Sermon illustrations


Sermon Illustrations on appearances

Appearing Happy & The Social Media World

After surveying an incredibly diverse cross section of college students across America, Donna Freitas found “the most pressing social media issues students face: the importance of appearing happy”—and not just happy, students told her, but “blissful, enraptured, even inspiring.” Almost 75 percent of students surveyed agreed that “I try always to appear positive/happy with anything attached to my real name.”

Freitas calls this vexing dilemma “the happiness effect.” Breanna has lost her father, tours a death camp, and yet, due to social expectations, has almost no option other than to smile (and include a happy face emoji).

In grief, teens put on a brave face. In disappointment, adolescents act inspired. In crisis, the next generation appears blissful. Freitas summarizes the dangers of such dissonance: “In our attempts to appear happy, to distract ourselves from our deeper, sometimes darker thoughts, we experience the opposite effect. In trying to always appear happy, we rob ourselves of joy.”

Craig Detweiler, Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, p.19.

Covering the Bald Spots

Every year at the end of November, my husband, Ike, and I load the kids in the car and drive to the nearest Christmas tree lot. We are committed “real tree” people—not to be confused with “fake tree” people who keep their trees stored in a box—so the hunt for the perfect tree is one we anticipate and enjoy every year. No matter where we live or how busy we are, we set aside time to visit a farm or a store in order to make our pick. Ike, the kids, and I painstakingly inspect every single option, examine them for gaps, assess their sizes, and scan for brown spots.

Then, after we have made our choice, Ike hoists the tree on top of our car, ties it down, and drives us home. Once we get back to the house, we carefully mount the tree on the stand and carry it inside, trying to scatter as few needles as possible. For the rest of the night, the sap on our fingers attracts dirt, hair, fuzz, and other light debris. I don’t like the mess and I don’t like the hassle, but it’s a hassle we are happy to endure.

Nothing beats the smell of Fraser fir filling the air, and nothing transports Ike and me to our childhood Christmases quite like the glow of a fresh tree in our home. At least, that is how it normally goes. Several years ago our Norman Rockwell moment was not to be. Ike and I bought a discount tree at a local store. That was probably our first mistake. The tree had several bald patches and multiple brown spots. The branches were dry and the needles prickly. We should have read the signs, but I was optimistic. I thought I could hide the gaps with some faux poinsettias and no one would be the wiser. So we took the tree home. For the first few days, the tree was stunning. I loaded it with ornaments, ribbons, and pearls. It was shiny, full, and smelled like an evergreen forest. It was probably the most aromatic tree we’ve ever had.

All was well except for one niggling concern: the tree wasn’t taking any water. If you have ever purchased a real tree, you know they guzzle water, especially at first, and especially after the lights have been weighing on their branches for a while. But not this one. Every time I checked the stand, the water level had barely dropped. That’s when I suspected something wasn’t quite right. Not long after, the branches were drying out, and the needles became so thorny I flinched to brush against them.

And the smell that I loved so much? Over time the scent of evergreen was replaced with a musty, rotten odor. That was when it became clear: our tree wasn’t just a dud. Our tree was dead. That was a disappointing year in the Miller home. We decided to keep the tree for those remaining days before Christmas, but whenever I passed by it, I was reminded of something I had missed amid all the Christmases before. No matter how much you dress up a “real tree,” no matter how much you cover it in family heirlooms, silver bells, tinsel, and lights, a Christmas tree is still a dying tree. And this, I realized, was a tree-shaped sermon about my life.

…For many of us, that Christmas tree is our story. We look great, our church looks great, everything seems fine. Until the day we pull back the branches and discover the sickness hiding within. Underneath all the ministry commitments, the Christian conferences, the growing churches, the bestselling books, and the uplifting social media posts, there is fear. There is pride. There is a need to control. There is self-preservation in place of generosity. Defensiveness in place of humility. Silence in place of boldness. Shouting in place of listening. Cynicism in place of hope.

We can hide all of these things behind the ornaments of nice Christianity, which allows them to exist undetected for years. These ornaments do not simply mask the sickness, they contribute to it as well. The baubles that decorate brittle branches also weigh them down. The lights that obscure a tree’s dehydration dry it out faster. 

Sharon Hodde Miller, Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More, Baker Publishing Group, 2019.

Beautiful Feet

A missionary was preaching in the village market, and some of the people were laughing at him because he was not a very handsome man. He took it for a time, and then he said to the crowd, “It is true that I do not have beautiful hair, for I am almost bald. Nor do I have beautiful teeth, for they are really not mine; they were made by the dentist. 

I do not have a beautiful face, nor can I afford to wear beautiful clothes. But this I know: I have beautiful feet!” And he quoted the verse from Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace” (Isa. 52:7). Do you have beautiful feet?

W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition CommentaryVictor Books. 1996, (Vol. 2, p. 26)

Camels Using P.E.D.’s

Performance-enhancing drugs are a major problem in the sporting world. Cycling, baseball, weightlifting, football—athletes at the highest levels need something to put them over the top or keep them in the game. Usually, Botox doesn’t make the list of PEDs. But that was the precise drug that prompted twelve disqualifications at an event in Saudi Arabia.

A dozen camels were disqualified from a camel beauty contest in January 2018. Their crime? Doping in the form of Botox injections. The purpose? So that they would appear more beautiful in the eyes of the judges. Of course, the camels didn’t inject themselves. A veterinarian obviously hired by the camels’ owners performed the plastic surgery.

The doctor was caught just days before the beauty contest.

In fact, the attempt to enhance the camels’ physical beauty wasn’t limited to the injections. Since smaller, delicate ears are also a standard of camel beauty, surgery was performed on their ears. You’re unlikely to ever come across a camel beauty pageant in America, but we know what it’s like to commodify beauty, to parade people across a stage and judge the value of their physical appearance.

