Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From Bonhoeffer's Pen: Self-Justification

From Life Together:
"There arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be the greatest" (Luke 9:46). We know who it is that sows this thought in the Christian community. But perhaps we do not bear in mind enough that no Christian community ever comes together without this thought immediately emerging as a seed of discord. Thus at the very beginning of Christian fellowship there is engendered an invisible, often unconscious, life-and-death contest. ‘There arose a reasoning among them’: this is enough to destroy a fellowship.

Hence it is vitally necessary that every Christian community from the very outset face this dangerous enemy squarely, and eradicate it. There is no time to lose here, for from the first moment when a man meets another person he is looking for a strategic position he can assume and hold over against that person. There are strong persons and weak ones. If a man is not strong, he immediately claims the right of the weak as his own and uses it against the strong. There are gifted and ungifted persons, simple people and difficult people, devout and less devout, the social and the solitary. Does not the ungifted person have to take up a position just as well as the gifted person, the difficult one as well as the simple? And if I am not gifted, then perhaps I am devout anyhow; or if I am not devout it is only because I do not want to be. May not the sociable individual carry the field before him and put the timid, solitary man to shame? Then may not the solitary person become the undying enemy and ultimate vanquisher of his sociable adversary? Where is there a person who does not with instinctive sureness find the spot where he can stand and defend himself, but which he will never give up to another, for which he will fight with all the drive of his instinct of self-assertion?

All this can occur in the most polite or even pious environment. But the important thing is that a Christian community should know that somewhere in it there will certainly be "a reasoning among them which of them should be the greatest." It is the struggle of the natural man for self-justification. He finds it only in comparing himself with others, in condemning and judging others. Self-justification and judging others go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together. (90-91)

All Around the Web - June 28, 2017

Russell Moore - Why Trinity Lutheran Matters

New York Times - Justices to Hear Case on Religious Objections to Same-Sex Marriage

Denny Burk - Meet Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refuses to make cakes for gay weddings

Resurgent - SCOTUS Gives Christian Baker, & All Believers, Their Day In Court

Urban Faith - I was a Christian woman addicted to porn

GetReligion - Joe Carter takes closer look at that New York Times coverage of partisan pastors

Your Mom Has a Blog - What Your Kids Really Need is Your Authentic Christian Life

Gospel Coalition - Why Did God Allow the Fall?

Pew Research - Millennials are the most likely generation of Americans to use public libraries

Babylon Bee - Apostle Paul’s King James Bible Up For Auction

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Roast Mutton

"Blimey, Bert, look what I've copped!" said William.

"What is it?" said the others coming up.

"Lumme, if I knows! What are yer?"

"Bilbo Baggins, a bur - a hobbit, " said poor Bilbo, shaking all over, and wondering how to make owl-noises before they throttled him.

"A burrahobbit?" said they a bit started. Trolls are slow in the uptake, and mighty suspicious about anything new to them.

"What's a burrahobbit got to do with my pocket, anyways?" said William.

"And can yer cook 'em?" said Tom. (34)

We come now to discuss the second chapter of J. R. R. Tolkien's book The Hobbit. Here, Bilbo and the dwarves find themselves battling three hungry, ignoramus trolls. For me personally, the scene with the trolls is one of my favorite episodes in the story.

The chapter is not as lengthy as the first and is largely straightforward. Bilbo discovers the trolls eating roast mutton and tries to prove his ability as a burglar. He is caught by one of the trolls and the dwarves seek to come to his rescue only to be captured themselves. The trolls are controlled by their appetites and only see Bilbo and company as a means to filling their stomachs.

The chapter ends with Gandalf, who had left the company earlier, remaining in the shadow and mimicking the other trolls creating turmoil between them. Eventually, he exposes them to the sun and they are turned into stone and Thorin's company is saved by the gray wizard.

The notable section of the chapter comes near the end when Thorin quizzes Gandalf regarding his whereabouts during the episode.
"Where did you go to, if I may ask?" said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.

"To look ahead," said he.

"And what brought you back in the nick of time?"

"Looking behind," said he. (41)
There is a real beauty here and it is striking that this is Thorin and Gandalf speaking. Both are the respected leaders of the company but are different types of leaders. Thorin is the heir to the throne that the dragon stole and he seeks to take what is rightly his. He leads, we could say, from the ground. He never leaves the company but is always leading from the front. Gandalf, on the other hand, has no right to any throne and his motivation is different. His concern is long term. We learn in the appendices that Sauron is rising and Gandalf fears what the Dark Lord would do if the dragons sided with him. To him, this is the first move that will culminate in the Lord of the Rings narrative. Thus Gandalf is a visionary leader who is always ten steps ahead of the company.

So Gandalf is absent because he is preparing the company for what is coming next - something that Thorin cannot do while marching with the dwarves. The danger, however, is when leaders stay ahead and do not return to bring those in whom he's leading with him. So as I see it, Gandalf and Thorin embody true leadership in this narrative. Gandalf is looking ahead and is prepared for what is next but does not forget to look behind. At the same time there is Thorin, who never leaves the side of the ones he is leading.

