Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If You Give a Writer a Prompt (Guest Post by Elizabeth Bernhardt)

My Darling Daughter Elizabeth is currently finishing up her Master's in English at ACU, where she had to complete a "comprehensive exam" this weekend. Her professors gave her a topic (a writing prompt) and she had 36 short hours to write a ten-page, comprehensive paper.

She succeeded, of course, and celebrated by writing a short story, similar to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff (Author) and Felicia Bond (Illustrator).

Of course, in this case it's really a true story.

Well done, Lass. Well done.

If You Give a Writer a Prompt
by Elizabeth Bernhardt

When you give Elizabeth a writing prompt...
She'll want some books to go with it.

When you give her the books, she'll want to mark some quotes.
So then she'll want some Post-its to mark the quotes.

After she uses the Post-its, she'll ask you for a computer to retype the quotes.

After she retypes the quotes, she'll probably be hungry. She might ask for some lunch.
You'll make her Goldfish mac and cheese with peas in it, and she'll eat the whole thing even though it tastes awful.

After she eats, she may try to write, but it'll be hard. 
So maybe she'll want a study buddy to help her write.

You'll find her Greg in Mezzamiz, but she'll be so happy to have a study buddy that she'll spend a few minutes talking. 

She'll talk so long that her throat will be dry. 
You'll have to get her a glass of lemonade.

After she drinks the lemonade, she'll ask for chips and salsa to go with it.

Now full of food, she'll copy more quotes from her computer until her study buddy leaves. 
Then she'll ask for a new place to study.

You'll help her drive to the GA office, where she'll free-write on the nice soft couch. 
The couch will be so comfortable that she'll want to go to bed. It's late, so you'll let her.

After she wakes up, Elizabeth will be a little confused. She'll probably want a way to organize her free-writing.
You'll give her Scrivener, and she'll copy all of the free-writing into bullet points in the document.

After all of this work, Elizabeth will be hungry again, so you'll get her fried rice.
Last time after she ate, she went to see a study buddy, so she'll want to do that again.
You'll find her Sarah at Sarah's house, and she'll be so happy to have a study buddy again that she'll spend a few more minutes talking.

After she talks, though, Elizabeth will be a little nervous about the time.
You'll have to get her a timer to help her work more efficiently.

After she works for a few hours, Elizabeth will almost have the paper organized.
She'll be hungry again, so she'll want some pizza.

You'll order her pizza, but it will be deep-dish, which she doesn't like.
She'll eat it all anyway and keep working with her study buddy.

After the paper seems organized, Elizabeth will want a way to make sure everything flows together.
You'll open a Word document so that she can copy everything over and edit for flow.

After she edits for flow and finishes making the paper look nice, Elizabeth will turn it in.
She'll be so happy that she'll dance in the car all the way home.

After she dances in the car, Elizabeth will have too much adrenaline and be unable to sleep.
She'll stay up late and walk the Lunsford trail in sandals.

Unfortunately, it's cold, so Elizabeth will start shivering in her sandals.
She'll want to come home and climb in bed with lots of blankets.

After she warms up and gets some sleep, Elizabeth will feel victorious.
She won't want to do anything else, but she knows she has to do her thesis.

To help her do her thesis, you'll bring her useful books.
And once she has the book she needs --

She'll ask for a writing prompt to go with it.

It's all about the Light

What was Sunday's sermon at your church? Think fast…

Yeah, most of us struggle with that one. The sermon engages us. We understand it. We perhaps even feel a small tug in our hearts. We walk out of church and by the time we're done with lunch we hardly remember the sermon.

I had the same problems in my math classes in college.

Well, that's why we should take notes, right? Of course, taking notes and never looking at them again is almost meaningless, but the act of writing down the sermon helps you to retain the message anyway.

But if you know you have to share the sermon - well, that's a different story.

