Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: C is for Caution

The Word of God is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword.

So I’m a bit surprised, in our idiot-proofing society, that every Bible is not required to come with a warning label: Caution. Dangerous. May cause injury. For here’s the thing about swords: They are sharp and have point. Which means they can do a lot of damage—including to the one wielding it.

Of course, the possibility of injury shouldn’t stop us. It should, however, encourage us to use Scripture properly. Otherwise, we will either never learn discernment, which is even more dangerous as it leaves us unarmed in enemy territory, or our discernment—our ability to separate good from evil—will be greatly impaired.

There are many great resources out there to help you learn to study Scripture well, but in the meantime, here are three basic safeguards you should employ:

1. Make sure you’re a Christian. Being a Christian is no guarantee that you won’t misuse or even abuse Scripture, but if you have not unconditionally surrendered your life to God’s sovereign rule through dependence on Christ’s payment for the crimes you’ve committed against God—well, you’re completely out of luck. You will be unable to accept Scripture as true, much less as an authority over your life. Only as a Christian will your eyes be opened and your heart receptive to Scripture. Only Christians have the full power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to handle the truth rightly.

2. Study the Context. Pull a single sentence, a single action, a single life out of its surrounding context, and you can twist it to mean anything you want. And if you can twist it, temptation will exist to do so—especially if the reality unsettles you. So to get a proper grip on Scripture, you must study the context—the immediate words surrounding a verse as well as the historical, cultural, and larger scriptural contexts. Otherwise, your sword may slip and you might impale yourself upon it.

3. Consult others. When we work in a void, we become easily distracted and lose perspective. So we need other, trustworthy Christians in our lives to balance us out: Pastors, Bible teachers, mature Christian friends, commentators. This doesn’t mean we will never disagree with them; a seminary degree or a doctorate in biblical languages does not guarantee they are right. However, their presence in our lives can provide other interpretations, different connections between passages, illumination of blind spots, and encouragement to keep digging to find out what God says.

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
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

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?