Don’t Take the Bait: Three Reasons Pastors Must Avoid The Booby Trap of Pulpit Plagiarism

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Earlier this year, Founders Press released my book Brothers, We Are Not Plagiarists. When it released Dave Jenkins at Servant of Grace asked me to write a related piece for his online theological magazine, Theology for Life. Here’s that piece, which likens plagiarism in the pulpit to a booby trap—an unseen explosive device that does untold damage to the un-expecting.

Let the reader understand, plagiarism in the pulpit is a big deal in the church. Since writing my book, I have received multiple emails reporting it, which only increases in my mind the need to address this subject. It is with sadness that I have received these reports. Yet, such incidents only reinforce the need for this book and for churches to dismantle the dangerous practice. May the Lord help pastors and churches do just that, and may this shorter article show why pulpit plagiarism matters so much.

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Dad, what is a booby trap?

Recently, in conversation with one of my sons, the subject of guerilla warfare came up, which in turn led to explaining how booby traps have often been used in war. Because my son has not seen the classic primer on booby traps, the 1980s treasure-seeking adventure Goonies, I proceeded to explain some of the ways booby traps worked in during the Vietnam Conflict.

Speaking outside my area of expertise, I cobbled together some explanation that passed for the time. If I had to speak further on the subject, a quick Google search might lead me to a Field Army Manuel like this one. And in this case, I would share with my son the following facts that I learned from Chapter 13: Booby Traps and Expedient Devices. I’d also share the fact that I am quoting.

From the world wide web, we discover that booby traps

  • Are usually explosive in nature.
  • Are actuated when an unsuspecting person disturbs an apparently harmless object or performs a presumably safe act.
  • Are designed to kill or incapacitate.
  • Cause unexpected, random casualties and damage.
  • Create an attitude of uncertainty and suspicion in the enemy’s mind, thereby, lowering his morale and inducing a degree of caution that restricts or slows his movement.

Now what do booby traps have to do with preaching?

The answer is that booby traps are an apt illustration for plagiarism in the pulpit. Continue reading

How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

john03How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

In Luke 15 we come across a parable told by Jesus, directed at the Pharisees, where a shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go save the one lost sheep. In that parable Jesus says something about himself and the lost sheep he has come to save. Even more, in that parable, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees who have refused to find the lost sheep. Simultaneously, he reveals the kingdom he is bringing, a kingdom filled with lost sheep, now found by Christ.

Just in case you have not read Luke 15 in a while, here it is again.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

In Luke’s Gospel everyone agrees this is parable. Jesus is using sheep to speak about the conditions in Jerusalem, which he was going to change soon.

In John 10 we have a similar parable, though the word parable (parabolē) is replaced by the word “figure of speech” (paroimian, v. 6). Ironically, many who read Jesus’s words in verses 1–6 do not recognize the parabolic nature of Jesus’s language. Instead, they see his words about the sheep as a mere illustration or metaphor. But in so doing, these commentators miss the context of Jesus’ sharp words.

So let me begin by saying that on the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus addresses his adversaries, the ones seeking to kill him, and he tells a parable that describes God’s coming judgment on the temple courts of Jerusalem. At the same time, his parable identifies Jesus as the only Savior who can lead his sheep away from this impending disaster.

This is the context of John 10:1–6, and in these six verses, we find at least three reasons for reading this passage in this way.

First, Jesus is not speaking to shepherd-peasants. He is speaking to the leaders of Jerusalem (9:40–41). As we read in John 8–9, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were leaders in Israel. And as John has shown from the beginning, when Jesus drove out the traders from the temple (John 2:13–22), Jesus is bringing a message of judgment against such false leaders.

So, as Jesus speaks here, he is not speaking literally about sheep and pens, he is using a figure of speech to condemn the shepherds in Jerusalem. And this is the second reason I don’t see vv. 1–6 as mere illustration. In verse 6 Jesus tells us how to interpret his words: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

So Jesus’s opponents don’t understand his words. And like all the parables Jesus told, this was the purpose. The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to reveal and conceal, to save and judge. And so here, Jesus’s sheep hear his voice, but his enemies will be confounded. And this was as it was designed by God.

So again, Jesus is speaking to the false shepherds of Jerusalem, and second he is speaking in a parable to them. But then, third, Jesus is speaking of events foretold in the Old Testament.

That is to say that when Jesus spoke of shepherds, sheep, sheepfolds, and strangers, we was digging into a rich tradition of biblical imagery and biblical prophecy. As we read in Ezekiel 34, the reason why God brought judgment on Jerusalem was largely a result of shepherds fleecing the sheep and failing to protect the flock.

