Stories That’ve Stayed

When Jo was very young, she genuinely believed that every story or anecdote her preacher told from the pulpit was true and happened in real-life. Last week, for instance, the preacher’s cousin had this curious thing happen to him that just happened to fit that Sunday’s message perfectly. Then, yesterday, he’d heard about this man who did this other strange thing–something you wouldn’t expect to happen, normally.

It was remarkable how relevant the sermon was to these weird things that kept happening to the preacher’s kith and kin.

Anyway, all that happened a long time ago, right? It’s not like it was recently that Jo was innocently browsing the library and stumbled upon an entire section devoted to sermon illustrations. It’s not like she felt a deep sense of disillusionment as she remembered all those interesting stories that the preacher had told about those people who were only ever means to an end.

The disillusionment was similar to realizing that when people type “rotfl,” they are almost certainly not rolling on the floor laughing. It was a dark day for literal-minded me.

Alright, so maybe I didn’t discover sermon illustrations that recently (it’s been a couple years now, since that initial blow), and maybe all that opening bit was just silly. I was thinking about sermon stories, though, and how there are only a few that have really stuck, and that I still think about sometimes. Some of them are funny and a little ridiculous, and one of them made a deeper impression. So I thought I’d share ’em, and maybe they’ll stick for you, and maybe they won’t.

Notice that I will not try to give the impression that any of these things happened to people I know personally.

Sermon Illustration #1: “Not Enough Salt, Dennis!”

I heard this one at a youth and family conference that featured several speakers, all talking on various topics related to apologetics/cultural engagement/actually-doing-something- important-with-one’s-life. This speaker was a nice man, but the crowd was a tough one, made up of maybe 6-7 painfully shy homeschoolers who nodded politely at everything he was saying. His story started with a boy named Dennis.

Dennis lived on a farm where he helped his mom with all the farm chores. Usually, it was fine and he did a good job, but Dennis did have a tendency to be careless and a little lazy with some of his chores. He enjoyed not doing his chores, see, and so his mom sometimes had to get on to him to really get him to focus and do a good job with milking the cows or whatever the chore may be. So that was Dennis.

It was the time of year when they butchered the hog and packed the meat down and preserved it for the next year. Dennis helped his mother with the whole process and watched her cook some of the meat, and make some of it sausage and some of it bacon. For the really large slab of meat, she told him to take it out to the smokehouse and salt it. She gave him all the instructions on how much salt to use and how long to rub it in, but Dennis only half-listened, because he was so ready to be done and this was the last step. He rubbed in the salt and hung up the slab of meat and closed the door and that was that.

–I think this is the point in the story where the speaker read us Matthew 5:13, about Christians being the salt of the earth. So he went on for a bit about our responsibility to represent Christ and live according to his will. And then he finished the story.–

Well, next spring rolled around, and toward summer it was time to break out the meat from the smokehouse. Dennis’s mother went down there to get a hunk to cook for supper, while Dennis stayed, doing whatever he was doing. All of a sudden, he hears a loud, long call from the smokehouse: “Dennnnniss!!” So he runs down there, and see his mom standing by the side of meat, which is covered in disgusting maggots. She points to it, and says, “Not enough salt.”

Sermon #2: “I ain’t the one who moved”

Ugh. This one annoys me because I can’t think of it being told in anything but a very Southern accent, but I also find it hilarious and I don’t understand why it’s still in my head. Here’s how it goes:

Well, friends, God is like this man who was driving down the road in his old pick-up truck. His wife was with him, and she was just starin’ out the window, not sayin’ anything. But he could tell she was bothered by somethin’, so he asked her:

“What’s botherin’ you, honey?”

She turned toward him and said, “I was just thinkin’ of when we first knew each other, and I’d ride in your truck and we’d be settin’ so close to each other, and it seemed like nothin’ could separate us. And now you’re on that side of the truck, and I’m on this side, and there’s a whole big space between us. What’s happened to us?”

And then the man chuckled and said, “Darlin’, I ain’t the one who moved.”

And, friends, that is exactly how it is with us and God. Whenever you feel far away from him, remember that He ain’t going nowhere–it’s us who’s moved.

Sermon #3: The Folded Cloths

I really do enjoy this one, and each time I remember it, it’s as good as when I heard it. That’s probably because it’s not a sermon illustration, so much as it is the main points of an entire sermon that I still remember. The text was from the resurrection account in John, and it was the section where Peter and John come to the empty tomb. So it’s John 20:6-8, and I had to look it up to remind myself:

Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself. The other disciple,who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw, and believed. 

The preacher was asking why John would have made the distinction that Jesus’s head-wrapping was folded up by itself, and why seeing that would have made John and Peter believe. So he started talking about the customs of the time, and how, at meals, when the master was finished eating, he would crumple up his napkin, and his servant would know he was done, and that he was finished. He wasn’t coming back.

If, however, the master folded his napkin, it signaled to the servants that he wasn’t finished yet, and that he was coming back.

I know it’s a small thing, and it’s only two verses, but in it the preacher communicated the hope and joy of Easter, just by the simple idea that, yes, Jesus is coming back.

That’s about all I have to say on sermon illustrations. I’d love to hear any stories that you remember from church, so comment them if you would like to share. Thanks for reading!

