Sermon illustrations


The Buck Stops Here

President Harry Truman placed on his desk in the Oval Office a sign that said “The Buck Stops Here.” The sign had to do with a saying that was popular in his day: “Pass the buck,” which meant to shirk responsibility. Some government agencies were notorious for passing the buck, for failing to make decisions and take responsibility for them.

When Truman said “The buck stops here,” he meant, “As president of the United States, I am responsible. I will make decisions. And I will own up to those decisions.” As an energetic and wise ruler, God has pondered the smallest details and largest themes of your life and has made comprehensive decisions about each one.

The Power of Christian Contentment, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p.46-47.

Cultivating Responsibility Towards the Future

Ironically, the best way to develop an attitude of responsibility toward the future is to cultivate a sense of responsibility toward the past. … We are born into a world that we didn’t make, and it is only fair that we should be grateful to those who did make it.

Such gratitude carries with it the imperative that we preserve and at least slightly improve the world that has been given us before passing it on to subsequent generations.

We stand in the midst of many generations. If we are indifferent to those who went before us and actually existed, how can we expect to be concerned for the well-being of those who come after us and only potentially exist?

David R. Carlin, Jr., Christian History, no. 25

Encouragement Can Make all the Difference

There is no better exercise for strengthening the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. Think about it; most of your best friends are those who encourage you. You don’t have many strong relationships with people who put you down. You avoid these people and seek out those who believe in you and lift you up. Several years ago Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s book, Psycho-Cybernetics, was one of the most popular books on the market.

Dr. Maltz was a plastic surgeon who often took disfigured faces and made them more attractive. He observed that in every case, the patient’s self-image rose with his and her physical improvement. In addition to being a successful surgeon, Dr. Maltz was a great psychologist who understood human nature.

A wealthy woman was greatly concerned about her son, and she came to Dr. Maltz for advice. She had hoped that the son would assume the family business following her husband’s death, but when the son came of age, he refused to assume that responsibility and chose to enter an entirely different field. She thought Dr. Maltz could help convince the boy that he was making a grave error. The doctor agreed to see him, and he probed into the reasons for the young man’s decision.

The son explained, “I would have loved to take over the family business, but you don’t understand the relationship I had with my father. He was a driven man who came up the hard way. His objective was to teach me self-reliance, but he made a drastic mistake. He tried to teach me that principle in a negative way. He thought the best way to teach me self-reliance was to never encourage or praise me. He wanted me to be tough and independent. Every day we played catch in the yard.

The object was for me to catch the ball ten straight times. I would catch that ball eight or nine times, but always on that tenth throw he would do everything possible to make me miss it. He would throw it on the ground or over my head but always so I had no chance of catching it.” The young man paused for a moment and then said, “He never let me catch the tenth ball—never! And I guess that’s why I have to get away from his business; I want to catch that tenth ball!” This young man grew up feeling he could never measure up, never be perfect enough to please his father. I would not want to be guilty of causing emotional damage to my wife, my children, or my friends

John C. Maxwell, Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships, David C Cook.

The Fear Dance and Responsibility

My son Michael and his wife, Amy, also have been on the dance floor with their Fear Dance. And their reactions have not always been pretty. One day Michael came home with a new cell phone and plan—about the sixth one in six months. He easily succumbs to the newest telecommunications gadget and the coolest “free minutes” plan.

He was fully aware that Amy and he had recently discussed his cell-phone addiction and that he had promised not to purchase any new phones unless they discussed it. But he was confident that if he broke the news to her right, with humor, she would not be upset. He walked in the door, happy and enthusiastic about his new acquisition. “Hey, Baby, want my number?” he announced with a grin. When Amy responded, “I already have your number,” he thought he was home free. He smiled and proceeded, “Oh, you don’t have this one,” and showed her the phone. The humor evaporated and Amy exploded.

“You’re so irresponsible!” she yelled. “How could you do this? We don’t need another cell phone in this house!” While Michael listened, Amy vented her frustration. Soon he noticed their young son, standing with them in the living room.

Michael pointed to Cole, hoping Amy would take the signal not to display her anger or belittle him in front of their little boy. She noticed his signal, all right. “Well, I want Cole to hear how irresponsible you are!” she fumed, and she continued her tirade. Michael doesn’t typically escalate an argument, but that comment sent him through the stratosphere.

Amy had never done anything like it before—and Cole stood there, dumbfounded. You could almost see his bewildered brain wondering, What is going on? Amy realized she had gone way over the line, and she fled into the bedroom. Michael ran right behind her, but not before he turned and instructed Cole, “You stay here!”

Overcome by his anger, Michael started pointing at Amy and shouting, “This is all your fault!” Of course, their problem had nothing whatsoever to do with his unwise purchase! After all, how could he be expected to control the way he used the family’s money? After all, he was addicted. But none of that occurred to him at the time.

Amy responded to his barrage of accusations by retreating all the way into the closet. He followed right after her, pointing his finger at her. “What were you thinking, talking that way in front of our son, accusing me of being this and that?” “Don’t you point at me!” Amy shot back. Michael sucked in his breath and retorted, “Oh yeah?” Then he began pointing at her in rapid-fire succession, with both hands, as if his fingers had become bullets from a machine gun. As he did, he says he saw himself as the smartest, coolest guy in the world. Amy did not. She laughed.

