Friday, August 31, 2007

Let Me Take One Cent Back

Yesterday, I ranted about the fact that pulpit plagiarism is unethical. Today, I want to take it back, sort of.

Indeed, a man should do his own homework and come to the pulpit with the fruit of his own labor. However, as I said yesterday, no one is original. And, ultimately, no preacher should try to be. It should be our goal to simply be faithful and clear when we stand to preach or teach. The Lord really doesn’t ask us to be cute, clever, or creative in our ministry of the word. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should bore the people with the gospel. It means that we must remember that our preaching should exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, not our pulpit brilliance. So we should not try so hard to have our own “voice” that the congregation is not able to encounter the Christ as they listen to the sermon.
We live in a day where there are so many resources available, no one has an excuse for not being prepared. And we must be so proud or foolish that we refuse to accept help.

Personally, I try to share my material as freely as I can. I am not very possessive about my work. I feel that if I have said or written something that can help you in your presentation of the word, by all means, use it. If my bullets fit your gun, load up and shoot! I trust that my work has enough of my fingerprints on it (which includes both my strengths and my weaknesses), that if someone is going to use my material effectively, he must edit it heavily and determine what works best for him. And if they find it easy to use my material, I am complimented. I think it means my work is “portable.”

I guess I am trying to say that we are in this thing together. And the burden of weekly preparation is so difficult that we should seek to help one another in any we can – and we should look for help from wherever we can find it.

Urgent warning for all preachers and teachers: Sunday’s coming!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My Two Cents about Pulpit Plagiarism

I had an interesting experience last week that I keep thinking about. The first night of the meeting I was preaching, I stood to and called my text. And there was a weird response by the congregation. Something strange was happening, but I didn't know what. Lots of thoughts flooded my mind. But I really couldn't catch the vibe. The congregation, to whom I had preached the past four years, was quite tentative throughout the entire message. But I couldn't figure out why.

A few minutes after a sat down from preaching, it all became clear. One of the pastors leaned over to me and told me that the pastor who opened the meeting Sunday night preached the same text and/or message. And throughout the week, I kept hearing about how we both preached the same message. For some reason, it made me somewhat nervous. But, at the same time, I was at peace about it. I had preached what I believed the Lord wanted me to say. And my message was the product of my own Bible study and sermon preparation.

After the last service of the week, I received a copy of the other pastor's message on DVD. And even though I was dead-tired by the time I made it to my room, I crawled into bed with my computer and watched the message. Indeed, it was the same text. And, essentially, it was the same message. We both preached the same doctrinal theme from the text. But the organization of the messages were different. We labeled the messages differently. I worked through the message with three main points in my outline; he had four. THe homiletical approach was different. And the way we argued the message was different. It really was the same message preached from two different perspectives.

This got me to thinking about the ethical matter of pulpit plagiarism.

The late evangelist, Vance Havner, is quoted to have said that when he began preaching, he was determined to be original or nothing. He ended up being both, Havner said. This is true of every preacher. All faithful preachers deliver an unoriginal, "stolen" message - the word of God. Blblical preaching simply explains what the word of God means by what it says. And if we read the text right, we will find that the doctrinal theme we draw from the passage will be pretty close to the conclusions drawn by most faithful Bible expositors. In fact, if you come up with a reading of the text that no one else has ever seen, you're wrong! Likewise, most Bible expositors use many of the same exegetical resources. So it should be no surprise for you to hear two messages that "overlap," for lack of a better term.

But let's be clear. Stealing other people's material and preaching it as if it is your own work is wrong.

After the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech earlier this year, a high-profile "mega-church" pastor went to his pulpit and preached a message that he said the Lord had given him for the church. Later that week, his local newspaper outed him, claiming that the message he preached from actually from a website that sells sermons. And this "inspired" message had, in fact, had been preached and posted by several other pastors across the country that same day!

