Sermon illustrations


A 12 Million Dollar Education

Tom Watson, Sr., is the man who founded IBM. You can imagine the money, the investments, the experiments, this man, and his multi-billion dollar company have made through the years. Once, years ago, when a million dollars was still a million dollars, Watson had a top junior executive who spent $12 million of the company’s money on a venture that failed. The executive put his resignation on Watson’s desk saying, “I’m sure that you want my resignation.” Watson roared back:, “No I don’t want your resignation. I’ve just spent $12 million educating you. It’s about time you get to work.

Andy Cook

Accelerated Growth: Stretching Your Crops

The inordinate desire in the west to increase productivity, to go faster and faster, especially in business, can actually become counterproductive. In this short story from the Chinese philosopher Mencius we find a helpful reminder that our attempts to speed things up doesn’t always work:

You don’t want to be like the man from Sung. There was a man from Sung who was worried about the slow growth of his crops and so he went and yanked on them to accelerate their growth. Empty-headed, he returned home and announced to his people: “I am so tired today. I have been out stretching the crops.” His son ran out to look, but the crops had already withered. 

Quoted in Michael Steinberg in The Fiction of a Thinkable World: Body, Meaning, and the Culture of Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005), 129.

Business: A Dog-Eat-Dog World?

In his book A Better Way to Think about Business, the late business philosopher Robert Solomon, a student of business jargon, speaks of having been struck by the imagery that peppers many [business] presentations and advertisements. “Again and again we hear business described as a jungle, a fight for survival, a dog-eat-dog world, a game defined by its so-called winners and losers. This is how many of my business students see it, but Solomon rightly contends that if such language actually reflected the way most people experience business, society would have every reason to question its legitimacy.

Fortunately, business life is not always so hard-edged, even if it is often portrayed this way. As Solomon points out, “We hear too little about the virtues of business life, about the ways in which business and personal integrity support and reinforce one another, perhaps because it makes for such boring and uneventful stories—just modest success and good feelings, camaraderie, mutual pride, and enjoyment.”

Taken from John C. Knapp, How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it), Eerdmans, 2012.

Business Culture vs. Biblical Culture

It’s no secret that too many evangelical leaders are captivated more by business culture than biblical culture, spending more time absorbed in strategies and effectiveness and relatively little time in prayer. No, it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, but let’s face it, it often is.” We should also note that while Jesus had the biggest work assignment in human history-he had been invited to “save the world”-he never spent weeks writing a vision statement with steps for strategically reaching the world with the gospel.

Taken from Invitations from God by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. ©2011 by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

A Business Legacy: Providing More Value for its Customers

Discovering a moral mission requires a little soul searching. Typically, it involves an exercise that serves to identify an intrinsic value embedded in a company’s DNA, which is a logical extension of the business that can do good for the world.

…A few years back, I asked Sam Allen, chairman and CEO, Deere & Company, what he wanted his legacy to be at this venerable company, which has been in operation since 1837. His answer was not to simply sell more green tractors than the previous CEO. His vision was to, yes, continue to have Deere deliver profitability to stakeholders by selling plenty of those machines, but moreover to elevate the brand by delivering a higher value to its customers and the world. The strategy, which moved Deere into an entirely different category than its competitors, was to use software to enable farmers to maximize their yield, ultimately helping them feed an ever-growing planet. With the population expected to grow by two billion, this enabled Deere to address a major world issue. This was Deere’s moral purpose.

This purposeful moral path is analogous to Aristotle’s eudaimonia, a Greek word that often is translated to mean the state of having a good in-dwelling spirit. Aristotle’s concept was that a man who possesses excellence or virtue in character does the right thing at the right time and in the right way. Similarly, companies that follow this path of “right” will prosper on multiple levels, as it will fuel business prosperity and deliver an entirely new level of engagement with stakeholders.

Larry Weber, Authentic Marketing: How to Capture Hearts and Minds Through the Power of Purpose, Wiley, 2019.

Companies and Worship

Martin Lindstrom observes: When people viewed images associated with the strong brands-the iPods, the Harley-Davidson, the Ferrari, and others-their -their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity as they did when they viewed the religious images. Bottom line, there was no discernible difference between the way the subjects’ brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted acted to religious icons and figures.

James Bryan Smith. The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (Apprentice (IVP Books)

Finding Your Blue Flame

I had just started dating my husband, Joe, when I met international speaker and bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi. He was a friend of Joe’s …but on this day he was an intimidating public figure. I wanted to impress him with my wit and conviviality, so when he mentioned that he was on his way to Renaissance Weekend, I responded enthusiastically. “Forsooth!” I exclaimed. “Ye shall buye passage on a skye shippe and make merriment and drinke ale!”

When I asked what costume he was going to wear, he just smiled at me in polite confusion. Finally, Joe leaned over to explain that Keith was talking about Renaissance Weekend, an exclusive global strategy retreat for top leaders in business and politics. I was thinking of a Renaissance festival, where people dress up like pirates and wenches and eat funnel cake.

I’ve always been glad Keith didn’t get up and slowly back away from the crazy woman, because it was later in that same conversation that he introduced me to the concept that changed the way I see the world. He spoke about how grateful he was for his life.

He ran a successful business where he genuinely believed in the work he was doing. World leaders sought his expertise. He traveled internationally. He had a diverse network of friends and colleagues who inspired him daily. He got most excited when he spoke of how he honestly felt like he was having a positive impact on the world, and that’s what really mattered to him.

