Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Personal Limitations: Dealing with Blind Spots

Biblical literacy defines what is good. Spiritual maturity allows us to separate good and evil, in order that we might keep the good and throw the bad. In theory, this is all we should require to discern.

The reality is that we live in a broken world, where things don’t always work as they ought. Indeed, we ourselves are broken. So although God is mending us who follow Christ day by day, we all have areas of weaknesses, places where good and evil simply won’t separate, no matter how hard we try.

This is why we need to be aware of our personal limitations. Personal limitations are the extra boundaries we place on ourselves due to a weakness hampering our ability to separate good and evil. So what we are guarding against is not necessarily the evil. We are guarding against an area of personal danger—a blind spot wherein we cannot see clearly. For if we can’t see clearly, we cannot separate, and if we can’t separate, we can’t discern.

Therefore, personal limitations provide us an extra layer of protection for where we currently lack discernment. They help guard us against fallacies which would exploit our weaknesses. They defend against those weaknesses being used to infect the rest of our lives. Personal limitations shield us from driving unintentionally over a cliff to our deaths. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

New Christian Fiction for August 2017

For more in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Action/Adventure:
 

Imperfect Lies by Elizabeth Noyes -- When another woman emerges from the past to claim Mallory Cameron's happily ever after, she cuts her losses and sets out to find a headline-worthy story to launch her journalism career. She embarks on a whirlwind journey that takes her across the United States, to the blue-green waters of the Caribbean, on to sunny Mexico, and deep into the dangerous parts of Africa where terror reigns. James Evers turned his back on a life of power and privilege to carve a place in the world for himself. Now that he's finally discovered his niche as a small-town sheriff and found the woman he wants in his future, a past indiscretion struts in on high heels and sends his newfound love fleeing headlong into peril. His mission: neutralize old enemies, defuse new threats, resolve past mistakes, settle family disputes, and—most importantly—find and rescue his woman from terrorists before the unthinkable happens. (Action/Adventure from Write Integrity Press)


Contemporary Romance:
 

The Bachelor’s Unexpected Family by Lisa Carter -- Young widow Kristina Montgomery moves to Kiptohanock, Virginia, hoping it will give her and her teenage son, Gray, a fresh start. She longs for the peace and quiet only a small town can provide. But her plans are thwarted by her new neighbor, Canyon Collier, a former Coast Guard pilot and a crop duster. Gray is instantly drawn to the pilot and his teenage niece, Jade—and Kristina's not far behind. She and Canyon are soon bonding over parenting their charges and their spark becomes undeniable. Could it be that the spirited pilot is just what Kristina needs to teach her heart to soar again? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Gift of the Magpie by Zoe M. McCarthy -- Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia, has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, Amanda’s heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high-school Valentine’s Day date. Camden may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong. (Contemporary Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Mother for Leah by Rachel L. Miller --It’s been ten years since Leah Fisher’s mother died in a buggy accident. But when Leah’s father shows interest in Naomi Yoder, Leah isn’t ready for a new mother. Will Leah be able to let go of her own ideas and realize that God truly does know best for her or will she allow love to slip through her fingers, destroying Samuel Fisher and Naomi Yoder's happiness at the same time? (Contemporary from S & G Publishing)


General Contemporary:
 
 
Freedom’s Ring by Heidi Chiavaroli -- An antique ring reunites a Boston Marathon bombing survivor with the man who saved her. Together they unearth the two-hundred-year- old history of a woman who suffered tremendous loss in the Boston Massacre, a woman torn between the love of two men – one a patriot, one a Redcoat. (General Contemporary from Tyndale House)

Fresh Faith by Elise Phillips -- Joy Abbott had been trying to start her life over for years -- and failing. Then a letter summoned her to Texas and everything changed. (General Contemporary from Desert Breeze Publishing)


Historical:
 

Enchanted Isle by Melanie Dobson -- In the spring of 1958, Jenny Winter embarks on a two-month adventure to a quaint village in England’s magical Lake District. With a new camera and an eye for capturing the beauty others miss, she can’t wait to explore the heathery fells and mystical waters. Adrian Kemp, a handsome and enigmatic local, makes the sightseeing even more beguiling. When Adrian shows Jenny his late father’s abandoned dream, a deserted island amusement park, she glimpses a kindred spirit in this reckless, haunted young man. Yet as she opens her heart to Adrian, the two stumble into a mystery leading back a generation to an unforgettable romance and an unsolved murder. As long-held secrets come to light, it’s left to Jenny and Adrian to put the past to rest and restore a lost dream. (Historical from Waterfall Press)

