Sermon illustrations


Are There Only Two Options?

Desire—eros, or erotic desire, to be more specific—kicked in pretty early in my life. I was often overwhelmed by a gnawing hunger and thirst I didn’t know how to handle. God bless my parents and my Catholic school teachers—they all tried—but people can’t give what they don’t have. No one had formed them in the true beauty and splendor of God’s plan for erotic desire, so they couldn’t form me. I was given the traditional biblical “rules” about sex, and my teachers did their best to instill a fear in me of breaking them, but I was never given the “why” behind the “what” of sexual morality.

Okay, those are the rules I shouldn’t break, but what the heck am I supposed to do with this crazy desire inside me? The basic message in the air was that sexual desire itself was “dirty” or “bad” and needed to be repressed or otherwise squelched. To put an image to the experience, it seemed the only thing my “Christian” upbringing had to offer me in my hunger was a starvation diet. Eventually the hunger became so intense that it trumped all fear of breaking the rules.

As I wrote in my book Fill These Hearts, “A person can starve himself for only so long before the choice becomes clear: either I find something to eat, or…I’m gonna die…This is why the culture’s ‘fast-food gospel’—the promise of immediate gratification through indulgence of desire—inevitably wins large numbers of converts from the ‘starvation diet gospel.’ Of course, it’s equally true that a person can eat the fast food for only so long before all the grease and sodium take their toll.

Once the pleasure of indulging wears off, bad food, I came to learn, is no less destructive than malnutrition. Were these the only two options for my hunger: death by starvation or death by food poisoning? Was there any “good food” to be had, food that could actually bring life to my aching soul? I wanted answers. I needed answers! If God were real, I figured he must have some kind of plan in giving us such strong sexual desires. So in a college dorm in 1988, I let loose a rather desperate cry of my heart, a ragged prayer that went something like this: God in heaven, if you exist, you better show me!

And you better show me what this whole sex thing is all about and why you gave me all these desires, because they’re getting me and everybody I know into a lot of trouble. What is your plan? Do you have a plan? Show me! Please! Show me! That’s when I started studying the Bible, and eventually I encountered Jesus in a living, personal way. He wasn’t just an idea to me anymore: I started experiencing the power of his resurrection in my life in dramatic ways, particularly with regard to my sexual brokenness. After years of selfish erotic indulgence, I was experiencing real deliverance and healing from addictive fantasies, attitudes, and behavior.

Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, Baker Publishing Group, 2020, pp. xii-xiii. 

Eye Protection

I own a pair of protective goggles and use them faithfully. I wear them when I’m cutting branches with my chainsaw or attacking weeds with my weed whacker. My goggles serve a crucial purpose: they protect my eyes. Once, I forgot to wear my goggles while sawing a branch and ended up with a spec of wood in my eye. I had to make an emergency trip to the eye doctor. From then on, I became more careful about wearing goggles because my eyes are precious to me.

Psalm 17:8 doesn’t mention goggles explicitly. But this verse does reflect an understanding of the value of eyes and the need for their careful protection. The NRSV translates the first part of this verse: “Guard me as the apple of the eye.” The original Hebrew speaks of guarding “the little one of the daughter of the eye.” Traditional English translations, along with the NRSV, use “the apple of the eye” (KJV). These peculiar expressions, in both Hebrew and English, refer to the pupil of the eye, that which is essential for vision and most in need of protection.

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

How Transformation Happens

In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith describes a new Christian he happened to know who came to him one day feeling dejected. He was so excited to be a follower of Jesus, but he just couldn’t shake an addiction that had developed prior to his becoming a Christian. 

Carey, you see, struggled with pornography. He was in sales and so part of his job was traveling from city to city, staying in hotel rooms. The temptation was always there. When Carey became a Christian, he thought this temptation would go away but it didn’t. When they met, “Carey’s face suddenly looked sad. I really need your help,” he said. “I will if I can” Smith replied. “Well, I’m really conflicted in my walk with God right now, it seems the harder I try the worse things get. My family is fine, and my work is going well, but in my relationship with God, I’m at the end of my rope. ‘Usually a good place to be, I said, but he gave only a puzzled glance.”

After a bit more talking, Smith interrupted, “who are you?” He asked. “Well, I’m a Christian.” “What does that mean? I asked”

“Well it means that I believe in Jesus and am trying to follow his commands. I go to church, study the Bible and have devotional times when I can find an hour here or there. I try not to sin, you know; I try to be a good person, but I know that deep down I’m still just a sinner.” “I have no doubt that you’re trying, Carey,” I said. “And I also sense that you’ve been trying quite a while, with all of your effort, but it isn’t helping.” “Exactly” he said.”

