Discernment


Can we foresee potential results from our decisions?

In the futuristic thriller World War Z, Brad Pitt plays a U.N. envoy who battles a world-wide zombie apocalypse. He discovers that Israel has successfully walled off their nation to stop the onslaught of the undead.

Discussion with the politician responsible for the successful defense uncovers an approach to problem solving named “the tenth man.” [See movie clip hereNumerous incidents in history have led the Israelis to conclude if all the information points in an obvious direction it is the responsibility of “the tenth man” to stand in opposition to the majority, no matter how improbable is the claim.

Our decisions are hardly ever that graphic, nor the outcomes so dire! Yet, the movie clip causes us to ask the question, “How do I make a decision in the face of adversity or against overwhelming opposition?” Scripture is clear that cultivating discernment is crucial.

Discernment in Proverbs is the means to foresee potential results from our decisions. Sometimes we are called on to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, or to maintain the status quo over against a venture into the unknown.

Discernment begins with the moral order of God. Mathematicians depend on immutable logic. Scientists study based on a stable, ordered world. Musicians create because they can count on melody, harmony, and rhythm. God made His world to work in a certain way which helps us know how to live in it. Solomon showed that discernment came from research. Hard work was necessary to uncover the “secrets” of God’s creation (1 Kings 4.29-34; Proverbs 29:2).

Solomon’s decision making was established on God’s perspectives. For example, the king discerned a mother’s true love based on the suggestion that a child be sawn in two (1 Kings 3.16-28). In Solomon’s case, he knew that a mother would never allow her child’s death and would rather give the baby to another than to have the little one die. Testing the worth of things based on their outcome is exactly what Romans 12:2 means when it says we are to “discern the will of God.”

Other New Testament examples show the power of biblical discernment. Ephesians 5:8-10 says we are to apply a test to examine, discover or approve “what is pleasing to the Lord.” Philippians 1:9, 10 confirms that our love should include discernment benefiting others. Hebrews 5:14 calls on the believer to “distinguish between good and evil” because she has been “trained by constant practice.” 1 John 4:1 commands us to “test” all viewpoints, illuminating false ideas by biblical truth.

 

How do we test for discernment? Proverbial wisdom offers a five point plan. A discerning person

  1. Seeks knowledge (14.6, 15.14, 18.15)

  2. Accepts rebuke (19.25)

  3. Makes wisdom a part of her (14.33)

  4. Develops interior character (16.21)

  5. Stays silent unless one can speak with wisdom (10.13, 27:28)

Kurt Vonnegut made a unique proposal. Indianapolis native, author of such novels as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut suggested that presidents should have a “Secretary of the Future” in their cabinet.[1] The unique, prescient idea would cause people to ask, “What if?” Do we think futuristically about our decisions before we make them? Do we consider what unintended consequences might arise as a result of our decision? Do we recognize that in a finite, fallen world even our best decisions may be fraught with difficulties? We may not face a zombie apocalypse or be part of a presidential cabinet. But we can all consider our decisions based on biblical discernment. [See “Afterword” below]

This essay also appears at Emerging Scholars Network (here). Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com, wikipedia.com, hdwallpaperg.com, reddit.com, gen-wallpaper.blogspot.com

 

 

Questions for Reflection

Why is God’s way of living better than a purely human view of morality?

Who can help me develop a discerning mindset?

What decision do I face now that could be helped by biblical discernment?

When do I make time to reflect on decision making which is forward thinking?

How do we put discernment into practice in our homes, churches, communities?

Prayer Dear Lord. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Give us attentive spirits to follow Your Spirit. Give us unseen helps that help us make sense of what we see. Give us the assurance that when we cannot be sure of our decisions, we can be sure of You. Amen (A prayer based on 2 Chronicles 20:12)

[1] http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcriptNOW140_full.html

Campus Episodes (Part One)


“She kept dropping F-bombs throughout her talk.”

Episode #1

My text notification chirped. She was writing from a classroom lecture.

“I’m in a world language course. In our random reading this week we read the story of Adam and Eve. The professor told the class it was a myth that teaches women are useless, scapegoats for world evil. This is not the first time our language studies prof has denigrated Christianity and the Bible. In a class that is supposed to be teaching me a world language we just spent an hour discussing the inappropriateness of the Bible’s sexism.”

My response included the obvious question “Is this a Spanish class or a theology class?”

I sent my young protégé a link to my teaching (here) attacking the “Genesis as myth” claim.

The text exchange left me wondering how often other professors speak outside the framework of course objectives, turning Spanish class into an attack on Christianity.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Episode #2

Depending on your point of view, “multiculturalism” can be welcoming or hostile.

