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Sermon illustrations

Prison

The Bible a Great Comfort

For seven years, Terry Anderson was held as a hostage of Shiite Muslim fundamentalists. The former reporter for the Associated Press had been taken captive and held as a political prisoner, and for seven terrible years, he was moved from location to location, hidden successfully, and sentenced to horrible loneliness. Before he was taken as a hostage, Anderson had given much thought to matters of faith. But in prison, he was allowed to have a Bible.

“Constantly over the years, I found consolation and counsel in the Bible I was given in the first few weeks,” he wrote, after his ordeal ended. “Not other world, ‘this is just a test’ kind of consolation, but comfort from the real, immediate voices of people who had suffered greatly, and in ways that seemed so close to what I was going through. I read the Bible more than 50 times, cover to cover, in those first few years.”

Andy Cook

 

God Was Better Served in Prison

On January 9, 1985, Pastor Hristo Kulichev, a Congregational pastor in Bulgaria, was arrested and put in prison. His crime was that he preached in his church even though the state had appointed another man the pastor, one whom the congregation did not elect.

Kulichev’s trial was a mockery of justice, and he was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment. During his time in prison he made Christ known every way he could. When he got out, he wrote, “Both prisoners and jailers asked many questions, and it turned out that we had a more fruitful ministry there than we could have expected in church.

God was better served by our presence in prison than if we had been free.”  In many places in the world, the words of Jesus are as radically relevant as if they had been spoken yesterday: “They will deliver you to prison. . . . This will be a time for you to bear testimony” (Luke 21:12-13, AT ). The pain of our shattered plans is for the purpose of scattered grace.

Taken from Suffering & The Sovereignty of God, edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor © 2006, p.105. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

 

Living in “Heartbreak Hotel”

On November 28, 1965, the fighter plane of Howard Rutledge exploded under enemy fire. He parachuted into the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and was promptly placed in the.

It was on November 28, 1965, that fighter pilot Howard Rutledge’s plane was shot down right into the hands of the North Vietnam Army. Quickly he was shuttled to the “Heartbreak Hotel,” one of the notorious prisons in Hanoi. These are his own words describing the experience:

When the door slammed and the key turned in that rusty, iron lock, a feeling of utter loneliness swept over me. I lay down on that cold cement slab in my 6×6 prison. The smell of human excrement burned my nostrils. A rat, large as a small cat, scampered across the slab beside me. The walls and floors and ceiling were caked with filth. Bars covered a tiny window high above the door. I was cold and hungry; my body ached from the swollen joints and sprained muscles…

It’s hard to decide what solitary confinement can do to uneven and defeat a man. You quickly tire of standing up or sitting down, sleeping or being awake. There are no books, no paper or pencils, no magazines or newspapers. The only colors you see are drab gray and dirty brown. Months or years may go by when you don’t see the sunrise or the moon, green grass or flowers. You are locked in, alone and silent in your filthy little cell breathing stale, rotten air and trying to keep your sanity.

During those long periods of enforced reflection, it became so much easier to separate the important from the trivial, the worth-while from the waste…

My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for steak…I wanted to know about the part of me that will never die…I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church…It took prison to show me how empty life is without God…

On August 31. After twenty-eight days of torture, I could remember I had children but not how many. I said Phyllis’ name over and over again so I would not forget. I prayed for strength. It was on that twenty-eighth night I made God a promise. If I survived this ordeal, the first Sunday back in freedom I would take Phyllis and my family to their church and…confess my faith and join the church.

This wasn’t a deal with God to get me through that last miserable night, it was a promise made after months of thought. It took prison and hours of painful reflection to realize how much I needed God and the community of believers. After I made God that promise, again I prayed for strength to make it through the night.

When the morning dawned through the crack in the bottom of that solid prison door, I thanked God for His mercy.

Howard and Phyllis Rutledge with Mel White and Lyla White, In the Presence of Mine Enemies-1965-1973: A Prisoner of War.

Paul in Prison

Roman imprisonments were brutal. There was no concern for prisoner comfort, no plan for meals or for medical care, and no concern for a just and speedy trial. Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea went on for years. Paul had to wait patiently for his freedom, though he’d done nothing wrong. He’d made a personal connection with Felix, the Roman governor, who often summoned him to speak with him. After two years of this, Felix was succeeded as governor by Festus, but Felix left Paul in prison (Acts 24:27).

His suffering continued. It is so powerful when a person like Paul steps up to teach us life lessons on contentment. If he can be content in this level of agony, maybe he has something he can teach us. We can read Paul’s credentials from the pages of the New Testament. But the Philippian church had personally seen Paul live out supernatural contentment firsthand, when he and Silas came to their city to preach the gospel.

Andrew M Davis, The Power of Christian Contentment, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p.22.

When Failure Launches our Greatest Success

Sometimes God takes our greatest failures and turns them into our greatest successes. Charles “Chuck” Colson had risen the ladder of national political success at breakneck speed. After a tour in the Marines, Colson served in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, ran a political campaign, and joined a law firm before becoming special counsel to the President (Richard Nixon) in 1969, at the ripe old age of 38. And then it all came crashing down, as Colson was sent to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. As one pastor put it, Colson’s (former) career was over, but his calling was just beginning.

While in prison, Colson converted to Christianity and began working alongside his fellow prisoners. His passion for his faith and his fellow prisoners birthed Prison Fellowship. Seeing firsthand the injustices in the American prison system, Colson fought for the rights of the incarcerated, including widespread penal justice reform. But that isn’t all. Prison Fellowship has created a number of programs to help inmates, including training to experience healing and wholeness, with the intention of lowering the rate of recidivism (returning to prison). Today, Prison Fellowship serves in all 50 states in the U.S., impacting more than 1,000 prisons and over 365,000 incarcerated men and women each year.

In his 1983 book Loving God, Colson shares the realization that his legacy came not from his successes, but from his failures:

“The real legacy of my life was my biggest failure – that I was an ex-convict.  My great humiliation – being sent to prison – was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one experience in which I could not glory for His glory.”

Stuart Strachan Jr. Quote from Charles Colson, Loving God, Zondervan, Reprint, 2018.

See Also Illustrations on Justice, LawsLawsuitsLawyersPovertyRaceRighteousness

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