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Sermon Illustrations on Limitations

Background

Deciding Requires a Death

To decide requires a death, a dying to a thousand options, the putting aside of a legion of possibilities in order to choose just one. De-cide. Homo-cide. Sui-cide Patri-cide. The root word decidere means “to cut off.” All decisions cut us off, separate us from nearly infinite options as we select just one single path. And every decision we make, earns us the favor of some and the disfavor of others.

Dan Allender, Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths, Waterbrook Press, 2006, 14.

Decision Fatigue

When every option is available to us, we don’t actually have freedom; we tend to shut down. I experienced what sociologists call choice overload (or paralysis) and decision fatigue. If you’ve ever tried to pick out a paint color for a wall, stood in your closet full of clothes with “nothing to wear,” or found yourself trying to find the right word at the end of the day but your head is muddled from the thousands of decisions you’ve already sifted through, you know this doesn’t feel like freedom.

Like too many condiments to choose from, we don’t need more choices to live the good life. We probably need less. We need instructions, a guide, and appropriately placed guardrails to show us the way forward. The American grocery store—along with images of success like “climbing ladders”—showed me how I’d made the good life a cocktail of endless personal choice, ambition, and hurry. I’d shaken them all up and added Jesus as a cherry on top.

Taken from A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits by Ashley Hales Copyright (c) 2021 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

How to Make a Sacrifice

How do you define what it means to “make a sacrifice?” We say we sacrifice for our family, or sacrifice for our careers. We speak of Jesus sacrificing himself so that we can experience eternal life. Augustine of Hippo, the great North African bishop, defined sacrifice as “the surrender of something of value for the sake of something else.” Which begs the question, what are we willing to sacrifice, and

for whom or what?

Every day we make decisions based on our priorities, and those priorities sacrifice one thing for another thing. Sadly, we often fall

into habits, where we no longer can recognize our selfish, self-centered priorities. If sacrifice is, as Augustine once said, “the surrender of something of value for the sake of something else,” then what are you surrendering for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

I am Done with Great Things

In one of his letters, the philosopher and psychologist William James shares a conviction regarding his focus not on big, grand things, but with the small “almost invisible” decisions:

I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.

The Letters of William James, ed. by his son Henry James (Boston: Atlantic Monthy Press, 1920), 2:90; letter to Mrs. Henry Whitman, June 7, 1899.

Limits Fuel Creativity

We often think of limits as means of restriction, but the truth is far more complex. In certain situations, limitations actually fuel creativity. Consider this short excerpt on the creative writing process:

Limits — that is, form — challenge the mind, forcing creativity. Let’s say I wish to express romantic love. I could write a sloppy, gushy love note, but my effort would be better spent if I wrote a love sonnet. 

As soon as I decide to produce a sonnet, I’m restricted to 14 lines, a specific rhyme scheme and meter. In the process of trying to fit my feelings and ideas into this form, I’ll end up exploring avenues and notions that would never have emerged from a simple, undemanding note…. The more you limit yourself, the more you set yourself Free.

Peter Leschak & Marshall Cook, “The Five-Step Creativity Workout”, Writer’s Digest, (November 1991)

Transgressing Boundaries After the Fall

After the fall of our first parents, boundaries were something to push past, to transgress. It’s worth pausing to note how we use the word transgression for “sin.”  With its Latin roots, “across” and “go,” to transgress means to exceed proper limits.

Our first parents crossed over, transgressed, as they moved from seeing God’s good limits as the conditions for life to seeing them as barriers to human freedom.

Taken from A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits by Ashley Hales Copyright (c) 2021 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Stories

Organizing the World Quickly

The Yalta Conference, helmed by Allied leadership (Most notably Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin) came at the conclusion of hostilities in Europe during WWII. It dealt with a variety of major topics, including the fate of Germany, much of Europe and the ongoing war in the Pacific.

In other words, they had a lot of business to conduct and decisions to make. Early in the conference, Roosevelt mentioned to Churchill he hoped the conference wouldn’t last more than five or six days. Churchill, always a quick wit remarked, ““I do not see any way of realizing our hopes about world organization in five or six days. Even the Almighty took seven.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Analogies

Elephants Chains’ and Self-Limiting Beliefs

Have you ever wondered how people keep elephants, whether at a circus or as means of transport throughout Asia, from throwing off their shackles and marching to their own tune? A single metal chain is wrapped around one foot and fastened to a tiny post is able to hold them in place. Any elephant held in place like this could easily rip the stake out of the ground and be on their merry way. But they don’t, and so their caretakers can comfortably leave these giants chained up as long as necessary, even though a simple pull of the chain would grant them instant freedom.

So why do these massive creatures allow themselves to be chained up so easily? The answer, it turns out, has everything to do with the way these elephants are raised. You see, when they are young, their trainers begin tying them up, and at that age, they will pull and pull but without success. Eventually the trainer gets the elephants to accept their chains and for most of them, that’s the end of the story. 

Except…when it’s not. Occasionally, an elephant will become so agitated that it will pull hard on the stake and its chains will immediately be released. The chains of an elephant provide an apt analogy for our lives. We often develop, either internally or from others, “limiting beliefs.” Limiting beliefs keep us bound to ways of life that are either unhealthy or unhelpful. But occasionally, something might cause us to throw off our shackles, lose our limiting beliefs, and pursue a life of flourishing

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Image and Dust

Our defining narrative says that we’re made “in the image of God,”[i] but also: we’re made “from the dust.”[ii]

Image and dust.

To be made in the image of God means that we’re rife with potential. We have the Divine’s capacity in our DNA. We’re like God. We were created to “image” his behavior, to rule like he does, to gather up the raw materials of our planet and reshape them into a world for human beings to flourish and thrive.

But that’s only half the story.

We’re also made from the dirt, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”: we’re the original biodegradable containers. Which means we’re born with limitations. We’re not God. We’re mortal, not immortal. Finite, not infinite.

Image and dust.

Potential and limitations.

One of the key tasks of our apprenticeship to Jesus is living into both our potential and our limitations.

There’s a lot of talk right now about reaching your full poten­tial, and I’m all for it. Step out. Risk it all. Have faith. Chase the dream God put in your heart. Become the Technicolor version of who you were made to be.

But again, that’s only half the story.

Adapted from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Copyright © 2019 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

[i] Genesis 1v27.

[ii] Genesis 2v7.

Humor

Organizing the World Quickly

The Yalta Conference, helmed by Allied leadership (Most notably Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin) came at the conclusion of hostilities in Europe during WWII. It dealt with a variety of major topics, including the fate of Germany, much of Europe and the ongoing war in the Pacific.

In other words, they had a lot of business to conduct and decisions to make. Early in the conference, Roosevelt mentioned to Churchill he hoped the conference wouldn’t last more than five or six days. Churchill, always a quick wit remarked, ““I do not see any way of realizing our hopes about world organization in five or six days. Even the Almighty took seven.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

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