I repeat. This is wrong. The eighth commandment should apply to our pulpit work: "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15). Now, this is not to say that we shouldn't use sources. To the contrary, it's arrogant for you to study a text and preach a sermon on it without consulting the wisdom of those who have, in some instances, spent a lifetime studying those passages, books or themes. And I believer in collecting a lot of ideas in order to come up with one good idea. So I milk a lot of cows in sermon preparation. But I churn my own butter. And when you do this, something wonderful can happen. For instance, you can stand and preach a text that was just preached in that same pulpit three days earlier. And you can make the point the previous sermon made. Yet, God can use your preaching - YOUR PREACHING - to declare the unchanging truth of God's word in a fresh, new, and life-changing way.

Just my two cents.

Speaking @ Polly Chapel

I am in Texarkana (part Texas; art Arkansas. Get it?). Tonight, will be my last of three nights preaching for Pastor Reginald Reid and the Polly Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. The first two nights of the meeting have been great. Pastor Reid, a new friend, has been a warm and gracious host. And the worship services have been very warm and encouraging, which make for a "in season" setting to preach in. The Lord is doing a great work here through Pastor Reid and the Polly Chapel family.

Please pray for the final night of this meeting. And continue to cover Pastor Reid and Polly Chapel in your prayers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Speaking @ the Vallejo Citywide Revival

I'm an idiot.

I missed my flight to Oakland this morning. I tried to check my bag in and looked at my ticket information, only to discover that I was right on time for my return flight on Saturday, not my departing flight today. So I am had to catch a standby flight. Good thing Oakland is only a hour's flight away from Los Angeles.

Before I move on, let me repeat the point of that last paragraph loud and clear: I am an idiot! I don't have any other excuse to offer.

Anyway, I am here to preach the Vallejo Citywide Revival. The meeting has been going on since Sunday. My friend, Pastor Elliot Ivey, preached the first three nights. I am to do the last three nights.

This is my fourth year doing this meeting. And it has been a great blessing each time. My first two years I preached with Dr. Robert Smith of the New Bethel Church in Detroit. I did the first three nights. Last year, Dr. W.T. Glenn from Fort Worth did the opening three nights, and I closed the meeting.

In fact, last year an emergency prevented Pastor Glenn from being here. So Pastor Ivey spoke in his place. That was the first time I heard of Elliot Ivey. But we have met and become friends since then. And he can flat out preach! I regret that I did not get a chance to hear him.

The last two years, Crystal and the kids have come to this meeting with me. There is a Six Flags park right across the street from the hotel where I usually stay. So they would come up and we would hang out during the day. But Crystal and the kids just got home from a trip to Orlando with my sister and niece. They went to the Gospel music workshop. But not really. They really went to Disneyworld! And I think Crystal has had her fill of airplanes, hotels, and amusement parks. So they didn't/won't make the trip this time.

Please pray for me as I preach these three nights. May the Lord give the increase!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not Ready for Prime Time TV Ministry

We have just began a television broadcast on local Time Warner Cable stations. The broadcast airs on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 in Los Angeles and Inglewood.

We taped my Sunday messages for several weeks, with the plan to use the material for the broadcast. But it did not come out the way we wanted it to. So we have decided to run to DVDs of messages I have preached on the road, until we are able to work out the kinks in our recording process.

This is a new venture for us and is definitely a step of faith. Please remember this new work in your prayers.

Women's Day @ Gethsemane

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at the Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church in Houston (TX), which is led by Pastor Dennis C. Jones. When Pastor Jones invited me to preach this meeting some months ago, we had not yet met. We only knew of each other through mutual friends. But in the providence of God, a schedule change resulted in us preaching together for a week in San Antonio earlier this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship with Pastor Jones, was blessed by each of the messages he preached, and left the meeting with a new friend. So I was really looking forward to being with Pastor Jones and the Gethsemane Church… Almost.

