Sermon illustrations


Beneath the Surface

Recently I took a trip to Florida for a week by myself—to rest, walk the beach and swim in the ocean every day. I knew it was a bit risky to swim alone, and on occasion it crossed my mind that if I didn’t come out of the ocean on any given day, no one would have known—at least not for a day or two. That thought didn’t bother me too much until one day when the danger became more real.

On this day, I was swimming and floating in the surf when a fisherman came running down the beach yelling, “Get out of the water! Get out of the water!” I swam as hard as I could toward the shore, and when I found my footing I ran—heart pounding—the rest of the way. As soon as I was safely on shore, I turned around and saw a long, black shadow about six to eight feet long gliding under the surface of the water right where I had just emerged.

Breathlessly I asked the fisherman, “Was it a shark?” He said, “No, it’s a saltwater crocodile!” …I had never heard of saltwater crocodiles, but the people gathered on the beach seemed to know something about these underwater creatures…Later that day I did return to swimming—albeit a little more cautiously—and found out from those who knew about such things that saltwater crocodiles are one of the most dangerous creatures in the ocean.

The moral of the story as it relates to leadership is this: what lies beneath the surface—of the ocean or our lives—really matters.

Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, IVP Press.

Faith and Technology

What does it look like to trust in God?  And how does trusting in God relate to all of the modern technologies that currently exist. We know, quite well, that for some quite close to us, technology is seen as a sin, to be avoided at all costs. For others, and probably for us, there is this tension, between trusting in God and trusting in the advancements that our modern world provides us with. Well, there is a parable, not from the Bible, but I would argue helpful nonetheless, that addresses this question quite well.

It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house to avoid the floodwaters, faithfully praying to God to save him.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord, the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away.

The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.   The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.”

So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed even harder, knowing that God would save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord, the Lord will save me.”

So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed again for God to save him, steadfast in his faith.

The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?”

God gave him a puzzled look, and replied “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect than that?”

Adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr., original source unknown.

A Grand Gesture

A man appears before the pearly gates. “Have you ever done anything of particular merit?” St. Peter asks.

“Well, I can think of one thing….” the man offers. “Once I came upon a gang of high-testosterone bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen. So I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker. I smacked him on the head, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring and threw it on the ground, and told him, ‘Leave her alone now or you’ll answer to me.'”

St. Peter was impressed. “When did this happen?”

“A couple of minutes ago.”

Source Unknown

Hiding His Kindness

Have you ever noticed that some people hide their kindness? Fred Allen, an American comedian and writer, would always hide behind his own cynicism after performing a kind act. One time Allen rushed out and grabbed a newsboy about to be hit by a truck. Needing to protect himself from the threat of being called kind, Allen commented, “What’s the matter, kid? Don’t you want to grow up and have troubles?”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Insulting My Intelligence

Arnold “Red” Auerbach was one of the winningest coaches in NBA history. He won 9 championships as coach of the Boston Celtics and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1965 and NBA Executive Coach of the Year in 1980. One night while on the road with the Celtics, Auerbach ran into 3 of his players, each traveling with a beautiful woman in tow.

This was against team rules, and so one of the players, trying to get out of trouble, introduced one of the women as his “cousin.” Not wanting to cause a stir, Auerbach nodded without raising a fuss. But then the player decided to double-down on his deceit saying, “We were just on our way to church.” Sharing the story on a later occasion, Auerbach commented, ““I couldn’t take that. I fined him twenty-five dollars for insulting my intelligence.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Stalker

Editor’s Note: This story is often told as a true story, when in fact it is probably fictitious. Nevertheless, there is a significant illustrative point: sometimes the things we fear most may in fact be the most likely to save us.

One night a woman was driving home on the interstate when she noticed some strange behavior behind her. It seemed as though a semi-truck was following her. Every time she changed lanes, the truck-driver followed after her. She tried to speed up to lose him, but the man in the truck just kept up and followed after her.

Hoping this was all in her imagination, she began nervously checking her rear-view mirror. Each time he was there, determined it seemed to follow her wherever she went.

The lady began to panic, but having left her phone at work, she was unable to call the police. Eventually she decided to pull off the highway to try and find shelter at a well-lit gas station. Again, the truck seemed to be stalking her as she began hunting for a place to stop and get help.

Eventually she found a station, parked, got out of the car and began screaming for dear life. Just then she noticed the man getting out of the truck and charging full-steam towards her.

She prepared for the worst.

But just before he reached her, he darted for the back door of her car. The man flung open the door and pulled a man out of the back seat. It turned out, the man had snuck into her car earlier in the day with malicious intentions. The truck driver had somehow spotted the man as he casually glanced in front of him on his evening route.

Sometimes, the person trying to help us looks like the person most wanting to hurt us. The story begs a question: who is trying to hurt us and who is trying to help us? And do we sometimes confuse them?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Thank You God for Sending a Professional

Pastor John Ortberg shares this amazing story about how God sometimes uses even our broken pasts to to help others:

I read about a woman who locked her keys in her car in a rough neighborhood. She tried a coat hanger to break into her car, but she couldn’t get that to work. Finally, she prayed, “God, send me somebody to help me.” Five minutes later, a rusty old car pulled up. A tattooed, bearded man wearing a biker’s skull rag walked toward her. She thought, God, really? Him? But she was desperate.

So when the man asked if he could help, she said, “Can you break into my car?” He said, “Not a problem.” He took the coat hanger and opened the car in a few seconds. She said to him, “You’re a very nice man” and gave him a big hug. He said, “I’m not a nice man. I just got out of prison today. I served two years for auto theft, and I’ve only been out a couple of hours.” She hugged him again and shouted, “Thank you, God, for sending me a professional!”

Taken from All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door.  What Will You Do?, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

In his excellent study of the famous Biblical passage on shepherds, (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), scholar Ken Bailey provides context to the 23rd psalm, specifically the phrase “the valley of the shadow of death” v.4:

The former shepherd Krikorian describes such a valley that is just south of the Jerusalem-Jericho road. He writes, There is an actual valley of the shadow of death in Palestine, and every shepherd knows of it. . . . I had the good fortune of having at least a passing view of this valley. . . .

It is a very narrow defile through a mountain range where the water often foams and roars, torn by jagged rocks. . . . The path plunges downward . . . into a deep and narrow gorge of sheer precipices overhung by frowning Sphinx-like battlements of rocks, which almost touch overhead. Its side walls rise like the stone walls of a great cathedral. . . . The valley is about five miles long, yet it is not more than twelve feet at the widest section of the base. . . . The actual path, on the solid rock, is so narrow that in places the sheep can hardly turn around in case of danger. . . . In places gullies seven and eight feet have been washed

 Lamsa notes,

 Valleys of the shadow of death are paths which wind in between mountains where there are dark shadows and deep gorges. Travelers march slowly and silently in order to avoid being seen or heard by bandits. The fear of death is constantly in their minds. They tremble, they expect trouble or death at any time while they are passing through.

Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, pp.47-48, by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Whatever Your Need

From the early centuries of the church, the Psalms were memorized and used regularly in Christian worship. Fourth-century bishop Athanasius spoke eloquently about how they are God’s medicine for humans in all different circumstances: “Whatever your particular need or trouble, from the same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you not merely hear and pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.” Whether in St. Benedict’s monasteries or John Calvin’s Geneva, a wide range of Christians have experienced the Psalms-in good times and bad-through meditating, praying, and singing. They are ideal for corporate worship as well as personal devotion.

J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer & Life in Christ, Brazos Press, 2015.

What is Wrong with the World Today?

“What is wrong with the world today?” a Times newspaper editorial once asked. G. K. Chesterton wrote in reply, “Dear sirs, I am. Yours faithfully, G.K. Chesterton.”

Taken from John Blanchard, Truth for Life, p 263.



See also Illustrations on Adversity, Challenges, ConcernCrisis, Endurance, Problems, Quitting, Resilience

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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