Taken from The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best by Irwyn L. Ince Jr Copyright (c) 2021by Irwyn L. Ince Jr. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Lowering His Price Based on Appearances

Honoré de Balzac would eventually become a celebrated writer in post-Napoleonic France. He was renowned for his complex characters and realistic writing style. But like many young and aspiring writers, he lived a rather bohemian and frugal lifestyle. Nevertheless, when word got out in Paris that he was a writer of significant promise, a Parisian bookseller decided to offer him 3,000 francs for his next novel.

Upon arriving at Balzac’s address, clearly in a rough part of town, he decided to drop his price to 2,000 francs. Once entering the house, he again dropped his price to 1,500 francs. When he finally entered Balzac’s cramped attic apartment, the price dropped again to 300 francs. This was ultimately how the manuscript for The Last Fay, a genre-breaking book would be published, a book that would help catapult his career.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Quasimodo Complex

Two decades after I worked with the airmen, I read a fascinating article, “The Quasimodo Complex,” in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery, Two physicians reported in 1967 on a landmark study of eleven thousand prison inmates who had committed murder, prostitution, rape, and other serious crimes. Medicine has long known that emotional conflict may produce physical illness. These doctors raised the possibility of the reverse syndrome. Physical deformity may lead to emotional distress that results in crime, according to the article, 20 percent of adults have surgically correctable facial deformities (protruding ears, misshapen noses, receding chins, acne scars, birthmarks, eye deformities). The researchers found that fully 60 percent of the eleven thousand offenders had such deformities.

The authors, who named the phenomenon after Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, raised disturbing questions. Had these criminals encountered rejection and bullying from school classmates because of their deformities? And could the cruelty of other children have bred in them a response of revenge hostility that later led to criminal acts?

Authors proposed a program of corrective plastic surgery for prison inmates. If society rejects some members because of physical appearance, they reasoned, perhaps altering that appearance will change how they are treated and thus how they behave. Whether a murderer on death row or a pilot in the RAF, a person forms a self-image based largely on what kind of image other people mirror back.

The report on Quasimodo prisoners reduces to statistics a truth that every burn victim and disabled person knows all too well. We humans give inordinate regard to the physical body, or shell, that we inhabit. 

Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s name: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey Copyright (c) 2019 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Social Media Ritual Sacrifice

I witnessed a ritual sacrifice in the middle of a cool, third-wave coffee shop the other day. It’s the sort of place that attracts herds of bearded hipsters and where they brew your coffee by hand, one cup at a time. I was sitting at a long row of benches against the wall, watching the crowd as they ordered, mingled, and eventually collected their meticulously crafted drinks from a stern-faced barista wearing an ironic t-shirt and a fedora.

A guy in his twenties, wearing skinny jeans, a plaid shirt, and a beanie (which might as well have been the clientele’s uniform) came in carrying a heavy book. It looked like a nice academic volume—hardcover, black cloth binding, nice paper. He ordered and sat at a table near the middle of the shop, scanning his phone while waiting for his drink to come up at the bar. After collecting it, he returned to the table near the center of the room and began his rather embarrassing and earnest religious display.

He was arranging his book and his latte so that he could take a picture of them with his phone. He spent five minutes doing this, and I assure you that although five minutes might seem like a very long time to spend doing something like this, I’m certain that it was five minutes because I clocked him (which says something about me, I know). He tried capturing the image with the book on its side, next to the latte. Then he tried a few with the spine open to hold the book upright, the latte in front of it.

He wasn’t finished. He then attempted several shots with the coffee cup perched on top of the book…Eventually, he started taking images with the book in his hand, including a few attempts without the latte at all. I began to worry about his latte growing cold and the foam turning dry and ugly…

Finally, he set his phone down and began to drink his latte. Then he opened the book. Now here’s the best part. I swear he looked at the book for at most forty-five seconds. He flipped it open, thumbed a page or two, his eyes blank and disinterested, and then closed it and pulled out his phone again to see what kind of response the image got.

A moment or two later, my wife texted me. I alerted her about the keen observations I was making in the coffee shop. She told me to get back to writing. Then she asked which shop I was in. I told her, and moments later, she texted me the image the guy had posted to Instagram, which blew my mind. “You’re like Batman,” I said. She took this for the high praise it was.

Only when I saw the image, though, did I notice the title of the book. It was John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Word of God. Perhaps it would have been slightly more ironic if the book had been Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death…but this one was nearly perfect: a book about the primacy of God’s Word as a prop in a social media post.

Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, pp.33-35. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Winner and Loser Lane

Back in 1958, a baby boy was born into the Lane family. The father, a man named Robert, chose to name his boy Winner. How could the young man fell to succeed with a name like Winner Lane?

Several years passed and the Lanes had another son. For unknown reasons (this is a true story), Robert named this boy Loser. How tragic to doom the boys future prospects with the name Loser Lane. How many counseling sessions did it take to undo that?

Of course, all the family’s friends thought they knew how the two boys’ lives would unfold. But contrary to all expectations. Loser Lane succeeded. He graduated from college and later became a sergeant with the NYPD, shield number 2762. Nowadays, no one feels comfortable calling him Loser. His colleagues simply refer to him as Lou.

And what of the brother with the can’t-miss name? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane is the sheer of his criminal record. Inmate number OOR28Q7 has nearly three dozen arrests for burglary domestic violence, trespassing. Resisting arrest, and other mayhem. Sometimes things are not as they first seem.

Tom Hughes, Down to Earth: How Jesus’ Stories Can Change Your Everyday Life, NavPress, 2019, p.13.

See also Illustrations on Image.