Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: B is for Bible

Most people, I believe, have no desire to interact with evil. Or at least mentally, they will assent that engaging with evil is a bad idea. So acquiring discernment, that ability to distinguish good from evil, sounds very attractive. After all, who wants to find out after the fact that she married a con artist or he helped commit murder?

Yet if that is true, why do so many people lack discernment?

Because we want to be the ones who define what is good and what is evil.

We want to make up the standard. We want to set the boundaries. Which doesn’t work. Being human, we are limited, fallible creatures prone to selfishness, which leads to evil. Letting evil define evil results in a backward standard, where good becomes evil and evil becomes good. Instead, we need a standard beyond ourselves, and only one such standard exists: The Bible.

Therefore, to learn discernment we must learn what the Bible says. We must read it. We must study it regularly for ourselves. Then we need to measure all else against the principles and truths found within its pages, as uncomfortable as that might make us, for the Bible must be our highest and final authority in all matters.

Then we will know what is really good and evil, and we can start to distinguish between the two. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: A is for Awareness

You won’t miss wha you don’t know exists You won’t seek what you don’t know is lost. You won’t strive for what you don’t know is lacking.

As a result, discernment begins with awareness.

You must be aware of what discernment is. You must know it’s accessible to you. You must be aware of your need for it. Otherwise you will never seek it out.

This probably sounds elementary, but I cannot express how many times I’ve heard some variation of “Discernment is just a spiritual gift,” or “God will warn me away,” or “I can read and watch whatever I want without any affect on me.”

Now I don’t want to take away from the gift of discernment or the leading of the Holy Spirit. I firmly believe both exist and are active in believers’ lives today.

However, discernment is also a spiritual discipline. That means it is accessible and obtainable—and needed by all believers. (Hebrews 5:14)

Only when you are aware of all this can the process of gaining discernment begin.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The ABC's of Discernment: An Introduction

“How can I develop discernment?”

This question was posed to me last spring by a father of young children. Having sat through one of my workshops, he understood that my material was too old for his kids and more time-consuming than he could invest at this stage of his life. Yet he also understood the importance of discernment and that he had to first learn it before he could teach it.

I provided a few suggestions to him at the time, but the encounter has stuck with me, rolling around in my head over the past few months. How can I help him and others like him, seeking a quick overview of the discipline of discernment?

This blog series is one result of that mulling, and so over the next few weeks, we’ll take a fresh look at the basics of discernment aided by the structure of the ABC's.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

CSFF Tour: Rebels

Title: Rebels
Series: The Safe Lands #3
Author:
Jill Williamson
Genre: YA Dystopia

Rating: Craft—5, Content—4, 
Overall—4.2 out of 5 stars


Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Rebels:

*Spoiler Alert*

Levi woke to the sounds of chaos. Footsteps thumping through the house. Giggling toddlers. Screeching children. Women unsuccessfully hushing.

He rolled over. No sign of his wife. She must be up already and keeping the children out of the room.

It all came back the: Mason and Omar had been captured. Mason had been shot in the leg. Omar had been beat up by General Otley.

At least Otley was dead now. But what would become of his brothers?

Outside the room, someone banged against the door, followed by an ear-piercing squeal.

Levi wondered what time it was, but this room had no clock. This was no way to remain inconspicuous to neighbors. Not in a place where children live only at the boarding school.

Three brothers fight to reveal the truth behind liberation.


Craft: Rebels concludes The Safe Land trilogy with a thrilling ride to a satisfying end.

Finishing a series in a satisfying way is a challenge for most authors. Characters have become friends. Strange realms have become familiar. Stakes have become personal. As a result, it can be difficult to say good-bye while leaving the sense that characters will continue to live, all the while tying up loose ends in a way neither too short or long, a way which relieves tension with a satisfied sigh.

Yet Rebels does all that. Even connects with event as unexpected twists occur and unusual allies arise, pulling the story together to a dramatic climax. As for the ending, it is just the right length, providing closure while leaving the sense the characters live on beyond the final page of the book.

In short, Rebels will not disappoint.

Content: Rebels, while providing a thrilling ride in story, also offers plenty of material to chew on long after closing the cover. The Christian influence may not be overt, but themes of responsibility, forgiveness, and purpose are woven throughout. And as is often the case with a dystopia, the world also gives some interesting social commentary, such as on work and leisure, which is worth mulling.

Concerning common topics of concern, there is no supernatural elements and only moderate amounts of violence with no explicit gore. As has been the case for the entire series, the sexual elements are bit stronger than many Christian novels, including sex outside of marriage, but all are handled in a non-graphic way, allowing the story to broach tough topics in an accessible way.


Summary: Rebels is a deeply satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion to The Safe Lands. Highly recommended for older teens and adults.

Rating: Craft—5, Content—4, Overall—4.2 out of 5 stars


Disclaimer: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

September CSFF Tour

Feature: Rebels by Jill Williamson, book 3 in The Safe Lands series

Participants:
Julie Bihn Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Jeff Chapman Vicky DealSharingAunt April Erwin Carol Gehringer Victor Gentile Rebekah Gyger Jeremy Harder Jason Joyner Carol Keen Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nissa Writer Rani Audrey Sauble Jojo Sutis Elizabeth Williams

Friday, September 5, 2014

August 2014 Reading List

August didn’t see as much reading time as July, and more books fell into the required reading category. Nonetheless, I did finish three speculative novels, interestingly all for teens and all third books in their series.

