You ever get the feeling your preacher is just talking to you because he wants to make an example of you?
In seminary you learn a bunch of ways to share the word of God (specifically: preach). There are places you start and ways to read Scripture. Canned illustrations are of the devil (or so my preaching class taught me). This is ironic, as a good number of pastors today use material someone else came up with. (btw, this post is about the ethics of "lifting" someone else's material for the promotion of the Kingdom of God - but its about something worse than copyright laws)
And lets face it, those pastors probably have better sermons because of it. But for those of us who try to honestly ply our trade with as little "help" as possible, we can quickly run out of material. C'mon. How many Frank Craddock's or Max Lucado's can be out there? There is a reason every preacher knows how to type www.esermons.com and pay homage to "Brett Blair and staff".
One rule that stuck out is that a preacher never wants to become the focus of his/her own sermon. We can be oblivious to this fact sometimes. For example, some ministers have a tendency to always be the good guy in their stories. Other pastors always tell stories where they are the victim. Some ministers endlessly tell stories about their kids or their spouse, or what they were thinking when they were waiting in line at the Post Office. You get the idea right?
You, my friend, are my next sermon illustration. I often have to catch myself (this is a blog, not a sermon, I can talk about myself all I want) talking about my home town and my friends and the things that I enjoy in life.
And why wouldn't I? They are the people, places, and experiences that made me, me. Specifically, they often were the very vessels for the love of God in my life. And in a sermon, the best way for me to tell/show you about Jesus is to tell/show you who he has made me.
And sure, everyone has their tendencies, but that doesn't make them right.
I've been wrestling a bit lately with simply turning people into sermon illustrations. You are not just an example to be used to help someone else out. You have worth, in, and of, yourself.
Preachers should be mindful of and ask permission whenever using someone else's story to make a point. If any pastor shares an illustration that belittles someone (ANYONE), we are at fault! Consider it a rule of compassion. Do you think Jesus went around telling stories about children ALL THE TIME that simply made fun of how simple-minded children could be? Or talked about Susan Boyle as if she was ugly as sin?
No. Whenever Jesus tells stories, the people involved are either 1.) lifted up and encouraged or 2.) convicted and brought low.
And frankly, you aren't convicting anyone talking about that kid with downs - you are just pulling on heart strings. Its one thing to talk about how someone overcame adversity and witnessed to the power of the Holy Spirit. Its a completely other thing to give a backhanded compliment to someone who can't defend themselves. We draw a thin line sometimes between dehumanizing someone to make a point and "hey, their expense is someone else's gain".
In some greater, broader, and definitely general sense, all Christians can deny a person their own existence. How - you ask? Its easy. Think quick on your feet:
Why were you saved in Christ?
So others may be saved....right? Sure. Of course that is correct.
But what if you were saved simply because you are worth a lot to God. YES, for crying out loud, we are blessed to be a blessing. But the rub for me is that somewhere we miss the assurance, contentment, and love of Christ for ourselves. I think some Christians skip that whole "God loves me" part and skip straight to the "I'm only a vessel to help you" - and without the assurance of Jesus' grace in our lives, we cannot have the proper motive to witness to others. No wonder my faith is so shallow. No one ever taught me how to grow my OWN faith.
You are not God's sermon illustration. Your existence is not predicated on someone else's faith/salvation. I hope and pray that your story can and will lift others up, or convict and bring low.
But please remember, your worth is not found in anyone other than Jesus Christ and the God he knows.
Tell stories. Talk to your pastor (if you dare). But remember, I am going to try hard to not steal your story. I'm going to try hard to not steal your humanity. Its yours! If you'll let me, maybe I'll share it. But I won't take it from you.