man once bought a home with a tree in the backyard. It was winter, and nothing marked this tree as different from any other tree. When spring came, the tree grew leaves and tiny pink buds.
How wonderful, thought the man. A flower tree! I will enjoy its beauty all summer.
But before he had time to enjoy the flowers, the wind began to blow and soon all the petals were strewn in the yard.
What a mess, he thought. This tree isn't any use after all.
The summer passed, and one day the man noticed the tree was full of green fruit the size of large nuts. He picked a large one and took a bite.
"Bleagh!" he cried and threw it to the ground. "What a horrible taste! This tree is worthless. Its flowers are so fragile the wind blows them away, and its fruit is terrible and bitter. When winter comes, I'm cutting it down."
But the tree took no notice of the man and continued to draw water from the ground and warmth from the sun and in late fall produced crisp red apples.
Some of us see Christians with their early blossoms of happiness and think they should be that way forever. Or we see bitterness in their lives, and we're sure they will never bear the better fruit of joy. Could it be that we forget some of the best fruit ripens late?
— Misty Mowrey Roseville, Minnesota
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n a recent issue of glass Window, a contributor recalls that several years ago, The British Weekly published this provocative letter: Dear Sir:
It seems ministers feel their sermons are very important and spend a great deal of time preparing them. I have been attending church quite regularly for 30 years and I have probably heard 3,000 of them. To my consternation, I discovered 1 cannot remember a single sermon. I wonder if a minister's time might be more profitably spent on something else?
For weeks a storm of editorial responses ensued . . . finally ended by this letter: Dear Sir:
I have been married for 30 years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals—mostly my wife's cooking. Suddenly I have discovered I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet . . . 1 have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago.
— John Schletewitz Poway, California
once heard of a child who was raising a frightful cry because he had shoved his hand into the opening of a very expensive Chinese vase and then couldn't pull it out again. Parents and neighbors tugged with might and main on the child's arm, with the poor creature howling out loud all the while.
Finally there was nothing left to do but to break the beautiful, expensive vase. And then as the mournful heap of shards lay there, it became clear why the child had been so hopelessly stuck. His little fist grasped a paltry penny which he had spied in the bottom of the vase and which he, in his childish ignorance, would not let go.
— Helmut Thielicke in How to Believe Again
RESTING IN CHRIST
n the Philippines I heard a local pastor use the following parable to illustrate Christ's offer of rest (Matt. 11:28) and the response of people who won't trust him completely:
The driver of a carabao wagon was on his way to market when he overtook an old man carrying a heavy load. Taking compassion on him, the driver invited the old man to ride in the wagon. Gratefully the old man accepted.
After a few minutes, the driver turned to see how the man was doing. To his surprise, he found him still straining under the heavy weight, for he had not taken the burden off his shoulders.
— Larry Chell Denver, Colorado
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heard Professor Bruce Waltke describe a Christian's response to pain this way:
We once rescued a wren from the claws of our cat. Though its wing was broken, the frightened bird struggled to escape my loving hands.
Contrast this with my daughter's recent trip to the doctor. Her strep throat meant a shot was necessary. Frightened, she cried, "No, Daddy. No, Daddy. No, Daddy." But all the while she gripped me tightly around the neck.
Pain ought to make us more like a sick child than a hurt bird.
— Dan Foster Denver, Colorado
hile living in Florida, I had several friends who worked cleaning rooms at a nationally-known inn located directly on the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico. They spent their work breaks running barefoot in the sand. The problem was the inn required all employees to wear shoes at all times while working.
I noticed the employees responded in one of two ways.
The majority thought the rule restricted their freedom. The rooms had shag carpeting, delightful to bare toes, and just a few steps away lay the beach. To them, the rule to wear shoes was nothing more than employer harassment.
But a minority of the employees looked at the rule differently. Sometimes late-
night parties would produce small pieces of broken glass. Occasionally a stickpin would be found hidden in the deep shag piles. Some knew the pain of skinning bare toes on the steel bed frame while making a bed. This minority saw the rule as protection, not restriction.
Were God's laws written to make life miserable? Or were they written by a loving heavenly Father who cares about his children?
— Timothy Munyon Big Springs, Nebraska
rowing up on the Atlantic Coast, I spent long hours working on intricate sand castles; whole cities would appear beneath my hands. One year, for several days in a row, I was accosted by bullies who smashed my creations. Finally I tried an experiment: I placed cinder blocks, rocks, and chunks of concrete in the base of my castles. Then I built the sand kingdoms on top of the rocks.
When the local toughs appeared (and I disappeared), their bare feet suddenly met their match.
Many people see the church in grave peril from a variety of dangers: secularism, politics, heresies, or plain old sin. They forget that the church is built upon a Rock (Mt. 16:16), over which the gates of hell itself shall not prevail. —Gregory P. Elder Del Mar, California
spent much of my ninth summer on a bicycle. About a mile from our house the road went down a steep hill and turned sharply at the bottom. Coasting down the hill one morning, I felt my gathering speed to be ecstatic. To give up this ecstasy by applying brakes seemed an absurd self-punishment. So I resolved to simultaneously retain my speed and negotiate the corner.
My ecstasy ended seconds later when I was propelled a dozen feet off the road into the woods. I was badly scratched and bleeding, and the front wheel of my new bike was twisted beyond use from its impact against a tree.
I had been unwilling to suffer the pain of giving up my ecstatic speed in the interest of maintaining my balance around the corner. I learned, however, that the loss of balance is ultimately more painful than the giving up required to maintain balance. It is a lesson I have continually had to relearn. As must everyone, for as we negotiate the curves and corners of our lives, we must continually give up parts of ourselves.
— Condensed from The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
ut of parental concern and a desire to teach our young son responsibility, we require him to phone home when he arrives at his friend's house a few blocks away. He began to forget, however, as he grew more confident in his ability to get there without disaster befalling him.
The first time he forgot, I called to be sure he had arrived. We told him the next time it happened, he would have to come home. A few days later, however, the telephone again lay silent, and I knew if he was going to learn, he would have to be punished. But I did not want to punish him! I went to the telephone, regretting that his great time would be spoiled by his lack of contact with his father.
As I dialed, I prayed for wisdom. "Treat him like I treat you," the Lord seemed to say. With that, as the telephone rang one time, I hung up. A few seconds later the phone rang, and it was my son. "I'm here, Dad!"
"What took you so long to call?" I asked.
"We started playing and I forgot. But Dad, I heard the phone ring once and I remembered."
"I'm glad you remembered," I said. "Have fun."
How often do we think of God as One who waits to punish us when we step out of line? I wonder how often he rings just once, hoping we will phone home.
— Dennis Miller Antioch, Illinois
odium is an extremely active element found naturally only in combined form; it always links itself to another element. Chlorine, on the other hand, is the poisonous gas that gives bleach its offensive odor. When sodium and chlorine are combined, the result is sodium chloride—common table salt—the substance we use to preserve meat and bring out its flavor.
Love and truth can be like sodium and chlorine. Love without truth is flighty, sometimes blind, willing to combine with various doctrines. On the other hand, truth by itself can be offensive, sometimes even poisonous. Spoken without love, it can turn people away from the gospel.
When truth and love are combined in an individual or a church, however, then we have what Jesus called "the salt of the earth," and we're able to preserve and bring out the beauty of our faith.
— David H. Johnson Faribault, Minnesota
What are the most effective illustrations you've come across? We want to share them with other pastors and teachers who need material that communicates with clarity and impact. For items used, leadership will pay $15. If the material has been previously published, please include the source.
Stories, analogies, and word pictures should be sent to:
To Illustrate . . .
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