“So let me see if I have this right. You’re a Christian, but you’re also a sinner. Is that right? Yes. So if you’re a sinner, then what behavior would be normative for you? I asked “Well, I guess sinning. But that doesn’t seem right. “And it certainly doesn’t feel right, either, I suspect. The reason, Carey, that it doesn’t seem right or feel right is because it isn’t right. Your approach is consistently failing , right?” Right, he concurred.

Maybe there’s another way…and that other way is what I want to talk with you all about this morning. The focus, ultimately, is about the stories we tell ourselves about our identity. Are we, first and foremost sinners, or, as our scripture text told us, “new creations, where the old has gone and the new has come?” In order to get there, we need to continue to put to death the language of “I’m just a rotten sinner” and replace it with “I am a new creation”.

I think a part of the issue here is that we are so aware of our sinfulness, and if we’re not, it’s probably because we are a sociopath, that it feels better to refer to ourselves as just a “lousy sinner,” or even a “forgiven sinner”.

This way, we feel as though we are being honest about our shortcomings. But the problem is that when we use that language all the time, inside our heads, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and so we find ourselves like Carey, stuck in our sins.

As Smith has accurately put it: “the teaching that we are fundamentally sinners leads to failure.” And this is hard for us because many of us come out of traditions where pastors spend their entire sermon yelling at the church to get their acts together, that they sinners and that God is angry at them. The preacher who yells at his church may have a lot of remorseful Christians feeling guilty at the end of the service, but they don’t have any tools to change, so ultimately they will go back to the same struggles they started with.

Now don’t get me wrong, sin is a problem…in fact, it is most of the problem when it comes to our lives. There are churches that will gloss right over sin as though it doesn’t exist, and that is a problem too.

But when we start with our sin nature, when we focus on it incessantly, then it can become very difficult to avoid doing it. It’s kind of like if I tell you not to think of an apple. What’s the first thing you are going to do: think of an apple because I just put it in your mind.

So, we need to shift our perceptions. We need to shift our stories, and our scripture text gives us a good idea of how to do that. After spending a couple of months meeting with James Bryan Smith, his narratives, his story began to change. Instead of seeing himself primarily as a sinner, he saw himself as a child of God. A couple years later James ran into Carey and it was clear his life had been transformed. He told James “The day I got it was when I was preparing for a trip out of town. I used to get nervous, and I would pray, “Lord, I don’t want to fail you again. But this time I had no anxiety.

“When I got to the hotel room, I walked to the television, closed the doors of the console and smiled. I whispered to myself, “I know who I am. I am a child of God. I house the fullness of God. I was never tempted to turn the TV on, I’m not prideful, I know that sin remains, as you taught me. But it doesn’t reign anymore. I used my free time to read and rest. I knew I could sin, and I knew God would still love me. But I didn’t want to sin. That when I knew it had finally taken root in me. I never knew it could be this easy.

Brothers and Sisters, you too house the fullness of God. You are not defined by your sins but by your existence In Christ. Our job is to change the stories in our heads to match that reality.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source material from James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series), InterVarsity Press.

The Human Heart Bends…

The human heart bends toward what the eye sees. Today’s image makers fling into the world digital spectacles of sex, wealth, power, and popularity. Those images get inside us, shape us, and form our lives in ways that compete with God’s design for our focus and worship.

Taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, © 2019, p.118. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Reclaiming the Problem of Eye-Sin

“If your eye causes you to sin…” is one of the boldest phrases from the mouth of Jesus, appearing three times in the gospels. Our eyes not only leads us into sinful behaviors, but also to take in sinful images. We may think of our eyes as neutral or innocent receptors, but they are not. Eyes have inherent appetites and desires.

Sinful eyes rove unchecked, looking for sin. We would do well to reclaim the phrase “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16 NIV) because even redeemed eyes are lustful, insatiable, never satisfied, even susceptible to spectacles of wealth, sex, power, and violence. Instead our eyes must serve as guardians of the heart. When they fail, they leave the heart exposed and unguarded. As one Puritan said, there are no means to guard the heart if we leave our eyes unguarded.

Taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, © 2019, p.127. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.



See also Illustrations on AffairsThe BodyBody-ImageSexShame

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Fellowship. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

Follow us on social media: