What I read in June

I am always consuming books, whether they’re physical, digital or audio. Every month, I like to share a breakdown of everything I read, including the books I abandoned. I do this because it gives me an opportunity to introduce you to books you might not have had an opportunity to read while practicing the art of writing concise book reviews.

In June, I read 11 books to completion and started a couple of others that have yet to complete. Here’s what I read:

  1. Aquaman, Vol. 1: The Drowning by Dan Abnett
  2. Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus Into the Everyday Stuff of Life by Jeff Vanderstelt
  3. The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Steven J. Lawson
  4. Aquaman, Vol. 2: Black Manta Rising by Dan Abnett
  5. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse
  6. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown
  7. Growth Hacking: Silicon Valley’s Best Kept Secret by Raymond Fong and Chad Riddersen
  8. Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi
  9. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
  10. The Flash, Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice by Joshua Williamson

Why adults aren’t ready to be adults, and life in South Africa

Ben Sasse is an interesting and thoughtful guy, and if his book, The Vanishing American Adult, does one thing, it reminds readers of that. This book explores the possible reasons why millennials seem less prepared for adulthood than the previous several generations, without the cliché “These kids today/get offa my lawn” condescension. Sasse raises some valid questions about the role our education system plays in this lack of preparedness, especially, as he comes around to his conclusion that much of it has to do with kids being protected from the difficult aspects of life—including hard work. I listened to this in audiobook form, so it was particularly interesting to hear it with the author’s intended tone.

In Born a Crime, Trevor Noah (the host of The Daily Show) shares his story of growing up in South Africa as a half-white, half-black child born in the latter days of Apartheid. He does a great job of peppering some much-needed levity throughout the book (usually at his own expense), honoring his mother even as he admits that their relationship is incredibly complicated, and addressing the reality of systemic racism and poverty. This is not a feel-good book, per se, but it is not one that leads you to despair, either. What it will do is make you think, and Lord knows we need more books that do this.

Getting my business books on

This month, I had a surprising amount of work-related reading: Two books dealt with the concept and practical application of “growth hacking,” which is a term used to describe a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to grow a business or brand. Hacking Growth by Ellis and Brown is the “big idea” book, attempting to lay out the vision of taking this approach to marketing with a larger organization, where Growth Hacking by Fong and Ridderson is the nitty-gritty “how to” guide. Both had some interesting concepts and sparked some good ideas for me, but I don’t know that I would call any of them game-changers or earth-shattering. If you’ve read books by Seth Godin, or Chip and Dan Heath, you’ve got a decent foundation for this thinking, and there’s undoubtedly a Ted Talk or two that you could find online to help flesh out some concepts. Leadership and the One Minute Manager is another one that has some good principles, especially for those who are trying to figure out how to lead laterally (that is, you’re leading via influence rather than authority), but nothing that should be shockingly different from any of the other leadership books out there. Plus, it takes about an hour to read, so there’s that.

Books with pictures, gospel culture, and gospel preachers

Abigail’s and my journey into DC’s Rebirth titles continues, with a first go around with the new Aquaman series, as well as The Flash. Both of these characters are hit-and-miss for me, but I really enjoyed both of these series, as did Abigail. I appreciated the tension Dan Abnett is trying to bring to Aquaman’s world, balancing the tense relationship between Atlantis and America (and who says politics isn’t fun?), trying to bring peace between the surface world and his people, when neither is too sure they really want it. The Flash is probably the most new-reader-friendly of all the titles I’ve read so far. I can tell that Joshua Williamson is trying to win the trust of readers with this book, injecting some personality into the Barry Allen character while also doing some pretty heavy lifting in terms of moving along the big “Rebirth” storyline along. Definitely looking forward to keeping up with this book for a while.

The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is another breezy read, one you can probably power through in a couple of hours. Steven Lawson does his usual bang-up job with this very focused biography on Lloyd-Jones the preacher. Because the chapters are more or less stand-alone essays, there are points of repetition, but nothing that negatively impacts the book. This is a great teaser for a larger biography, such as Iain Murray’s opus.

