A Look into the Life and Legacy of J.R.R.Tolkien

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

“The Father of Modern Fantasy,” John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (BBC News)

Today, nobody stumbles over the name “Tolkien” in the English-speaking world, but back in 1962, when I was in junior high, it was all news to me! The Lord of the Rings was just becoming popular in America, and one of my closest friends, Danny Green, kept me fascinated as he reported day by day what he’d read about the little Hobbit who had to leave his cozy home and go adventuring to save Middle Earth. Since those days, Tolkien’s series has ranked as one of the most popular fiction works of the twentieth century!

Fifty-five years later, I’ve still not read Tolkien’s fantasy books for myself, but I was delighted to watch the recently released movie, Tolkien, based on the youth and formative years of this brilliant and dedicated scholar!

There is so much I didn’t know about Tolkien, and almost everything I learned has made me admire him more than ever! Tolkien lived in Britain and was orphaned at a young age. He was among those who had to make his way in the world through sheer grit . . . for Tolkien—hard work, wisdom, and unending, passionate drive.

At a young age, he fell in love with another orphan, and the movie records their very sweet relationship. (Although, as in all good romances, there were many challenges, twists, and uncertainties.)

Because of his brilliance as a student and the care of the Catholic priest who was his guardian, Tolkien was eventually allowed to attend Oxford, where he succeeded in becoming fast friends with several of his classmates. (This was no easy feat, either! My father, who attended Harvard for graduate school—also in philology—as a young man during the Great Depression, found it very difficult trying to fit in with the wealthy elite without the trappings of material privilege.)

Perhaps the most difficult part of Tolkien’s journey was his military service during World War 1. The movie is PG-13, so the war scenes—though terrifying and disheartening—are not about the gore but rather to give us a feel for the intense suffering and emotional trauma that all soldiers experienced.

Did he survive the war? Did he get to marry the girl of his dreams? Did he get to finish his studies? When and how did he become so famous? All great questions, and most of them were answered in this wonderful depiction of his life!

The very best aspect of the movie (for me) was the goodness of Tolkien’s character throughout (in stark contrast to most stories you hear about the “bright young things” of his era). Sometimes people are so bright and shiny with goodness that it just makes you wonder why, so I studied more of his life from Wikipedia. There I discovered the reason: He had a “deeply religious spirit.” As Tolkien explained: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Sign in the Eagle and Child Restaurant, Oxford

Ah, ha! Yes, I did know of the connection between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the good spiritual influence Tolkien had been on Lewis, helping him come to faith. It was C.S. Lewis who later wrote Mere Christianity . . . the book that influenced both my mother and my dear aunt, “Lant Henna,” to believe in Christ many years hence!

Alan and I even made a bit of a “pilgrimage” to Oxford’s Eagle and Child (pub/restaurant where their literary group, The Inklings, met) with two of our sons (one of whom is now an editor and aspiring writer himself). So, we have a very personal experience of being inspired and edified by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

So, thank you Tolkien, and thank you to those of you who gifted us with this great movie! I hope many people see it and find the story uplifting and encouraging!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (47): Be “Perfect” . . . Is That Even Possible??

My father grew up going to church but rejected what he had learned as a child and became a self-proclaimed atheist for many years, so when I was a child, I never went to church or heard anything about Christianity. In fact, my mother wrote as a “cute saying” in my baby book that at some point I said, “I think I should know more about the Bible.”

After eagerly trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior the first time I ever heard the good news that God loved me and Jesus died for me, I immediately shared the Good News with my parents. I don’t remember what they said, but my mother’s attitude was sort of a non-descript “That’s nice honey,” and my father’s was a condescending, “Well, you’ll soon grow out of it.”

I was much older before I got my courage up to ask them why they didn’t believe. My mother (who was at that time agnostic) said it was because she didn’t feel certain God was real. She was afraid he was perhaps just an abstract construct, so she was unwilling to trust lest she be disappointed or discover that she’d been deceived. My father, on the other hand, had a more definitive reason. He remembered reading Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and—knowing that he could never be perfect—decided to give up before he ever started trying. Why ascribe to an impossible standard? Why undertake an impossible quest?

My husband’s parents both believed in God and felt that the Bible was true, but Alan’s father had an almost exactly similar stance to my father’s. He said he could never be perfect, and that if he were to say he was a Christian, then he would have to be perfect, and since that was impossible, he would always feel like a liar and a hypocrite.

Why did Jesus tell people to be perfect, since he knew good and well they couldn’t be? Was he trying to turn people away? Was he just setting us all up to feel like guilty losers who are nothing but failures? Was he suggesting that unless we attain perfection, we’ll never enter heaven?

