Friday, December 19, 2014

Desires, Blessings, and Punishments

As I listened to my Pastor preach last night over Numbers 11 (yes, our mid-week service is on Thursday), I was reminded of a consistent theme in the Bible.

In this chapter, the Israelites complain a great deal about many things. Eventually, the Israelites begin to feel dissatisfied with the manna that God has provided for the last two years in the wilderness. It has always supplied their needs, but now they simply want the taste of meat.

It is here that I remembered the consistent theme of the Bible, as the Lord responds to the complaints of the Israelites by bowing to their wishes. Indeed, the Israelites are punished by getting exactly what they wanted. But as Numbers 11:18-20 indicates, when they get it, they no longer want it.
"And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?"

The theme I keep teasing without actually mentioning is this - the Lord has this tendency to punish the people of the world (especially the Israelites) by giving them exactly what they desired.

We see that at play here, but we also see it when the Israelites reject the Lord's kingship over them. They desire to have a king as all the other nations, so the Lord gives them a king as corrupt as the kings of all the other nations.

Perhaps most strikingly, in Romans 1, we see this same principle as it applies to those who have rejected the evidence of the Lord's existence entirely. As verse 28 clearly indicates,
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient."

The Lord punishes them by simply allowing them to continue along the paths they set for themselves, along the pathway of sin.

But if this is such a consistent thing to see within the Bible, there is one shocking statement that must be true. If man's desires can be a punishment, then man's desires are ultimately harmful to himself.

How is it that man cannot know what is actually good for him? How is it that we consistently have our hearts in the wrong place so that we desire the wrong things? How is it that our desires don't line up with what the Lord wishes in our life?

It reminds me of Ecclesiastes 6:10-12,
"That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?"

And with that simple thought I leave you with another simple question - how are your desires? If the Lord granted them, would that be a blessing or a punishment?

Monday, December 15, 2014

[Video] Calling: What it Is

I cannot guarantee the quality of this video. I know that I was surprised by the quality when I uploaded it for my class assignment,which is the only reason I'm trying to see the quality here. If it's at all decent, you can expect more videos in the future... 


Friday, December 12, 2014

Life is too Short

I've been soaring through Finals week over here, and I'm just about ready to go home. But I have also reached a conclusion that I am pretty much insane because this Finals week here has been one of the most fun weeks I've had in a while. Yes, I have immensely enjoyed Finals week. I'm confused too.

As I continued to work my way slowly through the book of Psalms, I came across a psalm written by Moses. Indeed, it is specifically Psalm 90.

Through much of Moses' life, you would have expected him to be very much familiar with the frailty of life. As miraculous as it was for him to be spared in the first place, can you imagine growing up knowing that several from your generation your kinsfolk were killed as babies? Can you imagine knowing that your people were slaves living a life of turmoil? Yes, Moses indeed understood the trauma of the world.

So it comes as no surprise when he makes reference to the brevity of life in Psalm 90:10-14,
"The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Moses knew one thing from all of his experiences with the trials in the midst of his life - life is too short not to spend it wisely serving the Lord, not to spend it rejoicing in God's mercy.

I believe the challenge speaks for itself.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Intent-based Framework to Fulfill Original Intention

The court has been endowed with the role of interpreting the Constitution to determine the constitutionality of congressional (or executive) action. As such, it is important for the nation to have an adequate debate about how this interpretation should take place. 

With this in mind, Edwin Meese, Attorney General under Ronald Reagan, expressed his opinion that the court should interpret the Constitution based off of the founder’s intent. His views generated a debate as opponents of his view expressed their own. Such an individual was Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Jr., who argued that the Constitution needs to be interpreted and adapted to the current trends of the day. 

Ultimately, there are grains of truth in Brennan’s arguments, but Meese’s interpretive criteria is preferable. We shall examine this by weighing Brennan and Meese’s arguments on the topics of the feasibility of the historical interpretative methodology, the purpose of the Constitution, and finally, the room for flexibility within the document.

Feasibility of Intent-Based Framework

Meese begins his analysis of the intent-based methodology by describing our ability to know the intent of the Constitutional authors. After all, the Convention is relatively recent (only 200 years), and as such, information is readily available not just on the document itself, but also on the ideas that inspired its creation. 

According to Meese, we have a number of works written by the founders, which reveal their thoughts and intentions about the Constitution and its principles. It is then clear to Meese that we can discover the meaning of the original text, and not have to rely upon our own understanding of the document.