I had been watching the news about Hurricane Dean last week. And the meteorologists were saying that it was quite possible that it would end up hitting Houston, among other cities. Now, as a man who grew up in the land of earthquakes, you would think that I would not be nervous about a hurricane. But two women changed my mind – Katrina and Rita! As I sat in the airport Saturday morning, Pastor Jones called to check on me. My first question was about the weather. The report he gave me helped me relax – until we got 150 miles from Houston and were placed in a holding pattern because of storm activity over the airport. Thankfully, we made it safely. And the weather was nice the whole time I was there. But continue pray for those who have been hit by the hurricane, and those who may be in its path.

The women’s ministry of Gethsemane had activities the whole weekend. And the emphasis climaxed with the two services I preached Sunday morning. Gethsemane is a very warm and friendly congregation. And the worship was reverent, yet passionate. The congregation is multi-generational. And things were conducted with both sincerity and excellence. I was also impressed by how the congregation seemed to be both traditional and contemporary at the same time, with both weaved together quite seamlessly. I was happily reminded by this that you don’t have to choose one or the other to be effective.

I don’t like being away from MSMBC on Sunday mornings. But it was a joy to be with Pastor Jones and the Gethsemane Church. The messages seemed to be well-received. And there was great ease in preaching, as the congregation was quite attentive and alert. And as late as afternoon email I received yesterday afternoon, I have received reports of how God used the messages to encourage and edify those who were present. Praise God!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Christians and Cremation

In our church's monthly newsletter, I periodically respond to questions members have about various matters of biblical truth and Christian living. Recently, I have received questions about cremation several times. And even though I have pointed members to resources that I believe answer this question clearly, I decided to take a shot at it in our last newsletter. Here is what I wrote...

Is it proper for Christians to be cremated after death?

We arrive at the cemetery after a long, slow procession from the funeral service. And the mourners are usually in various moods at this point. Some are still grieving; others are quite jovial. I then have to quiet them down and get their attention as I prepare to announce the committal – a statement of faith in which we entrust the remains of the deceased to God’s sovereign care. The funeral director gets some flowers and gives me the nod. Then I began to do one of the most profound and distinctively Christian things I do as a pastor. In the midst of the apparent victory of death and the deep sorrow of grief, I declare: “In as much as it has pleased almighty God to take out of this world the soul of our deceased brother (or sister), we hereby commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust…” It always amazes me that even those in attendance who seem to have no orientation with Christ or the church are familiar with these words. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” This well-known but little-understood phrase seeks to cover the all the bases of how we arrive to our final “resting” place and what happens once we arrive. Earth returns to the earth. Ashes return to the ashes. And dust returns to the dust.

For more than sixteen years, I have stood at burial places and quoted this famous phrase to grieving Christians, perfectly comfortable with the fact that this phrase assumes that it is not against God’s will for Christians to be cremated following death. In fact, the committal goes on to say that be commit the body of the deceased to God, looking forward to the return of the Lord Jesus, when “the earth and the sea shall give up their dead, and the corruptible bodies of those that sleep in him shall be changed, and made like his own glorious body.” I say these words at funerals because I believe them. Of course, this committal is not scripture. But I believe it accurately reflects the message of the scriptures.

Cremation after death is directly mentioned in scripture. The most famous occurrence being in 1 Samuel 31:12, where soldiers cremated the dead bodies of King Saul and his sons to prevent them from being desecrated by their enemies. And, interestingly, they buried them after they burned them (1 Sam. 31:13). But scripture does not prohibit or commend cremation. In fact, it is never even mentioned in the New Testament, as burial is the clear pattern. The miracles Jesus performed in raising Lazarus (John 11) and the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7) from the dead describe burial. Theologically, the fact that Jesus was buried after his crucifixion is an essential point of the gospel that saves us (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And the hope of the believer’s future resurrection is explained in relation to the burial of our bodies. Connect this pattern to the fact that scripture emphasizes the sanctity of the believer’s body (1 Co. 6:19-20), it’s no surprise that the Christian church has historically encouraged burial, rather than cremation.

