Sermon illustrations


Did You Know You Are Free?

This difference between possession and enjoyment is well illustrated in the story of Louis Delcourt.  He was a young French soldier during the First World War who overstayed his leave and, fearing disgrace, he decided to desert.  He persuaded his mother to lock him up in the attic of their home and there she hid him and fed him for twenty-one years.

But in August 1937 his mother died.  There was no chance now of his retaining his incognito and remaining in hiding.  So, pale and haggard, he staggered along to the nearest police officer, where he gave himself up.  The police officer looked at him in utter incredulity and asked him, “where have you been that you have not heard?”  “Haven’t heard what?” asked Louis.  “That a law of amnesty for all deserters was passed years ago.”

Louis Delcourt had freedom but did not enjoy it because he did not know that he had it.  It is the same with many Christian people today.  They have been set free by Jesus Christ.  But they are not enjoying their freedom because they do not know that they have it.

Taken from The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2007 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Dunkirk: A Ragtag Armada

In his book, The Word and Power Church, Doug Banister writes:

The spring of 1940 found Hitler’s panzer divisions mopping up French troops and preparing for a siege of Great Britain. The Dutch had already surrendered, as had the Belgians. The British army foundered on the coast of France in the channel port of Dunkirk. Nearly a quarter million young British soldiers and over 100,000 allied troops faced capture or death.

The Furhrer’s troops, only a few miles away in the hills of France, closed in on an easy kill. The Royal Navy had enough ships to save barely 17,000 men, and the House of Commons was told to brace itself for “hard and heavy tidings.”

Then while a despairing world watched with fading hope, a bizarre fleet of ships appeared on the horizon of the English Channel. Trawlers, tugs, fishing sloops, lifeboats, sailboats, pleasure craft, an island ferry named Gracie Fields, and even the America’s Cup challenger Endeavor, all manned by civilian sailors, sped to the rescue. The ragtag armada eventually rescued 338,682 men and returned them home to the shores of England, as pilots of the Royal Air Force jockeyed with the German Luftwaffe in the skies above the channel. It was one of the most remarkable naval operations in history.

The church, likewise, is God’s ragtag armada. The church is a mix of flawed individuals on a rescue operation commissioned by God.

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Doug Banister, The Word and Power Church, pp. 33–34.

God Just Sold the Cattle

In 1924, Dallas Theological Seminary almost went bankrupt.  On the day it was to foreclose at noon, Dr. Harry Ironside, the president, held a prayer meeting in his office.  That day he prayed a prayer he had often prayed: “Lord, we know the cattle on a thousand hills are thine.  Please sell some of them and give us the money.” 

As he prayed with some staff and faculty, a tall Texas oilman walked into the receptionist’s office and told the secretary: “I just sold two carloads of cattle in Fort Worth.  I’ve been trying to make a business deal go through and it won’t work, and I’ve been compelled to give this money to the seminary.  I don’t know if you need this, but here’s the check.”  The secretary burst into the room where the men were praying and said to Dr. Ironside, “Harry, God just sold the cattle!”

Taken from Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson Copyright (c) 1989 by Ben Patterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

I Know the Way Out

I can’t help but recall here a scene from The West Wing. White House chief of staff Leo McGarry reaches out to his deputy, Josh Lyman, who is struggling with PTSD. Leo tells him a parable:

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls down a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey, you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” 

The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me! Can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

James K.A. Smith, The Christian Century, “I’m a Philosopher. We Can’t Think Our Way Out Of This Mess”, February 25, 2021.

“It’s All Done”

I went to the IRS office in Oakland. I waited. And I waited. Eventually I was escorted through a warren of cubicles to the one where I was to meet the agent who would assist me. Alone in the bowels of a large IRS office—without hope. Yes, I think that captures it. The agent there listened to my case, took all the relevant paperwork and excused herself to consult with someone else. I waited ten minutes. Then fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty . . . forty . . . forty-five minutes. No one checked in. As far as I could tell, the agent had disappeared. No apparent sign of life—just a cubicle in the void. Suddenly, the agent was back. She handed me a sheet and said simply, “There, it’s all done. It’s settled.”