 

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Isaac Watts and Psalm 23

Today I was out taking pictures of pretty things that I could use for the blog, and I found a butterfly and some shadows and the Ouachita river. I liked it so much that I sat there for a while; not pictured is the birdsong, or the river’s rippling, or the too-friendly mosquitos. For some reason I started thinking of a hymn that I and my family have always loved–My Shepherd Will Supply My Need, by Isaac Watts. It doesn’t get sung too often in my church, because it’s one of those hymns that not as many people know, I guess. Which is a shame, cause it’s really good.

I thought I’d reprint it here, in case you’ve never heard it, or in case you have heard it and want to be reminded of the words. They’re worth remembering.

My shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.

And, then, because I think it somehow makes it better,

Amen.

Read it again, slowly. Actually, read it as many times as you want–I’ll wait.

I guess one reason I love Psalm 23 so much is that it reminds me that I may rest in God–that not everything is one hard struggle after another. I’m all too prone to perfectionism; I want to get things right, and be correct, and perfect. I also tend to see certain things in black and white, while at the same time playing the “believing game” like the good little English major I am.

In other words, every time I hear a different viewpoint, my world shakes a little, as I try to reconcile it with what I thought before. Oh the angst of trying to believe as many as five competing ideas simultaneously.

Currently the angst is in the theological realm. There are a lot of opinions about how to know God, what He’s like, and what He’s not like. And I want to seek the truth and know God, I think, but sometimes it’s all I can do to not go around all day with my forehead crinkled up and frowning because there is so much I don’t understand.

Now, I get frustrated, myself, with all the Christian literature out there that tries to pinpoint what the “most important” aspects of the Christian faith are–what’s the critical thing to focus on, I mean. I don’t understand how you can condense it like that, into three easy steps, or five main tenets of whatever. I guess it helps people, to focus on certain things at certain times, and so I guess I understand why there are books about worry, and doubt, and conviction, and, well, everything.

Is it the same reason there are Psalms in the Bible about pretty much anything?

What I mean is, it’s weird to me that we separate out life into different seasons, but at the same time I get why we do that. Life is too big and too messy for us to process it all at once, so we face problems as they come. We don’t profess to know the answers for every situation

We know where the answers come from, though.

I have no idea where I was going with this. I apologize. I think maybe I was going to encourage you, if, like me, you happen to be having an angst-y time of trying to know God, that you can rest in what we do know of Him. We know that He is great, that He is good.

But since this post was so disorganized, I think you’d better go back and just read the hymn again. Thanks for reading:)

 

Letter#1: In Which Aglet Learns Who He Is

Dear Aglet,

Maybe I should start with explaining to you who you are. You know–define my audience or whatever. If ever you do come into existence, some four or five decades from now, you will be my firstborn grandson. You’ll have possibly the worst name anyone could have, and I’ll have tried my hardest to convince them not to name you after shoelaces but they won’t have listened.

Now, since you’re imaginary, I have taken into account the possibility that you’ll be named something else. You might even be a girl, in real life. So I’ll clarify. Aglet, you are my imaginary, archetypal grandchild of the future. Hey.

These letters are for you to read in the future, assuming internet and blogging are still things when you’re up for reading them. Maybe they’ll be like microfiche is to me. Anyway, they are a collection of what I was thinking in reference to being a grandma someday.

And they’re also just for fun.

And cause I’m insane.

But it’s ok. I’ve accepted my insanity and we’ve moved on.

Below, please find a conversation I had with myself in my early twenties. It’ll prove to you that talking to myself and giving myself advice always has been the way with me–it’s not just an age thing. Enjoy.

Love, your grandma,

Jo

P.S. I’m sorry if you inherited the crazy gene from me.

……………………………………..

Sometimes I sit by myself and don’t do anything except like people. I mean, I sit there and think about ’em and just like them. I tend to view it as a valid, worthwhile activity, but if I think about it, it’s about the most passive thing I could do, because more often than not, I’m not telling them I like them, and I’m not doing anything to show them–

If anything I avoid them, giving the exact opposite impression. I just wish they knew. If it worked the way I wanted, I could think something nice about a person and somehow make them know I thought that.

…..

Me: Jo, there is.  It’s called language. Words. English. What you’re studying in college. You know, where you open your mouth and project sound and voice what you’re thinking. And voila, said person knows what you wanted them to know.

It’s not that hard.

…..

Me: Oh yeah. Right. So you mean I could just walk up to a person and say, hey, I was thinking of you and they were nice things I was thinking.

…..

mmhmm, sorta

…..

Me: Wow, who’d’a thunk? So I don’t have to agonize over gosh I just really wish this person was aware I think they’re the bee’s knees?

You mean I don’t have to avoid people because I’m afraid they might not like me as much as I like them?

I don’t have to worry about every possible thing that could go wrong, and which they might misunderstand?

…..

Yes. I mean, no, you don’t.

Also, you don’t need to fear awkwardness. Awkwardness, to remind you of what you already know but too often forget–well, awkwardness implies there’s something genuine going on. If everything were smooth and comfortable and easy all the time, you might suspect something shady was going down.

Like in the Music Man, where Harold Hill sells the instruments to those people. Harold Hill wasn’t gloriously awkward like you and your friends are.

Fight awkward with awkward, I say! Be brave and say “hey” til it’s not scary anymore.

….

Me: Yeah! Go Jo! Go be awkward and tell people they’re cool. And that you habitually sit by yourself in the cafeteria just liking them.

…..

Yeah.