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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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

An Unchanging Character

Sit through any English class and you're sure to hear the term "Character Development" every now and then.  When it comes time to write a book report on a piece of fiction (especially narrative fiction), you will without a doubt be expected to write about the book's character(s) and how they developed as the story was told.  In fact, the one bad thing I have heard so far about the must-see movie "Inception" was that there was very little "Character Development," though I do not necessarily agree with that statement. Regardless, it's clear that it is a pretty important concept.  When we read, we want to relate to the characters we are reading about, and the only way we can do that is if the character is dynamic in some way or another.  The character must experience growth and change during their journey in order for the journey to be believable.  That's right -- in order for us to relate to the character on the page in front of us, that character must change

Now, let's take a look at a verse from the most important piece of literature ever written, the Bible:

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

God does not change ... does that mean His Character is static and undeveloped?  Absolutely not! God may not change, but that does not mean He lacks character development.  In fact, He's the most developed character we will ever read about.  That's because He blessed us with a limited understanding of Him; and as we read about Him, this unchanging God changes us.  As we read His word, we are the ones who grow and change.  We grow in our understanding of our wonderful God, and as we apply this understanding to our lives, we begin to change and develop into the character that God wants us to be:  a process most commonly known as "sanctification." 

God does not change, nor does He need  to -- He is without a doubt the most fascinating, glorious, limitless character we will ever know.

--Nick Natoli, Building Bookcases writer 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How do I change? (Part 1 of 2)

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. My bad.

You just got cut off on your way to work and a seemingly unavoidable anger boils out. Now you’re angry and you want people to know it. Reacting you yell, mutter to yourself, or tell the other driver he is number one. Either way your heart is overflowing and it’s not pretty.

How about this...

You're in line at the grocery store and an attractive girl is right in front of you. She is wearing what must be her 15 year old sister’s clothes and you notice. Reacting you stare, or more "respectably" covertly look in passing glances. Maybe you don't stare but you think about her in an unloving way. How about this. You judge the girl for how she dresses.

One more...

You get home after a long day of work/classes and you’re ready to crash in your bedroom. But now your little sister barges in the room and is rambling on and on about a squirrel in the backyard that attacked a bird. Reacting you push her, yell, or make snide comments about how you hope the squirrel ate the bird. Your heart is on display. The canvas is stretched and you reveal what really resides inside.

James 1:14-15 says "...each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

This verse reveals our problem in a very upsetting way. The verse is an indictment of each one of us when we sin against the Lord. See instead of blaming the person who cut you off, the immodest girl or the inconsiderate sister this verse blames you. Our problem isn't people tempting us to sin but our own desires. Our desires to be respected on the road, for sex and personal space tempt us. Now these desires are not always wrong desires but look at what happened in every situation described above. Something either threatened our desires (1st and 3rd example) or offered a sinful solution to fulfill them (2nd example). Instead of turning to God's desires for us we sinfully elevate our own. Our circumstances reveal what we really value in our hearts.

So if our fundamental problem is what is already in our hearts how are we to change? There are two important things to know. First, if you are not a Christian you can't change the heart. Second, if you are a Christian you can't change the heart. They are both true but in different ways.

If you’re not a Christian then you have no hope of change. The issue with humanity is that we are sinful. We all have filth in our hearts! I do! And so do you. This sin was by our choice and we choose it again and again everyday. Our sin is so deep that Romans 3:10 and 11 says that "None is righteous, no, not one..." and goes on to say "no one seeks for God." We are all sinners and none of us even want God. Furthermore, Romans 8:8 says "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." What an unpopular view of humanity. In our sin we cannot please God. Sin is so deep in our hearts that we are dead. We don't even desire life in Christ. No matter how good of a person we think we are God has a completely different opinion of us. And He is right.

So how does one who doesn't believe in God change? Well you need a heart transplant. And Christ is ready to give it to you! Romans 8 goes on to say that if we have the spirit of God in us he will give life to our dead bodies. How do we receive the spirit? Galatians 3: 14 "so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." Faith in Christ! Faith that he never sinned. Faith that you do. Faith that He took your punishment for sin by dying in your place. Faith that he raised from the dead showing that the Father approved of his death for you. And this means that His spirit with His desires now reside in you with your sinful heart.

I want to encourage you right now. Our sin being so deep that we don't even seek God can seem like a very discouraging truth. But I think God wants to encourage you right now with those very words. If you have any desire to know God. Any desire to believe in Jesus. Any desire for Him at all. It is not your own desire but Christ already at work in you. If you have actually worked your way through this long post and find yourself desiring this real meaningful change then God is at work in you. Please don't take that lightly. Please message me or talk to a Christian you know and let them know that Christ is calling you. Hear the call and respond.