Finally, Jeff Vanderstelt’s Gospel Fluency is officially one of my favorite books on church culture. This was another audiobook for me (though I have the physical book, too), and it was great to hear Vanderstelt read this book. It has a great conversational feel, which is exactly what the content needs. Like Ray Ortlund’s Gospel, this is a book about orienting the culture of our churches around the gospel. Of being the kind of people who actually live like we believe it’s true, and who handle both good and bad news in light of the gospel. Some of it, in all honesty, sounded kind of strange—but in a really good kind of way. The kind of strange that reminds you that the church’s culture should be unlike anything else in all the world.

That’s it for this month’s round-up. Do you find these posts helpful? Do you have a suggestion for a book for me or someone else to read or want to share what you’ve read? Connect with me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know!

Here’s a look at what I read in:

Why denouncing alt-right racism is a no brainer (but necessary)

Bible zoomed in on Romans

Today, the SBC Annual Meeting is hearing and voting on a resolution to formally denounce alt-right nationalism and the racism so often found within its views. If I understand the purpose of resolutions correctly (keep in mind, this is my first time at this meeting), essentially it means that, if passed, the resolution will formalize the denomination’s opinion that this position is anti-gospel, and therefore anti-Christian.

One only has to look at the comments creeping into the SBC17 hashtag in response to this news to see why this needs to be addressed. Moving forward with such a resolution should be be a no-brainer for the simple reason that a straightforward understanding of the gospel would demand this of us.

But what do I mean by “demands”? Consider just a few ways from Scripture:

The gospel demands that we renounce evil in all its forms. “…take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:22–23, CSB).

The gospel challenges us to consider others greater than ourselves. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4, CSB).

The gospel refuses to allow us to indulge favoritism. “My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1).

The gospel unites people, regardless of gender, background, nationality. “For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:27–29, CSB).

The gospel purchases people from all nations and brings them all into one kingdom. “…you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9, CSB).

The gospel brings together what is beautiful and good from every culture and creates a beautiful picture, a preview of the kingdom to come. We aren’t called to preserve a specific national identity—we’re called to show the world something greater. The gospel unites us in Jesus. It expels darkness and brings light. Until the day comes when Jesus finally and fully expunges the darkness, we are going to keep on needing to remember these truths. May this be an opportunity for us to be reminded at this time.

No, you don’t have to comment on everything

Social media and clickbait culture have encouraged us to believe that we should comment on everything. But should we?

I don’t think so. In fact, I usually think it’s better if we don’t. Why? It generally comes down to one thing. A proverb, in fact. “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions” (Proverbs 18:2, CSB).

Commenting in Ignorance

Take politics as one example. I tend to not delve into politics too often in my writing. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I do write about politics… it’s just that I don’t really feel comfortable commenting on current events too often. There are plenty of think pieces (and far too many hit pieces) already being written from every point of view. The few offering thoughtful commentary, I would highly recommend.1 Most I would encourage you to read literally anything else, because it would be more beneficial.2

I have opinions about politics, including American politics. I occasionally share those opinions with friends. But usually, I prefer to keep my mouth shut online. I rarely feel like I understand situations well enough to write about them. And truthfully, I really don’t feel like I can trust media outlets enough to provide me with the balanced reporting necessary to allow me to understand. Because virtually everything is hyper-sensationalized—and I do believe many across the political spectrum are guilty of this—little of it is useful. So rather than perpetuate foolishness, I want to be quiet… at least until I have enough information to form a well-rounded opinion.

Choosing When to Comment and When to Be Silent

This goes beyond politics, of course. We are all constantly being put in positions where we should be ready with a hot-take or response to whatever we don’t like or disagree with (even if it’s not worth responding to). When a public figure says something stupid, or when Chris Pratt posts anything on Instagram, there’s an enormous pressure to speak up, resist, and take a stand. Or something.

We have to remember that social media is also social engineering. Deeper engagement comes from encouraging us to be outraged, something my friend Chris Martin addresses much more intelligently on a regular basis in his writing.

And while there are many times when we should speak up—and I freely admit that I sometimes err on the side of silence too often—it bears repeating: we don’t have to comment about anything we don’t want to, or we feel ill-equipped to talk about. Rushing in with guns blazing, and pontificating on a shaky foundation isn’t brave or compassionate. It’s foolishness. So when you’re tempted, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a deep breath, turn off social media for a while, and pray for wisdom.

  1. For example, Trevin Wax and David French are always worth reading.[]
  2. You can probably make your own list.[]

Keeping sane in the clash of worldviews

The Internet has never been a place where everyone holds hands and sings kumbaya, but, over particularly the last 24 months, certain social media platforms have become more unpleasant than usual. It doesn’t matter if it’s politics or footnotes vs endnotes,[1. I wish I were kidding.] a fight is probably coming your way sooner than later. Worse, the more divided Westerners (but especially Americans) become, the more people retreat into their respective echo chambers to listen almost exclusively to those with whom they agree.

I’ve been thinking about the “why” behind this behavior. What is causing it? My suggestion is this: what we’re continuing to see play out is not simply heightened political division, but a clash of worldviews—an attack on one’s most deeply held beliefs about how the world works.

Let’s just take one simple example: I think most everyone agrees that the buzzwords we hear today—fake news, alternative facts and the like—are damaging. But the problem we face is not always with the words, but the worldview that underpins (or undermines) them. To decry fake news requires that one admit there is, as Francis Schaeffer put it, “true truth.” To say no to “alternative” facts is to say yes to the idea that there is an objective truth that can be known and understood by all. But the truth is, it’s going to be almost impossible to get anyone to agree to what the “truth” is.

Knowing this is what helps me keep sane when I read the news and engage online. There’s a powerful story being told right now before our eyes, one built upon the promise of human progress. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, change begins with me, and all that. And the reason so many people lash out in anger, tweet storming, and looting Starbucks stores isn’t simply that they’re angry about an election. Their worldview has been attacked, and they are fighting to protect it.[2. This is not just a “liberal” problem; political conservatives experience the same difficulties.]

But I also know there’s a better story—a true one that God’s been telling from the beginning of time. A story centered around one man, Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. The one by whom and for whom all things were created, who soon will come again to make all things new. That is the story I hold onto. That is the story that makes the world make sense. It’s the worldview that, that though challenged, can never be defeated.

After all, it’s the only one that’s true.

More powerful than hot takes, think pieces and outrage tweets

Today, it will be tempting for many to write a hot take or a think piece on the inauguration. Something to remind us of God’s sovereignty over all things, including secular government. Many have already written these. Many will passionately type that this isn’t their president, encourage resistance, spread hashtags, and sometimes get downright nasty (regardless of affiliation). Lots of folks are doing this.

And I’m already exhausted by it.

My goal in writing this isn’t to point a finger at anyone, to make a political statement or anything like that. Because I’m not a citizen, I can’t vote; I don’t have a voice in the process. I simply have to live with the decisions that are made. Further, I don’t want to speculate about why people voted the way they did for either candidate in November. We’re here in this moment and nothing is going to change it.

That includes bold hashtags, angry tweets and think pieces (like this one).

But that doesn’t mean we need to be resigned to this fact. All of us, whether we voted, chose not to, or are ineligible to vote, have a part to play going forward, especially those of us in the Christian community. That is to pursue the good of our neighbors. And that, always, starts with prayer.

  • Pray for those who may be frightened because they feel unrepresented by the government and for an opportunity to be a practical encouragement.
  • Pray for those in and outside of positions of power, asking the Lord to transform their hearts and minds so that he might be glorified in them.
  • Pray that those who are weary of all the fighting across political aisles not to give up hope or doing good.

But don’t feel you must say something. Don’t get sucked into the muck and mire of angry tweetstorms. Don’t let frustration fester into bitterness.

