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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Approaching God

I've reached 1 Samuel in my reading now and this morning I read through the chapters where the ark was taken captive by the Philistines (chap. 4-6).
A few things really stood out to me in these chapters. The first being the way the Philistines treated the ark.

Surprisingly, when the Philistines captured the ark they did not take any action against it but rather carried it to somewhere safe. At first glance this seems like a spoil of war sort of thing, but it contrasts greatly with the foolishness of the Israelites to carry it into war as their standard, essentially moving God where they will rather than where he has commanded. A foolish representation of us placing demands on God rather than listening to his demands for us.

No, the Philistines treated the ark with respect, and in many ways gave it a more divine treatment than the Israelites themselves who had regulations regarding such. The placement of the ark inside the temple of Dagon has been taken as some to mean that they offered it as worship to Dagon, but I think it more likely that Yahweh was meant to be an addition to the Philistine's pantheon. We like to think of Dagon having fallen face downward as him falling forward towards the ark, but the description is one of the ark being placed "by" Dagon, thus indicating the falling before the ark may have been an extremely unnatural position as the ark was probably placed to the left or right, not in front.

Another reason I belief they were attempting reverence in their treatment of God is that Dagon may have been the chief god either of the city or the Philistines themselves and thus placing the ark in his temple was not merely adding God to the pantheon, but placing him in a high position of reverence in the pantheon as well (it is difficult to ascertain Dagon's exact place in the pantheon because towns and accounts varied on their descriptions, but he was at least once referred to as lord of the gods). God would not accept this regardless of whether the Philistines thought of it as worship. Matthew Henry says it well when he says "for He is not worshipped at all if He is not worshipped alone".

Finally we see the Philistines "repentance", in releasing the ark. Of course this was after the plagues occurred in at least 3 cities (3 mentioned by name, but the diviners in chapter 6 make reference to the plagues being on all the philistines). It's interesting to note that the Philistines diviners, although not knowing how to handle the ark or what God demands, still had some understanding of what was to be done. They suggested a guilt offering of golden tumors and mice, apparently to signify the plagues brought about by Gods displeasure. In this they lacked the knowledge that God only accepts blood as a guilt offering, but what they do acknowledge is their own guilt. An example of the knowledge God has placed in all men's hearts of their need for repentance and salvation.

When we approach God, we approach with reverence and humility for we know His power just as the Philistines did. However, we also approach with joy for although we know of our own guilt, we also know of our perfect guilt offering in Christ. Our guilt has been taken away and we can approach God as those in right standing to Him. This should provoke us to worship of God, and also to compassion towards those who have the same guilt we experienced, but lack the knowledge of Christ. Our hearts should be tender toward them, for it was not so long ago that each of us was as they are.

The last time I read this passage I remember celebrating in the Philistines being shown God's power and essentially having their gods defeated. I think this time I have a little more pity, seeing how close the philistines came to God and yet how far they were from truly knowing Him.

Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases Writer

Friday, December 24, 2010

External Forces?

I've been thinking lately about James 1 and how it talks about sin being the product of a larger process. I've included the passage below for reference.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

What stands out to me in this passage is something I'm not convinced we think of correctly. Namely, I'm speaking of temptation. I would say there are two popular misuses of temptation that seem to underlie a false understanding of the word.

1. Temptation is Sin

With the first misuse, I would say there are two ways this can manifest. The first way would be people who believe that temptation itself is sin, and the second would be when people use the words tempted and sinned interchangeably and theres no discernible separation. Both of these would be in contrast to the line of reasoning laid out in the passage, as well as Hebrews 4:15 where it says that Christ was tempted in every way, yet was without sin. Sometimes it may seem like we sin immediately when tempted, but we can't be fooled into thinking that means there's no separation. We can't import our experience of our own sinfulness into the doctrine we study.