There is a statement about learning that seems true, though I cannot find a definitive source (some reference the book Keys to Success, but there are a few books with that title): “We retain 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, 70 percent of what we say, and 90 percent of what we say and do.”

I saw a poster that added a line: "We retain 95% of what we teach." From personal experience, I think that number is a little bit high, but the concept is correct.

So, in an effort to retain some of the excellent sermons at our church, I'll try to toss in a summary the following week. It won't be perfect. It might not even be a good summary, but I'll do my best. It will all be in my own words, though.

The Pastor this week talked about discernment. Dictionary.com defines discernment as "the faculty of discerning; discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding." (I always find that cyclic definition annoying, but…) The synonyms are helpful: judgment, perspicacity, penetration, insight.

Okay, they define discern as: 1) to perceive by the sight or some other sense or by the intellect; see, recognize, or apprehend; 2) to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate.

In Christian circles we seek discernment to determine good from bad, and we do it based on the teachings of the Bible. (I refuse to get into a discussion of the merits of that practice. I believe that if we all followed the basic tenets of the Bible the world would be a better place. Feel free to disagree.)

We seek discernment for a lot of reasons. When we need to make a life-changing decision, or even a mundane, daily decision - discernment can help. When we are trying to evaluate the trustworthiness of someone we just met - discernment can help.

Many people have discernment. Some call it a gut-feeling.

The question for the sermon was how do we practice discernment in a Biblical way? And, for Christians, that's the vital question.

(All Bible quotes are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) from biblegateway.com)

Pastor pointed us toward John 4:1-3. (As an aside, I'm a big fan of John's letters.)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

The Pastor said that the word "test" is the Greek word for "approve" and that the word "spirits" means "influencers." We should be approving those things that influence our lives, the way we live.

This shows us how to discern if we are dealing with a trust-worthy person. Well, that seems pretty clear. If they agree with Christian philosophy, we can trust them in matters of faith. I'd probably trust them beyond that.

Now I have a story about that. (I almost always have a story.)

I once knew a man who was a graduate of a local Biblical College. He had a theological degree. An ex-pro football player, he lost a leg in an accident and was now a man of God. He was charming, bigger than life, and charismatic. When I first met him I felt a little uneasy, but he won me over and I chalked it up to a bit of envy.

He was also a liar, self-absorbed and hurtful toward people I care about.

I could have used better discernment. He said that Jesus Christ was his Lord and Savior. He professed belief. Did I ever hear him actually say that Jesus Christ was the son of God made flesh? I don't recall.

He spent weeks in our church assembly and everyone seemed to like him, including our Pastor.

We all could have used better discernment.

I seek people who have solid characters, who live a character-based life, not a personality-based life. Our society goes for the latter.

We celebrate personality in the news, in the movies, and even in our churches. We should value the character, not the charisma.

I said this before, and I'll probably say it again. The people of Africa see so many miracles in their lives (and they do!) because they understand we are spiritual beings in a physical world. They celebrate the spirit, and seek ways to make it more a part of their daily existence.

In our comfortable world we've lost that.

There is a spiritual war going on. There is a Spirit of Deception who has great sway over people, and that Spirit is very charismatic and charming.

Christians separate the world into two simple groups - the saved and the lost. Better terms would be the saved and the deceived.

I am afraid many of the deceived are in our churches, proclaiming their own salvation.

I sometimes tremble in the dark of the night, gazing into the void of blackness around me and wonder about my salvation. Is it genuine? That's the Spirit of Deception whispering to me. When my heart skips a beat in fear, the Spirit of the Living God answers the question. It does not depend on me, but on God's promise, and God is always faithful, even when we are not.

I know that I gave my heart to Jesus, the Christ, the son of the Living God, who is God and who became man to pay the price of death for the sins I commit. I'm thankful to Him for that salvation, to the very depth of my heart, and for that reason He is my Lord. When I accepted Him as Lord, I received all His promises.

Regardless of the dark whispers of the Spirit of Deception, I am saved. Pastor said "Believe in spite of condemning hearts."