The more we talked, the more I realized what an unusual conversation this was. When you ask people how their lives are going, usually they look weary. They sigh. They talk about how they wish their situations were different. Then, in the end, they shrug and say it’s fine and change the subject. Not Keith.

He glowed when he talked about his life. “What’s your secret?” I asked. His answer would change my life: “I found my blue flame.” I loved this term. I’d heard it used before, but never with the kind of passion with which Keith talked about it. Something about his explanation made it click for me. I listened eagerly as he said that different people define it different ways, but he thought of a blue flame as your unique way to give back to others. It’s a passion that has been instilled in you that makes the world a better place when you use it. I went home that night lost in that concept. I wondered what my blue flame was, and I felt like it just might change everything if I could ever find it.

Jennifer Fulwiler, Your Blue Flame: Drop the Guilt and Do What Makes You Come Alive, Zondervan, 2020.

Glorifying God in our Work

Work is one way, perhaps even the main way, we can glorify God in this life.

This may sound confusing if you tend to think of glorifying God as what we do in church when we sing praises to God. No question, this counts as glorifying God. But there is so much more to glorifying God than praising God, no matter how essential and wonderful this might be.

Let me use a personal illustration. I love it when my adult children want to spend time with me. I am doubly happy when they tell me how much they love me. These are, indeed, some of the sweetest moments of my life. But I wouldn’t want Nathan and Kara to spend their whole lives doing this. My wife and I have raised them, not just to be with us and to express their love to us, but also and mainly to be responsible citizens, influential leaders, and faithful disciples of Jesus.

My children honor me when they work hard in school, when they mentor high school kids, stage manage plays, contribute to academic conversations, or write pieces that inform and inspire others. To use language I would not ordinarily use, I am glorified when Nathan and Kara work, when they work hard, when they use well their gifts, when they excel at the tasks for which they are well suited.

Genesis 1-2 reveals that God made us to work. Thus, we glorify God when we do that for which we were made. Moreover, when we work for God’s glory, when we steward well all that God has given us for his purposes, we can enjoy God, sensing the joy he feels in us as we work. To be sure, there are times when we ought not to work. And there will be times when we glorify God through the praise of our lips and the worship of our hearts. But, God has created work as a chief means for us to glorify and enjoy him. This truth can change our lives, our workplaces, and our cultures.

Taken from Mark D. Roberts, Life for Leaders, a Devotional Resource of the DePree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary.

The Importance of Meaningful Work

Have you ever wondered what the number-one thing people are looking for in a job? It’s not salary, it’s not even about getting promoted or working on a dynamic team. The number one thing people want from their jobs, according to professor Teresa Amabile, is meaningful work. Human beings are meaning-makers, we rely on meaning to give us hope and confidence to keep fighting the good fight.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Information from Teresa Amabile, The Progress Principle.

Mark Twain & The Ruthless Businessman

A businessman known for his ruthlessness, arrogance, and religiosity told Mark Twain that before he died he intended to visit the Holy Land, climb Mount Sinai, and read the Ten Commandments aloud. ‘I have a better idea,’ Twain replied. ‘Just stay here in Boston and keep them!’  We’d rather cogitate on what we don’t know, then act on what we know we need to do.

Source Unknown

The Self-Destruction of Executives

In his highly insightful work, Inside Job, Stephen W. Smith shares the sobering truth of what happens to many leaders when they climb the “ladder of success”:

The ground at the foot of the ladder of success is littered with the names, faces and stories of leaders who self-destructed on the way up. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know their names and faces. You’ve seen them interviewed by nightly news anchors, you’ve read the scandalous articles online, and you’ve possibly thought,

But that could never happen to me. According to the Harvard Business Review, two out of five new CEOs fail in their first eighteen months on the job. It appears that the major reason for the failure has nothing to do with competence or knowledge or experience, but rather with hubris and ego. In other words, they thought, But that could never happen to me.

Taken from Inside Job by Stephen W. Smith (c) 2009 by Stephen W. Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Two Hats

A man started a company and built it into a very large enterprise, and was planning to hand over the reins to his son at retirement. One day, he was walking through the factory and observed his son angrily berating an employee in front of other employees. He looked at his son and motioned for him to come to his office. “David,” he began. “I wear two hats around here. I am the boss and I am your father.

Right now, I am going to put my boss hat on. You’re fired. You are done here. I will not have that kind of behavior in my company and will not ever tolerate employees being treated that way. I have warned you about this kind of thing before, and you are still doing it. So, I have to let you go.” Then he said, “Now, I am going to put on my father hat.” After a moment’s pause, he continued. “Son, I heard you just lost your job. How can I help you?”

Henry Cloud, “How to Add Climate Control to Your Life,” MariaShriver.com, February 6, 2014.

What Business They Were In

In the late 1800’s, no business matched the financial and political dominance of the railroad. Trains dominated the transportation industry of the United States, moving both people and goods throughout the country. Then a new discovery came along – the car – and incredibly the leaders of the railroad industry did not take advantage of their unique position to participate in this transportation development.

In his book The Search for Excellence, Tom Peters points out the reason: “The railroad barons didn’t understand what business they were in.

Peters observes that “they thought they were in the train business. But, they were in fact in the transportation business. Time passed them by, as did opportunity. They couldn’t see what their real purpose was.”

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Source Material from Tom Peters, The Search For Excellence.

See also Illustrations on Achievement, CallingEconomics, Leadership, Money, Purpose, Work

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