Instead, pray and then say something if and when you really need to. Pray and then look for a way to show compassion to someone near you. Pray and then turn off Twitter instead of letting it fuel your frustration.

Pray, trusting that God is the good Father he says he is, and that as the Creator of the universe, all things are subject to him.

I realize that, for some, this might seem a wholly unsatisfying request. And maybe it is. But is it more wise and powerful? Without a doubt.

Photo: Pixabay

Reclaiming Hope

The American political machine is a strange and frightening creature, at least from this Canadian’s perspective. Although I can’t participate in it (I’m not a citizen so no voting), I want to understand it. The real differences between parties, how the system functions (or arguably doesn’t)… And what I’ve noticed is that there is a serious divide, one that only seems to be growing deeper and wider.

This is where Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear has been helpful to me. Wear is the founder of Public Square Strategies LLC, and a former Obama Administration staffer notable for directing faith outreach for President Obama’s during 2012 reelection campaign. During his time at the White House, navigating the confusion of many of his peers and the controversies created by policy decisions, Wear gained a great deal of insight into why the divide exists, and how we can address it. This is what he shares with us in this engaging memoir.

Conflicted compassion for President Obama and the Democratic Party

President Obama’s eight years in office will be remembered for many things, and depending on your perspective those will be primarily positive or negative. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear conservative Christians question the validity of his profession of faith in Christ, in part based on his views on abortion and same-sex marriage. While those on the political left laud him for his “evolution” on the latter point, many the political right view him as a demagogue determined to tear apart the fabric of American culture.

Whether fair or not, these views and a thousand more besides are out there on blogs, in books and in the news. And reading this book, it’s evident that Wear feels the weight of those statements deeply. He respects President Obama, even when he disagrees with him. There’s almost an incredulity in the tone of his words as he considers his experiences and what happened in the White House during the latter half of Obama’s first term. When he publicly changed his views on marriage, some claimed that he’d held these beliefs all along, but was waiting until the right time to voice them. Others simply said, “It’s about time; he should have said it years ago.” But considering how often Obama spoke with an understanding of the Christian view of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman, Wear struggled. And the question he was forced to consider is profound:

“Would he really have used religious language to convince voters of something he did not believe?” (150, ARC).

While he doesn’t directly answer the question with where he landed, he does clearly lay out the options and their implications:

If the president did believe in and support same-sex marriage in 2007 or even earlier, his repeated assertions that he did not were a direct rebuke of the type of politics he said was possible. If not, then to let the claim stand that he supported gay marriage all along is to choose political gain over the integrity of the president’s own words. (155-156)

You see this tension all through the book, and Wear handles it well. There are many points at which he applauds the Obama Administration’s actions and decisions and others where he expresses his disagreement (as in the Louie Giglio controversy prior to Obama’s second inauguration). And what it helps us realize is that this tension is inherent to the party itself. There are some Democrats (like Wear) who feel abandoned by the party. But there’s also a bewildered realization that for many in the party, even the most basic biblical concepts or references are completely foreign. They, like so many of us, are doing what is right in their own eyes, trying to create a brave new world in the name of human progress. (But more on that in a second.)

What do we mean by hope?

The fascinating aspects of Wear’s experience aside, the most meaningful aspect of the entire book actually comes in the final two chapters, where Wear sets out to fulfill the title’s promise: reclaiming hope. But he does this in a fascinating way, not simply by giving us practical actions (which he does) but by seeing to define what hope is and what it looks like in our time.

The meat of this comes in his discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates and hope. Coates is a powerful writer, but he is not known for being a hopeful one. By his own admission, he believes that to be wedded to “hope,” particularly for writers, is “ultimately [to be] divorced from ‘truth.'”[1. As quoted on page 194.]