So too in Jesus day, the Jewish leaders were not protecting the flock from sin but were robbing them and defiling God’s house. And accordingly Jesus came with this figure of speech aimed directly at the priests. In short, it is a word filled with warning.

At the same time, it was a word filled with hope and salvation for those sheep who have ears to hear. In fact, as John 10 continues, Jesus explains further how he will bring salvation to his sheep, even as the judgment comes. And for those today seeking to find salvation, shelter, and security from a world under threat of God’s judgment, this chapter is filled with gospel promises.

On Sunday, our church considered these promises and what it means that Jesus is the Door (John 10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and the Sovereign Sacrifice—the Son who had authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:17–18). Indeed, these are just some of the truths found in John 10:1–21 and you can hear the whole sermon here.

May the Lord continue to open the ears of his sheep, so that they are led from the courts of destruction to the eternal courts of God. This is the promise of John 10 and one we need today.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Crack in the Cosmos: Letting the Light of John 8:12–59 Expose the Divide in Humanity

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31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him,
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8:31–32 —

 I don’t know about you, but when I read lengthy dialogues in Scripture, especially in the Gospels, I find them hard to follow until I have a sense of structure of the argument. In John 8, this has been especially true. After Jesus announces that he is the light of the world (v. 12), his opponents (Pharisees in v. 13 and Jews in vv. 22, 31, 48, 52, 57) object, question, and reject his statements. Yet, this massive disputation is a jumble of back and forth, until you begin to see the order of the court.

As many commentators have observed, John’s Gospel has many elements of a trial in it. And if the whole book is a court case written to show that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31), it should not surprise us to find witnesses, evidence, and other elements of a law court. Indeed, that is how I take John 8:12–59, and in the outline included here, I offer a court case in two parallel parts.

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From this outline, let’s consider a couple things.

The Legal Brief in John 8

First, there is, in John 8:12–30, two arguments that run in parallel. This parallel is found in the order of the speech and the shape of the argumentation. Compare verses 12–19 and 20–27. In these two sections, we find Jesus making an opening statement in each. Remarkably these statements should be read together, and give us a sense of what the first trial is addressing. In verse 12, Jesus announces that he is the light coming into the world, and in verse 20 he says that he (the Light of the World) will be departing. Commiserate with so much in John, this trial is about Jesus and the light he brings.

Importantly, Jesus’s statement are met with hostile unbelief, expressed in two objections—one long, one short. This is how the trial proceeds until, in verses 28–30, Jesus points to his coming cross, when he will be lifted up. As verse 30 indicates, many believed in him, even though moments earlier (v. 27), they didn’t understand. So clearly, this faith lacks understanding, which Jesus will proceed to show as false.

Stopping here in the middle of the chapter, notice how this response of faith is the turning point of the chapter. Quite possibly, the faith of his hearers is based upon the hope that Jesus “lifting up” would be an exaltation to glory, which they might enjoy too. What Jesus has in mind with respect to his lifting up, however, is his coming crucifixion. But these disciples do not understand that (v. 27), they simply believe in Jesus for other purposes. This is a warning to us today and to any who believe in Jesus for their own reasons, not his.

In the context of John, we will see that the people of Israel were seekers of glory, and it seems Jesus’s words of lifting up could have invited such a misplaced faith. Accordingly, this is where the next section begins, as it moves to reveal the darkness of Jesus questioners. Like before, the second section has another mirrored debate, a legal dispute in two parts.

Verses 31–32 begins with another opening statement, but this time Jesus’s statement covers the two parts of the trial. As to the content of his statement, Jesus tells his would-be followers how they prove themselves them true. If they remain in his word, they will have life eternal, but if they refuse him and his words, they are false, darkened, and spiritually dead. Tragically, this is what the chapter proves.

Let’s following the argument in order. First, in vv. 31–47, the Jews ask three questions, to which Jesus responds three times. And in that legal debate, Jesus splits the difference between biological seeds of Abraham (which these Jews are) from spiritual heirs of Abraham (which these Jews are not). The result of this distinction is Jesus’s famous and forceful declaration that these “believers” are actually children of the devil. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (v. 44a).

Next, these devilish sons of Abraham accuse Jesus of demonic activity and Samaritan origins (v. 48), even as they reject his self-identification with Abraham. Again, this legal debate turns on three questions, followed by three responses from Jesus. Ironically, once identified with the devil, these interlocuters do the work of the accuser, questioning Jesus, his identity, and his eternity (i.e., his ancient knowledge of Abraham). But in context, all they do by questioning Jesus is to show their own spiritual ignorance and lifeless religion.

