Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Sermon Illustrations?

"Joe, where do you find those great sermon illustrations? I love to preach and teach, but the hardest part for me is the sermon illustration, finding just the right story or quote to reinforce what I'm teaching."

Okey dokey. You've come to the right place, friend. I've got a deal for you, and it's not the Joe McKeever Sermon Illustration Service (which doesn't exist, thankfully) for only a couple of hundred bucks a year. Nope. It's far better than that.

But you have to stay with me to the end. Okay?

1) Martin Van Buren, our eighth president, wrote an autobiography in which he laboriously laid out the details of his life. Unfortunately, the commander-in-chief wrote all those pages without once mentioning his wife.

Now, that's a great sermon starter for Mother's Day or a message on the home. After all, no one is more important in the home than the wife and mother, and yet, let's face it--we take her for granted.

2) Paul McCartney's latest album is titled "Memory Almost Full." The former Beatle says the inspiration came from a phrase he saw on his cell phone. In a recent interview from Paris, the 65-year-old musician said, "It seemed symbolic of our lives today. Your messages are always full. And your mind is full. And it doesn't matter if you're my age or 20. I think that we all need to delete stuff every so often."

You can tell that story in the sermon introduction and then light out in a hundred directions. Think of Paul in Philippians 3 as he forgets those things that are behind. Gordon MacDonald once wrote that he could look at the clutter on your desk and tell the shape you were in spiritually. Uh oh.

I'm two years older than Sir Paul, but in recent years have noticed I have a harder time remembering people's names. I used to have a reputation for being great with names, but it seems that my memory bank is filled. Now, the only way I can retain a new name is to drop an old one!

A pastor friend sent me a note the other day about cleaning out the clutter in his office. He made that into a sermon illustration, making the same point as McCartney's. This very day, my Mom said she and sister Carolyn are plowing through the clutter on the dining room table that accumulated over the last week following Dad's death with the coming and going of so many friends and loved ones. We all have to clean out and throw away sometimes.

3) Tim Hawkins is a Christian comedian who often uses church sports stories for his routines. He says, "I'm coming off a few years of backsliding. Every night it was drunkenness and fighting and foul-language. Finally I said, 'Ya know what? I'm quitting church softball!'"

That will get a laugh--whereas the first two illustrations above will not. So you have to be prepared here to a) laugh with the congregation and b) know where you're going as soon as the laughter subsides.

The sermon might be on the behavior of Christians, it might deal with church fellowship, and of course, it could deal with bad language. If I were using it in a sermon, though, I'd probably make it pertain to the importance of Christians loving one another and building up one another, that we are on the same team but must work together. And yes, we've all seen those church leagues that do everything in the world except bear a good witness for Christ.

One more?

4) Pastor Dave made the ultimate sacrifice and volunteered to donate a kidney to one of his church members who was critically ill. While he was recovering in the hospital, two women from his congregation dropped by for a visit. (To cheer him up, no doubt.) They had barely gotten past the pleasantries when one piously remarked, "Our previous pastor donated both of his kidneys."

Use that to illustrate how some people are never pleased with anything you do. I heard someone say, "I cannot tell you how to succeed, but I can tell you a surefire method for failing: try to please everyone."

Now, let me tell you about my friend Raymond McHenry of Beaumont, Texas.

Raymond is a pastor (Westgate Memorial Baptist Church) who started a sermon illustration service for preachers in 1991. For many years, he would send out weekly mailings--we're talking about the U. S. Postal Service, friends--which would contain interesting facts, quotes, stories, and humor. For this, he charged a paltry $79.95 a year. Then, the internet came along.

Now, he gives it away. Yep. With one little tiny hitch. There's a $15 activation fee, which covers the cost of someone who works for him taking your information and feeding it into the computer, then making sure you are on the internet mailing list and remain there.

Raymond emails 35 mailings a year now, and it's the bargain of the century.

His ministry is called "In Other Words," and his website is www.iows.net. Check it out. And no, you don't have to tell him "Joe sent you."

Then--special message here to Charlie, Anthony, Craig, Christoph, Carl, Jim and Mark--create two files: an internet file where you can store these mailings as they arrive, and the old-fashioned manila file folder in a file cabinet (meaning you print out the mailings and drop into the file, then review them occasionally to find just what you are looking for).

I thought you'd like this. You're welcome.

Now, if you happen to have snuck in here and you're not a preacher type person, you have my permission to forward this to your pastor or print it out and hand to him. If you actually like him and want to be an encourager to him, then offer to pay the $15 activation fee yourself. Otherwise, clip this off the end before handing it to him. (That's a joke, son).

Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission