Snapshot Sermons

“Sum up four years of your life in a 60-second video.”

That’s the challenge Huntington Willard, director of Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, has set his doctoral students. In addition to their dissertation, they are to submit a “snapshot dissertation,” 30-60 second video summing up the hundreds of pages and thousands of hours they’ve poured into it.

You can hear the squeals already, can’t you? I have two friends who completed scientific doctorates, and over the years I must have asked them a dozen times each to explain their work to me. Despite many glassy-eyed hours, I’m still none the wiser.

“I’ve always been convinced of the need for scholars to be able to speak ‘in plain English’ to people outside of the academy,” said Willard. “I teach [students] to imagine explaining what they’re learning to their parents or grandparents.” It’s all part of Duke’s Scholars and Public initiative to forge greater connections between the academy and the community.

For the same reason, no matter how much it makes us squeal, preachers (and teachers) should be “forced” (or should force themselves) to sum up their sermon (or lesson) in one sentence. For example, here’s a “Snapshot Sermon” on Psalm 2:

As God offers peace to his enemies before He defeats them, embrace His Son of Peace before He becomes your Judge.

The main points of the sermon were:

  1. The Lord has multiple enemies (1-3)
  2. The Lord will defeat His enemies (4-9)
  3. The Lord offers peace to His enemies (10-12)

We want to compare the snapshot sermon with the main points and ask:

  • Is it comprehensive? Does the summary cover all the main points of the sermon?
  • Is it unified? Do the different parts make up one whole or just lots of disconnected parts?
  • Is it simple? Remove passive voice, complex clauses, technical language, etc?
  • Is it short? Can I say this in fewer words without sacrificing the meaning?
  • Is it purposeful? Does it explain the point, the end, the aim of the sermon?
  • Is it worth it? Sometimes this exercise reveals that for all the good things in the sermon, there’s actually no real substance in it or no great point to it.

Apart from preventing some sermons being preached that should never be preached, this exercise also reveals if we’ve really mastered our subject. It also helps the preacher hone his material, cutting out anything that doesn’t connect with and support the snapshot. In the act of preaching the snapshot helps the preacher to achieve disciplined focus, forward momentum, and fitting climax.

Why not try it…and listen for the squeals.


Check out

Porn Circuit
Understand your brain and break porn habits in 90 days. Free eBook on biblical neurology.

Extended interview with Rosaria Butterfield
Barry York’s first podcast at Gentle Reformation interviews Rosaria and the pastor God used to lead her to Christ.

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects
I’ve had a sneak preview of where Tim’s going with this and  can assure you that this series will be well worth your reading time. If anyone can make church history accessible, profitable, and memorable it’s Tim.

Why respond publicly to Doug Wilson’s “Black and Tan”
Here’s another shorter series that’s a must-read. Thabiti Anyabwile has started to review Doug Wilson’s controversial book on race and slavery. In Part Two, Thabiti summarizes Doug Wilson’s views.

Missing out on beautiful
This is a beautiful article on the beauty of Penny, a young girl with Down Syndrome, and of all the Pennys among us.

Depression: When the black dog howls
This is one of the best short articles on depression I’ve ever read.


When the Government Tries to be God

Although Christians ought to be the most loyal citizens in any nation, we are facing the increasing challenge of a government that instead of acting as God’s servant for good, is becoming God’s opponent for evil?

Of course, for too long successive governments have enacted and tolerated laws that are evil (such as the legalizing of abortion). What’s new in our day is that laws are being proposed and enacted that attempt to force Christians to give up core Christian doctrines (e.g. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation) and ethics (e.g. biblical definition of marriage).

When the Government does this, it is crossing the line from being God’s servant to being God itself. When that happens, what should we do? Thankfully we have a biblical example of similar governmental usurpation of God’s place in Acts 4, when the Apostles were commanded to stop preaching Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.