NO! But, well yes (in a way)! Jesus spoke the truth, which is that in order to go to heaven, we must be perfect. Thankfully, Jesus is also the way: Although we can’t be perfect, he could, and he was. He fulfilled the Laws of God perfectly, but then he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If we are willing to humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and never will be, and that we don’t deserve to go to heaven based on our ability to keep God’s perfect standards . . . if we are willing to admit that we are sinners (law-breakers of God’s perfect laws) BUT are also willing to accept the free gift that Jesus offers us—his death as the full payment for our sins—then we become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus, and possessors of eternal life. When we accept Jesus as our savior and surrender our lives to Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us and begins the good work of making us more and more like our Master, until someday—when we see Him face-to-face in heaven—we will at last become perfect, not because we are, but because He is, and He has made us like himself.

Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Nobody told me I had to be perfect to become a Christian. All I heard was that God loved me and Jesus died to save me, and that’s all you need to hear. Believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him. He will receive you, give you eternal life, and the Holy Spirit will indwell you to comfort, guide, and teach you. Life is hard, but trusting Jesus is inestimably easier than trying to attain perfection without the aid of the one and only, truly holy, 100% good Higher Power, which is God himself!

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Also: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

P.S.—Thankfully, both my parents became believers in their eighties, and Alan’s mother became a believer in her sixties. I hope Alan’s father also became a believer, but I’ll have to wait until heaven to know for sure. At any rate, as long as you have life and mental faculties enough to choose Christ, it’s never too late. Hopefully, as we age, we’re better able to recognize our own lack of perfection and more willing to lean on God’s everlasting arms for help! He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). My mother was never disappointed in Christ after she believed. Instead, she became peaceful about her impending death, which assured me that her future was secure. God is so merciful!!

Photo Credit for Painting: “Love Everlasting” by Yongsong Kim, permission granted by Foundation Arts, website: Havenlight.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (45): “Pray for Them”— Which “Them”?

The “them” is “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I’ll tell you, the concepts Jesus taught are so radical it’s no wonder he was both amazingly popular and singularly hated at the same time!

I just finished listening to an interview between Dennis Prager and Jordan Peterson. Prager identifies himself as Jewish; Peterson identifies himself as a “Christian” who does not believe in God. (Not sure how that’s possible, but there you have it.) So, I don’t exactly agree with either of these men spiritually, because I do believe in God, and I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah. However, despite religious differences, I still respect what they are attempting to do, which is to live out their understanding of truth, and most of their understanding of truth comes from both the Judeo-Christian scriptures (which they believe is corroborated by their research and life experiences).

Although I’m not politically savvy, it was obvious from their discussion that Peterson has come under a lot of fire for his stand against “political correctness” pressuring American and Canadian society to conform to speech regulations that are contrary to “biblical correctness.” I haven’t followed either of these men closely enough to know what all they believe or teach, but one clear message that came out of the interview was that Peterson is both immensely popular and immensely hated. He mentioned that at one time 200 of his fellow colleagues signed a petition trying to have him fired from his position at the university where he was teaching. But, in the next breath, he said that no matter where he goes, people thank him—often with a great deal of emotion—for what he’s taught about the fact that we are individuals who are responsible for our own lives and decisions and need to accept and act on our personal responsibility for self-control and self-improvement.

I definitely agree with Peterson’s understanding of individual person-hood and responsibility, and the great ambivalence surrounding Jordan Peterson helps me understand the tremendous emotional upheaval that Jesus caused. The religious leaders hated him, and the common people—who experienced the healing benefit of his teachings—loved him.

I have no clue if Peterson prays for those who despitefully use him and persecute him, but I know that’s what Jesus did . . . and what he tells us to do. Peterson professed being afraid to say he believed in God, because if he truly believed, he would have to live out the Christian faith, which seems impossibly hard to him. In fact, it is impossibly hard, but that is okay. Jesus died to bridge the gap between our best and perfection. We are works in progress. We are challenged to be perfect, but we fall short. Jesus paid the price for our failures. That’s what it means to be a Christian: to become a child of God through faith in Christ. But, just like Jesus, we have the wonderful capacity to find help and grace through God who helps us take responsibility for self-control and self-improvement! Through God we can learn how to humbly “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

We may end up dying for what we believe, like Jesus, or we may end up with a thrilling triumph of good over evil (such as I’m going to write about this coming Tuesday). Either way, it is our job to be faithful to the truth as we understand it, to do good and not evil to others, and to pray for (rather than physically bully or attack) those who oppose us.

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 5:45, “and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Luke 6:27, “Pray for them which despitefully use you.”

(Reproduction of the painting, “Jesus Praying in Gethsemane,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission. Website: Havenlight.com)

So You Don’t Like Going to Church Anymore?

Have you drifted away from being involved in a church? If so, I would love to hear your “why” and if there is anything you can think of that would make the Church so appealing to you that you would want to go again.

