Sermon illustrations


FamilyAdolescenceAll His Ways are Beautifully Fatherly

Since God is, before all things, a Father, and not primarily Creator or Ruler, all his ways are beautifully fatherly. It is not that this God “does” being Father as a day job, only to kick back in the evenings as plain old “God.” It is not that he has a nice blob of fatherly icing on top. He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is.

He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation. The French Reformer John Calvin, appreciating this deeply, once wrote: We ought in the very order of things [in creation] diligently to contemplate God’s fatherly love . . . [for as] a foreseeing and diligent father of the family he shows his wonderful goodness toward us. . . .

To conclude once for all, whenever we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us at the same time bear in mind that . . . we are indeed his children, whom he has received into his faithful protection to nourish and educate. . . . So, invited by the great sweetness of his beneficence and goodness, let us study to love and serve him with all our heart.

It was a profound observation, for it is only when we see that God rules his creation as a kind and loving Father that we will be moved to delight in his providence. We might acknowledge that the rule of some heavenly policeman was just, but we could never take delight in his regime as we can delight in the tender care of a father. So what does it mean that God is a Father? Well, first of all, it does actually mean something.

Not all names do. My dog is called Max, but that doesn’t really tell you anything about him. The name doesn’t tell you what he is or what he’s like. But—if I can make the jump—the Father is called Father because he is a Father. And a father is a person who gives life, who begets children. Now that insight is like a stick of dynamite in all our thoughts about God. For if, before all things, God was eternally a Father, then this God is an inherently outgoing, life-giving God. He did not give life for the first time when he decided to create; from eternity he has been life-giving.

Taken from Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. Copyright (c) 2012 by Michael Reeves. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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.

Considering His Wonderful Goodness Towards Us

We ought in the very order of things [in creation] diligently to contemplate God’s fatherly love . . . [for as] a foreseeing and diligent father of the family he shows his wonderful goodness toward us. . . . To conclude once for all, whenever we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us at the same time bear in mind that . . . we are indeed his children, whom he has received into his faithful protection to nourish and educate. . . . So, invited by the great sweetness of his beneficence and goodness, let us study to love and serve him with all our heart.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1. 14. 2, 22.

The Costly Efforts of the Father 

In the old American South (and in many places in the American North) a European American who invited an African American as a guest to an expensive restaurant in a white section of town would subject himself to intense hostility from the community by doing so. In the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) the community hates the prodigal, and on his return would have thrashed him were it not for the costly intervention of the father in public on the road (v. 20). The celebratory party that evening is not a gesture of welcome to the return of the prodigal.

It is a celebration of the success of the costly efforts of the father in reconciling his son to himself. The community despises the prodigal because he offended and shamed the family on his departure and now has come back in rags after losing the family’s money. The community will come to the banquet to show honor to the father for his costly efforts at restoring his son.

They will not attend a banquet in honor of the prodigal. Thus the son could say to himself that evening, “My father has ordered a banquet [as a gesture of restoration] in the presence of my enemies. The village does not like me. My brother hates me. My father, on the road, in full view of the village, demonstrated great love for me in spite of the hatred of family and community against me.”

Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, p.57 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Daughter Cheating?

As a committed Southern Baptist, president Jimmy Carter was often questioned by reporters on a variety of moral issues. One day, a reporter asked, “How would you feel if you were told that your daughter was having an affair?” “Shocked and overwhelmed,” Carter responded, “but then, she’s only seven years old.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

“Dear Paco,”

Ernest Hemingway grasped some of the difficulty and tension that characterizes relationships between fathers and sons in his short story, The Capital of the World. The story revolves around a father and his teenage son Paco, set in Spain. Paco was an extremely common name in the Spain of that time. With desires to become a matador and to escape his father’s control, Paco runs away to the capital (from which the title is derived) of Spain, Madrid.  His father, desperate to reconcile with his son, follows him to Madrid and puts an ad in a local newspaper with a simple phrase:

“Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.”

Hemingway then writes, “the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.”

The world is full of people in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. The model for such forgiveness is most profoundly found in Jesus Christ.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Ernest Hemingway, ‘The Capital of the World” in Esquire Magazine, June 1936.

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. 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, Zondervan.

A Father’s Sacrifice

The salmon nearly leaped onto their hooks! That was a far cry from the previous day, when the four anglers couldn’t even snag their lines in the rocks.

Disappointed but not discouraged, they had climbed aboard their small seaplane and skimmed over the Alaskan mountains to a pristine, secluded bay where the fish were sure to bite.

