Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: J is for Journey

None of us starts at the end. We’re born as babies before growing into adults. We crawl before we walk. We learn the alphabet before reading. We earn a driving permit before a license. In short, we must journey through multiple stages before we fully mature.

This process also applies to discernment. When we become a Christian, we don’t instantly become mature with the ability to separate good from evil. Rather, like our physical counterparts, we start out as babies. Then we must journey one step at a time toward the discernment that comes with maturity:

Stage 1: Infancy. New to this whole spiritual thing, infants have little or no discernment at this stage. This requires them to have very strict boundaries and much “adult” supervision.

Stage 2: Childhood. Discernment is now slowly developing, and a child’s true “north” of good is being set into place. As a result, the stuff of life is primarily seen as either right or wrong, with nothing between.  Boundaries rapidly expand at this age, but children still require a fair amount of supervision.

Stage 3: Adolescence. Knowledge comes to full bloom at this stage, and adolescents become aware of all that could be. However, personal boundaries are still being figured out: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. As a result, adolescents have a fair amount of discernment, but tend to stretch the boundaries to their maximum, sometimes to the point of being unsafe, and accountability is helpful in learning to navigate gray areas.

Stage 4: Adulthood. Maturity is reached! Having consistently trained themselves, adults know (for the most part) what is right, what is wrong, and how to handle gray areas. They still have blind spots and must keep learning, but they’ve reached the point where they serve, rather insisting they be served: it’s time to turn around and help the next generation grow up in their discernment!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unconditional Surrender

This week I’ve been learning again the lesson of unconditional surrender to God.

Let’s face it. I’m hardly where I thought I would be at this time, still single and unpublished, among other things. My long-cherished dreams of family, a writing career, and a life of impact remain unfilled, and with each passing day, it seems more unlikely they ever will be.

I knew when I began this journey that the path God directed me toward was full of risk and the odds were strongly again me. But I also knew that I serve a big God, and odds mean nothing to Him. So I set out, believing that if I walked patiently in obedience, God would open the doors.

Fifteen years later, I’m still waiting.

Don’t misunderstand me. God has provided me everything I’ve needed and so much more. I’m blessed beyond measure in so many ways. But that which I yearn for the most remains beyond my grasp, and frankly, that hurts.

As a result, I’ve thrown a lot of questions at God the past few months. Whys and hows and whens, sometimes in anger, sometimes in despair, many times in confusion. And He hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with answers.

Instead, He has reminded me again what unconditional surrender means: When I became a Christian, I gave up my “right” to demand anything of Him—not that I had that right to begin, any more than clay has the right to demand answers of the potter. But at that moment, I voluntarily submitted to Him, acknowledging that I was not my own; I had been bought with a price.
That means God is free to do with me whatever He pleases. He can bless me—or not. He can use me—or not. It’s His choice.

Does this mean I won’t continue to question? Of course not. And some of those questions will be thrown out in anger and despair and confusion. But I hope that each time I do, I will circle around and be able to say,

“Here I am. I’m Yours. Do with me as You wish.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

November-December 2014 Reading

Like in September and October, I didn’t have as much time to read as I like, and I returned to mostly shorter reads during these two months. But an author can pack a lot of great story into a small space, as these titles prove:

Title: Orphan’s Song
Series: Songkeeper Chronicles #1
Author: Gillian Bronte Adams
Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis: An orphaned girl’s musical gift causes several forces, good and evil, to battle over where she belongs.
Review: Not the most memorable of fantasies, and nothing stood out to me as exceptional. That said, it is a safe, clean read with some nice action and interesting characters.

Title: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Author: Betty MacDonald
Genre: Midgrade Humor

Synopsis: An eccentric lady provides parents with the cures for their children’s bad behavior.
Review: The unpredictable Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and her off-the-wall cures will bring smiles to child and adult alike.

Title: The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey
Series: Cooper Kids #6
Author: Frank Peretti
Genre: Tween Supernatural Suspense

Synopsis: An archeologist and his two kids seek to recover the relics of a tomb said to be cursed.
Review: Though not a story for a child with an overactive imagination or who scares easily (which is why I’m only now reading the series as an adult), Toco-Rey is full of twists and turns and may be my favorite Cooper Kid book thus far.

Title: The Chimes: A Goblin Story
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Adult Magical Realism Novella

Synopsis: The goblins inhabiting some old church bells reveal the potential repercussions of an old man’s despair. 
Review: The Chimes is reminiscent of Dicken’s more famous A Christmas Carol. Although not as good as A Christmas Carol, The Chimes can hold its own as an engaging story, with much to say about how far-reaching our actions can be.

Title: The Cricket On the Hearth: A Tale of Home
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Adult Novella

Synopsis: A stranger arrives just before a wedding, turning the lives of four families upside down.
Review: A humorous tale with a couple of great twists! I thoroughly enjoyed discovering this Dickens gem.

