Sermon illustrations


Catch & Release

I’ve been going to professional baseball games and trying to get a souvenir baseball as far back as I can remember. A foul ball, a home run ball or even a batting practice ball—anything would do.

I was taking in batting practice for the St. Louis Cardinals, and as I watched Mark McGwire and his teammates I got to know a five-year-old boy who was also trying to get a ball. His name was James. He tried hard to pronounce the players’ names as he politely asked for a ball: “Mr. Timwin (Timlin), can I have a ball, please?

Before I knew it, my mission became getting a ball for James. For about 20 minutes, I told him the names of the players who had a ball near the fence we stood behind, and the players turned and smiled as James tried to say their names. Still, no ball. Finally I told James he could have my ball if I caught one (I had been unsuccessful in catching a ball for almost 28 years, so that felt like a safe promise).

I wouldn’t be telling this story if you didn’t know what happened five minutes later. I caught a ball, and yes, I gave it to James. “I wonder how often God waits to give us something until we are willing to give it away?”

Mike Herman, Taken from Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion, Tyndale House Publishers.

The Controversial Cookies

A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies. Then she sat down and began reading a newspaper. Gradually, she became aware of a rustling noise. From behind her paper, she was flabbergasted to see a neatly dressed man helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took a cookie herself. 

A minute or two passed, and then came more rustling. He was helping himself to another cookie! After a while they came to the end of the package with one cookie left, but she was so angry she didn’t dare allow herself to say anything. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the man broke the remaining cookie in two, pushed half across to her, ate the other half, and left. 

Still fuming sometime later when her flight was announced, the woman opened her handbag to get her ticket. To her shock and embarrassment, there she found her package of unopened cookies!

Reader’s Digest

The Crucial Importance of Stewarding the Gift

The story is well known in the family: my grandparents had driven up from California the evening before. Stopping at a gas station along the Oregon border, they purchased some snacks, gas, and, as they often did, a lottery ticket. Thinking little of it, they stuffed the ticket in a pocket and continued journeying north. At their hotel that night, Grandpa stayed up to watch the news. The lottery numbers were to be announced. As the numbers were picked from a whirling globe of balls, the first number matched. And the second number. Then the third number.

At this point, he shakes Grandma awake. She wipes her eyes as they watch the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh numbers match. All seven numbers. Jaws dropped. Their minds could not ascertain what had transpired in just a few short seconds. Unimaginable. Unthinkable. How much did they win? What does this mean? The host announced the winning amount. That night, Grandma and Grandpa won $4.6 million. After a sleepless night, they drove to our home and placed the lottery ticket on our dining-room table.

The winnings helped our family in profound ways. Debts were paid. Vacations were had. Tuitions were covered. But the story has a dark side. A profound gift that created momentary bliss eventually led to bickering, infighting, and anger in the family. After nearly fifty years of marriage, Grandma and Grandpa’s marriage ended. Family members stopped talking. And a cold bitterness took over. I don’t retell this difficult story to shame a single soul. By the grace of God, healing and reconciliation has begun in our family. Yet the fact remains: no one knew how to steward such a gift.

 A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 109-116.

The Elderly Contractor

An elderly master carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family.

He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”

Source Unknown 

Everything is Required?

“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord,” reads Leviticus 27:30. It may come as something of a surprise but there are more remarks in the Old Testament about tithing than there are about the afterlife…

Why is it that a tithe of everything is required by God, even spices and condiments like dill, mint, and cumin (see Matt. 23:23)? The answer is simple—because it is a reminder to God’s people that everything belongs to God. Everything! It’s not a matter of parceling things out between God’s portion and our portion, God’s property and our property. lt all belongs to God, and the tithing of the very first fruits of any and all crops and other things is a constant reminder of this fact.

Ben Witherington III, Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, Brazos Press.

Finding Happiness

Have you ever heard the story of the mother who wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson? She gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl.

When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”

Source Unknown

Hold It Lightly

Take what you have—whatever you have—take it into your hands and hold it lightly, very lightly. Then bless it—thank God for what you have and make it holy by giving it away for love. Then break it—sorry, but you have to tear it up to share it, there is no way to keep it all in one nice piece. And finally, give it—to whoever is standing in front of you, beside you—spread it around, and never mind that there does not seem to be enough for everyone.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Mixed Blessings.

