Scars of Service

Ministry for the Lord has great rewards, but also leaves scars. Some years ago, Max Smith shared this story in the Christian Standard.

When he was a young boy, Estal Taylor wanted a pair of roller skates. When he got a pair on his birthday, he had no place to skate on his family’s farm in rural Indiana. So he begged his parents to allow him to skate around the old farmhouse, and they finally agreed. As he was first learning, he circled kitchen table, holding on all the way around. Finally, he decided to venture out with no handholds. But he slipped and went skidding toward the kitchen’s pot bellied stove. At the last instant, his father dived between Taylor and the stove, but the momentum pushed his father’s hand against it. When he pulled his hand away, some of his flesh remained on the stove. For the rest of his life, the elder Taylor bore an ugly scar from the incident.

When Taylor’s father died, the mortician, in an act of kindness, positioned the hands so that the “good” hand covered the other. Taylor asked him to change this. He wanted everyone to see what his dad had done for him. The scar spoke of his dad’s suffering love for him, and it was beautiful and meaningful to him.

Paul puts it this way when he reflects on his career in ministry:

. . . we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Character is built through trials. But successfully navigating these trials gives us hope, and Paul ties this directly to the Holy Spirit in our hearts. When we suffer, we should not fixate on the scar the suffering left, but on the God who walked with us through the trial.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Finding Jesus in the Heart

I would like to give you another sermon illustration today. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember where this came from:

The story is told of a little boy, who, many years ago, was diagnosed with a severe heart defect. This was before MRI’s or CT scans or other advanced technology. But his heartbeat was irregular, and he was not expected to live very long. His family happened to live in a small city that was the home of one of the nation’s most respected heart surgeons. This doctor was a crusty old character, near retirement, and usually refused to work with children. After hearing the pleas of the boy’s mother and father, he finally conceded to take the youngster as a patient.

After the examination, the old doctor knew that surgery was required and that it would be very risky. There was something badly wrong with the boy’s heart. The old man told the boy, “Son, I’m going to try to fix your heart. I will have to cut it open, and I’m not sure what I will find there.” The boy brightened when he said this, and said, “Don’t worry, when you cut open my heart, you’ll find Jesus, ‘cause he lives there!” The surgeon was silent. Dealing with life and death on a daily basis had embittered him horribly, and he had long ago abandoned any pretense of faith.

As they prepared for the surgery, the doctor was determined that the little boy understand what was happening, so he repeatedly warned him of the risks involved in this surgery. Each time the boy smiled and said, “Don’t worry. When you cut my heart open, you’ll find Jesus, ’cause he lives there.” In this process the bitter old doctor began to have his own heart touched by this little boy. He was so ill! But he was so happy! On the day of the operation, just before they wheeled the boy into the operating room, the doctor tried one last time, and said, “I want you to be brave, because when I cut your heart open, I’m not sure what I will find.” Again, the boy beamed at him and said, “Don’t worry. When you cut my heart open, you’ll find Jesus, ’cause he lives there.”

After the surgery, the doctor went to the waiting room to give some horrible news to the parents: the boy had died on the table and he had been unable to save him. They were people of great faith, but now they were extremely distraught. As the father grasped for something to explain what had happened, he asked the surgeon, “Doc, when you opened his heart, what did you find?” And the hardened, cynical old man gave the slightest of smiles and said, “I believe I found Jesus.” And for the first time in many years, his tears flowed, too.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Sermon Illustration: Working for God

Last Friday I blogged about the movie, Blue Like Jazz, and therefore missed my usual sermon illustration for the end of the week. Let me offer one this morning, which I got many years ago from the evangelist, Hal Martin:

A deacon whose faith had been revitalized during a Sunday night evangelistic service came to the minister to tell him he was now ready to live for Jesus and available for service. The minister prayer with him, thanked him, and assured him that he would be called upon. Later that same night a widowed mother in the church called the minister and said she was desperate for a ride for her young son to the hospital the next day for a long-scheduled appointment with a specialist doctor. The hospital was 50 miles away in the city, and her ride had fallen through. Smiling to himself at the seemingly providential provision of God, the minister called the deacon and asked him to take this task. At first, the deacon protested that he would have to take a half-day off of work, but relented under the minister’s gentle reminder that he had said he was available for service.

So the deacon arranged the time off work and went to the woman’s house the next morning. The mother was unable to go because of her other children, so he carried the little boy (who was unable to walk on his own) out to his pickup and set him down beside him in the seat. When they had driven awhile, the boy said, “You’re God, aren’t you?” The deacon said, “No, of course not. Why would you say that?” The boy said, “Last night I heard my mother crying and praying to God to send someone to take me to the hospital. I thought you must be God.” The boy was quiet for a minute, and then he said, “If you’re not God, you work for him, don’t you?”

