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Murder November 18, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Christianity, Books.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:21-26.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by quoting from Exodus 20:13. He then interprets that commandment, asserting that God wants us to deal with the intent of our hearts towards those whom we dislike and resent. He provides two practical applications of this principle – stressing that if we have wronged another, we need to immediately right that wrong.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus emphasizes the need to immediately address our offenses. This reminds me of a situation from several years ago where I made a mistake while composing an e-mail and offended a friend in the process. Initially, I did not know that I had offended him. After he noted my mistake, I was deeply embarrassed, and I swiftly apologized for my mistake. That experience – coupled with other situations where either I offended another or they offended me, and the offense in question was not immediately addressed – continues to motivate me to heed Jesus’ command in this regard. Indeed, allowing wounds from offenses to fester can hamper one’s relationship with God.

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The Fulfillment of the Law November 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:17-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that He has not come to do away with the Old Testament; instead, He has come to:

  • obey it
  • explain its true interpretation.

Indeed, His followers will always be subject to the authority of the Old Testament. Those who are in the kingdom of heaven accept this truth; they rest on His finished work and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the authority of the Old Testament. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

First, let us beware of despising the Old Testament, for whatever reason. Let us never listen to those who tell us to throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the germ of Christianity. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud; the New Testament is the Gospel in full flower.

I believe that many Christians refrain from studying the Old Testament for a variety of reasons, including:

  • the God of the Old Testament appears to be relatively forbidding compared to the God of the New Testament
  • since many believers are not ethnically Jewish, they have difficulty understanding the context of the Old Testament
  • along these lines, many of the Old Testament laws have been rendered obsolete by the finished work of Jesus.

Indeed, it is difficult to view the Old Testament and the New Testament as essential components of a unified text. Perhaps it would be good to ponder the following questions:

  • How does our belief that God is unchanging enable us to resolve the apparent incompatibilities between the Old and New Testaments?
  • How can we improve our understanding of the context of the Old Testament?
  • How can the Old Testament spur us to make progress in our relationship with God?

On this last point, I am grateful that I completed my recent strolls through Jeremiah and Lamentations; those experiences allowed me to deepen my relationship with God – the One who keeps His promises.

Salt and Light November 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:13-16.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to:

  • arrest the spread of corruption in the world
  • dispel the darkness in the world.

In this way, others will see that God has set them apart from the world.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder the difficulties that believers encounter when engaging with unbelievers. While we may desire to be “salt” and “light,” our words and deeds may not have the desired effect on unbelievers. For example, if your non-Christian friend has had a rough day at the office, it is unlikely that they will respond enthusiastically to your attempts to share the Gospel with them over dinner that evening. This example reinforces the importance of being sensitive to the feelings of others; in this way, we can determine when it is appropriate to discuss our worldview with them. When the timing is right, one can use current events as an entry point to a discussion along those lines. For example, your non-Christian friend may assert the futility of offering up thoughts and prayers in the wake of a mass shooting. This comment may allow you to discuss the meaning of prayer and why believers still view it as a critical part of their daily lives.

The Beatitudes November 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus stands on the side of a mountain and begins to teach His disciples. He states that those who exhibit the following traits are actually “lucky bums”:

  • they are conscious of the fact that they lack the ability to enter the kingdom of heaven
  • they passionately lament their sins
  • they entrust themselves to God – who judges justly
  • they long to be in a right relationship with God
  • they show compassion for those in need
  • they are sincere and honest in their motives
  • they actively pursue peace
  • they are persecuted as a natural consequence of longing to be in a right relationship with God.

This stems from the fact that God will reward them abundantly.

Thoughts: This is one of the most famous Bible passages, and so I eagerly anticipated my stroll through it. I should note that at my church, our pastors recently preached through the Beatitudes. My high-level viewpoint on this passage is that it displays the contrast between short-term thinking and long-term thinking. Here, Jesus asserts that those who follow Him will naturally incur short-term losses; for example, they will be persecuted for their faith. Yet He also asserts that long-term gains will naturally follow these short-term losses. Long-term thinking is unnatural for believers, as our sinful nature drives our short-term mindset; thus, we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit – on a daily basis – in order to maintain our long-term focus on God.

