Sermon illustrations


Christopher Parkening’s Search For Happiness and Purpose

Considered perhaps the greatest guitarist alive, Christopher Parkening appeared to have it all. Signed to an international recording deal as a teenager, Parkening traveled across the world playing beautiful music. But by the age of 30, having achieved all the musical success he could ever imagine, Parkening felt empty. He was tired of touring and wanted to take a break from the rigors associated  . Parkening ultimately decided to move to Montana and took up fly-fishing as a hobby.

Soon Parkening was not only one of the greatest guitarists in the world, but also a world-class fly fisherman, with all the money and time he could ever want. And yet, despite all his success, his life was empty.

He wrote: “If you arrive at a point in your life where you have everything that you’ve ever wanted and thought would make you happy and it still doesn’t, then you start questioning things. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

At this point, Parkening began to wonder if anything could fulfill the deep longings of his heart. Around this time, while visiting friends, Parkening attended church. During the service, Parkening was struck by 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

He explains, “I realized there were only two things I knew how to do: fly fish for trout and play the guitar. Well, I am playing the guitar today absolutely by the grace of God. . . . I have a joy, a peace, and a deep-down fulfillment in my life I never had before. My life has purpose. . . . I’ve learned first-hand the true secret of genuine happiness.” Now Parkening teaches classical guitar to students at Pepperdine University, albeit with a different perspective and lease on life.

Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Janet Bartholomew, Does God Care? (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation, 2000), 153–54.

The Drama of Humanity & Nations

In his excellent little book, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly describes the inward reality that governs the course of history:

Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others.

And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history. It is the drama of the Hound of Heaven baying relentlessly upon the track of man. It is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hills comes the wiser Shepherd. For His is a shepherd’s heart, and He is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. It is the drama of the Eternal Father drawing the prodigal home unto Himself, where there is bread enough and to spare. It is the drama of the Double Search, as Rufus Jones calls it. And always its chief actor is—the Eternal God of Love.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

Sculpting Potatoes: Searching for Something

In Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfuss’s character, throughout the movie, is searching for something, and he cannot rest until he finds it. He can’t put his finger on what it is, but he manically tears up his yard and frantically sculpts the shape of a mysterious mountain out of a pile of mashed potatoes on a plate while his wife (played by the amazing Teri Garr) and children look on in horror and bewilderment. He doesn’t know what he is looking for or what he wants, but he is not going to find any peace until he figures it out.

So many times in my life, even from childhood, I feel like I’ve been sculpting a honkin’ pile of mashed potatoes without really knowing why. Yet I have been compelled and driven to make something out of something else. Sometimes the results have been amazing, and sometimes they have looked like, well, a pile of goopy potatoes, but the important thing is that I was happy doing it.

Jeannie Gaffigan in Jennifer Fulwiler, Your Blue Flame: Drop the Guilt and Do What Makes You Come Alive, Zondervan, 2020.

Searching for Herself

A group of tourists spent hours Saturday night looking for a missing woman near Iceland’s Eldgja canyon, only to find her among the search party. The group was travelling through Iceland on a tour bus and stopped near a volcanic canyon.

Soon there was word of a missing passenger. The woman, who had changed clothes, didn’t recognize the description of herself, and joined in the search. But the search was called off at about 3 a.m., when it became clear the missing woman was, in fact, accounted for and searching for herself.

QMI Agency 

The Smokescreen

My wife is a very social person. She loves being with groups of people, having dinners, celebrating special occasions or just hanging out with her friends. She is an elementary school teacher, which means she spends a lot of time socializing and meeting new people as part of her job. When someone learns that she is the wife of a religion professor who is also a minister, they often ask her questions about God and faith.

Once in a while the discussion turns to serious questions such as, How could a good God allow evil? or Why are there so many religions, and how do you know yours is right? Sometimes times people are genuinely seeking answers and perhaps even seeking God. She comes home from these discussions and invariably says the same thing: “I wish you had been there.” She says this because she thinks that I would be able to answer their questions.

Every time she says this I respond, “It would not have made a difference if I had been there. Most of the questions they are asking are not the real issue.

They are usually smoke screens hiding something else. What they really want to know is, `Is it true?’ and the answer to that is not in an intellectual idea but in a changed life.

That is something you can give them. Your life is your witness. You have something real, something you know to be true in your depths, and it has shaped who you are. You do not have to do anything to witness to that life, and you could not hide it if you tried. They want to know the reason you have hope.” Still, she says she wishes she could better articulate her faith when she is asked. She concludes, “I guess evangelism is not my gift.” Actually, it is one of her gifts.

Taken from The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love by James Bryan Smith, Copyright (c) 2010 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

What are you Looking for?

You will always find what you are looking for. Think about the difference between two birds: a vulture and a hummingbird. Vultures soar high in the sky, looking and searching. What does a vulture find? Dead things. The ugly oversized bird doesn’t stop until he finds lifeless, rotting road kill. Contrast the vulture to the tiny hummingbird.

With wings flapping twenty beats a second, what does this small bird find? Not dead things and disgusting rancid meat, but instead, sweet, life-giving nectar. Daily, each bird finds what he is looking for. The same is true for you. You can be on a road-kill diet or you can find nectar in each day. It’s up to you, because you will find what you search for.

If you want to find things to be negative about or to worry about, it is not hard to do. If you plan to be critical, you don’t have to look far to find fault. If you choose to be negative, you’ll easily accomplish your goal. But if you want to see the good in life, you can find it everywhere. If you choose to watch for places God is working, you’ll see his loving presence each place you look. If you decide to look for hope, faith, and a better future, you will discover these positive things and more countless times a day.

Craig Groeschel, Soul Detox (p. 50). Zondervan.

See also Illustrations on Journey, Lost, Questions, Questioning God, TruthWonder