My grandchildren keeping busy during a message at church

I am thankful all my kids are involved in church communities, but it almost seems like this is now unusual rather than the norm for those between twenty and fifty. When I was a young mom, I very much admired a woman whose husband had been the pastor of our church. They had eight grown children who were all involved in churches, but in very different denominations. I thought that was really strange and wondered how the children of a minister could possibly end up going to such diverse churches. A generation later, I am no longer amazed. In fact, I’m sort of like that pastor’s wife!

Alan and I always attended very conservative evangelical Baptist/Bible/Brethren churches, and I assumed our children would follow in our footsteps. Totally not so! Now, I will say that I’ve attended almost all the churches where my kids fellowship (except our military kids, who moved to Belgium last summer), and I almost always feel blessed and instructed by what I hear, but a few of them have found church homes quite different from those in which they grew up.

What happens? Well, for one thing, as we mature, we have to decide for ourselves what we believe and what we’re going to prioritize in life. We aren’t born with spiritual life, we are born again into spiritual life. We may grow up in a Christian home, but we aren’t born with faith in God. We may be taught about God (as in the case of my children), or we may become curious about whether or not there is a God (as in my case, who did not grow up in a church). Either way, as we grow up, we have to evaluate what we believe about God, the Bible, and spiritual life.

For most of us, spiritual life is largely explored and lived out in community, and the “community” God has given us is the local church. If you want to learn more about God, read your Bible and pray, but also get involved in a church family. Like coals of fire, we burn brighter and longer when sharing the heat with other coals in the fireplace! Embers that explode and fall off the grate usually burn out very quickly.

Some of our kids visiting Calvary Church with us in Grand Rapids

That being said, as we approach the beginning of a new school year, I hope you make being part of a local church one of you priorities. If you live in the Grand Rapids area and don’t have a church home, I would like to invite you to visit my church, Calvary Church (on the East Beltline). We have a fabulous Sunday school class called Heirs Together that is really helpful for ages 55-75, but there are excellent classes for all ages. Please consider visiting our class if you’re in town and around that age!

This past Sunday our pastor, Jim Samra, just began a new series on the Book of Titus. It’s the first of a series of topical messages that will find their roots in Titus but cover a plethora of very practical topics, such as “What is Godliness?” The first message can be found here:

If for any reason you are disabled, have to work on Sundays, live in a country where there is no local church, or are otherwise unable to attend church in person, this sermon series will be online each week. (The new message is downloaded each Tuesday morning.) If you’re looking for a prayer group, I am part of a weekly “Zoom” prayer group that you are welcome to join. Just email me at kathrynwarmstrong@gmail.com and I will connect you. Nurturing your spirit is every bit as important as nurturing your body (and I would say— “Even more so!”).

Hope to see you or hear from you soon—either at church, on Zoom, or in the comment box below with suggestions for how to make church a more spiritually nurturing environment for you and members of your generation! Thanks, and may God bless you in your spiritual journey!

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Billy Graham on the diversity of our children and the fact that you can’t inherit faith; it must be a personal decision: https://www.facebook.com/BillyGrahamEvangelisticAssociation/videos/449200715806760/

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (44): Do Good to Them Which Hate You

If there was ever a human being who did good to those who hated him, it was Jesus Christ. How so, you ask? Well, one of the best examples is in Matthew 26. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus warned his disciples that in two days he would be betrayed to be crucified, but Jesus didn’t skip out of the country, even though he knew exactly what was going to happen. By verses 3-4, we learn that the religious leaders all came together for a secret meeting trying to figure out how to capture him and kill him. Why? Because they were so envious that they hated him (see Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10).

Despite revealing to his disciples what was about to happen, Jesus’ s twelve closest friends found fault with him because he accepted the ministry of Mary anointing him with oil. The disciples were critical of such a “waste” when the money might have been given to the poor. Instead of lashing out at them for failing to appreciate what Mary was doing, Jesus patiently explained that Mary was preparing Jesus for his high-priestly ministry of dying for our sins! He was going to die in our place, as payment for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God, and she was anointing him for his burial.

“Oh, now we see!” they all exclaimed. I wish!! No, the disciples didn’t understand at all. In fact, Judas got so mad that he left the group and went straight to the chief priests, where he plotted to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Now, in a somewhat similar situation of danger (in 2 Kings 1), when Elijah’s life was at risk, Elijah called down fire from heaven that consumed the men who came to capture him. Not so, Jesus! When Judas brought the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane to capture Jesus, he still called Judas “Friend.” Friend? How could Jesus call Judas “Friend” knowing full well that he was plotting Jesus’ death?

