Friday, June 23, 2017

Silence U

How serious is the threat to free speech and human decency on many college campuses? Consider the following two short documentaries which argue that victimization have been weaponized.

All Around the Web - June 23, 2017

Foreign Affairs - Do Copts Have a Future in Egypt?

Justin Taylor - Danny Akin on the SBC and Race: Past, Present, and Future

Rabbit Room - To a Schoolgirl in America: Writing Advice from C. S. Lewis

Thom Rainer - Four Common Gifts Churches Give to First-Time Guests

Chuck Lawless - 8 Reasons the Pastor Matters Most in a Church’s Evangelistic Efforts

Steve Lawson - Preacher’s Toolkit: Should I Always Call for Repentance and Faith?

LifeWay Pastors - How Vulnerable Should a Pastor be When Preaching?

Babylon Bee - Trump Signs Executive Order Banning Church Greeting Times

Thursday, June 22, 2017

10 Books Every Christian Teenager Should Read

Some time ago, Tim Challies offered his list of ten books he believes every Christian student should read. After reading it, I thought I would compile my own list acknowledging some overlap and credit to him.

1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.

This is one of the most important works of fiction in English and should be devoured by every Christian. It is simple enough that it can be understood by new and young believers. I regret I did not read it at a younger age.

2. Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert

Pornography is a serious problem in our age. It has become a ubiquitous reality especially among younger generations. Lambert offers one of the best pastoral volumes on breaking free from pornography addiction. In this regard, I would also recommend Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle by John Michael Cusick.

3. Mere Christianity/Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

Every student should read CS Lewis. I would recommend starting with the Narnia Chronicles. Afterward, these two volumes should be devoured and returned to for the rest of their lives.

4. Reasons for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller

This book was helpful for me to understand Christian apologetics and how to handle common objections to Christianity. Keller is an excellent and piercing writer.

5. Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung

Everyone has asked what God's will for their life is. Young people especially ask this question as they are pressured to make important decisions that will shape the rest of their lives: relationships, marriage, careers, education, family, etc. How do we know what the will of God is? DeYoung offers a short, simple, and biblical approach to the issue.

6. Every Young Man's Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker

It should go without saying that sexual temptation continues to remain a tremendous challenge for students. This is nothing new. As long as there has been youth, there has been youthful passions. The Battle books have been helpful over the years in guiding young people in warring against temptation and lust. Although I don't agree with everything in these books, there is much to like.

7. How to Give Away Your Faith by Paul Little

Every believer is an ambassador, yet it is an area we must grow in. One of the best introductions to evangelism is Little's volume.

8. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

You have only one life to live. Don't waste it. Live a radical faith.

9. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris

This volume is unique in that it calls on students to raise above low expectations and change the world. I am often frustrated by our society's contentment with expecting little out of students. The Harris brothers calls the reader to higher standards.

10. Life's Biggest Questions: What the Bible Says about the Things That Matter Most by Erick Thoennes

It is imperative that young believers understand the Christian faith. Thoennes offers one of the best introductions to systematic theology that does not read like one.

All Around the Web - June 22, 2017

Trevin Wax - I Don’t Want to Die Until I Look More Like Jesus

Justin Taylor - Taking a Stand for Restorative Justice

Daily Signal - New Paper Says Puberty Blockers Aren’t the Answer to Gender Confusion

Andrew Walker - 6 books I recommend for studying Christian ethics

Thom Rainer - Five Overcorrection Mistakes Churches Make

Jared Wilson - I Am the Center of the Universe

Gospel Coalition - Why Biblical Archaeology Matters

Chuck Lawless - 9 Reasons Rural Churches Still Matter

Tim Challies - How To Distinguish True Zeal from False Zeal

Mental Floss - This Is What Anne Frank's Arrest Looked Like

Babylon Bee - Lakewood Church Staffer Updates ‘Days Without Reference To Jesus’ Sign

Some very vulgar and vile language in the video below. I post it because it shows the reality of the direction we're going as a society as demonstrated by lunacy on college campuses.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

From Screwtape's Pen: Noise!

From Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis:
Music and silence – how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father entered Hell – though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express – no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise – Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile – Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.” (119-120)

All Around the Web - June 21, 2017

Ross Douthat - Notes on a Political Shooting

Russell Moore - The Reformation at 500

Gentle Reformation - Fearing Christianity?

Denny Burk - Mainstreaming fornication (a.k.a. “ethical non-monogamy”)

Sam Storms - 10 Things You Should Know about the Demise of Expository Preaching

SBC Voices - Southern Baptists and the Alt-Right: On Being in the Room Where it Happened

Justin Taylor - 6 Things to Do with Your Anxiety

Chuck Lawless - 9 Reasons to Connect Our Churches With Cities

Bill Mounce - Is the ESV Literal and the NIV Gender Neutral?