Brennan on the other hand argues that it is arrogant to think that we could know exactly what the founders would think about contemporary issues. Indeed, the founders couldn’t have anticipated the questions of intellectual property in the world of the internet. Thus, it is simply infeasible to use an intent-based approach to Constitutional analysis.

Ultimately, the truth lies with Meese’s arguments. Since the Constitution is intended as a limit to the power of government to protect individual rights, our understanding of what the founders would do in certain political situations is not as important as our understanding of their view on individual rights. Indeed, there is plenty of opportunity for us to see where the founders sat on political autonomy.  

Purpose of the Constitution

That leads well into Meese’s next argument - the purpose of the Constitution is to provide a limit to the power of our federal government. It is not far for Meese to then say that if we start reading our own principles and perspectives into the Constitution rather than the intended principles, that we quickly eliminate any inherent limit or protection of individual rights within the document itself. 

To support this point, Meese cites as an example the Dred Scott decision, where Chief Justice Taney read African-Americans out of the Constitution entirely – a position which is not found within the founder’s original writings, or within the current political climate of the time. Meese argues that just like in this instance, our individual rights become threatened if the court can interpret the Constitution according to any other standard than the founder’s intent.

Brennan’s arguments all really lend support to Meese’s argument on this point. Brennan makes the case even that the Constitutional principles should change based off of the generation, but that the fundamental principles should not be changed. Unfortunately for Brennan, he does not clarify what he means as fundamental principles. 

Without such a standard, it seems only logical to assume that each individual justice would determine which principles were “fundamental.” It doesn’t take much to see that this could lead to reinterpretation of the Constitution at the will of the justices alone. But a fluid document can never serve as a limit to the federal government.  

Adaptability/Flexibility within Document

We now reach the main point of Brennan’s counter-argument, namely, the ability of the country to adapt to changing circumstances. It is Brennan’s primary contention that limiting ourselves purely within the context of the original intent of the founders will result in anachronistic decision-making. After all, the values of 1789 are quite different than they are today. 

According to Brennan, this means that an intent-based methodology would eschew social progress because we would be inevitably biased against the claims of constitutional rights. Related, Brennan believes that the court should not be deferential to the other bodies of the legislature. 

Brennan believes that the Constitution includes a discussion of substantive value choices. Thus, he believes that the court has a duty to ensure that the rights of the people are protected from the majoritarian process.

Meese believes that the Constitution’s universal language when discussing human rights is enough to limit the power of congress. Meanwhile the power given to congress allows the flexibility to regulate new industries to protect the rights of the individual. Indeed, the Constitution was written so broadly and universally that it would never become outdated by social (or technological progress). 

Ultimately, then Brennan is correct in saying that the court should not simply defer to the legislative bodies when it comes to substantive value choices and should be able to strike down laws contrary to the Constitutional views of human rights. Nonetheless, the court should still base its decisions on such issues off of Meese’s intent-based methodology.  

Intent-based Framework to Fulfill Original Intention

When it comes down to it, the Constitution is about limiting the power of the federal government. To provide a meaningful limit, we must use the founder’s original intent as an interpretative framework. Any other framework opens the door for constant fluidity within the document, which kills its ability to limit the power of government. Thus, Meese’s intent-based framework is the only one that fulfills the original goal and intent of the Constitution – to limit government.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Helplessness: Internal Causes can Still be Taken to God

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one will find himself within his life in a position of sheer helplessness. No one can really doubt intellectually whether they will be in that spot. Of course practically, we tend to doubt that fact all the time as we try our hardest to ensure that we do everything ourselves. We know we could just rely upon God, but we don't tend to do so.

But today we will discuss not the fact that we should do this, but that we still can when the state of sheer helplessness we find ourselves in is purely our own fault. That is the situation that the Psalmist David finds himself in in Psalm 69. 

Little is known about the sin David refers to in this chapter, but I'm sure speculation abounds. I personally don't much enjoy speculation on things peripheral to the text such as this, so I will refrain from saying that the most logical assumption is that David is admitting his own helplessness due to a general sinful nature, rather than one particular sin. 

The point is, David was in a kind of helpless situation due to both external and internal circumstances, yet his response could have been and indeed was to bring it to God. For instance, in verses 5-16, we read, 
"O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee. Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them. They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. Hear me, O Lord; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies."

Accepting that he was filthy, he seemed to be first concerned with ensuring only he was affected by it. "Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake." He didn't want to see others suffer because of his sin.

