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Sermon illustrations

Goodness

All That Good Stuff

Sometime in the last decade or so I started hearing the phrase “all that good stuff.” I think it happened first when I was ordering dinner at a restaurant. The waitress summarized the menu briefly, ending with “and all that good stuff.” Then I heard a television talk show host use the phrase. Pretty soon, it seemed as if a cultural dam broke and torrents of “all that good stuff” came pouring out. Even my dental hygienist used “and all that good stuff” to describe what she was about to do to my mouth. (For the record, I don’t consider any part of getting my teeth cleaned as “good stuff,” except for the free toothbrush at the end.)

Just to be clear, the phrase “all that good stuff” does not appear in Genesis. Yet, in a way, it could. The writer of Genesis 1 spelled out in detail what God created: heavens, earth, light, seas, etc. A contemporary shorthand of that chapter might read, “God created the heavens, the earth and all that good stuff.”

Historically, Christians have had a tendency to neglect the basic goodness of stuff. We believe that the only thing that really matters is immaterial spirit. Yet if God made physical stuff to be good, even very good, we might do well to rethink our inclination to neglect or denigrate it. After all, at the end of time, we find, not ethereal souls floating around in a non-physical paradise but a new heaven and a new earth filled with all sorts of good stuff, like walls of jasper and a city of pure gold, adorned with jewels (Rev 21:18-19). That’s serious good stuff in my book.

Why does it matter that we acknowledge the created goodness of the stuff of this world? I can think of several reasons. I expect you could add to the list. For one thing, I want to care about what God cares about, to value as good that which God values as good.

I want to admire God’s handiwork, even if it has been tarnished by sin. I want to be a good steward of all that God has entrusted to me, including the stuff of creation. Moreover, if I devalue the stuff of this world, then I tend also to devalue work that deals with physical things.

I might think my work with ideas and words is somehow more important than the work of a carpenter. Of course, since Jesus, as God Incarnate, spent the better part of his life working as a carpenter, it may be wise to rethink the value of stuff.

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

A Black-Hearted Buzzard?

As I was talking with my friend Robin one day, she told me of a good deed she had done, but then she stopped and said, “Of course, I know I’m just a sinner” I then asked Robin, who has a young-adult daughter, to describe her daughter to me in twenty-five words or less. I watched as my friend’s eyes lit up and her lips tilted into a smile.

“She’s beautiful. She’s fierce and wise. She’s a lover of Jesus, a friend to all, and a defender of the poor. She is my inspiration.”

(Robin is very good with words.)

“Why didn’t you describe your daughter as a black-hearted buzzard?” 1 asked. “Isn’t she ‘Yes, of course she is, but that’s not how I think of her,” Robin answered. “Why not?” 1 queried. “Because I love her” came the reply. “And why do you love her?” I pressed. “Because she’s my daughter,” came the quick answer from my friend, now wearing a puzzled look.

“If this is how you feel about your daughter, how do you suppose your Father in heaven feels about you?” I asked, knowing the answer.

Taken from Mythical Me by Richella J. Parham Copyright (c) 2019, pp.58-59 by Richella J. Parham. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Evolution of the Rose

A couple years ago I got to take a tour of the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California. The name is a bit misleading because what they are most known for are there amazing gardens. And so we were on this tour and I got to learn something about the history of roses. And it goes something like this.

There have been roses since we have been on this planet, but the wild roses in Europe, while all different colors and quite beautiful, would only bloom once a year, and so for most of the warm months you would be looking at a bunch of ugly green canes with thorns, no flowers. But then, some botanists in the late 18th century began experimenting by grafting the Chinese wild rose, which was only green, but bloomed all summer, with the European rose, and after a bunch of testing, created what we know to be the modern rose, which blooms from June through October, but not only in green, but in a myriad of colors. 

Isn’t that interesting, so roses as we know them are really a modern invention, and because of the grafting of the wild Chinese rose with the roses of Europe, we have this stronger, much more beautiful flower than we ever had before. And that is what Paul is getting at, but instead of it being one wild rose and another, we are grafted into Christ, God incarnate, and our lives should therefore look different than they used to.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Goodness: A Home for Humanity

In Genesis 1–2, God makes a home for his people. From the primeval wilderness and wasteland God begets beauty and form, building the grand house called Earth. God’s creative acts are not simply intended for the sake of aesthetic but as joyful preparation for God’s children, who arrive at the threshold of the world on the sixth day.

For while God deserved a universe befitting only himself, though he could have rightfully created galaxies whose only purpose was to showcase his glory, he created an oxygenated world—because it suited us. The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth days in Genesis 1 are a literary crescendo recording the flurry of God’s purposeful hospitality.

