As pastors, we yearn for the perfect sermon illustrations and stories to add clarity, profoundness and entertainment to the spiritual truths we are trying to portray. Yet we sometimes are too hasty in the stories and examples we tell, hardly taking the time to fact-check and review our sources.
For example, many have heard the story about the atheist philosophy professor from USC who publicly challenged any Christian student to a "chalk test:" If God exists, the professor claimed that the chalk would not break when he dropped it on the ground. For years nobody challenged the professor until a lone student stood up for his belief in God. As the professor got ready to drop the chalk, it slipped from his hand and got tangled in the cuff of his sleeve, slid down the pleat of his pant, and rolled off his shoe onto the floor—unbroken. The entire class was awestruck, along with the professor, and the student ended up presenting the Gospel to the class. It’s a wonderful story of faith and boldness, and yet the story is most likely a complete fabrication!
When searching for the origins of this tale, I was taken on a cyber goose-chase that eventually led to many sermon illustration sites, true-or-myth sites and an array of Christianese sites.
The most substantial information I found were sites that actually disproved the story. There was evidence consisting of: official letters from USC claiming that no such professor or class existed, statements from the university denying that such a story could even have existed based on “events within the story” that didn’t coincide with real circumstances relating to the university and, finally, a literary history of the story that eventually showed many Internet fabrications that used a variation of names, places, and details while using the same general outline. Eventually, I concluded that this story was probably untrue. And yet I remember hearing this story from the pulpit.
There are thousands of similar sermon illustrations that are accessible to us through the click of a mouse. Some such stories have been retold so many times that they sometimes seem like extensions of the Gospel. The imagery is captivating, the words pull at your emotional heartstrings and the lessons are perfectly constructed for sermon use.
Be wary of these tales that sound too good to be true! Investigate what you use and thoroughly check the sources that are listed. How many times do we see Jesus start out His teachings by “I tell you the truth …”? We should follow His example.
God doesn’t need our fabrications and exaggerations to be glorified. When we use material that is false or inaccurate, we are cheapening both the Gospel and the name of Christ.
We often underestimate our own experiences. People long to hear about what God has done in your own life. There is no need to create fiction, just be real and honest. When I first started preaching, I thought that grand stories of missionary testimonies would be far more powerful that my own personal experiences, but I was wrong. People liked hearing what God was doing in my life, even if it wasn’t what I considered miraculous or supernatural. This is what makes communal testimonials so transformational and worshipful: they are a time for sharing truth.
The best examples of God’s love come from everyday Christians sharing about everyday experiences with God. Nothing more, nothing less, just simple truth.