Consequently, when they pick up stones to throw at Jesus, a symbol that the trial has moved from deliberation to execution, John reveals that these accusers of Jesus are the ones who stand condemned by God. They do not know God and this is evident in the fact that they cannot recognize God’s Son. Accordingly, the chapter closes not with a guilty verdict for Jesus, but a guilty verdict for his legal opponents.

All in all, John uses a tight literary structure to lead the reader to see what he is doing. And more, he reveals who Jesus is by contrasting him with those who accuse him. Jesus is the light of the world who will be extinguished on the cross, so that in the light of his resurrection, all who truly believe in him will be saved. Yet, such faith does not come from the selfish will of men who want to glorify themselves by Jesus. Saving faith comes to those who are truly heirs of Abraham, sheep who hear Jesus voice, and children born of God.

John 8 and the Crack in the Cosmos

The division between biological seeds and spiritual heirs is a division, a crack in the cosmos, that ranges across the whole of humanity. And in John, this spiritual division between two kinds of people is seen by paying attention to the trial. In questioning and condemning Jesus, the Jewish leaders show themselves to be men of darkness. By contrast, those who abide in the words of Christ will walk in the light, as he is in the light, because God gives light to those who are children of light.

Again, this spiritual division is what we face in every conflict—whether familial, ecclesial, societal, legal, or political. As Jesus teaches, there are two kinds of people in the world. And as John 8, the sides are determined by God and detected by how one responds to the Son. Ultimately, John 8 reveals much about who Jesus is, but it also reveals much about who we are.

With that realization in mind, let us seek God’s mercy and pray for his light to lead us to Christ. Jesus is the light of the world, and if you rejoice in his light, he will reveal to you his truth, and his truth alone will set you free. Just as he says in John 8:31–32.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

Go And Preach No More? Six Contextual Problems With John 7:53–8:11

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Few passages in the Bible are more beloved than the story of the adulterous woman being brought to Jesus, condemned by the scribes and Pharisees, and then set free by the wisdom and compassion of Christ. At the same time, few passages in the Bible are more debated. Should John 7:53–8:11 be included in the Bible, or not?

In the early church, it was recognized that this passage was not present in the earliest Greek manuscripts. And Augustine and others suggested that the teaching in the passage is what led to exclusion. In On Adulterous Marriages (2.7.6), he writes, “Some men of slight faith” and others “hostile to true faith” removed the passage for fear that it would encourage adultery.[1]

In the modern era, the problem of the Pericope Audulterae (PA)[2] has not been a matter of questionable ethics, so much as questionable evidence. As most translations admit, “The earliest manuscripts does not include John 7:53–8:11” (ESV). Likewise, a majority of evangelical scholars also question the inclusion of this passage in the Bible. See, for instance, Daniel Wallace, Jim Hamilton, and a list of others.

On the other hand, there are biblical scholars who do argue for the inclusion of the PA in the biblical canon. This would include advocates of the King James Version, Majority Text advocates, and others who would point to the Byzantine text tradition. For instance, Maurice Robinson, a retired professor from SEBTS, who is not KJV-Only, has done the most extensive work on this subject.[3] And he has made the case for including this passage as original.

Still this is the minority report. And accordingly, Bible readers and preachers are left to wonder: How do we handle this text? Continue reading

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

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Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —

These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.

With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.

Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated! Continue reading

What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

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What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

Who do you listen to? And how well do you listen? An honest answer to those questions will tell you a lot about who you are and who you will be in five, ten, or fifty (thousand) years.

Few things are more important than the voices that we will listen to. And few gifts are more precious than men and women who testify to the grace of God in the gospel. If you are listening to others who speak of Christ, point to Christ, and help you follow Christ, you can know these are not just good friends, they are gifts from God.

On Sunday, we considered a similar line of thought as we heard the testimony of four “witnesses” who all tell us something about Christ. At a time when Jesus’ identity was in question and his actions were inviting opposition and the threat of death, Jesus turns to John the Baptist, his works, his Father, and the Scriptures to declare that he is the true Son of God.

Just the same, we need to hear these voices today, as they tell us who Jesus. Moreover, with these witnesses, Jesus warns us of many deadly symptoms of unbelief. Therefore, if you are looking to see who Jesus is or if your faith is genuine, this sermon may help. You can listen to exposition of John 5:30–47 here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Preach Hebrews the Next Time You Don’t Have a Preacher, Plus a Post-Script on Answered Prayer

dawn-mcdonald-2RADIf5oR28-unsplashWhat will you do the next time you do not have a preacher? Oh, I am not talking about planning for an upcoming Sunday when you, or your pastor, will be absent, or when multiple teaching elders are unavailable. I am talking about when it becomes apparent 10 hours or 10 minutes before Sunday morning that the man called to preach simply cannot do it.

