magine you are on holiday and you have an apartment overlooking the sand and surf. Sitting on the table in your room is a fishbowl, and inside the bowl is a small goldfish. Each day you swim and sun-bake and enjoy soaking up the delights of vacationing. Before long, however, you begin to feel sorry for little Goldie who is all alone in his bowl while you go out having fun in the sun. To make up for this injustice, you promise Goldie a little of the action. "Tomorrow," you tell the goldfish, "you will begin to enjoy life, too."
The next day you take a washcloth, lift the fish from the bowl, place it in the cloth, wrap it up, and put the living bundle into your pocket before leaving for the beach.
As you reach the spot where you are accustomed to spending your day, you can feel the sun's heat beating down upon your back. Excitedly you take your gilled companion from your pocket, lay out the washcloth on the sand, place the fish on the cloth, stand back, and say, "Now this is the life, Goldie; live it up!"
Can anything be more ridiculous or more foolish? Being in the sun on the hot beach is no environment for a goldfish — or any fish! It will die there, not live. It was never intended to be in that environment. For people, a relationship with God as Father is the only correct environment for life.
— Peter W. Law in A Portrait of My Father
uring World War II, economist E. F. Schumacher, then a young statistician, worked on a farm. Each day he would count the 32 head of cattle, then turn his attention elsewhere. One day an old farmer told him that if he counted the cattle, they wouldn't flourish. Sure enough, one day he counted only 31; one was dead in the bushes. Now Schumacher understood the farmer: you must watch the quality of each beast. "Look him in the eye. Study the sheen on his coat." You may not know how many cattle you have, but you might save the life of one that is sick.
This is wise counsel for composition students as well. The one who asks, "How many words do you want?" invariably strings together a poor piece of writing. But the one who focuses on the assignment — a childhood fear, a person I admire — writes something worth reading.
Evaluating my everyday use of time and resources, I noticed how often I tended to count and measure — abstracting from a situation rather than living it. Take the routine of soft-boiling an egg. After the water came to a boil — a goal for which I would wait impatiently — I would slowly count to 100 while the egg cooked to the desired firmness. In this numerical mode, I would keep an eye on the clock and sometimes snap at my husband, absorbed in the newspaper.
After reflecting, I tried a new way of measuring the cooking time for eggs — one I would have scorned as a young wife and mother interested in "saving" time. Experimentation showed that the eggs are cooked to perfection after three Hail Marys [or three verses of a hymn]. I watch the water with interest until it boils, then I use the boiling time to place myself in touch with earlier generations of cooks who measured their recipes with litanies, using time to get beyond it.
— Sally Cunneen in The Christian Century
uring his days as guest lecturer at Calvin Seminary, R. B. Kuiper once used the following illustration of God's sovereignty and human responsibility:
"I liken them to two ropes going through two holes in the ceiling and over a pulley above. If I wish to support myself by them, I must cling to them both. If I cling only to one and not the other, I go down.
"I read the many teachings of the Bible regarding
God's election, predestination, his chosen, and so on.
I read also the many teachings regarding 'whosoever
will may come' and urging people to exercise their
responsibility as human beings. These seeming con
tradictions cannot be reconciled by the puny human
mind. With childlike faith, I cling to both ropes, fully
confident that in eternity I will see that both strands of
truth are, after all, of one piece." —John Morren
Lake City, Michigan
was talking with a farmer about his soybean and corn crops. Rain had been abundant, and the results were evident. So his comment surprised me: "My crops are especially vulnerable. Even a short drought could have a devastating effect."
"Why?" I asked.
He explained that while we see the frequent rains as a benefit, during that time the plants are not required to push roots deeper in search of water. The roots remain near the surface. A drought would find the plants unprepared and quickly kill them.
Some Christians receive abundant "rains" of worship, fellowship, and teaching. Yet when stress enters their lives, many suddenly abandon God or think him unfaithful. Their roots have never pushed much below the surface. Only roots grown deep into God (Col. 2:6-7) help us endure times of drought in our lives.
