The Promise of Change and the False Hope of Politics

Today—May 2, 2011—is Election Day in Canada. For those who are keeping track (or interested), it’s our fourth federal election since 2004.

Over the last several years, since I grew up and started paying taxes, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with politics.

A big part of it has to do with Canada being strapped with minority governments for the last several years. Now, for those who don’t know, a minority government exists when the party that gains the most seats still has less than the combined total of the various opposition parties. So, as you can imagine, when you’ve got four “big” parties plus independents, it’s not easy to get a majority (though certainly not impossible). The upshot of this is the opposition can be an aid in keeping sketchiness to a minimum among the ruling party. The downside is that the opposition can also come together and prevent any good plans the ruling party might have.

(They can also form a coalition and take over the government. See, who says Canadian politics are boring?)

Nw, here’s where the love-hate thing comes into play…

What I Love About Politics

I love seeing people—especially young people—take an interest in politics. This needs to happen. When I was growing up, my mother gave me the following piece of advice: If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what the government does. Stated positively, exercising your right to vote gives you a voice into shaping how you are represented on a municipal, provincial and federal level. It is extremely important to exercise this right that we have been afforded, particularly since millions of people around the world do not have the ability to do this thing that we take for granted.

What I Hate About Politics

I hate seeing people—especially young people—get caught up in the demonizing of political leaders that comes with campaigning. Sadly at this point, I just expect a whole whack of mud slinging from the party leaders. I don’t like it, but I expect it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to engage in it.

Through this campaign, I’ve seen people trying to encourage university students to vote this year by creating attack sites devoted to trashing the sitting Prime Minister. I’ve seen young idealists talking about the rights of the working class, but seeming to have no idea what those rights are. I’ve seen people across the board make assumptions about every party’s plans without even reading them. Heck, I saw one young guy (who is either ridiculously stupid or mentally unhinged) write that if you’re a “right-winger,” you need to be murdered in the streets.

I don’t care where you land on the political spectrum—whether you’re a hair over to the right of center, left, really left, or you’re upset that trees don’t have the right to vote—but the folks you don’t agree with are no more (and no less) evil than you are. And it is profoundly unwise to fall prey to demonizing those with whom you disagree.

Yet we all do it, don’t we?

I would suggest two reasons why: [Read more...]

He Will Be Holy To Make You Holy

Matt Chandler on the power of the resurrection:

[tentblogger-youtube p1U62GMO2pY]

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

Around the Interweb

Would You Die For Doctrine?

Matthew Barrett offers some helpful insights from the testimonies of Tyndale, Rogers, Latimer, and Ridley:

If these men were willing to die for such truths how much more should I be willing to stand for them today? Many examples come to mind. If you are a pastor, ministering in a difficult church, do not waver in your commitment to the truth even when those in your congregation criticize the doctrines you are proclaiming. Or perhaps you are a teacher at a school where you are surrounded by more liberal colleagues. Be resolved and steadfast in affirming sound doctrine, even if it be at the expense of your own career. Maybe you are a student being criticized because you believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Remain determined and immutable in your affirmation of God’s Word. You might be a Christian who is tempted to reject the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment or the exclusivity of the gospel. Be on guard, less you also fall prey to false doctrine and fail to heed Paul’s admonishment and warning to only agree with sound words (1 Tim 6:3-4; cf. 1 Tim 4:6; 2 Tim 4:2-3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

Read the whole thing.

Also Worth Reading

TGC: Emily and I are at The Gospel Coalition’s 2011 National Conference this week. We’ll be part of the vast Canadian contingent. How will you recognize us? Just listen for the folks who say“Aboat.” Seriously, though, if you’re around and want to connect, shoot me a message via Twitter (@AaronStrongarm). Look for regular updates throughout each day.

Books: Check out the list for the 2011 BoB Book Giveaways. I’m going to this and am pretty excited! (I also have a few of these books, so expect a giveaway or two in the coming weeks!)

Women: Confessions of a Conflicted Complementarian

Funny: Are you a child of the 90s? If so, you’ll find this funny.

The Number One Reason To Buy The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence

 

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

My Memory Moleskine: Panting and Provision

He Delights in the Asking

Book reviews:

Cruciform by Jimmy Davis

Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin

(Audio)Book Review: Justified by Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

Justified By Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

Title: Justified by Faith Alone
Author: R.C. Sproul
Publisher: Crossway Books/Christian Audio (2010 edition)

Martin Luther famously said that justification by faith alone is “the article by which the church stands or falls.” So certain of its importance to the Christian faith was Luther that it became the crucial dividing issue between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Today, however, many evangelicals “know” that we are justified by faith alone but are not entirely sure what it means. And because of this uncertainty, we begin to ask—does it really make sense? And is it really that important?

In his (very) short book Justified by Faith Alone, R.C. Sproul answers that question with a resounding yes as he lays out the Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines of justification.

One of Dr. Sproul’s greatest gifts as a teacher is his ability to clearly and charitably examine positions with which he disagrees. In doing so, he manages to clear up a great number of misconceptions that Protestants have regarding Romanism.

A key example is whether or not Roman Catholicism offers a works-based salvation. Sproul argues that it is, in fact, not accurate to make this claim. As he examines Roman Catholic teaching, he reveals that faith in Christ is essential to salvation… it’s just not all you need. The congregant’s works of penitence, his acts of contrition, are also required. In essence, the Roman Catholic position is that of faith in Christ plus works equal justification (Justification = Faith + Works).

The Protestant position, however, is that faith in Christ alone brings justification, and our works are our response to and the evidence of our right standing before God (Faith=Justification + Works).

Sproul is also quick to address the common complaint against the Protestant position, which is that it is Antinomianism. In this error, we are saved by faith in Christ alone (justification), and there need be no evidence of saving faith (Faith=Justification – Works). However, the Scriptures are clear that one who says that he has faith, but there is no evidence of it in his life is a liar (cf. James 2:14-26).

Moving from the content to the audio production, this is one place where I find that the book falls a bit flat. Sean Runnette is a wonderfully clear narrator and I’ve enjoyed his work on other productions, but in this instance, I found his reading to be a bit bland. His reading seemed to lack the passion that tends to come out in Sproul’s text (as well as in his speaking). This is only a minor criticism, but it was bothersome enough that I felt it warranted mentioning.

Justified by Faith Alone is an important book, one that I believe readers of all ages and stages would benefit greatly from. Read (or listen to) the book, and gain a greater understanding and appreciation for this crucial doctrine—and praise God that it is by faith in Christ alone that we are saved.

A complimentary download of this book was provided for review purposes by ChristianAudio.com

Around the Interweb

America Quiet on the Execution of Afghan Christian Said Musa

Said Musa is an Afghani Christian who was arrested on May 31, 2010, for his faith. In the time that he has been imprisoned, he has been beaten, abused, spit upon, sexually assaulted, and mocked; now, he is sentenced to death.

Newspapers in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe have reported the story, but with, the exception of the Wall Street Journal and, of course, NRO, American outlets have not found it worthy of attention. The Journal reports that “Afghan officials have been unapologetic: ‘The sentence for a convert is death and there is no exception,’ said Jamal Khan, chief of staff at the Ministry of Justice. ‘They must be sentenced to death to serve as a lesson for others.’”

The U.S. government — reportedly including Secretary of State Clinton — and other governments have pushed for his release, but to no avail.

But the president has been silent, even as we fight a war that has among its goals the creation of a government that conforms to international human-rights standards.

An American president certainly needs to guard and shepherd his political capital, and should not speak out about every prisoner. But Musa himself has appealed to “President Brother Obama” to rescue him from his current jail. And when an obscure and aberrant Florida pastor, Terry Jones, threatened to burn a Koran, not only President Obama but much of his cabinet, as well as General Petraeus, weighed in on the matter.

If the actions of a Florida pastor who threatened to destroy a book holy to Muslims deserved public and presidential attention, then the actions of the Afghan government, ostensibly a ‘democratic’ ally, to destroy something holy to Christians, a human being made in the image of God, also deserve public and presidential attention.

Read and pray.