In one class, “hostile” would be the proper definition.

The student sat across from me at the lunch table. “I was just attacked in my class for being a white Christian dominating other cultures.”

The young woman told us at the lunch table, “She kept dropping F-bombs throughout her presentation. It was pretty obvious she was trying to intimidate the class. Her eyes locked on each individual around the room. Her angry gaze was meant to demean, humiliate, making students submit to her way of thinking.”

This kind of rhetoric and abuse from speakers on college campuses is not new (examples here).

“Imagine a Muslim student being asked to tolerate this kind of abusive rhetoric,” I replied.

She shook her head up and down. “What really got me, though, was her conclusion. ‘Go be who you are’ was her final admonition. It totally contradicted everything she had just said!”

Indeed.

Episode #3

Students do a lot of reading in college, as well they should.

But sometimes the reading can challenge basic beliefs that Christian students hold.

Just last week I spent a couple of hours with a young man helping him with an article he had to read for class. The essay was positing that the Christian understanding of humans being sinful, corrupt in our thinking, is outdated and wrong. In fact, the prof intoned that students needed a more “up-to-date, educated reality of peoples’ diverse motivations.” The emphasis of the class was to suggest that human beings are basically good that we should, and I quote what the student heard in class, “be set free to follow our own secular ways.” The professor went on to say that the Christian viewpoint just wanted to control people, calling this “a religious stigma.” Of course, the professor said nothing about his own “control” which was actually “stigmatizing” students’ Christian beliefs!

My young friend and I had a rousing discussion which, I understand, turned into quite a rousing discussion in the class after our talk.

I LOVE talking with Christian young people at college about their studies and what they are hearing in the classroom. If you know of a Christian college student in Indianapolis who could benefit from these kinds of discussions, let me know. MORE “Campus Episodes” next week!

 

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video).

Picture credit: snappygoat.com, www.easyfreeclipart.com

 

Pro-Science, Pro-Life


Science and human life.

Both depend on an origin outside human decision.

The Atlantic published “Pro-Life, Pro-Science” this past Thursday (here). Emma Green documents the obvious science behind neonatology studies.

March for Life, 2018. LifeNews.com

She suggests that pro-life groups are “winning” the debate on abortion since science is “instilling a sense of awe that we never really had before at any point in human history” quoting pro-life mother Ashley McGuire. Citing the latest scientific advances McGuire contends there is a fundamental

Shift [in] the moral intuition around abortion. New technology makes it easier to apprehend the humanity of a growing child and imagine a fetus as a creature with moral status. Over the last several decades, pro-life leaders have increasingly recognized this and rallied the power of scientific evidence to promote their cause. They have built new institutions to produce, track, and distribute scientifically crafted information on abortion. They hungrily follow new research in embryology. They celebrate progress in neonatology as a means to save young lives.

In a “science obsessed” culture, Green’s article is powerful. She points out that the debate has shifted in the last decade away from science supposedly supporting abortion. McGuire continues

When you’re seeing a baby sucking its thumb at 18 weeks, smiling, clapping, it becomes harder to square the idea that that 20-week-old, that unborn baby or fetus, is discardable.

Yes, we live in an age when science is dominant. “Studies show” and “doctors tell us” preamble any news broadcast with the latest knowledge about space exploration, communicable diseases, water usage, genetic engineering, or robotics. Global warming advocates point to their interpretation of data contending for environmental legislation. Flu shots are said to be the physician preferred response to winter viruses. Businesses tend to run productivity on so-called quantitative “big data,” knowledge based on numbers.

Yes, scientific advances have given a louder megaphone to the pro-life movement. For those of us who are unabashedly pro-life we are grateful for affirmation of what we already knew was true.

And there is the rub. “Truth,” “rights,” “life,” and “science” are all dependent upon an ethical origin.

I do not need science to tell me that my grandchildren, while in the womb, were human, needing protection, care, and compassion.

The pro-life movement does not depend upon science for its truth.

All human life has worth, value, and dignity ONLY because there is a transcendent source of ethics.

As a Hebraic-Christian thinker I attest without question nor equivocation that The Personal Eternal Triune Creator of the universe is the source of human life.

On this, the sordid anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the day given to remember the murder of 60 million of our fellow citizens by judicial fiat, I once again speak for the voiceless. Any pro-death positions – infanticide, euthanasia, abortion – should rule the day if humans arbitrate truth, rights, life, or science. But justice issues begin with our beginning. If we are not truly human in the womb, than we are not truly human outside the womb.

I am glad science can affirm the pro-life position.

But I am pro-life not because of science but because God said, “Let us make humans in our image.”