I honestly did not know what she meant. I assumed she was saying that she had taken the first step. What she meant was that the whole process was settled. She turned the paper over and revealed the nine signatures she had acquired all the way up the IRS ladder so the case was now closed, and closed in my favor. There, in the midst of a warren of bureaucratic anonymity and powerlessness, I encountered a person who became my advocate, who heard my appeal and who took the initiative to do on my behalf what I could never have done for myself.

She met me at a moment of isolation and fear and sent me out with resolution when I had anticipated nothing but delay. For me, this has been a parable of what the body of Christ can be in the world. We are to be those who, in the vastness of the universe and in a context of human powerlessness, show up as advocates who represent and incarnate the presence of God, who is the hope of the world.

Mark Labberton, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today, InterVarsity Press.

“Look at These”

Davon Huss tells the story of a boy who came home one hot afternoon, anxious to take a cool swim in the pond behind his home. He lived in south Florida, so taking a quick dip was a common way to cool off.

He was so anxious to get in the water, he didn’t even go inside to change clothes. He just raced for the pond, dropping his shoes, shirt, and socks along the way. His mother spotted him diving off the dock, and went outside to check on him.

As she watched her son swim toward the middle of the lake, she also spotted an alligator moving from the far shore, toward her son! She began screaming the warnings, and the boy stopped in mid-swim. He finally understood the danger, and began racing back toward the dock. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him.

It was a tug-of-war from a mother’s worst nightmare. From the dock, she pulled his arms. From the water, the alligator held his legs. The water was quickly stained with blood.

A farmer driving by heard the screams, and ran to help. He shot the alligator and helped the mother call for help. The boy survived, and after several weeks of hospitalization, was ready to talk with a news reporter.

The reporter asked the child if he could see where the alligator had bitten him. With the typical pride of a boy, he showed off his healing wounds to the interested reporter. “But wait,” said the boy, “look at these!” With that, he showed the reporter the scars on his arms. “I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my Mom wouldn’t let go.”

Andy Cook

Losing Everything

A ship went down in a storm, and only one man survived. He was fortunate enough to land on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. With just a few items in his pocket, he was able to build a small shelter to protect himself from the rough weather they often experienced.

Once the shelter was built, the man had one goal: to find a ship that could rescue him and take him home to his family. Every morning the same routine, scan the horizon for ships. Every afternoon the same thing. Not wanting to miss any chance of being saved, the man would forage for food in the early evening.

One evening, as he completed his foraging campaign, he returned to see his shack in flames. Lightning had apparently struck while he was trying to find food. At this point he realized that not only had his shelter burned up, but all his tools as well. Everything was lost.

In a state of deep discouragement, the man sat on the beach contemplating death, wondering whether there was any hope left for him having lost everything. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he contemplated a bleak future. Eventually his exhaustion gave into sleep.

But when he woke up, the strangest thing appeared to him. He wondered if it was a mirage, because about a few hundred yards away, there was a ship, docked with sailors moving back and forth. Eventually, the captain approached him and said the most miraculous thing: ‘We saw your smoke signal, and so we came.”

The man had to lose everything before he could be rescued.


Stuart Strachan Jr.

Miracles in Mozambique

During the 1960s the Lord raised up an indigenous leader in the church in Mozambique named Martinho Campos. The story of his ministry, Life Out of Death in Mozambique, is a remarkable testimony to God’s strange ways of missionary blessing. Martinho was leading a series of meetings in the administrative area of Gurue sixty miles from his own area of Nauela.

The police arrested him and put him in jail without a trial. The police chief, a European, assumed that the gatherings were related to the emerging guerrilla group Frelimo. But even when the Catholic priest told him that these men were just “a gathering of heretics,” he took no concern for justice, though he wondered why the common people brought so much food to the prisoner, as though he were someone important.

One night he was driving his truck with half a dozen prisoners in it and saw “what appeared to be a man in gleaming white, standing in the road, facing him.” He swerved so sharply that the truck rolled over and he was trapped underneath. The prisoners themselves lifted the truck so that the police chief could get out. After brief treatment in the hospital he returned to talk to Martinho because he knew there was some connection between this vision and the prisoner.

He entered Martinho’s cell and asked for forgiveness. Martinho told him about his need for God’s forgiveness and how to have it. The police chief said humbly, “Please pray for me.” Immediately the chief called for hot water so that the prisoner might wash, took him out of solitary confinement, and saw to it that a fair trial was held.

Martinho was released. But the most remarkable thing was what followed: “Not only did the chief of police make plain his respect for what Martinho stood for, but he also granted him official permission to travel throughout the whole area under his jurisdiction in order to preach and hold evangelical services.”  There would have been no way that such a permission would have been given through the ordinary channels. But God had a way through suffering. The imprisonment was for the advancement of the gospel.

Taken from Suffering & The Sovereignty of God by Dustin Shramek, edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor © 2006, p.104-105. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

A Rescue Religion

Christianity is a rescue religion. It declares that God has taken the initiative in Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sins. This is the main theme of the Bible. You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.

Taken from Basic Christianity The IVP Signature Collection  by John Stott. Copyright (c) 2019 by John Stott, p.111. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Rescuing His Pursuer

In sixteenth-century Holland, the Mennonites were outlawed and, when caught, often executed. One of them, Dirk Willens, was being chased across an icefield when his pursuer broke through and fell in.

In response to his cries for help, Willens returned and saved him from the waters. The pursuer was grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but nevertheless arrested him, as he thought it his duty to do. A few days later Willens was executed by being burned at the stake in the town of Asperen. It was precisely his Christlikeness that brought on his execution.

Ronald A. Wells, History Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989)

Salvation & Judgment

In much of contemporary society, we are only willing to focus on God’s love and grace, rarely on God’s wrath or even judgment. This story is a good reminder that God’s relationship towards us is multi-faceted. 

Back in the days of the “wild west” there was a boy whose pants had gotten stuck in a stagecoach. The stage coach took off and the poor boy was doing everything he could to hold on for dear life. As the stage coach began its departure, a man happened to see the unfolding crisis and raced off on his horse to save the boy. His fast action paid off as he was able to rescue the boy from certain death.

That man would eventually become a judge, whereas the boy would become a criminal. Eventually the two would meet in the judge’s courtroom. The boy, realizing who his judge was, asked him to rescue him, just as he had done those many years earlier. The judge would eventually bring the gavel down on the table and say, “On that day when I rescued you from the stage coach I was your savior. Today, I am your judge.”

Original Source Unknown, written by Stuart Strachan Jr.


If you’re familiar with Bach, you may know that at the bottom of his manuscripts, he wrote the initials, “S. D. G.” Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts he wrote, “Jesu Juva,” which is Latin for “Jesus, help!” There’s no better prayer for the beginning of an adventure.

Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, B&H Books, 2019.

The Stalker

Editor’s Note: This story is often told as a true story, when in fact it is probably fictitious. Nevertheless, there is a significant illustrative point: sometimes the things we fear most may in fact be the most likely to save us.

One night a woman was driving home on the interstate when she noticed some strange behavior behind her. It seemed as though a semi-truck was following her. Every time she changed lanes, the truck-driver followed after her. She tried to speed up to lose him, but the man in the truck just kept up and followed after her.

Hoping this was all in her imagination, she began nervously checking her rear-view mirror. Each time he was there, determined it seemed to follow her wherever she went.

The lady began to panic, but having left her phone at work, she was unable to call the police. Eventually she decided to pull off the highway to try and find shelter at a well-lit gas station. Again, the truck seemed to be stalking her as she began hunting for a place to stop and get help.