Tim Challies - Redeem Your Time

Babylon Bee - Jesus Knocks Down Door Of Man’s Heart With Battering Ram

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - An Unexpected Party

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. (3)

My young son loves monsters - any monsters. Throw in a wild adventure and he is engaged in the greatest story of all time. It only makes sense, then, to introduce him to J. R. R. Tolkien's classic work The Hobbit to him each night. As I read the novel to him, I want to do what I have failed to do for some time and that is blog through a book.

In the first chapter we meet all of the major characters including Bilbo the "burglar" hobbit, Gandalf the wise wizard, and all the dwarves: Fili, Kili, Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori Ori, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, and their leader Thorin Oakenshield. Immediately the reader is introduced to what makes Tolkien's Middle Earth so rich. Unlike most authors who create a world for their characters, Tolkien creates characters for his world. The opening paragraph (quoted above) makes this evident. What is a hobbit? The answer is given by exploring the world of the Hobbits in the Shire both Over the Hill and Under the Hill.

This is what makes the characters and the story so rich. When we meet Gandalf and later the dwarves we immediately are aware that there is a collusion of worlds meeting in Bilbo's kitchen. Biblo, who at first embodies the typical hobbit, is not interested in adventures or anything out of the ordinary. To be late for dinner is most unwelcomed. Gandalf arrives to interrupt his ordered life and dwarves ensure it happens. They eat his food, they sing dark songs in his home, and enter unannounced.

In the midst of this world we discover that Bilbo is actually not an ordinary hobbit. He is a torn one. The Baggins side prefers order while the Took side is more adventurous. Throughout this first chapter, Tolkien humorously portrays Bilbo exploring both ends of his family tree. He finds it most inconvenient the dwarves and Gandolf have interrupted his life while at the same time, the more the dwarves speak of mountains, elves, and gold we see him leaning in and becoming interested.

But Bilbo is a woefully naive hobbit.
As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up - probably somebody lighting a wood-fire-and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again. He got up trembling. He had less than half a mind to fetch the lamp, and more than half a mind to pretend to, and go and hide behind the beer barrels in the cellar, and not come out again until all the dwarves had gone away. Suddenly he found that the music and the singing had stopped, and they were all looking at him with eyes shining in the dark.(15-16)
Here we see the pull between Bilbo the Took and Bilbo the Baggins. But while the Took side dominates his mind, he begins to fantasize what this adventure would include and it is woefully naive. He seems to believe that the adventure the dwarves have in mind is largely a walk-about. Has he forgotten all of the talk about the dragon? Even the reference to the sword sounds like a decorative piece as opposed to a weapon.

This torn and naive Hobbit will go on to become the hero of the story - not because he is the strongest or best wielder of a sword - but because of who he is. This naivete and hesitancy toward adventures blinds Bilbo from the besetting sin of The Hobbit: dragon sickness, (i. e., greed). By the end of the story, every major character will become consumed with gold, now horded by the giant worm, that will culminate in a great battle. Everyone, that is, except from Bilbo. He finds contentment in a quiet life without adventures. This will be a major theme moving forward.

For more:
"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings   

All Around the Web - June 20 2017

Trevin Wax - Don’t Take For Granted the Fragile Blessing of Civility

Christianity Today - US Prepares to Deport Hundreds of Iraqi Christians

Justin Taylor - When Russell Moore Truly Understood “Abba, Father!” for the Very First Time

Doug Wilson - Justification and the Violent Left

Thom Rainer - The Top Ten Questions Pastor Ask Me

Michael Haykin - Every Christian ought to be a good historian

PBS - More grandparents raising their grandchildren

Chuck Lawless - 12 Church Member Contradictions Who Bless Pastors

Bloomberg - Trump Orders Government to Stop Work on Y2K Bug, 17 Years Later

NBC Columbus - Study finds surprising number of Americans think chocolate milk comes from brown cows

Babylon Bee - Mormon Space Program Launches First Manned Mission To Kolob

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, June 19, 2017

"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review

“End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.”

I have finished a re-reading of the Lord of the Rings. I read them first college some years ago shortly after the movies had been released and now with the distance of time and the return of Middle-Earth to the big screen through the Hobbit, I thought I would read the beloved classic trilogy again. The challenge of reviewing this books ought to be obvious. What else is there to say regarding these classics? To make it worse, what is there for me to say regarding these classics? I am no literary critic nor an expert on literature or Tolkien. I am just a fan.