2. Temptation is External

The second portion is probably a bit more subtle. We know from the passage that god does not tempt us, although as we see earlier in James 1, he does ordain the trials to test us.

The first question in my mind is always "how does that work?". If God doesn't test us, but ordains the trials isn't that basically the same thing? As I've been thinking about it, I think the answer might be in verse 14. God ordains situations in our lives that may tempt us, but the temptation comes from our own desires, not the situation itself.

At first, when I thought of this, it was a bit disparaging. One more part of the process that reveals my sinful desires. Then I started realizing what the opposite side of the coin would be. What if temptation were actually external? For starters, the best thing a trial could do for me is just give me practice fighting sin. If temptation were caused completely by external events, there would be no advantage to discerning the heart, renewing my mind, or turning my desires from sinful to Godly things. The entirety of sanctification would become a trench warfare against a limitless enemy. The only goal would be to fight well enough to not get overrun, but the temptation would always be present, and would continue as long as I did.

However, if temptation is a result of my own desires, then as I fight to change those desires to ones that glorify God, the temptations lessen. Not to say they cease or don't flare up, but as the internal desire is changed, the catalyst situations become less tempting as there's not nearly as much desire to tug at.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe if we stopped looking at the external forces so much and started looking at what they're pulling at, we'd realize it's our desires that need changing, not our situation.

Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases Writer

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not in Part but the Whole

I love the way hymns and worship songs put things. One of the lines in "It is Well with my Soul" says, "My sin, not in part but the whole, was nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.". Today in my reading i was reminded of this line as i thought about how if the entirety of our sin was paid for, the entirety of our lives must reflect this.

This morning I was reading in numbers and I reached the story of Balaam in numbers 22-24. Most people probably remember the part where Balaam's donkey speaks since thats definitely bizarre, but the second part of the story is what I'm going to write about today.

The original reason for the donkey journey at all was because the king of Moab, Balak, had summoned Balaam to come and curse the Israelites. There's a lot of interesting things about this, but I'm going to restrain myself from the inclination to go off and wonder about other things in the story for the sake of brevity. If anyone is interested in anything else let me know and I'd love to check it out together.

Initially Balaam had refused the invitation after consulting the Lord, but after the king insisted, the Lord told Balaam to go under the condition that he say nothing aside from what the Lord told him.

The king brought Balaam to a point where he could see a portion of the Israelite camp and asked Balaam to curse them out of fear. Balaam consulted the Lord and instead blessed the Israelites. Balak's response to this was to take him to a different place where he would see a different fraction of Israel. He did this twice, but still Balaam blessed the Israelites.

Whats interesting about this is how Balak took Balaam to three different places, each overlooking a smaller portion of the Israelite camp. Each time prompting Balaam to curse this smaller part of the camp. Yet each time Gods blessing comes forth rather than a curse.

This story bears striking similarities to the temptations we face. We as Christians are pressured to make negotiations with sin. Draw lines in the sand and rather than flee, keep drawing lines further and further down the shore until we ultimately find ourselves engulfed in the waves.

Worse yet we can compartmentalize our lives and play a foolish game of keeping God in his boxes and our desires and goals in the others. We face these sorts of temptations everyday. "It's not that important", "this is such a small thing", "I'll start doing better tomorrow". We have to realize that God's commands aren't segmented, and our response to the "small" and "big" things needs to be the same, just as God's response was the same regardless of the portion of the camp.

Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases Writer

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gods Priesthood

Honestly enough, I'm excited. I missed my reading time this morning, and I was determined to have one tonight before I went to bed. After putting the kids I was babysitting to bed I picked up my bible and started into numbers 17, as that's where I am on my way through the old testament (for those of you keeping track, yes I did make it through Leviticus). At first it seemed like another historical record of God giving order to the Israelites in the desert, and in many ways it is, but what has me excited is how through his passage I'm freshly reminded of how gracious God is to give signs that assure us of his presence and plans. I had been feeling a bit rough lately and had been praying today that god would really meet me.

The story of numbers 17 isn't as widely known as most, but I do clearly remember it in my picture bible when I was a child. The story is of how God had the twelve princes of the tribes of Israel bring rods to the tabernacle and overnight God caused Aaron's rod to sprout, thus signifying the tribe of Levi as the priesthood designated by God.

In terms of background, God had already set the tribe of Levi as his priests and although it's not written here, one could presume that there must have been some dissension or challenge for this position among the tribes. This presumption comes from two observations. The first is that this sort of test was performed at all, and the second is the lack of questions from the princes of the tribes. We have no record of anyone saying "wait, I thought Levi was the priesthood, why are we bringing rods?". Apparently each one thought themselves at least worthy of the contention.

Before we pass judgement on the other princes though, lets remember what had just happened in the past few years. First we had two priests of Levi sacrifice using an unclean fire of some sort, and then, in chapter 16 (remember we're in 17 so current news), we have Korah lead a rebellion of 250 Israelites whom God then opens up the earth to swallow. Korah was from what tribe? You guessed it, Levi. All in all, it's been a rough time for Levi and it's understandable that the other princes are questioning whether God's original proclamation stands.

Understandable, yes, but still wrong. God causes Aaron's rod to bud, blossom, and bear fruit, thus reaffirming that the tribe of Levi will be his priests. Here's the first part that excited me. So often I read a passage like this and completely miss something extremely significant, and it happened today. Note that the rod buds, blossoms, AND bears fruit. This is happening at the same time! You've got buds, flowers, and fruit on the same staff, which was supposed to be dead anyway. That doesn't happen even with live branches! Talk about reassuring! God makes sure his miracle is obvious. There is no question of anyone swapping out a live branch for the dead rod, or of some sort of weird horticultural trick to give a certain tribe preference, this was definitely God.

The second thing that excites me about this passage was the sign used, a dead rod given life again and bearing fruit. A foreshadowing of the death and resurrection to be experienced by the final priest who would make atonement for all our sins by the final sacrifice. Christ's death and resurrection symbolically foretold thousands of years before their occurrence. And what's even greater? It's the symbol by which the Israelites were to have confidence that this was the priesthood God had established and their sacrifices were acceptable. The rod was kept in the tabernacle, as a sign to people that the priesthood stood established by God to provide sacrifices for atonement. In the same way, Christ was resurrected and stands glorified as our assurance that his sacrifice was accepted by God as our ransom, and that his priesthood stands forevermore. Praise God!

Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases Writer

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why do I breathe?

There are empty bottles all around the kitchen. The house has its own smell of weed, beer, and sweat. The thumping of the bass reverberates in your chest and you’re taking it all in. This is why I breathe.

Your friend is groping someone’s sister while another lies strung-out on the couch. As awkward interactions with some of the girls convince you that you can get some, you over hear a funny sexual joke….mental note: remember that one for later. Relax. You’re adored and you know it.

I wanted this once myself. To be honest sometimes I still do. So why my friend would I not just jump in?

It’s not because I’m a good person….No! I’m not a good person.

It’s because I’m loved.

Seriously, it’s because Jesus loves me. It can be easy to think being a Christian is following rules and avoiding the “bad” (aka. Fun) things. But that isn’t true. See God tells me not to get wasted, be arrogant, seek others approval and affection, get high, and screw because he loves me. Before I was a Christian I chased some of those things but they never satisfied. I wanted people’s affection and approval but it never filled. I wanted to be looked up to and adored but I could never get enough. It left me worn out, depressed, and lonely. I was thirsty and dying.