Why didn’t Jesus call down fire from heaven to consume them? As Jesus explained to Peter a few verses later, God would have given Jesus more than 12,000 angels to protect them had Jesus asked him to! But, he didn’t! Why? Because he loved his enemies. He was doing good to those who hated him.

You might wonder how Jesus surrendering himself to die at the hands of wicked men could possibly be “doing good” in any sense, but don’t forget that Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen, had prayed fervently for God to intervene if He wanted to, and then surrendered completely to God’s will. Jesus could “do good to them that hate you” by surrendering to God’s will.

How could being tortured and killed be God’s will? Well, we know from studying the entire Bible that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came on the mission of dying for the sins of the world, so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. ” (John 3:16-17).

And, what about you and me? What does it look like to “do good to them which hate you”? Does it mean killing everybody who doesn’t believe in Jesus, or fire-bombing those who don’t worship God? NO! It means being like Jesus, who patiently taught and lived the truth. It means doing what’s best for others, whether or not they like it! The religious leaders would have preferred for Jesus to stop preaching the gospel, but that wouldn’t really have been doing good; that would have been doing what they wanted, which is different!

Doing “good” can only happen when we do what God wants us to do, and that we can only figure out by meditating on the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us how to “do good.” We do good to those who hate us, not only by being kind and caring for them, but also by setting our face “like a flint” to obey our heavenly Father. To be good is to be like God. To be like Jesus. To give our lives so that others may find eternal life in Christ, who gave his life for all of us.

Believest thou this?

Jesus said, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:26).

Here is a beautiful song about Jesus, our Gentle Shepherd, who can help us.

Text for this meditation: “Do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27).

Photo of our gentle shepherd used by permission of Yongsung Kim, website: Havenlight.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (33): Did Jesus Nullify the Old Testament Law?

Many people—even Christians—seem to think that the Old Testament code of ethics is no longer valid for today. After all, Jesus kept the Old Testament law perfectly, died for our sins (including all the ways in which we’ve failed to keep the Law), and now all we have to do is believe in Jesus and not worry about the Law, right?

Wrong! In Matthew 5:17, Jesus explained, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” His goal was not to make the Old Testament instructions null and void, but rather to prove—once and for all—that the Law is good, that it is possible for humans to keep the Law, and that God gave his laws to us for our good, so that by keeping them we can experience a life of righteousness, peace, and blessing.

Which laws are we still supposed to keep? Well, there are various opinions on the subject, but the New Testament is clear that for non-Jewish people who believe in Christ, there are a few basic rules to keep: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20). That’s a pretty short list, but it includes idolatry, fornication, and drinking blood. If you’re still having a problem with worshiping yourself (which comes out as doing “that which is right in your own eyes” rather than obeying the teachings of the New Testament), or with sexual immorality, then you’re still sitting at the starting line and haven’t really taken off on the path toward holiness.

But, what about all the Old Testament laws? Are they no longer valuable as guides for daily life? I believe they are, but not as “We’ll be damned if we don’t” but as guides to healthy, happy living. Many of them are moot issues today. We don’t make clothing out of linen and wool, and we don’t seethe kids in their mother’s milk. We don’t (usually) forage for birds eggs, and those of us who keep laying hens don’t kill the hens who are producing the eggs . . . for obvious reasons!

What about keeping the Sabbath Day holy? What’s not to love about a day of rest? Why fight it? Why not make space in our lives for worship, for fellowship . . . for that “margin” everybody talks about not having but desperately needing?! I’m convinced that all the regulations God gives us, both those He gave to the Jews in the Old Testament, and the many instructions we’re given in the New Testament, are there to teach us the way of wisdom and truth. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). All that God has given us in the way of laws and instructions are for our own good, to teach us what is right and good, to protect us from harm, and to help us experience an abundant, blessed life!

What about the Ten Commandments? Jews, Christians, and most non-believers around the world still believe in the goodness of not lying, not killing, not stealing, not cheating on your partner, honoring your parents, and not pining for what belongs to someone else. Right? Various religions fight over who the true God is, but they all believe in worshiping God. Even though these laws were commanded in the Old Testament, they are all verified again in the New Testament, even the Sabbath, where Jesus points out that “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). That doesn’t mean having a sabbath rest is no longer good for us; it means just the opposite! We don’t have to keep the sabbath, but a sabbath rest is good for us. We don’t have to keep the Ten Commandments to enter heaven, but we should keep them because they’re good for us—and for everyone else! And, if we don’t learn how to live morally upright lives, sooner or later we’re going to run into problems with our friends, our neighbors, and even the police!!

Let’s be good Christ followers, keeping the way of wisdom as set out for us in the New Testament! Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly, not to destroy it, but to prove its inherent goodness and value.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s “ALL!”

The beautiful illustrations above are used by permission of Yongsung Kim. His website and gallery of paintings can be found here: http://Havenlight.com