a resource file for pastors/teachers/speakers
Volume 1, Number 2 Summer / 1987
CXJT (H A BROKEN LIMB Actress Shirley MacLaine has written a book on her experiences with the occult world, entitled Out On A Limb. F. LaGard Smith, Professor of Law at Pepperdine University has written a Christian answer to her book entitled Out On A Broken Limb. Smith's book is a most helpful Christian answer to the New Age movement in general and to Shirley MacLaine's book in particular. I have used this in teaching an adult education class on the occult and have found it to be thorough without being pedantic. Published by Harvest House it retails for S6.95. (See details on page 8)
THINKING BIG Charles E. "Tremendous" Jones says "I like to see things as big and successful no matter how others see them." In Life Is Tremendous, Jones tells the following story:
It's tremendous to be learning that no matter how big you see things or how simple you keep them you'll never reach the ultimate. No man has ever seen things as big as they could have been or kept them as simple as they might be. Sometimes we do well in one area at the expense of the other — like the little boy on the corner with his flop-eared pup.
A salesman passed the corner each day, and after a week he began to pity the boy who was striving to sell his puppy. The salesman knew the boy didn't See it Big. He stopped and said, "Son, do you really want to sell this dog?" The boy replied, "I certainly do."
"Well, you're never going to sell him until you learn to See It Big. What I mean is, take this dog home, clean him up, doll him up, raise your price, make people think they're getting something big, and you'll sell him."
That noon the salesman came by and there was the boy with a puppy that was groomed, perfumed, and beribboned alongside a big sign: TREEMENNDOUS Puppy For Sale-$5,000."
The salesman gulped and realized he had forgotten to tell the boy about Keeping It Simple. That evening he stopped by to tell the boy the other half of the formula, only to discover that the boy was gone, the puppy was gone and the sign lay there with "SOLD" written across it in big letters.
The salesman couldn't believe it. This kid couldn't have sold the dog for $5,000. His curiosity got the best of him and he rang the boy's doorbell. The boy came to the door and the salesman blurted, "Son, you didn't really sell that dog for $5,000 now, did you?" The boy replied, '7es, sir, I did and I want to thank you for all your help."
The salesman said, "How in the world did you do it?" The boy replied, "Oh, it was easy, I just took two $2,500 cats in exchange!"
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THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST There was a psychiatrist who had two sons. One was a real pessimist and never could find anything that indicated the good things in life. Everything was a bummer. The other was an optimist. He could always find something positive in his daily living.
The psychiatrist decided one day that he would play a little trick on the boys. In the pessimist's room, he filled it with all the toys his son had ever asked for. In the other son's room, he piled horse manure.
He then took the pessimist up to his room, opened the door and invited the son into the room full of toys. The father said, "There you go son, they are all yours." He left the room.
He then took the other son up to his room, opened the door and invited the son into the room full of fertilizer. The father said, "There you go son," and he left the room.
He returned to the pessimist's room. When he entered the room, the boy was sitting in the middle of the room, crying very hard. "What's the matter, son," he asked. The boy replied, "Daddy, someone has pulled a mean joke. These toys aren't mine because I'm not good enough."
After consoling the boy he went to the other son's room. As he opened the door, he was nearly hit by flying fertilizer zooming in every direction. The boy looked up, smiled and said, "What are you doing, Son?" And the boy replied, "Daddy, with all this fertilizer in here, there's got to be a pony here somewhere!"
Adapted from a version submitted by Geri Redekop, Thickwood Heights Baptist Church, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.
WHEN FIRST WE PRACTICE TO DECEIVE A school principal received a phone call. The voice said, "Thomas Bradley won't be in school today." The principal was a bit suspicious of the voice. He asked, "Who is speaking?" The voice came back, "My father."
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT I forget where I read these words by Donald Grey Bamhouse on Galatians 5:22, 23 on the fruit of the spirit. But Bamhouse put it this way: "Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love's touch. Goodness is love's character. Faithfulness is love's habit. Gentleness is love's self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins. Gal. 5:22,23.
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INVOLVED VERSUS CCMMrrnflj Football coach Lou Holtz pointed out the difference between being merely involved and being truly committed. "The Kamikaze pilot that was able to fly 50 missions was involved — but not committed."
PROVIDENTIAL CARE OR FLUKE? Two books that offer a number of excellent stories that can be used as illustrations are those by Paul Aurandt: Paul Harvey's the Rest of the Story (Bantam) and More of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story (Morrow). Compiled originally for Harvey's nationally syndicated radio series, the stories are built around the surprise ending format.
One of ray favorites is the one about West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice, Nebraska. Normally all of the good choir people came to church on Wednesday night to practice — and they tended to be early — well before the 7:30 starting time. But one night, March 1, 1950, one by one, two by two, they all had excuses for being late.
Marilyn, the church pianist overslept on her after-dinner nap, so she and her mother were late. One girl, a high school sophomore, was having trouble with her homework. That delayed her, so she was late. One couple couldn't get their car started. They, and those they were to pick up, were subsequently late. All eighteen choir members, including the pastor and his wife, were late. All had good excuses. At 7:30 p.m., the time the choir rehearsal was to begin, not one soul was in the choir loft. This had never happened before.
But that night, the only night in the history of the church that the choir wasn't starting to practice at 7:30 p.m., was the night that there was a gas leak in the basement of the West Side Baptist Church. At precisely the time at which the choir would have been singing, the gas leak was ignited by the church furnace and the whole church blew up. The furnace room was right below the choir loft!
RECYCLING THE TRAGEDIES An artist was visiting a dear friend. When he arrived, she was weeping. He asked v?hy. She showed him a handkerchief of exquisite beauty that had great sentimental value, which had been ruined by a drop of indelible ink.
The artist asked her to let him have the handkerchief, which he returned to her by mail several days later. When she opened the package she could hardly believe her eyes. The artist using the ink blot as a base, had drawn on the handkerchief a design of great beauty with India ink. Now it was more beautiful and more valuable than ever.
Sometimes the tragedies that break our hearts can become the basis for a more beautiful design in our lives. Be patient with the hurts over which you have no control. They may become a source of healing, help and beauty. Thomas Lane Butts.
FOLLOWING FADS He who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower. William R. Inge
FOLLOWING GOD Do not follow where the path may lead. Follow God, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.
A VISION OF HEAVEN In recent years there have been a number of stories in the "Life After Life" vein. One of the most moving that I have read is the story that is told by singer Johnny Cash about the death of his brother, Jack, in 1944. Jack was two years older than Johnny and had always been his hero and model. On Saturday, May 12th, 1944, Jack went to work at a workshop, cutting fence posts. Johnny had tried to talk Jack into going to the movie with him that day but funds were low and the family needed the money. '
While at the workshop Jack fell across the table saw and was badly injured. He was rushed to the hospital although they didn't expect him to live through the day. But he lingered for a week, in and out of consciousness, sometimes hallucinating, then back into a coma. After a week of his condition worsening it was obvious that he was going to die. The family gathered in the hospital room. Jack was swollen from the ravages of the traumatic injury. Johnny Cash tells the story:
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I remember standing in line to tell him good-bye. He was still unconscious. I bent over his bed and put my cheek against his and said, "Good-bye, Jack." That's all I could get out.
My mother and daddy were on their knees. At 6:30 A.M. he woke up. He opened his eyes and looked around and said, "Why is everybody crying over me? Mama, don't cry over me. Did you see the river?"
And she said, "No, I didn't, son."
"Well, I thought I was going toward the fire, but I'm headed in the other direction now, Mama. I was going down a river, and there was fire on one side and heaven on the other. I was crying, 'God, I'm supposed to go to heaven. Don't You remember? Don't take me to the fire.' All of a sudden I turned, and now, Mama, can you hear the angels singing?"
She said, "No, son, I can't hear it."
And he squeezed her hand and shook her arm, saying, "But Mama, you've got to hear it." Tears started rolling off his cheeks and he said, "Mama, listen to the angels. I'm going there, Mama."
We listened with astonishment.
