close to the Central America. Captain Herndon ordered the women and children into the six lifeboats on board.

It proved a difficult, perilous task. The storm was still raging. Passengers had to be lowered into boats tossed by the waves, crashing against the ship.

Ansel Easton set to work on deck helping to get people off the Central America. Then he went below to tell Addie to hurry. “We shall be saved,” he assured her, “but the women and children are to be taken off first.”

Addie’s face turned white. “I can’t go without you,” she said.

Ansel reassured her, “You have to go; I shall follow very soon.”

Up on the deck, Ansel prepared Addie for the lifeboat. She turned to him again and said, “I don’t want to go till you do.” But he calmed her and said, “You have to leave now.”

After she was lowered into the third lifeboat, Ansel threw a coat down to her containing some valuables. And then he took the coat off his own shoulders and tossed it down, too, so she would be warmer during the rough ride to the other ship.

Ansel remained faithful to the end. Others were more distracted. One man spotted what he thought was an opening in a lifeboat being shoved away. Quickly, he stuffed a money belt containing 2,000 dollars in gold into his coat pocket. Then he leaped from the deck. The man managed to land in the boat, but his money belt fell out, hit the gray water, and sank instantly.

Other men on the deck seemed to have gone into a daze. Women moving away in the lifeboats looked back and saw some tossing gold coins into the wind.

But Addie could look back and see Ansel, and hold his steady gaze, and pull his coat tight around her shoulders.

Gold sinks to the bottom. But faith rises to the top. Faith rescues us. It can rescue us in the storm. (1 Peter 1:6,7)

After Addie made it safely to the Marine, she hoped the lifeboats would quickly be sent back for the men on that sinking ship. But the Marine had drifted too far away. There wasn’t a man with strength left to row back. And the storm made an immediate return trip seem impossible.

Tragically, the Central America sank before help could get back. Addie was on the Marine’s deck watching the lights in the distance disappear beneath the waves. Word soon came from an empty lifeboat: “The steamer’s gone down and every soul on board her is lost.”

The Marine managed to limp back to Chesapeake Bay. But it was a sad voyage for Addie. She was sustained only by the memory of her brave husband on the deck of that doomed ship. His coat was still around her shoulders.

As the ship docked in Norfolk, Addie and the other survivors received startling news. Forty-nine men from the Central America had been rescued by another vessel. Forty-nine had survived!

Addie caught a glimmer of hope. Was her beloved Ansel among them?

Arriving at a hotel where the survivors had gathered, Addie glanced from face to face in the parlor. Ansel was not there. But a few minutes later he burst into the room. He’d impatiently rowed out to the Marine to be reunited with his bride of four weeks — and found that she’d already gone.

There they were. Face to face. They embraced, and they were so overwhelmed that they could not speak.

ADDIE JOURNAL: “We wept together as well as rejoiced and for several nights, neither of us could sleep, so vivid were the scenes that we had passed through. My watch, my beautiful ring, our wedding presents and many other things that I valued from their associations were all lost. Though I shall never behold them again, I still have the privilege of preserving them in my memory and I still have my darling husband, the most precious jewel of all.”

Ansel was able to tell his wife about his miraculous survival. During the last moments, Ansel stood beside the captain who was firing the last of the flares. A wave crashed over the ship and forced it under.

As the Central America broke up and began to sink into the deep, Ansel was sucked down with her. He struggled to unfasten an overcoat he had buttoned about his neck — and then somehow, he shot upward. Breaking to the surface, he found himself among scores of other men floating with the debris of the ship.

Ansel managed to hang onto a board for several hours in the frigid waters. He knew that there was someone waiting for him. Suddenly, a vessel loomed out of the dark. To him it seemed to have dropped from the clouds. He grasped the rope thrown down to him and was pulled up to the deck and safety.

Gold sinks to the bottom, faith rises to the top.

___________________________________________________


Christmas – Witnessing Son’s Birth

Illustration for Christian speaker.

Here’s a story you might be able to use during the Christmas season. I wrote it some time ago as a new father awed by the birth experience. It gave me an unexpected window on the Christ Child.