— Neil G. Orchard North Olmsted, Ohio
hile serving as a missionary in Laos, I discovered an illustration of the kingdom of God.
Before the colonialists imposed national boundaries, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas. Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians. On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the
ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese.
The exact location of a person's home was not what determined his or her nationality. Instead, each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values he or she exhibited.
So it is with us: we live in the world, but as part of God's kingdom, we are to live according to his kingdom's standards and values.
— John Hess-Yoder Portland, Oregon
recent television documentary pointed out that the cheetah survives on the African plains by running down its prey. The big cat can sprint seventy miles per hour. But the cheetah cannot sustain that pace for long. Within its long, sleek body is a disproportionately small heart, which causes the cheetah to tire quickly. Unless the cheetah catches its prey in the first flurry, it must abandon the chase.
Sometimes Christians seem to have the cheetah's approach to ministry. We speed into projects with great energy. But lacking the heart for sustained effort, we fizzle before we finish. We vow to start faster and run harder, when what we need may be not more speed but more staying power — stamina that comes only from a bigger heart. Motion and busyness, no matter how great, yield nothing unless we allow God to give us the heart.
— Grant Lovejoy Lake Dallas, Texas
everal years ago an eastern paper reported this story: One evening a woman was driving home when she noticed a huge truck behind her that was driving uncomfortably close. She stepped on the gas to gain some distance from the truck, but when she sped up, the truck did too. The faster she drove, the faster the truck did.
Now scared, she exited the freeway. But the truck stayed with her. The woman then turned up a main street, hoping to lose her pursuer in traffic. But the truck ran a red light and continued the chase.
Reaching the point of panic, the woman whipped her car into a service station and bolted out of her auto screaming for help. The truck driver sprang from his truck and ran toward her car. Yanking the back door open, the driver pulled out a man hidden in the back seat.
The woman was running from the wrong person. From his high vantage point, the truck driver had spotted a would-be rapist in the woman's car. The chase was not his effort to harm her but to save her even at the cost of his own safety.
Likewise, many people run from God, fearing what he might do to them. But his plans are for good not evil — to rescue us from the hidden sins that endanger our lives.
— Michael J. Petri Mclntosh, Minnesota
lifton Fadiman, in The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, tells a story about Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian-born novelist who achieved popular success with his novels Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962) and Ada (1969).
One summer in the 1940s, Nabokov and his family stayed with James Laughlin at Alta, Utah, where Nabokov took the opportunity to enlarge his collection of butterflies and moths. Fadiman relates:
"Nabokov's fiction has never been praised for its compassion; he was single-minded if nothing else. One evening at dusk he returned from his day's excursion saying that during hot pursuit near Bear Gulch he had heard someone groaning most piteously down by the stream. " 'Did you stop?' Laughlin asked him. " 'No, I had to get the butterfly.' "The next day the corpse of an aged prospector was discovered in what has been renamed, in Nabokov's honor, Dead Man's Gulch."
While people around us are dying, how often we chase butterflies!
— Vernon Grounds Denver, Colorado
ordon Brown-ville's Symbols of the Holy Spirit tells about the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first to discover the magnetic meridian of the North Pole and to discover the South Pole. On one of his trips, Amundsen took a homing pigeon with him. When he had finally reached the top of the world, he opened the bird's cage and set it free. Imagine the delight of Amundsen's wife, back in Norway, when she looked up from the doorway of her home and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. No doubt she exclaimed, "He's alive! My husband is still alive!"
So it was when Jesus ascended. He was gone, but the disciples clung to his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. What joy, then, when the dovelike Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. The disciples had with them the continual reminder that Jesus was alive and victorious at the right hand of the Father. This continues to be the Spirit's message.
— Thomas Lindberg Stevens Point, Wisconsin
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 $15. If the material has been previously published, please include the source.
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To Illustrate . . .
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