Sermon illustrations


The Cross at the Heart of the City

At the heart of the city of London is Charing Cross. All distances across the city are measured from its central point. Locals refer to it simply as “the cross.” One day a child became lost in the bustling metropolis.  A city police officer (A “bobby,” as they are referred to in London) came to the child’s aid to try and help him return to his family.

The bobby asked the child a variety of questions in an attempt to discover where the boy lived, to no avail. Finally, with tears streaming down the boy’s face, he said, “If you will take me to the cross I think I can find my way from there.” What an apt description of the Christian life. The cross is both the starting place of our new life in Christ, but also the place we must return to, time and again, to keep our bearings in life.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Escaping the Maze

The maze It is rare to escape a maze on the first attempt. And when we are stuck in a maze, we can’t escape by following the same path that got us lost. We escape a maze by trying new routes. We don’t feel like we have failed when we hit a dead end. In fact, we appreciate the new knowledge. There is now a dead end we won’t try anymore. Every dead end and cul-de-sac helps us escape the maze. To know which path to take, it helps to take a few wrong ones.

Matt Haig, The Comfort Book, Penguin Life, 2021

Getting Lost, Sort Of

God knows where you are and has never left you, regardless of how you may feel or how uncertain you are of where you’re going. It reminds me of when our kids were small and we visited Disneyland for the first time. The park was so big and probably seemed enormous to our three children. After wandering around for a few hours, we wanted to find our way back to Cinderella’s castle near the entrance. In our pre-GPS world, I thought I knew the way but ended up taking us to Space Mountain instead. The kids began to worry that we’d never find our way back. Then my son grabbed my hand and pulled me over to a giant map of the park—you know, the kind with the big arrow pointing “You Are Here.”

Suddenly it was easy to regain our perspective and see how we needed to proceed in order to get to our destination. We hadn’t really been lost, of course; we just couldn’t see where we were in relation to where we wanted to go. The same is true for you. Whether you feel as if you’re blazing a trail in the wilderness or maintaining a predictable plateau, God knows where you are and where you’re going. He’s right there with you and has big plans for where he wants to take you. If you feel lost, stuck, or caught in a rut, consider this: When was the last time you stopped to ask him for directions?

Samuel Rodriguez, Shake Free: How to Deal with the Storms, Shipwrecks, and Snakes in Your Life, Waterbrook, 2018.

I Can’t Be Lost

An elderly gentleman was out walking with his young grandson. ‘How far are we from home?’ he asked the grandson. The boy answered, ‘Grandpa, I don’t know.’ The grandfather asked, ‘Well, where are you?’ Again the boy answered, ‘I don’t know.’ Then the grandfather said good-naturedly, ‘Sounds to me as if you are lost.’ The young boy looked up at his grandfather and said, ‘Nope, I can’t be lost. I’m with you.’ Ultimately, that is the answer to our lostness, too. We can’t be lost if He is with us.  

King Duncan

Losing Everything

A ship went down in a storm, and only one man survived. He was fortunate enough to land on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. With just a few items in his pocket, he was able to build a small shelter to protect himself from the rough weather they often experienced.

Once the shelter was built, the man had one goal: to find a ship that could rescue him and take him home to his family. Every morning the same routine, scan the horizon for ships. Every afternoon the same thing. Not wanting to miss any chance of being saved, the man would forage for food in the early evening.

One evening, as he completed his foraging campaign, he returned to see his shack in flames. Lightning had apparently struck while he was trying to find food. At this point he realized that not only had his shelter burned up, but all his tools as well. Everything was lost.

In a state of deep discouragement, the man sat on the beach contemplating death, wondering whether there was any hope left for him having lost everything. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he contemplated a bleak future. Eventually his exhaustion gave into sleep.

But when he woke up, the strangest thing appeared to him. He wondered if it was a mirage, because about a few hundred yards away, there was a ship, docked with sailors moving back and forth. Eventually, the captain approached him and said the most miraculous thing: ‘We saw your smoke signal, and so we came.”