January 22nd marks the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision entitled “Roe v. Wade” which is gave women the “right” to decide to abort a child through the 28th week of pregnancy. As I have stated many times in the past, I will always speak unapologetically for life.

I also celebrate the lives of many of my students – not to mention my daughter and son-in-law – who have given birth, adopted, provide compassionate services for single moms, give nursing care, and have generally sacrificed time, treasure, and talent on behalf of those who cannot care for themselves.

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com, lifenews.com

Approach


Nine out of ten times we will agree.

Speaking with Christian brothers in a recent on air interview, I made the suggestion above.

It was a group of men whose political, cultural views were widely varied.

As we discussed issues, it was clear that we all adhered to the same biblical principles, we all held the same philosophical perspectives, we all agreed that certain things were right or wrong.

The conclusion seemed obvious: our differences revolved around approach.

Our approach to issues has to do with how we

Treat others with whom we converse

Use language which invites not alienates

Speak publicly about those with whom we may disagree

Support another’s right to speak even if we disagree

Listen to those whose voice, culture, or background is different from our own

Consider the following examples.

Identity. Some want us to accept their self-identity based on their individual definitions of sexuality or gender. My agreement or disagreement with self-identity in the culture means little if I do not accept people as fellow human beings. Worth, value, and dignity are based on our being made in God’s image according to God’s creational law (Genesis 1:26-27). If I approach individuals as people rather than categories, reception may be reciprocal.

Government. There are those who vilify anyone with whom they disagree. Responses to the president, congress, judges, or law enforcement crosses the line of visceral hatred for some. I may be willing to listen to reasoned responses to people or policy but I will not abide disrespect of anyone. The biblical vantage point begins with the admonition to honor those in authority (1 Peter 2:13-17). If I approach authorities with a spirit of generosity – no matter their belief or behavior – my approach may bring with it an opportunity for collaboration and conciliation.

 

Media. If we are only given to one perspective on any given issue we will never be able to live with each other in cooperation. Those on the so-called “left” tend to read Slate, Salon, Huffington Post, The New York Times, NPR, or The Washington Post. Those on the so-called “right” tend to read The Drudge Report, The Weekly Standard, National Review, The Washington Times, City Journal, or First Things. Scripture clearly teaches that one should consider the second point of view after the first (Proverbs 18:17). If I approach other perspectives with an attitude of respect – without giving up my perspective – it could lead to everyone being heard.

 

Two weeks ago Warp&Woof Radio celebrated our 100th show at the state capital building in Indianapolis. Thanks to Matt Barnes and Tim Overton, HB Bell and I were able to interview a wide cross section of senators and representatives as they began their 2018 legislative session.

 

What struck me then and what continues to reverberate in my thinking is how much each elected official cared for their constituency. Each person brought forward what they wanted the general assembly to consider. What was true of each governmental official was their generous approach toward everyone, even those “across the aisle.”

 

Nine times out of ten we will agree with basic beliefs. It is often our approach to problems which divides us. May we first seek to find God-given, creational principles to live this life. Then may we discover the communication which will attract others to listen, to consider, and to respect approaches different than their own.

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video).

Help Comenius reach its $40,000 giving goal in this new year! The Comenius Institute [501(c)(3)] (website hereDonate online (here), mark@comeniusinstitute.org, (text/talk 630.303.4891) Checks to “The Comenius Institute,” c/o Collaborate 317, 4202 N EMS Blvd #180, Greenfield, IN 46140 And ask Mark what Comenius would do with $1 million!

Picture credit: Snappygoat.com, personal pictures from HB Bell

Poverty


The rich are judged by how they treat the poor.

Poverty is real, has real consequences, for real people, with real needs.

Poor people in particular are targeted as the “have-nots” in American politics.  Poverty seems always to be a “wedge issue” for debate.  One party will tend to label the other as “the party of the rich” speaking of themselves as serving the needs of the poor, when, indeed, American politicians tend to be rich: they bear the burden of poverty-politics.

Sex, money, and power are said to control the world. It strikes me as I read the Hebrew prophets, however, that the latter two issues are much more pronounced in God’s judgment than is sexual sin, which is almost never mentioned. Over and over again God rails against those that “have” misusing those who “have not.” [For an example of biblical-social-justice see my essay here entitled “Morality”.]

Scripture, on the other hand, labels people in a different way.  The economically powerful are to protect the economically weak. [For instance, read my essay here entitled “gleaning”.] God warned people that political leaders would come with economic conditions causing severe consequences (1 Sam 8:11-17). The awfulness of land-grabbing, lying, court-corrupting, murdering, self indulgent leaders is no where better captured than when Ahab stole land from Naboth (1 Kings 21).

