Sermon illustrations


Adolescence and the Pings, Not Pong

Adolescents have been offered a license to post without any accompanying ethical framework. Is it fair to blame teens for misusing tools that didn’t exist in our childhood? If I had been given a phone with an ability to take and post pictures when I was thirteen, I would not have photographed many things to be proud of. What kinds of public mistakes would I have made if emboldened by this new possibility?

We are now all engaged in what sociologist Erving Goffman calls “the arts of impression management.” Thanks to social media, adolescents are often forced to grow up in public at earlier ages and stages. They are embarking upon an ancient challenge, to know thyself, while broadcasting each awkward step along the way. Is it fair to criticize the young for not acting more maturely? Today’s pings are just a more sophisticated version of Pong. As one of the original video games, Pong was slow, methodical, even predictable. And yet we loved it. Pong didn’t require much sophistication.

The speed could be shifted, but the rules remained the same. Hit it back. The game could be locked in place, stuck in an endless loop. One could walk away for a while and nothing would change.

Take an eye off the screen, a hand off the controller, and one may not even lose a point. Today’s teens are playing ping, not Pong. Pings are those beeps and blurps that tell us we have a new message, a new update, a new headline to consider. Pings are the notifications that float across our screen all day long. They are rooted in instant messaging and constant connection.

Craig Detweiler, Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, p.9.

A 12 Million Dollar Education

Tom Watson, Sr., is the man who founded IBM. You can imagine the money, the investments, the experiments, this man, and his multi-billion dollar company have made through the years. Once, years ago, when a million dollars was still a million dollars, Watson had a top junior executive who spent $12 million of the company’s money on a venture that failed. The executive put his resignation on Watson’s desk saying, “I’m sure that you want my resignation.” Watson roared back:, “No I don’t want your resignation. I’ve just spent $12 million educating you. It’s about time you get to work.

Andy Cook

Being Wrong

In her aptly title book, Being Wrong, Kathleen Schulz describes just how difficult it is to be wrong:

A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.

Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), p.4.

The End is Nearish


We didn’t make a mistake when we wrote in our previous releases that New York would be destroyed on September 4 and October 14, 1993. We didn’t make a mistake, not even a teeny eeny one!


All the dates we have given in our past releases are correct dates given by God as contained in Holy Scriptures. Not one of these dates was wrong . . . Ezekiel gives a total of 430 days for the siege of the city . . . [which] brings us exactly to May 2, 1994. By now, all the people have been forewarned. We have done our job . . . We are the only ones in the entire world guiding the people to their safety, security, and salvation! We have a 100 percent track record!

Press releases from Neal Chase, representing the religious group Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant, in “The End Is Nearish,” Harper’s, February 1995, 22, 24.

Forgive us our Mattresses

While countless children grew up reciting the Lord’s Prayer, it is somewhat unsurprising to learn that many didn’t exactly have the words correct. In an article by Ann Landers of the Chicago Tribune, a variety of hilarious misinterpretations were recounted. One three-year-old for example, thought it was, “Our Father who does art in Heaven, Herald his Name.” Another little boy believed it was, “Lead us snot into temptation.” Two twin daughters used to pray, “Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses.” 

Stuart Strachan, Source Material from Ann Landers, Article “Out of the Mouths of Babes…A Taste of Humor, Chicago Tribune, May 12, 2002.

His Legacy Lives On

In South Florida several years ago, there was a skywriter who occasionally spelled out happy messages about God—things like “God loves you.” Often, on a clear morning, you could step out and see the pilot’s handiwork.

One morning, as I started my workday as a morning-show host on a local Christian radio station, I read a news website that reported his death. He’d been killed in a plane crash near the Fort Lauderdale airport. I made the announcement on the show, and the response was immediate and overwhelming. People jammed the phone lines, crying and recounting one story after another about how the pilot had encouraged them deeply at just the right time.

Stuff like, “I was headed to the hospital for more tests one morning, wondering if God even cared, and I looked up in the sky . . .” and “I asked God if he really loved me while I was driving home from my night shift, and I looked up, and . . .” They were very emotional. It was moving. Yes, it was tragic, but this was also some very compelling radio I was doing. I leaned into it. I changed some of the songs and played emotional ones.

More tears. More people calling. Lines jammed. I hadn’t planned on it, but I decided to make my whole show about it. It was amazing radio. Midway through the morning, I got a call. “This is incredible!” a young guy told me on the air, fighting back tears. “Someone has picked up his mantle, and now they are writing ‘God loves you’ in the sky!

This is beautiful!” Sure enough, more callers. “He may have died, but his legacy lives on!” “This is amazing!” “Wow! I can see it now!” More emotional music. What a show. There was only one problem: He wasn’t dead. Turns out it was him in the sky, trying to prove that he was still alive, because he couldn’t get through on our busy phone lines.