The apostle’s response was not a simple “No way!” Rather, it was a respectful and biblically reasoned “No!”

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

Their “No” was framed as a question, appealed to the leaders’ knowledge of God, and explained the preaching of Jesus as something that they couldn’t help doing. But it was still a “No!”

When forbidden to preach Christ-alone-ism and commanded to preach many-ways-to-God-ism (or pluralism) we respectfully say, “No! And here are our reasons.”

1. Pluralism disobeys God
What’s the first and greatest commandment? “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5).

It was first given to Israel as they prepared to enter a multi-faith environment, Jesus reiterated it in the midst of a similar multi-religious culture, and it remains the first and greatest commandment to this day. Everybody must have the God of the Bible as their only God and everybody should love that one God with everything they have.

Pluralism disobeys God because it says you can have any, many, or no gods and you certainly don’t need to love Him with everything you’ve got.

2. Pluralism diminishes Scripture
Pluralism says that there are many paths to the top of the mountain. There’s a Jewish path, a Hindu path, a Buddhist path, etc., and we all meet up at the top in God. This diminishes, undermines, and rejects the Bible’s message that there is one path up the mountain and it’s Jesus Christ (1 John 5:12; John 14:6; 3:36).

Political leaders can pass as many laws as they like but they can’t change the truth of Scripture by legislation or by majority vote. They may decide that gravity doesn’t exist, vote against it, pass laws against it, and prosecute its supporters.  But if any one of them chooses to jump out the window they’ll discover that no matter how public, vehement, and repeated their assertions, gravity is still very true.

3. Pluralism defies logic
The future heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, is meant to take an oath to be the defender of the protestant faith. However, he’s decided that he wants to be simply “the defender of faith.” What kind of faith? Any kind of faith? There are people who still believe it’s OK to sacrifice children. Are we going to defend their faith?

Even secular journalists see the folly of this. Janet Daley of the Daily Telegraph wrote: “You cannot defend all faiths – at least not at the same time – because each has beliefs that render those of the others false.”

It’s not faith that saves but what or who faith is in. Many Muslims’ faith is stronger than many Christians’ faith. But no matter how sincere, zealous, vigorous, and confident faith is, if it’s in a falsehood it will not save. Thankfully, the weakest faith in Christ will certainly save.

4. Pluralism damages evangelism
What motivated the New Testament apostles and evangelical missionaries through the centuries? It was the belief that Christ is the only way to be saved.

We’re not funding missionaries and doing evangelism because we think it’s a good idea, it’s a nice hobby, or it makes us feel good. It’s because, to put it bluntly, without Christ, you’re damned. And if we don’t believe that, then let’s stop all evangelism and outreach, and let’s call all the missionaries back and stop wasting our money.

But, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is no other name in India, in Pakistan, in Iraq, or in Antartica. What about Afghanistan? No other name. What about the USA? No other name. No second name, no third name, no fourth name. No other name.

5. Pluralism despises our neighbor
We’re being told today that preaching the Gospel is hatred. No, to be silent is hatred. To say nothing about Jesus to the perishing is hatred. To see someone in error and hold back the truth is hatred.

The second great commandment is “to love our neighbor as ourselves.” That’s why to every pious Hindu, orthodox Jew, secular atheist, sincere agnostic, radical Muslim, and nominal Christian, we tell you with a heart overflowing with love, Jesus is the only Name under heaven by which you can be saved.

6. Pluralism denies Christ
The Apostle Peter had denied Christ in front of a little servant girl a few weeks before because he was so afraid of the religious and political leaders. Now he faces these same leaders and is again charged with knowing and preaching Christ.

What will he do? Is he going to deny Jesus again? Will he just use the general name “God,” and avoid offending his accusers?

No. From his “I don’t know the man” of a few weeks previously, he now preaches the Name above every name. What a moment! The denier of Christ becomes a spirit-filled preacher of Christ to the crucifiers of Christ (vv. 8-12).