And this is true, depending on how your understanding of the foundation for hope. If we primarily look to human accomplishment and behavioral patterns, yeah, we’ve every reason to be pessimistic. Although there are shining moments of progress and innovation, technological advancement and so forth, those same innovations have also been used for unprecedented evil.[2. There’s also an argument worth considering that human innovation largely slowed, if not altogether halted, in the late 1960s to early 1970s.] But true hope isn’t rooted in human progress, but Christ. In fact, so strongly does Wear make his case that, ultimately, one can only conclude that it is virtually impossible to adequately define hope apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. Without him as the object of our hope, we’re left with nothing but human progress to look to… which then leads us back to pessimism. And that’s what we need to focus on as we engage in the public square because it changes how we engage, especially in the two great battlegrounds of the coming years.

The first is the issue of racism and racial reconciliation. “Our nation is held back by racism and inequality in both lost opportunity and the cost to government from our criminal justice, foster care, and welfare systems, just to name a few,” he writes (217). We need to move past slogans and platitudes and truly work for lasting change. With our hope rooted in human progress, it’s an impossible task. But, as he writes,

The gospel, the call of justice, and the demands of our times all call for a concentrated effort at addressing racial injustice and working toward reconciliation. This is a possibility burdened by our history, but enlivened by hope. (221)

The second is religious freedom, which he notes is under legitimate pressure because it’s been so polarized due to the ongoing debates around same-sex marriage and now gender identity. But where Wear differs from many contemporary writers on these points is that his question is, how do we make it clear that religious freedom is about more than this one point:

When one religious group’s freedom is abridged, it affects everyone’s religious freedom. Either religious freedom is for all or it is for none. And religious freedom will always be most important to minority religious groups. (225)

These last points are, without a doubt, the most important of Reclaiming Hope. What we build our hope on is what will sustain us. As we look at the battles we have to face, we cannot stand on the hope of human progress. That hope, particularly in the battle over religious freedom has seen our grasp of diversity move from respecting different beliefs and opinions to pushing out any dissenting voices. We need something better. And we have it. More than that, we who believe in Christ who is our hope can offer it as we engage in the public and private spheres. If you want to be encouraged in the task, and if you want to be challenged in how you view those you differ from politically, read this book.

It’s all going to be okay


Well… that was not what I expected.

Of course, I’m talking about the election, because really, who wasn’t watching that last night?

There are a lot of disappointed people on both sides. Many Christians—including good friends of mine—would be deeply disappointed regardless of who won the election last night (and with good reason). Neither candidate is morally praiseworthy, as so many think pieces (and, let’s be honest: the candidates themselves) have gone to great lengths to illustrate.

And now, here we are. One of them is the President Elect. And it appears to be Donald Trump (unless something radically shifted between my writing and my publishing of this piece).

Much ink (digital and otherwise) has been spilled over this man, and I’m not going to bother rehashing anything, because it doesn’t matter. He’s the man the American people chose.

I’ve seen fears tweeted that the poor, Americans identifying as LGBT, Muslims, and a host of others are going to be in jeopardy. That those who need medical assistance are going to be in danger. That the economy is going to go into the toilet. World War Three might have even begun already for all we know.

At the same time, I know there are a lot of Christians who felt backed into a corner, trying to find a way to vote according to at least some of their values, and not violate their consciences. Some couldn’t see a better option, and chose to vote for the candidate (or rather, the party) they believe most likely to put some restraint on abortion, offer some sort of protection of religious liberty, and maybe offer a better solution to the legitimate healthcare problems Americans face than the Affordable Care Act provides.

Whether any of that happens or not, who can say. They could, but I’m undecided on whether or not any will (whether things I’m for or against).

There are a lot of things that could be said. In fact, there are lot of things that WILL be said. But what I keep coming back to is this: It’s going to be okay.


You know why? Because nothing’s really all that different.

We still live in a culture that is increasingly anti-Christianity (and not just anti-Christian). Many of us live in communities where people have never met a Christian at all. People don’t know what we’re all about. Many don’t care. But that’s okay because nothing is different.

The world hasn’t changed overnight. And our mission hasn’t changed, either.