The man had to lose everything before he could be rescued.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

A Lost Sheep

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 a bit of context behind sheperding in the Middle East:

Shepherds in Lebanon, and in the Holy Land (in addition to some of my students), have told me that once a sheep knows that it is lost, it tries to hide under a bush or rock and begins quivering and bleating. The shepherd must locate it quickly lest it be heard and killed by a wild animal. On being found it is usually too traumatized to walk and must be carried back to the flock or to the village.

Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, p.44, by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Lost Ticket

Albert Einstein, the great physicist, was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to the famous professor, Einstein reached into his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.

The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’

Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.

The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’

Einstein looked at him and said, ‘Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.’

Source Unknown, *this story may or may not be true.

Nibbling Our Way To Lostness

“I live in a small, rural community. There are lots of cattle ranches around here, and, every once in a while, a cow wanders off and gets lost . . . Ask a rancher how a cow gets lost, and chances are he will reply, ‘Well, the cow starts nibbling on a tuft of green grass, and when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass and starts nibbling on that one, and then it nibbles on a tuft of grass right next to a hole in the fence. It then sees another tuft of green grass on the other side of the fence, so it nibbles on that one and then goes on to the next tuft. The next thing you know, the cow has nibbled itself into being lost.’

“Americans are in the process of nibbling their way to lostness. . . We keep moving from one tuft of activity to another, never noticing how far we have gone from home or how far away from the truth we have managed to end up.”

Mike Yaconelli, The Wittenburg Door

The Perfect Storm 

To understand why the Andrea Gail never had a chance, one needs only to search the clues along the shoreline of the Eastern Seaboard.

At first, it went by the name of the “Halloween Storm,” given its late-October fury. As far south as the North Carolina coastline, winds of 35 to 45 mph lashed the area for five consecutive days, and waves of 10 to 30 feet pounded the beach. In Rhode Island, a fisherman was swept off the rocks by heavy surf and killed. In New York, another man fishing from a bridge lost his life when he was either blown off the bridge, or swept off by high waves.

The New England coastline hammered so soundly, even a few lighthouses – buildings designed to survive the very worst weather – were damaged. With winds hovering around 65 to 75 mph, utility poles, trees, piers, sea walls and boardwalks simply disappeared. Thousands of lobster traps were destroyed. Flooding was extensive, invading homes, and closing roads and airports.

At sea, it was far worse.

At 80 degrees, the water of the Atlantic that fall week in 1991 was still very warm, almost tropical. But the seasons had changed in New England, and a cold front from Canada was racing across the northeastern corner of the country. At the same time, a hurricane was forming in the warm ocean water, moving toward a collision with the cold front in what soon became known as “The Perfect Storm.”

The Andrea Gail had a crew of six, and the small fishing vessel was caught square in the crosshairs of the colliding storms. Sustained winds of 60 knots and sea swells of 39 feet were recorded, and unconfirmed reports told of even stronger winds and higher waves. The movie that told her story, and coined the phrase “the perfect storm,” painted a graphic picture of a crew caught in the middle of overwhelming difficulty, pressed in on every side by the colliding weather patterns.

The fishing vessel went down sometime after midnight on Oct. 28, and ironically, its search and rescue, satellite-aided tracking system washed ashore a week later on Sable Island. Strangely enough, the tracking device was found with its power switched off. Could it have been an accident . . . or was it a case of a storm so overwhelming, so devastating, that the captain of the ship simply turned the device off as a symbolic gesture of giving in to the worst storm he’d ever seen? (Source: “The Perfect Storm, October 1991,” NOAA Satellite and Information Service, National Climatic Data Center.)

Andy Cook

The Pride of the Titanic

I know most of us have probably heard enough stories about the Titanic, but it does stand as an amazing monument to the famous saying, slightly altered, “pride goes before the fall/destruction.” (Proverbs 16:18)

Did you know that the Titanic took 12,000 men two years to build? When it set sail from Belfast, North Ireland, it was the largest sailing vessel ever made. It was also, of course, considered unsinkable. The Captain of the ship even went on record as saying, “Even God himself cannot sink this ship.” 

