Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: R is for Reconnaissance

Thus far we’ve been talking about setting up boundaries, flexible and inflexible, which we set into place for our own safety and protection. As such, we generally don’t want to cross these lines. But occasionally we must. Sometimes to combat the enemy we must cross spy out his territory.

This reconnaissance takes many forms. It can be studying another worldview in depth. It can be watching or reading material with known anti-biblical content. It can even be simply scoping out the unknown.

In each case, caution must be applied: Enemy territory is dangerous! You can be captured, “killed,” or worse yet, turned. As a result, you do not want to cross the boundaries on a whim. Rather, you should approach each situation with much prayer. Not ever person has to reconnoiter every place. Is this a place you have to go? Or are there other resources you can employ from others who have already scoped out the land?

Now, you may discover you still have to cross that line. As a writer, I sometimes must read books outside my normal boundaries to track the market. You may have to personally watch that R-rated movie to converse meaningfully with your coworkers. So if you find yourself preparing to invade enemy territory, consider the following before going ahead:

1. Set your mission. Make sure you have a specific and concrete objective. This way you can keep your focus and can know when it is time to leave. Otherwise, you’re just playing with a fire which could get you and others burned.

2. Surround yourself with allies. It is easier to take out one person than a group. So invite accountability and prayer partners alongside you to ask the hard questions, give you aid, warn of blind spots, and generally watch your back.

3. Do your preparation. You don’t plunge into a dangerous territory without any forethought. Rather, you make sure to train and study and plan. Therefore, take time to consult the research of those who have walked the same territory ahead of you. Map out your approach. Arm yourself with extra Scripture and prayer.

4. Approach with caution. Satan is wily and will do anything he can to damage the cause of Christ. However, God has the master plan. So stay sensitive and obedient to His leading. And if He says get out, get out now, even if it makes no sense at the time. You could be walking into a trap.

And finally . . .

5. Don’t linger. Get in, do the work, and get out. The longer you dwell in enemy territory, the more precarious your position will become and the more susceptible you will become to deception. Once you’ve accomplished your objective, clear out, restoring your boundaries to their proper places. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

March-April Reading

March and April is the height of the home-educator conferences, which means my days are packed with numbers, logistics, and business details (yuck!). However, I still managed to squeeze in a few hours to read:

Title: Two Renegade Realms
Series: Realm Walkers #2
Author: Donita K. Paul
Genre: Teen Fantasy

Synopsis: Two realm walkers try to hunt down a missing wizard before a barbaric invasion begins.
Review: I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as book one, but in true Donita K. Paul fashion, the characters delight and tickle the funny bone in this whimsical adventure.

Title: Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball
Series: Standalone novel
Author: Donita K. Paul
Genre: Adult Romance (Christmas)

Synopsis: Two coworkers, oblivious to the other, are given tickets to a magical Christmas ball.
Review: I LOVED this book!!! It is probably my favorite of all Ms. Paul’s work. Whimsical, sweet, and laugh-out loud funny, this is the perfect Christmas novella.

Title: The Railway Children
Series: Standalone novel
Author: E. Nesbit
Genre: Midgrade historical

Synopsis: Three children have a variety of adventures when, following a tragedy, they discover the joys of the railway.
Review: A fun, slightly-episodic read that opens kids’ eyes to the romance of the railway with a touch of underlying mystery makes a worthwhile read.

Title: The Princess Spy
Series: Standalone/#5 in untitled fairytale series.
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: YA Historical Fairytale Retelling
Synopsis: A princess investigates a foreigner’s wild claims about her suitor.
Review: Loosely connected to the other fairytale retellings by Ms. Dickerson, The Princess Spy is strongly paced with some nice unpredictable twists and character development as they struggle with such issues as justice versus revenge.

