Thomas Aquinas, a medieval theologian, created one of the greatest intellectual achievements of Western civilization in his Summa Theologica. It's a massive work: thirty-eight treatises, three thousand articles, ten thousand objections. Thomas tried to gather into one coherent whole all of truth. What an undertaking: anthropology, science, ethics, psychology, political theory, and theology, all under God.
On December 6, 1273, Thomas abruptly stopped his work. While celebrating Mass in
the chapel of St. Thomas, he caught a glimpse of eternity, and suddenly he knew that all his efforts to describe God fell so far short that he decided never to write again.
When his secretary, Reginald, tried to encourage him to do more writing, he said, "Reginald, I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw."
Even the greatest human minds cannot fathom the greatness of God.
— Don McCullough
Jean Giono tells the story of Elzeard Bouffier, a shepherd he met in 1913 in the French Alps.
At that time, because of careless deforestation, the mountains around Provence, France, were barren. Former villages were deserted because their springs and brooks had run dry. The wind blew furiously, unimpeded by foliage.
While mountain climbing, Giono came to a shepherd's hut, where he was invited to spend the night.
After dinner Giono watched the shepherd meticulously sort through a pile of acorns, discarding those that were cracked or undersized. When the shepherd had counted out 100 perfect acorns, he stopped for the night and went to bed.
Giono learned that the 55-year-old shepherd had been planting trees on the wild hillsides for over three years. He had planted 100,000 trees, 20,000 of which had sprouted. Of those, he expected half to be eaten by rodents or die due to the elements, and the other half to live.
After World War I, Giono returned to the mountainside and discovered incredible rehabilitation: there was a veritable forest, accompanied by a chain reaction in nature. Water flowed in the once-empty brooks. The ecology, sheltered by a leafy roof and bonded to the earth by a mat of spreading roots, became hospitable. Willows, rushes, meadows, gardens, and flowers were birthed.
Giono returned again after World War II. Twenty miles from the lines, the shepherd had continued his work, ignoring the war of 1939 just as he had ignored that of 1914. The reformation of the land continued. Whole regions glowed with health and prosperity.
Giono writes, "On the site of the ruins I had seen in 1913 now stand neat farms. . . . The old streams, fed by the rains and snows that the forest conserves, are flowing again. . . . Littlr by little, the villages have been rebuilt. People from the plains, where land is costly, have settled here, bringing youth, motion, the spirit of adventure."
Those who pray are like spiritual reforesters, digging holes in barren land and planting the seeds of life. Through these seeds, dry spiritual wastelands are transformed into harvestable fields, and life-giving water is brought to parched and barren souls.
— Hal Seed Oceanside, California
Soon after the completion of Disney World, someone said, "Isn't it too bad that Walt Disney didn't live to see this?" Mike Vance, creative director of Disney Studios, replied, "He did see it — that's why it's here."
— Haddon W.
In the classroom setting of one Peanuts comic strip, on the first day of the new school year, the students were told to write an essay about returning to class. In her essay Lucy wrote, "Vacations are nice, but it's good to get back to school. There is nothing more satisfying or challenging than education, and I look forward to a year of expanding knowledge."
Needless to say, the teacher was pleased with Lucy and complimented her fine essay. In the final frame, Lucy leans over and whispers to Charlie Brown, "After a while, you learn what sells."
The temptation to say "what sells," that is, what others want to hear whether it is true or not, is always with us. When we give in to that temptation, what we really sell is the integrity of our soul. When we resist, Christ can say of us as he did of Nathaniel, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47 kjv).
— William M. Nieporte Kilmarnock, Virginia
In Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Chuck Swindoll writes:
A house church in a city in the Soviet Union received one copy of the Gospel of Luke, the only Scripture most of these Christians had ever seen. They tore it into small sections and distributed these pieces among the body of believers. Their plan was to memorize the portion they had been given; then on the next Lord's Day, they would meet and redistribute the scriptural sections.
On Sunday these believers arrived inconspicuously in small groups throughout the day so not to arouse the suspicion of kgb informers. By dusk they were all safely inside, windows closed and doors locked. They began by singing a hymn quietly but with deep emotion. Suddenly, the door was pushed open and in walked two soldiers with loaded automatic weapons at the ready. One shouted, "All right — everybody line up against the wall. If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!"
Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more.
"This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ," he ordered, "or stay and suffer the
Another left. Finally, two more in embarrassed silence with their faces covered slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with small children trembling beside them looked down reassuringly. They fully expected to be gunned down or, at best, to be imprisoned.
After a few moments of complete silence, the other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, "Keep your hands up — but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters. We, too, are Christians. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers . . ."
The other soldier interrupted, "But, instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted."
Our commitment to Christ affects every other relationship we have. The greater our devotion to Christ, the more faithful we are to our church, spouse, family, friends, and people we do business with.
— David Waggoner
_ . Cisne, Illinois
In the prologue to Leadership Jazz, Max DePree writes:
Esther, my wife, and I have a granddaughter named Zoe, the Greek word for life. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding ring could slide up her arm to her shoulder. The neonatologist who first examined her told us that she had a 5 to 10 percent chance of living three days. When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she had two IVs in her navel, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.
To complicate matters, Zoe's biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born. Realizing this, a wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave me my instructions. "For the next several months, at least, you're the surrogate father. I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I want you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger. While you're caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch."
God knew that we also needed both his voice and his touch. So he gave us not only the Word but also his Son. And he gave us not only Jesus Christ but also his body, the church. God's voice and touch say, "I love you."
— Ed Rotz Topeka, Kansas
The classic movie, A Christmas Story, is a nostalgic look at growing up in Gary, Indiana, through the eyes of a boy named Ralphy. One scene depicts a school recess in the middle of winter. Two boys surrounded by their classmates argue whether a person's tongue will stick to a metal pole in below-freezing weather.
Eventually one of the boys succumbs to the infamous "triple-dog dare." Hesitantly he sticks his tongue out and touches it to the school flagpole.
Sure enough, it gets stuck. The recess bell rings. Everyone runs into the school building, everyone except the hapless victim. When the teacher finally looks out the window, she sees the boy writhing in pain, his tongue frozen to the flagpole.
While few of us have been in that predicament, we all know what it's
like to have our tongues get us in trouble. When we suffer the pain that eventually recoils upon everyone who speaks boastful words, lying words, bitter and cruel words, hypocritical or doubting words, we learn the truth of the proverb, "He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity" (Prov. 21:23).
■— George M. Castillo Whitewater, Kansas
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 imagination and impact. For items used, Leadership will pay $25. If the material has been published previously, please indicate the source.
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To Illustrate. . .
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