Sermon illustrations


Belief Like a Child: Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, which is to say at a time beyond time, or belief that there was not because there could not be such belief was not because there could not be such at a different kind of time altogether from the kind the clock measures, or at time that is no time at all because it is without beginning which is to say that if you are to believe that there was, you have to give up other beliefs you believe in including the belief that there was not because there could not be such creatures as these.

A far country, a deep forest, a palace, which is to say you must be willing to enter them in some measure as a child because it takes a child to believe in the possibility at least that such places exist instead of dismissing them out-of-hand as impossible.

Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, & Fairy Tale, HarperSanFrancisco.

Children in the First Century

In the first century, children enjoyed little esteem and virtually no respect. While families appreciated their own children, society merely tolerated them. The very language of the day reveals this first-century prejudice. One Greek word for child (pais or paidion) also can mean “servant” or “slave.”

Yet another (nepios) carries connotations of inexperience, foolishness, and helplessness. Greek philosophers regularly chided a stupid or foolish man by calling him “nepios.” Indeed, even biblical writers admonished Christians to “stop thinking like children [paidia]” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Imagine, then, the people’s astonishment when Jesus brings a troublesome, noisy child and places him in front of the crowd (Matthew 18:1–9). With his hand on the lad’s shoulder, Jesus has the audacity to suggest that this small tyke provides an example to be followed.

Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Parenting (pp. 12-13). Zondervan.

The Dart-Board

The Benedictine nun Joan Chittister recounts a story she once heard, 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.

“Do it Again”

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Co., 1909), 109.

Finding the Right Balance

Compared to earlier generations, we are emotionally closer to our kids, they confide in us more, we have more fun with them, and we know about the science of child development. But we are too indulgent. We give our kids too much and demand too little of them…

I find myself at the center of this problem as I try, with my wife, to balance the two major tasks of parenting: showing our kids that we love them and raising them with the skills and values they’ll need to be emotionally healthy adults, which often requires that we act in ways that can anger and upset them.

Taken from Dan Kindlon, Too Much of a Good Thing (New York: Miramax, 2001).

Finding Happiness

Have you ever heard the story of the mother who wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson?  She gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl.

When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”

Source Unknown

Forgive us our Mattresses

While countless children grew up reciting the Lord’s Prayer, it is somewhat unsurprising to learn that many didn’t exactly have the words correct. In an article by Ann Landers of the Chicago Tribune, a variety of hilarious misinterpretations were recounted. One three-year-old for example, thought it was, “Our Father who does art in Heaven, Herald his Name.” Another little boy believed it was, “Lead us snot into temptation.” Two twin daughters used to pray, “Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses.” 

Stuart Strachan, Source Material from Ann Landers, Article “Out of the Mouths of Babes…A Taste of Humor, Chicago Tribune, May 12, 2002.

Genes on a Razor’s Edge

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success.

With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.

“The Science of Success”, by David Dobbs. “This article was originally published in The Atlantic and is republished here with The Atlantic’s permission.”

God’s Gifts to Immature People

Children are God’s gifts to immature people to help them grow up. They are also God’s gifts to help parents go deep with God. . . Parenting is not for anything. It is not a contract with God in which one gives countless hours in order to turn out good children that rise up and call us blessed.

It is a covenant experience of belonging in which God meets us and forms us in the nitty-gritty of family life. The big question in the end is not how the kids turn out, but how the parents turn out!

R. Paul Stevens, Marriage Spirituality: Ten Disciplines for Couples Who Love God, InterVarsity.

He Saw it, He Loved it, He Ate it

Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are and other children’s books, gets many letters from his young fans. A favorite was a “charming” drawing sent on by a little boy’s mother. “I loved it,” Sendak says. “I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on a post card and sent it to him. His mother wrote back: ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ The little boy didn’t care that it was an original drawing. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it. That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.”

Submitted by Chris Stroup, source material, Maurice Sendak.

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.

Jesus’ Resurrection in Two Words: Ta Da!

