Sermon illustrations


6-Inch Sharks

I met a young man not long ago who dives for exotic fish for aquariums. He told me that one of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. He explained that if you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium you put it in. Sharks can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet.

That is like what happens to some Christians. I have seen some of the cutest little six-inch Christians who swim around in a little puddle. You can look at them and comment on how fine they are. But if you were to put them out into a larger arena, into the broad view of a whole creation, they might become great. 

Pastoral Renewal, February 1985, p. 111.


Both Adams in Me

In this beautiful poem by the English Divine John Donne, our nature as both redeemed and still sinful is eloquently described:

We think that Paradise and Calvary,

Christ’s Cross and Adam’s Tree, stood in one place;

Look Lord and find both Adams met in me;

As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,

May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.

John DonneHymn: “to God, My God, in My Sickness”

Christians are Weird

A real Christian is an odd number, anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible and knows that which passeth knowledge.

A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1955, 1986)

Christians as Saints

For a long time all Christians called each other “saints.” They were all saints regardless of how well or badly they lived, of how experienced or inexperienced they were. The word saint did not refer to the quality or virtue of their acts, but to the kind of life to which they had been chosen, life on a battlefield.

Taken from Run with the Horses by Eugene H. Peterson. ©2009, 2019 by Eugene H. Peterson.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Christians Ought to be Different

If a CEO or an accountant is caught in an adulterous affair, it is not likely to make the news at all. But when a pastor is caught in an affair or embezzling money, it is a big deal. Which leads us to question why. Why is it newsworthy if a religious figure has a moral failure? Because they ought not do that. In other words, we expect them to be different. Why? Because they claim to be different, and for the most part they intend to be different. And quite often they are different. In the city where I live, there are three hospitals.

All were started and are still owned by Christian groups. Regardless of your faith background, if you need a kidney transplant it will be done by the people at St. Francis, St. Joseph or Wesley Hospital. There are many soup kitchens, homeless shelters, rescue missions and homes for battered women. Nearly all of them are run by Christians. Throughout the ages, Christians have led the way in the care and support of people in need. The true narrative is this: Christians are not always different, but they ought to be, and often are.

Taken from The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love by James Bryan Smith, Copyright (c) 2010 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Effective Commodities

Salt and light are both effective commodities.  They change the environment into which they are introduced. … It may be argued that salt and light have complementary effects.  The influence of salt is negative; it hinders bacterial decay.  The influence of light is positive; it illumines the darkness.  Just so, the influence of Christians on society is intended by Jesus to be both negative (checking the spread of evil) and positive (promoting the spread of truth and goodness, and especially of the gospel).

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

I am a Christian

I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? . . . The point is that he felt human destitution to its absolute degree; the point is that God is with us, not beyond us, in suffering.

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

The One Thing Going For Us

As for Christians, well, we really have just one thing going for us. We have publicly declared… that we are desperately in need of Another to give us his righteousness, to complete us, to live in us. We have publicly and flagrantly abandoned the project of self-justification that is at the heart of every person’s compulsion to manage perceptions…

This means telling the world-before the world does its own investigative journalism—that we’re not as bad as they think sometimes. We’re worse…If we’re being honest about our own beauty and brokenness, the beautiful broken One will make himself known to our neighbors.

Andy Crouch, Afterword, in unChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), p.230.

The Opiate of the People?

Some people call religion the opiate of the people. Karl Marx had Christianity and our eschatological hope in mind when he said that. Some contend that pointing to the future as the Christian’s ultimate hope tends to make us to forget the needs of the present world. They argue that if you have your mind in the clouds, you forget your feet are on the earth. And so we have been criticized, and sometimes rightly so, because we forget that we have to do something here and now…

While this disregard for the world may have been the case at some times in church history, we should not be ashamed to say that the hope of the Christian is the blessed hope of the new heaven and the new earth. Our hope is not here; it is not from here that we get our comfort. There is nothing on earth powerful enough to quiet the turmoil in our hearts. The hope that is given us in the Bible is the hope of the eschaton—​​​the coming kingdom of God.

Taken from Augustus Nicodemus Lopes in Coming Home edited by D.A. Carson, © 2017, p. 179. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

The Pastor’s Visit

The story is told of a man who had gone to church for several years but suddenly stopped attending. His pastor dropped by one evening unannounced. The man answered the door and invited him in. Of course, he knew why his pastor was there. They went and sat in two chairs in front of a roaring fire. Neither man said anything. After a few minutes, the pastor picked up the fire tongs, took one of the logs out of the fire, and laid it on the hearth. The flames died down and flickered a few times before going out. They watched in silence as the log started to grow cold. 

After a while, the pastor once again picked up the fire tongs and put the smoldering log back with the other burning logs. It immediately burst back into flame. The pastor got up and said, “Well, I need to go now. But I’ve enjoyed our visit.” The man rose too and said, “I appreciate your message, pastor. I will be in church on Sunday.”

Source Unknown

The Threat of the Christians

The fourth-century emperor Julian (AD 331-336) feared [Christians] might take over the empire. Referring to Christians as “Galileans” and Christianity as “atheism” (because of their denial of the existence of pagan gods) and believing their religion to be a sickness, he penned this directive to his officials:

We must pay special attention to this point, and by no means effect a cure. For when it came about the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan priests, then I think the impious Galileans observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendency in the worst of their deeds through the credit they win for such practices.

For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away form their friends and cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves…by the same method, I say, Galileans also begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables-for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names-and the result is that they have led many into atheism [i.e. Christianity].

Quoted in Michael Frost, Surprise the World, NavPress, 2015.