In verses 10-12, Jesus asserts that those who are persecuted – for longing to be in a right relationship with Him – are actually “lucky bums.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

He means those who are laughed at, mocked, despised and badly treated because they endeavor to live as true Christians. Blessed are all such! They drink of the same cup which their Master drank. They are now confessing him before men, and he will confess them before His Father and the angels on the last day.

My impression is that in this age of relativism, nonbelievers – especially the conflict-averse – readily ignore Christianity. They often make no comment on a believer’s outward acts of faith, e.g. praying before a meal or describing a church activity when asked about their weekend. Now if a nonbeliever feels uncomfortable in those situations, they may respond with some combination of anger, sarcasm, etc. As believers, we should ponder the following questions:

  • How can we tell when we have mistreated an unbeliever?
  • How can we tactfully display our faith so that if nonbelievers oppose us, our consciences are clear before God?

These are difficult questions, and we need guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to navigate the choppy waters of this age of relativism.

Jesus Heals the Sick November 4, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:23-25.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus travels throughout Galilee, where he:

  • teaches in the Jewish synagogues
  • proclaims the Gospel message
  • heals those who are brought to Him for healing.

In the process, He accumulates many followers.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus healed everyone who was brought to Him for healing. This caused me to consider a tangential point: sometimes God places me in situations where I sense that He wants me to interact with someone whom my peer group would view as an outcast. As I am an introvert, these situations are discomforting, and I respond by attempting to extricate myself from that set of circumstances. Yet I also sense that God wants me to grow as a believer by stepping out of my comfort zone. Also, obedience in these situations – especially in the midst of discomfort – would enable me to see God at work in new ways. My prayer is that I would be able to respond with obedience in these situations and lift the spirits of those who are also made in the image of God.

The Calling of the First Disciples November 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus calls the following pairs of brothers as His first disciples:

  • Peter and Andrew
  • the sons of Zebedee – James and John.

These fishermen willingly abandon their livelihoods and follow Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter, Andrew, James and John all obey Jesus when He calls them to follow Him. This spurred me to consider how God calls modern-day believers to follow Him. Note that Scripture does provide general guidance along these lines, including:

  • Ephesians 4:1, which states that God has (generally) called all believers
  • Matthew 22:37-40, which states that believers should love God and love others
  • Matthew 28:19-20, which states that believers should spread the Gospel message.

Yet believers throughout the ages have had difficulty discerning their specific calling from God. While we sense that we have certain gifts and inclinations, if we are unaware of our specific calling, we may not know how to put them to good use. Now I should note that some of my friends have received a specific calling from God and responded by changing their careers and/or moving overseas. In general, they did not hear an audible voice from God; instead, they sensed that God was drawing them in a particular direction. For example, they saw Him at work when they:

  • were laid off from a cherished position
  • engaged in a deep conversation with a missionary on home assignment.

Over a period of several months – or even years – they prayed and sought the counsel of others before gradually arriving at the point where they could take a dramatic step in the direction of fulfilling a specific calling. Their experiences remind me that I should continue to pray that God would grant me wisdom and discernment. I pray that if/when He calls me in a new direction, I would be able to sense His calling and respond appropriately.

Jesus Begins to Preach October 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:12-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus responds to the news that Herod has imprisoned John the Baptist by relocating to Capernaum – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2. At that time, he begins his preaching ministry, exhorting others to repent of their sins in light of the impending arrival of the kingdom of God.

Thoughts: This passage marks the commencement of Jesus’ preaching ministry. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

There is no job so honorable as that of the preacher. There is no work so important to human souls. It is a job which the Son of God was not ashamed to do. It is a job to which he appointed his twelve apostles. It is a job to which St. Paul in his old age specially directs Timothy’s attention – he charges him with almost his last breath to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).