Also Worth Reading

Books: Tim Challies new book, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, is going be released from Zondervan in April. Here’s the trailer for the book:

Preorder a copy from Amazon.

Biographies: Speaking of Tim Challies, this week he reviewed a new biography of A.W. Tozer that points out both his strengths and weaknesses.

Theology: Questions of Conviction on Eternal Security

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

20 Things God Does When He Saves You

J.C. Ryle: It Costs Something To Be A Christian

Book Review: iFaith by Daniel Darling

5 Questions (Plus One) with Dan Darling

We Love by Choice, Not by Feeling

It Costs Something To Be A Christian

Cross in Winter

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!”

But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standards of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an arm-chair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.”

J.C. Ryle, as published in J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 174

Tears of Hope

Last year, the story of Zac Smith from Newspring Church shared his testimony of battling cancer. A few months after the video was released, he succumbed to cancer and went home to be with the Lord.

His wife, Mandy, recently shared how God has used these events and the hope she and her children find, even in the midst of tears:

Sermon Audio: True and False Worship

On Sunday, July 11th, I once again had the opportunity to preach at Poplar Hill Christian Church in Poplar Hill, Ontario. The message is from Romans 1:18-25, True and False Worship.

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The abbreviated transcript follows for those who need/prefer:

The last time I was here, I spoke on obedience and how obedience—to God’s Word, for His Glory—is the evidence of the Christian life. That message has weighed heavily on me since I was last here and as I’ve examined my own life in light of it, I’ve been left with a question: If obedience is the evidence of what we worship, who or what am I worshipping? Is it God or something else?

What we’re going to discover together is this:

Because God is the only One worthy of our praise, we must examine our lives and discover who or what we truly worship. [Read more...]

Travel, Tortilla Soup and Treats

Saturday was the first of our big travel days on this tour of Honduras. We flew from Toronto to Miami and finally to San Pedro Sula, where we arrived very late in the evening.

San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, is the industrial hub of the nation, but it’s also one of the most dangerous. Ayax, a colleague from Compassion Honduras, shared with state of the city, as we drove to our hotel. Even though it’s dangerous, even though there is so much poverty, there is still hope.

Why?

Because of the Church.

The Church is here and God is working through her. Children are meeting Jesus and they’re telling their families about Him, too.

It’s amazing.

This is just a small portion of the items we brought for the kids - we ended up with four suitcases, four boxes and six bags worth of gifts!

After we arrived at the hotel, we set to work putting together packages of gifts for children at the church projects we’ll be visiting. With all 22 of us working together, we got it taken care of pretty quickly and then enjoyed a small meal before bed (in my case, tortilla soup, which was delightful, in case you were wondering).

Perhaps the biggest treat of the trip so far has been meeting the Compassion Honduras staff—including my old friend Alexis.

Alexis is the third from the left in this photo; Ayax is on the far right.

He and I met in 2006 when I was here on a missions trip; he was one of the four translators who worked with us. We also joined Compassion’s staff pretty close to the same time (within a few months of each other). He’s an amazing guy who loves the Lord and also really loves Compassion. I’m looking forward to spending some more time with him and all of our staff throughout the week.

Blogging the Psalms: Rejoicing in Foreknowledge

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. . . .

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. . . .

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-16, 23-24

I love Psalm 139. As David moves through the psalm, we see him confronted with a keen awareness of God’s sovereignty—that God fully knows David. He knows every deed.

And he knows every thought.

“Even before a word is on my tongue . . . you know it altogether,” he writes. Every thought. Every word. Every action.

Every ugly sin that David would try to hide from anyone else, God knows it.

How does he react? Guilt? Shame?

Awe. [Read more...]

Book Review: Journey to Truth by George F. Garlick

journeytruth_500

Title: Journey to Truth: How Scientific Discovery Provides Insights into Spiritual Truths
Author: George F. Garlick, Ph.D
Publisher: VMI Publishers (2009)

For years there’s been much hoopla over the apparent conflict between science and Biblical truth.

One extreme says that science is absolute, that all we can know is what we can see and measure empirically. Miracles aren’t possible. We are, essentially, cosmic accidents. The other extreme completely ignores the reality that science has anything to legitimately offer in terms of understanding how the world and humanity were created and designed to function.

However, neither position is intellectually honest. Neither leads to a complete understanding of truth. But is there really as great a divide as some make it seem?

In The Journey to Truth, author George Garlick seeks to show how science offers insight into Biblical truth. Garlick, a physicist who pioneered holographic ultrasound technology, blends science, theology and a dash of biography in this short book. To be honest, I found the results to be somewhat mixed.

A Compassionate Man

His personal stories provided a great deal of insight into his character, which I greatly appreciated. The last chapter—where he speaks of being compelled to stop and pick up two young men on the Interstate and trying to restore the vitality of his hometown—reveals a man who is deeply compassionate and wants to use the gifts he’s been given for the good of others and the glory of God.

The Curse of Knowledge

It’s very obvious reading this book that Garlick is a scientist. He provides in-depth descriptions of various scientific theories related to the creation of the universe, time/space and more. And he describes them in such a way that makes it clear that he obviously knows what he’s talking about.

Which is good, because I don’t. This is what is known as “the curse of knowledge.”[1] Those with knowledge describe what they’re talking about in such a way that either

  1. only those who share this knowledge will understand; or
  2. the illustration becomes bogged in over-communication as the writer seeks to bring the reader up to the same level of knowledge

More often than not, I found myself scratching my head and wondering if there might be another way of communicating this same point. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a big science-guy. I did well in it in school, but it was never my passion.

I’m guessing that someone who really loves quantum mechanics and quirks & quarks would completely understand what Garlick is talking about in roughly half the book, but I was left a bit in the dark. This, unfortunately, made for some hard slogging in the middle chapters of The Journey to Truth.

Truth & the God of the Bible

So how does scientific discovery point us to Biblical truth? Throughout the book, Garlick provides some intriguing insights that point to the truth that this universe didn’t accidentally happen. Scientific discovery, when honestly looked at, reveals to us what God has plainly made known. We know that He is a God of order, given how intricately detailed our bodies and this world are. We know that He is infinitely powerful because only a being of infinite power could cause everything to come from nothing.

What Garlick is describing is the truth of Romans 1:18-20:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

On page 40, Garlick illustrates this in a very interesting way. Imagine a mountain where one side is perfectly smooth and the other is jagged. The smooth side is what the Bible reveals. The other is science. Both, Garlick says, eventually come to the same conclusion. Eventually scientists will reach the top of the mountain of truth and find a bunch of theologians already waiting there.

As glad as I am that he makes this point, there’s so much more that can be said because this is really only dealing with general revelation, rather than special revelation.

If the mountain is God’s general revelation (natural theology as some describe it), then this is a very apt metaphor. However, it can only really tell us that there is a God who created the world and everything in it, but it can’t tell us all that much about Him.

Science can tell us a great deal about the “how” of God’s creative act, but not the “why.”

But it doesn’t speak to our condition as sinners. And it doesn’t speak to our need of a Savior.

These are things that there are no scientific categories for.

The Journey to Truth provides some helpful insights, but ultimately it left me feeling a bit cold. While some, particularly those who really enjoy science, will undoubtedly enjoy it, it’s not a book that resonated well with me.

[1] This concept is described in-depth in Chip & Dan Heath’s excellent book, Made to Stick


A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review by Bring it On Communications

Who Influences You?

Matt Chandler shares some of the story of his conversion and discusses some of the men who have shaped him:

There are certain people who have been a powerful influence on us, particularly in how we live out our faith.

I’ve spoken of some of them here before. My friends Adam & John have been major influences, particularly as we’ve been wrestling with theology together. Chris, a godly man who took me and a few other guys under his wing at a moment in my life when I desperately needed guidance and counsel. My Friday morning men’s group is increasingly becoming influential in my life as we try to work out .  

But what about you?

Who influences you?

Who has been an influence in the past and who continues to be to this day?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: Faith Produces a Far-Seeing Obedience

How great a company would obey God if they were paid for it on the spot! They have “respect unto the recompense of the reward;” but they must have it in the palm of their hand.