Next week I will explain how we as Christians can practically change. I hope if you’re not a Christian right now that next week you would be and you would read with a heart that wants to please Him.

If you have any questions, comments or just want to talk but don't feel comfortable doing it here please email me at

Shane Kohout

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Doctrine that Inspires Ambtion (Cont.)

This is my second post concerning the following quote from Dave Harvey's "Rescuing Ambition" :

If our understanding of doctrine creates passivity toward God's empowering presence or cools the hot embers of our ambition, we've misunderstood God's sovereignty.

Earlier this week, I addressed my own "passivity toward God's empowering presence."  Tonight, I hope to increase my understanding of doctrine, that I might re-ignite the "hot embers of [my] ambition."

Before a Christian can go about firing up their ambitions, however, they must understand what ambition really means for a Christian.  This, in essence, is the sole purpose of Harvey's book.  I'm not going to get into too much detail (for that, you may want to just read the book itself.  Harvey will explain it much better than I can), but the basic message is that Christian ambition strives to please God and to bring Him glory.  Godly ambition not only brings us closer to God, but it allows us to accept the times when God says "no."  For if we are no longer focusing on ourselves when we pursue our ambitions, how can we be distraught when we are faced with an obstacle?  For "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8: 28)  What an encouraging verse! In his letter to Rome, Paul isn't saying "some" things or "most" things or "just the things that would make sense in the limited, finite capacity of our human minds." No, he says ALL things.  If that isn't a lesson in God's sovereignty, I don't know what is!  And if we, as Christians who love God, take this verse to heart, how can we ever give up when we don't get that dream job or if God's plan as we know it doesn't seem to be going very well?  If God says "no" to one of your aspirations, you can be sure that it means He has something better in mind.  If that's the case, then, what is stopping us from pursuing our ambitions? 

A couple years ago, I started writing a novel of sorts, a kind of Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy story about a regular guy who escapes from his dissatisfied lifestyle into a world that he never dreamed existed. Sad to say, I haven't written anything for it in quite some time, and it's only about 4 chapters long right now.  This may just be another nerdy hobby of mine, but reading Harvey's book on ambition, my imagination cannot help but to be drawn back to that world.  My desire now is to pick this story back up, and start writing again, praying that God can use it to His glory.

-Nick Natoli, Building Bookcases writer

Friday, July 23, 2010

Can We Really Forget?

In general I want my posts to be focused on thoughts about what I'm reading, but there's been a thought in my head this past week that I think is worth addressing and runs parallel with what this blog is about.

The thought started with a conversation I was having with one of my friends who was showing me their new Bible-in-a-year reading plan. He was explaining how he had taped the reading plan to the inside of his Bible so he wouldn't lose it and then went on to tell me how he had also signed up for the service that e-mailed him the passage he was supposed to read. This way he could read the passage on his iPhone or from any computer if he didn't have his Bible with him.

Now this was all in the context of a car ride to the airport, so I was listening to him as I was driving down the road. For the first half of his description I was listening somewhat passively as we all tend to do with small talk, but when he started talking about the e-mail service I found myself giving a bit more thought to what he was saying. He, being one of my best friends, noticed this and finished his description, afterwards waiting a moment for my reply. I looked over at him and grinned as I realized he knew exactly what I was about to say, but knew I was going to say it anyway.

"We are the laziest people on earth", I said as he laughed but still nodded in agreement. The sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing hit me as I realized how many resources I have at my disposal. Is there really any way we can claim to have forgotten to read that day with all the alarms and reminders we have available? Is there any way to account for our lack of reading aside from that we really don't see it as important?

I noticed it even more this week as I attempted to memorize 2 Peter 1:1-11. Sadly, this is probably the largest portion of scripture I've ever set out to memorize. Well, that's aside from a summer bible camp project I gave myself where for some reason I decided to memorize the chapter where Solomon is sending for the building materials designated for the temple. If memory serves, I think that was the result of an early mis-application of God's sovereignty where I would flip open the Bible and think that wherever it landed was where God wanted me. Cedars from Lebanon...I digress.

What I realized while trying to memorize the passage this week was that I took advantage of a lot of opportunities to see it daily. I taped it to the side of my filing cabinet at work, recited it to myself while driving, and spent a lot of time repeating the transitioning sentences that always seemed to trip me up.

