Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#23: Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon (Scott M. Gibson)

While flying home yesterday, I decided to take a departure from my normal novels and investigate a topic that I personally find extremely important and that has arisen in several conversations this week. Scott M. Gibson’s Should We Use Some Else’s Sermon?: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World examines the history of plagiarism in the Church’s pulpits and focuses specifically on the responsible use of easily available sermon websites such as sermoncentral.com. 

I am not a preacher or a pastor. I do not know the pressure of attempting to prepare a weekly sermon. However, I have been a faithful church attender. I have sat under the pastorate of men who had never spent a day in seminary and did the best they could to faithfully preach the Word of God under powerful anointing. I have also had the privilege of hearing wonderfully intelligent men present a finely-crafted and carefully researched sermon that was relevant and impactful to their specific congregation for that moment in time. Both scenarios have significantly contributed to my spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I have also found myself listening to a pastor present sermons found online. While the sermons were well written, they did not seem to have the power of personal conviction. Instead, I felt as though I was listening to a book report. How did I learn that the sermon was coming from a web service? Like most young adults in our society, I turned to Google. A quick search for a specific statement turned up the entire sermon — I followed along on my browser as the speaker read the material word for word. I found myself wondering if such presentations were ethical. If such excessive use of one person’s material was used in a presentation or document in any other field, it would be severely frowned upon — even if credit was given to the original author.  Why was it now an acceptable practice that should not be questioned just because a “good man” was delivering it from a church pulpit? Are the ethics of the Church diminished in comparison to that of other professional fields?

While Gibson’s book focuses on ministers who present significant portions of their sermons — or even preach the entire sermon — without giving credit to the author they are “borrowing” from, he does address the current trend of using sermon internet services. Gibson quotes Eugene Lowry, Emeritus Professor of Preaching at the St. Paul School of Theology, who states that “While not plagiarism, using these sermons [from internet services] is thievery of another kind….When we substitute purchased sermons for that personal reflection, we betray people’s time and trust and our own integrity. It would be more honest to have the real writer tape [on audio recording] the text, and to play that tape for the congregation. For the pastor to present someone else’s sermon as if it were the result of his or her own discipleship, training, and theological commitment is to bear false witness.” (Gibson, 71-72). 

Gibson follows this discussion with a observation from Ken Garfield, a reporter with the Charlotte Observer. In his 2002 article entitled “Internet Inspiration for Preachers,” Mr. Garfield concludes that “If all this leaves you nervous, you’re not alone. Preachers surfing for inspiration worries me too. There’s a risk of outright plagiarism, of course. But a subtler danger is at work — pastors choosing to take a shortcut to a sermon rather than putting in the effort that a congregation has a right to expect of its spiritual guide.” (Gibson, 72). Gibson finally summarizes his feelings about the use of internet sermon services with this statement. “What is the bottom line when it comes to these and other resources? A responsible preacher does the majority of his or her own work, possibly stimulated by various preaching resources [emphasis added], and prays to God for wisdom, guidance, and discernment.” (Gibson, 72) Personally, I fully agree with Gibson’s summary. Using resources is not the problem; actually, it should be applauded. The problem is when a minister fails to use the resources responsibly and puts all of their confidence in one man’s interpretation rather than faithfully doing the research on his own and then applying it to the Word as he understands it. I would much rather hear a less eloquent sermon that has come from a pastor’s wrestling with the text than reading what someone else has written. You see, I would rather know that you had spent more time reading the Word and listening to the direction of the Holy Spirit, Mr. Minister, than reading the thoughts of another man. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)……not all sermons crafted by fallible men.

Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon? is certainly not the final authority on this topic. However, it does begin to raise an important question for the modern Church that must be addressed by ministers, lay leadership, and congregants alike and no longer swept under the carpet.

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#2: Return (Karen Kingsbury)

The third book in the Redemption series was my favorite thus far. Return shifts our focus to Luke, the lone son of the Baxter family. Luke’s poor choices and resulting guilt leads him to leave everything behind — his home, his faith, and his family — in order to escape his past. Luke quickly learns that outrunning unconditional love is impossible. This modern telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son will leave readers thinking about their own relationships while coming to a new understanding of the relentless pursuit our Heavenly Father in spite of our failures.