The deacon paused and with tears in his eyes and a thrill in his heart, said, “Now more than ever, son. Now more than ever.”

Sermon Illustrations: “I am of her caste”

This is one of my favorite sermon illustrations:

In one of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, his two heroes, Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin, find themselves stuck in Bombay for several weeks while their ship, the Surprise, is being refitted. Stephen Maturin, always the adventurer, takes the opportunity to explore this exotic city, controlled by the British in the early 19th century. Dr. Maturin soon acquires the assistance of a young Indian girl, Dil, to help him navigate Bombay’s streets and negotiate various business transactions. The street-wise Dil wins a place in Maturin’s heart, and he treats her like a daughter. The gap between Maturin and Dil is enormous. He is a highly educated Irishman, whose modest wealth places him far above almost everyone in the poverty-stricken city. Dil is a young orphan, come to the city from a tiny village with her old grandmother. She lives in a tiny shack and owns only the clothes she wears.

As the time nears when Surprise must sail from Bombay, Dr. Maturin takes steps to insure a better future for Dil. He arranges for a friend to provide training for the girl in sewing, so that she would not be forced into a brothel at puberty. And then, the evening before his was to sail, he gives Dil an extravagant gift: six silver bangles to wear on her arms. Her delight is inexpressible, and Maturin’s heart is warmed. Dil promises to come say good-bye to the good doctor the next morning, in time for him to board the ship.

Maturin rises early that morning, but Dil does not appear. Maturin begins to worry and finally he sets out into the city to the dirty slum where Dil lives. As he arrives at the hovel Dil and her grandmother occupy, he sees that a small crowd has gathered in the street. Then he sees Dil’s tiny body laid out on the ground. He sees the marks on her arms where the bangles were violently ripped off. The ancient grandmother is railing at the crowd, asking that they would each give a coin to pay for a decent funeral. But the neighborhood is desperately poor and only a few coins are in the begging bowl.

As Maturin takes in the situation, he stands next to the headman of the area who explains the tragic scene. “It is sad,” he says. “Usually a funeral would be provided by members of her caste, but she is far from home and no other caste members live here. She will not be given a proper funeral.”

The terrible caste system of 19th century Hindu India has made the death of the small girl even worse. She is from an extremely low caste, and the people are very reluctant to break through this entrenched system. Maturin, of course, as a foreigner, is exempt from the system, and cannot understand how some people can be treated as “untouchable” simply because of the family they are born into.

But rather than fight the injustice of the ancient caste system, Maturin simply tells the headman this, “Tell the old woman that I will buy the child. I am of her caste.”

We, as humans, are floating in the sea of a godless world. We have drifted far from home. We look to others trapped in the same dilemma to give us comfort and give us guidance, but they too are lost. So we float along, gasping for breath, afraid that the next wave will overwhelm us and plunge us into the deep. We cannot save ourselves, nor can any fellow floaters help us. As darkness approaches, we are without hope and in utter despair.

Jesus, the Son of God, has seen our plight and has had mercy on us. He came to the world of humans, and in so coming he identified with us, even in that most human of experiences: death. God in flesh and blood. Fully God, yet fully human. And while he shared in human death, Jesus defeated death through his resurrection, and thereby freed us from the terror of death in our lives. He has freed us from the power of Satan, who wields the natural fear of death over us to control us. He has saved us from drowning in the sea of despair. When he sees us in our helpless state, he says for each one of us, “I will buy that child. I am of her caste.”

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Illustrations: Alienation from God

I have a database of hundreds of sermon illustrations I have developed and collected over my 35 years of ministry. I have been trying to post new blogs every MWF, and I think I am going to use Fridays to post some of these illustrations. Please use them if you find them helpful. I don’t have sources for all of them. Many are my own creations, others I have heard in sermons and written down.

Alienation from God:

When working at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle during my college days, I observed a family check in from our of state who had a beloved family dog. It was obvious from watching them that this dog was very valuable to them. Several days later, I was surprised to see this dog running around loose in the parking lot of the hotel. I tried to catch it, but it wouldn’t let me get close. It was now all dirty and wet, barely resembling the well-groomed pet of the week before. I later learned that it had gotten away from them when checking out of the hotel, and they could not catch it before they had to leave.

How much like the one who strays from the family of God!

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. (Ephesians 4:18, NIV2011)

Mark Krause