Today I preached the second sermon in my summer series, “Did God Really Say . . . ?” The topic was the often quoted but completely unbiblical old chestnut, “God helps those who help themselves.” The challenge I’m finding with this series is tying an unbiblical idea to a Biblical passage. I did a lot of research last week and finally settled on Paul’s struggle with his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, a great example of God’s help in our weakness rather than our strength.
I feel like I overcame what I feared would be a huge obstacle in these sermons. I didn’t spend too much time focusing on the negative. Of course, neither does Paul.
I have a couple thoughts about illustrations from this sermon. I’m not one of those story telling preachers (I really wish I was). I use illustrations sparingly. In this sermon I started out with a story of Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” bit. That was more of a lead in than an illustration, though. I cited Donald Trump’s rise to riches and subsequent troubles. I think that worked well, especially with the visual of his 1987 book cover for “Trump: The Art of the Deal” bursting into flames and being replaced with a modern photo of him with his bad haircut (how I love Keynote!).
The big illustration that I got comments on was that of my son Connor found at 14:35 in the sermon. I’ve written several times in the past about Connor and his autism. I occasionally use Connor as an illustration, though I’m cautious when I do it. For those who only see Connor from the outside these illustrations could look more like attempts to pull heart strings. “That poor dear, and what that family must go through to care for him.” If they only saw the rampant goofiness and fun we have inside the house they would probably think, “That poor dear, to be stuck with such parents!”
I feel we have to be cautious when we have a life situation that illustrates weakness or our own sufferings. You can’t go to that well very often. Whether it’s a struggle with sickness or a disability in the family, use it sparingly and make sure it connects to the ever present struggles of the hearers rather than elevates your own struggle.
I really wonder if that’s why Paul refused to disclose what his “thorn in the flesh” was. If he had named it there would have been the temptation of some to say, “OH! I suffer from the same thing! I know Paul’s pain!” And then there would have been others who would have thought, “Bah! Paul thinks he’s got it rough. He’s just got a thorn; I’ve got a whole spike in my flesh!”