We’re still to be salt and light in the world. We’re to go to work today and glorify God in it. We’re to show love and compassion as Ambassadors for Christ, regardless of the political and cultural climate. We’re to pray for the leaders of our nations, knowing that they’ve been placed there by God according to his purposes.

Even if we neither know nor like what those purposes may be.

Don’t let fear distract you. Your LGBT and Muslim neighbors might be feeling it, too. Your conservative and liberal friends may be feeling it, also. And they need to casts the one who casts out fear: His name is Jesus.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

[Reading Writers] Dan Darling on reading to engage the culture

Dan Darling joins me on this week's episode of Reading Writers

Jesus is more popular than ever—but which Jesus? Today, I’m joined by Dan Darling, author of The Original Jesus, to discuss the Jesuses of our own imagining, and how reading helps us as we seek to show the real Jesus to the culture around us on Reading Writers.

Books and resources mentioned in this episode

And be sure to follow Dan on Twitter at @DanDarling.

Who will be on the next episode of Reading Writers?

Next week, Gloria Furman, author of Missional Motherhood, joins me to discuss how busy mothers can find time to read, a broader meaning of motherhood, and what beverage goes best with Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

Can I sponsor Reading Writers?

Want to sponsor a future episode of Reading Writers? Send me a note and let’s talk.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast catcher. Please also consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. This only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show. Finally, if you know someone who would benefit from listening, share it on your favorite social media network.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

Is he (or she) the Antichrist?

Crown of thorns on top of an open Bible

If there’s one thing that the 2016 presidential election in America is doing, it’s getting Christians thinking about their eschatology. Of course, they probably don’t realize this. But stick with me for a second.

While some people might (jokingly) speak of reconsidering dispensationalism,[1. Guilty.] the fear many Americans (and let’s be honest, the rest of the world) feel about the options they have in this election leaves them wondering if they can get the heck out of Dodge. (Or move to Canada. Which they won’t.) I know of a few people who have suddenly started to praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow (or at least tweeting about it). But I’ve also seen a big “what if” question pop up.

At least it has in my head:

“What if [insert name here] is the Antichrist?”

No pop-theology hysterics

Now, I don’t have a lot of the baggage that people who grew up in the 1980s at the height of pop dispensationalism do. My familiarity with Left Behind is limited to the parodies and the trailer to the Nicholas Cage movie. But I have read Revelation. I’ve read the passages speaking of the one who would unite the world in its rebellion against God. They’re freaky, no doubt. And without question, I’m looking forward to the day Jesus returns. If he showed up tomorrow, it would be awesome.

But to the best of any of our knowledge, he’s not going (though we all could be wrong).

And the person (or persons) we sometimes wonder about being the Antichrist… chances are, he or she isn’t that, either.

But they might be an antichrist.

“The” vs “an”: What kind of antichrist are we talking about anyway?

That tiny distinction—”the” vs “an”—might seem trivial, but it makes all the difference. No doubt according to many passages such as what we read in Revelation and 2 Thessalonians 2:3, there is an individual who deserves the “the”—the man of lawlessness. But John’s epistle reminds us that there is not only a “the” but an “an”. In fact, there are many “ans”, as we read in 1 John 2:18:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

John doesn’t give the impression that he denies the existence of the Antichrist. But he is also willing to broaden our understanding of the title. There is one who is (or will be) the representative of  Satan on earth—the man of lawlessness, man of sin, or the false prophet. But there are also many antichrists because the term can be used to describe anyone “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22). Those who deny the Father and the Son are antichrist, according to John.

And so in that respect, when we start wondering if a politician, a real estate tycoon, a talk show host, or even a guy who runs the taco truck is the Antichrist, we can, at least say, no to them being the ultimate representative of the evil one. Because they’re probably not.

But they may well be an antichrist. Their words and their practice may be so opposed to Jesus that the only appropriate description of them is “antichrist.” They are deniers of the Lord and signs of the end being near (just as they were in the time of the Apostles). But being an antichrist and the Antichrist—those are different things.