However, the main thrust of what I see here is that he asked the Lord to look down upon him according to the Lord's lovingkindness and mercy. He asked the Lord to help him with the external and internal causes of his helplessness. And you know what? I find it encouraging to know that our internal causes of helplessness and our sin do not have to keep us from relying upon God as long as we confess it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Expectations and Commitment

While I am trying to find out stuff about what I should write about at this rather late hour, I wonder what would actually happen if I just didn't post anything today. OH! I can talk about that!

Yes, I just found myself a topic - the temptation to not follow through on your commitments because things just don't go quite the way you were expecting.

I made a commitment a little over a year ago to update this blog every Monday. But I never expected that the Monday after Thanksgiving 2014, I would decide to sleep in much later than I ever have within the space of the last year.

Seeing as how I just want to move on with my day (my last day of Thanksgiving break), I don't want to "waste any time" writing a blog post that no one is going to read anyway.

Hey, the struggle is real. It's also not just something that plagues "Ryan the Blogger." It also plagues "Ryan the Classmate" if there is an assignment that a friend of mine asks for a bit of help with. It also plagues "Ryan the Christian" in that if I commit a certain time to the Lord and things don't go as expected leading up to that time, I may have difficulty staying tried and true on that task I committed myself to.

For instance, I have rather recently committed Wednesday evenings after my shift in the cafeteria to in-depth Bible study. At times when my shift is more stressful than usual, or that my shift goes longer than usual, I usually don't follow through on that commitment.

Honesty is a great thing, isn't it? The point is, there is a temptation in my life to change my commitments based off a difference in what I expect and what actually happens. And I imagine I am not alone when it comes to this temptation.

So, to comfort myself and anyone else who happens to struggle with the same temptations, no matter how unexpected events were to us, they transpired exactly as God knew they would. Indeed, they transpired exactly as He directed them to happen.

But that doesn't mean He's going to make it easy for us to follow through on our commitments, and keep us from being tempted at all. But hey, we do have these wonderful words about temptation in I Corinthians 10:13, 
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

Friday, November 28, 2014

10 of Your Blessings (It's a Start for Counting)

1. God created humanity. There was no need for an incredibly magnificent God like ours, to take any interest into creating humans. We did not need to exist for God to find fulfillment, though yes, our purpose is to please God.

2. God placed man in an ideal world with luscious fruit and luscious fruit, and no animals hunting us humans. Wouldn't it be an incredible sight to watch dinosaurs walk with humans, and not be trying to eat them? 

3. But God wasn't a deistic type God, which would have made sense. He has no reason to be interested in us as individuals, but He stayed and communed with man.

4. (Also, God didn't just destroy the world altogether after Adam's sin. We know that one day He will create a new heaven and a new earth, so He obviously had that ability. But He didn't use it after man corrupted the ideal world that He placed them in.)

5. Indeed, even after man messed things up, He remained in a relationship with man, going to great lengths to set up a sacrificial system that allowed the Israelites to enjoy a relationship with him, albeit a broken one.

6. Further, He refused to leave it as only for the Israelites. Contrary to negative popular opinion, God allowed His covenant with Abraham to extend to non-Israelites, like the men of Gibeon, Barzillai the Gileadite, and so on.

7. Then the Lord wasn't content with keeping tne relationship as purely broken. Jesus then laid down His crown to be born from a virgin in a manger.

8. Jesus went through and lived a perfect life, then went and died on the cross to take away the punishment for all our sins, to all who will accept His death as a substitution for their punishment. Raising again the third day, we have a promise that we too will raise again to life eternal.

9. Furthermore, the Lord refused to leave it to just the Israelite, but opened up His route of salvation to the Gentiles. All people now have the opportunity to get to have that intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that brings with it salvation.

10. Even still, God doesn't just give us eternity, and then become a deistic type God when it comes to this world. He still cares for us, and tells us that He will "never leave us, nor forsake us." We have His words that through our struggles, we will have Him strengthening us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Obligatory Post about Immigration

It would be amiss not to discuss the move that President Barack Obama made this past week. So yeah, it shouldn't have happened because it is an overstretch of executive power.

Now onto topics that I actually want to talk about...

Just kidding.. I will actually spend some time analyzing the President's move.

First of all, the move will not solve the problem of the United States' immigration policy. Right now, the immigration policy is incredibly constrictive to those trying to enter the country. Immigration is valuable to all of America, and we should allow it to be more legal.

Yet President Obama's actual plan to simply extend deportation relief falls short of meaningful action to make immigration a simpler process. Indeed, it would be even more atrocious for the President to exercise that kind of power.