The more I get to know the Baxter family, the more I understand why these books are so highly recommended in the Christian community. I’m already looking forward to continuing the saga and plan to share the books with my family very soon.

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#20: Redemption (Karen Kingsbury)

I needed a break from crime stories, so I decided to head back into the realm of Christian family sagas. I have had several people recommend the novels of Karen Kingsbury to me over the years, but I have not read one of them before now. I decided that the Redemption series sounded like a good place to start with her works and was pleased to find a novel that engaged me while providing encouragement at the same time.

The first novel in the series focuses on the marriage of Kari and Tim. Over the years, they have become complacent with their relationship; ultimately, Tim enters an extra-marital affair with a student as a result of Kari’s perceived neglect and lack of interest. When Tim asks for a divorce, Kari refuses to sign the papers, citing her desire to fight for her marriage.

Tim turns to alcohol as he deals with his guilt. Kari learns that she is pregnant. The situation is further complicated by the return of Kari’s high school boyfriend, Ryan. Through prayer, determination, and lots of forgiveness, Kari and Tim’s marriage survives….until the unthinkable happens.

Redemption is certainly not a book that I would normally pick up to read. Now that I’ve finished the novel, I must admit that I have been charmed by the characters and look forward to following their story in the subsequent books in the series. So far, it is a beautiful story of faith, love, and hope in a perilous situation.

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#1: Seven Things That Steal Your Joy (Joyce Meyer)

January is almost over and I’ve gotten behind in posting here. That will explain why two posts will appear in two consecutive days. (I wish I would finish a book in less than 24 hours!)

The year began with reading Joyce Meyer’s Seven Things That Steal Your Joy. In this Biblically based book, Meyer explores those things in our lives that steal the joy that comes from our relationship with Christ. Thankfully, Meyer doesn’t stop there; after each joy-stealer, she presents a chapter on how to reclaim the stolen joy. This isn’t a book that I would normally gravitate to, but thought it would be a good reminder to start the year off on the right foot. I’m glad I read it and plan to be on the lookout for Joy-stealers lurking around my life in the coming months.

In case you are curious, here are the Seven Joy-Stealers that Meyer identifies.

  1. Works of the Flesh
  2. Religious Legalism
  3. Complicating Simple Issues
  4. Excessive Reasoning
  5. Ungodly Anger
  6. Jealousy and Envy
  7. Habitual Discontentment

 

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#44: Life Everlasting (Robert Whitlow)

Life Everlasting is the second volume of Whitlow’s Santee series and shares many of the characteristics of the first novel.  For my thoughts on that book, check out last week’s post. There’s really not a lot that I need to add that I have not already mentioned there.

When I reached the end of Life Everlasting, I found myself with several questions remaining. While the situation between Rena and Baxter has been partially resolved, the door is wide open for another volume in the series. Alexia’s relationship with Ted has reached a new plateau despite unexpected tragedy for the music minister. I really enjoyed these characters. Mr. Whitlow, if you happen to stumble across my humble blog, this fan (as well as many others based on the comments I found on your website) would welcome the opportunity to return to Santee to check in on our favorite divorce lawyer and those that surround her.

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#43: Life Support (Robert Whitlow)

The end of the semester was extremely busy this term and my reading life had to take a back seat. I’m happy to fall back into my routine and share with you the marvelous story by Robert Whitlow.

Life Support is the first of Whitlow’s novels featuring Alexia Lindale, an attorney in South Carolina. Alexia specializes in divorce cases, but finds herself in a new situation with her latest client, Rena Richardson. While on a hike, Rena’s newlywed husband, Baxter, plummets over a cliff to the rocks below. Rena immediately assumes her husband died in the accident; when medical personnel arrive, they discover that Baxter is severely injured and comatose. A legal battle ensues between Rena and her powerful father-in-law over whether or not to terminate life-sustaining medical assistance. The novel thrills with intrigue, deception, and legal twists throughout. As in Whitlow’s other novels, spiritual truths are finely woven into the book’s fabric. I found myself pausing in the midst of my reading to meditate on the insights Whitlow expresses.