Title: The House on Troll Hill
Series: Standalone
Author: Donita K. Paul
Genre: Early reader chapter book, fantasy
Synopsis: A gnome realtor tries to sell a house on top of a troll’s head.
Review: This playful story should bring many smiles to a reader’s face, while providing helpful word lists at the beginning of each chapter.  However, formatting and other errors are many and may inhibit some readers.

Of course, summer is now upon us—a great time for curling up with a book. What is on your summer reading list?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: Q is for Quest

Most, if not all, humans share some common territory. We live somewhere. We interact with other people. We have a personality and a past.

We also have quest, something we do, something we live for, something we are deeply passionate about. This quest usually takes the form of our vocation and/or occupation.

Our occupation is what we do “for a living,” the work which earns us the money we need to survive. There are exceptions, of course, to this board definition. The full-time student and stay-at-home parent come to mind. However, each of us do something, a job which occupies most of our time.

As Christians, we also have a vocation, or what we more often refer to as our calling. This is the personal mission for which God has gifted you and me to fulfill. Now sometimes your vocation and occupation are one and the same; think missionary or pastor. However, most of us work a vocation side-by-side with our occupation or even completely separate from it. A nurse (occupation) may have the vocation of writing notes of encouragement to her patients. A lawyer (occupation) may have a passion for teaching apologetics to teens (vocation).

No matter our occupation or vocation, they each impact our view of the world. Thus they too influence our discernment’s development. Just like with experience, they can open some doors to us and close others. A paramedic’s occupation may enable him or her to view more violent films, but it can also dull compassion for others’ suffering. People with a vocation of giving may have to guard against using their money to manipulate others, but may also see doors open widely in financial prosperity.

The key is understanding your occupation’s and vocation’s influence, and then setting your boundaries accordingly.

Stirring the Pot:
What is your occupation?
What is your vocation?
What do you understand better because of your occupation and vocation?
What extra opportunities have opened to you because of them?
What danger zones and blind spots must you guard against and how?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I have a Newsletter!

I recently created a quarterly newsletter called, "Unboxed." You can subscribe to it here:

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I created Unboxed to help connect with readers and the conferees I meet at the homeschool conferences each year. To that end, each newsletter will contain a variety of resources: What I'm up to as an author; a list of books I've read and their ratings; monthly reading lists; news about upcoming releases in the
science-fiction & fantasy genres; and much, much more.

My next newsletter will soon be going out, so make sure you sign up today!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: P is for Past

We all have a past.

That past may be pleasant, full of joy and good memories. That past may be dark and checkered, full of pain and regret. Or, most likely, your past may be a mixture of the two. The point is you have one, and it has influenced how you see and react to the world around you.

As a result, understanding how those experiences impact today will help you set your personal boundaries. Sometimes those experiences will skew your perspective (and discernment), and you will have to limit where you go, much like a recovering alcoholic “limits” himself by steering clear of a bar. Other times your past may provide clarity and insight, opening doors barred to others: Often someone who has suffered a tragedy—such as the loss of a child—is specially equipped to minister to someone in similar circumstances. 

However, the experience doesn’t have to be “big” or life-changing to be influential. When I was a young child, I saw a part of a Murder, She Wrote episode, which terrified me. That feeling has stuck with me. So although I love the show, watching it at certain times can disrupt my sleep and induce nightmares to this day, even though I can enjoy shows with higher thrill factors during that same period without the negative effects. 

So whether big or small, pleasant or painful, our experiences are powerful, and by understanding the past we can better discern in the present. 

Stirring the Pot:
What is one event, positive or negative, you’ve experienced, and how does it affect your perspective today?

Due to that experience, what are you more sensitive to? 

Which doors have closed to you as a result? Which doors have opened?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: O is for Others

Very few of us live as hermits in this world. Indeed, the fact that you are reading this indicates you are probably not a hermit. And if you are not a hermit, this means you interact with other people: friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, enemies.

Now people affect other people. Sometimes the effect is positive and sometimes it is negative. The influence can be largely one direction, and you may be the influencer (such as in mentoring a student) or the one influenced (like when you sit under a pastor). Or the impact may be mutual, as in a close friendship.