But in regards to The Return of the King there are a few things that I noticed. First, the title itself has been pointed out as rather inadequate. Is the story in this trilogy about the king of Gondor or about destroying the ring? My first exposure to this trilogy was the movies and when I saw the title of the third film I read it as, "The Return of Ring." That made more sense to me. Frodo and Sam are taking the ring to Mount Doom, where the ring was forged, to destroy it. It was later that I realized, and the picture of Aragorn on the poster made it obvious, that the title was about a king, not about a ring. This makes little sense to me. I know that Tolkien did not care for the title himself, but it still remains strange to me.

This leads to one thing that I do enjoy about the trilogy that is seen most clearly in this third book. There are many stories that make up this story. The main story is Frodo and the Ring. But beyond that we see a Ranger become King and how that came to be. Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White. Faramire uniting the two main realms of men - Gondor and Rohan. Theodine clearly wants to die as one of the great kings of men and does so in the end. Golum is destroyed by his lust. It seems that most of the main characters have two quests. The first, which unites them all, is the defense of Middle-Earth from Sauron and the destruction of the ring. The other is a unique quest of completion.

This might explain why the conclusion is so long. As I mentioned before, it takes a while for the story to really begin in The Fellowship of the Ring it likewise takes many pages for the story to end in the Return of the King. Each character's story within the greater story must come to a satisfying end. Aragorn has to be crowned. Faramire must get married. Theodin must be buried. The hobbits must fight for the Shire. Etc. I love stories that do this. When each character brings something unique to the story, it enhances the story and makes one love the characters more. Tolkien is a genius at this.

Regarding the battle at the Shire where Sauraman and Wormtongue are dealt with by the four hobbits, and the hobbits alone, is strange and everyone has highlighted that. I have little to say regarding it for or against. It is what it is.

One final thing should be highlight and that regards the division of the three books. Each book is broken into two parts. Each part follows the story of the dominate characters. This means that one is essentially reading the same story twice. One might follow Frodo and Sam up to a point and then return chronologically to the beginning of the book and then follow the rest of the fellowship. This is a big strange to the reader and if Tolkien had welcomed an editor, such an approach to telling the story may not have remained. But in the third book, this approach is really effective.

My favorite scene was cut from the theatrical version of the movie and only added in the extended version. There, at the Black Gate, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the others speak with the Mouth of Sauron. A strange character to say the least. But in this scene, the Mouth of Sauron tries to convince the Fellowship to surrender because their greater cause, the destruction of the ring, had been uncovered. To prove it, the Mouth of Sauron pulls out some of Frodo's belongings. Because of how the story is divided, the reader is as surprised as the Fellowship. We find out later that they had Frodo's belongings but not Frodo because of the bravery of Sam. Tolkien's division is effective here, but this great scene was cut from the theatrical version of the film because the audience already knew that the Mouth was lying. They did not have Frodo or the ring.

Overall, good book. Good conclusion to the series. But you already knew that.

For more:
"Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit" by Corey Olsen: A Review
Why Fantasy is a Good Thing: A Response to John MacArthur
"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings

All Around the Web - June 19, 2017

Joe Carter - We Aren’t Supermen, Dads, We’re Surrogates

RNS - A media firestorm elevates a false narrative of Southern Baptist racism

Vox - What a unanimous Southern Baptist condemnation of the alt-right says about evangelicals in America

Baptist21 - 8 Reasons I’m Grateful For The 2017 SBC

Sean McDowell - 7 Inconvenient Truths about Pornography

Cary Nieuwhof - 7 Things That Get Harder as Your Church Grows

Tim Challies - Consecutive Exposition Is Not the Only Way

Sam Rainer - Ten Facts You Should Know about the Southern Baptist Convention

Chuck Lawless - 10 Children’s Ministry Issues

The Blaze - LGBTQ petition demands permanent ‘rainbow crosswalks’ in cities across the country

Blogger's Beowulf - Beowulf the monstrous individual

Babylon Bee - The Bee Explains: What Is The Alt-Right? | Satire

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What is Intercesory Prayer?

What does it mean to intercede for someone in prayer? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, explains:
This brings us to a point at which we hear the pulsing heart of all Christian life in unison. A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day. The struggle we undergo with our brother in intercession may be a hard one, but that struggle has the promise that it will gain its goal.

How does this happen? Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace. Then everything in him that repels us falls away; we see him in all his destitution and need. His need and his sin become so heavy and oppressive that we feel them as our own, and we can do nothing else but pray: Lord, do Thou, Thou alone, deal with him according to Thy severity and Thy goodness. To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.

