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Sermon illustrations

Aim

 Always Make Sure You Are Aiming at the Right Target

If you were lucky enough to watch the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, you probably remember swimmer Michael Phelps bursting onto the international scene. Phelps won six medals in those games—four gold and two bronze—to launch his career as the most decorated Olympic athlete in history. But when I think back to those games, I think of Matt Emmons. Emmons represented the United States in the three-position, fifty-meter rifle event, and he was dominating the competition as he advanced to the final shot of his signature event.

His combined score was so far ahead of the other shooters that all he had to do was hit the target. I don’t mean he had to hit the bull’s-eye; he just had to hit anywhere on the entire target to secure a victory.

A sportswriter named Rick Reilly said it like this: With one shot to go in Athens, Emmons was on his way to a laugher of a win. . . . In fact, all he had to do was hit the target. It’d be like telling Picasso all he had to do was hit the canvas. In preparation for the shot, Emmons pressed his cheek against the rifle’s stock and sighted down the barrel through the scope. He took a breath, let it out, and squeezed the trigger. The sound of the gun firing was unmistakable.

What happened next was shocking. When you watch the sport of rifle shooting, a monitor focused on the target is always on one of the corners of the TV screen. When a competitor takes a shot, that monitor almost immediately signals which part of the target was hit, and then a score is generated based on the quality of the shot.

When Emmons lowered his weapon, he immediately looked to see where his bullet had struck the target. But there was no mark. And there was no score. Confused, he began talking with the judges, indicating he believed he’d hit the target. Why was there no score? Eventually, the lead judge picked up a microphone to explain. He announced that Emmons’s score was zero because of a “cross shot.”

The crowd gasped! Emmons lowered his head, obviously unable to believe what had happened. A cross shot is when a shooter hits a target that’s not the one he’s supposed to be shooting at. At some point while going through his pre-shot routine, Matt had zeroed in on the target next to his. His zero score not only lost him the gold medal; he fell out of medal contention completely. Matt Emmons’s story provides a great lesson: always be sure you’re aiming at the right target.

Vance Pitman, Unburdened: Stop Living for Jesus So Jesus Can Live through You, Baker Books, 2020.

The Christian Bear

A man decided to skip church one Sunday and head to the hills to do some bear hunting. As he rounded the corner on a perilous twist in the trail, he and a bear collided, sending him and his rifle tumbling down the mountainside. Luckily for him, he was able to grab his rifle, with just one shot to save himself and take out the bear.

The gunshot went off and unfortunately, it was a miss.

Now the bear was charging after him and there was no time to reload.

“Oh, Lord,” the man prayed, “I’m so sorry for skipping church today to come out here and hunt. Please forgive me and grant me just one wish . . . Please make a Christian out of that bear that’s coming at me. Please, Lord!” That very instant, the bear skidded to a halt, fell to its knees, clasped its paws together and began to pray aloud right at the man’s feet. “Dear God” the bear said, “Bless this food I am about to receive.”

Source Unknown

The Dart-Board

The Benedictine nun Joan Chittister recounts a story she once heard by a communications professor, which she said fundamentally changed the way she thought about success and failure:

A young boy was given a dartboard for Christmas one year and he instantaneously began playing with it. In a complete shock, his first dart hit the bull’s-eye. Surprised and excited, the father yanked the child’s mother from the other room in time to watch the young boy throw a second bull’s eye! At this point, the father gathered the entire family to watch him throw the third dart. Amazingly, he did it again. A third bull’s eye!

At that point, the boy stopped throwing the darts, and promptly shelved the dart board. Over and over again the family pleaded with him to throw another dart, but he refused to do so. As Chittister said in retelling the story, “The child with the dartboard knew what his father did not intuit: A record like his could only be shattered, not enhanced. From now on he could only be known for losing because he could never win so much again.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., source material from Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, p.61, The Crown Publishing Group.

The Sharpshooter

Some years ago an army sharpshooter was visiting a small town. He was surprised to find bull’s-eyes with bullet holes in the exact center all throughout the village. “Someone or some one’s here must be amazing shooters,” he thought, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Finally he found the local rifleman responsible for all those holes. “I’m a pretty good shot, but I’ve never been this accurate,” he said to the man. “Oh, it’s not hard at all,” he said, “I just shoot first and draw the circles after.”

Original Source Unknown, Stuart Strachan Jr.

See also Illustrations on Direction, Guidance, Navigation, Targets

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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