Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sermons and Their Delivery #3: Plagiarizing Sermons

The preacher was expounding Philippians 2:5-8 for his congregation. He proclaimed:

The fourth thing He set aside were His eternal riches. It would be impossible for me to explain how rich He was but I know what 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, it says He was rich but for your sakes He became … what? … poor. He was so poor, He said the foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. I always think about John’s gospel where it says, "And every man went to his own house and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives." Why? He had no house. Poor.
What a great exposition! Maybe you are thinking, “I wish my preacher could preach like that!” Unfortunately, the man who proclaimed these words was not the author of them. With only minor modifications, these are the words of Dr. John MacArthur . My best estimate would be the sermon that morning was 80% of MacArthur’s sermon verbatim.

I regret to say this is not the only incident of its type I have personally heard. One year I heard an Easter Sunday morning sermon from 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 which described six gifts of the resurrection. The sermon was well delivered. However, the preacher was not speaking his own words. For the most part, the message was one delivered by Dr. John Piper on March 31, 1991 to his church.

Fellow ministers of the Gospel, this is plagiarizing pure and simple. Piper’s organization says:
The essence of plagiarism is to give the impression that the ideas or words of another person are actually your own. This can be done intentionally (in which case it is outright theft) or unintentionally but either way it is wrong.
One minister I confronted on this matter said he didn’t see anything wrong with it. He was simply borrowing from another’s work. To quote a sentence or two from another servant of the Lord in your message may be borrowing. To quote their message almost verbatim without noting your source is plagiarizing. I tried to convince him of this fact pointing out that any student of mine who submitted a paper which used the material of another author to the degree his sermon did would receive a zero for their paper because it was plagiarized. He was not convinced. Years have passed but I have since heard him plagiarize other messages.

Another “preacher” I once heard not only quoted the text of another minister but also used that minister’s personal illustrations as his own. He passed off the words and the experiences of another man as his! Yet, when I accused him of this, he did not deny it but neither did he admit to any wrong doing other than saying, “I no doubt could have done a better job of putting it in my own words.” Using your own words, doesn’t eliminate the plagiarism, brother!

One preacher to whom I pointed out his plagiarism noted, “As many pastors, finding enough time in a week is certainly a difficult thing.” Good grief, man, are you God’s servant or not? As a pastor there is nothing more important in your ministry than preparing and proclaiming the Word of God. If you can’t find the time to do so then you need to eliminate some of the other things in your life (e.g., your golf game).

Certainly there will be weeks when ministering to your congregation will reduce your sermon preparation time. But even then you are God’s chosen servant. You know His Word. Seek Him in prayer and trust His Spirit to use you despite your lack of preparation.

The first time I discovered a preacher plagiarizing another’s message, I was shocked. However, if you do an internet search today, you will discover many men are plagiarizing messages. Even The Wall Street Journal contained an article on this subject in 2006.

Plagiarizing is theft pure and simple. Those who commit this act are violating the 8th commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”). Furthermore, they are also violating the 9th commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”) because they are deceiving their congregation by giving them the impression the words, the thoughts, the structure of the message they are hearing is that of the preacher when, in fact, they are those of another.

Having confronted some who are guilty of this sin, I know many of them will disagree with my last paragraph. They do not believe they are stealing or deceiving anyone. If you truly believe that, fellow preacher, then I challenge you to stand before your people with your plagiarized sermon this Sunday and tell them upfront what they are about to hear are the words of so-and-so. You won’t do it, will you? Why? You won’t do so because you do not want them to know the truth. Your conscience tells you what you are doing is sinful.

Brothers and fellow ministers in Christ who are guilty of plagiarizing your sermons: PLEASE CEASE THIS PRACTICE! I call on you to confess to the Lord your sin, ask for forgiveness, ask Him to help you prepare your own expositions, and then confess your faults to your people. If you cannot do so then you should step down from your pulpit. If your church confronts you on this matter and you will not repent then you should be removed on the grounds you are not proclaiming the Word of God. Rather, you are preaching the word of MacArthur or Piper or some other Christian leader.

Let us be true to God’s calling and preach His Word, not the words others preach about Christ. Let’s not be one of the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sermons and Their Delivery #2

As noted in my earlier post, I see a sermon as:

… an exposition and application of God’s Word which has been internalized by God’s messenger and then delivered by that messenger to the people for whom it was intended.

While the sermon is an exposition and application of God’s Word, it carries the marks of its author as well. Two men of God may choose the same Biblical text, find the same principal theme in that text, and, possibly, even the same points of presenting that theme. Nevertheless, the sermon will reflect each man’s style, resources (internal and external references), education, background, etc.

Furthermore, many times the application derived from the text will also vary due to not only the difference in the authors but also to the difference in the recipients. Sermons will vary in their composition.

The same may be said when it comes to the delivery of that message. Each speaker will present a message differently. Some men are monotonic, some are not. Some men read their messages, others do not. Some will use extreme gestures, others may barely move. The Bible doesn’t say much about the actual delivery of the message. Certainly you would expect some passion if the sermon has truly been “internalized by God’s messenger” before being presented. But even the characteristics of those hearing the message may change the way in which the preacher actually delivers the message (e.g., a sermon I preach only to children will, most likely, be delivered differently than if I present it to a typical congregation).

Since the application of a message is primarily geared at the recipients of that message, is it ever appropriate to preach a “repeat” sermon? In other words, if God burdens you with a message to be delivered to a specific group at a specific time, should you ever preach that message at a future time?

Again, the Word of God does not directly address this matter. I haven’t found anywhere in the Scripture which forbids this practice. On the other hand, I have not found any text which supports it.

From a common sense perspective, it doesn’t seem to me to make much sense for a preacher to preach the same exact sermon to the same congregation. Repeating a message smacks of laziness on the part of the preacher. Yet, if God truly guides the preacher to repeat a message to the same congregation then I will not argue with the Lord. I suspect most church goers won’t even recognize a repeat sermon! Furthermore, most of us need to hear the same thing over and over until we get it. I would hope, though, this would be a very infrequent occurrence.

But what should we think concerning a preacher delivering the same sermon to a different congregation? While the application of a message should be directed toward the recipients of that message, there are several applications of Scripture which apply to virtually any congregation (e.g., the necessity of the sinner to repent and believer). Surely such a sermon could be shared by a minister to two different congregations.

In real life this is often done by ministers we call evangelists. These men usually have a collection of their messages they preach repeatedly to different groups. Since the primary thrust of sermons from an evangelist is for conversion, the application of their message would be appropriate for any congregation (or group).

Surely if God can lead a man to preach the same sermon to the same congregation more than once He can also lead a man to preach the same sermon to multiple congregations. Personally, when I preach I try to have a fresh word for the people to whom I am speaking. I have heard that was the case with Spurgeon as well. He did not believe in repeating a message.

But in lack of Scripture forbidding the practice, I cannot say a preacher should never repeat one of his messages. If God has given him that message, if it is expository, if it burns within his heart, and if its application is appropriate for those to whom he is delivering it, then so be it.

I do close with a warning to my fellow preachers. Take great care not to get in the habit of repeating your messages even to other listeners. If you do you will find yourself becoming lazy in your sermon preparation and your listeners may find they are being fed stale bread rather than a fresh word from God.

Next, a matter of great concern …

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sermons and Their Delivery #1

I have some thoughts on preachers and their sermons which I am going to share in this blog over the coming days. Some of what I say may be harsh but I believe it is Biblical and it needs to be shared.

Almost any book you pick up on the subject of homiletics will define and discuss the “sermon”. However, one of the best descriptions of a sermon I have ever seen is given by the prophet Malachi at the beginning of his message: “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.” There are several thoughts I pick up from this introductory verse.

Most translators renders the Hebrew word massa’ as “oracle”. The noun used here comes from the Hebrew verb nasa’ which means “to lift or carry” (which, by the way, has always been easy for me to remember since I have a deep interest in the space program!). So, the principal meaning of the word used by Malachi is “that which is lifted or carried”, hence, “a burden” or “heavy load”. So I prefer the King James Version in this particular case.

Other prophets use this word as well to describe their prophecy/message (see Nahum and Habakkuk for examples). I see these prophets telling us the message they are about to give is a burden they are carrying. It is a burden in the sense it is their responsibility to share it with the people of God. Also, it is a burden to them, a weight on their heart. This is one characteristic of a sermon delivered by any prophet (or preacher): it should be a burden to them, a responsibility which has become a part of them (i.e., it has been internalized by them) and a message which they must share.

But this message is not just the opinion of the speaker. Preachers may be passionate about a great many things and may speak passionately on those subjects. At the same time, though, the message they deliver may not be a sermon or a burden from the Lord. When we lived in the Dallas area, I knew preachers who were passionate fans of the Dallas Cowboys. They could speak at great length about the team and individual players and do so with gusto. But what they proclaimed was not a sermon.

As Malachi notes, this burden he has is the result of the Word of God (literally the word having its source in and belonging to Yahweh). He has received God’s message and it is that message which must be proclaimed, not simply his personal opinions or interests. Therefore, a true sermon must be founded upon the Word of God. Its theme must be rooted in the text of Scripture and its points must come from Scripture. In my mind, the message that best meets these criteria is an expository sermon.

Malachi continues and notes that his message, the text the Lord has given to him as a burden, is for a specific people: Israel. God’s Word is given for a particular audience. For us who are preachers of the Gospel, I believe Malachi is instructing us that his message (and our messages) should be applicable to the people for whom they are intended. If you are a pastor with a congregation then God will lay a burden on you from His Word. You are to extract the message from the text (not read your message into the text) and then discern application(s) for the audience to whom you will deliver it.

Essentially, God’s people need food (that’s the exposition) and they need fresh cooking (that’s the application). I enjoy reading sermons of great preachers from the past and often learn considerable truth from their exposition. However, I usually find much of the application they have in their messages do not directly apply to me today. The food is there but requires some new cooking.

Finally, Malachi adds that the sermon is his, i.e., he is the one presenting the truth to the people. Obviously, in the case of the prophets, what they presented by means of writing was the actual revelation of God, inspired and without error. This is true of all the Scripture. It is God’s Word BUT it is written in the language of men, language which differs by their style, knowledge, training, environment, etc. It is God’s message but it is also THEIR message.

That should be the case with the messages we deliver. We expound God’s Word but WE are the ones who develop the outline, gather the illustrations, discern the applications, and deliver the message.

That’s what a sermon is to me. It is an exposition and application of God’s Word which has been internalized by God’s messenger and then delivered by that messenger to the people for whom it was intended.

Faith, Not Politics? The Matter of Abortion

My son's website has an entry in which he discusses a New York Times article from June 1 entitled "Taking Their Faith, but Not Their Politics, to the People". Much of the article revolves around the local church known as The Journey. After reading the article, I do have some concerns. However, I intend to limit this entry to the matter of abortion.

"The easy thing is to fight, but the hard thing is to put your gloves down and work together towards a common cause. ... Our generation would like to put our gloves down. We don't want to be out there picketing. We want to be out there serving."

These remarks from Scott Thomas, the director of the Acts 29 Network, seem to imply 2 things: (1) picketing is not serving and (2) Christians (evangelicals) are not serving today. As an "older" believer, I'm not certain how to take these remarks. Does Rev. Thomas mean that when I stand on a highway holding a sign promoting pro-life over pro-death I am not serving my Lord by pointing out the sins of others? Does he mean when I send my financial support to clinics and other medical facilities to assist those women who decide to give birth to their children rather than having them killed I am not serving the Lord? What exactly does he mean by this statement?

Earlier in the article, the author writes:

"They say they are tired of the culture wars. They say they do not want the test of their faith to be the fight against gay rights. They say they want to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H. I. V., according to experts on younger evangelicals and the young people themselves."

Like it or not, we will always be at war with the culture because we are opposed to sin whereas most mankind is not. This is certainly true when it comes to the matter of abortion. What are we expected to do? Do we "take off our gloves" and say to the pro-death crowd, "Now I oppose murdering our children. But I want to love and support everyone so how can we work together in this situation? I know. The pro-life group will continue to support women shelters, adoption, etc. and the pro-death group can continue to kill the unborn." Wake up, people, this is war, like it or not. We will speak out, we will protest, we will work to change our laws, we WILL continually engage in the culture war BECAUSE abortion is a sin of terrifying magnitude against our great God and Lord!

Later in the article, we read a quote from one "Journey" Bible study member to another: "Did you see my boy Barack today? I thought he did well, really well."

My response to him would be, "Brother in Christ, do you know that 'your boy' supports the killing of the unborn, including the procedure known as partial birth abortion? How can you, a man who professes to be a follower of Christ, ever support or vote for an individual who supports the killing of the unborn?"

You see, you cannot separate the morality from the politics on this issue. If you call yourself a Christian and can elect someone who supports abortion then I must conclude:

1. You do not consider abortion to be a sin.
2. You do not consider abortion to be a more important issue than, say, the economy, the environment, or illegal immigration.
3. You actually are not a true believer.

Well abortion is murder and that's a violation of God's commandments. If the commandment not to murder isn't good enough, then how about what Jesus says concerning children in Matthew 18? And those who have no problem killing unborn children can not be trusted in their dealings with anyone. If your heart is not moved by killing babies then how can I believe anything you say or do?

My goal in life is to bring glory to God and that goal is true in all areas of my life INCLUDING the political. On the subject of abortion, I am in a war against culture and my government because they support what God's law forbids. I will fight that war with whatever means I can which do not violate our nation's laws and the laws of our God. I will picket and protest. I will fund women's centers. I will counsel when I have opportunity. And I will be involved in the political process of our nation. I will NOT sit down with pro-death supporters and compromise God's Word.

As I have said on other occasions, I will never knowingly vote for any pro-death candidate at any level of office. If I am faced with a choice of only pro-death candidates, I will either not vote for that position or will write in someone else's name.

When it comes to this issue, Rev. Thomas, I will keep my gloves on, thank you very much!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Evaluating Preachers #2

Another “preacher evaluation” metric I heard voiced in the past few weeks has to do with the preacher’s “volume”. In this particular case, it seems that a loud preacher is to be rated “lower” than a quieter preacher.

Once I preached a funeral sermon to a large gathering held in a funeral home parlor. My sermon was on the two thieves crucified with Christ. I must admit, my message became quite passionate. After 10 or 15 minutes, I noticed a couple of elderly ladies in the back get up and leave and as they left I could hear them muttering something. Later I asked some folks in the back what those ladies were saying as they left. Basically they were giving their less than enthusiastic opinion about that “loud Baptist preacher”! So I guess the “volume” metric was in force even several years ago.

I really do not see anything in God’s Word, though, concerning the volume of the preacher’s sermon. In Acts 2:14, the Word says Peter lifted up his voice which I understand to mean he spoke loudly. Maybe Peter was loud simply due to the size of the crowd, I don’t know. But to judge a man based on the volume level of his message instead of the content of the message doesn’t sound very Scriptural to me.

Personally, if the Spirit of God moves the man of God to lift (or lower) his voice as he preaches, so be it. A preacher who is passionate about the Word of God cannot preach in a monotonic voice.