Titus: The Aristocrat by Katheryn Maddox Haddad -- Titus intends to become a famous lawyer in the Roman Empire. Instead, he is sent by Paul to arbitrate between arch enemies in wild Corinth, wilder Crete, and wildest Dalmatia. In each place he suffers. But, long before that, he suffers from guilt over the death of his mother when he was eleven years old. How does Titus survive it all? (Historical from Northern Lights Publishing House)


Historical Romance:
 

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander -- With fates bound by a shared tragedy, a reformed gambler from the Colorado Territory and a Southern Belle bent on breaking free from society's expectations must work together to achieve their dreams - provided the truth doesn't tear them apart first. (Historical Romance from Zondervan)

The Second Chance Brides Collection by Lauralee Bliss, Angela Breidenbach, Ramona K. Cecil, Pamela Griffin, Grace Hitchcock, Pam Hillman, Laura V. Hilton, Tiffany Amber Stockton, and Liz Tolsma -- Meet nine women who each believe their chance for lifelong love has passed them by. From the girls who lost their beaus to war, to the wallflowers overshadowed by others, and the widows deeply hurt by their loss, the desire to love and be loved spans American history from 1777 to 1944. Experience the sweet pull of romance on each life and the blossom of faith that leads them to brighter futures. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman -- Anxious for his brothers to join him on the rugged frontier along the Mississippi River, Connor O’Shea has no choice but to indenture himself as a carpenter in exchange for their passage from Ireland. But when he’s sold to Isabella Bartholomew of Breeze Hill Plantation, Connor fears he’ll repeat past mistakes and vows not to be tempted by the lovely lady. The responsibilities of running Breeze Hill have fallen on Isabella’s shoulders after her brother was found dead in the swamps along the Natchez Trace and a suspicious fire devastated their crops, almost destroyed their home, and left her father seriously injured. Even with Connor’s help, Isabella fears she’ll lose her family’s plantation. Despite her growing feelings for the handsome Irish carpenter, she seriously considers accepting her wealthy and influential neighbor’s proposal of marriage. Soon, though, Connor realizes someone is out to eliminate the Bartholomew family. Can he set aside his own feelings to keep Isabella safe? (Historical Romance from Tyndale House)


Romantic Suspense:
 

Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason -- When a photo leads investigators in West Ireland to open a twenty-five-year-old cold case, Elite Guardians bodyguard Haley Callaghan's life is suddenly in danger. Haley knows how to take care of herself; after all, she's made a career out of taking care of others. But after she has an uncomfortably close call, Detective Steven Rothwell takes it upon himself to stay with her--and the young client she has taken under her wing. A protector at heart, he's not about to let Haley fight this battle alone. In a sweeping plot that takes them into long-buried memories--and the depths of the heart--Haley and Steven will have to solve the mystery of Haley's past while dodging bullets, bombs, and bad guys who just won't quit. (Romantic Suspense from Revell [Baker])

Plain Retribution by Dana R. Lynn -- Ten years ago while on rumspringa, Rebecca Miller and her friends were kidnapped and held captive…and now, living in the English world, she's nearly abducted again. One by one her friends who once helped send their abductor to jail are targeted, and she is next…unless police officer Miles Olsen can stop a killer. Deaf since birth, the only person on the force that Rebecca can communicate with is Miles, and he needs this case to redeem himself of past mistakes. When the relentless killer tracks them deep into the heart of Amish country, protecting Rebecca must be Miles's sole focus. Because a mistake this time will cost something worth more to him than his job—the woman he's falling for. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Cold Blooded by Anne Patrick -- Detective Gwen Jamison has the highest closure rate in her division, but a string of armed robberies is about to take over her life. Not only will her job be on the line, but the troubling case also wreaks havoc on her personal life. Lieutenant Ian McKean knew he would have his hands full when he took over leadership of the detectives unit. He wasn't prepared for the headstrong Detective Jamison, though, who quickly becomes a thorn in his side. If they can stop butting heads long enough they might realize they are more alike than either imagined. (Romantic Suspense from Anne Patrick)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

4 Ways to Aid Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual growth is a sticky issue. On one hand, failing to grow leads to a multitude of problems. On the other, we lack the ability to grow; growth is a gift which ultimately flows from the hand of God.

Yet while we cannot force ourselves to mature, we can aid the process, like a farmer who plants and waters and fertilizes. After all, Paul still had to plant and Apollos still watered, even though the growth came from God (1 Corinthians 3:6). So here are four ways to encourage healthy spiritual growth:
 
Eat right. Without proper nutrition, our physical bodies won’t grow the way they’re supposed to. The spiritual requires the same. This is why biblical literacy is so important. Just as you need food to create energy, you need knowledge to apply it.
 