Famous last words, wouldn’t you say? And that is of course because the Titanic did sink, because that very same captain would not change course as they crashed into icebergs in the Atlantic. So many lives lost simply because of pride. Think of all the other ways lives are lost, or damaged, because we are too proud to change our minds or our behaviors.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Searching for Herself

A group of tourists spent hours Saturday night looking for a missing woman near Iceland’s Eldgja canyon, only to find her among the search party. The group was travelling through Iceland on a tour bus and stopped near a volcanic canyon. Soon there was word of a missing passenger. The woman, who had changed clothes, didn’t recognize the description of herself, and joined in the search. But the search was called off at about 3 a.m., when it became clear the missing woman was, in fact, accounted for and searching for herself.

QMI Agency

Surrounded By Water With Nothing to Drink

Theologian John S. Dunne tells of a group of early Spanish sailors who reached the continent of South America after an arduous voyage. Their caravels sailed into the headwaters of the Amazon, an expanse of water so wide the sailors presumed it to be a continuation of the Atlantic Ocean. It never occurred to them to drink the water, since they expected it to be saline, and as a result some of these sailors died of thirst. That scene of men dying of thirst even as their ships floated on the world’s largest source of freshwater has become for me a metaphor for our age. Some people starve to death spiritually while all around them manna rots.

Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places: Revised and Updated, WaterBrook Press, 2008.

The Two Lost Sons

In his excellent book, The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller corrects the notion that this classic parable (The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Lk. 15) is only about the lostness of the younger brother. In fact, as he demonstrates elsewhere, the parable concludes with the older brother outside the fellowship of His father (in other words, outside of the Father’s salvation).

The real point of the parable is that both the older and younger brothers are lost, just in different ways.

Keller explains:

The hearts of the two brothers were the same. Both sons resented their father’s authority and sought ways of getting out from under it. They each wanted to get into a position in which they could tell the father what to do. Each one, in other words, rebelled—but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons.

…Here, then, is Jesus’ radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York: Dutton, 2008, p.36, 43).

An Unexpected Friendship

Sometimes moments of forgiveness and friendship come from unexpected places. In 2018, the comedian Pete Davidson appeared on the “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Davidson made a crude joke about a former Navy Seal turned Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw.

Crenshaw had lost an eye in the line of duty, which became the butt of Davidson’s vulgar joke. The combination of mocking a person’s disability (especially a disability that came from serving his country in war) alongside a clear disapproval of Crenshaw’s political beliefs led to a burst of public outrage. While Davidson was making the joke, it became clear many found it in poor taste, and the vitriol aimed at the young comedian would ultimately lead him down a spiral of depression and self-loathing.

Davidson then took his anguish public, posting on the social media platform Instagram:

“I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore. I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.”

When Crenshaw heard about Davidson’s condition, he didn’t do what many do when embroiled in a public tiff: tell the offender the public scorn served him right, or make some other cutting comment at Davidson’s expense.

Instead, Crenshaw decided to extend an olive branch, befriending the comedian, and even offering words of life to a person who clearly felt lost amidst being stuck in the cross-hairs of the American public. Davidson recounts that Crenshaw reached out and comforted him: “God put you here for a reason. It’s your job to find that purpose. And you should live that way.”

Humor, it has often been said, is a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that life throws at us. But in the midst of the deep, unsettling pain of being publicly shamed, what Davidson needed was not a good joke, but forgiveness, and perhaps, even a friend who could share the good news of the gospel with him. In some ways it is ironic that a man trained to kill and destroy his enemies could be so moved by compassion that he reached out to someone who publicly mocked him and his deeply held political beliefs. But that is the beauty of the gospel, it enables us to look beyond our own reputation, our own pride, to care for others.

Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Dino-Ray Ramos, “Texas Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw Reaches Out to SNL’s Pete Davidson After Troubling Instagram Post,” Deadline, December 18, 2018.

See also Illustrations on DeceptionDestructive Behavior, Direction, Disorientation, Sin

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