Bryant Kirkland, in his sermon "Look Fear in the Eye," told of an experiment done at a major New York university. In this study, the scientists gave electric shocks to sheep to see how much pain they could endure. They discovered that the sheep began to anticipate the next shock, and they became extremely anxious as they awaited their impending pain. Many of the sheep died and the remainder were disrupted and disoriented through their anxiety.
Anxiety and fear have a disruptive, destructive effect on our lives. We can become consumed with anticipating the next pain, the next problem.
BELIEF -- Power of
Norman Vincent Peale recounts an ancient Persian legend about a hunchbacked prince who was determined to alter his deformity. He had a statue made of himself standing perfectly straight, and each day he would stand before the statue willing himself to be like it. Eventually his belief and determination were fulfilled.
The legend reflects an important truth: sincere belief has within it the power to change lives.
CHRISTMAS -- Belongs to All
The message of Christmas reaches out to everyone, no matter what their place in life. As the verse by Phillips Brooks concludes:
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!
For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all;
No Palace too great, no cottage too small.
CHRISTMAS -- Time for Giving
In her book Especially at Christmas, Celestine Sibley recalled the atmosphere of giving her parents created at the Christmas season. Her mother would continually remind the children that "Things aren't important, people are." As packages arrived, she would unwrap them, admire them, then ask the family, "Now who can we give this to?"
Thinking back on the spirit of giving that filled her home at Christmas, Sibley said, "No matter what you had or didn't have in a material way, Christmas stood by itself -- glorious and unmatched by anything else that had happened in the history of the world. Jesus himself had come to dwell among men, and with a richness like that to celebrate, who could be so self-centered as to speak of a 'poor' Christmas?"
CHRISTMAS -- Good for Health
Psychologists indicate that the Christmas season can be an emotional pressure valve for us. We need it to release feelings that most of us contain the rest of the year.
According to Dr. Harry Sands, "These feelings -- compassion, concern, joy, a desire to reach out and touch someone -- are in all of us all the time. However, the day-to-day pressures in our society are so great that we don't stop doing other things to express our feelings. But once a year, when Christmas comes around, we're able to give vent to those feelings -- and it's good for us. Christmas allows us to connect with each other on an emotional level." Sands is director of the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health in New York.
CHRISTMAS -- Gift for Everyone
Several years ago the bulletin of the First Baptist Church of Syracuse, New York, contained this message:
"There was a gift for each of us left under the tree of life 2,000 years ago by Him whose birthday we celebrate today. The gift was withheld from no man. Some have left the packages unclaimed. Some have accepted the gift and carry it around, but have failed to remove the wrappings and look inside to discover the hidden splendor. The packages are all alike: in each is a scroll on which is written, 'All that the Father hath is thine. Take and live!'"
CHRISTMAS - Significance of
"The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable."
Ralph W. Sockman
DEATH - Has Meaning
According to Ignace Lepp, the late French priest and psychotherapist, "The awareness of death for something great and noble strips death of its absurd character, not only for those who die, but for those who survive."
EVANGELISM - Our Role
The young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, "I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."
The manager replied, "Son, take my advice: your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty."
So it is with evangelism. Our lives should be so filled with Christ that they create a thirst for the Gospel.
FAILURE - Inevitable, But Not Final
The fact that we fail from time to time does not mean we're failures. One ballplayer set the major league record for strikeouts with 1,316. The same player set a record for five consecutive strikeouts in a World Series game. You wouldn't want that player on your team, would you? You might when you knew that the holder of both records was the great slugger Babe Ruth. The fact that we don't always succeed doesn't mean our lives can't be successful!
HOPE - Search for
In his book Fundamentals of Preaching, John Killinger tells of the days when news of the old country was carried to America only by ships. When a mast was sighted, people would assemble at the dock.
"The moment a gangplank was thrown up and sailors began to disembark, hands would stretch out and cries would go up from the crowd beseeching, "Is there any word?" And I can testify, as one who has often gone to church with the masses of modern men and women who feel isolated, cut off from community, lost in the wasteland of electronics and gadgetry that we enter the sanctuary with the same plea: Ts there any word?"
IDENTITY - Need For
In his sermon "We All Need Roots," William P. Tuck tells of a man who stepped onto the platform at an American Legion Convention. As he looked over the large crowd, he asked, "Can anybody tell me who I am?" He had lost his memory, with no record of his past or his identity. His desperate appeal was: "Does anybody know who I am?"
That is a cry common to many in our day: who am I? where do I come from? Where do I belong?
LOVE - Need for
An ingenious teenager, tired of reading bedtime stories to his little sister, decided to record several of her favorite stories on tape. He told her, "now you can hear your stories anytime you want. Isn't that great?" She looked at the machine for a moment and then replied, "No. It hasn't got a lap."
We all need a lap. We all need the closeness of relationship. We all need to know we are loved.
MISSIONS - Time is Crucial
There has never been a time when missions was more vital than today. As Arden Almquist has indicated in Missionary Come Back, Africa is at a time of decision. "A hundred million animists in Africa alone will decide in our lifetime whether to become Christian, muslim or agnostic."
Haddon Robinson points out that one old recipe for rabbit started out with this injunction: "First catch the rabbit." Says Robinson: "The writer knew how to put first things first. That's what we do when we establish priorities -- we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order."
SCIENCE - No Conflict With Faith
Prior to his death in 1984, Paul Dirac was called "the world's greatest living physicist." His pioneering discoveries led to the Nobel Prize in physics in 1933 and led to the study of quantum mechanics. Called by some the equal of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, at age 30 he became the youngest person ever to hold a professorship at Cambridge University.
When Dirac was asked once why gravitational forces were getting weaker, he responded, "Why? Because God made it so." Dirac insisted that science and religion were not at odds; rather, "they are both seekers after truth."
The scientist believed that God used "beautiful mathematics" to create the world. "Beautiful, but not simple. My theories are based on faith that there is a reason for all the numbers nature provides us with."
"If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet, and sweep through it, and it would draw to itself the most invisible particles, The unthankful heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find some heavenly blessings."
Henry Ward Beecher
THANKFULNESS - Importance of
"Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road."
John Henry Jowett
"The greatest plan in the world will ultimately degenerate into pure work."
One commentator has observed that the peak years of mental activity must be between the years of 4 and 18. At 4 children know all the questions, and at 18 they know all the answers.
Do You Have An Illustration To share?
Perhaps you have a story or illustration which other preachers may be able to use as well? If so, send it to us for possible publication in a future issue. Include the source if known. Send your illustration to: Preaching, P.O. Box 4845, Louisville, KY 40204.
And thanks for being part of the ministry of Preaching!