Title: Michael Vey: Battle of the Ampere

Series: Michael Vey #3

Author: Richard Paul Evans

Genre: Teen Superhero

Synopsis: A teen with electrical powers works to free his friends before they’re executed as traitors.

Review: This secularly published series might never qualify for great literature, but these books provide a fun and fast afternoon read. This third book has a couple of nice twists I didn’t see coming, a few scenes of surprisingly intense emotions, and some good thematic material on sacrifice, guilt, and responsibility.


Title: Merlin’s Nightmare

Series: The Merlin Spiral #3

Author: Robert Treskillard

Genre: YA Arthurian Legend Retelling

Synopsis: As threats grow on every side, Merlin tries to protect a young Arthur as he takes his rightful position as king.

Review: This book provides for late teens and adults a richly drawn and highly suspenseful twist on the familiar legends. Although the book contains fairly high amounts of violence and magical elements, they seem well handled, and this book will thrill, I believe, any ardent fan of Arthurian Legend.


Title: Rebels

Series: The Safe Lands #3

Author: Jill Williamson

Genre: YA Dystopia

Synopsis: Three outsider brothers seek to unmask the truth about the land of their captivity.

Review: I don’t want to say too much about this book yet as I will be reviewing it in full later this month for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour. Let it suffice to say, this final book will not disappoint!

In addition to these books, I’ve continued to read through my list in Artful Exposure. This month I breached the mid-grade level (8-12 years) with great reads like My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett and A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. I’ve also discovered with great delight the whimsical animal tales by Dick King-Smith, perhaps best known for The Sheep-Pig (or, as it is called here in the U.S., Babe, the Gallant Pig), the book which inspired the movie—you guessed it—Babe.

Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading of late? What was the book about and did you like it, why or why not?


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CSFF: Merlin’s Nightmare (Merlin Spiral #3)

Title: Merlin’s Nightmare

Series: The Merlin Spiral #3

Author: Robert Treskillard

Genre: YA Arthurian Legend Retelling

Ratings: Craft—4, Content­—4, 
Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars


Excerpt from “The Pact,” prologue to Merlin’s Nightmare:

Mórgana scowled at King Gorlas’s back as he dug into the grave.

“Accursed shovel!” he yelled to the darkness, slamming the iron edge once more into the ground and flinging the dirt up. Five more times he jabbed at the loamy clay before twisting his wiry neck around and gazing at her savagely. “Are you sure she’s here?”

“Yes.”

Gorlas wagged his wild bread, and a silver torc shone from under its disheveled black fronds. “If not, I’ll have your spleen sliced out—”

“Tell me again why you want her back.”

“I’ve told you.”

“Tell me again . . . while you dig,” she crooned.

“Igerna ran away.”

“Two months past, it was, remember?” She took a step forward, stooped, and stroked his cheek with one finger.

His eyes lost focus. “That’s right,” he said, digging the shovel in and throwing dirt from the hole. “When the moon was full.”

“Yes, the moon. Go on.”

“And yet you claim she died sixteen years ago.” He dug into the soil again. “But it makes no sense. She’s buried here, you say?”

“Yes,” Mórgana said, looking up at the stars winking down through the trees. “Her body is here. Keep digging.”

As threats grow on every side, Merlin tries to protect a young Arthur as he takes his rightful position as king.


Craft: With Merlin’s Nightmare, the Merlin Spiral doesn’t so much finish a series as much as lead into a new one, the Pendragon Spiral.

Actually, that is a bit of an annoyance for me as a reader. I expect closure, the feeling of completion or coming full circle for the main character, with the final book of a series, even if that book is opening doors for a sequel or a spin-off series. Merlin’s Nightmare seems to offer none of that. The ending doesn’t feel merely open; it feels unfinished. If closure is presented, it has gotten lost, and the result is that this book reads more like a transitional book in the middle of a series as the story shifts focus from Merlin to Arthur. Personally, I would have preferred to seen these books presented as one series rather than two, for it is disconcerting to “finish” a series when the story has only reached its midpoint.

However, I understand the a split in related series are done for a variety of reasons, some of which the author has no control over, and there is an upside in this for the readers who have fallen in love with the rich tapestry of this Arthurian retelling: The story isn’t over yet.

So concerns over the ending aside, Merlin’s Nightmare offers a vividly drawn world rich with details. Familiar elements—such as the sword in the stone—are deftly woven into the tale, but often with a fresh take that will surprise the reader. The characters are complex and often conflicted. This makes them sympathetic and the story compelling, even if the journey isn’t comfortable. Add to this a plot full of danger and suspense, and the result is a riveting read.


Content: Like the story itself, Merlin’s Nightmare offers rich thematic material.

On one side, you see Merlin wrestling with his desire to protect and live in safety with the need to let go and take risks. One the other side, you witness the reckless bravery of Arthur and his growing realization of what it means to lead. Sandwiched between are threads on sacrifice, responsibility, balancing decisions with advice, and the sovereignty of God. For me, the moment when Merlin must answer the question, “Who am I?” was especially poignant.

Concerning other topical concerns, both violence and magic exist in high amounts. Although the elements aren’t out of line with the story but seem to be appropriately handled, those with sensitivity to either or both those areas will have to carefully weigh whether they should pursue this story.


Summary: Merlin’s Nightmare is not so much the end of a series as much as transition into the second half of the tale. As long as that is held in mind, this novel continues to offer a richly drawn and highly suspenseful retelling of Arthurian legend. Some caution recommended for younger readers and those with high sensitivity to violence/gore and/or magical elements, but a must-read for fans of King Arthur.


Ratings: Craft—4, Content­—4, Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars