Sermon illustrations


A Better Idea

A businessman well known for his ruthlessness once announced to writer Mark Twain, “Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the 10 Commandments aloud at the top.”

“I have a better idea,” replied Twain. “You could stay in Boston and keep them.”

Moody Bible Institute’s Today in the Word

Act as if You are in Love

I challenge those who come to me for marriage counseling this way: “If you do what I tell you to do for an entire month, I can promise you that by the end of the month, you will be in love with your mate. Are you willing to give it a try?”When couples accept my challenge, the results are invariably successful.

My prescription for creating love is simple: Do ten things each day that you would do if you really were in love. I know that if people do loving things, it will not be long before they experience the feelings that are often identified as being in love. Love is not those feelings. Love is what one wills to do to make the other person happy and fulfilled. Often, we don’t realize that what a person does influences what he feels.

Dr. Anthony Campolo, in Homemade, June, 1988.

Consider your Habits, They Make up 40% of Your Life

A 2014 study by Wendy Wood found that approximately 40% of people’s daily activities are performed out of habit.  According to Wood, “an important characteristic of a habit is that it’s automatic…We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals.

We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response.” While we often think of ourselves as independent thinkers, the research proves that we often don’t think much at all while undergoing regular activities throughout our day. As followers of Jesus, we may want to reconsider forming the kinds of habits that enable us to draw closer to God and neighbor.

Original material adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr., source material by Wendy Wood, Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “How we form habits, change existing ones.” Science Daily.

The Crucial Thing

In a journal entry by the Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the great existentialist philosopher describes the importance not simply of grasping the truth of the Christian faith, but having the truth of the Christian faith manifest itself in his everyday life:

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, excerpt insofar as knowledge must precede every act.  What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die

What use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many specific points- if it had no deeper meaning for my life?…I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all.  This is what my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water.

Søren Kierkegaard, Journal Entry Dated August 1, 1835.

The Danger of Service Alone

The fact that our works are done in the service of God is not enough, by itself, to prevent us from losing our interior life if we let them devour all our time and all our strength. Work is good and necessary, but too much of it renders the soul insensitive to spiritual values, hardens the heart against prayer and divine things. It requires serious effort and courageous sacrifice to resist this hardening of heart.

Thomas Merton, The Last of the Fathers (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1954)

Love in Action

When I was growing up, my dad was a farmer, not a Christian. He had little interest in faith, having been told by his father that the Bible was a fairy tale. But then a local pastor took an interest in my dad, asking if he could help plow the fields on the weekend.

That one act of service spoke louder than words ever could to my dad. By his actions, the pastor made my dad feel loved, and that did more than any preaching could have. He didn’t need convincing about the theological correctness of the Bible; he needed to feel God’s love for him. This pastor met that need in a practical way. And that’s evangelism.

Dawn Pick Benson

Fearing to Want

In her thought-provoking book, Teach us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel describes the tension in listening to our deepest desires: some of them these desires are integral to our identity, but they also can easily be marred by sin:

Brennan Manning was a man ordained into the Franciscan priesthood who struggled with a lifelong addiction to alcohol. He writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” Like Manning, every human is drunk on the wine of paradox and riddled with fear. We each have great capacity for evil and terrific incapacity for good.

These fears can obstruct our will to want. How can we allow ourselves to want, especially when we’re so infinitely adept at sin? How do we ever decide that our desires are anything other than sin-sick expression of our inner corruption? Can we trust our desires if we ourselves can be so untrustworthy?

Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Missionary’s Influence

R.W. DeHann wrote of a missionary who, shortly after arriving on the field, was speaking for the first time to a group of villagers. He was trying to present the gospel to them. He began by describing Jesus, referring to him as a man who was compassionate and kind, loving, caring, one who went about doing good works towards all men.

When he was speaking, he noticed that his lesson brought smiles of familiarity to the faces of his audience, and some of them nodded their heads to one another in agreement. He was somewhat puzzled, and he interrupted his message to ask: “Do you know who I’m talking about?” One of the villagers quickly responded: “Yes, we do. You’re talking about a man who used to come here.” Eagerly they told about a missionary doctor who came to their remote village to minister to their physical needs, and his life was so like Christ in caring for those people that they saw Jesus in him. He walked like Jesus walked.

Are you living in Christ? If you’re resting in Jesus Christ, if you’ve found him to be the source of every spiritual blessing, you’re trusting in him for salvation; you’re fellowshipping with him in grace; then your whole life will have been changed.  You see, everyone who is united with Christ expresses that union with Christ by living like Christ, by walking as he walked.