However, eating right is about more than Bible study. It refers to anything you “consume” —activities, conversations, and especially media. So are you feeding your heart and mind that which promotes general healthiness? This doesn’t mean everything you consume must be Christian. Eating a diet of fast-food Christianity consistently can be quite damaging. Rather, does what you consume, Christian or not, promote overall spiritual health? Does it make you think or challenge you to deepen your beliefs? Does it provide concrete images of biblical principles in action?
 
Exercise. Diet and exercise—they seem to be an inseparable pair, not matter what realm you are dealing with: Faith is supposed to produce works just like food produces energy to act (James 2:22, 26). We are to act upon what we hear.
 
So how are you exercising your faith? You study the Word of God—what evidence does your life produce of this? How are you applying what you learn? What spiritual disciplines are you practicing? Which choices are moving you toward God—and which are drawing you away?
 
Expand your horizons. The world of a baby is very small, comprised of a few people, minimal knowledge, and limited ability. But the older he or she grows, the more the world expands: They learn to make friends, meet strangers, and become aware of a world of people they may never meet. Concrete concepts are mastered; abstracts are introduced. Facts are learned; new ideas are considered. They learn to crawl…to run…to ride a bike…to drive a car.
 
Again what is true physically is true spiritually: Our awareness of the world around us and our ability to interact with it should also be expanding. How? The same way we do physically. Imitate those more mature than you and experiment with ways to serve. Be willing to try a wide variety of activities. Read widely. Think deeply. Ask plenty of questions. Listen to others. Give yourself permission to live fully—the good and the bad. With each experience, your perception of the world will grow a little broader.
 
Keep your expectations reasonable. You can’t expect a child to mature into an adult overnight. An infant won’t act like a teenager. Likewise you must start with where you are now spiritually. Not where you would like to be. Not where you should be. But where you are now.
 
So step back and examine your life. Which age do you most closely resemble? Are you a helpless infant, unable to do anything for yourself? Or a child full of curiosity and absorbing everything around her? Maybe you’re a teenager, developing personal abilities. Wherever you find yourself, focus on growing toward the next stage of maturity.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Spiritual Maturity: Separating Good & Evil

Biblical literacy is the first step to discernment. But knowledge alone is insufficient. This truth was boldly reinforced by recent Barna survey for the American Culture & Faith Institute: Of those who claim to read the Bible every day, only 45% were integrated disciples (those who display both strong biblical beliefs and strong biblical behavior). In short, the daily reading of the Bible fails to affect most people in their beliefs and their behavior. (See surveys here and here.) So while you may be able quote every verse on money, what good is it if you are still greedy? Or as James points out, we are supposed to be doers of the Word, not merely hearers (James 1:22).

So the ability to recognize good and evil is insufficient. Alone, such knowledge puffs us up with pride. We deceive ourselves into thinking more of ourselves than we ought. Rather, we must do something with that knowledge. We must learn to separate the good from the evil. This, in turn, allows us to absorb the good into our lives while tossing out all that which is bad.

However, just as you can’t expect to fix a gourmet meal your first week of studying Scripture, neither should you presume that you will start your spiritual growth as a fully mature adult. Rather, each of us begins as spiritual infants. Helpless and ignorant, we lack all discernment, wisdom, knowledge, and ability. We are utterly dependent on others to even survive.

In of itself, this is not bad. Quite the opposite! God created us to begin as infants, both physically and spiritually. As a result, a healthy and growing baby can be a source of great delight. The trouble arises when the baby fails to grow properly, remaining a helpless infant year after year after year.

So being a spiritual infant is not the problem. Staying one is. Therefore, it is imperative that we grow up. After all, there’s nothing amusing about working with a thirty-year-old baby.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

7 Ways to Grow Biblical Literacy

Biblical literacy is the first step to developing discernment. Since discernment separates good from evil, we must understand what qualifies as good and what qualifies as evil. We gain this understanding through biblical literacy.

So how do we gain biblical literacy?

First, by taking responsibility. It is easy to think a church is responsible for your spiritual growth, and it is even easier to blame the church when you fail to grow. But you cannot rely on others. You must take personal responsibility for your study of the Scriptures.

Second, by making a commitment. Gaining biblical literacy is hard. It takes work. It takes time. It takes patience. So unless you decide that you want to grow and that you want to start growing now, you will never get around to developing your biblical literacy. You will always have something else to do, something more “urgent” to attend to, something more fun or pleasing to distract you from learning of biblical literacy.
 