They parked their aircraft and waded upstream, where the water teemed with ready-to-catch salmon. Later that afternoon, when they returned to their camp, they were surprised to find the seaplane high and dry. The tides fluctuated twenty-three feet in that particular bay, and the pontoons rested on a bed of gravel. Since they couldn’t fly out till morning, they settled in for the night and enjoyed some of their catch for dinner. Then they slept in the plane.

In the morning the seaplane was adrift, so they promptly cranked the engine and started to take off. Too late, they discovered one of the pontoons had been punctured and was filled with water. The extra weight threw the plane into a circular pattern. Within moments from liftoff the seaplane careened into the sea and capsized.

My friend, Dr. Phil Littleford, determined that everyone was alive, including his twelve-year-old son, Mark. He suggested they pray, which the other two men quickly endorsed. No safety equipment could be found on board—no life vests, no flares, nothing. The plane gurgled and submerged into the blackness of the icy morning sea. Fortunately, they all had waders, which they inflated. The frigid Alaskan water chilled their breath.

They all began to swim for shore, but the riptide countered every stroke. The two men alongside Phil and Mark were strong swimmers and they both made shore, one just catching the tip of land as the tides pulled them out of the bay toward the open sea.

Their two companions last saw Phil and Mark as disappearing dots on the horizon, swept arm in arm out to sea.

The Coast Guard reported they probably lasted no more than an hour in the freezing waters—hypothermia would chill the body functions and they would go to sleep. Mark, with a smaller body mass, would fall asleep first in his father’s arms. Phil, a strong swimmer himself, could have made the shoreline too, but that would have meant abandoning his son. Their bodies were never found.

Every father hearing this story would be more than willing to die for his children. This Father’s Day we honor you for the sacrifices you’ve made for your children. And we who are fathers renew our pledge to be the godly fathers our children need us to be.

Patrick Morley, The Man in the Mirror, Zondervan, 2014, pps 127-128.

A Father’s Tenderness

No human father has ever shown greater tenderness or consideration or sacrificial love or deep affection for his children than God has for us. Everything that God carefully measures out and allows to come into our lives must first pass through the wall of his protective love. And when he brings pain into our lives, it is only to heal us and make us more glorious in eternity. Dr. James Dobson tells of a powerful moment when he took his three-year-old son, Ryan, to a pediatrician to have his ear infection treated.

The pediatrician said that the infection had adhered itself to Ryan’s eardrum and could only be treated by pulling the scab loose with a steel instrument. Ryan began to scream with pain and terror, and his father had to hold him down on the examination table. After hearing what was needed, I swallowed hard and wrapped my 200-pound, 6-foot-2-inch frame around the toddler.

It was one of the toughest moments in my career as a parent. What made it so emotional was the horizontal mirror that Ryan was facing on the back side of the examining table. This made it possible for him to look directly at me as he screamed for mercy. I really believe I was in greater agony in that moment than my terrified little boy. . . .

Though he was screaming and couldn’t speak, he was “talking” to me with those big blue eyes. He was saying, “Daddy! Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me. I never thought you would do anything like this! . . . Please, please! Stop hurting me!” It was impossible to explain to Ryan that his suffering was necessary for his own good, that I was trying to help him, that it was love that required me to hold him on the table. . . . In his immature mind, I was a traitor who had callously abandoned him.

Taken from The Power of Christian Contentment, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p.49.

Fires, Earthquakes, Thunderbolts, and Fathers

In his excellent book, The Magnificent Story, James Bryan Smith shares a true story from Japanese culture that illustrates just how demanding strict disciplinarian fathers can be.

The Japanese have a traditional saying that the four most dreadful things on earth are “fires, earthquakes, thunderbolts, and fathers.” The father, in Japan, is supposed to be (and most are) strict, authoritarian, and judgmental, while the mother is suffering, nurturing, and caregiving. As a result, the Japanese—especially men—revere their mothers.

Taken from The Magnificent Story  by James Bryan Smith. Copyright (c) 2018 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Goliath on the Beach

A few weeks ago, when I was out surfing, there was no one else in the water. In fact, there was no one around at all, except a guy the size of Goliath doing tae kwon do on the beach. After I’d been out a little while, a tiny wisp of a kid came paddling up out of nowhere—I couldn’t believe he was out there by himself.

He pulled his little board right up next to mine. He was so small he hardly needed a board. He could have stood up in the ocean on a Frisbee. Anyway, he started chatting with me like we were old friends. He told me his name was Shane. He asked me how long I’d been surfing. I asked him how long he’d been surfing. “Seven years,” he said. “How old are you?” I asked. “Eight.”