Quoted by Rick Ezell 

Practice is to Judaism…

Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity. That is not to say that Judaism doesn’t have dogma or doctrine. It is rather to say that for Jews, the essence of the thing is a doing, an action. Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought not waver. (Indeed, Judaism suggests that the repeating of the practice is the best way to ensure that a doubter’s faith will return.) This is perhaps best explained by a midrash (a rabbinic commentary on a biblical text).

This midrash explains a curious turn of phrase in the Book of Exodus: “Na’aseh v’nishma,” which means “we will do and we will hear” or “we will do and we will understand,” a phrase drawn from Exodus 24, in which the people of Israel proclaim “All the words that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear.”

The word order, the rabbis have observed, doesn’t seem to make any sense: How can a person obey God’s commandment before they hear it? But the counterintuitive lesson, the midrash continues, is precisely that one acts out God’s commands, one does things unto God, and eventually, through the doing, one will come to hear and understand and believe. In this midrash, the rabbis have offered an apology for spiritual practice, for doing.

Lauren F. Winner. Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Disciplines, Paraclete Press.

Salt Left in the Shaker?

Jesus describes his followers as being “salt” and “light” in the world in Matthew 5. When you think about salt, it doesn’t really have a whole lot of value when it’s just sitting in a salt shaker. 

Similar to putting a lamp under a bowl in Matthew 5, It’s only when the salt is put into action that it has the ability to add flavor, to brighten the senses and bring joy to its recipients. In this same way, the Christian is not meant to be kept “on the shelf,” and only used “in case of emergency.” Our lives are meant to add flavor in the everyday, ordinary lives we inhabit.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Spiritual Formation Essential to Human Existence

In their excellent book Invitation to a Journey, M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton describe the foundation of life as being spiritual in nature. This means we are constantly be “formed” spiritually, whether for good or evil:

We fail to realize that the process of spiritual shaping is a primal reality of human existence. Everyone is in a process of spiritual formation! Every thought we hold, every decision we make, every action we take, every emotion we allow to shape our behavior, every response we make to the world around us, every relationship we enter into, every reaction we have toward the things that surround us and impinge upon our lives—all of these things, little by little, are shaping us into some kind of being.

We are being shaped into either the wholeness of the image of Christ or a horribly destructive caricature of that image, destructive not only to ourselves but also to others, for we inflict our brokenness upon them.

This wholeness or destructiveness radically conditions our relationship with God, ourselves and others, as well as our involvement in the dehumanizing structures and dynamics of the broken world around us. We become either agents of God’s healing and liberating grace, or carriers of the sickness of the world. The direction of our spiritual growth infuses all we do with intimations of either life or death.

Taken from Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

What I Can Do

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), an American Unitarian minister and writer, who lived and worked in Boston, Massachusetts, and inspired many by his story Ten Times One Is Ten:

I’m only one,

but I am one.

I can’t do everything,

but I can do something.

What I can do,

I ought to do.

And what I ought to do,

by the grace of God

I will do.

Taken from The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2007 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Wherever Help is Needed

While written well over a century ago, this excerpt (from the great Princeton theologian) B.B. Warfield’s sermon “imitating the Incarnation continues to inspire the kind of life Christ calls us to:

Christ was led by His love for others into the world, to forget Himself in the needs of others, to sacrifice self once for all upon the altar of sympathy. Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, His followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will we be to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice. Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others.

It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies. It means richness of development. It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours. It means that all the experiences of men shall smite our souls and shall beat and batter these stubborn hearts of ours into fitness for their heavenly home. It is, after all, then, the path to the highest possible development, by which alone we can be made truly men.

Benjamin B. Warfield, “Imitating the Incarnation” (sermon), in The Person and Work of Christ, ed. Samuel Craig (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), 574–75.

Without an Outlet

Just as our bodies need exercise to be strong physically, our faith needs exercise if we are to be strong spiritually. It has often been noted that several rivers flow into the Dead Sea, but no river flows from it.

That’s why its water has become so saturated with minerals over the centuries that nothing is able to live in it. Without any outlet it indeed has become a “dead” sea. The same is true with us. If we keep faith to ourselves, if we never allow it to flow through us to enrich others, and if it has no outlet, then we will find ourselves like the Dead Sea—lifeless and spiritually dead.

Billy Graham, Peace for Each Day, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

See also Decision-Making, Good Works, Habits, Little Things, Obedience, Routines

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