As a pianist, I am especially fond of the character of Ted Morgan. Ted is a music minister at the church Alexia has begun attending. A gifted pianist, Ted’s improvisations are musical expressions based on Scripture that give birth to Alexia’s faith journey as well as music therapy to the comatose Baxter. With expressive description, Whitlow vividly captures the connection between music and the holy presence of Almighty God that can only be fully understood through first-hand experience.

Life Support ends with the ultimate cliffhanger that (I hope) will be resolved in the second book of the series, Life Everlasting. I see a trip to the library in my immediate future to continue the story of Rena, Baxter, Alexia, and Ted.

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#40: Grace – More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine (Max Lucado)

Grace is central to the Christian faith. We invoke it daily and its name peppers our songs. But sometimes I wonder if we REALLY know what it is. We’ve learned that grace is “the unmerited favor of God,” yet do we truly understand what that means to our daily lives. In his book on the subject, Max Lucado explores grace from lots of angles in a practical and approachable way.

Over the years, I have read most of Lucado’s books and have had the privilege to hear him speak. I always find that several passages virtually jump off the page and into my heart. Grace was no different. I’ve decided to limit myself to sharing only one passage with you here (after all, you need to read this book for yourself).

In Genesis 32, we read the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. After fighting all night and suffering a dislocated hip, Jacob realizes that he is struggling with God and declares that he will not give up until Jacob receives a blessing. Here’s Lucado’s portrait of grace based on this passage.

What are we to make of this? God in the mud. A tooth-and-nail fight to the finish. Jacob clinging, them limping. Sounds more like a bootlegger brawl than a Bible story. Bizarre. But the blessing request? I get that part. Distill it down to our language, and Jacob was asking, “God, do I matter to you?”

I would ask the same question. Given a face-to-face encounter with the Man [God], I’d venture, “Do you know who I am? In the great scheme of things, do I count for anything?”

So many messages tell us we don’t. We get laid off at work, turned away by the school. Everything from acne to Alzheimer’s leaves us feeling like the girl with no date to the prom.

We react. We validate our existence with a flurry of activity. We do more, buy more, achieve more. Like Jacob, we wrestle. All our wrestlings, I suppose, are merely asking this question: “Do I matter?”

All of grace, I believe is God’s definitive reply:  “Be blessed, my child. I accept you. I have adopted you into my family.”

Adopted children are chosen children.

. . . . .

God saw our lives from beginning to end, birth to hearse, and in spite of what he saw, he was still convinced ‘to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.’ (Eph. 1:5, NLT)

(Lucado, Grace – More Than We Deserve, 119-120)

Encouraging stuff, huh? Do yourself a favor. Accept the fact that most of us don’t fully understand grace. Then with an open heart and open Bible, dive into this wonderful book from Max Lucado. You’ll be glad that you did.

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#37: Prayer – Does It Make Any Difference? (Philip Yancey)

It’s not often that I pick up a book on a subject like prayer and read it from cover to cover. I’m so thankful that I did just that with Philip Yancey’s book on the subject. My prayer life has improved while reading it and I have begun to understand prayer more intimately.  If you’ve been reading my personal blog, Livin’ Life, recently, you’ve seen how the book has touched me. (You can check out the posts related to prayer here and here.)

If I had to pinpoint the one point that most spoke to my heart, it would definitely be this truth:  prayer is not an activity we engage in out of duty or because God needs it. Prayer is authentic, real, honest communication with the Living God! It’s all about relationship. That’s such a basic concept of the Christian faith, but I think many of us miss the boat when we view prayer as a laborious duty we need to fulfill. I found Yancey’s closing of the book exciting and inspiring. While thinking about Heaven as described in the book of Revelation, Yancey has this to say about prayer:

Prayer itself will necessarily change [in Heaven] — not end, exactly, but realize its rightful place as conversation. Prayer now is a kind of awkward rehearsal, like talking on a mobile phone to someone in Africa, the connection garbled and staticky, the English broken and accented. God “has never acquiesced in the break which was brought about in Adam,” wrote Jacques Ellul. Indeed God has not. The entire Bible chronicles God’s effort to renew what was lost on that day in the garden when Adam hid and no longer conversed with God as a friend. One day we will all have that chance.