He knew his friends and neighbors would be panicking, and he wanted to show he yet lived. At 5:30 a.m., for an apparently brief time, the website had it wrong. I didn’t ever double-check. I didn’t know he was alive until my show was over.

When my manager told me, “Hey, I just saw something online, and I think that guy isn’t that guy,” I wanted to teleport to the surface of Saturn. It all ended well. Sort of. I mean, it ended as well as hosting an entire show about the death of a man who hadn’t died can end, I think. I had to do a lot of apologizing to listeners and to the skywriting guy himself. He said it was frustrating but oddly interesting listening to his own funeral on the air. (My new Brant Hansen Show motto idea: “Frustrating but Oddly Interesting.”)

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

Mistakes More Valuable than Discoveries

Perhaps the history of the errors of mankind, all things considered, is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries. Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists, and does not seem to require so much an active energy, as a passive aptitude of soul in order to encounter it.

But error is endlessly diversified; it has no reality, but is the pure and simple creation of the mind that invents it. In this field, the soul has room enough to expand herself, to display all her boundless faculties, and all her beautiful and interesting extravagancies and absurdities.

Benjamin Franklin, Report of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, and Other Commissioners, Charged by the King of France, with the Examination of the Animal Magnetism, as Now Practiced in Paris (1784)

On Asking the Wrong Questions, from the Pink Panther

Clouseau: Does your dog bite?

Hotel Clerk: No.

Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog]

Nice doggie. 
[Dog barks and bites Clouseau on the hand]

Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!

Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.

From the Pink Panther, © 1963.

On Changing your Mind

Joseph Lister was a British surgeon and the founder of anti-septic medicine. That may sound incredibly boring, but the effects of his discovery were profound. Prior to Lister, surgeons had virtually no awareness of the importance of their own hygiene around the body, with surgeons coming straight from the bathroom, or the lunch room right into surgery, no washing of hands, with utensils that were often not washed from previous surgeries.

The results of this were devastating…some 45% to 50% of surgical patients died from bacterial infection after the surgery…after Lister’s discovery, that percent fell to about 15%. Just think about how many lives were saved from that discovery alone. The problem for Lister, was this, almost no doctors believed him, not at first…many reveled in their lack of hygiene. The reason I know all this, is because of a wonderful book called “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” which chronicles the rise of two young men…one would become the president, James Garfield, and the other a madman, who would eventually shoot Garfield, which would ultimately lead to his death.

Now what is so interesting about this book, among other things, is the way in which Garfield was treated after the shooting. His doctor, like many American doctors at the time, had rejected Joseph Lister’s theory of sepsis and stuck his unclean fingers right into the wound in an attempt to locate the bullet. Garfield cried out in terrible pain, with the doctor failing to find the bullet. After 3 months, Garfield died. What makes the story so heart wrenching is that the bullet itself was most likely not a fatal gunshot, but the constant poking and prodding by the doctors did him in as the bacterial infections worsened over the last few months of his life.

Over time of course, Lister’s theory of sepsis would become accepted in all countries where modern medicine was practiced, but if it had only been accepted sooner, if only doctors everywhere would change their minds on the issue of bacterial infection and the importance of sterilization…so many lives would have been saved, including the most important one, or at least the most powerful one in the United States.

By Stuart Strachan Jr.

Mistaken Identity

Have you ever mistaken a person for someone else? I remember being at a party with my best friend in high school. We had just arrived when we saw our friend Nicole standing in the corner having a good time. We had spent time with Nicole and her pregnant friend the day before, so we decided to walk over and greet them. My best friend said hey to Nicole, rubbed her friend’s belly with a kind smile, and thoughtfully asked, “How’s the baby?” The only problem was that this was a different friend. And she wasn’t in the least bit pregnant. Man, was I glad I didn’t speak up first.

From Trip Lee, Quoted in Greg Gilbert, Who Is Jesus? (9Marks), Crossway.

Pete Carroll’s Call and the Error of “Resulting”

One of the most controversial decisions in Super Bowl history took place in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. The Seattle Seahawks, with twenty-six seconds remaining and trailing by four points, had the ball on second down at the New England Patriots’ one-yard line. Everybody expected Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to call for a handoff to running back Marshawn Lynch.