The Issue of Money

In his book on the subject, Philip Yancey describes the tension he himself deals with as a Christian related to money:

Many Christians have one issue that haunts them and never falls silent: for some, it involves sexual identity; for others, a permanent battle against doubt. For me, the issue is money. It hangs over me, keeping me off balance, restless, uncomfortable, nervous. I feel pulled in opposite directions over the money issue.

Sometimes I want to sell all that I own, join a Christian commune, and live out my days in intentional poverty. At other times, I want to rid myself of guilt and enjoy the fruits of our nation’s prosperity. Mostly, I wish I did not have to think about money at all. But I must somehow come to terms with the Bible’s very strong statements about money.

Philip Yancey, Money (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1985), 3.

Jesus & Money

15 percent of everything Christ said relates to this topic [of money and possessions]—more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined. Why did Jesus put such an emphasis on money and possessions? Because there’s a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money.

Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2001. p.9).

Leaving It Behind

A wealthy plantation owner invited John Wesley to his home. The two rode their horses all day, seeing just a fraction of all the man owned. At the end of the day the plantation owner proudly asked, “Well, Mr. Wesley, what do you think?” After a moment’s silence, Wesley replied, “I think you’re going to have a hard time leaving all this.”

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.

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.

A Poor Woman And A Rich Man

Imagine you’re a financial counselor. Today you have two appointments, first with an elderly woman and then a middle-aged man. The woman’s husband died six years ago. She says, “I have no more money. The cupboards are bare. These two dollars are all I have to live on, yet I feel as if God wants me to put them in the offering.

What do you think?” What would you tell her? Likely you’d say, “That’s very generous of you, but God gave you common sense. He knows your heart—that you want to give. But he intends you to take care of yourself. I’m sure God would have you keep those two dollars and buy food for tomorrow. You can’t expect him just to send down food from heaven, can you? God wants us to be sensible.”

Your next appointment is with a successful, hardworking, middle-aged farmer whose crop production has been excellent. He tells you, “I’m planning to tear down my old barns to build bigger ones so I can store up more crops and goods and have plenty saved up for the future.

Then I can take it easy, retire early, and do some traveling and golfing. What do you think?” How would you answer?

Perhaps like this: “Sounds good to me! You’ve worked hard. God has blessed you with good crops. It’s your business, your crops, your money. If you can save up enough to take care of yourself the rest of your life, by all means go for it. I hope one day I’ll be in a position to do the same!” Wouldn’t such advice to this poor widow and rich man appear reasonable? What would God have to say about it?

Randy Alcorn, The Law of Rewards: Giving what you can’t keep to gain what you can’t lose, Tyndale Momentum, 2003.

Stewardship: A Word (and Concept) Worth Keeping

The word stewardship has recently fallen on hard times. To many it’s no longer relevant to the day in which we live. To some it’s a religious cliché used to make fund-raising sound spiritual. It conjures up images of large red thermometers on church platforms, measuring how far we are from paying off the mortgage.

Because of these bland associations, I was tempted not to use the word in this book. But it’s such a good word, both biblically and historically, that it deserves resuscitation rather than burial. “A steward is someone entrusted with another’s wealth or property and charged with the responsibility of managing it in the owner’s best interest.” A steward is entrusted with sufficient resources and the authority to carry out his designated responsibilities.

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.

Taking Care for the Next Generation

Known for their luxury watches, Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe has also become well-known for its clever advertising slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation.” So it is with what we “own”: money, gifts, ministries, time, and our very lives.

Alan Wilson

Ten principles about Christian Giving

Ten principles about Christian giving:

  1. It is an expression of the grace of God.
  2. It can be a charisma, that is, a gift of the Spirit.
  3. It is inspired by the cross of Christ.
  4. It is proportionate giving.
  5. It contributes to equality.
  6. It must be carefully supervised.
  7. It can be stimulated by a little friendly competition.
  8. It resembles a harvest.
  9. It has symbolic significance.
  10. It promotes thanksgiving to God.

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

See also Illustrations on CharityCreation, Gifts, Giving, Money, Possessions

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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