What I'm saying is, I have a lot of opportunities and resources, and it's a bit ridiculous of me to claim that I somehow couldn't get around to reading or thinking about something. Maybe it's time to re-evaluate how serious we are about reading God's word and spend some time thinking about if our forgetfulness is actually intentional. In my past, the answer was definitely a resounding yes, and I hope to never be in that place again.

- Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases writer

Monday, July 19, 2010

Doctrine that Inspires Ambition

Today, I continued working my way through Dave Harvey's "Rescuing Ambition," which if you haven't noticed I highly recommend, in which Harvey makes the following statement:

If our understanding of doctrine creates passivity toward God's empowering presence or cools the hot embers of our ambition, we've misunderstood God's sovereignty.

Wow. I'm not even sure where to begin (in fact, this may turn into multiple posts).  I suppose I will begin by addressing "passivity toward God's empowering presence."  I have definitely felt that before.  Quite a few times, actually.  And as Harvey points out, it was absolutely due to some kind of misunderstanding about God's sovereignty (as many things are).  Shortly before addressing God's sovereignty, Harvey quotes from Hebrews:

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." (Heb. 11:6)

I'd like to say that I've believed that God exists for most of my life.  But this second part of faith, believing that God rewards those who seek Him:  this is a relatively new concept for me.  The first time the idea was really introduced to me was about 4 years ago as I listened to a message by John Piper, the famous "Christian Hedonist."  And, like so many unfortunate lessons in my life, the idea was buried for a long time.  Now, it has resurfaced, and I've come to the realization that most of my walk with Christ has been shrouded in unbelief in Him; I have never really believed that God, the creator of the Universe, that big Man in the sky, would ever want to reward me for anything.  To me, He was always just watching from far off as I stumbled through this life and made a fool of myself time after time after time.  And now I can see just how foolish I was:  my diluted faith did not reflect God's grace when He sent His Son to die on the Cross for my sins.  It did not pursue a glorious, empowering God who created desire, passion, and ambition; and it did not allow God's sovereignty to enter my life. And now it is my prayer that my sovereign God will eliminate any remaining unbelief or passivity in my life, as I continue to study His doctrine.

(To Be Continued)

-Nick Natoli, Building Bookcases writer

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Bookcase (Part 2)

This is more or less a piggyback on what Jeremy wrote as part of his "intro" post:

If you came into my basement now and examined my bookcase, you would actually be in for a shock.  There are no books on it; instead, it is full of video games, organized by platform or genre, with a pile of strategy guides on the bottom shelf.  Now, being the nerd that I am, and having a major in video game design, I do not think this is a waste of a bookcase.   Is this an insult to literature?  Some would argue "most emphatically yes."  But I would argue differently.  After studying the development of video games, I've come to realize that they are actually pieces of art (at least, most of them are).  There are aesthetic choices, storytelling elements, character development, and general design choices that, as a player, I failed to notice for many years. The truth is that developing a video game is in many ways similar to writing a good book or filming a movie.  Since I began studying this field two years ago, the way I play and react to video games has changed quite dramatically. 

I find myself actually thinking while i play, something that may surprise most casual gamers out there.  For so long, video games have symbolized reflexive thinking; that is, there was never any kind of deep thinking going through the player's mind as they twitched a joystick this way or that:  Only immediate reactions to whatever was happening on the screen.  Now, however, with new technology and a greater grasp on design, game developers have transformed what their games stand for.  Take, for instance, the game Bioshock: a game that sets the player in Rapture, a ruined underwater city in the 1950s.  This city is ruled by a man who worships the self and the things that man can accomplish without the help of God or government, and as one can imagine, chaos quickly ensues.  Through carefully-placed voice recordings that offer back story on the city as well as development of some of its key characters, 2K Games has created a masterpiece in storytelling, and that's before the player gets to the unforgettable twist at the end.  I won't bore you with a full synopsis of the game, but my point is that video games have changed, and so too should our thinking as we play them. 

I assure you I'm not trying to turn this blog into a video game review, but I hope, if my good friends Shane and Jeremy will let me, to offer what insight i can into what I'd like to call "video game literacy."  These posts will be relatively infrequent as I utilize the other bookcase located in my bedroom and continue with our foremost focus, but I hope you will join me as I take the time to place video games in a new light:  one that is not necessarily in opposition to our challenge, but instead compliments it.

-Nick Natoli, Building Bookcases writer

PS.  From here on out, I plan on making 2-3 small posts per week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Unparalleled Patience

 First, for any of you who were wondering, I currently plan on making a weekly post. If I don't do that, chase me down and challenge me! If I do more than that, praise God I've spent time reading and He has given me more than one thought worth sharing. I may move to a twice-a-week posting schedule if I feel like I regularly have things more than once a week.