What difference does this make with our personal limitations?

On one hand, it means limiting ourselves for the sake of other people. Most of us want to be good influences and set a good example. Moreover, we are instructed to love one another and treat others as we want to be treated. At times, this will mean not doing things we would otherwise be free to do, especially around someone of lesser physical or spiritual maturity. You would not consume alcohol around a known recovering alcoholic, nor would you take a six-year-old into an r-rated movie. Likewise, you might need avoid discussing some controversial theology in front of a new Christian or box some books until your kids are older.

On the other hand, people’s influence on you may also require extra limitations on your part. For instance, spending time with a family member may reinforce an old lie or fear you fight, or working with a coworker may consistently expose you to a bad habit or wrong way of thinking. This does not mean you must cut ties with such people, although on a rare occasion, such extreme measures might be necessary. Rather, avoiding additional reinforcement of the negative—especially in media—might be the way to go. You will also want to implement counterbalances, like memorizing extra Scripture to counter the lie or spending time with a friend who can help you “detox.”

And so by being aware of the influences around us and of the influence we exert, we can strengthen our relationships in a healthy manner, both for others and us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CSFF Tour: Storm Siren Review, Part 2

Title: Storm Siren
Series: Storm Siren Trilogy #1
Author: Mary Weber
Genre: YA Fantasy

Yesterday I discussed Storm Siren and how well it was crafted, concluding the story was phenomenally written. However, that is only one half of the equation, which brings me to . . .

The Content: There are basically two types of Christian novels on the market.

The first is what many associate with “Christian fiction.” These novels have a clear gospel message, Christian characters dealing with spiritual matters, strong allegorical parallels to the spiritual, or some other predominate Christian element that pushes Christ into the center of the story’s focus.

The second is more subtle. In these novels, God often works behind the stage, and Christ is the foundation of the story, not the focus.

Neither style is wrong, nor is one better—or more Christian—than the other. They simply approach life, story, and readers from different angels.

Storm Siren seems to lean toward the latter style, at the moment. While God’s presence is acknowledged and is even integral to the climax of the story, He remains mostly in the background, possible because the main character’s notion of Him is somewhat hazy. This means the story’s style could shift in the coming books; it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

As a result, Storm Siren raises many questions while answering only a few. The characters wrestle with issues as diverse as what makes a person good or bad, free will versus predestination, the depravity of man, how you handle a gift (especially its dark side), penance, honoring others, and forgiveness of self.

Concerning other topics of common concern, there is no graphic sexual content, but several sexual innuendos and references to rape. A fair amount of swearing/cursing occurs, but it uses a fantasy vocabulary, which most find less offensive, probably because its odd wording inhibits its use in the real world. Violence is very strong, dealing not only with typical fantasy battle violence, but also with more personal violations, such as demonic possession and especially the issue of cutting.

The supernatural elements in Storm Siren also play a major, as the premise of the story indicates. However, the supernatural seems to be handled correctly. Much of the power is genetic, and much like other natural talents, it can be augmented spiritually by either God or Satan. The other supernatural elements which go beyond this are clearly shown to be either from Satan or God, with the appropriate qualities (e.g. a gift from God is uncontrollable).

Finally, these areas of concern combine with the themes to give the book a dark cast overall. It is not excessive, nor is it inappropriate given the target audience and the topics tackled. However, it may be a difficult read for those with a heightened sensitivity to darkness in fiction or with personal connections to the topics dealt with, such as the cutting.

Summary: Storm Siren is a wonderfully written book that deals with some tough issues and asks some hard questions. It is not the type of story I would recommend for anyone, and indeed, this book is not recommended for those under thirteen. However, depending on your background, level of discernment, and personal limitations, many will find this an insightful and worthwhile read.

Ratings: Craft—5, Content­—3, Overall—4.2 out of 5 stars.