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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