Friday, July 18, 2008

PETA, Pigs, and Publicity

This morning’s news programs were spending time discussing PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) complaint against the Army for their proposed trauma training exercise, namely, shooting pigs and treating their gunshot wounds. The notice is also given on various web news sites (e.g.,

Now I have nothing against the Army or pigs and have no way of knowing if this is ethical treatment of pigs or not. Should we shoot pigs in order to train medics on how to save American soldiers wounded in action? I don’t know. What I do know is the media is publicizing the matter and many commentators are taking the side of the pigs.

My question from all of this is why are folks so much more concerned over the shooting of pigs than they are of the murdering of unborn babies? In the United States alone, over 170 babies are murdered each hour. Yet, when an individual or an organization raises its concern about such an atrocity, the media often finds a way to “put down” the protestor or simply ignore them all together. Oh, but let someone complain about shooting pigs and watch how much publicity is raised!

To be sure, the Bible does not contain a verse which EXPLICITLY condemns or condones abortion. “Thou shalt not commit abortion” is not listed as one of the commandments. Nevertheless, Scripture is clear: abortion is evil. Exodus 21:22-24 indicates judgment for those who unintentionally cause a miscarriage. Therefore, judgment would be required for those who intentionally take an unborn life.

All human life is from God and is in His image (Genesis 1:26-28). Passages such as Luke 1:39-42 and Psalm 51 teach God knows those in the womb and is involved in a person’s history/life prior to his birth. And Psalm 127 teaches children are gifts from the Lord and He has chosen to give us those gifts via the womb. To destroy life before its birth is to reject and destroy God’s gift.

May the Lord forgive us, our media, and our nation for being so concerned about pigs but so unconcerned about our unborn posterity.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Evaluating Preachers #1

Recently I have been made aware of a new method (at least new to me) for evaluating preachers of the Gospel. Some believe the messenger should give Scripture references whenever they refer to a text from the Bible. By “Scripture reference” I mean they expect the preacher to give “book, chapter, and verse”. The fewer such references provided during the message, the lower the evaluation given to the servant of the Lord.

Such a method for evaluating a preacher and/or a sermon is a poor one at best. I know of no place in the Scripture where God’s Word commands the messenger to give the reference whenever he quotes a Biblical text. Certainly he is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2) but Paul never told him to give book, chapter, and verse. In fact, in those days, there were no chapters or verses!

Many of the greatest preachers throughout church history have proclaimed the Word of God without giving the accompanying reference to the Scripture they just quoted. Look at Spurgeon’s sermons and how often the “Prince of Preachers” doesn’t even tell you which book he’s quoting, let alone give the exact reference. Sometimes when the sermons of these famous servants of God are published, the actual reference is added. Often, though, the reference was not delivered as part of the message. Does this make them “bad preachers”?

Even when the New Testament authors quoted their Old Testament counterparts, they certainly never gave us book, chapter, and verse. Sometimes they tell us the author. Sometimes they simply say “It is written”. Sometimes they quote the passage and never tell the reader anything about its location. Does that make them “bad preachers”?

Now don’t take me wrong. When a minister of the Lord quotes a work other than Scripture, he should make certain to notify his audience that this quote is not his. The messenger of God should NEVER take credit for another man’s work. But even in that situation the messenger doesn’t have to indicate the exact location of the reference. “Someone has said” is sufficient for me. “Luther noted that” is good enough to indicate a quote from Luther.

But when it comes to Scripture references in the midst of a message, simply noting “the Scripture says” or the “Bible notes” is good enough when I am listening to a message. If I ever want a specific reference location I will ask the speaker after the sermon. Actually, those of us sitting in the pew should have enough familiarity with God’s Word to recognize when the man of God is quoting it!

If you are a preacher who always gives his Scripture references as he proclaims the Word of God, good for you. If you are a preacher that frequently quotes Scripture as he preaches but does not always provide the reference, good for you. Just make certain you are a preacher proclaiming the Word of God.