Now on to this week's post.

In the spirit of the challenge being given to this generation I've decided that in my quiet times I'm going to read through the Bible. Partly because I want a better knowledge of the whole Bible (especially the OT) and partly because I want to spend time reading sections of the Bible I'm not as familiar with so that I'm not just glancing over it but really thinking about what I'm reading and why it's important. As of today I'm in Genesis 20 at a chapter a day (for those of you not so math inclined that means I've been at it about 3 weeks).

On Wednesday, I was reading through chapter 18. In this chapter God appears to Abraham and tells him of the upcoming destruction of Sodom. Abraham then pleads with God to spare the city if he finds righteous men there and after Abraham makes quite a few decreases to the number required, God agrees to spare the city if ten righteous men are found.

 As I was thinking, this part really struck me. God would spare judgement on the entire city if ten righteous were living there. What's profound about this is that God doesn't judge us as one within the confines of time would. That is, He doesn't judge us based on our current state alone. Since God exists outside time He has seen every possible outcome of every decision and knows that our rebellion is complete. What this means is that in the entire city of Sodom, there were not ten people who would have followed God even if they had lived out their lives in totality. God knew this when He was talking to Abraham, but He wasn't just leading Abraham on either. He was making a declaration about His character.

You see, God's patience in His judgement is seen in His willingness to save Sodom if ten people there would repent and follow Him. Whether or not you realize it, we've all been the recipients of God's patience in a way that directly parallels God's agreement with Abraham. What I mean is this: God has delayed His judgement of the world so that those who would believe can come to faith in Him. God will not lose a single sheep of His flock, and so He waits in a grace-filled patience for them to come to Him. It would have been completely within His power and right to judge the world at Christ's first coming, but He is patiently awaiting the day He has planned.

We serve a patient God. He endures a world of sin, deserving of judgement, so that His children can come to Him. We rely on His patience towards our sin all the time when pursuing growth, but what a great evidence of His love that his patience is at work in the world right now. Morning by morning new mercies I see, and I'm adding this one to that list.

- Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases writer

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We're all glory addicts

Currently, I am reading through "Rescuing Ambition" by Dave Harvey, a book addressing our need to unshackle ambition from our own foolish misconceptions about humility.  Of course, Harvey is the first to admit that humble ambition sounds a lot like an oxymoron, but by carefully walking readers through the Biblical truth behind Godly ambition, I can't help but get incredibly excited about the concept - and mind you, I'm only halfway through the book.

This first half serves to reveal the "inner wiring" carefully formed in us by our Creator.  You see, He created us for His glory; almost everything we do can be traced back to this rather simple fact.  Even before we were saved by Christ's death on the Cross, we were consumed with ambition for self-glory.  This was not God's intention when He created us of course; we were created by God, for God.  But after the Fall, our ambition for God's glory became sorely misplaced and corrupted.  The result was a people obsessed with the self, and prideful ambition was born.  You could say we became like the 300 Spartans whose desire for glory lead them to bulk up their bodies to insane proportions, learning incredible fighting techniques and strategies, taking on the largest army the world has ever seen, and for what? Glory? No, all that they earned was death.

Then, Christ came and changed everything.  His redeeming death on the Cross granted us freedom from our old selfish desires.  There was no longer anything holding us back from the undeniable glory that is in the Lord our God.  So, how did we so easily give in to the lie that we are supposed to get rid of all ambition, humbly following God without actually doing anything for Him?

We're all glory addicts.  We were made to pursue God's limitless glory, and there is no denying that.  So let's start actually pursuing Him!  Don't let ambition rot in the prison you've built around it; actively chase after God, and He'll bring that prison crashing down.

Nick Natoli

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Bookcase

My bookcase is a pretty good summation of me. Most of my shelves have been ordered with books divided into sections. There's the Shakespeare section from high school and early college, the G.A. Henty books from my younger teens, the Math and Science books from school, and of course the Star Wars books that permeated the entirety of my childhood since I could read. These sections are all pretty much static. I've read the books, and maybe if I had time I'd read them again for nostalgia, but they're more memories than current influences, more of a fling than a lasting relationship.

Then there's the one section that has kept expanding, forcing me to re-arrange my shelves, find more space, and ultimately get rid of some of my childhood books. The doctrine books. The one section that started when I learned to read, and has continued to grow throughout my life. Now don't get me wrong, it's been a slow growth, but no other section of my bookcase can I look at and trace my entire reading life through. There's books on there about character from back when I thought Christianity was about actions, books about Godly relationships from when I decided girls weren't that bad, and books about worldly amusements and conviction from when I was confronted with a need to develop beliefs on topics I hadn't faced before. These are the books God used in my life to draw me closer to Him.

