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Sermon illustrations

Challenges

Blocked Doors

I came home the other day to a house of blocked doors. Not just shut doors, closed doors, or locked doors. Blocked doors. Blame them on Molly, our nine-year-old, ninety-pound golden retriever, who, on most fronts, is a great dog. When it comes to kids and company, Molly sets a tail-wagging standard. But when it comes to doors, Molly just doesn’t get it. Other dogs bark when they want out of the house; Molly scratches the door.

She is the canine version of Freddy Krueger. Thanks to her, each of our doors has Molly marks. We tried to teach her to bark, whine, or whistle; no luck. Molly thinks doors are meant to be clawed. So Denalyn came up with a solution: doggy doors. She installed Molly-sized openings on two of our doors, and to teach Molly to use them, Denalyn blocked every other exit. She stacked furniture five feet deep and twice as wide. Molly got the message. She wasn’t going out those doors. And her feelings were hurt. I came home to find her with drooping ears and limp tail. She looked at the blocked door, then at us. “How could you do this to me?” her eyes pleaded. She walked from stack to stack. She didn’t understand what was going on.

Maybe you don’t either. You try one door after another, yet no one responds to your résumé. No university accepts your application. No doctor has a solution for your illness. No buyers look at your house. Obstacles pack your path. Road, barricaded. Doorway, padlocked. You, like Molly, walk from one blocked door to another. Do you know the frustration of a blocked door? If so, you have a friend in the apostle Paul.

Max Lucado. When God’s Story Becomes Your Story, Zondervan.

The Drama of Humanity & Nations

In his excellent little book, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly describes the inward reality that governs the course of history:

Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others.

And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history. It is the drama of the Hound of Heaven baying relentlessly upon the track of man. It is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hills comes the wiser Shepherd. For His is a shepherd’s heart, and He is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. It is the drama of the Eternal Father drawing the prodigal home unto Himself, where there is bread enough and to spare. It is the drama of the Double Search, as Rufus Jones calls it. And always its chief actor is—the Eternal God of Love.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

Embracing Failure

A common trait of human beings is a fear of failure. Most of us find ways of coping with it, but whenever failure rears its ugly head, it’s difficult not to experience the sting of feeling like we are not good enough. Recently, a Canadian woman has attempted to make failing less private, less shameful, thereby enabling folks to develop more resilience. Ashley Good started her professional career with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) in Ghana, where I imagine she probably experienced her fair share of “failures.” Her response to the often demoralizing experience of regular failure: start a report called admittingfailure.com. From this auspicious start in the failure world, she founded Fail Forward, a consultancy with the mission to help organizations develop cultures that encourage the risk taking, creativity, and continuous adaptation required for innovation.

In her own words, “Fail Forward was created with the belief that dealing with failure intelligently will be the driver we need to improve the way we learn, innovate, and find the agility to stay relevant and competitive. In many ways, our relationship with failure either unlocks our full potential, or keeps us from ever realizing it.”

As the keynote speaker at FailCon Oslo (Yes, not only is there a FailCon, but there are many different iterations), Good asked the audience what words they associated with the word failure. The words spoken were unsurprising: fear, shame, sadness, desperation, panic, and heartbreak. Next she held up the EWB failure report, which included fourteen failures over the past year. Then she asked the very same audience which words they would use to describe the report and the people who submitted the stories.

On this occasion, very different words were used: generous, helping, brave, knowledgeable and courageous. The point was clear: the words we use to describe our failures are very different from the words others, viewing us from the outside, would describe them. For the individuals and organizations that were strong enough to share their failures, it led to a paradoxical effect: people actually trusted them more.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Keeping a Good [Hu]man Down

Martin Luther King, Jr. was right: We can overcome, despite adversity, the trend toward mediocrity, and the temptation to rationalize our weaknesses. You simply cannot keep a good person down.

Cripple him, and you have a Sir Walter Scott. Lock him in a prison cell, and you have a John Bunyan.

Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge, and you have a George Washington.

Raise him in abject poverty, and you have an Abraham Lincoln.

Strike him down with infantile paralysis, and he becomes a Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Burn him so severely that the doctors say he’ll never walk again, and you have a Glenn Cunningham—who set the world’s one-mile record in 1934.

Deafen him and you have a Ludwig van Beethoven.

