Sermon illustrations: Get ’em while they’re hot!!

First story: “We humans are a mess, aren’t we?”

A woman was sharing with her weight-loss group: “I had cooked a cake, my family’s favorite. Later, I saw they’d eaten only half of it. So I sat down and ate a slice. And another. Soon the entire cake was gone. Now I began worrying about what my husband would think. He liked the cake but he’d really be upset if he knew I’d eaten the entire half.”

We pause to ask our audience a question….

What do you think the woman did? And what did her husband say when he got home and found the cake gone?

She said, “He never found out. I made another cake and ate half of it.”

Illustration of what? Human nature is a corrupt, self-destructive thing, isn’t it? We are often our own worst enemies. The consistent message of Scripture is not only that “God loves you,” but that “He loves you more than you love yourself, did far more for you than you’ve ever done for yourself, and is far more ambitious for you (in the right sense) than you ever were for yourself.” Romans 8:31-32 is a favorite statement of His being for us.

Second story: “We’re sent to be fruit-bearers, but of a particular kind.”

This fellow was telling something that he and his brothers did as children.

When they misbehaved and were sent to their room, they were secretly pleased. Just outside their second-floor window stood an old fruit tree. The boys would softly raise the window, climb down the tree, and play in the field behind the house. After a bit, they would climb the tree, slip inside and close the window. Then, they’d call downstairs to mom and dad, asking if they hadn’t suffered enough.

One day they heard Dad tell Mom he planned to cut the tree down. “It hasn’t borne any fruit in years.” Oh no. This was not good.

The boys went into action.

Pooling their money, they ran to the village market and bought a sack of apples and a spool of black thread. That evening, they slipped out the window and tied the apples onto the tree.

Next morning, they waited eagerly for Dad’s reaction.

Soon they were pleased to hear him call out, “Mary! Come see! It’s a miracle! That tree is covered with apples.”

The boys were congratulating themselves. Then they heard Dad say, “It really is a miracle…because that’s a pear tree!”

(The parents had the wisdom and good humor to allow the tree to survive.)

Illustration of what?  Just as a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and vice versa, pear trees do not bear apples. We reap what we sow.

Third story: “I think I like the changes in worship after all, preacher!”

Here’s a little note from my journal of many years ago which I find fascinating. A deacon came by my office one day, concerned about the set of drums we had just placed on the platform for use with the other musical instruments. He said, “My wife and daughter cannot worship with them. We will be considering other options.”  I’m happy to report that they’re still here, still deeply involved in church activities, and from all appearances loving the worship music.

Sometimes our cultural traditions are so ingrained in us, any kind of change feels like a transgression of some moral or scriptural law.  Which is to say, we get set in our ways and think that to change must surely be sinful.

Illustration of what?  It’s a smart person who knows the difference between his own personal convictions (and even prejudices) and God’s revealed and inspired word.  Many a church has been destroyed over fights for cultural things.

Fourth story: “Just because you can afford it, you don’t have to have it!”

Benjamin Franklin told of a friend who gave him a tour of his new home. The living room was large enough to house the entire Continental Congress. He asked, “Why did you build it so big?”

The man said, “Because I can afford it.”

The dining room could seat fifty people. “Why so big?”

He answered, “Because I can afford it.”

Franklin turned to him and said, “Why are you wearing such a small hat? Why not get one 10 times the size of your head? You can afford that, too.”

Today, we would ask similar questions to friends who drive those $70,000 pickup trucks and SUVs and Hummers. Why?  “Because I can afford to.”  (And we will not get into whether some of them actually can afford them!)

My buddy Jim Graham tells of the Christmas Eve his 3-year-old granddaughter Graham Bryant was opening presents. After opening only three, the child stopped, looked at her family, and announced, “That’s enough! Give the others to Baby Jesus!”

Illustration of what? It’s a wise person who knows when he has had enough. Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness….”

Fifth story: “Here’s something you’ll probably not ever see a U.S. president do again. Sad to say.”

My April 26, 2000, journal reports that the back cover of American Heritage magazine showed an old pocket-size New Testament. During World War II, it had belonged to Private Irwin Seelye. The inside lists his name and address and blood type, then the various battles in which he fought: North Africa, Sicily, Italy, etc. On the first page is a message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A note underneath the photo says this New Testament is one of hundreds of personal items to be added to the National World War II Museum.

Question: Does anyone think that the President of the United States could get by with writing a message on the inside of a New Testament these days?

Illustration of what?  Thankfully, the Christian faith has never depended on any government’s approval. In fact, sometimes the endorsement of a ruler has been a dead weight on the gospel.

Sixth story: “You have to wonder if prophecy preachers ever go back and read their old stuff and weep?”

I ran across a prophecy magazine from the mid-1970s. It was filled with anti-Communism rants and all kinds of doomsday predictions. Henry Kissinger was being identified as the anti-Christ. I searched through the pages in vain for any semblance of the gospel. There was none. These huckster preachers fed off the fears of their constituents, and anyone (like myself) calling them down on it were slandered as pinkos with our heads in the sand.

One wonders if those preachers of bad prophecies ever go back and read their writings and grieve over how they misled people, and drop to their knees in repentance. I think we know the answer to that.

They don’t. Because surely if they did, the first thing they would do on standing to their feet would be to call a news conference and apologize to the world.

Don’t hold your breath.

Illustration of what? Any preacher will sometimes give his opinion on a matter of Scripture. But integrity demands that he label it as such, as not as “the Word of God.” Even Paul was known to say he did not have a word from the Lord on certain matters.

Seventh story: “For all our friends who have gone above.”

A church in Louisville was having electrical problems high above the sanctuary. For the electrician to get to the trouble spot, he would have to crawl through a tight space, then out onto a beam. Since it was slow and dangerous, the man’s wife went along to keep him company. She sat on a pew in the sanctuary while he was high above, most of the time out of her line of sight.

Someone walked into the worship center just as she was looking upward and saying, “John, are you up there? Did you make it up there all right?”

Imagine the shock when they heard a voice coming from high above. “Yes, I’m here. I made it just fine.”

Illustration of what?  Those who have died in Christ have made it up there just fine.

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