But a Christian is not out of the will of God if he or she chooses cremation over burial. There is just no biblical warrant to tell a believer that it is a sin to be cremated. And either way, our deceased bodies will decay and deteriorate in time. But regardless of how it happens, nothing will prevent the miracle of the glorified bodies we will receive when Christ returns. Job understood this and expressed his faith by saying, “For I know that that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26 – ESV). More important than whether you are cremated or buried is the issue of whether you have run to the cross and put your faith in Jesus for salvation from God’s wrath and the gift of eternal life. If you are in Christ, you can know that when these earthly “tents” (our bodies) are destroyed, we shall receive a “building” from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1).

We who hope in Christ can rejoice in the mystery and victory of our future resurrection and glorification. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of any eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” So if I was counseling a person who wanted to be cremated, I would ask some questions to help clarify their understanding and intentions. Why do you want to be cremated? It is merely financial? (A good reason, maybe.) Is it because you think that will shorten or limit the grieving process for your loved-ones? (A questionable reason. Cremation will not help your loved-ones overcome their grief. Only God can do that.) Or is it because you are concerned about the earth and the ecological consequences of burial? (A bad reason. If we can find places to keep building suburbs and shopping malls, we can find places to lay our loved-ones to rest without hurting the planet). But if this is a matter that has been prayerfully considered along with the input of your family and loved-ones, I would not discourage a believer from being cremated if that is what he or she wanted. And I would encourage the to face these life, death, and burial issues with faith in the Christ-centered perspective on these matters as recorded in Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Speaking @ The Liberty Church

I am in Clarksville, Tennessee. Tonight will be the second of three nights I am preaching for my friend, Pastor Lawrence Vaughn and The Liberty Church. The church is about five or so years old. And I have been preaching for them for most of those years, with last year being the only exception.

I really like Lawrence Vaughn. He is a sound, faithful preaching. Presently he is preaching through the book of Matthew. He finished chapter 13 Sunday. In this regards, I would say that he's a better man that I am. I don't think I could take on a series that long at this stage. Likewise, he is a visionary leader. I am so excited by the spiritual progress I see this congregation making every time I come here. Presently, the church is on the verge of several important steps of faith. And I have been greatly encouraged by what God is doing here. I really do respect and admire Pastor Vaughn. And it's a joy to be here with him again. Many young pastors are into a lot of foolishness that has nothing to do with prayer and the ministry of the word. Thank God for Lawrence Vaughn. He's on of the good guys. May the Lord continue to bless The Liberty Church.

Please remember this meeting in your prayers.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Two Good Preaching Ideas from Ray Pritchard

I read two posts on preaching this afternoon from Ray Pritchard's "Keep Believing Ministries" blog. I have not had the opportunity to hear Pritchard preach in person... yet. But I have seen videos and heard audio of Pritchard online. And, of course, I have read many of his sermons. And he has become one of my "homiletical heroes." His preaching is sound, clear, and practical. And it was really cool to read his insights about preaching. I have placed the post links below. May you find these writings as helpful as I did.

So You're Preaching This Sunday

My Sermon Prep Idea

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Crossing Over

Sunday, I continued our studies in the book of Joshua. I am enjoying my personal study of Joshua. But it has been an absolute nightmare to organize my work for preaching. I am more comfortable in New Testament passages. I am not really skilled or comfortable dealing with historical narrative passages. But, of course, all scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16). So it's important for me to work at Old Testament passages. So I have been pressing my way through the long chapters of Joshua. My goal has been to read the texts for the God-centered and/or God-exalting theme in the text.

In Joshua 3, the children of Israel finally cross over the Jordan River through the miraculous help of God. And I tried to read the passage for the church in such a was that would encourage them to trust God when they face obstacles in life that hinder their spiritual progress.

Here is the sermon skeleton.

Title: “Crossing Over”

Text: Joshua 3

Theme: The Lord instructs Joshua to lead the children of Israel over the Jordan, and performs a miracle when the people trust and obey.

Point: There is no obstacle that can hinder your progress when you follow the Lord’s call to go forward.

Probing Question: What obstacles in your life are hindering you from going forward with God?