Have him or her bom black in a society filled with racial Have him or her born black in a society filled with racial discrimination, and you have a Booker T. Washington, a Marian Anderson, a George Washington Carver, or a Martin Luther King, Jr.

Call him a slow learner, “retarded,” and write him off as uneducable, and you have an Albert Einstein.

Quoted in Ted W. Engstrom, The Pursuit of Excellence (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1982)

Managing the Big Battalions of Life

A century ago, men were following with bated breath the march of Napoleon and waiting feverishly for news of the war. And all the while in their own homes, babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles. In one year, there stole into a world a host of heroes. Gladstone was born in Liverpool, England, and Tennyson at Somersby. Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Massachusetts.

The very same day of that same year, Charles Darwin made his debut at Shrewsbury. Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath in Old Kentucky, and music was enriched by the birth of Felix Mendelssohn in Hamburg. But nobody thought about babies. Everybody was thinking about battles.

Yet, which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies that were born in 1809? We fancy that God can only manage His world through the big battalions of life, when all the while He is doing it through the beautiful babies that are being born into the world. When a wrong wants righting, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. And where do you find God on Christmas? In a manger. A baby was born at the heart of the Roman Empire, that when the Roman Empire would crumble and fall, that baby, who would become a man,

Frank W Boreham, Mountains in the Midst, 1909.

A Professor’s Question

A college professor met his new class on the first day of school. He stood before the students and gave a nice introduction to the class and about himself.

Upon completion of his monologue, he looked around the room and asked his students, “If any of you think you are stupid, stand up.” As he looked around he saw that none of his students stood up.

He proceeded to ask the same question again, “If anyone thinks he or she is stupid to please stand up.”

The college professor looked around and to his surprise one student in the back of the room stood up. The professor asked, “So, you think you are stupid?”

The first-year student replied, “No, I just didn’t want you to feel alone.”

Source Unknown

Rolling the Stone Away

The renowned musical scholar  and musician Albert Schweitzer’s life was turned upside down one summer morning in 1896 while reading his Bible. He came upon Matthew 16:25: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (KJV). At that moment Schweitzer knew that he was about to give up his extremely successful career as a musical scholar and organist and become a doctor, to ultimately work in the jungles of Africa. This meant not merely leaving a successful career, but going back to school to study medicine, an area of study that by no means came naturally to him. Struggles mounted, including his ability to affiliate with a medical missions organization out of France, who disagreed with Schweitzer’s Lutheran theology.

His ultimate goal, as one source has noted, was “to spread the Gospel by the example of his Christian labor of healing, rather than through the verbal process of preaching.” Schweitzer would reflect on his calling, saying “Anybody who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll any stones out of his way, and must calmly accept his lot even if they roll a few more onto it. Only force that in the face of obstacles becomes stronger can win.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Surviving Navy Seals Training

And as difficult as most of their training is, nothing can compare to BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training. If it sounds intense, it’s actually worse. During BUDS, you have to survive “one-hundred-ten hours without sleep.” You have to carry a log over your head for hours. Countless swims, endless runs, jumping out of planes, and then there’s perhaps the hardest part of all, called “pool comp.”

In “pool comp” you are put underwater with all your scuba gear on, the instructor yanks your regulator out of your mouth, he ties your air hose in knots, he mocks you constantly as you struggle for air. What your mind is naturally telling you at this point is simple: You are going to die, but if you want to pass “pool comp,” you have to calmly follow all protocol to pass.

It’s not hard to see why there’s a 94 percent attrition rate. Now the question is, why do some pass, while most fail? This is the exact same question the Navy wanted to find out, because after 9/11 they were in desperate need for more Seals, but didn’t want to water down the quality either by simply changing their standards. So they began studying the data. And the results were quite surprising. The Navy didn’t need more macho guys or strong guys, they often were the first to ring the bell and give up. Nope, but they could use more used Car Salesman.

Why? Because Used Car Salesman have learned how to survive the seemingly never-ending amount of rejection they receive by changing their self-talk. That is, by changing the stories inside their heads.

The truth is, we aren’t like computers, going from place to place with mathematical computations inside our heads to make each decision. No, we are story-tellers. We tell stories because stories are how we make sense of the world around us. Scientists know this, Jesus knows this, and now even the Navy knows just how important stories are for our lives.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

See also Illustrations on AdversityEndurance, Perseverance, Resilience

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Challenges. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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