Sermon illustrations


Backseat Editors

Fred Allen (1984-1956) was a famous American comedian, writer, and radio star. When one of his scripts for a radio show was given back to him with significant changes in bright blue ink, Allen began flipping through the pages impatiently. “Where were you fellows when the paper was blank?” he asked.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source material from Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.

Begging to Stay

During his time as commander in the Roman army, Caesar Augustus (who would become the first Roman Emperor) had to relieve a soldier from duty for bad behavior. The man begged to remain in military service, but Augustus wouldn’t budge. Finally the man said, “How am I to go home? What shall I tell my father?” “Tell your father that you didn’t find me to your liking,” the emperor answered.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Dealing with Criticism

Why do any of us get upset or tense when confronted? Why do any of us activate our inner lawyer and rise to our own defense? Why do any of us turn the tables and remind the other person that we are not the only sinner in the room? Why do we argue about the facts or dispute the other person’s interpretation.

We do all of these things because we are convinced in our hearts that we are more righteous that how than we are being portrayed in the moment of confrontation. Proud people don’t welcome loving warning, rebuke, confrontation, question, criticism, or accountability, because they don’t feel the need for it. And when they do fail, they are very good at erecting plausible reasons for what they said or did, given the stress of the situation or relationship in which it was done.

Self-Glory by Paul David Tripp taken from Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 178.

Crazy, But True Stories of Criticism at a Christian Radio Station

In his excellent book, Unoffendable, Brant Hansen shares a few humorous, but sadly true, stories of people being critical of his work at a Christian music station:

One day, we talked about the local forecast. “It’ll be warmer than it should be for this time of year,” I said. “Normally, the high is seventy-two, but today, a high of eighty-two.” The phone rang.

CALLER: You know, I was really disappointed to hear your forecast. It’s not going to be “warmer than it should be,” because God ordains the weather, and it’s going to be exactly what He wants it to be today. Very disappointing.

ME: I’m sorry you were disappointed by this.

A bit later, I played my accordion on the air. Some say this is artistically offensive, sure, but it’s all in fun. It’s a goofy karaoke bit where people get to pick a hit from our station, or an ’80s song, and then awkwardly try to sing along with me. One day, we did both. The phone rang.

CALLER: You know, I noticed you sounded a lot more practiced when you played the ’80s song. ME: Uh . . . “Danger Zone,” by Kenny Loggins?

CALLER: Yes, it was very disappointing that you didn’t play the godly song as well as you play the worldly songs. You apparently don’t want to practice unless it’s a worldly song. ME: Wait—so . . . I played “Danger Zone” too well?

CALLER: I’m really disappointed at what the station is doing, glorifying worldly things. You shouldn’t glorify the world like that.

ME: With my accordion?

 Another phone call.

CALLER: I’d just like to say, I listen from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. every morning. And it’s disappointing. ME: I’m sorry—what’s disappointing?

CALLER: I have yet to hear you say anything about Tim Tebow or his father’s fantastic ministry. ME: Actually, now that I think about it, I just happened to talk about Tim Tebow on yesterday’s show, and I said something about how I appreciate his attitude when it comes to—

CALLER: Yeah, but it wasn’t between 7:00 and 8:00.

Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better, Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Describe Your Inner-Critic

NPR’s Nancy Updike got an earful when she asked people about what their inner critic sounded like or communicated to them. Here are some of the answers:

As part of a segment on the NPR program This American Life, journalist Nancy Updike got more than she bargained for when polled people on the personality of their inner-critic: 

  • ​MAN: The voice is irresistible, always. I’m in the thrall of that voice.
  • ​WOMAN: Totally out of control. It’s got this life of its own, and I can’t tame it anymore.
  • ​MAN: I remember somehow realizing just how finely calibrated the voice was to every nuance, every part of my feelings, including the feeling that I didn’t want to smoke cigarettes. And it’s just like, Might as well have another cigarette, because this is it.
  • ​MAN: The voice definitely brings in also an element of shame. It says, you want everyone to think that you have money. You want everyone to see that you’re generous and you can give and put yourself out there financially. It will prove that you’re not a poor kid.
  • ​WOMAN: And it also says a lot of mean things too. Your husband’s too good for you, you may as well have a glass of wine because without it you won’t be as entertaining.
  • ​WOMAN: You better try your hardest to make sure he doesn’t take [the ring] away, because he’s going to find out the truth about you and how much you suck. So you better distract him with a really thin body.

Taken from Nancy Updike, This American Life, Episode 340: “The Devil in Me”, September 7, 2007.

Does God Really Like Me?

I don’t know what I did wrong. But he had that “calmer than calm” look that hid a rage inside. I picked up the phone and saw her name. Not now. I can’t handle her right now. I scanned the room, looking for someone I knew. I just wanted to disappear. I didn’t have the energy for small talk. So I got more appetizers. “How dare you!” he screamed. Then he let loose about everything that’s wrong with me. If I said anything, she would just blow up again. So I let it go.  

We’ve all experienced situations like these. We’ve felt disconnected and judged, overwhelmed by friends and underwhelmed by our relatives. We know how it feels when someone doesn’t want us around. And we know how it feels when someone is sucking up all our energy. We’ve been yelled at. And we’ve yelled back. We’ve been ignored. We’ve done the ignoring.