Pastor John Ortberg tells the story of a friend of his (also a pastor named Skip Viau) who was attempting to tell the resurrection story in a children’s sermon. He asked the question, “What were Jesus’ first words to the disciples after he was raised from the dead?” Before he was able to give the answer, a little girl raised her hand high in the sky, so Skip let her answer. “I know,” she said, “Ta da!”. As Ortberg would argue, it was “as good a translation as any.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from John Ortberg, Who is This Man, Zondervan Publishing.

The Kingdom of God is a Public Park

What is the Kingdom of God, according to the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 8:1-8)? It is a public park! It is a park where old people are no longer cold and lonely and ill and senile, but participants in a community. It is a public park where the elderly can sit together and bask in the sun, and talk laugh over the good old days in full vigor and clear mind and satisfaction of life.

The Kingdom of God is a public park where little children can run and play in its squares, in safety and fun and delight…. It is a place where no child is abused or unwanted or malnourished, and where there is not even a bully among the group, shoving and taunting the littler ones until they break into tears. The Kingdom of God, says Zechariah, is a public park where the streets are safe for children.

Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Of Children and Streets and the Kingdom,” in Best Sermons 1, ed. James W. Cox and Kenneth M. Cox (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 288-89.

Just Charge It!

I recently attended an event sponsored by Compassion International, the International Child Sponsorship Organization. The event was called “Stepping into My Shoes”. The purpose being to show children in America what it is like living in a developing country. At one point, children are encouraged to “work”, breaking rocks and shining shoes. For their efforts, each received their compensation: ten cents. They then went to a “shop,” where they could exchange their newly acquired wealth for items.

Unfortunately, their 10 cents didn’t get them very far: a soccer ball was 30 dollars and a toy plane was 20 dollars. One rather distraught young girl wanted to purchase a Barbie doll, but she was $79.90 short of the total price of $80. The daughter, exasperated, finally said, “Why don’t you just charge it on your card mommy?”

Stuart Strachan Jr. 

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.

A Little Girl and The Founding of World Vision

In 1947 huge crowds came to hear a thirty-two-year-old Californian preach at mass evangelistic rallies throughout China. Although Bob Pierce had no knowledge of Chinese language or culture, his message of American old-time religion was warmly received, reportedly reaching tens of thousands and even converting twenty members of General Chiang Kai-shek’s personal bodyguard. But despite these impressive results, Pierce’s trip to Asia would be most remembered for his brief encounter with a single little girl.

In Xiamen, Dutch Reformed missionary Tena Hoelkeboer invited Pierce to preach to four hundred girls at her school. When one of her students, White Jade, informed her father that she had converted to Christianity, he beat her and threw her out of the house. Hoelkeboer was distressed at the prospect of taking on yet another orphan and demanded of Pierce, “What are you going to do about it?” Deeply moved, Pierce emptied his wallet of the five dollars it contained and promised to send the same amount every month. When he returned to the United States to report on his evangelistic exploits, Pierce told the story of White Jade in churches across the United States. In 1950 he founded World Vision in order to sponsor more needy Asian children like her.

By the turn of the century, World Vision had become the largest privately funded relief and development NGO (nongovernmental organization) in the world, and White Jade’s story continued to be used both in advertising and in recounting World Vision’s history. Even at the time of this writing, White Jade remains central in defining World Vision’s identity and approach for its employees and donors.

Because of its deep rhetorical resonance and staying power, Pierce’s encounter with White Jade and Hoelkeboer might possibly be the single point at which North American Evangelical Christians began to reprioritize compassion for the poor.

Soong-Chan Rah and Gary VanderPol, Return to Justice: Six Movements that Reignited our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience, Brazos Press, 2016.

A Neglected Garden & The Right to Choose your Religion

The British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was once engaged in a conversation with a man who believed children should never receive any kind of religious education or instruction, not until they were old enough to decide for themselves what they wanted to believe. This would allow them the freedom to choose whatever religion they wanted to believe in, rather than have one foisted upon them by their families. Instead of disagreeing out loud, Coleridge invited the man to his home to visit his garden. When the man entered, he was shocked to find an overrun, neglected plot of land.