This makes it clear that intercession is also a daily service we owe to God and our brother. He who denies his neighbor the service of praying for him denies him the service of a Christian. It is clear, furthermore, that intercession is not general and gave but very concrete: a matter of definite persons and definite difficulties and therefore of definite petitions. The more definite my intercession becomes, the more promising it is.” (86-87)

All Around the Web - June 15, 2017

Evangelical History - 50 Years Ago: The Supreme Court Strikes Down Bans on Interracial Marriage

Wall Street Journal - Dad Meets the Sexual Revolution

The Gospel Coalition - How One Deep South Church Left Segregation Behind

Desiring God - Expect More from Young Men

Chuck Lawless - 8 Ways to Improve Your Preaching and Teaching

Thom Rainer - Ten Symptoms of a Sick Church

Answers in Genesis - The Secularist Media War Against the Ark Continues

Bill Mounce - When οὔν Doesn’t Mean “Therefore” (John 11:6)

Deepak Reeju - A Do-It-Yourself Marriage Retreat

The Blaze - Christian soccer player withdraws as US team is set to wear LGBT pride jerseys

Babylon Bee - 6 Easy Steps To Starting A Cult

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From Bonhoeffer's Pen: Consecutive Reading of Scripture

From Life Together:
Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of mankind. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness. We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, however important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

A complete reversal occurs. It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is “external to ourselves.” I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ. Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.
In this light the whole devotional reading of the Scriptures becomes daily more meaningful and salutary. What we call our life, our troubles, our guilt, is by no means all of reality; there in the Scriptures is our life, our need, our guilt, and our salvation. Because it pleased God to act for us there, it is only there that we shall be saved. Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God and Father of Jesus Christ and our Father. (53-54)

All Around the Web - June 14, 2017

Denny Burk - Have Southern Baptists embraced gender-inclusive Bible translation? Not by a longshot.

Wardrobe Door - All Roads Lead to Exclusion

Sam Storms - 10 Things You Should Know about Jonathan Edwards

Chuck Lawless - How to Do Ministry When You’d Rather Be Alone

Thom Rainer - Six Stages of a Dying Church

Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with Greg Thornbury

Washington Post - The United Methodist Church has appointed a transgender deacon

Matt Heerema - Three tips to instantly improve your church’s graphic design

Gospel Coalition - What Does the Bible Teach About Love?

Yahoo! News - A 23-Year-Old Allegedly Copied The 13 Reasons Why Suicide And Left Behind Tapes

Babylon Bee - It Is Perfectly OK For Public Servants To Be Christians, As Long As They Do Not Believe Christian Things

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review

“We shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same — like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?”

I am not a literary critic and thus to write a review of a trilogy on a blog with belief that you will contribute to the conversation is rather foolish. What can one write or say about the Lord of the Rings trilogy in general or the Two Towers in particular that hasn't already been said? As a result, what follows are just a few things that crossed my mind. Furthermore, it is now difficult to read and speak of these books without dealing with the movie.

First, of the three movies, the Two Towers film probably takes creative license the most. The climax of the Fellowship of the Ring movie is found in the beginning of the Two Towers book. The scene of Boromier betrayal and death open up the pages of the second book. Beyond that, Peter Jackson and company emphasizes the battle at Helm's Deep, making it the climax, while Tolkien takes much longer in getting there. Jackson has Eomer on the run, Tolkien is not. And on and on it goes. Someone more qualified than me could give a seemingly endless list of differences between the film and book.

Some of these changes might have been necessary, but it goes to illustrate why when it comes to watching movie versions of books I try to separate the two. Few movies are better than the book for various reasons. Furthermore, no movie follows the book perfectly. Thus I have found it best to allow the book be the book and the movie to be the movie. Certainly changes where made by Jackson that are a bit disappointing, but the spirit of the book, for the most part, remains.

Moving on.

One thing that sticks out to me regards Gollum. He is one of the most unique and important characters in literature. What he is remains mysterious. We know that he once was something like a hobbit. He is now a strange creature controlled by a thirst to get the ring back and it is that drive that brings him into the story. Gandalf had told Frodo that he suspected that Gollum would play an important role, and when Sam and Frodo break from the Fellowship, they rely heavily on the strange creature.

Regarding Gollum I noticed how he and Sam used the same title when speaking to Frodo but with two very different meanings. Both refer to Frodo as "Master." Sam uses it in the sense of employment. Sam works for Frodo by keeping his garden in the Shire. His use of "Master" is much more friendly. Sam is not a slave, but a friend. Gollum, on the other hand, is a slave. Since Frodo possesses the ring, the very thing Gollum is enslaved to, the creature is obeys every command of Frodo, that is, until his "loyalty" to Frodo is proven false. His true loyalty is to the ring, leading Frodo and Sam to Mordor is a means to an ends.

This distinction is important especially regarding Christian theology. Jesus is the Master and Lord of all believers and thus we serve Him, but at the same time, Jesus makes it clear that we are His friends. As adopted sons and daughters of the Father, we become joint-heirs with Christ. Thus we do not fear Christ without understanding grace. In this sense, we are more like Sam. Master is a term of endearment, a reminder of who we truly are and who Jesus really is.