There is still hope for antichrists

All of us were antichrist prior to being given new life in Christ. Everything I wrote in the preceding paragraph applied to us, as much as it does to those would be considered antichrist today. But God in his mercy, sent Jesus to save us. While we were still his enemies, Jesus died for us. He sent his Spirit to give us new life and new desires. He made all of us who were once antichrist to become little Christs.

And this is the hope that I still have for all those who are opponents of Jesus today, whether politicians or paperboys. As we share the gospel, as we plead with all who are far from Christ to trust him, we have to cling to this hope. That they might reject their former way of living in favor of following Jesus. That they would turn away from it all—even that which might give them power or prestige in the world—because they see Jesus as better. That those who were antichrist would also become little Christs. And wouldn’t that be something?

So friends, don’t lose hope, even as you’re frustrated by everything you see going on in the world. Yes, there are many antichrists in the world even now. But as long as they still live, God could transform their hearts. Pray that Jesus does return quickly, but pray too that some of those who still oppose him would join you in worshipping him when that day finally arrives.


Empty threats, release valves and a healthier way of dealing with fear


Yesterday, actress Lena Dunham boldly declared that if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States of America, she’s leaving America and moving to Canada, joining the tens of celebrities and dozens of average Americans who’ve made similar threats in every election cycle since at least Bush v Kerry in 2004.[1. Though there may have been some in 2000 during Bush v Gore, but I don’t remember.]

But let’s be honest: no one who is making this threat is going to move to Canada. Ever.

You know how I know? I live here. And I know you won’t like it.

Come to Canada… but get ready to wait to get here (and wait when you are here)

Sure it’s pretty and we have lots of maple syrup, but Canada is a socialist state, albeit qualified as a democratic one. This means we have a shrinking population demanding a higher level of service from an inefficient (and financially irresponsible[2. Our federal debt is more than 622 billion dollars as of this writing.  My own province holds an additional $300 billion of debt of its own. Our combined federal and provincial debt is expected to exceed 1.3 trillion dollars in 2016. For a country of 35 million people, that’s kind of a big deal.]) government, whose only recourse is to charge higher taxes and borrow more money.

Our publicly funded healthcare system is on the verge of collapse, with shocking wait times and now news of the federal government outsourcing treatment for certain patients to US hospitals. You must wait anywhere between five and twelve hours to be seen by a doctor. You can sit on a waiting list to get a family physician for ten years or more. You might be able to see certain specialists—say a neurologist—once a year, or, if you’re particularly blessed, twice. And you have no other alternative.

Then there’s the fact that, despite what Hollywood tells us so frequently, Canada is, in fact, a country. It’s funny to think of Canada’s citizenship requirements as being like this:

  1. Do you want to be a Canadian?
  2. Really?[2. Credit for the joke belongs to the writers of How I Met Your Mother. But mostly Neil Patrick Harris for his delivery.]

However, we have a real immigration process, and not just for citizenship. So if an American is going to come to Canada on a visitor’s permit, it’s going to take 13 days on average to process which isn’t too bad. But here’s the bad news: visitors can’t work, legally. So unless you’re independently wealthy, and/or have no plans on working at all during your (limited) stay, you’re probably not going to want this option. If you want a work permit, it’s going to be around three months (assuming you have an employer sponsoring you). If you’re self-employed, though—you’re looking at 105 months. That’s 8.75 years, for those who don’t feel like doing the math. So if Trump wins, and then wins again in 2020, you’re through his two terms and into the next presidency before you’re welcome to come to the land of poutine and the superfluous U.

(Also, in all of my research, I have yet to find a permit or visa for which “I don’t like [insert name of politician here]” qualifies as a valid reason. Not even for humanitarian or compassionate reasons. Sorry.)

But let’s say you do find a way to come to Canada. And you fall in love with our passive-aggressive ways, our broken social welfare system, and our insistence that you pronounce “foyer” correctly. If you want to become a citizen, I have good news! You can—so long as you are willing to pledge your allegiance to our ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II and all her heirs. (And despite what you might have heard, she’s not just a figurehead.)