“Do you call this a garden?” the man shouted. “There are nothing but weeds here!” “Well, you see,” Coleridge said, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own production.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

A Prayer for Children in Worship

Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene made a similar point in a brief note published online in 2018. Writing to parents who are worried about having children in church because of the sounds they make, Fiene said, For many years, there were no little children at River of Life Lutheran Church (LCMS).

And throughout all those years, the saints of River of Life prayed that God would bless us to see families with little ones walk in our doors. So when we hear little ones squawking and fussing and crying on Sunday mornings, we’re not irritated or frustrated. We’re overjoyed. Because that’s the sound of our prayers being answered. And I know my congregation is not alone in thinking this way.

Taken from: In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World by Jake Meador Copyright (c) 2019 by Jake Meador. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


“She Knows Now”

A mother ran into the bedroom when she heard her seven-year-old son scream. She found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, “There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts.” He nodded his acknowledgement, and she left the room.

As she started down the hall the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, “What happened?”

The little boy replied, “She knows now.”

Joke a Day Ministries Group

Stooping Down to Our Level

One thing we often do as human beings is take for granted how our physical presence can impact those around us. Do you remember how big your parents seemed when you were a kid? They were massive! Over time of course, things change; we grow up and we become the big humans.

I (Stu) am about 6’3 and surprisingly enough, my children are not quite so tall. My wife reminds me that when I begin to lose my temper, I can be a bit scary for a child whose only a few feet tall. When I’m at my best as a parent, and one of my kids is beginning to struggle, the best thing I can do is kneel down on their level and speak to them in a soft gentle voice.

This is what God did when He sent Jesus to be among us. I think we all know what it’s like to think of God as this massive cosmic force we need to be constantly in fear and trembling towards (think Isaiah 6), but God didn’t want that to be the final word towards His creation. God wanted us to know him primarily as the one who loves. And the way God did that was by “stooping down,” coming to us on our level, not as a mighty king or grand emperor, but as a common man

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Stress and Children

The average child today exhibits the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.

Taken From Robert Leahy, Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You, Hay House.

What Are You Going To Be When You Grow Up?

A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, making small talk to put his subjects at ease.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked one little girl.

“Tired,” she said.

J.R. Love, Rushton, Louisiana

What “Now” Means

A friend often told me about the problems he had getting his son to clean his room. The son would always agree to tidy up, but then wouldn’t follow through. After high school the young man joined the Marine Corps. When he came home for leave after basic training, his father asked him what he had learned in the service.

“Dad,” he said. “I learned what ‘now’ means.”

Jan King, “Humor in Uniform,” Readers Digest, May, 1996, p. 174.


What’s Green and Says “Ribbit”?

Charles Swindoll was once visiting a Sunday school classroom. When he entered, he said:

“What’s green and says ribbit?”… A little boy frowned and appeared thoughtful. “Well,” he said slowly, “I think it’s a frog, but I’ll say Jesus. Chuck was puzzled. “Why would you say that?” “Because we re in Sunday school,” the little boy said, “and that’s all we ever talk about here—Jesus and God’

Taken from Kevin Leman, The Way of the Wise: Simple Truths for Living Well, Revell Books.

Where do Humans Come From?

We all know children sometimes ask difficult questions. One day a young girl asked her parents where human beings come from. “Well,” the mother said, “God created Adam and Eve and Adam and Eve had children. Then their children had children. And eventually, that’s how we got here.”

Not being fully satisfied with the answer, the girl asked her father the same question. Where do people come from? That father answered a bit differently than the mother. “Well, a long, long time ago, there were monkeys. Those monkeys evolved and over millions of years, those monkeys became human beings.”

This obviously confused the poor girl, so she goes back to her mother. “Mom” you said God created us and Dad said we evolved from monkeys. So who is right?”

A big smile came over the mother’s face as she said, “sweetheart, it’s very simple. Your father was explaining his side of the family, and I was explaining my side.

Original Source Unknown, Adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr.

See also Illustrations on Adolescence, Adoption, Babies, Mothers, Fathers, Parenting 

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