"What a beautiful city," he said. "And the angels singing. Oh Mama, I wish you could hear the angels singing." Those were his last words. And he died.
Johnny Cash comments: "The memory of Jack's death, his vision of heaven, the effect his life had on the lives of others, and the image of Christ he projected have been more of an inspiration to me, I suppose, than anything else that has ever come to me through any man." Johnny Cash, Man in Black (Warner Books), p. 36-53.
A STORY THAT SAVED A LIFE I returned recently to speak at a church I formerly served as Associate Pastor. Seated next to me at lunch was a lady I had known quite well during my ministry there. She said to me, "Jim, I don't think I ever told you that you saved my life — literally." I said, "No, I wasn't aware I had." She said, "Yes, you saved my life one Sunday morning when you were preaching and you told a particular story. I was really down at that time and I had made up my mind I was going to commit suicide. But I felt particularly compelled to go to worship that Sunday. I didn't know why, but I knew I had to go to worship that morning before I killed myself. When I got there you told a story in the sermon that changed the suicidal direction of my life. From the moment that I heard that story my life turned around and things have been steadily improving ever since."
I asked her, "What was the story?"
And she reminded me of this simple story:
A man dreamed he died and went to heaven and there he was met by Jesus Christ. The man had lived a long Christian life and it had not been without times of great trial and tribulation as well as those times of joy and victory. And as he met with Christ the man was given a panoramic review of his life — all the highlights and low periods. And in the review of his life one of the things that continued throughout were his footsteps along the sands of time, and accompanying his, the footsteps of Jesus. The man noticed that at those times in his life when it had really been rough there was only one set of footprints — not two, as in the good times. The man turned to the Lord and said, "Lord, I don't understand. You promised to be with me always — and yet when I look back now I see that during those really tough times — there was only one set of footprints. Lord, why did you leave me then?"
The Lord looked at him, smiled and said, "Leave you, I didn't leave you at all. Dear friend, if you'll look carefully at those single sets of footprints you'll notice they're a little deeper than the others. Those were the times when I was carrying you."
EXPERIENCE . . . That wonderful knowledge that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
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PARENTAL INFLUENCE The biography, Nonna, is the story of the well-known singer for Lawrence Welk, Norma Zimmer. One of the more poignant aspects of her story is that of her teen years. Her parents were a source of great pain to her because of their drinking. Though these years were difficult for her, she began to find an escape into a better world through singing. As a senior in high school, Norma was invited to become a featured church soloist by Carl A. Pitzer of the University Christian Church in Seattle. When her parents heard she was to sing a solo in church they both insisted they wanted to hear her, though they did not normally attend. She tells the story of that morning:
I was excited and elated at the prospect of singing again. The choir processed down the middle aisle and as we walked I stole glances at the congregation, trying to find my parents ... I couldn't spot mom and dad.
Then in horror I saw them — weaving down the aisle in a state of disheveled intoxication. They were late. Few empty seats were left. My parents stumbled over the feet of other people to reach a place in the middle of the row. The whole congregation stared. I don't know how I ever got through that morning. The invocation, the congregational hymn, the prayer, the offering — and then I stood up to sing. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings —." The song seemed interminable. I tried to think only of the words and kept my eyes from turning to the row where my parents sat.
I took my seat, my heart pounding, my cheeks burning. Dr. Hastings started to preach. At first I hardly heard him. Then his words reached me, "God is our refuge and strength, a tested help in time of trouble."
My own trouble seemed to bear down on me with tremendous weight that morning. I felt I had more than my share of grief, and I knew I needed help. I realized how desperate life in our family was without God and that day I recommitted my life to him. As Dr. Hastings preached that morning, Jesus came into my life not only as Savior but for daily strength and direction. Norma, (World Wide Publications, 1976) pp. 45, 46.
HUMnJTY Whenever I think of man's propensity to pomposity — and his need for humility (Romans 12:3), I think of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ozymandias."
I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.