Laziness may be cited as one reason for poverty in Proverbs (6:11; 10:4, 15; 13:18; 20:13; 22:1; 28:11; 30:8-9). However, Proverbs chapters 28 and 29 specifically indicate that the “ruling classes” bear responsibility for economic direction of a country. [See my essay here entitled “peace.”]

Uncaring attitudes for the poor that arise from wealth and privilege are cited as reasons for judgment (Isa 3:16-26; Amos 4:1-3; 8:4-6).  The exile of Judah was largely the result of economic injustice (Amos 2:6-7; 5:7-12; Micah 3:8-12), as was the flood (Gen 6:6, 11, 13). In Genesis 6:11 and 13 when God judged the “earth filled with violence” the Hebrew word hamas was used. God desires to fill the earth through human procreation (Gen 1:28; 9:1), whereas the greedy fill the earth by procreating violence (Ezek 8:17; 28:16). [1] The prophets use the same word to describe the exploitation of the poor by the rich (Amos 3:10; Micah 6:12).

Dishonesty (Amos 8:4-6), selfishness (through loans, Amos 5:11), loving things over people (Isa 5:8; Micah 2:1-4), and courtroom bribery through unjust judges (Isa 1:23; 3:13-15; Amos 5:7, 10, 12) are targets of prophetic condemnation. Scripture judges the rich by how they treat the poor (Job 29:12, 16; Ps 112:9; see also, Deut 15:1-11; James 2:1-7, 15-16; 4:13-16; 5:4; 1 John 3:17).

 

Economic justice is a prophetic imperative (Isa 11:5; 42:1; Ezek 45:8; Zech 14:14, 21). Biblical injunctions concerning financial justice are often tied to indebtedness. The responsibility is directed toward the creditors—those who have the financial ability to abuse others by lending at interest (Ex 22:25-27; Lev 25:35-38; Deut 23:19, 20).  Judgments against the lending-borrowing practice focused on exorbitant interest charged to those in need while “the rich became richer” (2 Kings 4:1-7; Neh 5:1-13; Ps 15:5; Prov 28:8; Jer 15:10; Ezek18:13; 22:12; Hab 2:7). [See “financial rape” [2] below.]

A communitarian emphasis developed in the early church where people shared the wealth they owned with each other, which included monetary gifts demonstrating participation in ministry (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37).  The Greek word koinonia includes monetary gifts as “fellowship” as seen in Philippians 4:10-19. [Further comments on fairness, social consciousness, equality, and equity can be found in my essay here entitled “That’s Not Fair!”]

Christian teaching on poverty must include the following ideas and ideals: (1) God, not humans, owns everything; (2) custodial conservation of the earth is dependent upon faithful, responsible, creative people; (3) giving is to be “open-handed” versus “tight-fisted” (Deut 15:7-11); (4) stewarding creation should be prompted by and considerate of the next generation; (5) history curricula should include a poverty focus from the vantage point of corrupt governments as much as it might corrupt businesses; (6) teaching on private ownership and responsible stewardship should be wedded; (7) wealth produces accountability and opportunity to benefit all (1 Tim 6:17-19). [On these and other points see my essay here entitled “giving”.]

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church each fall (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com

[1] Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, p. 359.

[2] It should be noted that borrowing is always viewed in a negative light in Scripture (Prov 17:18), something one would want to avoid (Prov 22:7).  However, borrowing is not altogether outlawed (Ex 22:25; Ps 37:26; Matt 5:42; Lk 6:35).  It should be also noted that the original etymological range of the word “loan” meant to take a bite or consume.  “Don’t bite off more than you can chew” or “be careful he doesn’t take a bite out of you” are common reminders.  So borrowing is allowed though not advocated. See Alysa’s excellent essay here on “financial rape.”

Youthquake


Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year 2017:

The passion of youth, the wisdom of age.

The old adage “too soon old, too late smart” is one gray-hairs enjoy leveling at those who still have their hair.

But I am struck by the idea that passion needs wisdom. As a hexagenerian (yes, I’m 60 years old!) I am committed to those younger than myself.

I believe that walking alongside folk is better than casting aspersions against folk.

Young people ARE our future. The question for those of us old enough for AARP benefits is “How will we treat and care for young people?”

 

So I was surprised and gratified to discover that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) had chosen “youthquake” as its word for 2017. The word is defined by OED as

“a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” [SOURCE]

It’s all about the next-gen. Saying it was not an obvious choice, OED’s Casper Grathwohl said its usage had increased “fivefold” citing young peoples’ impact on elections in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The divisiveness of 2017 seemed to spur OED’s decision as Grahwohl explained

“We chose youthquake based on evidence and linguistic interest. But at a time when our language is reflecting our deepening unrest and exhausted nerves, it is a rare political word that sounds a hopeful note. … I think this past year calls for a word we can all rally behind.”