He asked me about my kids and my family. Then he said, “What I like about surfing is that it’s so peaceful. You meet a lot of nice people here.” “You’re a nice guy, Shane,” I said. “That’s why you meet nice people.” We talked a while longer. Then I asked him, “How did you get here, Shane?” “My dad brought me,” he said. Then he turned around and waved at the nearly empty beach.

The Goliath doing martial arts waved back. “Hi, Son,” he called out. Then I knew why Shane was so at home in the ocean. It wasn’t his size. It wasn’t his skill. It was who was sitting on the beach. His father was always watching. And his father was very big. Shane wasn’t really alone at all. Neither are we.

John Ortberg, I’d Like You More If You Were More like Me: Getting Real about Getting Close, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Help me!

Taylor University President Jay Kesler once told of sitting with a young man who told him about his father, who had been raised as an orphan. When he had children of his own, he didn’t seem to know how to handle them. He would alternately ignore them and discipline them in fits of anger.

One day after a particularly embarrassing loss of temper, the father put his head in his hands and with desperation in his voice said, “Son, you don’t understand. I’ve never had a father. I have never seen how fathers do it. I feel totally helpless. I don’t know how to be a parent. I want to be a good parent, but I don’t know how. Help me!” The boy took his father in his arms and the two of them wept together. From that point on, this son and his dad became the closest of friends.

Taken from the Preacher’s Sourcebook for Creative Sermons, Ed. Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson.

Knowing Someone Magnetically Kind & Gracious

Have you ever known someone so magnetically kind and gracious, so warm and generous of spirit that just a little time spent with them affects how you think, feel and behave? Someone whose very presence makes you better—even if only for a while, when you are with them? I know people like that, and they seem to be little pictures of how God is, according to John. This God, he says, is love in such a profound and potent way that you simply cannot know him without yourself becoming loving.

This is precisely what it means for God to be Father. For when John writes “God is love” at the end of verse 8, he is clearly referring to the Father. His very next words, in verse 9, state: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son.” The God who is love is the Father who sends his Son. To be the Father, then, means to love, to give out life, to beget the Son. Before anything else, for all eternity, this God was loving, giving life to and delighting in his Son.

Taken from Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. Copyright (c) 2012 by Michael Reeves. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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.

The Love Song

Richard Foster wrote once of a father walking through a mall with his two-year-old son. The child was cranky; he kept whining and wriggling and complaining.  The father struggled to remain patient.

…[The father] scooped up his little two-year-old grumbler, held him tight to his chest, and began to sing an impromptu love son.  None of the words rhymed.  He sang it off-key, but as best as he could, he shared his heart: “I love you. I’m so glad you’re my boy. You make me laugh.” From store to store the father kept going, words not rhyming, notes off-key.  His son relaxed, captivated by this strange and wonderful song.

Finally, when they had finished, the dad went to the car, buckled his son in the car seat, and his son raised his arms and lifted up his head.  “Sing it to me again, Daddy.  Sing it to me again.”

Taken from John Ortberg, Love Beyond Reason (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).

Our Relationship with our Fathers Affects our Relationship with God

At the time I was oblivious to the fact that a young person’s relationship with his father can greatly color his attitude toward God. I wasn’t aware that many well-known atheists through history — including Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, Baron d’Holbach, Voltaire, H. G. Wells, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and others — had felt abandoned or deeply disappointed with their fathers, making it less likely they would want to know a heavenly Father.

Lee Strobel, The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives, Zondervan.

Our Sweet, Precious, and Pleasing Acts of Obedience

Why do we imagine God to be so unmoved by our heart-felt attempts at obedience? He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong? What kind of mother says to her son, after he gladly cleaned the garage but put the paint cans on the wrong shelf, “This is worthless in my sight”?

What sort of parent rolls his eyes when his child falls off the bike on the first try? There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to him.

Taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, © 2012, pp.70. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

The Prize Winner

One day the fair was in town and a father of five children decided it was a good opportunity to give his wife a break. When they arrived, the father, who was quite the shot, knew instantly what game he wanted to play. Arriving at the shooting gallery he quickly won a prize-a stuffed animal.

But which of the five kids should he give it to? After a few moments, he came up with a solution. Who does everything mommy asks? Who is the most obedient to mommy? Who never talks back to mommy?” Each of the five children answered at the same time, not without a sense of resignation, “you deserve the prize daddy.”

Source Unknown

Struggling to Feel Chosen

Commenting on Ephesians 1:3-6, M. Robert Mulholland describes just how powerful it can be personally, when we recognize that we were chosen by God, especially for children who are the result of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy:

I once heard a woman tell of her struggle with this reality [of being an unwanted child]. Her mother was a prostitute, and she was the accidental byproduct of her mother’s occupation.