God murmurs multiple times, “It is good,” illustrating that he is pleased with his housework. On day one, the light and darkness are good (v. 4); on day three, the dry land, the seas, and the vegetation are good (vv. 10, 12); on day four, the sun, moon, and stars are good (v. 19); on day five, the taxonomy of animals is good (v. 21); on the sixth day, the creatures bearing the image of God, along with all that God has made, are very good (v. 31).

However, on day two, when God separates the waters from the waters and creates the sky, he remains strangely mute (vv. 6-8). Only in this instance does God refrain from commending his work as good. “The reason,” writes John Sailhamer, in his commentary on Genesis, “is that on that day nothing was created or made that was, in fact, ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’ for humanity. . . .

The land was still ‘formless;’ it was not yet a place where a human being could dwell.” According to Sailhamer, “good,” as measure of God’s approbation, was not a generic comment on the earth’s form; it was a particular commendation of the habitability of the earth as a warm, dry place. In other words, creation was only good insofar as it could be home to humanity. In Genesis 2 a second version of the creation narrative begins, and our beginnings are viewed from a different angle. In Genesis 1 humanity is set against the larger cosmological backdrop of “the heavens and the earth.”

Taken from Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home Jen Pollock Michel. Copyright (c) 2019 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Goodness Stamped Into Us

In his thoughtful book, Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes, Jonathan K. Dodson provides a wonderful analogy of what happens when we cultivate the virtues in our lives:

When goodness becomes who we are, not just what we occasionally do, we become virtuous. When I was a kid, I ate sticks of rock candy that had the word Brighton stamped on the end. No matter how much I licked, the word didn’t disappear. The letters seeped all the way through. Virtue is like that. No matter how far down you go, goodness still shows up.

Taken from Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes by Jonathan K. Dodson Copyright (c) 2020 by Jonathan K. Dodson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Mirror, Mirror

Good people will mirror goodness in us, which is why we love them so much, Not so mature people will mirror their own unlived and confused life unto us, which is why they confuse and confound us so much…

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Jossey Bass, 2011.

Observable Goodness

Christians should be as delighted in the things of sight and sense as God is himself, when at the instant of every creational act, he declares goodness to be observable, enjoyable and usable. Of all people, Christians should have the best noses, the best eyes and ears, the most open joy, the widest sense of delight. That the opposite is often the case is no fault of the Lord’s. How interesting that God, in correcting the ruminations of Job and his three advisers, turned to his work as Imaginer and Maker rather than to his holiness.

Harold Best, Unceasing Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 59.

Our Problem

Dear Everybody,

We have a serious problem:

All of us think we’re good people.

But Jesus says we’re not.

Sincerely, Brant P. Hansen

…PS. IF YOU THINK I’M WRONG—about how we think we’re good people—I offer this challenge: Go ahead and ask someone. Seriously, if you’re reading this at a coffee shop, ask the stranger sitting at the next table, “So, are you a good person? Would you say you’re more moral than the average person?”

Given my studies in this area, I can predict their response with 98 percent confidence, and it’s “I’m calling the police.” But while the authorities are being dispatched, try to get a serious answer.

If they give you their honest take, you’ll hear something like, “Why, yes, I do think I’m more moral than the average person.” This is predictable because social scientists have asked these questions for decades, and the result is the same: We all think we’re more moral than average. It’s remarkable how good we are. Just ask us, and we’ll tell you about it.

The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are, Baker Publishing Group.

The Perversion of Pleasure

In his classic fictional work on spiritual warfare, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis imagined a senior demon (Screwtape) corresponding with one of his protégés (his nephew Wormwood) as the latter seeks to tempt and afflict his Christian subject. The book is brilliant for its insights into satanic wiles and applications for the Christian’s alertness against them.

In one of the letters, Uncle Screwtape coaches his pupil on the perversion of pleasure, reminding him that the sin they hold out is tantalizing in part because it corresponds to something their Enemy (God) has actually made for good:

I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one.

All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.

Jared C. Wilson, The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth, Nelson Books, 2020.

Why Can’t We Be Good?

Jacob Needleman has been a secular philosopher and a professor of philosophy of religion for many years at San Francisco State University. Some years ago he wrote a remarkable book called Why Can’t We Be Good? His thesis is that even though social theorists, therapists, politicians, and everybody else are working like crazy to write books about how people should live, there’s just one thing they’re forgetting: everybody basically knows how he or she ought to live, and we just can’t do it.

Nobody’s got the strength to do what we know we should. This, says Needleman, is the biggest mystery and problem of the human race. Why are we writing all these books telling people how they ought to live? People know what they ought to do, but they just won’t and can’t do it. It’s impossible. And people know they should not do certain things, but they do them anyway. That’s our problem, Needleman says. Human beings know how they should live but they can’t and they won’t, and he has no idea why.

Taken from Timothy Keller in Coming Home edited by D.A. Carson, © 2017, pp. 18-19. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

See also Illustrations on Beauty, Truth