With them—”A bird in hand is better far, than two which in the bushes are.” They are told that there is heaven to be had, and they answer that, if heaven were to be had here, as an immediate freehold, they might look after it, but they cannot afford to wait. To inherit a country after this life is over is too like a fairy tale for their practical minds.

Many there are who enquire, “Will religion pay? Is there anything to be made out of it? Shall I have to shut up my shop on Sundays? Must I alter my mode of dealing, and curtail my profits?” When they have totalled up the cost, and have taken all things into consideration, they come to the conclusion that obedience to God is a luxury which they can dispense with, at least until near the end of life.

Those who practice the obedience of faith look for the reward hereafter, and set the greatest store by it. To their faith alone the profit is exceeding great.

To take up the cross will be to carry a burden, but it will also be to find rest. They know the words, “No cross, no crown;” and they recognise the truth that, if there is no obedience here, there will be no reward hereafter. This needs a faith that has eyes which can see afar off, across the black torrent of death, and within the veil which parts us from the unseen.

A man will not obey God unless he has learned to endure “as seeing him who is invisible.”

Yet, remember that the obedience which comes of true faith is often bound to be altogether unreasoning and implicit; for it is written, “He went out, not knowing whither he went.” God bade Abraham journey, and he moved his camp at once. Into the unknown land he made his way; through fertile regions, or across a wilderness; among friends or through the midst of foes, he pursued his journey. He did not know where his way would take him, but he knew that the Lord had bidden him go.

Even bad men will obey God when they think fit; but good men will obey when they know not what to think of it. It is not ours to judge the Lord’s command, but to follow it. . . . Prudent consideration of consequences is superabundant; but the spirit which obeys, and dares all things for Christ’s sake—where is it? The Abrahams of today will not go out from their kindred; they will put up with anything sooner than risk their livelihoods. If they do go out, they must know where they are going, and how much is to be picked up in the new country.

The modern believer must have no mysteries, but must have everything planned down to a scientific standard. Abraham “went out, not knowing whither he went,” but the moderns must have every information with regard to the way, and then they will not go. If they obey at all, it is because their own superior judgements incline that way; but to go forth, not knowing whither they go, and to go at all hazards, is not to their minds at all. They are so highly “cultured” that they prefer to be original, and map out their own way.

Brethren, having once discerned the voice of God, obey without question. If you have to stand alone and nobody will befriend you, stand alone and God will befriend you.

If you should get the ill word of those you value most, bear it. What, after all, are ill words, or good words, as compared with the keeping of a clear conscience by walking in the way of the Lord?

The line of truth is narrow as a razor’s edge; and he needs to wear the golden sandals of the peace of God who shall keep to such a line. Through divine grace may we, like Abraham, walk with our hand in the hand of the Lord, even where we cannot see our way!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from the sermon The Obedience of Faith, delivered on August 21st, 1890, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

Christian Faithfulness in the Last Days – Lessons from The Gospel Coalition 2010 Conference

On Saturday, April 24, 2010, I had the privilege of attending The Gospel Coalition’s first ever Canadian conference featuring D.A. Carson and Mike Bullmore as the keynote speakers.

Dr. Carson kicked off the conference with the message Christian Faithfulness in the Last Days – The Need for the Gospel Coalition.

He began with by giving us a bit of background on how the Gospel Coalition came together as he and Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian came together and realized they’d been reflecting on something similar: The centrality of the gospel was being lost in evangelicalism. “Today, people do what is right in their own eyes—with the gospel becom[ing] something assumed rather than central,” lamented Carson. The Gospel Coalition came together out of a desire “to be robust about Scripture [and] to hold up the centrality of the gospel.” And this is of the greatest import for those of us living in “the last days.”

While some have indulged in “a feeding frenzy of speculation over the end times,” Carson reminded us that, “The last days refer to the entire period between Christ’s ascension and second coming. Whether it’s three weeks or three thousand years is irrelevant. . . . All authority has been given to Jesus, and while it’s contested, the kingdom has still come. The old is passing away.”

This led to a study of 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8, first asking, “What does Paul see in the last days?” [Read more...]