Eventually she found a station, parked, got out of the car and began screaming for dear life. Just then she noticed the man getting out of the truck and charging full-steam towards her.

She prepared for the worst.

But just before he reached her, he darted for the back door of her car. The man flung open the door and pulled a man out of the back seat. It turned out, the man had snuck into her car earlier in the day with malicious intentions. The truck driver had somehow spotted the man as he casually glanced in front of him on his evening route.

Sometimes, the person trying to help us looks like the person most wanting to hurt us. The story begs a question: who is trying to hurt us and who is trying to help us? And do we sometimes confuse them?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Ted Turner Losing His Religion

Ted Turner. He is 71 years old (written in 2014), and still in the news. With a net worth estimated around $2.3 billion, Turner has made an impact on cable television, news reporting, and major league baseball. He has given $1 billion to United Nations causes, and was once married to Jane Fonda. Through it all, Turner was never boring. Outspoken at every turn, Turner’s few missteps have included harsh statements about Christianity.

“Christianity is a religion for losers,” he said in 1990. On another occasion, he joked that the Pope should step on a land mine. He once asked some of his CNN employees who were wearing ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday, “What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks?” Turner even blamed his divorce from Fonda on her decision to become a practicing Christian.

Interestingly, Turner grew up in a Christian Home, and at 17, planned on being a missionary! “I was very religious when I was young,” Turner told Michael Eisner. “I was a born-again Christian. In fact, I was born again seven times including once by Billy Graham. I mean, I know it inside and out.”

But Turner lost his faith when he watched his sister die from a rare form of lupus, at the age of 20. For five years, turner said, “I prayed 30 minutes every day for God to save her, and he didn’t. A kind and loving God wouldn’t let my sister suffer so much. I said, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with you.'” In short, the concept of suffering separated Ted Turner from his faith in God. (Sources: “Conversations with Michael Eisner,” CNBC.com, Fortune magazine article, May 26, 2003.)

Andy Cook

Thank You God for Sending a Professional

Pastor John Ortberg shares this amazing story about how God sometimes uses even our broken pasts to to help others:

I read about a woman who locked her keys in her car in a rough neighborhood. She tried a coat hanger to break into her car, but she couldn’t get that to work. Finally, she prayed, “God, send me somebody to help me.” Five minutes later, a rusty old car pulled up. A tattooed, bearded man wearing a biker’s skull rag walked toward her. She thought, God, really? Him? But she was desperate.

So when the man asked if he could help, she said, “Can you break into my car?” He said, “Not a problem.” He took the coat hanger and opened the car in a few seconds. She said to him, “You’re a very nice man” and gave him a big hug. He said, “I’m not a nice man. I just got out of prison today. I served two years for auto theft, and I’ve only been out a couple of hours.” She hugged him again and shouted, “Thank you, God, for sending me a professional!”

Taken from All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door.  What Will You Do?, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 

You’ll Get Through This. 

You fear you won’t. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave…We wonder: Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten? We feel stuck, trapped, locked in. Predestined for failure. Will we ever exit this pit?


Deliverance is to the Bible what jazz music is to Mardi Gras—bold, brassy, and everywhere.


out of the lion’s den for Daniel,

the prison for Peter,

the whale’s belly for Jonah,

Goliath’s shadow for David,

the storm for the disciples,

disease for the lepers,

doubt for Thomas,

the grave for Lazarus,

and the shackles for Paul.

God carries us through stuff:

through the Red Sea onto dry ground (Exodus 14:22),

through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5),

through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4),

and through the deep sea (Psalm 77:19).

Through is a favorite word of God’s:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:2 NKJV)

Max Lucado, God Will Carry You Through, Thomas Nelson, 2013, pp. 2-3.

See also Illustrations on Atonement, God’s Pursuit, Help, Jesus, Justification, Salvation