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    CHRISTIANITY

    Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it's been found difficult and not tried. 

    G.K. Chesterton, quoted in Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick, Thomas Nelson, 1978, p. 128.


    It is not what men eat but what they digest that makes them strong; Not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; not what we preach but what we practice that makes us Christians.

    Source Unknown.


    "While witnessing for Christ on the streets of a city in California, evangelist H.A. Ironside and his associates were often interrupted by questions from the crowd. "There are hundreds of religions in this country, and the followers of each sect think they're right. How can poor plain people like us find out what really is the truth?" Ironside and his friends would answer something like this: "Did I hear you say there are hundreds of religions? That's strange; I've heard of only two. True, I find many shades of difference in the opinions of those comprising the two great schools. But after all, there are but two. The one covers all who expect salvation by doing; the other, all who have been saved by something done."

    Source Unknown.


    Commentary & Devotional

    Would Jesus recognize the faith he founded?
    By Martin E. Marty originally published for MSNBC

    From the handful of followers who first heard his message to the 2.2 billion Christians alive today, the followers of Jesus were to be the salt of the earth, the city on a hill, the force that would heal and transform the world. Christians now form 33 percent of the world's population, but beyond the impressive numbers, how successful has this faith been? What are its prospects for the future? And if Jesus were to return to Earth today, would he recognize his teachings?

    Any individual who has been lifted from despair to hope, moved from hate to love, or vaulted from doubt to faith is likely to judge the 20 centuries of Christianity as worthwhile. So would any company of believers who have been sustained in slavery, oppressed because of race or gender or class, and then have experienced liberation.

    Anyone who has experienced healing, received solace when the candle burns low or the life of a dear one ebbs, or who has been inspired or intellectually moved when the faith elicits art or makes sense, will use that experience to do the measuring. So much for the private side. So very much.

    The public side of faith

    Christianity, however, has its public side, its powerful presence. From the fourth century onward, its institutions dominated in East and West. As dominators, Christians have probably been no better and no worse than Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or people of faiths once called "primitive." The record of holy wars, jihads and human sacrifice is ecumenical, interfaith and horrifying in all cases. But each faith must do its own accounting, and in our part of the world, Christianity is subjected to much scrutiny.

    First, the negatives: Crusaders in the name of Christ rejoiced when "infidel" blood swelled the streets above their horses' ankles as they marched into Jerusalem. In Spain and elsewhere in Europe, Inquisitors in the name of Jesus ferreted out the suspicious, the troublemakers and the innocents who seemed different all for the sake of God's truth and purity, as they defined it. Then they turned the innocents who were guilty over to the crown for unusual and cruel punishment, with death being the lesser evil than torture.

    Through the centuries, Christian emperors, nobles, knights, invaders, ruffians and drunken feudal lords fought with one another just as ethno-nationalist leaders do today. And in cases so common that one has difficulty thinking of exceptions, right down through the Vietnam War, Christian leaders blessed the cannon. They called down a God of vengeance, yet spoke of God as the God of love. Rivers of blood and oceans of ink were spilled in support of Christian wars. Whoever does not think that the adjective "Christian" is accurately applied to the noun "wars" need only listen to the prayers and preachments of the contenders through the ages to find reason to hang heads in shame.

    The good it has done

    The public presence of Christianity, however, shows another side and offers a positive balance. What good has it done? Charity and accuracy bid me to point out that often this good has been done in conjunction with forces not directly native to the Christian church. But it has been done, no doubt, with light and leaven from people of faith often mingled with those of other faiths or no faith at all.

    Take, first, modern liberties. Catholic ideas of human dignity and Protestant impulses for freedom of conscience fused with ideas we associate with others from the 18th-century Enlightenment. Here is a perfect illustration of how Christian influences come in tandem with others. Some scholars who hear Christians claim a patent on liberty ask, "What took you so long?"

    The faithful at least ought to send a thank-you card to the secular forces of modernity. These helped develop what had only been latent in Christian teachings for centuries, but had never found political expression on their own. Out of this fusion of the sacred and secular came previously unheard-of personal liberties, the advocacies of human rights, and concern for the spread of freedom. The search for liberty is unfinished, and is sometimes inhibited by some versions of Christian teaching. One thinks of the only partial liberation of women from spheres and years of abuse, degradation, indignity and half-fulfillment. Yet the seeds of liberty have been sown.

    An artistic heritage

    A second accomplishment of Christianity has to do with beauty. No monopoly here: Buddhist- and Hindu-inspired art evokes awe, too. But around the world, by no means only in the West, Christianity through the centuries provided what E. M. Forster called "breathing holes for the human spirit." Its poetry is for the ages. These were evidenced in the wonders of stained glass in the cathedrals, through the great classical music of the West, in songs and poetry.

    You will hear the soughing of the spirit as well in African Christian chants, or see the sightings of the Spirit's effects in Latin American or Korean folk art.

    Johann Sebastian Bach said that music was God's greatest gift to God's sorrowing creatures, to give them a joy worthy of their destiny. Christian art helped dispel some of the sorrows that come with the human condition and experience. When one looks at or hears some of the barrenness and vapidity that go with much Christian artistic expression today there is a temptation to ask the churches, "What have you done for me lately?" But the record has been positive overall.