The deceived won't agree with any of this. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 we see "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them."

I know many people who don't believe because they are too smart to believe. They consider me a "country bumpkin" for my beliefs, and they treat me with kind condescension.

They are free to do so. When I was younger I would have taken offense, perhaps tried to convince them of my beliefs, but it was out of hubris, not compassion.

Now I simply look at myself, not at them. Am I a character-based person? Yes, I am, though I tend to be more introspective than most and evaluate myself (too) often. So I do my best to "walk the talk" as they say in Texas.

1 John 3:16-19
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

Pastor also said that in our world "emotion is king and experience has priority." Just look at the shows that are popular on television in our country. We no longer seek shows that exemplify good character. In fact, when the Duck Dynasty patriarch gave his honest views on a subject there was an outcry and backlash. What? Must we all agree on all topics in this world?

Religion doesn't even help us, since religion is based on how you want to approach God instead of how God says to approach Him. Once we decide, then we create our own God. That's religion, not a relationship.

Pastor said that discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit and begins in forgiveness - accepting the forgiveness of God for our sins and extending forgiveness to others for the wrongs done to us.

He said there are three things to look at in our lives:
1) Are we born from above? Have we dealt with the sin in our lives?
2) Are we growing in grace?
3) Does our character reveal the redeeming work of God?

We're not the only ones dealing with spiritual warfare, if that's any comfort. Luke 22:31-32 says And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Jesus knew that Simon would return after he denied Him. None of us are beyond hope, then, are we?

Luke 11:35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.

It's all about the Light.

Friday, March 14, 2014



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Romans 12 and Spiritual Gifts

Years ago Darling and I went to a seminar and one of the speakers talked about an old woman he met that was so nice he had to ask her secret. She said when she was a young girl she memorized Romans 12 and lived by it. That impressed me so much I came home and asked my two youngest to memorize the chapter

They memorized it a lot faster than I did (and I still stutter over parts of it). Here is the entire text (in NAS, since that’s the version I prefer, though I know people disagree with me on that topic).

Romans 12 (New American Standard)
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Over the years I have occasionally quoted part of the second verse: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

It still amazes me (though it shouldn’t) how often I have to remind myself that not all thoughts are my own, nor do I want to own them. So I can compare what I think to what the Lord Jesus would want me to think and “renew my mind” – think something else. It’s a training thing, but it sure comes in handy. I still fail often, but you just have to keep trying, don’t you?

But this is about spiritual gifts.

In today’s sermon Pastor D talked about spiritual gifts and pointed at Romans 12 as one of the four times in the New Testament where the spiritual gifts are actually listed. (The other three times are: 1 COR 12, EPH 4, and 1 PET 4.) Here’s where it gets interesting.

The first spiritual gift is followed by the phrase “according to the proportion of his faith” which can, according to Pastor D, actually be added to each of the gifts. He mentioned the type of language used in the original Greek and how it implied that it should be part of each of the following items in the list. Since my Greek is non-existent, I’ll just accept that at face value.

Now the cool part (well, I think so). Not only are the gifts mentioned, but Romans 12 also defines the characteristics of each gift. Watch. I’ll take the text in order, each gift, then the description, given in order, from the sentences that follow the list. (I tried to put color in the quotation as a guide.)

Prophecy: Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good

Serving: Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor

Teaching: not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord

Exhortation (which, Pastor D said, is the word for Encouragement): rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer

Giving (with liberality): contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality

Leading (with diligence): Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Okay, Pastor D had to explain this one. Since most leaders have visions of how things could be, they make changes. That means they often deal with much persecution to bring the vision to fruition.

Mercy (with cheerfulness): Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep

I still love the rest of Romans 12, and have many times used “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” It isn’t always possible, but we have to make that effort, at least from our side of a poor situation.

Now that I think of it, the speaker might have said the old woman memorized Romans 8 instead of Romans 12. Whoops.