Sinners are more like Gollum. Enslaved to false idols who promise joy - the sort of joy Gollum believes he will find in the ring - is the subtle nature of sin. Idols enslave us with the promise of freedom but never gives us that freedom. As a result, when we don't find joy or contentment we double down. Like Gollum, the unredeemed sinner really is a slave.

More could be said, but as I said, I won't add much to what has already been said. The "resurrection" of Gandalf is interesting in light of Tolkien's Christian faith. Wormtongue remains a strange character who serves as a puppet of Sauronman. I love Theoden as a king. Its a great story, but you already knew that. If you haven't read the book already, do it now!

All Around the Web - June 12, 2017

Kevin DeYoung - East Lansing Farmer’s Market: Isn’t There a Better Way?

Trevin Wax - White Brothers and Sisters, Take Up and Read

Denny Burk - Watch Senator Bernie Sanders tell a Christian that his faith disqualifies him from office

Justin Taylor - Bernie Sanders to Traditional Christians: Your Beliefs Are Indefensibly Hateful and Insulting, and Not What This Country Is Supposed to Be About

The LAB - Michael Bird jumps into the Fray: the Trinity Debate (Part 2)

Pastors Today - The Curse of Talent for Young Ministry Leaders

Chuck Lawless - 14 “New” Things to Do at Church This Weekend

Tim Challies - The Mischievous Protestant’s Guide to Catholic Rome

The Week -  Who killed the contemporary Christian music industry?

CBS News - More internet users watch streaming video than cable

Babylon Bee - Mid-Sermon Stomach Rumble Registers On Richter Scale | Satire

Thursday, June 8, 2017

When Our Mind Wanders in Prayer: Advice from Bonhoeffer

It is a common frustration for me and for other Christians to be distracted by wondering thoughts during times of prayer and meditation. Perhaps while seeking wisdom from the Lord in prayer you find your mind wondering off about people you haven't spoken to for months or about a situation that just took place the night before. It can be tempting to feel guilty at these moments believe that God must be disappointed with our poor prayer lives. However, in his helpful book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers different counsel:
It is one of the particular difficulties of meditation that our thoughts are likely to wander and go their own way, toward other persons or to some events in our life. Much as this may distress and shame us again and again, we must not lose heart and become anxious, or even conclude that meditation is really not something for us. When this happens it is often a help not to snatch back our thoughts convulsively, but quite calmly to incorporate into our prayer the people and the events to which our thoughts keep straying and thus in all patience return to the starting point of the meditation. (85)

In other words, when our thoughts begin to focus on a particular person in prayer, intercede on their behalf. When we begin to replay a specific situation, perhaps repentance is in order. Is this not the purpose of prayer and meditation?

Although I still believe we should be focused in prayer and would recommend praying through Scripture (especially the Psalms), in those moments perhaps God is leading us to focus on someone or something for a reason. Don't waste those opportunities.

All Around the Web - June 8, 2017

Russell Moore - The Transgender Revolution and the Rubble of Empty Promises

Doug Wilson - As Hollow as a Jug

Denny Burk - Farmer banned from selling produce at market because of his views on marriage

Evangelical History - Civil Religion and FDR’s Prayer on D-Day, June 6, 1944

The Gospel Coalition - How Much Did Early Christians Disagree Over Their Theology?

Chuck Lawless - 4 Bad Relationship Transitions in Many Pastors

Eric Metaxes - Disappearing Christians

Pastor's Today - Don’t Forget the Bible in Pastoral Counseling

Tim Challies - The Bible’s Three Big Lessons on Debt

Reuters - Massachusetts judge allows right-to-die lawsuit to move forward

Babylon Bee - Serial Killer Released After Explaining Murder Was Only 3% Of What He Did

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Few Reasons Why We Homeschool

I am a product of public school. I am not against government school and do not believe that homeschooling is the only option to education one's child. I do believe, however, it is a great option for children and ought to be celebrated more by our society. The sacrifice that homeschool parents and families make to educated their children is significant.

Unfortunately, homeschooling continues to be criticized by scaremongers throughout our society. More recently, the Washington Post published the article "These activists want greater home-school monitoring. Parent groups say no way." The article begins with a stereotypical fundamentalists Christian family who, apparently, are overprotective. Over at the Weekly Standard, the article is summarized as follows:
The Washington Post Magazine's cover story this week is about … the horrors of home-schooling. Specifically, the horrors of "fundamentalist Christian" home-schooling. The cover illustration for the story depicts a sinister windowless log cabin that's supposed to be your typical home school, I guess.

