When I first started preaching I often listened on tape to two well-known preachers to steal sermons enrich my spirit. One particular sermon stands out. God had obviously given the message to the preacher. I know God gave him the message because he began the sermon by telling people they really needed to listen because God had given him a special message for them that day.
It was a masterful sermon. Deeply theological. Amazingly practical. I couldn’t wait to preach it that next Sunday night! But before I did, I needed to listen to another well-known preacher speak on the same topic. After all, using just one source is plagiarism but using two or more is research.
I couldn’t believe my ears. As I listened to this second preacher I was blown away by another masterfully delivered, deeply theological, and amazingly practical sermon. Well, it wasn’t really “another” sermon; it was THE SAME sermon! It was almost exactly the same — except for the part where the preacher on the first tape said, “God gave me what I think will be a powerful message for you today.” Now, the crazy thing was that the first sermon I heard was preached second and the second sermon was preached first. I know this because of the dates printed on the tapes. In other words, the guy who said he got his message from God actually got it from another preacher.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t bother me that one preacher was using another preacher’s material. Every preacher does this. What bothers me was the claim of WHERE the sermon came from.
“God gave me this . . . idea. . . plan . . . desire . . . dream . . . vision. . . .message.” It rolls off some people’s tongues so easily. And how can you argue with them? I mean, after all, if God showed them something then who am I to say that it’s actually the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard?!
It amazes me how God often gives people ideas that just happen to correspond with the last book they read, the last conference they attended, or the last sermon they listened to. The cynic in me “knows” these people are lying through their teeth. They’re using the “God gave me this” line to evoke HIS authority and enforce THEIR desires on others.
Now I know God has spoken in the past at many times and in various ways — and he can do so again if he chooses. God can use a prophet, a book, a sermon, a movie, an email, a spouse, a kid, . . . anything he wants.
But there is a HUGE difference between God speaking to nudge a life a closer to himself and humans presuming that every idea they have is from God. There is a HUGE difference between a preacher HUMBLY studying, praying, researching, and doing the hard work of lesson prep and simply claiming divine authority. There is a HUGE difference between a leader saying God pointed the way when the way is nothing more (or less) than an effective program stolen borrowed from another church.
Again, I see absolutely nothing wrong in getting ideas from others. God wants us to do that. I also believe God does speak to us today. I just believe we tread on VERY DANGEROUS and VERY HOLY ground when we claim to speak for God.
When the prophets of Jeremiah’s day claimed to speak for God, God told Jeremiah to tell the people; “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:16). And God went on to say two verses later, “See, the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplished the purposes of his heart. In days to come you will understand clearly.”
We tread on VERY DANGEROUS and VERY HOLY ground when we claim to speak for God.