Sermon illustrations


All Spies Are Liars

When Quentin Rowan published his first spy novel, Assassin of Secrets, it was initially received with glowing reviews. But five days after its release, it became clear that the novel had been almost entirely plagiarized, and the publisher immediately recalled the sixty-five hundred copies and issued an apology. Apparently, Rowan had mastered not the skill of writing a good spy novel but the mechanics of literary cut-and-paste.

In her piece about Rowan for The New Yorker, Lizzie Widdicombe includes a paragraph from Assassin of Secrets which may prove a window into Rowan’s self-torturing over his many acts of hypocrisy:

All spies are liars, it is their métier, and like ordinary liars they live in panic, knowing that the truth about themselves may be discovered at any moment—or worse, is already known by people who are too disgusted, or too clever, to confront them with it. A spy under questioning by the enemy is in a state surpassing dread because he knows that he must sooner or later tell the truth.

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

Bumper Sticker Hypocrisy

A police officer pulled a driver aside and asked for his license and registration. “What’s wrong, officer,” the driver asked. “I didn’t go through any red lights, and I certainly wasn’t speeding.”

“No, you weren’t,” said the officer, “but I saw you waving your fist as you swerved around the lady driving in the left lane, and I further observed your flushed and angry face as you shouted at the driver of the Hummer who cut you off, and how you pounded your steering wheel when the traffic came to a stop near the bridge.”

“Is that a crime, officer?”

“No, but when I saw the ‘Jesus loves you and so do I’ bumper sticker on the car, I figured this car had to be stolen.”

Adapted from Homiletics magazine (May 2004); submitted by Gino Grunberg, Gig Harbor, Washington.

Certainty vs. Vulnerability

In this excerpt from his book Faith in the Shadows, pastor and author Austin Fischer shares a surprising truth about the need to be vulnerable with our own faith if we are likely to have a positive impact on unbelievers:

As a personal anecdote, I’ve always found that unbelievers are much less offended by the hypocrisy of our morality than they are the hypocrisy of our certainty. Every human, believer or unbeliever knows what it’s like to fail to live up to one’s beliefs, to fail to embody one’s moral ideals. Moral hypocrisy is a universal experience, so unbelievers can be remarkably understanding of our moral fragility because they know it too.

What unbelievers fail to understand is how we can pretend to be certain of things we obviously cannot be certain of…I once spoke with an atheist who told me he would love to hear me explain the coherence of Christian faith, but not until I admitted that, while a believer, I was also uncertain about my beliefs.

I asked why and he curtly responded, because I haven’t any time to waste talking about something this important with someone who lacks the decency to admit we are two uncertain human beings trying to make sense of mysteries. I know that I am an uncertain human. Do you?” Sadly, at the time I did not, so our conversation floundered on the shoals of my unacknowledged uncertain (or humanity).

Faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is the presence of love.

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

“Free At Last!” Or Not

Stalin’s death is reputed to have been caused by a seizure suffered during a fit of rage brought on by an argument with Kliment Voroshilov during a Presidium meeting. Livid with fury, Stalin leaped from his seat, only to crash to the floor unconscious. While other members of the Presidium stared at the apparently dead figure, Beria jumped up and danced around the body shouting, “We’re free at last! Free at last!” Stalin’s daughter forced her way into the room and fell on her knees by her father. At this point Stalin stirred and opened one eye. [Lavrenti Pavlovich, head of Russian Secret Police] Beria at once dropped down beside him, seized his hand, and covered it with kisses.

Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, Little, Brown and Company. 

A Gripping Lecture

Charles Babbage (1792-1871) was a British mathematician and inventor known for his enjoyment of talking. At one particular dinner, Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish polymath was going on and on about the virtues of silence, leaving little room for anyone else to get a word in edgewise. At the end of the dinner Babbage approached Carlyle and thanked him sternly for his stirring lecture on the topic of silence.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Hypocrisy or Authenticity?

Erik Thoennes, professor at Biola University and elder at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, California, sees the authenticity trend in the undergrads he teaches. At the beginning of each class he asks his students to write down two things they love and two things they hate.

Consistently, one of the things they say they hate is “fake people.” But the Christian life involves a whole lot of “fakin’ it” on the path to becoming more like Christ, Thoennes says. “There’s this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that’s a wrong definition of hypocrisy,” Thoennes says. “To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy.

To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn’t hypocrisy; it’s integrity.” Thoennes hopes his students understand that sanctification involves living in a way that often conflicts with what feels authentic. Still, he gets why younger evangelicals have such a radar for phoniness. They grew up in an evangelical culture that produced more than a few noteworthy cases of fallen leaders and high – profile hypocrisy.

Their cynicism reflects a church culture that often hid its imperfections beneath a facade of legalism and self-righteousness. As one young evangelical wrote for Relevant in 2007, “Authentic community, authentic faith, and authentic Jesus are the cry of the new generation…We don’t want to be fooled anymore. We don’t want to be gullible anymore…We want flawed. We want imperfect. We want real.”

Taken from Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken, © 2017, p.63. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Mistaken Identity

A man is being tailgated by a woman who is in a hurry.  He comes to an intersection, and when the light turns yellow, he hits the brakes.  The woman behind him goes ballistic.  She honks her horn at him; she yells her frustration in no uncertain terms; she rants and gestures.

While she is in mid-rant, someone taps on her window.  She looks up and sees a policeman.  He invites her out of the car and takes her to the station where she is searched and fingerprinted and put in a cell.  After a couple of hours, she is released, and the arresting officer gives her her personal effects, saying, “I’m very sorry for the mistake ma’am.  I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, using bad gestures and bad language.  I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ window sign, the Christian fish emblem on your trunk, and I naturally assumed you had stolen the car.”

The world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish signs on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radios, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids, and Christian magazines for their coffee tables but don’t actually have the life of Jesus in their bones or the love of Jesus in their hearts.

John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

The Root of Hypocrisy

The ancient Greek word for actor was hypocritēs (ὑποκρῐτής), which, at first, only implied someone who explained or interpreted something. But by New Testament times, it was more negative. It suggested someone who was untrustworthy. They pretended to be one thing while underneath being something else; they presented a good front to mask their reality. Of course, it needs to be recognized that this is not always negative. Temporary masks have their place, and nearly all of us make use of them.

On occasion, it may even be right to use them. We really shouldn’t blurt out every thought that pops into our heads. That usually does more harm than good. Self-control is an important virtue, and so this type of mask is as much for others’ protection as anything else. At other times, it is neither appropriate nor necessary for those around us to be aware of every vulnerability or anxiety.

A mask is thus a form of protection, necessary to shield emotional wounds from being aggravated, or from being exposed at an inappropriate moment. It is an act, in some ways – ‘I’m fine,’ we say – a pretence that all is well. That is not a lie as such, but an act of self-defence. As one good friend remarked to me, ‘fine’ can actually serve as an acronym, standing for ‘Feelings Inside Not Expressed!’. It is an understandable mask, and if we never made use of it, we would probably never escape those after-church conversations that already seem interminable enough.

Taken from When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend by Mark Meynell Copyright (c) 2018 by Mark Meynell. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also illustrations on Blind Spots, CharacterEthicsIntegrity, Judging, Judgment, Morality