A “hopeful note.”

Youth are our hope, humanly speaking.

The next-gen asks good questions.

The next-gen sees future trends.

The next-gen has energy.

The next-gen has a need for mentorship.

The next-gen is why I teach.

The passion of youth needs the wisdom of age and the wisdom of the ages.

The next generation needs prudence.

According to Proverbs, “prudence” gives the impression of one “who has been around,” “a man of the world” (wise to it, understanding of its ways, therefore careful of his relationship with it). This word is often contrasted with those called “simple” (22:3), who are told to be directed by the individual who “knows the ropes” spiritually (1:4a). A person with the prudence knows and follows through on the right reaction to moral evil.

My radio show producer, co-host, and brother Harold HB Bell tells me about the importance of the barbershop in the black community. He says one of the key rules of the barbershop is that old men talk, young men listen. But young men must show up at the barbershop in order to hear the wisdom of age.

Someday it will be their turn to talk.

The question I ask myself as a 60-year old is, “Am I teaching them prudence?”

Youthquake. Next-gen. Passion with prudence. Hope for 2018.

 

The next generation is the reason for The Comenius Institute.

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video).

Help Comenius reach its $40,000 giving goal before the new year! The Comenius Institute [501(c)(3)] (website hereDonate online (here), mark@comeniusinstitute.org, (text/talk 630.303.4891) Checks to “The Comenius Institute,” c/o Collaborate 317, 4202 N EMS Blvd #180, Greenfield, IN 46140 And ask Mark what Comenius would do with $1 million!

Picture credit: Snappygoat.com, urbanfonts.com

Person


“That’s not the person I was talking about.”

It was the greatest experience of my teaching life.

I taught for over forty years in the poorest public schools in and around Indianapolis. My students came from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. I taught math.

The most important aspect of education is relationship. Trust is the essence of that relationship. If a student knows they can trust you then math teaching – any teaching – becomes a delight.

She came to me after class wanting to talk.

We found some time during school to meet. A demure young woman, she hesitated divulging her true need.

I asked some mundane questions to draw her out but I already knew.

“Are you pregnant?” The word momentarily hung in the air.

“Yes.” She hung her head.

“What will you do?” I asked.

“I already have an appointment,” came the matter-of-fact reply.

Her decision, it seemed, had been made. I wordlessly waited for further explanation.

“A relative is driving me to Louisville on Monday. I can’t have the procedure here in Indiana because I’m too far along.”

It was Friday afternoon.

72 hours from now a young woman was going to make a life altering decision.

Any time a student had come to discuss anything with me in the past I always asked questions. I wanted them to consider their situation, their obligations, and their potential response.

Imposing my views did not build trust.

 “Have you considered the other person in your decision?” I began.

“The father doesn’t want me to have it. He won’t help if I do.”

“That’s not the person I was talking about.”

She was startled, looking up at me after I uttered those words.

She knew.

“You have talked about how this decision will impact your life. What about the life of the baby inside you? Your future will be very different depending on the choice you make on Monday.”

I spoke about the life she was carrying and the potential that life could have in the world. I asked her if she had the right to take the life of another. I told her that I believed only God had the right to terminate a life because only He could restore that life.

I repeated, “The other person in your decision is the person of the child in your womb.”

We talked for some time that Friday afternoon focused on the life of another.

Monday morning found me on the front steps of the high school where I taught. It was my normal practice to greet students as they came in to school each day.

I was shocked to see her.

“I thought you were going to Louisville today!”

Her smile radiated joy.

“I changed my mind.”

I was stunned.

“It was our talk on Friday,” she could tell by the look on my face I needed help understanding.

“Thank you Mr. Wilson,” was all she said, passing me on the stairs.

The dean of women, however, was not thankful.

“Don’t you know how you’ve destroyed her life??!!” she began her tirade.

The young woman’s presence in school on Monday had surprised the dean too. After a brief conversation with the pregnant girl, the school administrator called me out of class.

The dean’s tone was vicious, berating me for my interference.

For ten minutes I stood in her office enduring the verbal assault.

I said nothing.

The year was 1994.

In May of 2017, I saw Facebook pictures of a college graduate posted by a glowing, proud mother.

A young woman’s decision one Monday had given her a thousand Mondays with her baby.

This story stands as the greatest experience of my educational life.

 

Dennis L. Wilson told me this story over coffee. Wiping away the tears I asked if I could retell the story for our audience at Warp & Woof. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com