Author Lisa Grace Lednicer's main source for the story seems to have been an anti-home-schooling activist named Sarah Hunt, age 36, who was home-schooled herself and lived to tell the tale. Actually, Hunt seems to have done quite well for herself even though home schooling at the behest of her father had consisted "largely of reading and watching videos from the Bob Jones University curriculum."
The Weekly Standard article (read the rest here) goes on to chronicle a number of other problems with the article. It reveals a clear ignorance of bias of the homeschooling world. Not every homeschooling family are families who isolate themselves from society and are "fundamentalists" (whatever that term means now).

When stories like this are written, I am often asked why my wife chose to homeschool our two children. Below are a few reasons why.

1. Personal Attention for Each Child

In the typical public school classroom, there is one teacher per 20-30 students. The ratio is dramatically less in the average homeschool classroom. My wife and I are able to respect the unique learning ability and styles of our two children and give them the attention they need. It was my experience in public school there were many students who were ahead of the class and bored, a number of students behind the class and overwhelmed, and then there were the rest. At home, the students go at their own pace. If they need extra time on math, then so be it. This is a real advantage to the students in my opinion.

2. Stronger Parent/Child Relationship

When my wife and I first got married we discussed the question of her staying home to be a mom. The reason was simple. Who should be the primary influence of our children? It seemed obvious to us it should be their parents. The best way to accomplish this was for her to stay home. I do not believe every home should make the same decision we did, but I strongly do believe it was the right decision for us.

Home education builds a strong parent/child relationship. Public education ultimately pulls the children away from the parents and away from the home for seven to eight hours a day. Once extra-curricular activities are added, parents may only interact with their children for a few hours or even minutes a day. That is dangerous territory.

3. Statistics Show Its Better Than Public School

Like other education options, not everyone thrives and finds success in homeschooling. It may not be for everyone. Nevertheless, the evidence is clear that children who receive home education have a clear advantage. According to Brian D. Ray at the National Home Education Research Institute, home-educated children "typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests." Furthermore, homeschool students, regardless of their parents level of education, score higher on achievement tests than their publicly educated peers. Homeschooled students typically score higher on both the ACT and SAT tests.

Then there are other measures. In spite of false narratives, home schooled children do know how to interact with others. In fact studies show they are above average "on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem."

In my personal experience, students raised in home-school families are well-educated and well-prepared for adulthood. I have taught high school classes (plus I pastor several home school families) at our local homeschool co-op and have been impressed by their intelligence, manners, and character. All the accusations commonly made about homeschooling are bunk and these students make that clear immediately.

4. Parental Control Regarding Educational Choices

If your a parent right now, can you honestly say you know what your child is being taught on a daily basis?

At the end of the day, education falls under parental authority, not the state's. God has entrusted my wife and I with the well-being and raising of our children, not Caesar. Education is major part of raising children. There are constant battles over curriculum at school boards around the country that put distance between the parents and their child's education. Homeschooling eliminates this.

This can be abused, obviously. But such abuse goes both ways. There are plenty of homeschool families, always highlighted in bias news stories, who fail to provide a thorough education to their child, but increasingly that is what the state is doing. Schools are increasingly limiting student's access to matters of faith, philosophy, theology, religion, and conservative ideas. Yet in many homeschool families, even worldviews that are not shared are explored.

All Around the Web - June 6, 2017

Andrew Walker - What’s in a Name? Why Christians Should Be Wary of the Word "Transgender"

Russell Moore - Signposts: Senator Ben Sasse and Russell Moore talk about how perpetual adolescence hurts the church

John Stonestreet - Opposing the Transgender Craze

Mark Dever - 9 Ways to Raise Up Leaders in Your Church

Pastors Today - Thoughts for Pastors Who Are Considering Quitting

Thom Rainer - Six Attitudes That Kill Evangelism in the Church

Chuck Lawless - 9 Reasons Ministry is Not So Hard

The Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with George Marsden

Wycliffe - Wycliffe Associates Aiding Underground National Bible Translators in Places Where Christians Are Targets of Persecution

Evangelical History - This Is Your Life: Rachel Saint (June 5, 1957)

Babylon Bee - Paula White Offers 50% Off Salvation In Blowout Memorial Day Sale | Satire

Monday, June 5, 2017

My Summer 2017 Reading List

Summer is here and that means books. I've been collecting my summer reading list and below are some of the one's I'm looking forward to devouring the most. No doubt it will change and more will be added as the summer continues.

Three days in January : Dwight Eisenhower's Final Mission by Brett Baier

This book features one of my favorite 20th century presidents explored by one of my favorite national journalists that zoom in on a specific period where the historian can give all the intricate details. I've been looking forward to this one for a while.