Third, by reading the Bible yourself. Sermons, devotionals, and the studies are all helpful tools. They teach you ways to feed yourself and fix spiritual food you aren’t yet ready to prepare yourself. Yet in each of these cases, you are ultimately relying on someone else to feed you. If you are relying on these outside sources for all or even most of your spiritual nourishment, then someone else is telling you what the Bible says and defining what is good. This isn’t biblical literacy nor does it lead to discernment. You must learn to feed yourself from Scriptures. Otherwise you are no different than an infant who depends on others for his care, or a person who eats out all the time, which can take a high toll on both health and finances.
 
Fourth, by reading the Bible daily. I don’t care whether you read only a few verses or several chapters. I don’t care if your plan is structured or flexible. The amount and method aren’t as important as the consistency. After all, you eat physical food every day. Shouldn’t you do the same spiritually?

Fifth, by taking notes. Thanks to the hard work and courage of many men and women, we can enjoy the Bible in our native tongue. Our familiarity with the language, however, makes it easy to skim the biblical text; we “read” the words without really seeing them. So when you read, keep a notebook or computer handy. Jot down notes. Ask questions. Summarize. Note observations. This will help you stay engaged with what you are reading.
 
Sixth, by chewing on it. You probably eat more than once a day. Your body takes several hours to process the food eaten. What is true physically is true spiritually. A fifteen-minute snack once a day doesn’t provide much nourishment. So find a way to “eat” throughout your day. This can be done in many ways. Break up your study into several mini-sessions. Or try leaving your Bible open in a common area to be referenced several times during the day. Memorization is another popular technique. If you are on the move a lot, carry an index card with key thoughts as a reminder. The key is to find a method that works for you and then do it.
 
Seventh, by remembering you don’t have to start with a gourmet meal! Often we fail to even try because o f discouragement. We look at a pastor or favorite Bible teacher and say, “I can’t get what they get out of the Bible.” Of course you can’t—at least not when you’re first starting out! These men and women have invested years of hours to arrive at where they are today, just like a master chef has spent years training himself to cook. You can’t expect yourself to be able to fix a gourmet meal from the Bible even after a few months of study. Rather, grant yourself the permission to start with a spiritual PB&J. It might not be fancy, but it’s still nourishing!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Biblical Literacy: Identifying the Good

As Christians, we are commanded to grow up in our faith and to become mature spiritually. Growth comes from pushing our boundaries. However, boundaries can be stretched in a right way or in a wrong way, and the way we stretch them will affect how we grow. It is important, therefore, to stretch our boundaries in a way that enables healthy growth. To push boundaries properly we must first perceive them correctly—that is, perceive them with discernment.

Discernment is basically the ability to separate good from evil. In order to do that, we must understand what qualifies as good and what qualifies as evil. And we can understand these qualifications only if we know the unchanging standard separating the two.

But we cannot rely on ourselves to determine that standard or what those qualifications are. While God has provided us all a general moral compass (which is why most of us agree murder is wrong), that compass has been corrupted by sin and therefore is unreliable. We cannot trust human law or our own instincts to determine what is good and what is not. Our only reliable source is the Bible, for the Bible comes from God, who alone is perfect; He alone is qualified to determine what is good.

This is why we need biblical literacy.

Biblical literacy is knowing the Bible and the truth it teaches. When you are biblically literate, you are acquainted with most of the stories in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. You have studied the doctrines the Bible teaches. You have a growing knowledge of Who God is. You have learned to feed yourself from the Scriptures rather than relying on others for spiritual nourishment.

And the more we study Scripture, the better we will be able to recognize good and evil. It is like those taught to identify counterfeit money: When we have trained ourselves to distinguish what is true, good, genuine, and right—a standard which never changes—then we will also be able to spot the evil, no matter what guise it takes.

Monday, July 3, 2017

New July 2017 Christian Fiction Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.
Contemporary Romance:
 
 
On Love's Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson -- When Natalie O’Ryan’s fiancĂ© books their wedding in her hometown, Natalie didn’t know the only reception venue available would be an old barn belonging to Justin Kane--the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness--and that there may be more than an old friendship between them. (Contemporary Romance from Revell - A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Their Ranch Reunion by Mindy Obenhaus -- Single mom Carly Wagner is surprised to learn she'll have to share ownership of the home she's inherited with her first love—and first heartbreak—Andrew Stephens. The man who fled their tiny Western town is back and standing in the way of her dreams to expand her B and B. Now a successful businessman, Andrew has eight weeks to buy Carly out. But Carly's too stubborn to persuade—and too beautiful to ignore. When fire ravages her inn and she and her daughter move in to their shared property, Andrew's in over his head. Time is running out and Andrew must decide: leave and chase another deal...or stay and chase Carly's heart. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Time and Tide by Kristen Terrette -- Recovering from addiction and a near death experience, Chad moves to Moanna Island, a small island close to Savannah off the Atlantic coast, to begin a job with his family’s real estate empire, a job he was supposed to have taken years ago. Free-spirited Ryan Mason is a Moanna local girl from a blue-collar family. She’s dropped her own dreams to help her father care for her schizophrenic brother. When Chad and Ryan meet at the rehabilitation center where her brother lives, feelings develop between them. Can their crazy worlds ever fit together once he learns her secret and she finds out he is the sole heir to the Cusher Empire? (Contemporary from Hartwood Publishing Group)