MANCHILD

Steven Mosley

Her forehead wet, her cheeks flushed, she lies wrapped
in white, reminding me of Lazarus writhing out of the cave
with a new life.  I stand by the bed feeling like a gawky
appendage.
It is 10 P.M.  All the carefully memorized contraction
sequences flow together indecipherably, like so much
static.  Beside a silver pitcher of water on the night
stand, a machine resembling a seismograph steadily rolls out
lined paper.  The ink jerks jagged and erratic.  I know they only
measure my wife’s contractions, but as I keep staring at the
slow, steep crescendo and feel her hand grip mine hard, the
machine seems malevolent, as if it were the cause of these
abdominal assaults.
A few times during the long night there are lulls in
the struggle.  My wife rests.  I retreat to a couch and try
to sleep, but my mind fastens on another, distant scene.
I wonder, how did the Heavenly Father feel while Mary
labored in that Bethlehem
barn?  Surrounded by adoring angels and the glories of
heaven, what did He think about delivering His babe into the
quagmire of this earth?  I can almost picture Him pacing
back and forth among the cherubim.
Back in the labor room a little electric dot jogs
around its track.  Fetal heartbeat they say.  I prefer not
to understand.  The signs I do know about are unnerving
enough.
I continue rubbing her back, counting and breathing
rhythmically, and lifting her up.  Still I can’t get into
where the blows strike.  I’m in another world.
The Sovereign God had to wait too–as if helpless,
staring at His palms, taking a back seat to cows and
shepherds.  He was no amateur attendant.  His hands had not
lost their skill since fashioning the orchids, gazelles and
DNA of this planet.  Yet He must remain hidden.  Disarmed.
The nurses have been kind and firm through the sluggish
early morning hours.  But my winded mate has long ago given
up being gutsy.  She takes all the medication her groans can
squeeze out of them.
Finally our infant makes a telling move.  They roll her
into a delivery room full of stainless steel.  I sneak in
behind a green gown and am surrounded by an ominous array of
instruments and pale green sterility.  While I wipe her
forehead, she is spread-eagled and harnessed for the big push.
I can’t help thinking of an experimental aircraft buzzing
over a cliff on its first attempt.
I imagine the suspense that must have hung over
Bethlehem.  God was to become man–the once-in-eternity
event.  Everything depended on that tiny, frail life
struggling in the womb.  The fate of the human race hung in
the balance.
Before my tense senses the doctor grabs steel forceps.
Great claws they are, looking like something from Joe’s
Garage.  He inserts them (blindly it seems) around those
tiny eyes, lips, nose—gets a good grip and pulls hard,
grunting like a stevedore.  The baby doesn’t budge.
Then I remember the Father and the clumsy hands that
seized His Son.  A sensitive, guileless youth given up into
the hands of hardened men–what more foolhardy thing could
this God have done?  His heavenly character is lost on us.
We fumble and grab rudely at a treasure grossly
misunderstood.
And Pilate delivered Him up to the will of the mob.
Their voices prevail.  When Christ’s arms are yanked across
the wood I see the Father involuntarily stretch out His arm,
cringing.  The cry pierces.
Suddenly a manchild is plopped down warm on my wife’s
stomach.  He is there.  I don’t know how.  He still grimaces
from the violence of his arrival.  My heart stops.  His cry
pierces.  He gasps in the cold, arms waving helplessly as
those of a man falling through black, featureless space.
Could the Christ have been like this?  God Almighty
smudged with dark blood, squinting in the strangeness, head
distended, limbs unwieldy as crowbars.
After our child is bathed, measured and clothed, I run
from nursery window to my wife’s bedside reporting each
momentous event–his tongue is moving; he’s staring at his
left hand.
There in the recovery room we need to release our
exhilaration heavenward.  Fluid with the miracle that has
just passed through us, we pour out a prayer of thanksgiving
to God.  The weariness of the long night is gone.
And the Father too rejoiced in the Messiah’s birth,
though knowing every detail of Jesus’ coming sacrifice.  It
was a potent love welling up in the Almighty that opened His
hands and delivered the Infant into our calloused ones.  To
draw us to Himself, he became vulnerable.  He saw many other
sons, twice-born, emerging from the dark like Lazarus,
writhing with a new life.

Condensed from the book “Glimpses of God,” by Steven Mosley.

Christmas – Witnessing Son’s Birth

Here’s a story you might be able to use during the Christmas season. I wrote it some time ago as a new father awed by the birth experience. It gave me an unexpected window on the Christ Child.