Additional books, all highly recommended:

Title: Wind in the Willows
Author: Kenneth Grahame
Genre: Midgrade Animal Adventure

Title: Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Dectective
Author: Donald J. Sobol
Genre: Midgrade Mystery

Title: Jigsaw Jones: The Case of Hermie the Missing Hampster
Series: Jigsaw Jones #1
Author: James Preller
Genre: Midgrade Mystery

Title: Babar and Father Christmas
Author: Jean De Brunhoff
Genre: Children’s Christmas Picture Book

What gems of story have you been encountering of late?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: I is for Ideal

We have learned that good has two aspect: Pleasing presentation and edifying content. However, understanding what makes a presentation pleasing or content edifying can still be difficult to figure out. That’s where Philippians 4:8 in. Here we have a concise definition of the ideals of good:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

However, Philippians 4:8 is also greatly compressed. Our eye easily slides over the words, our brain reading but not absorbing. Yet each of these words is a treasure trove. So let’s briefly examine these gems that we might fully appreciate the beauty of good’s ideal:

True (avlhqh,j / alēthēs): Reflecting reality. This includes the scientifically sound, the historically accurate, and those things which affirm moral law. (Moral law: Spiritual laws written into the universe, e.g. you reap what you sow and the man who sins will die.)

Noble (semno,j / semnos): Handling life with seriousness and dignity. Both integrity of character as well as the dignified treatment of people and subjects are built into this word.

Right (di,kaioj / dikaios): Conforming to the standards, character, and will of God. The Ten Commandments are an example of God’s standards; love and justice are two aspects of God’s character; and conformity to Christ’s character is one thing God wills for us.

Pure (a`gno,j / hagnos): Freedom from contamination. Just as pure gold is 100% gold, so we should pursue those things free from sin—or will free us from sin—that we might be 100% Christlike.

Lovely (prosfilh,j / prosphilēs): Literally, “toward affection.” Those things which please the senses and spur the heart toward love and compassion—these are the lovely.

Admirable (eu;fhmoj / euphēmos): Gaining a good reputation. While being spoken well of is not our ultimate aim, it is a virtue worth seeking.

Excellent (avreth, / aretē): Going over and beyond. Mediocrity is never encouraged in Scripture. We should aim for the best.

Praiseworthy (evpainoj / epainos): Glorifying God. In the end, it’s all about Him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: H is for Heart

Knowing the difference between good and evil is not enough. We know we should obey our parents, but still we come home after curfew. We know lying is wrong, but still we stretch the truth to avoid a reprimand from our boss. We know the Bible says, “Do not steal, do not lie, do not covet, do not worry,” and yet we still do these things. No, the head is not our problem. Our problem lies with the heart:

“The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.” (Matthew 15:18-20, NIV)

To complicate matters further, this heart corruption affects the whole person, including our ability to separate good from evil. We say, “Lies are evil,” yet we justify that truth stretching: It’s not a lie, not really. Or so we say to ourselves.
So how can we bring good things out of our hearts?

First, we need a heart replacement. By nature, our heart is corrupt. So even if we fill our heart with good things, everything put in will be corrupted, and our hearts will still spew garbage. However, God took on human form in Jesus Christ, who died to kill that corruption and then rose again to replace the corruption with life. So through those acts of God, our hearts can be made new and fresh.

Once we have new heart, we must then fill it with good things. What are those good things? As we saw last week, they are good presentation (“pleasing to the eye”) and good content (“good for food”). Yet these guidelines oft feel vague. What qualifies as good presentation? What makes for good content? Thankfully, God inspired Paul to write Philippians 4:8 to explain:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (NIV)

And if these things are worth dwelling on (part of the meaning of think in this verse), then they are worth putting into our hearts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: G is for Good

What makes good good? After all, if we are to separate evil from it, we need to know what good is, right?

Sure, many of us think we know what is good. We say theft is wrong—until it’s a spy swiping enemy plans. We hate it when people get hurt—until it’s the villain getting what he deserves. We denounce evil loudly and frequently . . . until it benefits us.

In truth, most of us would be hard-pressed to define good if we were asked. Add to this the double moral standard derived from our tendency to justify wrong, and the already amorphous standard of good becomes even more vague and muddled. Which brings us back to my original question: What makes good good?

The best—and really, the only—way to know is to return to the Source of all good: God Himself. He is good and is the One who set the original definition in the beginning when He proclaimed His creation “good.” And what constituted good? Genesis 2:9 gives us a hint when it describes the trees of Eden, part of the creation proclaimed “good”:

“The LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food.” (NASB)

Those things which please the eye—or any other sensory organ—are good. A delicious meal. An enticing perfume. Velvety fabric. Harmonious music. Awe-inspiring architecture. All of these are good. So outward appearances, presentation, execution of a skill, and craftsmanship are important when considering the good.

But God doesn’t stop there; He adds, “Good for food.” Things which permit us to be healthy, providing the nutrients to grow and the strength to live, are also good. So we must also consider what we are ingesting—physically and metamorphically—when defining good. Indigestion was never part of God’s original plan.

So what does make good good? That which exhibits good craftsmanship—how something is presented, making it pleasing—and good content, the healthy things we ingest. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The ABC’s of Discernment: F is for Flexibility

We like rules. Rules are specific. Rules are precise. Rules provide a measuring stick of how well we are doing—and loopholes to do what we want.

This may be why many people do not like discernment: It is neither as rigid nor as clear-cut as rules. For while discernment affirms that right and wrong exists, it also acknowledges that vast territories of amorphous gray areas fill our lives. After all, if gray areas didn’t exist, why would we need to separate good from evil? They would already be separated for us. Therefore, discernment depends on the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.

The result is flexibility—flexibility for ourselves, flexibility for others, flexibility to handle the unexpected and ever-changing. With discernment, we can adapt with circumstances and culture. We can provide room for growth and diversity. We can acknowledge that what is wrong for us personally many not be wrong for another.

In short, discernment says, that although truth is not relative, it’s application to life might be, which in turn eliminates our ability to judge one another yet holds us all accountable before God.