Sermon illustrations


Being Formed in Christ’s Image

In their excellent book Invitation to a Journey, M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton describe the Biblical understanding of the process of spiritual formation over and against the “self-help” philosophies abundant in our day:

Scripture is also clear in its witness to the fact that only God can liberate us from our bondage, heal our brokenness, cleanse us from our uncleanness and bring life out of our deadness. We cannot do it by ourselves. Thus spiritual formation is the experience of being shaped by God toward wholeness.

But spiritual formation as “being formed” will also be seen to move against the grain of our do-it-yourself culture and our powerful need to be in control of our existence. Generally, we like to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Self-reliance is deeply ingrained in us.

To allow someone else to control our life is seen as weakness, to be avoided at all costs. The English poet William Henley captured the spirit of our culture well when he wrote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” But spiritual formation as “being formed” will reveal that God is the initiator of our growth toward wholeness and we are to be pliable clay in God’s hand.

Taken from: Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Carrying a Human-Sized Weight Around

In May 2018, in a Connecticut hospital, a group of twelve surgeons worked for five hours to remove a tumor from the abdomen of a thirty-eight-year-old woman. That may seem like a lot of doctors and a long time for a single tumor—until you learn that single tumor weighed 132 pounds! The patient reported that, prior to the surgery, the tumor had grown at a rate of ten pounds per week. That’s forty pounds a month! “Ovarian mucinous tumors tend to be big,” said Dr. Vaagn Andikyan, who was the lead surgeon on the team. “But tumors this big are exceedingly rare in the literature.

It may be in the top 10 or 20 tumors of this size removed worldwide.” The tumor was technically benign, but it was far from harmless. According to Dr. Andikyan, the patient couldn’t walk, she was malnourished because she’d been unable to eat, and she was at extreme danger for blood clots and other blood-vessel-related damage. Her very life was in jeopardy. “When I first walked into the examination room . . . I saw fear in the patient’s eyes,” Dr. Andikyan said. “She was so hopeless, because she had seen several other doctors, and they were unable to help her.”

Can you imagine trying to go about your day with a 132-pound weight dragging you down from the inside? Can you imagine the pressure that must have built up in and around that poor woman—the squeezing, maddening, crushing pressure? But then can you imagine what that patient must have felt like the day after the surgery? The week after? Can you imagine the change that must have taken place after a 132-pound burden was removed? “She’s back to a normal life, she’s back to work,” the doctor said. “And when I saw her in my office, I saw smiles, I saw hope, and I saw a happy woman who is back to her normal life and her family.” Wouldn’t you like to experience that kind of joy? That kind of freedom? I have. And believe me, it’s as wonderful as it sounds.

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

He’s Got the Whole World…on His Shoulders

Bruce Larson had an unusual way of convincing people to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ.  When he was working in New York City, he would walk a man or woman downtown to the front of the RCA building on Fifth Avenue.  In front of the building there is a gigantic statue of a massively proportioned, magnificently muscled Atlas, the world resting on his shoulders.  As powerfully built as he is, he is straining under the weight, barely able to stand.  Larson would say, “Now that’s one way to live, trying to carry the world on your shoulders.  But now come across the street with me.”

Across the street is St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  There behind the altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus.  He appears to be no more than eight or nine years old.  As little and as frail as he appears, he is holding the world in one hand!  Then Larson would say, “We have a choice.  We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, ‘I give up, Lord; here’s my life.  I give you my world, the whole world.’”

Taken from Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson Copyright (c) 1989 by Ben Patterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Lifting the Rock

One day a father decided to take his son to play at the local park. The boy quickly gravitated to the sandbox and found himself mesmerized by the colors and textures surrounding him. After a short time, he began digging around to see what treasures might reveal themselves to him. 

As his hands plunged under the sand he discovered something rather large, and having pushed enough of the sand away, realized it was a large rock. Instantly he knew he needed to move that rock, no matter how big it was. This rock was the obstacle to his dreams of a sandbox clear of all extraneous matter.

So the boy tried as hard as he could to move the rock. He pushed and pushed and pushed, and finally he was able to get it to the edge of the sandbox. But the next step would be the hardest. How could he get it over the edge? Again the boy pushed and pushed until his energy was completely fried. The rock’s stuckness matched the boy’s feelings of the situation. Eventually he started to sob.

The boy’s father watched all this, and just when the meltdown began, the father went over to his son and began to comfort his overtaxed, dejected son. 

“Why didn’t you use all the strength available to you to move the rock?” the father asked. 

The boy was confused, “I did daddy, it’s just too heavy.” 

“No son,” you didn’t. You didn’t ask me to help.” And at that, the father lifted the rock with a single hand and tossed it out of the sandbox.

Original Source Unknown, adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr.

Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems

At the airport, Hugh Maclellan Jr. saw an acquaintance who looked troubled. “What’s the matter?” Hugh asked. The man sighed. “I thought I was finally going to have a weekend to myself. But now I have to go supervise repairs on my house in Florida.” Dejected, he sat waiting to take off in his private jet.

Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 2001), p.51.

See also Illustrations on Baggage, Brokenness, Lament, Mourning, Pain, Problems, Responsibility, Weakness