MANCHILD

Steven Mosley

Her forehead wet, her cheeks flushed, she lies wrapped

in white, reminding me of Lazarus writhing out of the cave

with a new life. I stand by the bed feeling like a gawky

appendage.

It is 10 P.M. All the carefully memorized contraction

sequences flow together indecipherably, like so much

static. Beside a silver pitcher of water on the night

stand, a machine resembling a seismograph steadily rolls out

lined paper. The ink jerks jagged and erratic. I know they only

measure my wife’s contractions, but as I keep staring at the

slow, steep crescendo and feel her hand grip mine hard, the

machine seems malevolent, as if it were the cause of these

abdominal assaults.

A few times during the long night there are lulls in

the struggle. My wife rests. I retreat to a couch and try

to sleep, but my mind fastens on another, distant scene.

I wonder, how did the Heavenly Father feel while Mary

labored in that Bethlehem

barn? Surrounded by adoring angels and the glories of

heaven, what did He think about delivering His babe into the

quagmire of this earth? I can almost picture Him pacing

back and forth among the cherubim.

Back in the labor room a little electric dot jogs

around its track. Fetal heartbeat they say. I prefer not

to understand. The signs I do know about are unnerving

enough.

I continue rubbing her back, counting and breathing

rhythmically, and lifting her up. Still I can’t get into

where the blows strike. I’m in another world.

The Sovereign God had to wait too–as if helpless,

staring at His palms, taking a back seat to cows and

shepherds. He was no amateur attendant. His hands had not

lost their skill since fashioning the orchids, gazelles and

DNA of this planet. Yet He must remain hidden. Disarmed.

The nurses have been kind and firm through the sluggish

early morning hours. But my winded mate has long ago given

up being gutsy. She takes all the medication her groans can

squeeze out of them.

Finally our infant makes a telling move. They roll her

into a delivery room full of stainless steel. I sneak in

behind a green gown and am surrounded by an ominous array of instruments and pale green sterility. While I wipe her

forehead, she is spread-eagled and harnessed for the big push.

I can’t help thinking of an experimental aircraft buzzing

over a cliff on its first attempt.

I imagine the suspense that must have hung over

Bethlehem. God was to become man–the once-in-eternity

event. Everything depended on that tiny, frail life

struggling in the womb. The fate of the human race hung in

the balance.

Before my tense senses the doctor grabs steel forceps.

Great claws they are, looking like something from Joe’s

Garage. He inserts them (blindly it seems) around those

tiny eyes, lips, nose—gets a good grip and pulls hard,

grunting like a stevedore. The baby doesn’t budge.

Then I remember the Father and the clumsy hands that

seized His Son. A sensitive, guileless youth given up into

the hands of hardened men–what more foolhardy thing could

this God have done? His heavenly character is lost on us.

We fumble and grab rudely at a treasure grossly

misunderstood.

And Pilate delivered Him up to the will of the mob.

Their voices prevail. When Christ’s arms are yanked across

the wood I see the Father involuntarily stretch out His arm,

cringing. The cry pierces.

Suddenly a manchild is plopped down warm on my wife’s

stomach. He is there. I don’t know how. He still grimaces

from the violence of his arrival. My heart stops. His cry

pierces. He gasps in the cold, arms waving helplessly as

those of a man falling through black, featureless space.

Could the Christ have been like this? God Almighty

smudged with dark blood, squinting in the strangeness, head

distended, limbs unwieldy as crowbars.

After our child is bathed, measured and clothed, I run

from nursery window to my wife’s bedside reporting each

momentous event–his tongue is moving; he’s staring at his

left hand.

There in the recovery room we need to release our

exhilaration heavenward. Fluid with the miracle that has

just passed through us, we pour out a prayer of thanksgiving

to God. The weariness of the long night is gone.

And the Father too rejoiced in the Messiah’s birth,

though knowing every detail of Jesus’ coming sacrifice. It

was a potent love welling up in the Almighty that opened His

hands and delivered the Infant into our calloused ones. To

draw us to Himself, he became vulnerable. He saw many other

sons, twice-born, emerging from the dark like Lazarus,

writhing with a new life.

Condensed from the book “Glimpses of God,” by Steven Mosley.

___________________________________________________