Transitional Sentence: Joshua 3 gives us three God-centered requirements for successfully navigatimh the obstacles of life.


I. Follow God’s Leadership (3:1-4).

A. Follow God closely (vv. 2-3).

B. Follow God reverently (v. 4).

II. Exalt God’s Glory (3:5-13).

A. Consecrate yourself (vv. 5-6).

B. Humble yourself (vv. 7-13).

III. Trust God’s Power (3:14-17).

A. Walk by faith in God’s divine authority (vv. 14-16).

B. Walk by faith in God’s perfect timing (v. 15b).

C. Walk by faith in God’s great faithfulness (v. 17).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

HBC2's August Speaking Engagements

Here is a list of the speaking engagements outside of MSMBC that I have scheduled for the month of August. Please keep me in your prayers. And pray that these the Lord will open a door for his word to run swiftly through in these meetings. And if any of these dates are near you, and don't conflict with is scheduled at your home church, please join us. I would love to meet you there. God bless.

· 8/10 – Speaking @ Solid Rock B.C./Pastor C. Devereaux (Los Angeles)

· 8/13-15 – Speaking @ The Liberty Church/Pastor L. Vaughn (Clarksville, TN)

· 8/19 – Speaking @ Gethsemane B.C./Pastor D. Jones (Houston, TX)

· 8/22-24 - Speaking @ the Vallejo (CA) Citywide Revival

· 8/27-29- Speaking @ Speaking @ Polly Chapel B.C./Pastor R. Reid (Texarkana, TX)

If you want any further information about these meetings, you can call (323-734-1028) or email ( our church office.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Facing Your Giants

Young David was just minding his business. Doing his duty. Obeying his father’s orders to take food to his brothers who were soldiers and to find out how the battle with the Philistines was going. But David got more than information. He got involved. With great jealousy for God’s reputation, David faced Goliath when none of Israel’s army dared to accept the giant Philistine’s challenge. Not his big brothers. Not the best of Israel’s fighting men. Not King Saul himself. How could a little boy like that ever hope to defeat a giant like that? Simple. Or is it? You decide: David was able to defeat the giant Goliath because he focused on God while every one else focused on the giant.

This simple, difficult point is the message of Max Lucado’s, Facing Your Giants, in which Lucado crystallizes the message of David’s life with this powerful thought: “Some note the absence of miracles in his story. No Red Sea openings, chariots flaming, or dead Lazaruses walking. No miracles. But there is one. David is one. A rough-edged walking wonder of God who neon-lights this truth: Focus on giants – you stumble. Focus on God – your giants tumble.” (Page 9)

Lucado, who has served as the Senior Pastor of the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio for more than two decades, is also a prolific writer who has earned a reputation for penning Christian devotional books that are clear, practical, and encouraging. And beyond being helpful in pointing readers to God; Lucado’s writing makes for good reading. Period. His creative way of teaching scripture with compelling storytelling, stirring word pictures, and memorable illustrations usually makes it hard to put a Max Lucado book down. And he does not fail to produce his trademark encouraging and enjoyable work in this study of the life of David.

Lucado begins with David’s epic battle with Goliath, in which the young man defeated the seasoned warrior by focusing his confidence on the God who is greater than all. And Lucado challenges the reader to believe that our giants - sin, fear, debt, grief, loss, or whatever it may be – can also be defeated when we focus on how big our God is, rather than how big the giant is. Then Lucado masterfully applies this principle to the ongoing saga of David. Goliath was not the last giant David had to fight. There were other giants – both literal and spiritual – that confronted David as he ascended to the throne, established the nation of Israel, and serve God’s purposes in his generation. And the standard stands in each situation. When David focused on God, there was great victory. When David did not focus on God, there was miserable defeat. And you will find that this is inevitably true in your life, as well. If you will keep the eyes of your faith focused on our God who has never lost a battle, no giant will be able to stand against you. I warmly commend Facing Your Giants as our July Book of the Month. Read it. Heed its call to focus on God. And watch the giants begin to tumble in your life to the glory of God!