January 1961: President Eisenhower has three days to secure the nation's future before his young successor, John F. Kennedy, takes power — a final mission by the legendary leader who planned D-Day and guided America through the darkening Cold War

Bret Baier, the Chief Political Anchor for Fox News Channel and the Anchor and Executive Editor of Special Report with Bret Baier, illuminates the extraordinary yet underappreciated presidency of Dwight Eisenhower by taking readers into Ike's last days in power. Baier masterfully casts the period between Eisenhower's now-prophetic farewell address on the evening of January 17, 1961, and Kennedy's inauguration on the afternoon of January 20 as the closing act of one of modern America's greatest leaders  during which Eisenhower urgently sought to prepare both the country and the next president for the challenges ahead.

Those three days in January 1961, Baier shows, were the culmination of a lifetime of service that took Ike from rural Kansas to West Point, to the battlefields of World War II, and finally to the Oval Office. When he left the White House, Dwight Eisenhower had done more than perhaps any other modern American to set the nation, in his words, "on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment."

On January 17, Eisenhower spoke to the nation in one of the most remarkable farewell speeches in U.S. history. Ike looked to the future, warning Americans against the dangers of elevating partisanship above national interest, excessive government budgets (particularly deficit spending), the expansion of the military-industrial complex, and the creeping political power of special interests. Seeking to ready a new generation for power, Eisenhower intensely advised the forty-three-year-old Kennedy before the inauguration.
Baier also reveals how Eisenhower's two terms changed America forever for the better — perhaps even saved the world from destruction — and demonstrates how today Ike offers us the model of principled leadership that polls say is so missing in politics. The Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II, Eisenhower only reluctantly stepped into politics. As president, Ike successfully guided the country out of a dangerous war in Korea, peacefully through the apocalyptic threat of nuclear war with the Soviets, and into one of the greatest economic booms in world history.

Five decades later, Baier's Three Days in January forever makes clear that Eisenhower, an often forgotten giant of U.S. history, still offers vital lessons for our own time and stands as a lasting example of political leadership at its most effective and honorable.

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis--and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Senator Ben Sasse

Senator Ben Sasse is becoming one of my favorite national politicians. He certainly is unique and from what I've been able to perceive from the various interviews and speeches I've watched him give as well as the reviews I've read of this book, this volume will be no different. Most books written by politicians are worthless, but this one, I suspect, will prove to be otherwise.

In an era of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and an unprecedented election, the country's youth are in crisis. Senator Ben Sasse warns the nation about the existential threat to America's future.

Raised by well-meaning but overprotective parents and coddled by well-meaning but misbegotten government programs, America's youth are ill-equipped to survive in our highly-competitive global economy.
Many of the coming-of-age rituals that have defined the American experience since the Founding: learning the value of working with your hands, leaving home to start a family, becoming economically self-reliant―are being delayed or skipped altogether. The statistics are daunting: 30% of college students drop out after the first year, and only 4 in 10 graduate. One in three 18-to-34 year-olds live with their parents.

From these disparate phenomena: Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse who as president of a Midwestern college observed the trials of this generation up close, sees an existential threat to the American way of life.
In The Vanishing American Adult, Sasse diagnoses the causes of a generation that can't grow up and offers a path for raising children to become active and engaged citizens. He identifies core formative experiences that all young people should pursue: hard work to appreciate the benefits of labor, travel to understand deprivation and want, the power of reading, the importance of nurturing your body―and explains how parents can encourage them.

Our democracy depends on responsible, contributing adults to function properly―without them America falls prey to populist demagogues. A call to arms, The Vanishing American Adult will ignite a much-needed debate about the link between the way we're raising our children and the future of our country

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

When controversies like the one that ensued upon the publication of this work take place, I find it best in the age of the Internet to wait a little and let it die down (it won't take long). I am certainly interested in Dreher's argument and I want to hear him without all the noise. The summer will be a great time to do that.

In this controversial bestseller, Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life.

From the inside, American churches have been hollowed out by the departure of young people and by an insipid pseudo–Christianity. From the outside, they are beset by challenges to religious liberty in a rapidly secularizing culture. Keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House may have bought a brief reprieve from the state’s assault, but it will not stop the West’s slide into decadence and dissolution.

Rod Dreher argues that the way forward is actu­ally the way back—all the way to St. Benedict of Nur­sia. This sixth-century monk, horrified by the moral chaos following Rome’s fall, retreated to the forest and created a new way of life for Christians. He built enduring communities based on principles of order, hospitality, stability, and prayer. His spiritual centers of hope were strongholds of light throughout the Dark Ages, and saved not just Christianity but Western civilization.

Today, a new form of barbarism reigns. Many believers are blind to it, and their churches are too weak to resist. Politics offers little help in this spiritual crisis. What is needed is the Benedict Option, a strategy that draws on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church. The goal: to embrace exile from mainstream culture and construct a resilient counterculture.