Sometimes I think about my first face-to-face conversation with God. I have so many unresolved questions, so many laments and regrets. Where should I begin? Various openings play out in my mind, until I remember with a start whom in fact I will be talking to, the One who spun out galaxies and created all that exists. Objections fade away, doubts dissolve, and I imagine myself falling back on words akin to Job’s:  “Oh, now I get it.” And then the conversation resumes.  (Yancey, 327-328)

Did I enjoy this book? Yes.  Do I agree with all of Yancey’s arguments? No. I especially have issues with his statements about Divine healing. Have I been challenged and experienced growth while reading it? Most certainly. It’s not important that we all agree about every aspect of prayer; what is important is that we pursue a conversation with the Father that daily becomes more and more intimate.

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#35: The Trial (Robert Whitlow)

After some heavy reading, I picked up a copy of The Trial that had been lying around for some time. I have enjoyed the other books by Robert Whitlow that I’ve read. I had no idea that this novel would make such a profound impact on me.

The novel centers around Mac McClain, a lawyer who lost his wife and two sons in a tragic accident several years ago. Mac has now been appointed as counsel for Pete Thomason. Pete is accused of murdering his girlfriend and attempting to cover it up by driving her car over a cliff. The major problem with Pete’s defense is that he has no memory of the events leading up to the accident and can offer no explanation for what occurred. All in all, the legal thriller is fascinating and well written.

What grabbed my heart, however, were the spiritual journeys going on behind the scenes. Mac is deeply depressed as the novel opens and contemplates suicide. Pete scoffs at religion until he meets a jailhouse preacher who leads Pete to Christ. Most notably, however, is a prayer group hosted by the local Presbyterian church. The descriptions of their intercessory prayers vividly portray the powerful impact of prayer in spiritual warfare. I especially appreciated the variety of prayer times that were described. Some were quiet and solemn; others were a rush of words brought on by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. With references to small visions and gentle directions within a person’s spirit, The Trial packs a punch and reminds us that God is constantly at work around us and is concerned about the things that concern us.

I’m looking forward to tracking down the movie inspired by the novel.  Here’s the preview if you want to check it out.

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#25: Charles Spurgeon: The Prince of Preachers (Dan Harmon)

I realize that I know very little about some of the major pioneers of the Christian faith in the 19th and 20th centuries. I decided to read this simple biography of the English minister, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). I was struck by his eloquence and the tremendous things that were accomplished for the Kingdom of God despite Spurgeon’s simple beginnings. Though not highly educated himself, Spurgeon placed great value on education and opened a school of ministry for preachers as well as teaching and caring for the orphans of England. Spurgeon was confident in his convictions and never afraid to speak his mind clearly. He addressed the horrors of slavery as well as reforms that needed to occur within the church itself. What most surprised me, however, was Spurgeon’s use of humor.  One of my favorite quotes (taken from his collection of proverbs known as Salt-Cellars) is about knowing when things are not worth trying:

Don’t put a cat on a coach-box or men in places for which they are not fitted. There is no making apples of plums. Little minds will still be little even if you make them beadles or churchwardens. It is a pity to turn a monkey into a minister. Many preachers are good tailors spoilt, and capital shoemakers turned out of their proper calling. When God means a creature to fly He gives it wings, and when He intends men to preach He gives them abilities. (p. 104)

One cannot overstate the effectiveness of Spurgeon’s ministry. Thousands of lives were changed through his presentation of the Word of God. It is estimated that some twenty million people attended services at the Metropolitan Tabernacle during Spurgeon’s tenure there. The conclusion to his final sermon from that pulpit on June 7, 1891 reminds us of  his devotion and concern for the sinful in need of a Savior.

If you wear the livery of Christ, you will find Him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was His like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold He always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind and tender, yea, lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it is Him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus Christ! (p. 114-5)

 

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