In such a situation, you have a few options. You could call on someone to preach something already prepared. Such preparation includes having a sermon ready, but it could also mean calling on a “prepared” person who could open a text and give a faithful exposition. Elder-qualified pastors and Bible teachers would fall into this category. And one of the best Resurrection Sunday expositions I ever heard came from a seminary professor who was called to preach 10 minutes before service as the teaching pastor lay ill in his office—literally, he was writhing in pain on the floor. (He’s okay now).

Extreme moments call for extreme measures. And churches shouldn’t be surprised that in a fallen world where clay pots preach the glories of God that sometimes those vessels of dust cannot stand and speak. Yet, knowing that, we can still be caught off guard, or in need of immediate relief. And this last weekend was such a case in our church.

What We Did When the Preacher Couldn’t Preach

As many readers of this blog know, I am not a full time blogger—hence, the regular but not absolutely consistent blog schedule. Day to day, I have the joy of serving at Occoquan Bible Church, located in Northern Virginia. Since 2015, I have been pastor for preaching and theology. So, most Sundays I am the one standing up and preaching.

At the same time, we have a deep bench of gifted preachers. And if you check our website, you will find messages from Ben, Rod, Jared, Dave, Ron, and Jeff. All of our elders have preached multiple times to our church. And by conviction, we do this because we believe the pulpit is the Lord’s, not man’s. It is God’s Word that is preached, not our own. And it is the faithful preaching of God’s Word that builds his church, not the gifting of any one pastor. For that reason, we intentionally share the pulpit. And by design I preach about 40 times a year, not 52.

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Seeing is Believing: Returning to John’s Gospel

john03In the Spring of 2020, our church began a new sermon series on the Gospel of John. Little did we know that things would get really weird in March of that year, when the onslaught of Covid-19 led us to stop gathering for eight weeks. During that time and after, we looked Psalm 90–106 and Joel. Thereafter, our church studied Daniel, 1 Peter, and Proverbs 1–9, to name a few. Yet, it has always been the hope to resume our sermon series in John.

Thankfully, and under the Lord’s providence, we plan to restart this series next Sunday. In that sermon, I will give an overview of the whole Gospel. The following week, I will (Lord willing) restart a verse-by-verse exposition of John’s Gospel. That first message will begin where we left off in John 3 with the incredible encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. Today, for those in our church or others who might benefit from a sermon series on John’s Gospel, I share the five messages that we preached in 2020.

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Brother-Theologians: Preach the Word!

samuel-zeller-432101A few years ago I wrote this article on David Prince’s website. As I go to teach Systematic Theology 1 this week, I am reminded of it, and the need for theologians to be preachers.

In theology, we are not just called to study and store up knowledge of truth. We are called to study to show ourselves approved so that we may preach—or teach, or write, or counsel, or anything else that qualifies as heralding the good news—sound doctrine. To that point, I repost this article, in hopes that God may continue to raise up men sound in doctrine who will preach the Word.

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When I came to seminary, I wanted to study the Bible and theology. Having never “preached” a Sunday morning message, I was uncertain as to the role preaching would have in my life. Ten years later, through a combination of providential opportunities and willingness to preach whenever I was asked, I have finished my theological education  (Yes, it took a decade!) and have preached more Sundays than not.

For nearly five years I have filled the pulpit at my current church—first as a supply preacher, then an interim pastor, and last as the senior pastor. In the lustrum before serving at our church, I like so many of my seminary peers preached in nursing homes, urban missions, country parishes. It was a wonderfully painful time, one where precious little flocks like Corn Creek Baptist Church endured my preaching and helped me learn how to preach.

During that time, preaching was a priority, but so was theology. By training, I am a systematic theologian, or at least, that’s what my degree says. Therefore, as a pastor and a theologian, I feel a measure of familiarity with both vocations. And I feel a fraternal affection and responsibility to exhort aspiring theologians with what Paul commanded Timothy: Preach the Word! Continue reading

A Grace That Endures: Eleven Words of Comfort in Times of Crisis (Psalm 119:25–32)

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Amazing grace, How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found, / Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, / And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear / The hour I first believed.

These lyrics are the opening words to John Newton’s famous hymn Amazing Grace. And they recall his miraculous conversion from a trader of slaves to a slave of Christ. And if you have tasted the grace of Christ  in your life and experienced the forgiveness of sins, the regenerating work of the Spirit, and the undeserved love of the Father, then his lyrics are precious beyond words. For in Newton’s hymn, we find a testimony of grace that recalls our salvation as well.

Yet, Amazing Grace is not only a hymn of salvation, it is also a hymn of preservation. For it continues . . . Continue reading