On this past Sunday morning, I preached from James 1:13-18 on the topic “Who Do You Blame When Tempted?” This sermon is the second in a series of sermons in the book of James in which each sermon title is a diagnositic question to help one ascertain the genuineness of one’s faith. As the last point of the message, I offered the following story to challenge Christians about the seriousness of sin, and how serious we must be in dealing with it in our own lives:
Long wooden shoots had been built in the forest to slide tree trunks down the slope to the valley and into the river. They were hundreds of yards long, smooth and polished inside, and the foresters used them as well. They would sit on the floor of the shoot or on an axe-handle, and go toboganning down to save themselves the trouble of walking. Well. A workman caught his foot in a hole in the shoot and couldn’t get it free, and at that moment he heard a shout of warning, which meant that a trunk was on its way down. He saw the thing coming, and as he still couldn’t free his foot, he hacked it off with an axe and jumped clear just in time. He was crippled for life, but at least he was alive.
This is how serious that Jesus says we must be about our sin in Matthew 5:29-30, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
I also quoted John Owen’s famous statement from his book on the mortification of sin: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” At the conclusion of the message, I recounted the story of mountain climber Aron Ralston who in 2003 was climbing in Blue John Canyon in Utah near Canyonlands National Park when a 200 lb. boulder fell on his right arm. After five days of being pinned down by the boulder, he decided to amputate his own arm just below the elbow with a penknife. This drastic action saved Ralston from certain death by dehydration and starvation. He was able to hike out and find help. This is the kind of drastic action that we must be prepared to take in dealing with our sins!
On Tuesday just after preaching this sermon I was interested to see another news story which well illustrates the attitude that Christians must take toward our sins. It is the story of a man in Australia who broke his own leg to escape drowning in his kayak. You can read the AP story here, the original report from the Australian news source here, another story here highlighting the “relief” which the kayaker felt when his leg broke, and the complete text of the kayaker’s remarks describing how he survived the ordeal here.
A word to preachers: This is another powerful illustration of our need to deal drastically with our sin. I am constanly on the lookout for stories that will serve as illustrations in a future sermon (the story on Aron Ralston was also found this way, the wood shut story is from some other source, probably an online illustration site). These have been the most powerful ones I’ve ever used because I didn’t get them from a book of illustrations or someone else’s sermon. When I find a story which illustrates some truth of Scripture, I copy and paste it into a document that I then save with a descriptive title in an illustration folder on my computer. When I get multiple illustrations for a particular theme, I create a sub-folder, e.g., “Dealing with Sin”, and store all the documents in it. Later when I prepare a sermon, the first place I look for illustrations are in my own illustration folder. I know there are different ways of doing this, and I’m sure there are better ways. But this is the way I do it and I thought I would share it in case it might be helpful to someone. If you would like to indicate your method of collecting illustrations in the comments section, it would be appreciated.