There are always a few books missing from my bookcase though. The books I'm learning from now. These books are scattered around the room. Two are on my desk, one is on my chair, another is across the room on top of my storage bins. They're not lost, they're not gathering dust, they're being read, and thus they've been placed in convenient locations for me to pick up. 

These are the books that will one day sit on my bookcase and be picked up every so often for me to thumb through, remembering what they taught me and serving as a testament to God's work in my life. I can already see their effect on one level, and I look forward to being able to look back and see it even more clearly. I like to think of myself as a child growing ever so slowly, finally being able to reach a new shelf where God has placed resources to guide me. One day I hope to pull a book from my proverbial "top shelf" and be able to fully appreciate the journey God has led me through.

My hope is that in the coming weeks, months, years, who knows, I'll be able to look back at this blog and see something similar. I want to see these thoughts move from the store, to the coffee table, to the bookcase, ready to be grabbed at a moment's notice and applied to my life. 

- Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases writer


How college ruined Harry Potter for me

I realize this may be a bit of a touchy subject for some of you potter fanboys out there, but if you happen to be reading this, please bear with me.  I dont think the Harry Potter series holds any real literary value for society; and i believe that part of the challenge of "Building Bookcases" means that we should, as readers, think first about literary value before we even begin "thinking deeply" about any book we read.  What do i mean by literary value? Well, I'll tell you, to the best of my abilities:

Last fall, i had the privilege of being taught by johnny turtle, one of the most fascinating people ive ever met.  His class was called "the experience of literature," and i think his most important message in that class was that we need to be honest.  At first, I didn't think that would tie in too well in an English class, but somehow he made sense.  He stressed, time after time, that we need to not only live honestly, but read and write honestly:  write honestly, by pouring our own convictions, joys, and sorrows into our words; read honestly, by analyzing the author's message and applying it to our own lives.   After listening to his lessons, I began to realize that Harry Potter, which had been one of my favorite book series to that date, was dishonest on both accounts.  It was written to entertain, by a single mom looking for a financial escape.  And as im sure you're aware, it was a huge success.  And over time, midnight release after midnight release, i followed a generation of young illiterate "readers" as we consumed the nonsense of j.k. rowling:  the problem being that there was no underlying message, no deep theme in her work apart from the very simple cliche of "good vs. evil" complicated by teenage hormones.  The only thinking that the series required was how to solve the mystery of the horcruxes or whether or not ron and hermione would finally confess their love for each other.  In the end, Harry Potter did not allow me to grow, apart from maybe learning some new vocabulary and giving me the satisfaction of having actually read some 7000 pages at my own leisure.  But really, what good are 7000 pages if they don't offer growth for their reader?

Anyways, there you have it.  College ruined Harry Potter for me.  It changed the way I perceive its value in my life and in society, and I'm grateful for it; I can now honestly turn by back on the series, and move on to find growth in God and in other forms of art and literature. And that is the bottom shelf that will hopefully shape my future posts on Building Bookcases.

Nick Natoli

Resolved to Leave Room for Grace

When I think of the idea of making resolutions I think of empty promises to myself. I can't remember all of these half-kept-at-best promises but here are a few of my favorite.

I will workout until I look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

I will learn Spanish.

I will learn Mandarin.

I will learn any new language!

I will become more interesting.

The problem with all of these resolutions was once I had failed to make progress for a few days in a row I would quit (not mentioning some of these are unhealthy resolutions). I associated momentary failures to absolute failure. This is obviously stupid because everyone is going to fail sooner or later.

Thankfully, I'm reading a biography about Jonathan Edwards. Edwards had made a list of resolutions himself. The major difference between his list and mine, was Edwards left room for failure. He would resolve to glorify God in so many different ways. However he admittedly boasted that keeping them wouldn't be by his strength but by God's grace. When Edwards failed he resolved to repent and go at it all over again. If only my resolutions were as God glorifying and my heart as aware of grace as Edwards!

So in honor of my past brother in Christ, Jonathan Edwards, I make this following resolution concerning my posts on this blog.

Resolved, to read good books, mostly the Bible, think deeply about what I've read, and write posts that convey truth. Resolved to do this to glorify God and not myself, in hope that truth would affect the way I live my life and, by God's grace, be an act of love to others.

Shane Kohout