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Sermon illustrations

Encouragement

The Cure for Pride

I am convinced that C. S. Lewis is correct in the point he makes in his remarkable speech “The Weight of Glory” that the cure for pride is not the humiliation of a person so that pride is broken.

Rather, the cure for pride is to honor people so that they do not need the false support of a proud spirit. “I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not a conceited child, but a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised.”

Earl Palmer, Old Law, New Life:  The Ten Commandments and New Testament Faith, Abingdon, 1984. Source Material from C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, MacMillan, p.9.

Encouragement Can Make all the Difference

There is no better exercise for strengthening the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. Think about it; most of your best friends are those who encourage you. You don’t have many strong relationships with people who put you down. You avoid these people and seek out those who believe in you and lift you up. Several years ago Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s book, Psycho-Cybernetics, was one of the most popular books on the market.

Dr. Maltz was a plastic surgeon who often took disfigured faces and made them more attractive. He observed that in every case, the patient’s self-image rose with his and her physical improvement. In addition to being a successful surgeon, Dr. Maltz was a great psychologist who understood human nature.

A wealthy woman was greatly concerned about her son, and she came to Dr. Maltz for advice. She had hoped that the son would assume the family business following her husband’s death, but when the son came of age, he refused to assume that responsibility and chose to enter an entirely different field. She thought Dr. Maltz could help convince the boy that he was making a grave error. The doctor agreed to see him, and he probed into the reasons for the young man’s decision.

The son explained, “I would have loved to take over the family business, but you don’t understand the relationship I had with my father. He was a driven man who came up the hard way. His objective was to teach me self-reliance, but he made a drastic mistake. He tried to teach me that principle in a negative way. He thought the best way to teach me self-reliance was to never encourage or praise me. He wanted me to be tough and independent. Every day we played catch in the yard.

The object was for me to catch the ball ten straight times. I would catch that ball eight or nine times, but always on that tenth throw he would do everything possible to make me miss it. He would throw it on the ground or over my head but always so I had no chance of catching it.” The young man paused for a moment and then said, “He never let me catch the tenth ball—never! And I guess that’s why I have to get away from his business; I want to catch that tenth ball!” This young man grew up feeling he could never measure up, never be perfect enough to please his father. I would not want to be guilty of causing emotional damage to my wife, my children, or my friends

John C. Maxwell, Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships, David C Cook.

A Father’s Pride In His Son Gives Hope

The runners for the Special Olympic, 400-meter dash were being helped to their marks. As I watched, a gentleman in a three-piece suit jumped up in the stands in front of me and began yelling, “Lenny! Lenny!” An overweight middle-aged man with Down’s Syndrome looked up in the direction of the voice.

The gun sounded and the runners leaped forward—all except Lenny, who was dead last and losing ground. He had a preoccupation with his hands, which he wrung furiously as he tried to make his way around the track. Pointing to him, the gentleman in front of me turned and addressed my section of the crowd. “That’s my son, Lenny. Isn’t he doing great?”

When Lenny reached the last turn on the track, the other runners had already finished. The gentleman began to shout encouragement to his son, throwing his fists in the air in a triumphant gesture. “Great job, Lenny! Way to go, son. Keep going, you’re doing great!” He turned to my section again, and reminded us all that his son was about to finish. We applauded dutifully, feeling somewhat embarrassed. When Lenny crossed the finish line, the man made his way down to the track and hugged his son, who was exhausted, drooling, and still wringing his hands.

While I watched them embrace, I began to weep. As I thought about what I saw, it seemed as though God was saying to me, “You’re like Lenny in this race I have called you into. You’re challenged, perplexed, far behind the pack. Most days, you’re a pitiful pile of exhaustion. But I’m here cheering you on. I love you the way that man loves his son.”