Gary Smalley, The DNA of Relationships, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

One Less Responsibility

A distraught man furiously rode his horse up to John Wesley, shouting, “Mr. Wesley, Mr. Wesley, something terrible has happened. Your house has burned to the ground!” Weighing the news for a moment, Wesley replied, “No. The Lord’s house burned to the ground. That means one less responsibility for me.”

Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity: A Comprehensive Guide to What the Bible Says about Financial Stewardship, Generosity, Materialism, Retirement, Financial Planning, Gambling, Debt, and More, Tyndale Press, 2011.

The Oughts and Shoulds

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking inattentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage she describes how our performance culture often pushes us to take on responsibilities that are often life-draining vs. life-giving:

Functioning out of oughts and shoulds results in a performance mentality in which we become increasingly disconnected from our authentic self. We might even develop a subtle conviction that we are valuable only when we are performing. The simplest way to understand this is that oughts and shoulds come from someone else, so when we are doing things because we think we should, we are reacting and responding to something outside ourselves. Authentic desire, on the other hand, comes from within and is a part of who we are.

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Our End of the Boat

Two shipwrecked men in tattered clothes slouch together at one end of a lifeboat. They watch casually as three people at the other end of the boat bail furiously, trying to keep the vessel afloat. One man then says to the other, “Thank God that hole isn’t in our end of the boat!”

John C Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions (p. 135). Center Street.

Responsibility as the Substance of Human Existence

Emil Brunner is surely right to emphasize our responsibility as an indispensable aspect of our humanness. ‘Today our slogan must be: no determinism, on any account! For it makes all understanding of man as man impossible.’

Man has to be seen as ‘a thinking – willing being’, responsive and responsible to his Creator, ‘the creaturely counterpart of his divine self-existence’. Further, this human responsibility is in the first instance ‘not…a task but a gift…not law but grace’.

It expresses itself in ‘believing, responsive love’ (p.98). So then, ‘one who has understood the nature of responsibility has understood the nature of man. Responsibility is not an attribute, it is the “substance” of human existence. It contains everything…, [it is] that which distinguishes man from all other creatures….’

Taken from The Cross of Christ by John Stott. Copyright (c) 1976, 2006 Kindle Locations 1848-1857 by John Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Taking Responsibility for Our Lives

We can rightly ask, What does it mean to take responsibility for my life in response to the way God has made and called me? The response to this question is that we learn how to work with the hand that we have been dealt. The card-playing metaphor really captures the point: We are not being asked to take responsibility for anything other than the hand that has been dealt to us—including, well, everything!

Our gifts, talents and potential, of course. But also the range of setbacks, disappointments and limitations that have been thrust on us. I like the way that golf handicaps a player so that in the end I am not actually playing against my sons (whom I would love to beat, though the chances of that diminish each year), but against myself. All I am being asked to do is to take responsibility for what I have the capacity to bring to this stroke, this hole, this round of eighteen. By implication, then, I am not responsible for the lives of others. Yes, of course, we look out for others, we encourage others, we teach and equip others, and we live in a way that allows as many as possible to flourish. But in the end we are not God to them, and we cannot take final “adult” responsibility for the other.

Taken from Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith. ©2011 by Gordon T. Smith.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

 Stop Making Excuses!

Shortly after I got my first driver’s license, I also got my first ticket. I was driving 15 miles over the posted 25 miles per hour speed limit and a motorcycle cop caught me red handed. I was upset about the ticket. But mostly I was upset about telling my dad. In twenty-five years of driving, he had a perfect record. My driving perfection lasted all of two months. I was afraid that my dad would be angry with me for being such a lousy driver.

So, I spent a couple of days concocting a long list of “reasons” why I got a speeding ticket. I was late to an appointment (true). I was going downhill (true). I was in some traffic and paying attention to the road rather than the speedometer (true). Finally, I faced my fears and told my dad what happened. Yes, I got a ticket. But I was late and the road went downhill and there was traffic and so on. My point? It really wasn’t my fault. I was just the helpless victim of bad circumstances.

As I rambled on with my excuses, my dad listened for a while. Finally, he interrupted me, “Stop!” “Stop what?” I asked. “Stop making excuses!” I stood there in fearful silence for a moment before he continued. “Why don’t you just say you blew it? Why not just admit you made a mistake?”

Although I don’t think I would have scored any points with my dad, I might have answered, “Because that’s what I’m wired to do! Avoiding responsibility is the oldest trick in the book. It’s built into my moral and spiritual DNA.”

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

The Tragic Story of Katherine Genovese

One of my memories as a teenager was hearing about the murder of Katherine Susan Genovese at Kew Gardens in New York City. Early in the morning on March 13, 1964, she was attacked by an assailant on her way home from work. Her screams woke her neighbors, who flipped on their lights and looked down from their windows. Someone shouted to leave the girl alone, and the assailant retreated. treated. Stabbed and near death, the girl called for help.

But no one who saw her attacked came down to help. No one immediately called the police. Some minutes later, the assailant returned. He robbed Genovese of forty-nine dollars and stabbed her to death. This failure on the part of observers to get involved became known as the Genovese Syndrome: people hear the cry for help, but rather than following through with responsible action, they imagine that someone else will take care of it. Ignoring the invitation to follow love into a vulnerable place of sacrifice or jeopardy, we figure that someone else will do it.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Invitations from God: Accepting God’s Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More, IVP Press.

See also Illustrations on Accountability, Discipline, Expectations, Opportunity

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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