There’s nothing like a heartfelt, charming sermon illustration to drive home a Christian point. Jesus knew this when he spoke in parables, talking about farming to farmers and fishing to fishermen; so many pastors have followed his example by talking about things we can all relate to:
A pastor once told his congregation, “I learned a great lesson from a dog.” He said, “His master used to put a bit of meat or a biscuit or some kind of food on the ground, and he’d say to the dog, ‘Don’t eat that,’ and the dog would run over and eat it, so he’d hit the dog. And he put another piece of meat on the ground. He’d say, ‘Don’t eat that.’ The dog would go over and eat it, and he hit him again. Well, after awhile, the dog got the message: eat meat, get hit. So the dog decided he wouldn’t eat the meat.” But the man telling the story related how that the dog never looked at the meat. The dog evidently felt that if he looked at the meat, the temptation to disobey would be too great, and so he looked steadfastly into his master’s face and never took his eyes off him, and thus the temptation never caused a problem. – from “How to Overcome Temptation” on gty.org (1970)
I always remember the story I read about the preacher who wanted to train his dog and so he would try to train his dog to be obedient. He threw a piece of meat on the floor and the dog would run over and gobble it up and he’d take a big stick and smash the dog. And the next day he throws some more meat and the dog would run over and eat the meat and he’d smash him again. Well, pretty soon the dog got the message, eat meat, get smashed, you know. It didn’t take too long. And then the dog didn’t do it any more and the preacher begin to notice that the reason was that whenever you throw the meat there, the dog would never watch the meat, the dog would never take his eyes off the master. And as long as his eyes were on the master, he had no problem with the meat. As soon as he started looking over there he got fouled up. The temptation was strong. And the same thing true in the Christian life. If you go through life looking at all the goodies, you’re going to get into problems. – from “Peter’s Sermon: Exalting Christ, Part 2” on gty.org (1972)
A pastor once told his congregation about a man who had a dog, and the man was trying to train his dog to be obedient. And what he would do was to take a large piece of meat – good, red, juicy meat that dogs would normally like to eat – and he would put it in the middle of the floor near the dog, and then he would say “no” to the dog. Well, the first few times the no was an irrelevant suggestion. The dog proceeded to grab the meat and got whaled on; and after a few such results, when he said “no,” the dog no longer attacked the meat. But what the man noticed was this: the dog never looked at the meat. When he put the meat on the floor the dog never for a moment took his eyes off his master, seemingly feeling that if he did so the temptation to disobey would be too great. So he just maintained a steadfast gaze into the face of his master. – from “The Crisis of Temptation, Part 1” on gty.org (1978)
Or maybe not. I can’t help but think of that poor dog, beaten so many times just to make a point. Perhaps this and similar sermon anecdotes should be retired rather than repeatedly used. If God’s like a cruel master who tempts us and beats us when we give in – that’s not a God worth following. Furthermore, the Bible says that God doesn’t tempt us (James 1:13), so it’s just theologically wrong. Still, I think pastor’s are overdue in showing more concern for creation and the well-being of animals.