Something to consider.

"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - An Unexpected Party
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Roast Mutton
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - A Short Rest
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Over Hill and Under Hill
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Riddles in the Dark
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Queer Lodgings
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Flies and Spiders
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Barrels Out of Bond
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - A Warm Welcome
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - On the Doorstep
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Inside Information
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Not at Home
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Fire and Water
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Gathering of the Clouds
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - A Thief in the Night
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Clouds Burst
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - Return Journey
"The Hobbit": Blogging Through Tolkien's Classic - The Last Stage

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 27, 2017

Trevin Wax - 3 Reasons Why I Quote the Church Fathers When I Preach

Thom Rainer - Five Terrible Reasons to Enter Vocational Ministry

Chuck Lawless - 11 Church Leaders Who Amaze Me

Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with Sam Storms

Pastors Today - What To Do When Leaders Leave

Sam Storms - 10 Things You Should Know about the Necessity of Biblical Preaching

Tim Challies - Make Time To Be Bored

Resurgent - What Does Derek Carr Plan to Do with His $125 Million Contract? Tithe

Telegraph - Private religious school fails third Ofsted inspection because it does not teach about LGBT issues

Babylon Bee - Flash Flood Warnings Issued As Liberal Tears Continue To Soak Nation

Monday, June 26, 2017

"Three Days in January" by Brett Baier: A Review

Ike was pleased to receive Kennedy's gracious note, and he could only hope the new president had taken the substance of the preparation to heart. He was still thinking about the final days, wondering if he'd done enough. presidents operate in their own closed orbits, and the transition is that one precious moment in time when two administrations work together so intimately. Well beyond pro forma meetings and communications, the transition operations can make or break a new president's first days. in spite of what he considered meaningful personal conversations with Kennedy, Ike admitted to himself that he had no idea at all what effect they'd had. (254)

The day will come when, I believe, Dwight D. Eisenhower will be remembered as one of the greatest Americans ever lived. His biography is nothing short of remarkable. Eisenhower was a small town country kid who rose in the ranks to be the "boss" of World War 2 - a five star general no less - and is largely responsible for the Ally victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan's defeat. After the Great War, Eisenhower was enlisted to join the ranks of politics at the highest level and served two terms as one of our most popular presidents.

Yet for some reason, Eisenhower is largely overlooked by citizens and historians alike. Perhaps the Eisenhower years are overshadowed by the more colorful 60s and the more fashionable Kennedy administration. But writing in 2017, surely we can agree that we need more leaders like him who naturally put country ahead of self-interests.

One of the books on my summer reading list is Brett Baier's Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower's Final Mission. Eisenhower has always been one of my personal favorite President's of the 20th century and after investing in Baier's labor, I am convinced he will be remembered as one of the greatest men to hold the office.

For the most part, this volume zero's in on the final three days of the Eisenhower administration. Those three days are more significant than most final three days of presidencies. During that time, the former president gave the most famous farewell address still widely viewed, prophetic, and debated today. Shortly after Eisenhower's historic address was his successor's historic inaugural address. Kennedy's speech was among our nation's briefest, yet most memorable. Yet what I enjoyed the most was Baier taking us into the mind of Eisenhower himself making Kennedy success a priority and taking the time to encourage and guide him in the final days of his presidency and the beginning of Kennedy's.

The beauty of the book is the power of the American system. Looking back at George Washington, the author shows us the uniqueness of what America routinely accomplishes. Most regime change comes by surrender or death. In America, power is relented gracefully surrendering to the will of the people. Most illustrative of this regards Richard Nixon serving as the President of the Senate in 1960 following his own defeat officially recognizing John F. Kennedy as the next elected President.

Yet this book goes beyond these three days. Baier begins by introducing us to Eisenhower the man and his historical context. Roughly the first third of the book surveys the biography of the late President leading up to the final days of his presidency. The conclusion of the book surveys Eisenhower's influence in the oval office after leaving office as well as his final days on earth.

Overall, I suspect Baier's book will go down as one of my favorite's of the year. I enjoy books that zero in on specific periods of history and there are few figures more prominent in the 20th century than Eisenhower. Baier is one of my favorite journalists and yet this book is not typical of histories written by journalist majors. Rather, one would think Baier was a trained historian from a prominent university. For those who love history in general and presidential history in particular, Baier has published a must-read centered on a great American.

For more:
"Ike: An American Hero" by Michael Korda: A Review

All Around the Web - June 26, 2017

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About North Korea

Albert Mohler - Albert Mohler’s One Book Recommendation

WORLD - A defeat for Planned Parenthood

Randy Alcorn - Will All People Be Equal in Heaven?

Gallop - In US, 10.2% of LGBT Adults Now Married to Same-Sex Spouse

Chuck Lawless - 7 New Testament Verses that Challenge Me as a Christian Leader

CT Pastors - The Success Affair

Trevin Wax - A Humble Request to a Generous God

ERLC - India’s dangerous trends on religious liberty

Babylon Bee - Federal Government Creates Wildlife Refuge For Endangered Christian Ska Bands

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)

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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

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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!

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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

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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.