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh -- When a workaholic interior designer returns to her hometown to check on her brother’s welfare, she reconnects with a soldier, secretly in love with her, over a renovation project that will help the struggling town. (Contemporary Romance from Tyndale House)


Cozy Mystery:
 
 
A Tempting Taste of Mystery by Elizabeth Ludwig -- Judging a pie contest leads Cheryl Cooper and friends into mayhem and mystery after someone begins methodically sabotaging the entries. (Cozy Mystery from Guideposts Publications)

Over Maya Dead Body by Sandra Orchard -- FBI Special Agent Serena Jones arrives on Martha's Vineyard with her family, ready for a little bit of R&R and a whole lot of reminiscing as they celebrate the engagement of an old family friend. But crime doesn't take a vacation, and she's soon entangled in an investigation of a suspicious death tied to an antiquities smuggling ring.When her investigation propels her into danger, Serena must stay the course and solve this case before anyone else dies. But just how is she supposed to do that when the two men in her life arrive on the scene, bringing with them plenty of romantic complications--and even a secret or two? (Cozy Mystery from Revell [Baker])

Historical Romance:
 

The American Conquest (Window to the Heart Sage, Book 3) by Jenna Brandt -- Margaret must leave behind her title and wealth in Europe in order to escape and start a new life in the Colorado Territory. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Michelle Griep, Anne Love, Gabrielle Meyer, Natalie Monk, Jennifer Uhlarik, Erica Vetsch, Jaime Jo Wright, and Kathleen Y'Barbo -- Journey along in nine historical romances with those whose lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age. Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more. Watch as these romances develop and legacies of faith and love are formed. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Rebel in My House by Sandra Merville Hart -- Promises can be impossible to keep--especially when a Confederate soldier trapped behind enemy lines looks to a Gettysburg seamstress for help. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Match for Melissa by Susan Karsten -- Wanting a godly husband, Melissa's only choice is to follow her father's wishes, even when doing so may not achieve the desires of her heart. (Historical Romance from Prism Book Group [Pelican]).

My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island by Carrie Fancett Pagels -- Moor your heart on Mackinac Island along with resident sweetheart Maude Welling, an heiress trying to prove her worth by working incognito as a maid at the Grand Hotel. Meet Ben Steffans, a journalist posing as a wealthy industrialist who has come to the island to uncover a story about impoverished men pursuing heiresses at the famed hotel. Will a growing love between Maude and Ben be scuttled when truths are revealed in this Gilded Age romance? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Salvation by the Sea by Kristen Reed -- Life has been anything but easy for Muirigan thanks to a series of life-altering calamities, but she's found peace with her new, understated life by the sea. However, the maid's past comes back to haunt her when she saves the shipwrecked Prince Halvard one morning. Failing to recognize one of his dearest childhood friends, the prince invites Muirigan to live at court as a reward for her valiant heroism. As the two reconnect, something deeper than friendship blossoms, but will their newfound affection survive when Muirigan’s lies are revealed and Halvard learns the truth about what has befallen since their tragic separation? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense:
 
 
Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble -- As a 911 dispatcher, Dana Newell takes pride in being calm in tough circumstances. In addition to her emotionally-charged career, she’s faced enough emergencies in her own life. She recently escaped her abusive fiancĂ© to move to tranquil Rock Harbor where she hopes life will be more peaceful. But the idyllic town hides more danger and secrets than it first appeared. Dana is continually drawn to her new friend Boone, who has scars inside and out. Then she answers a call at her job only to hear a friend’s desperate screams on the other end. Soon the pain in her past collides with the mysteries of her new home—and threatens to keep her from the future she’s always wanted. (Romantic Suspense from HarperCollins Christian Publishing [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan])


Speculative:
 
 
The Genesis Tree by Heather L.L. FitzGerald -- Deception is rampant, the enemy is subtle, and love dares to tug at Sadie’s heart amid the turmoil that forces her and her family back to the Tethered World below. (Speculative/Contemporary Fantasy from Mountain Brook Ink)