    A healing influence

    It is easy to recall how early Christians resisted many scientific advances that promote healing. Non-Christians did too. But behind the veil of pre-scientific ignorance, much good was done. Again, Christianity holds no monopoly here. Medieval Muslims and the ancient Chinese knew a thing or two about the care of the body through medicine and its alternatives. Yet the concepts of health care we have today have roots in the Christian West.

    No one knew whence came the plague in medieval Europe. But everyone knew that the priest, the consoler, was not to leave town when it struck. Sisters and nuns, deaconesses and nurses pioneered in health care and invented voluntary associations to promote healing. Today, in a scientific age, many are coming again to recognize that they do well to supplement or support technology with religious, in this case Christian, arts of healing and agencies of care.

    The life of the mind

    Intellectual productivity is fourth on the list of Christian achievements. The temptation arises to question this because so often Christians have been inquisitors, suspicious of heresy and experiment. They have suppressed the thought of the "other," be it the Jew in the ghetto, the Muslim at a distance, the sectarians driven to the mountain refuges far from Rome, the innovators in the world of science, and often the pious themselves.

    In East and West, however, Christians have tried to bring together the Athens of learning or the Rome of law with the Jerusalem of faith. The creeds most Christians recite combine Hebraic biblical narrative with Greek thought patterns. In the Middle Ages, the Christians founded Bologna and Oxford, Paris and Wittenberg as universities where scholars pursued more than theology. They have been teaching forces and spreaders of liberty.

    In the same period, Christian thinkers revisited Aristotle and the other philosophers, relearned the ancient languages, and produced both scholasticism formidably systematic thought about faith and the world, and new philosophies and they still do.

    Martyrs and mystics

    Lives well-lived are further examples of the good Christianity has done. In the past year alone, according to human rights monitors, 165,000 Christians died for their faith. They have a long ancestry among people who paid the final price for their commitments. From Francis of Assisi to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa, the faith has inspired prophets who risk their lives to change the world. No one could measure the selfless acts that mark the quiet lives of many Christians today and their ancestors in faith. But one would be pretty callow to write them off and forget about them or despise them.

    Those examples lead to an observation and a question. The observation: no part of the Christian record is unblemished. No part of Christian teaching suggests that Christians will leap out of their skin, escape the limits of the human condition and not need to ask their God for help. All parts of Christian teaching say that in the moral quest, one first and finally depends upon grace. It makes up the weightiest contribution to the balance scale of positives.

    Would Jesus know them?

    And what does all this have to do with Jesus? The name that goes with the church and its culture is "Christ-ian" not "Jesus-ian." Christ is not a last name but a title, a designation. He is the anointed one, the hoped-for rescuer and the king of his people. Believers would say that the best good they have achieved is telling about him, preaching the Gospel and pointing, despite their fallibility, to the Way, the Truth and the Life.

    Some Christians cherish the myth that in the church of 20 centuries ago, everyone shared a culture and formulated the faith in the same way. Never. One scholar surveyed how the early Christians worshiped, governed themselves and made moral judgments. These differed vastly from place to place, as they still do. The cultural gaps between African Indigenous Church movements and St. Peter's in Rome or a university student group are wide. But despite their differences, all churches would agree that the human Jesus is also their redeemer. So Jesus remains the universal and uniting presence. After two millennia, would Jesus recognize what is done in his name today?

    Would Jesus give the modern metropolis a free ride? He didn't do so for the Jerusalem over which he wept or the Galilean cities whose destruction he foresaw, at least as the four Gospels represent him. Would he denounce and then dismiss the cities? Not according to the Gospels. His tears were tears of love and yearning. He took part in town life with zest, and banqueted whether invited or not. Would he despair over the half-heartedness he would see in the church? Nearly. But he did not give up on the ancestors of the lukewarm.

    Would he rejoice in the size of the cathedrals, the bigness of budgets, the mega-ness of mega-churches that have sprung up on the modern landscape? On whose side would he be when "liberation theologians" come up against proponents of a market economy? Remember that Jesus hung out with the rich as well as other sinners. And he clearly explained how hard it is for the wealthy and the smug to enter the Kingdom of God. Would Jesus denounce armed conflict, so much of it done in his name? At last there is a simple answer. Simply, yes.

    Justice and mercy

    Wherever Christians put their energy into the works of justice and mercy and the tasks of peacemaking whether in company with others or on their own they contribute to the tipping of the Christian balance to the positive side. And they will do this against formidable odds. They know that because they have looked at the portrait of Jesus and what he represents, and then into the mirror to see their own brokenness.

    As they look at the portrait and the mirror, the ideal and the reality, one suspects that the honest realists among them will say that for all the enormous flaws in the record, the Christian venture has produced great human good and innumerable positive contributions to culture. Their faith at its best prohibits them from boasting and they have reason to be penitent as they say, in effect, "bring on the new millennium." If they have blights and faults that bring them sorrow, they are also likely to come up with virtues and graces that they can use to meet more of their own needs and the enduring needs of the wider world.

    Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He is a respected theologian, lecturer and author of numerous books on religion and American culture.