The Benedict Option is both manifesto and rallying cry for Christians who, if they are not to be conquered, must learn how to fight on culture war battlefields like none the West has seen for fifteen hundred years. It's for all mere Chris­tians—Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox—who can read the signs of the times. Neither false optimism nor fatalistic despair will do. Only faith, hope, and love, embodied in a renewed church, can sustain believers in the dark age that has overtaken us. These are the days for building strong arks for the long journey across a sea of night.

C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity": a Biography by George Marsden

I have read one book in this series (it was on the Book of Mormon) and it was excellent. This volume explores one of my all-time favorite books, Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Why wouldn't I want to make this a priority this summer?

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis's eloquent and winsome defense of the Christian faith, originated as a series of BBC radio talks broadcast during the dark days of World War Two. Here is the story of the extraordinary life and afterlife of this influential and much-beloved book.

George Marsden describes how Lewis gradually went from being an atheist to a committed Anglican--famously converting to Christianity in 1931 after conversing into the night with his friends J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugh Dyson--and how Lewis delivered his wartime talks to a traumatized British nation in the midst of an all-out war for survival. Marsden recounts how versions of those talks were collected together in 1952 under the title Mere Christianity, and how the book went on to become one of the most widely read presentations of essential Christianity ever published, particularly among American evangelicals. He examines its role in the conversion experiences of such figures as Charles Colson, who read the book while facing arrest for his role in the Watergate scandal. Marsden explores its relationship with Lewis's Narnia books and other writings, and explains why Lewis's plainspoken case for Christianity continues to have its critics and ardent admirers to this day.

With uncommon clarity and grace, Marsden provides invaluable new insights into this modern spiritual classic.

This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel by Trevin Wax

One of my favorite living writers is Trevin Wax. His new book promises to be as enriching as his previous volumes. I bought it when it first came out. Now it is time to tole lege.

Uncertain. Confused. Overwhelmed.

Many Christians feel bombarded by the messages they hear and the trends they see in our rapidly changing world.

How can we resist being conformed to the pattern of this world? What will faithfulness to Christ look like in these tumultuous times? How can we be true to the gospel in a world where myths and false visions of the world so often prevail?

In This is Our Time, Trevin Wax provides snapshots of twenty-first-century American Life. in order to help Christians understand the times. By analyzing our common beliefs and practices (smartphone habits, entertainment intake, and our views of shopping, sex, marriage, politics, and life’s purpose), Trevin helps us see through the myths of society to the hope of the gospel.

As faithful witnesses to Christ, Trevin writes, we must identify the longing behind society’s most cherished myths (what is good, true, beautiful), expose the lie at the heart of these myths (what is false and damaging), and show how the gospel tells a better story – one that exposes the lie but satisfies the deeper longing.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Well, everyone else has and they all agree this is a must read. Having grown up in a rural community, this has been on my radar since its publication.
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

A Theology for the Social Gospel by Walter Rauschenbusch

This year marks the 100th anniversary of its publication. Though a heretic, Rauschenbusch remains an important 19th-20th century theologian that continues to influence liberal theology today.

The Social Gospel movement was a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that was most prominent in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The movement applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially social justice, inequality, liquor, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, child labor, weak labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war. Theologically, the Social Gospel leaders were overwhelmingly post-millennialist in the sense that they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind had rid itself of social evils by human effort. Social Gospel leaders were predominantly associated with the Progressive Movement and most were theologically liberal, although they were typically more conservative when it came to their views on social issues. Walter Rauschenbusch was one of the leaders of this important Christian movement.

11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King

I've never read a Stephen King novel. Most of them do not interest me, but this one certainly does. What would happen if you could go back in time and prevent the Kennedy assassination? Hmmm.

In Stephen King’s “most ambitious and accomplished” (NPR) and “extraordinary” (USA TODAY) #1 New York Times bestselling novel, time travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out.

President John F. Kennedy is dead.

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

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All Around the Web - June 5, 2017

Russell Moore -  Wonder Woman and the Gender Wars

Joe Carter - The FAQs: Proposed Regulation Could End the Contraceptive-Abortifacient Mandate

RNS - What makes killing Christians appealing?

John Stonestreet - Terrorists and Moral Discourse

Federalists - Illinois Purges Social Workers And Foster Families Who Don’t ‘Facilitate’ Transgenderism

Chuck Lawless - 10 Ways Pastoral Ministry Has Changed in 30+ Years

Pastor's Today - 8 Reasons Why There’s a Scared Little Boy Inside Every Senior Pastor

Babylon Bee - Dave Ramsey Puts Federal Government On Strict Envelope Budget Plan | Satire