We’ve felt people were just putting up with us. And we’ve just put up with others too. Whether we know it or not, all these experiences color our experience of God. If you’ve been ignored, scolded, or shamed, then you’ve probably wondered—consciously or unconsciously—if God is ignoring, scolding, or shaming you. Or, more painfully, maybe you think God is just putting up with you. We’re told that God loves us. But the real question is, Does God really like me?

Taken from Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us  by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw Copyright (c) 2020 by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Driven by Demons

Brett Favre was a driven man. He explained to USA Today that his father’s message that he was never good enough drove him to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history…His dad had also been his high school coach. He demanded excellence from Brett, and he didn’t accept any excuses. When Irv Farve died at age fifty-eight from a heart attack, Brett “lost his biggest fan-and most vocal second-guesser.” His father was tough on his son. Brett remembers, “if you grew up in a household with a football coach who looks like a drill sergeant, you would think you would be tough. Anytime I was hurt…his advice was, “Get your a** up.’ Never did he say he loved us…

Favre had two ways of coping with the pain of his childhood: he was driven to be the best, and he used alcohol and prescription drugs to numb the pain. One was considered by most fans to be a laudable character trait, but they didn’t understand the source of his unquenchable ambition. And most people excused the abuse of prescription drugs as simply a result of the aches and pains of an NFL player…

Throughout his career, Favre continued to hear the voice in the back of his mind, the critical voice of his father that drove him to be the best. In the year he came out of retirement to play again, he explained, “Part of my success always has been that I felt I had something to prove, even after I won three MVP’s. That has not changed today. If I am going to play, I’m going to be the best and have this chip [on my shoulder].

Samuel Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth, Thomas Nelson.

The Only Opinion That Matters

Most of us have heard of Babe Ruth, but have you ever heard of Babe Pinelli? Pinelli was an umpire in Major League Baseball who once called The Great Bambino (Ruth) out on strikes. When the crowd began booing in disapproval of the call, Babe turned to the umpire and said “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.”

The coaches and players braced for a swift ejection, but instead, Pinelli responded coolly, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.” In life it’s easy to get caught up in the opinions of others, but in the end, it’s not our scoffers or critics by whom we will be judged, only God.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

A Rough Start to Ministry

Pastor Craig Groeschel shares the true story of his “less than promising” career as a pastor. It should serve as a reminder that rejection and criticism are never final, unless we allow them to be:

Only weeks after putting my faith in Jesus, I tried to teach my first Bible study to a group of young guys in a little church in Ada, Oklahoma. Afterward the leader of the youth group said, “Well, I guess teaching the Bible is not your gift, is it?” Three years later I finally got up the nerve to try teaching the Bible again, after being asked to preach my first sermon.

After the service, as I stood at the door saying goodbye to church members, an older gentleman looked at me with a raised brow and remarked, “Nice try.” Nice try?! The next lady in line asked if I had any other skills besides being a preacher and then made a weak attempt to encourage me to keep my options open. Seriously, that really happened.

I had to fight off the temptation to run and hide in the church baptistry. And yes, full immersion! Despite yet another setback, still believing God’s call, I continued my journey toward full-time vocational ministry by going to seminary following college and marriage.

About halfway through seminary, the day finally came when I stood before a group of spiritual leaders as a candidate for ordination in our denominational church. With the entire committee looking on, the spokesperson explained to me, “We’ve chosen not to ordain you. You don’t have the gift-mix we see in most pastors. In fact, we are not sure you are called to be a pastor. But feel free to try again next year. But for now, it’s a no.”

Craig Groeschel, Winning the War in Your Mind, Zondervan, 2021.

Two Options to Deal with Online Critcism

In this short excerpt from Brant Hansen’s excellent book, Unoffendable, the author shares a “hypothetical” example of how he deals with online criticism. Generally speaking, it never goes the way you think it will, and in the end, you usually regret saying anything:

Option 1:

4:10 p.m. See insulting comment from Bob371 on blog.

4:15 p.m. Stew about it.

4:20 p.m. Craft amazingly thorough, literate, snarky reply to set Bob371 straight.

4:30 p.m. Hit “submit” and walk away from computer, “drop the mic”–style, all smug and cool. 4:40 p.m. Return to computer to delete my smug reply.

4:41 p.m. See that someone has already replied to my smug reply.

4:42 p.m. Delete my reply anyway, but write another one.

5:30 p.m. Eat dinner with family, but distractedly, because I’m bugged by comments on blog. 5:45 p.m. Decide it doesn’t matter what people say. I was right.

5:50 p.m. See another blood-boiling response from the Big Jerk formerly known as Bob371. 5:52 p.m. Decide to write something sort of nice, but still, you know, making my point.

5:55 p.m. See new comment. Someone else, whom I respect, thinks I was being a jerk in my original comment. Respond to that person via e-mail, to apologize, but not really, because the jerk formerly known as Bob371 is a bigger jerk.

6:10 p.m. Write another comment, commence stewing about the whole thing until 1:30 a.m. That’s one way to handle it.

Option 2:

4:10 p.m. See insulting comment from Bob371 on blog.

4:15 p.m. Thank him for it; point out what I appreciate about it. If I want to continue the conversation, fine, but otherwise, it doesn’t matter.

4:20 p.m. Go play Madden NFL with my daughter, get beat 75-0, then eat dinner with the fam and laugh about stuff.

Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better, Thomas Nelson, 2015.

See also Failure, Guidance, Judging, Judgment, Mistakes, Pride

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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