I write this to you friends not to condemn but to reach out in love. I was enticed by these same things and they felt good….for a while. Have you ever asked yourself “was I created for this?” Is this really why you breathe? We have rebelled against God demanding the “right” to decide for ourselves what is good and evil. We have royally screwed up. God condemns this rebellion and is just to do so. But in his mercy he looked at our messed up state and reached out with his Son Jesus. Through Jesus God is restoring his people to himself. This wasn’t free for God to do but he paid for you and me with his Son’s life. Now I can proclaim Come to Jesus all you who are thirsty and drink. That aching hole inside is healed with the one who doesn’t just put up with our failures….but he bears them. He took our sin like a cloak and wore it on the cross. He was punished for our rebellion! Why? Why would he do that? Because He loves you. Because of Jesus we don’t have to try and impress others because were loved by the one who matters (even though we could never deserve it). We don’t have to be lonely because he promised to never leave us. We don’t have to drink and party to feel alive because he gives us life and joy. Jesus is why I breathe! He is my life and He is so good. So please know that this is someone who has received so much that he feels obligated to tell others. I love you friends and it breaks my heart to see you chasing after things that won’t give you life. Please ask me about Jesus.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Loving Intolerance

Okay, I suppose I should start off by saying this post is not related to anything specific that I have read of late.  It's also going to seem kind of secular for the most part, but please bear with me...and Shane, hold your "concern" until the end, please!  This semester, I am taking a class on Ethics, and this past week we have been studying the theory of Ethical Relativism.  In a nutshell, this theory states that, because people from all around the world have different moral principles that are relative to their own culture, there are no universal laws or ethics that define our actions.  Just think about that for a minute, and you might be able to see what I'm getting at:  this is messy business.

The theory was coined by anthropologist Ruth Benedict around the turn of the 20th century, though the central idea has been in circulation since Plato's time.  Benedict's key point is in the story of Herodotus and the King of Persia (though honestly, I can't remember what the King had to do with this).  In the story, Herodotus visits two different tribes and learns their customs. Eventually, he sees that while one tribe burns their dead, the other eats it.  In order to find out which tribe was acting morally, he decided to do a little test. He had the leader of the tribe that burns their dead ask the other leader to allow him to honor their dead by piling them onto a great pyre. Obviously, this greatly offended the other leader.  At the same time, the leader that liked to eat his dead asked a similar question to the other leader; and of course, he was equally offended.  Herodotus found that it was impossible to determine which was right and which was wrong; therefore, he concluded that both tribes were acting morally according to their own customs (as morals are simply a description of what one "ought" to do at any certain time).  Fast forward several thousand years, and Benedict went around the world and discovered many similar situations between cultures, and came to the same conclusion.  And her biggest drawing point was that, by believing in this theory, the world may come to develop tolerance, with every moral principle in the world being equally valid across all cultures.

There are quite a few problems with this:

  • It's true that the two tribes that Herodotus visited had very different customs when it came to honoring their dead.  But that's just the thing:  they were both honoring their dead.  The way they went about it was different, but the basic moral principle is actually the same!
  • Benedict made this conclusion years before the Holocaust -- something 99.9% of the world would agree was an evil act carried out by an evil man.  There is no way anyone would be willing to accept that Hitler's Nazism could be at all "equally valid" as a moral principle - nor should they!
  • The theory states that one's own morals are simply whatever they find to be acceptable.  Add in the fact that all of humanity is sinful, let alone inconstant, and suddenly it doesn't sound quite as appealing.
  • The ethical relativist would be completely worthless in any kind of ethical/philosophical/theological debate.  In the end, they would have to accept that your view is just as "true" as theirs. 
You see what I mean?  In fact, it turns out that most, if not all, philosophers of today reject this theory, as it is self-defeating, trivial, and quite simply impossible.  Even so, Benedict's promises of tolerance and equality continue to draw people in.  Just take a drive somewhere and count how many "coexist" bumper stickers you see! My ethics professor summed the lesson up in this example:

Imagine two people are involved in a car accident.  Odds are, each one is going to remember the events of the accident quite differently from the other; but that doesn't make each person equally right.  No matter what either of them say, nothing will change what actually happened.  No matter what they believe, there is still one solid truth.  Let's think of it in another way...