Kevin Young, “Cliffhanger: Reaching Out for the Father” Pray! (Jan/Feb 2003), p. 40-41

One Very Important Word of Encouragement

As a youngster I developed a thoroughly annoying and humiliating problem of stuttering…In the ninth grade, I was elected president of our junior high student body. During an assembly of the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades — several hundred students — I was beckoned by the principal to join him on stage for the induction ceremony. Standing nervously in front of the squirming, bored crowd, I was told to repeat after the principal the words, “I, Larry Crabb of Plymouth-Whitemarsh Junior High School, do hereby promise …” That’s how the principal said it.

My version was a bit different: “I, L-L-L-L-Larry Crabb of P-P-P-P-Plymouth-Whitemarsh Junior High School, do hereby p-p-p-promise …”…A short time later, our church celebrated the Lord’s supper in a Sunday morning worship service. It was customary in our congregation to encourage young men to enter into the privilege of worship by standing and praying aloud. That particular Sunday I sensed the pressure of the saints (not, I fear, the leading of the Spirit), and I responded by unsteadily leaving my chair, for the first time, with the intention of praying. Filled less with worship than with nervousness, I found my theology becoming confused to the point of heresy. I remember thanking the Father for hanging on the cross and praising Christ for triumphantly bringing the Spirit from the grave. Stuttering throughout, I finally thought of the word Amen (perhaps the first evidence of the Spirit’s leading), said it, and sat down.

I recall staring at the floor, too embarrassed to look around, and solemnly vowing never again to pray or speak aloud in front of a group…When the service was over, I darted toward the door, not wishing to encounter an elder who might feel obliged to correct my twisted theology. But I was not quick enough.

An older Christian man named Jim Dunbar intercepted me, put his arm on my shoulder, and cleared his throat to speak. I remember thinking to myself, “Here it comes…I then listened to this godly gentleman speak words that I can repeat verbatim today, more than twenty years later. “Larry,” he said, “there’s one thing I want you to know. Whatever you do for the Lord, I’m behind you one thousand percent.”

Then he walked away. Even as I write these words, my eyes fill with tears…Those words were life words. They had power. They reached deep into my being. My resolve never again to speak publicly weakened instantly. Since the day those words were spoken, God has led me into a ministry in which I regularly address and pray before crowds of all sizes. I do it without stuttering. I love it. Not only death, but also life lies in the power of the tongue. God intends for us to be people who use words to encourage one another.

Dan Allender & Larry Crabb, Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up, Zondervan, 1983 & 2013, Kindle Locations 231-255.

A Rich New Perspective

In a short story, Jhumpa Lahiri writes about Mr. Kapasi, a man who translates to a city physician what rural Indian people say about their illnesses. When Mr. Kapasi complains to a friend, Mrs. Das, that the job is meaningless, she tells him that his occupation is a significant responsibility, that he is “interpreting people’s maladies.”

Mr. Kapasi is greatly affected by her description. He feels named, enriched, emboldened, a person conveying delicate and dark truths. For Mr. Kapasi, the words from Mrs. Das opened a window. He had perceived his work as a typical mindless job, but Mrs. Das offered a fresh perspective, a different and beautiful way to frame his work. She fulfilled Walker Percy’s rich phrase that one of the noblest roles of a communicator is “to render the unspeakable speakable,” to point to qualities others have been unable to articulate.

Gregory Spencer, Reframing the Soul: How Words Transform Our Faith, Leafwood Publishers, 2018.

Sam’s Encouragement

In the final pages of his great epic The Lord of the Rings, J.R R. Tolkien writes of his heroes, Sam and Frodo, and their desperate quest to reach the cursed Mount Doom to cast the ring of power, a device that held much of the dark lord Sauron’s power, into the fires and destroy it. As they came closer to the mountain, their situation grew more desperate.

They were wasting away physically, Frodo’s spirit was failing, and their quest seemed hopeless. In a key moment, Sam attempts to encourage Frodo by asking him if he remembers the taste of strawberries and cream, the sound of water, the beauties of spring in their far-off home, the Shire. This should be instructive to us. Love of small things, fidelity to small places, these are the things that matter and ultimately enable great deeds of courage.

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