After mulling over this point, my current thought is that the ministry of preaching can be emotionally draining. After delivering a particular sermon, a pastor may be unsure as to whether they are maximizing their impact on their congregation. This feeling of doubt may be exacerbated by the reality that not all of their congregants will respond positively to a given sermon. This should spur us, as lay Christians, to continue to pray for our pastors. We should not pray that they would avoid discouragement, as that is impossible in this life; instead, we should pray that they would not be conquered by their discouragement. Moreover, we should pray that they would continue to fulfill their calling, as God is their ultimate judge.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art October 29, 2017

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I recently visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The museum presents the history of various societies through the lens of their art.

Here are twelve nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Many natives of Kwangtung migrated to present-day Thailand. They founded several kingdoms, including the:

They also practiced a conservative strain of Buddhism that was influenced by religious practices in Sri Lanka, as Muslim conquests of India marred its reputation as a stronghold of Buddhist orthodoxy.

2. Present-day Burma has been shaped by several kingdoms, including the:

The first king of Burma, Anawrahta, was a devout adherent of Theravada Buddhism. He also subdued the Mon people, enabling the Pagan to control Burma until it was toppled by repeated Mongol invasions.

3. The Srivijaya kingdom was a maritime and commercial power that originated in Palembang. It controlled the strategically vital Strait of Malacca. The early years of its influence overlapped with that of the Shailendra dynasty that controlled Java. The notable Buddhist monument of Borobudur was constructed during the reign of a Shailendra king.

4. The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II rebuilt the city of Calah. His citadel was surrounded by a wall that was five miles long; it covered an area of 900 acres. It was guarded by two large statues; each statue included the features of a human, a bird and a bull. The extant reliefs from the citadel include a depiction of a sacred tree and Akkadian inscriptions; Akkadian was written in cuneiform script (“cuneiform” is derived from a Latin root that means “wedge-shaped”).

5. The Licchavi dynasty in Nepal actually originated in India. It was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty; later, the Malla dynasty would rule over the Kathmandu Valley. Eventually the Kathmandu Valley was dominated by three city-states: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The Shah dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of Nepal, ruling until 2008.

6. The Chenla kingdom controlled much of present-day Cambodia. Later, Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire at Phnom Kulen. One of his successors, Yasovarman I, moved the Khmer capital to a location near Angkor. There, another Khmer ruler, Suryavarman II, constructed Angkor Wat. The Khmer Empire reached its greatest territorial extent under Jayavarman VII, who is often depicted with a protective naga, or snake spirit.

7. The Diadochi warred over Cyprus after the death of Alexander the Great. Eventually, Ptolemy I gained control over that island; he established his capital at Nea Paphos. The Cypriots would later devote themselves to the worship of various deities, including:

After Cyprus became a Roman province, Cicero briefly served as its governor.

8. The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and The Denial of Saint Peter were the last two paintings of Caravaggio. The former work depicts the Hun siege of Cologne; the titular saint allegedly led eleven thousand virgins in an attempt to lift the siege, yet she was slain by an arrow fired by Attila the Hun. The latter work depicts a woman pointing two accusing fingers at the titular saint; a soldier is also shown pointing a third accusing finger at him.

9. The development of Norwegian art was facilitated by Norway’s declaration of independence from Denmark in 1814. Notable artists in this movement included Johan Christian Dahl and Peder Balke. Dahl’s status as the founder of this movement, though, overshadowed the contributions of Balke for many years. Balke successfully avoided military conscription by leaving his boyhood home for Stockholm. He would later travel to Dresden and study with Dahl. Some of his best paintings were influenced by his visit to the North Cape in Finnmark.

10. Kraters were large vases that often depicted prothesis – the laying out of the body of a deceased person while surrounded by mourners and soldiers in boats and chariots. Kraters exemplify the Geometric style and were often made from terra cotta.

11. The mao, the pi and the jian featured prominently on the battlefields of ancient China. In particular, the jian was optimized for close-range striking and stabbing. The rise of iron production during the Han Dynasty impacted the design and development of these Bronze Age weapons.

