Sermon illustrations


Adolescence and the Pings, Not Pong

Adolescents have been offered a license to post without any accompanying ethical framework. Is it fair to blame teens for misusing tools that didn’t exist in our childhood? If I had been given a phone with an ability to take and post pictures when I was thirteen, I would not have photographed many things to be proud of. What kinds of public mistakes would I have made if emboldened by this new possibility?

We are now all engaged in what sociologist Erving Goffman calls “the arts of impression management.” Thanks to social media, adolescents are often forced to grow up in public at earlier ages and stages. They are embarking upon an ancient challenge, to know thyself, while broadcasting each awkward step along the way. Is it fair to criticize the young for not acting more maturely? Today’s pings are just a more sophisticated version of Pong. As one of the original video games, Pong was slow, methodical, even predictable. And yet we loved it. Pong didn’t require much sophistication.

The speed could be shifted, but the rules remained the same. Hit it back. The game could be locked in place, stuck in an endless loop. One could walk away for a while and nothing would change.

Take an eye off the screen, a hand off the controller, and one may not even lose a point. Today’s teens are playing ping, not Pong. Pings are those beeps and blurps that tell us we have a new message, a new update, a new headline to consider. Pings are the notifications that float across our screen all day long. They are rooted in instant messaging and constant connection.

Craig Detweiler, Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, p.9.

Habits make up 40% of our Actions

Much of our daily lives are taken up by habits that we’ve formed over our lifetime. An important characteristic of a habit is that it’s automatic– we don’t always recognize habits in our own behavior. Studies show that about 40 percent of people’s daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations.

Habits emerge through associative learning. “We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response.

Wendy Wood, Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “How we form habits, change existing ones.” Science Daily. 

The Importance of the Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for the success of the human species. It enables us to learn from our mistakes and make plans. When the PFC is healthy, we behave consistently in ways that enable us to reach our goals. When it works as intended, we are organized, goal directed, thoughtful, empathetic, and able to express feelings appropriately. The PFC is often called the executive part of the brain and is closely associated with judgment, impulse control, attention span, self-monitoring, problem solving, and critical thinking. 

The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s brake. It stops us from saying or doing stupid things. I was once at a conference with a 42-year-old friend I’ll call Joelle. She had been in a car accident that damaged her PFC a few years earlier. As we sat waiting for the next presentation, we overheard two women in the row in front of us talking about why they were heavy. One said to the other, “I don’t know why I’m overweight; I just eat like a bird.” In a voice loud enough for everyone around us to hear, my friend said, “Yeah, like a condor.” Horrified, I gave Joelle a look that asked, Why would you say that out loud? Meanwhile the embarrassed and angry women moved away from us. Joelle put her hand over her mouth and said, “Oh no, did that get out?”

Taken from Daniel G. Amen, Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Just Charge It!

I recently attended an event sponsored by Compassion International, the International Child Sponsorship Organization. The event was called “Stepping into My Shoes”. The purpose being to show children in America what it is like living in a third-world country. At one point, children are encouraged to “work”, breaking rocks and shining shoes.

For their efforts, each received their compensation: ten cents. They then went to a “shop,” where they could exchange their newly acquired wealth for items. Unfortunately, their 10 cents didn’t get them very far: a soccer ball was 30 dollars and a toy plane was 20 dollars. One rather distraught young girl wanted to purchase a Barbie doll, but she was $79.90 short of the total price of $80. The daughter, exasperated, finally said, “Why don’t you just charge it on your card mommy?”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Not Holding Grudges

Clara Barton, the distinguished founder of the American Red Cross, made the personal decision not to hold grudges against those who had wronged her. At one point she was asked whether or not she remembered being hurt by someone years earlier. “Don’t you remember?” the friend asked. “No,” Clara responded firmly. “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Patient Father

There is a story about a man who stopped in the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up a couple of items for his wife. He wandered around aimlessly for a while searching out the needed groceries. As is often the case in the grocery store,
he kept passing this same shopper in almost every aisle. It was another father trying to shop with a totally uncooperative three-year-old boy in the cart.

The first time they passed, the three-year-old was asking over and over for a candy bar. Our observer couldn’t hear the entire conversation. He just heard Dad say, “Now, Billy, this won’t take long.” As they passed in the next aisle, the three-year old’s pleas had increased several octaves. Now Dad was quietly saying, “Billy, just calm down. We will be done in a minute.” When they passed near the dairy case, the kid was screaming uncontrollably.

Dad was still keeping his cool. In a very low voice he was saying, “Billy, settle down. We are almost out of here.” The Dad and his son reached the check out counter just ahead of our observer. He still gave no evidence of loosing control. The boy was screaming and kicking. Dad was very calming saying over and over, “Billy, we will be in the car in just a minute and then everything will be OK.”

The bystander was impressed beyond words. After paying for his groceries, he hurried to catch up with this amazing example of patience and self-control just in time to hear him say again, “Billy, we’re done. It’s going to be OK.” He tapped the patient father on the shoulder and said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but watch how you handled little Billy. You were amazing.” Dad replied, “You don’t get it, do you?” I’m Billy!”

Source Unknown

The Samurai and the Zen Master

A belligerent samurai . . . once challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of heaven and hell. But the monk replied with scorn, “You’re nothing but a lout—I can’t waste my time with the likes of you.” His very honor attacked, the samurai flew into a rage and, pulling his sword from its scabbard, yelled, “I could kill you for your impertinence!”

“That,” the monk calmly replied, “is hell.” Startled at seeing the truth in what the master pointed out about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed, thanking the monk for the insight. “And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”

Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than I.Q.Bantam.

The Surprising Truth about Habits, Happiness, and Self-Control

As a writer, my great interest is human nature, and in particular, the subject of happiness. A few years ago, I noticed a pattern: when people told me about a “before and after” change they’d made that boosted their happiness, they often pointed to the formation of a crucial habit…

Habits were the key to understanding how people were able to change. But why did habits make it possible for people to change? I found the answer, in part, in a few sentences whose dry, calm words disguised an observation that, for me, was explosively interesting.

“Researchers were surprised to find,” write Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in their fascinating book Willpower, “that people with strong self-control spent less time resisting desires than other people did.… people with good self-control mainly use it not for rescue in emergencies but rather to develop effective habits and routines in school and at work.”

In other words, habits eliminate the need for self-control. Self-control is a crucial aspect of our lives. People with better self-control (or self-regulation, self-discipline, or willpower) are happier and healthier. They’re more altruistic; they have stronger relationships and more career success; they manage stress and conflict better; they live longer; they steer clear of bad habits. Self-control allows us to keep our commitments to ourselves.

Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before, Crown, pp. 4-5.


See also Illustrations on Accountability, Discipline,  Dying to Self, Patience, Sanctification, Waiting

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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