And notice it’s not enough to say, “He is a Savior,” or even “He is my Savior.” No, “He is the only Savior.” The Savior that excludes all others. “Neither is there salvation in any other.” There are no options, no alternatives, no substitutes, no fall backs, no back ups.

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).


Check out

Seeds for a harvest
Rik Devos is stimulating Michigan’s dormant entrepreneurial spirit with a $15M investment fund. Great model for other Christian business people looking to steward their money in talent-multiplying ways.

Relinquishing Leadership
RTS’s Michael Milton is stepping down as Chancellor and CEO to recover his health and hopefully extend his much-needed and much-valued leadership for many years to come.

Pastoring Christians for the Workplace
9Marks latest  journal focuses on helping Christians in the workplace.

J I Packer’s Five Marks of Revived Churches
And here, Kevin DeYoung defines the revival he prays for every week.

F.L.E.E.
A strategy for pursuing sexual purity.

Why pursue racial integration in our churches
The redemption that Jesus purchased for us was not merely an individual salvation; it was also an interpersonal, intercultural, interracial reconciliation.


Podcast: Reading and Studying Isaiah


Download here.

In this week’s podcast, Tim and I review R C Sproul’s Lesson 2: Isaiah in the Ligonier Connect course that we are studying with 1200+ others.

This week we answer some of the questions that have arisen about Elijah and Isaiah. Some of the questions we consider are:

1. How do we explain God seeming to send a lying spirit in 1 Kings 22?

2. What’s the best way to read and study Isaiah?

3. How do we interpret poetic literature in the Bible?

4. What will the new heavens and the new earth be like?

5. How should we read Isaiah 53? Tim refers to this testimony: The Revival of a Rebel Jew.

There were a number of other questions that we couldn’t cover in the limited time, but we’ll post the other answers to your questions on the Ligonier Connect Course pages.

If you would like to take this course with us, there is still a short time to join in. Simply click here and join the version of the course led by Tim and me. Have the first, second and third lesson completed by March 18 and you’ll be right there with us. And in the meantime, give the podcast a quick listen.


The Most Disobeyed Commandment in the Church?

OK, that’s a big claim. So let me limit it a bit. “The most disobeyed commandment in the church in the last four months.”

Now, let’s see, what happened four months ago?

Oh, yes, President Obama won re-election.

But what’s that got to do with any commandment?

Well, try the fifth for size.

Honor my father and mother? Obama’s not my Dad.

No, but the fifth commandment covers all inferior-superior relationships, including that of citizen-President. As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it:

By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth (A. 124).

Answer 125 goes on to explain that superiors like Presidents are called father and mother to make us more willing and cheerful in performing our duties to them, as if they were our parents!

Gulp!

It get’s worse, better, worse, whatever. Answer 127 tells us what honor we owe to the President:

  1. All due reverence in heart, word, and behavior
  2. Prayer and thanksgiving for them
  3. Imitation of their virtues and graces
  4. Willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels
  5. Due submission to their corrections
  6. Fidelity to, defense and maintenance of their persons and authority
  7. Bearing with their infirmities
  8. Covering them in love

8x Gulp!

Many Christians have shattered this commandment in a thousand pieces over the last four months, perhaps even over the last four years.

Sure, we must defend the sanctity of life and of marriage, but we must not do so at the expense of the fifth commandment. Since when do we get to pick and choose which commandments are most important and which are irrelevant?

Serious moral errors in some areas of government policy and practice are no excuse for failing to obey this commandment in all other areas.

Thankfully and mercifully, God offers forgiveness for this sin too – if we repent of it and believe in Jesus.

I’m guessing this will be the most unshared, unliked, and un-tweeted post I’ve ever written. But I’ll probably make up for that tomorrow when we’ll look at exceptions to the fifth commandment – what we should do when the Government tries to be God.

Update: Here’s a link to When Government tries to be God.