12. Inlaid celadon was developed during the Koryo dynasty, where slip was poured into carved clay and fired. During the Choson dynasty, buncheong ware was eventually replaced by porcelain, as it reflected the Confucian virtue of simplicity. The demands of the nobility for porcelain were met by the bunwon kilns near Hanyang.

The museum is expansive, and one can spend an entire day browsing through its numerous exhibits. I especially enjoyed the special exhibit that included a section on warfare during the Qin and Han dynasties; I was impressed by its detailed animal figurines and plethora of ancient weapons.

My only quibble with the museum is that the staff gradually closed the exhibits as the afternoon progressed. It would have been better to allow unrestricted access to the entire museum during its operating hours.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to those who happen to be in the Big Apple.

The Temptation of Jesus October 27, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Satan then attempts to tempt Him by:

  • encouraging Him to turn stones into bread – since He is the omnipotent Son of God
  • encouraging Him to leap from the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem – since Psalm 91:11-12 states that He can rely on God to protect Him
  • offering Him the entirety of worldly wealth – if He will worship him.

Yet Jesus rejects these temptations by citing the following passages from Scripture:

  • Deuteronomy 8:3 – where God asserts that man obtains true life from His words
  • Deuteronomy 6:16 – where God warns the Jews in the desert against testing Him
  • Deuteronomy 6:13 – where God warns the Jews in the desert against idolatry.

At this point, Satan withdraws to plan further assaults on Jesus, while angels arrive to refresh Him.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it forces us to assess the truth of the following statements:

  • since Christ is fully human, it is possible for Him to sin
  • since Christ is fully divine, it is not possible for Him to sin.

After contemplating this passage, I think that as believers, we readily accept at least certain aspects of the humanity of Christ. For example, we have little difficulty assuming that His earthly sojourn was marked by:

  • hunger
  • thirst
  • physical pain
  • mental anguish.

Yet this passage – and His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane – raises the following question: was it possible for Christ to commit a sin during His earthly sojourn? If not, then does this passage depict a legitimate struggle between Christ and Satan? Perhaps this passage inspired numerous heresies that attempted to explain it. If so, then we need wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit to determine what God is saying to us in this passage and how we should respond to Him in light of it.

Here, we see that Christ responds to the temptations of Satan by quoting from the Old Testament. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It will do us no good if it only lies still in our houses. We must be actually familiar with its contents, and have its texts stored in our memories and minds.
Knowledge of the Bible never comes by intuition; it can only be got by hard, regular, daily, attentive, wakeful reading. Do we grudge the time and trouble this will cost us? If we do we are not yet fit for the kingdom of God.

This passage spurred me to consider my responses to temptations. In those instances, I find that I recite statements that align with specific Biblical passages – i.e. while I do not quote from Scripture, my thought reflects the spirit of specific passages. Now I do wonder if I should quote from Scripture in those instances. Perhaps such quotations would constitute a stronger response to Satan when he tempts me, as that would demonstrate the firmness of my devotion to God and His words.

The Baptism of Jesus October 22, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 3:13-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus goes to the Jordan River in order to be baptized by John the Baptist. Although John is baffled by His request – knowing his standing in relation to Jesus – He persuades him to conduct that sacrament. Upon His baptism:

  • God the Spirit rests on Him
  • God the Father declares His approval of Jesus – His Son.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

This was his first step when he entered on his ministry. When the Jewish priests took up their office they were washed with water (Exodus 29:4), and when our great High Priest begins the great work he came into the world to accomplish he is publicly baptized.

Now believers agree that Jesus was not baptized to display repentance, since He never sinned. Thus, Ryle offers a neat perspective on His baptism, as it dovetails with Matthew’s emphasis on the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. I had always assumed that Jesus wanted to model that sacrament for us, since He calls us to observe it – though we display repentance in observing it. Perhaps His actions that day were designed to make multiple points; thus, I hope to query Him on this issue in the next life.