What’s behind the threat?

But, again, let’s be honest—almost no one who is making the threat is going to make good on it. You know it and I know it. So why do people do it?[4. And by people, I mean “normal” people. There are some people just want attention. Generally, this is where I put most celebrities, who seem to revel in saying silly things, which people then write about, thus giving them a greater sense of importance (or at least notoriety).] Why does the person who works at the bank, the public school or the gas station make these sorts of threats that they will never make good on? It’s probably the same reason that, despite our (I believe legitimate) concern/frustration over Target’s change to their washroom policies, many of us will still shop there.[5. Please do not read this as condemnation of those who are obeying their consciences and choosing to discontinue shopping at Target, because it is not.]

They are a response to fear.

These sorts of bold declarations—be it the threat/promise of moving to Canada, or boycotting a major corporation—act as a release valve for the fear we feel. Whether we’re socially liberal or conservative, whether we’re Christian or not, there’s a tremendous amount of changing going on in North America, and it’s more than a little terrifying. For some, the idea of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton being president, and others the continued push for radical inclusivism and the celebration of lifestyles out of step with God’s created intentions, are fearful prospects. And when those fears as dismissed as being irrelevant, unfounded or the fruit of bigotry—when people are afraid and believe no one is listening—they need a release.

But maybe there’s a different way for us to deal with this fear we feel.

A healthier way to deal with fear

Most of the time when we talk about fear as Christians, we become afraid that we’re in for a spiritual beating—we’re afraid of being afraid because we’re told to fear not. Or at least, fear God only. Now, this is true, at least in the sense that the Bible describes it. But as fallen, foible, and often foolish people, we’re going to have some trouble there because we don’t fear perfectly. We do succumb to a spirit of fear, and we do struggle with the fear of man. But we also don’t know what to do with our fear. This is where the Psalms are so helpful to me because they show me what a faithful “release valve” looks like. And it starts with prayer.

Consider Psalm 17. In this psalm, David writes of surrounded by enemies; he is mocked and belittled. He is chased by those who oppose him. No doubt as he hid in caves and ran from the swords of his countrymen, David would have felt tremendous fear and anxiety. But what he does is astounding: he tells these fears to God. He gives them to him, not in a pat “let go and let God” sort of way, but by laying them out and preaching the gospel to himself:

  • He reminds himself, as he speaks with God, that the Lords is the “Savior of those who seek refuge” (Psalm 17:7).
  • He asks that God continue to show his steadfast love, and “hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8).
  • And he declares that, whatever the circumstances, that he “shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

I’m sure in praying these truths, David didn’t necessarily feel them right away, or that his confidence didn’t waiver periodically. Given how often he prays such things—given how often he needs to remind himself of the truth of God’s love for him regardless of the circumstances—there had to have been some pretty dark moments spiritually. But still he prayed. Still he turned to his Savior. Still he turned to the one who would give him refuge.

And perhaps this is where we need to start as well. When I look at the prospects of what’s happening in the world around me, I do get a little nervous. As a Canadian, I have concerns about the outcome of the next American election. I have fears about the state of our healthcare system in Ontario, and flagrant disregard for accountability and common sense so many of our politicians exhibit. I have moments when I’m tempted to find a quiet plot of land in the Deep North and hide until all the crazy dies down.

But I don’t do it because if I did. I’d still be afraid. Hiding doesn’t change my fears, anymore than boycotting a company, ranting on the Internet, or googling the requirements for a foreign work permit would (at least for me). But bringing these fears to God—telling him of them, reminding myself of his character and his goodness and his promises, really does help. And prayer is the faithful release valve I need because it reminds me of these truths.

I’m not saying prayer makes the problems go away. It doesn’t. But what it does do is help us see the situation with more clarity, as people not ruled by our fears and gut reactions, but as those who know a love that casts out fear, who find rest in the sovereignty of the One in whom we seek refuge. And perhaps that’s enough.