Sermon illustrations


Are Churches Like Zoos?

A decade ago I spent an unforgettable week in the Galapagos Islands. This archipelago of islands off the coast of Ecuador hasn’t changed much since Charles Darwin sailed there on trheHMS Beagle in December 1831 and studied fifteen species of finches. The Galapagos may be the closest thing to the Garden of Eden left on Earth!

My son and I saw a two-hundred-year-old turtle weighing in at nearly a thousand pounds. We came face-to-face with giant iguanas that weren’t the least bit intimidated by humankind. We watched pelicans that looked like prehistoric pterodactyls dive into the ocean and come back up with breakfast in their oversized beaks. And we went swimming with sea lions, which we later learned isn’t altogether safe!

A few weeks after returning home, our family went to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The National Zoo is a great zoo, but zoos are ruined for me. Looking at caged animals isn’t nearly as exhilarating as witnessing a wild animal in its natural habitat—it’s too safe, it’s too tame, and it’s too predictable.

As we walked through the ape house, the four-hundredpound gorillas looked so bored, so emasculated, behind protecrive plexiglass. That’s when a thought fired across my synapses: I wonder if churches do to people what zoos do to animals.

I don’t think it’s intentional. In fact, it’s well-intentioned. But I wonder if our attempts to help people sometimes hurt them. We try to remove the danger, remove the risk. We attempt to tame people in the name of Christ, forgetting that Jesus didn’t die to keep us safe. Jesus died to make us dangerous.

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

That doesn’t sound safe, does it? That’s because it’s not. The will of God isn’t an insurance plan. The will of God is a dangerous plan. It takes tons of testosterone, and it produces high levels of holy adrenaline.

Mark Batterson, Play the Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be, Baker Books, 2017.

Buried in the Holy Land?

A man went on vacation to the Holy Land with his wife and her mother. While in Israel, the mother-in-law died from a heart attack. The couple went to a local undertaker, who explained that they could either ship the body home which would cost more than $1500, or they could bury her right there in the Holy Land for only $150. 

The man said, “We’ll ship her home. “Surprised, the undertaker responded, “Are you sure? That’s an awfully big expense, and we can do a very nice burial here. “The man said, “Look, 2000 years ago they buried a guy here and three days later He rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance.” 

Source Unknown

“Chancing One’s Arm”

In her book Family Ministry, Diana Garland relates the following account by R.L. Honeycutt on the origin of the Irish expression “Chancing one’s arm”:

On display in St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin hangs an ancient door with a rough hewn, rectangular opening hacked in the center. The story of this “door of reconciliation” and the related Irish expression of “chancing one’s arm” are remarkable and instructive.

In 1492, two prominent Irish families, the Ormond’s and Kildare’s, were in the midst of a bitter feud. Besieged by Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, Sir James Butler, Earl of Ormond, and his followers took refuge in the chapter house of St. Patrick’s cathedral, bolting themselves in.

As the siege wore on, the Earl of Kildare concluded the feuding was foolish. Here were two families worshiping the same God, in the same church, living in the same country, trying to kill each other. So he called out to Sir James and, as an inscription in St. Patrick’s says today, “undertoake on his honour that he should receive no villanie.”

Afraid of “some further treachery,” Ormond did not respond. So Kildare seized his spear, cut a hole in the door, and thrust his hand through. It was grasped by another hand inside the church. The door was opened and the two men embraced, thus ending the family feud. From Kildare’s noble gesture came the expression “chancing one’s arm.”

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Taken from Diana Garland, Family Ministry (InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.358.

Doing the Right Thing

Esther. As a Jewish woman who won an unusual beauty contest to become Xerxes’ queen (see Esther 2:2–17), Esther would learn that God’s plans can include risk—and an opportunity to show courage. The king’s right-hand man, Haman, was the enemy of the Jews and devised a plot to kill all the Jewish people, and Xerxes, king of Persia, unwittingly signed this decree.

Esther didn’t wait for weeks or months trying to discern God’s will for her life before she acted. She simply did what was right and forged ahead without any special word from God. If the king extended to her the golden scepter, praise the Lord. If he did not, she died. Esther was more man than most men I know, myself included. Many of us—men and women—are extremely passive and cowardly. We don’t take risks for God because we are obsessed with with safety, security, and most of all, with the future.

Kevin L. DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will, Moody Publishers.

Fear & Growth, Risk & Comfort

Fear and growth go together like macaroni and cheese.  It’s a package deal.  The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort.  This means that to be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life….

John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).


The Importance of Monkey Bars

As much as we laugh at it, trying to keep kids safe, avoiding failing or falling, has its own consequences. My friend, Dr. Tim Ellmore says that the removal of monkey bars on playgrounds is perhaps the clearest example of this. The monkey bars teach us something about controlling our bodies, learning to take calculated risks, and still avoid the nasty falls.

Even though there is always the potential for an injury, a child who learns to play on the monkey bars experiences the feeling of accomplishment that most other pieces of playground equipment cannot provide. Taking away the monkey bars has led to the walking contradiction we see in this risk-averse, overconfident generation of young leaders.

Clay Scroggins, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge, Zondervan.

No Such Thing as a Secure Life

Helen Keller, who lost both her sight and hearing in childhood but became a renowned activist and author, said that there is no such thing as a secure life. “It does not exist in nature.… Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Risk, then, is not just part of life. It is life.

The place between your comfort zone and your dream is where life takes place. It’s the high-anxiety zone, but it’s also where you discover who you are. Karl Wallenda, patriarch of the legendary high-wire-walking family, nailed it when he said: “Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting.”

Nick Vujicic, Life Without Limits (Colorado Springs: Waterbook, 2010), 200.

To Love is to Suffer

After C. S. Lewis lost his wife Joy to cancer, he wrote these words about the inextricable link between love, suffering, and vulnerability:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Harper One.

Risk Management

… Larry Laudan, a philosopher of science, has spent the last decade studying risk-management.  He writes of how we live in a society so fear-driven that we suffer from what he calls risk-lock – a condition which, like gridlock, leaves us unable to do anything or go anywhere.  He summarizes literature on risk management in nineteen principles.  The first principle is the simplest: Everything is risky.

If you’re looking for absolute safety, you chose the wrong species.  You can stay home in bed – but that may make you one of the half-million Americans who require emergency room treatment each year for injuries sustained while falling out of bed.

You can cover your windows – but that may make you one of the ten people a year who accidentally hang themselves on the cords of their venetian blinds.  You can hide your money in a mattress – but that may make you one of tens of thousands of the people who go to the emergency room each year because of wounds caused by handling money – everything from paper cuts to (for the wealthy) hernias.

John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).

See Also Illustrations on Challenges, Control, Courage, Decision-Making, Doubt, Fear, Nakedness, Vulnerability

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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