SHARING WITH OTHERS OF LIKE INTEREST It seems there was this fellow who was about to make his first parachute jump. The plane carried him up to the proper altitude and he was told, "This is it, friend, jump!" So he leaps from the plane, counts to ten and pulls the rip cord — but nothing happens. He is falling rapidly towards the earth and his life is flashing before his eyes. He pulls his second emergency cord. Nothing happens. Just then he looks down towards the earth and is surprised to see another man hurtling up towards him from the earth. He can't believe his eyes. As the two men pass each other, the falling parachutist yells out, "Do you know anything about parachutes?" The ascending man cries out, "No. Do you know anything about gas stoves?"
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THE HARSH TRUTH One of my other favorite cartoons is "Momma" by Mel Lazarus. One of his strips shows Momma entertaining her perpetual suitor, Mr. K. Frankly, he's not much of a catch, but he is persistent. As the two sit on the couch, Mr. K. says, "Mrs. Hobbs, I am at a low ebb, psychologically. My ego is flattened." Mrs. Hobbs responds in an affirming way, "Mr. K., let me hasten to state that you're a fine, interesting and attractive man."
Mr. K. perks up at this and asks, "Oh, Mrs. Hobbs, is that the truth?"
Mrs. Hobbs says, "No. There'll be plenty of time for the truth when you're emotionally stronger."
PERSISTENCE AGAB1ST SUFFERING There are powerful parables to be found in the pages of some modern drama — scenes that depict the human condition and grip the heart with the tragic moral choices we face in a fallen world. Whether it is the tender scene in Death of A Salesman, where Linda pleads with her sons that a man like Willy Loman must not be simply dumped meaninglessly on the ash heap, or whether it is the tragic revelations of A Thousand Clowns or A Streetcar Named Desire. Such scenes take some work to set up as a sermon illustration. One I found to be helpful was the scene in Act II of The Miracle Worker, the play about Helen Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan. (I used the television adaptation.) There is an encounter in which James, Helen's brother, is trying to get Annie to give up on trying to get through to Helen, even as he and others have given up. But Annie simply won't hear of it. She remembers too vividly the way here brother Jimmie had given up when they were together in the women's ward of a mental hospital. She recounts the horrible dreams she has of those days when she was blind and Jirmie was dying. She tells how she went to the dead house and found his body.
JAMES You don't let go of things easily, do you?
ANNIE No. That's the original sin.
ANNIE Giving up. Jimmie gave up.
• • •
JAMES Perhaps Helen will teach you.
JAMES That there is such a thing as defeat. And no hope.
(Annie's face sets.)
JAMES And giving up sooner or later, we do. Then maybe you'll have some pity on — all the Jimmies. And Helen for being what she is. And even yourself.
(Annie sits for a moment, then without another word, gets up and closes the window on him. She turns her back, and James leaves. Annie walks away in the semi-dark room, paces, turns again, and coning to the bed, stands looking down at Helen. Then she goes to her knees, and we move close to their two faces. Helen's asleep and Annie's grim.)
ANNIE No. I won't let you be. No pity, I won't have it. On either of us. If God didn't mean you to have eyes, I do. We're dead a long time. The world is not something to be missed: I know. And I won't let you be till I show you it. Till I put it in your head.
You can use this scene as an illustration of determination, purpose, wrestling with God. This could be related to Jacob's wrestling with the angel, or Job's wrestling with God over his affliction. Or God's determination to change Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.
THERE'S NOTHING LIKE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE I was reminded recently of another old story I'd long forgotten (in the pages of Pulpit Helps (Mar. '82). It's the one about the bold unbeliever who was lecturing a group on the folly of religious faith in general and the Christian faith in particular. At the close of the presentation the speaker invited people to propound any questions they might have. In the audience was the former town drunkard who had been converted to Christ. In response to the invitation the converted alcoholic came up front, took out an orange,
peeled it and ate it without comment. The speaker asked if he had a question for him. After downing the last segment of orange the convert turned to the infidel and asked "Was the orange I just ate sweet or sour?" Angrily, the speaker replied, "You idiot, how can I know whether it was sweet or sour when I never tasted it?" To this the converted drunkard retorted, "And how can you know anything about Christ if you've not tried Him?"