Why wouldn’t you expect that call? It was a short-yardage situation and Lynch was one of the best running backs in the NFL. Instead, Carroll called for quarterback Russell Wilson to pass. New England intercepted the ball, winning the Super Bowl moments later. The headlines the next day were brutal:

  • USA Today: “What on Earth Was Seattle Thinking with Worst Play Call in NFL History?”
  • Washington Post: “‘Worst Play-Call in Super Bowl History’ Will Forever Alter Perception of Seahawks, Patriots”
  • com: “Dumbest Call in Super Bowl History Could Be Beginning of the End for Seattle Seahawks”
  • Seattle Times: “Seahawks Lost Because of the Worst Call in Super Bowl History”
  • The New Yorker: “A Coach’s Terrible Super Bowl Mistake”

Although the matter was considered by nearly every pundit as beyond debate, a few outlying voices argued that the play choice was sound, if not brilliant. Benjamin Morris’s analysis on FiveThirtyEight.com and Brian Burke’s on Slate.com convincingly argued that the decision to throw the ball was totally defensible, invoking clock-management and end-of-game considerations. They also pointed out that an interception was an extremely unlikely outcome. (Out of sixty-six passes attempted from an opponent’s one-yard line during the season, zero had been intercepted. In the previous fifteen seasons, the interception rate in that situation was about 2%.)

…Why did so many people so strongly believe that Pete Carroll got it so wrong? We can sum it up in four words: the play didn’t work. Take a moment to imagine that Wilson completed the pass for a game-winning touchdown. Wouldn’t the headlines change to “Brilliant Call” or “Seahawks Win Super Bowl on Surprise Play” or “Carroll Outsmarts Belichick”? Or imagine the pass had been incomplete and the Seahawks scored (or didn’t) on a third- or fourth-down running play. The headlines would be about those other plays.

…When I started playing poker, more experienced players warned me about the dangers of resulting, cautioning me to resist the temptation to change my strategy just because a few hands didn’t turn out well in the short run.

… But, as I found out from my own experiences in poker, resulting is a routine thinking pattern that bedevils all of us. Drawing an overly tight relationship between results and decision quality affects our decisions every day, potentially with far-reaching, catastrophic consequences.

Annie Duke, Thinking in Bets, Penguin Publishing Group, 2019, pp.5-8.

The Two Orders

There is an old story about a florist who mixed up two orders one busy day.  One arrangement went to a new business that was opening, and the other went to a family who had a death. The man with the new business came in ticked off: “The flowers that got delivered to my opening day, “Rest in peace.”

The florist said, “You think you’re mad; you should have seen the family who just left.  A bouquet was delivered to their family’s funeral that said, “Good luck in your new location.”

John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

The Well-Intentioned Couple and the Vagabond

When I was in college I sometimes visited Bel Air Presbyterian Church, as did many of my friends. At that time Bel Air was known for being a place celebrities liked to visit. (This was not my favorite reason for attending, but I digress). One Sunday, a friend of mine’s sister was there and got to observe the following interaction. So there was a man sitting by himself in a pew, in torn clothing, looking fairly disheveled. After the service had ended, a well-to-do couple (this was the home of the Fresh Prince, after all) in the pew next to him began a conversation with the vagabond. They informed the man that there was a shelter not far from the church that he could easily get to via the bus. After patiently listening, the man simply responded:

“I’m Bob Dylan.”

Then walked away.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

When Helping Hurts: An American in the Philippines

An American woman visiting the Philippines, observed an elderly woman on the outskirts of Manila. She looked poverty-stricken and walked with the help of a cane down into a ditch alongside a  main road. The American observed the woman struggling and assumed she needed help.

As she approached the elderly woman, the woman began to shake her cane at the American, hurling curse words and a barrage of threats. While somewhat unsure of the situation, the American continued to pursue the woman. It was not until she got close enough that she realized her mistake: the woman was not in trouble, she was just attempting to have her daily “bathroom” visit in peace without the help of an over-anxious, do-gooder American.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material: Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer

Wrong About the Future 

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” “Popular Mechanics,” forecasting the relentless march of
science, 1949

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

“But what is it good for?” Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital
Equipment Corp., 1977

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”

“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.” Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

“If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.”
Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads.

“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.'” Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.” Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project.

“This fellow Charles Lindbergh will never make it. He’s doomed.” Harry Guggenheim, millionaire aviation enthusiast.

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole
Superieure de Guerre.

“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific
advances.” Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and father of television.

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

Source Unknown

Wrong Again

Some of you may be remember the classic photograph from the 1948 Presidential Election, in which Harry Truman holds a newspaper triumphantly, with the title, “Dewey Defeats Truman”. What you may not know, is why the newspaper made such a big mistake.

It turned out to be the result of the polling work of George Gallup. Gallup’s company and polls, named after himself, had confidently predicted Dewey’s presidential victory, which the newspapers depended upon to confidently print the now infamous headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

A couple months later, Gallup was pulled over in his hometown of Princeton, New Jersey, for driving the wrong direction on a one-way street. When the officer read Gallup’s driver’s license, he grinned and said, “Wrong again!”

Stuart R Strachan Jr.

See also illustrations on Brokenness, Failure, Messiness, Misunderstanding, Quitting,Trouble

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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