Sermon illustrations

Dying To Self

Finding the Life You Were Made For

Jesus, the hero of the world’s most well-known spiritual narrative, offers us a mysteriously clear path to the good life: “Anyone who doesn’t pick up their cross and follow after me doesn’t deserve me. If you find your life you’ll lose it, and if you lose your life because of me you’ll find it” (Matt. 10:38–39).

To paraphrase: die to self, follow him, and in this journey of losing your life, you’ll find the life you were made for. At first glance, Jesus’s words seem harsh and antilife—I mean, what’s up with all this talk about death? But Jesus is not being harsh. He’s simply stating a fact. Outside of him there is no life—only existence. We were made for life—the God-infused life. Until we experience this kind of life and make it our pursuit, we will find ourselves hopelessly dissatisfied with the status quo.

Saints: Becoming More Than “Christians,” Revell, 2020.

A Lifetime of Sacrifice

Francis Chan tells the story of Domingo and Irene Garcia:

He’s a mechanic. She’s a hairdresser. They have been foster parents to thirty-two children and have adopted sixteen. Domingo and Irene are in their late fifties and currently have eleven children living with them, and they tell me they would take more if they could. Anyone who has children knows they could be doing this only by the Spirit’s power.

While other people their age are figuring out how to live most comfortably, they can’t stop thinking of the 500,000 kids in America who need parents. And while they see these kids as a huge blessing, they are also very open about the hardships they face daily. God has provided for them over and over again.

One of the wonderful blessings they have enjoyed is watching their biological children follow in their footsteps (by adopting children). They live such extraordinary lives that CBS news ran a story on them. Even the secular world notices the unusual and supernatural love these two have shown to those in need.

For those who may think that Domingo and Irene have always been as gracious as they are today, let me share some insights from their past. Irene, in the early days of their marriage, hated Domingo. He was abusive, and she prayed regularly that he would die. She even daydreamed about his driving off a cliff because of the pain he inflicted on her. Now she calls him the godliest man she knows.

For anyone who thinks their own life or marriage is hopeless, remember Domingo and Irene. God loves to take people in the worst of situations and transform them by His Spirit.

 Francis Chan, The Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, David C. Cook.

Schweitzer’s Call

One summer morning in 1896, Albert Schweitzer came upon the biblical passage “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall save it.” He knew at the moment he was called to give up his very successful career as a musical scholar and organist to go into medicine and become a jungle doctor. Schweitzer would write, “Anybody who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll any stones out of his way, and must calmly accept his lot even if they roll a few more onto it. Only force that in the face of obstacles becomes stronger can win.”

David Brooks, The Road to Character, Random House.

The Scorpion and the Old Woman

Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, tells the following Sufi story. 

Once upon a time there was an old woman who used to meditate on the bank of the Ganges. One morning, finishing her meditation, she saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the strong current. As the scorpion was pulled closer, it got caught in roots that branched out far into the river. The scorpion struggled frantically to free itself but got more and more entangled. She immediately reached out to the drowning scorpion, which, as soon as she touched it, stung her.

The old woman withdrew her hand but, having regained her balance, once again tried to save the creature. Every time she tried, however, the scorpion’s tail stung her so badly that her hands became bloody and her face distorted with pain. A passerby who saw the old woman struggling with the scorpion shouted, “What’s wrong with you, fool! Do you want to kill yourself to save that ugly thing?” Looking into the stranger’s eyes, she answered, “Because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting, why should I deny my own nature to save it?”

J. Chittister in F. Franck, J. Roze, and R. Connolly (eds.), What Does It Mean To Be Human? Reverence for Life Reaffirmed by Responses from Around the World, St. Martin’s Griffin.

See also Illustrations on Carrying your Cross, The Cross, Death, Discipleship, Sacrifice, Sanctification