The Unique Quality of Christians

In an early Christian document known as the Epistle to Diognetus (c. A.D. 120-200), the author wrote a response to some propaganda circulating in the Roman Empire. People had spread false rumors about the Christians, saying that they were a dangerous, secret society filled with bizarre behavior. People were saying slanderous things about Christians, such as they practiced cannibalism (because during Communion they ate the “body and the blood of Jesus”). The epistle is believed to have been written by a man named Athenagoras. In one important section the author describes how Christians are alike-and different-from others.

The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life…. They pass their lives in whatever township-Greek or foreign-each man’s lot has determined; and conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organization of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising.

For instance, though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behavior there is more like transients….Though destiny has placed them here in the flesh, they do not live after the flesh; their days are passed on earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens. They obey the prescribed scribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws.

They show love to all men-and all men persecute them. They are misunderstood, and condemned; yet by suffering death they are quickened into life. They are poor, yet making many rich; lacking all things, yet having all things in abundance…. They repay [curses] with blessings, and abuse with courtesy. For the good they do, they suffer stripes as evildoers.

Taken from The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love by James Bryan Smith, Copyright (c) 2010 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

You Smell Like Church

A student of mine called me late one evening after worship. He was really excited on the other end, and I had to ask him to slow down. So, he says, “Mother Kim, this strange thing happened to me today. After worship tonight, I was riding the train back to my apartment, when this woman sat down next to me. I had my earbuds in, so I wasn’t really paying her any attention, but she tapped me to get my attention.

She said, ‘Son, you smell like church. You smell like church.’” Now the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that those who know Christ have a particular smell.

When we come to know God—come to trust and believe in the power of God’s love, there’s an aroma, a fragrance that lingers in the room even after we leave. To borrow from the words of the woman on the train, when we encounter God, we begin to “smell like church.” Or to borrow from Paul, “We smell like Christ.”

…That evening on the phone with my student, I asked him what happened next. He said, “She started to cry. And she looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you. I haven’t been to church in a long time.’”

The Reverend Kimberly Jackson, “The Smell of Christ” (Absalom Jones Episcopal Center: August 27, 2014)

What is a Christian?

The word “Christian” has lost much of its meaning in our culture. It means “Christ in one.” As you communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ, this is what God expects of a Christian:

He expects us to GROW (2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18).

He expects is to GO (Mark 5:19; Luke 14:23; Acts 1:8).

He expects us to GLOW (Matt. 5:16; Luke 8:16; Phil. 2:15).

He expects us to SOW (Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-8; Psalm 12:6-8).

He expects us to SHOW (Psalm 91:1-2; Luke 8:39; 1 Peter 2:9).

He expects us to KNOW (1 John 5:13; 2 Cor. 5:1; 2 Tim 3:1-5).

Scocaster, December 11, 1994, “Tips: To Improve Proclamation Skills” by Bill Rodenberg.

What’s the Problem with Christians?

I’ve asked strangers and casual acquaintances, “Why do Christians stir up such negative feelings?” Some bring up past atrocities, such as the widespread belief that the church executed eight or nine million witches (a figure that serious historians believe is exaggerated by 99 percent). I’ve heard complaints about strict Protestant or Catholic schools and tales of clergy intolerance—didn’t John Lennon get kicked out of his boyhood church for laughing at an inappropriate time?

Others repeat stories similar to that of Steve Jobs, who left church when the pastor had no answer for his questions about God and the starving children of Africa. The comedian Cathy Ladman expresses a common view: “All religions are the same: religion is basically guilt with different holidays.”

Neighborhoods that once welcomed churches now file lawsuits against them, not just because of traffic and parking issues but because “We don’t want a church in our community!”

Animosity goes public when a prominent sports figure talks freely about faith. A few years ago NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and NBA guard Jeremy Lin attracted praise from Christians who appreciated their clean lifestyles and their willingness to discuss their beliefs. At the same time sports-talk radio, websites, blogs, and late-night comedians mercilessly mocked the two.

Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace: Bringing Good News to a Deeply Divided World, Zondervan, 2018.

Who Was Christ?

U2’s Bono made a striking statement during an interview:

“I think a defining question for a Christian is: Who was Christ?” He went on to say, And I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying a great thinker or a great philosopher, because actually he went around saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified.

He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God. So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God, or he was . . . nuts. . . . And, I find it hard to accept that whole millions and millions of lives, half the earth, for two thousand years have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter.

Quoted in Bobby Harrington, The Disciple Maker’s Handbook: Seven Elements of a Discipleship Lifestyle.

Why We are Reluctant to Share the Gospel

Why is it so intimidating to talk about Jesus in contemporary western culture? One obvious reason might lie in the ubiquitous negative portrayals of Christians in mainstream media. Sam Chan makes this point in his book, How to Talk about Jesus: Without being That Guy as he shares a scene from the American version of the show, The Office. On The Office, Angela represents the closed-minded, angry, and judgmental version of a Christian we see so often (quite lazy writing in my opinion) in (at least) American TV and movies. In the scene below, Jim, the affable protagonist asks everyone to share three books they would bring with them if they were stranded on a desert island:

Jim: “Angela?”

Angela: “The Bible.”

Stanley: “That’s one book. You’ve got two others.”

Angela: “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Jim: “Nice. Third book?”

Angela: “No.”

It’s not hard to see that Christians don’t have a great reputation, especially for some reason in their media portrayals. Most of us would probably argue these are one-dimensional stereotypes (ironic, when you think of Hollywood’s desire to be “nonjudgmental”) but nevertheless, most of us don’t want to look like Angela, which may make us reticent to share the good news when it’s often represented as the opposite on TV.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

See also Illustrations on Christianity, The Church, Discipleship, FaithReligion

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