Say one person believes that there is a God, and another person believes there is no God.  Do their beliefs affect reality? absolutely not! In the end, there either is a God, or there isn't.  How, then, can we, believing in what we believe, somehow accept that someone else with an opposite view is just as right? How can we believe that Truth is relative?

I realize that in rejecting Ethical Relativism I'm beginning to sound incredibly intolerant.  And, really, I suppose I am.  How, when I believe in ONE Way, ONE Truth, ONE Life, somehow tolerate it when another person rejects my Savior?  Now don't worry, I'm not about to run outside with a picket sign telling the unbelievers that they're going straight to Hell.  This is still a very delicate matter.  Instead, I have a proposal:  let us reject Ethical Relativism, and in doing so let us adopt a kind of loving intolerance that extends out from our love and adoration for God, and spread His One Universal Truth to the world.

-Nick Natoli, Building Bookcases Writer

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Joseph's Faith

First let me apologize, I have recently switched my main computing device to an iPad and it took me quite a while to find a way to edit the blog from it. Getting back on track now.

As I mentioned in my past posts, I'm currently reading through the Bible at a chapter a day and a few weeks back i was in Genesis. I was in the middle of the story of Joseph (ch. 37-50) and it's an amazing story of God's plan being worked out. Most of you are probably familiar with the story but just indulge me this time. Joseph was not the youngest of his 12 brothers but he was the first-born son of Rachel, the bride Jacob had worked 14 years for earlier in Genesis. This caused Joseph to be one of his father's favorite sons, and in many ways, this was the beginning of Joseph's troubles.

From an early age God had revealed to Joseph parts of his plan for his life. At age 17 Joseph had a dream in which his brothers sheaves of wheat bowed to his. He also had another dream in which the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowed to him. The 11 stars are interpreted by Jacob to be Joseph's brothers, the sun and the moon being Jacob and Rachel (his mother and father). These two dreams grew such an intense bitterness in Joseph's brothers that later on when Joseph came out to visit them when they were tending the flocks they threw him into a pit and sold him to Ishmaelites as a slave.

From there Joseph was sold to an officer in Egypt named Potiphar and quickly became a trusted servant. Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph but when she failed, she lied to Potiphar about Joseph trying to rape her. When Potipher heard this he had Joseph thrown into prison, where ironically Joseph was put in charge of the other prisoners.

While in prison, Joseph interpreted dreams by two of Pharaoh's servants who were being held there. Both of the interpretations came true and one was restored to Pharaoh's court while the other was killed. Two years later, Joseph was called upon to interpret Pharaoh's dream. Joseph warned Pharaoh that his dream foretold of 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the planning for the famine and Joseph essentially became second in command of Egypt. There was then a very involved reconciliation with Joseph's family in chapters 45-47 which I won't go into.

The story itself is miraculous, and we've all probably heard it referenced at some point. God preserved Joseph through many trials and rewarded his faithfulness greatly. What stood out to me though as I've been reading is the way Joseph conducted himself throughout this time. Joseph was 17 when he had his dreams and 30 when he started serving Pharaoh. That means the period of serving Potipher and the prison master was probably around 10 years. That's a long time to be a slave, especially for someone who was told by God at an early age that he was going to be an exalted leader and rise higher than his brothers and even his own father.

What the bible says about Joseph during this time is pretty amazing. No matter where he was he always rose to the top of the ranks, and he did this by faithful service. The pride that Joseph's brothers assumed of him was nowhere to be found. He had faith that God would bring about his promise, and he set about doing his work diligently wherever God had placed him. As far as we know, Joseph had no qualms with serving Potipher or the prison master. He humbly submitted himself to the authority he found himself under because he understood that God had placed that authority over him. His serving of his earthly masters was a reflection of his faith in his heavenly master.

Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases Writer