Sermon illustrations


The Brain Perceiving a Threat

Regardless of how real the stress may or may not be, when our brain perceives a situation as being threatening, the process it engages is the same. Just like airport security, our brain has to take every situation seriously because failure to identify threats could be disastrous.

Therefore, whenever we encounter a stimulus, whether it is a bear, a highway full of slow-moving cars, or a traveler who for some reason chose to wear shoes, the first thing our brain has to do is determine if that stimulus is going to kill us. It is a very high-priority decision that the brain has to make before we take any other action. I am sure I don’t have to explain to you why it is so important that our brains do this.

Brian King, M.D., The Art of Taking It Easy: How to Cope with Bears, Traffic, and the Rest of Life’s Stressors, Apollo Publishers, 2019.

The Car and Suburban Sprawl

Cars have allowed us to spread out our living patterns significantly. Historically, cities have had a natural limit set by how far people could comfortably walk from place to place. Then, with the development of streetcars, settlement spread in conjunction with the streetcar tracks. Slowly, with the onset of the automobile, the limits on sprawl were all but obliterated. As cars freed up drivers to live, work, shop, and play between farther and farther distances, these great distances became a fixed part of the landscape, making the car necessary for full participation in society.

The shift has been subtle, but unmistakable, as we’ve moved from thinking of the car as a convenience to considering it a necessity. This arrangement, at best, grants independence to one particular segment of our population while leaving many out. Youth who are too young to drive are completely dependent upon their parents to get them place to place. There once was a time when a young person could walk to the corner store to get a treat, walk to the local park for baseball practice, and even walk to school. Now many kids need to be driven to each of these settings—putting additional pressure on parents, who must serve as their chauffeurs.

Eric O. Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.

Do You Know Where You Are Going?

In his book Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, the author Charles Swindoll tells a story about the 19th Century agnostic Thomas Huxley. The story goes like this – Huxley was in Dublin and was rushing to catch a train.

He climbed aboard one of Dublin’s famous horse drawn taxis and said to the driver -“Hurry, I’m almost late … drive fast”. Of they went at a furious pace and Huxley sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. After a while Huxley opened his eyes and glanced out the window to notice that they were going in the wrong direction. Realizing that he hadn’t told the driver where to take him he called out ‘do you know where you’re going’. The driver replied “No your honor, but I am driving very fast.’

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Source Material by Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life.

Driving with Your Eyes Closed

In this little thought experiment, Harvard psychologist David Ropeik demonstrates just how easily our fear of uncertainty can make us as we imagine driving a car with our eyes closed:

Imagine driving 85 miles an hour down an open highway on a clear dry day … air rushing past the car, the engine roaring with the speed. Now CLOSE YOUR EYES! Keep driving, accelerator mashed to the floor … eyes still closed … half a mile … 3/4 of a mile … a MILE!

David Ropeik, Article: “Why Futurism Has a Bright Future,” New York Times, August 29, 2011.

How Much Fuel is Left in Your Tank?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been very good at paying attention to my car’s fuel tank. I remember in high school I drove an old Jeep Grand Cherokee that had a digital fuel gauge. In 1998 that was quite impressive. It told you exactly how many miles before you ran out of gas, or at least, approximately. 

One day after school I vividly remember exiting the freeway only to notice I had 0, yes 0 miles of gas left in the tank. I began to panic as I waited at a light, praying desperately that I would be able to make it to the closest gas station.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten better at this. I haven’t quite hit “0 miles left” according to our most recent cars. But of course there is a helpful analogy here. If you are like most teenagers, then you are young, you barely think about your energy levels. You barely consider how much is “left in the tank” before committing to some new adventure.

As we get older, and our stores of said energy become less pronounced, we ought to become more aware, not just of our energy levels, but what sorts of things give us energy and what drains us of energy. As an extrovert, being with people energizes me, whereas for my introverted wife, it does the opposite. So how much is in your proverbial “tank?” And how do you “fill up” before running out of fuel altogether?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Lessons in Slowing Down: The Ford Model-T

One time when I was in college on Christmas break, a friend’s father had recently purchased a Ford Model-T. If you’ve never heard of the Model-T, it is widely considered to be the first affordable car ever produced, enjoying a production run from October 1, 1908 to May 26, 1927. Now, as you might imagine, one does not purchase a Model-T these days for its speed. In fact, the top speed for the Model T is about 40 mph, though on that December day when my friend invited me to ride in theirs, I would say we never went above 15 mph. During that slow ride I noticed things about the neighborhood I had never noticed before.

When you are moving through the neighborhood a little more slowly, it gives you the ability to appreciate your surroundings. The beauty of my neighborhood was revealed to me by riding in a Model-T in a way that riding in our newer, faster car never could. Not because our Volkswagen wouldn’t go that speed, but because I never thought there was any reason to drive slower. Our lives are a lot like aren’t they? We go at a certain speed that keeps us from being able to appreciate our surroundings. Perhaps we need to take a walk or, if possible, in a classic car like a Model-T.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Mistaken Identity

A man is being tailgated by a woman who is in a hurry.  He comes to an intersection, and when the light turns yellow, he hits the brakes.  The woman behind him goes ballistic.  She honks her horn at him; she yells her frustration in no uncertain terms; she rants and gestures.

While she is in mid-rant, someone taps on her window.  She looks up and sees a policeman.  He invites her out of the car and takes her to the station where she is searched and fingerprinted and put in a cell.  After a couple of hours, she is released, and the arresting officer gives her her personal effects, saying, “I’m very sorry for the mistake ma’am.  I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, using bad gestures and bad language.  I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ window sign, the Christian fish emblem on your trunk, and I naturally assumed you had stolen the car.”

The world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish signs on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radios, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids, and Christian magazines for their coffee tables but don’t actually have the life of Jesus in their bones or the love of Jesus in their hearts.

John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007). 

The Officer & The Umpire

Sometime ago Dave Hagler, who works as an umpire in a recreational baseball league, was pulled over for driving too fast in the snow in Boulder, Colorado.  He tried to talk the officer out of giving him a ticket by telling him how worried he was about insurance and how he’s normally a very safe driver, and so on.  The officer said that if he didn’t like receiving the ticket, he could take the matter to court.

At the first game in the next baseball season, Dave Hagler is umpiring behind the plate, and the first batter up is—can you believe it?—the policeman.  As the officer is about to step into the batter’s box, they recognize each other.  Long pause.  The officer asks, “So how did the thing with the ticket go?”

Hagler says, “You’d better swing at everything.”

Sweet revenge.

John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, Zondervan, 2003, pp.58-59.

Patience and Parking Spots

Have you ever felt like some people take longer to leave a parking spot when you are waiting for them? Well, apparently you are not just imagining it…Three separate studies have demonstrated that this is a real phenomenon. 

Why? People seem to feel like they “own” the parking spot and thus take even longer when they know someone is waiting to take their parking spot:

Three studies showed that drivers leaving a public parking space are territorial even when such behavior is contrary to their goal of leaving. In Study 1 (observations of 200 departing cars), intruded-upon drivers took longer to leave than non intruded-upon drivers. In Study 2, an experiment involving 240 drivers in which level of intrusion and status of intruder were manipulated, drivers took longer to leave when another car was present and when the intruder honked.

Males left significantly sooner when intruded upon by a higher rather than lower status car, whereas females’ departure times did not differ as a function of the status of the car. There was evidence that distraction might explain some of this effect. In Study 3, individuals who had parked at a mall were asked about how they would react to intruders. Compared to what they believed other people would do, respondents said they would leave faster if the car were just waiting for them to leave but they would take longer to leave if the driver in the car honked at them.

Source: “Territorial Defense in Parking Lots: Retaliation Against Waiting Drivers” from Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Volume 27, Issue 9, pages 821–834, May 1997.

The Point of the Law

I remember the first time I drove by myself. I had the ability to drive wherever I wanted, with whomever I wanted, however fast I wanted. With the steering wheel in my hands, I had freedom and power. However, to ensure that I did not abuse my newly found freedom and power, there were laws in place.

The government had established a speed limit and required drivers and passengers to wear seat belts. The laws clarify what safe driving looks like, for my benefit and everyone else’s. But the point of the laws is not to keep the laws. Rather, the point of those laws is to remind us what driving safely is all about. In the end, I think God hates law giving.

A.J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 521.

The State Trooper with a Sense of Humor

In most of the United States there is a policy of checking on any stalled vehicle on the highway when temperatures drop to single digits or below. About 3 AM one very cold morning, Montana State Trooper Allan Nixon #658 responded to a call there was a car off the shoulder of the road outside Great Falls, Montana.

He located the car, stuck in deep snow and with the engine still running. Pulling in behind the care with his emergency lights on, the trooper walked to the driver’s door to find an older man passed out behind the wheel with a nearly empty vodka bottle on the seat beside him. The driver came awake when the trooper tapped on the window. Seeing the rotating lights in his rearview mirror, and the state trooper standing next to his car, the man panicked. He jerked the gearshift into ‘drive’ and hit the gas.

The car’s speedometer was showing 20-30-40 and then 50 MPH, but it was still stuck in the snow, wheels spinning. Trooper Nixon, having a sense of humor, began running in place next to the speeding (but stationary) car. The driver was totally freaked, thinking the trooper was actually keeping up with him. This goes on for about 30 seconds, then the trooper yelled, “PULL OVER!”

The man nodded, turned his wheel and stopped the engine. Needless to say, the man from North Dakota was arrested and is probably still shaking his head over the state trooper in Montana who could run 50 miles per hour.

Source Unknown

Stop Making Excuses!

Shortly after I got my first driver’s license, I also got my first ticket. I was driving 15 miles over the posted 25 miles per hour speed limit and a motorcycle cop caught me red handed. I was upset about the ticket. But mostly I was upset about telling my dad. In twenty-five years of driving, he had a perfect record. My driving perfection lasted all of two months. I was afraid that my dad would be angry with me for being such a lousy driver.

So, I spent a couple of days concocting a long list of “reasons” why I got a speeding ticket. I was late to an appointment (true). I was going downhill (true). I was in some traffic and paying attention to the road rather than the speedometer (true). Finally, I faced my fears and told my dad what happened. Yes, I got a ticket. But I was late and the road went downhill and there was traffic and so on. My point? It really wasn’t my fault. I was just the helpless victim of bad circumstances.

As I rambled on with my excuses, my dad listened for a while. Finally, he interrupted me, “Stop!” “Stop what?” I asked. “Stop making excuses!” I stood there in fearful silence for a moment before he continued. “Why don’t you just say you blew it? Why not just admit you made a mistake?”

Although I don’t think I would have scored any points with my dad, I might have answered, “Because that’s what I’m wired to do! Avoiding responsibility is the oldest trick in the book. It’s built into my moral and spiritual DNA.”

Taken from Mark D. Roberts, Life for Leaders, a Devotional Resource of the DePree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary

See also Direction, Signs, Slowing Down

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