Although her life’s pilgrimage had brought her to faith in Christ, blessed her with a deeply Christian husband and beautiful children, and given her a life of love and stability, she was obsessed with the need to find out who her father was. This obsession was affecting her marriage, her family and her life.

She told how one day she was standing at the kitchen sink, washing the dishes, with tears of anguish and frustration running down her face into the dishwater. In her agony, she cried out, “Oh, God, who is my father?” Then, she said, she heard a voice saying to her, “I am your Father.”

The voice was so real she turned to see who had come into the kitchen, but there was no one there. Again the voice came, “I am your Father, and I have always been your Father.” In that moment she knew the profound reality that Paul is speaking of. She came to know that deeper than the accident of her conception was the eternal purpose of a loving God, who had spoken her forth into being before the foundation of the world.

Taken from: Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Patient Father

There is a story about a man who stopped in the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up a couple of items for his wife. He wandered around aimlessly for a while searching out the needed groceries.

As is often the case in the grocery store, he kept passing this same shopper in almost every aisle. It was another father trying to shop with a totally uncooperative three-year-old boy in the cart. The first time they passed, the three-year-old was asking over and over for a candy bar. Our observer couldn’t hear the entire conversation. He just heard Dad say, “Now, Billy, this won’t take long.” As they passed in the next aisle, the three-year old’s pleas had increased several octaves. Now Dad was quietly saying, “Billy, just calm down.

We will be done in a minute.” When they passed near the dairy case, the kid was screaming uncontrollably. Dad was still keeping his cool. In a very low voice he was saying, “Billy, settle down. We are almost out of here.” The Dad and his son reached the check out counter just ahead of our observer. He still gave no evidence of loosing control. The boy was screaming and kicking. Dad was very calming saying over and over, “Billy, we will be in the car in just a minute and then everything will be OK.” The bystander was impressed beyond words.

After paying for his groceries, he hurried to catch up with this amazing example of patience and self-control just in time to hear him say again, “Billy, we’re done. It’s going to be OK.” He tapped the patient father on the shoulder and said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but watch how you handled little Billy. You were amazing.” Dad replied, “You don’t get it, do you?” I’m Billy!”

Source Unknown

Understanding God as Father

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God the Father.

J.I. PackerKnowing God, IVP.

When “Father” Is A Bad Thing

Not everyone instinctively warms to the idea that God is a Father. There are many for whom their own experiences of overbearing, indifferent or abusive fathers make their very guts squirm when they hear God spoken of as a Father. The twentieth-century French philosopher Michel Foucault had very much that sort of issue.

The bulk of his life’s work was about the evils of authority, and it seems to have all started with the first figure of authority in his life: his father. Fearful of having some namby-pamby for a son, Foucault Senior—who was a surgeon—did what he could to “toughen up” the little mite. That meant, for example, ghoulishly forcing him to witness an amputation. “The image, certainly, has all the ingredients of a recurrent nightmare: the sadistic father, the impotent child, the knife slicing into flesh, the body cut to the bone, the demand to acknowledge the sovereign power of the patriarch, and the inexpressible humiliation of the son, having his manliness put to the test.”

For Foucault, paternal power had not been used to care, to nurture and to bless, and so for him the word father came to be associated with a host of dark images.

One’s heart goes out to the children of such fathers, and those of us who are fathers ourselves know that we too are far from perfect. But God the Father is not called Father because he copies earthly fathers. He is not some pumped-up version of your dad. To transfer the failings of earthly fathers to him is, quite simply, a misstep. Instead, things are the other way around: it is that all human fathers are supposed to reflect him—only where some do that well, others do a better job of reflecting the devil.

Taken from Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. Copyright (c) 2012 by Michael Reeves. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Words of a Father

How many of you have ever been told that women talk more than men? How many of you have heard this statistic, on average women use 20,000 words a day to men’s 7,000? I know I’ve heard this quote in sermons before. Well guess what, it’s not true…women do speak more than man, but only by a very small amount. Men, or to be more accurate, fathers are often known for certain words that come out of their mouth, I found this list from another pastor:

“Ask your mother.”

”Don’t worry; it’s only blood.”

”Do I look like I’m made of money?”

“I’m not sleeping; I was watching that show.”

”I’m not just talking to hear my voice.”

”A little dirt never hurt anyone; just wipe it off.”

”We’re not lost!”

”No, we’re not there yet.”

”Don’t make me stop this car!”

The Father of Jesus, Joseph, is a man of few words, at least, what we know of. The truth is, we don’t have one single recorded word from Joseph in all of scripture.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

See also Illustrations on Adoption, Adolescence, Babies, ChildrenFamily, Marriage, Mothers, Parenting

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