But the President is still not acting within his own proper authority. Extending deportation relief has long been a power that has been held by Congress under article 1, section 8 of the United States Constitution. (See DACA and TPS).

By doing this selfsame thing as an executive order, Obama has taken this power out of the hands of the legislative branch. Essentially, he has reformed laws that Congress passed in the name of "enforcement."

This is indeed an overstep, but it might not be quite as unique of an oversight as we might like. This has been a consistent trend over the last few decades, and focusing solely on this President's moves is probably not the answer to our problems.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The History of Humanity

God is awesome. We heard as much last week. We have probably had it also grounded in our very face that the Lord who sits on the throne is one who is just simply awesome in the ways that He interacts with man.

Yet today I again want to share with you a simple, yet very very true history lesson. So here goes nothing.

Once there was nothing in existence, save one being, whom we call God. He decided for some reason that despite His extreme lack of obligation or need for such a thing, to create a world. It was an ideal world, and He put his creatures like man into it.

Now let's just make one thing clear - from a purely logical standpoint, a Deist God just makes sense. After all, a God who is so great that He can literally just speak things into existence is probably too transcendent to even care about His creation. I see no reason why He shouldn't just create the world, and leave us all to our own devices.

But in the ideal world that God placed Adam and Eve, He didn't just leave them alone, but specifically made sure that they had whatever they needed to survive. He even went so far as to allow them an opportunity to have a relationship with Him.

And Adam and Eve took that great blessing that was given to them, and they defiled it, breaking the one commandment that God had given to them to keep.

At this point, God's actions also don't seem to make sense from a logical perspective (logic is so very human after all). He could have easily destroyed the earth right then and right there and start afresh (or not restart at all). But He didn't. He decided to give Adam and Eve a lighter punishment of simply banishment from the ideal world that they were living in.

At this point, a deistic God really starts to make sense. Why should God still be concerned about these people who denied the blessings He gave them in exchange for some fruit? Nonetheless, the Lord goes to great lengths to keep man in a relationship with Him, albeit a broken one.

Eventually selecting the Israelites as His people, He looks after and guides them, confronting their enemies, and giving them a way to worship Him as He deserves. As He continually blesses them, they continually defile those blessings. And yet He still continues to bless them.

Indeed He blesses them through their sin until the point that in the very last book of the Old Testament, He proclaims,
"I am the Lord, I change not. Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts."  

These are all the blessings God has bestowed on man prior to His actually coming to earth, and taking on the punishment for our sins, so that we can truly have a restored fellowship with Him.

Pretty amazing blessings, right? Well, how exactly are you responding to this blessing? Are you defiling it like humanity has done throughout history, or are you doing your best to serve the Lord in all the ways He deserves?

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Not to Read the Bible

In my Spiritual Formations class this Tuesday, the professor just casually mentioned that too often when we are reading the Psalms, we put ourselves directly into the story. We pretend that when the author was speaking of the faithful one, he was obviously referring to us.

Thus we read that our enemies will be vanquished if only we trust in the Lord. It's great; we now relate to the Scriptural passages we are reading, but we are not the faithful one that the psalmist was thinking of when he penned those words.

Here's the thing about the Bible - it already is a relatable book. One can definitely find teachings in it that are relevant to our own lives.

But our process in determining those types of applications should not come until after an understanding of the text itself.

This chronological step is not just a semantic matter. If one tries too much to only look to the Bible for meaning and application in his own life, it becomes all too easy to rest in "Promises of God" that God never actually promised. For instance, it becomes easy to say that Philippians 1:6 is a reason why the Lord will continue to bless a friendship into great things, because he started a "good work in you."

Obviously, the apostle Paul was referring to the idea that the Philippians' eternal salvation was secure, not any extraneous circumstances regarding friends. This relates to our own life in regards to our own eternal salvation, and nothing more at all regarding any other parts of life.

All this does not exclude the idea of applications into our own life that perhaps the original author would not have known possible. Just because computers weren't a thing doesn't mean that the admonition in Colossians 3:17 to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus doesn't apply to my writing of this blog post.

In conclusion, then, let's hear some words from my Spiritual Formations textbook, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible, by Robert Plummer,
"Depending on the setting of the modern-day reader, a variety of implications are possible. The implications must flow within the channel of meaning determined by the conscious intent of the human author; they must be 'submeanings' of the original paradigm... The original author is the determiner of meaning, which in turn limits implications." 

So yes, we should be able to relate to the Bible, but let's be sure that we base that relationship on the Bible itself.