Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: E is for Endless

Mastery is largely an illusion.

Whether it is learning a musical instrument or growing a garden or playing a sport, you will never outgrow ways to improve your skill or lessons to learn. Oh, a time may come when your ability exceeds that of most or even perhaps all others. This, I suspect, is what many of us really mean when we refer to mastery. But such excellence, as many masters will attest to, does not mean you have “made it,” whatever “it” is, to the point that they no longer need to learn anything.

Discernment is the same way. The day will never come when you are discerning and you will never have to worry about it again. Discernment, rather, is a process—an endless one.

On the surface, that may sound discouraging. As humans, we like end points. We want definite places where we can say, “We’ve made it.” We want ways to compare ourselves to others, to make ourselves feel important—which is probably one reason why things like maturity, spiritual growth, and discernment have no end points—it hinders pride and finger pointing.

However, if we will dig past the surface—and our selfish pride—the endlessness of learning discernment is a wonderful thing. It means we serve an infinite God.

For discernment is the ability to separate good from evil. We learn the ability to separate them by learning to recognize what is good. We discover what is good through our study of God. Because God is infinite, we will never run out of facets of Him to explore. Since our knowledge of Who God is will forever be expanding, our understanding of good will also continue to expand, our ability to separate good from evil will grow, and our discernment will keep on increasing.

And that makes discernment worth life-long pursuit. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: D is for Discipline

Learning discernment is not easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant, a fool, or a liar. Rather, learning discernment takes time and energy and effort. It takes consistent practice and regular application. In short, it takes discipline.

Discipline comes naturally to very few of us.

Instead we procrastinate and say, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Or we shrug our shoulders claiming to be too busy. At times we may argue ourselves into believing that discernment isn’t all that important, or at least not important enough to expend our time and energy on.

But God did not save us from our sins merely to provide us a “Get out of Hell free” pass. He intends for each of us to grow up in our faith. He wants us to become like Him in order that we may reflect His Glory—the sum of His character and all that He is—to the world. And one of the marks of maturity is discernment.

Therefore, discernment is important. It is worth the time it takes out of our busy lives. Failing to take that time to learn discernment is to our detriment.

How, then, do we disciple ourselves to learn discernment?

First, commit. You may want to put it into writing, tell others of your intent, ask friends or family to join you in this venture. But do something to declare your firm resolution to learn discernment in a way that will hold you accountable.

Second, train. A commitment is only an empty promise—worthless and false—unless acted upon. So act upon your commitment. Study Scripture. Analyze whatever you meet in light of that study. Ask hard question. Refuse to accept the easy answer.

Finally, be deliberate and consistent. While we need discernment every day of our lives, to learn discernment will require you to allot time on a regular basis for the purpose of practicing discernment. Personally, I love using the analysis and dissection of fictional media for this, as stories are life contained and compressed in a repeatable format. But other methods exist—journaling, debate, discussion. Whatever method you choose, just make sure you set aside time regularly to focus on a specific issue with the intent of measuring it against the plumb line of Scripture in the attempt to separate the good from the bad. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

September-October 2014 Reading List

A writing conference and the return of teaching have cut into my reading time over the past couple of months. But I am a writer, and writers read. So here’s what I’ve been consuming in September and October:

Title: The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star
Series: Epic Order of the Seven #1
Author: Jenny L. Cote
Genre: Midgrade Animal Tale/Biblical Adventure

Synopsis: A group of immortal animals aid the people of God as they await the promised Messiah.
Review: A delightful read, with plenty of humor to tickle the funny bone and great content to make you think. Not a book to rush through, but worth every minute it takes to read!

Title: Anomaly
Series: Anomaly #1
Author: Krista McGee
Genre: Teen Science Fiction/Dystopia

Synopsis: In a society where emotions are eradicated, a teenage musician attracts the attention of the ruling scientists with an emotional outburst.
Review: An okay read. Nothing problematic in content, but I found it hard to connect with the characters or get into the plot. Read it if you want, but I personally found it to be a forgettable read.

Series: The Selection
Titles: The Selection, The Elite, The One
Author: Kiera Cass
Genre: YA Dystopia

Synopsis: A fiery-tempered artist enters a competition for the hand & heart of the prince.
Review: Not my favorite of secular series that I’ve read. The plot is strong and the character cast quite likeable, but the character arcs felt incomplete at the story’s end—that they really didn’t change all that much. Also, there’re some very strong sexual elements (no outright sex, but only a couple of steps removed from it), and several uses of swearing and profanity that not only added nothing, but felt stilted and forced on top of it. Maybe worth a once through, but nothing lost either if never read.

Title: Eyes of Elisha
Series: Chelsea Adams Series #1
Author: Brandilyn Collins
Genre: Adult Suspense (with a twist of the supernatural)

Synopsis: The wife of a successful businessman witnesses a brutal murder through a vision.
Review: A good solid read. Not the most suspenseful book I’ve read, especially since I had most of the plot figured out by page 100, but the good storytelling keeps the pages turning.

So what have you been reading of late? Any great, not-to-be-missed tales?

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.