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Psalm 5 January 14, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 5.

Summary: In this passage, David lifts up a prayer to God – while drawing a sharp contrast between two parties.

The first party consists of those – including David – who are in a right relationship with God. God invites them into His presence; moreover, His favor is upon them. David prays that He would always show His favor to them.

The second party consists of those who are not in a right relationship with God. God banishes them from His presence, as He abhors their sinful deeds. David prays that they would be punished for their actions.

Thoughts: In verse 3, David states that he prays in the morning. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

This is the fittest time for conversation with God. An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening. Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.

I should note that in the morning, I read a passage from Scripture (usually with the aid of a commentary); I also pray, albeit briefly. Now I do pray for an extended period in the evening before I go to sleep, as I believe that it allows me to review the events of each day with God. On a related note, one of my friends from a previous church shared that he actually prays for an hour in the morning after he wakes up. Currently, I lack the discipline to wake up early and pray for an extended period in the morning, so I believe that I will adhere to my current approach for the time being.

In verse 9, David makes the following assertion concerning the wicked: “their throat is an open grave.” Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

A sepulchre is full of loathsomeness, pestilence and death, and an open sepulchre has all its evil gases issuing to spread death and destruction all around. So with the throat of the wicked, it would be a great mercy if it could always be closed. All the wickedness of their heart exhales.

As believers, we must wrestle with this question: how can we maintain meaningful relationships with nonbelievers – while still honoring God with our thoughts, words and deeds? If our non-believing friend expresses an opinion on a topic that is incompatible with our Christian worldview, should we debate them on that point? Is it ever appropriate to sacrifice a relationship with a nonbeliever to maintain our holiness? How can we recognize unholy influences and minimize their negative impact on our walk with God? These are challenging questions, but we must not shy away from them.

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Psalm 4 January 7, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 4.

Summary: In this passage, David beseeches God to hear his prayer. He then addresses those who oppose him, reminding them that God is with him and exhorting them to submit to Him. He concludes by:

  • asking God for His favor to be upon him
  • reaffirming his trust in Him.

Thoughts: Readers of the psalms written by David will note the strength of his conviction that God is on his side. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

…God alone was his keeper; though alone, without human help, he was in good keeping, for he was “alone with God.”

My belief is that it was relatively easy for David to assert that God was on his side. In particular, as the leader of a theocracy, he was keenly aware of the following truths:

  • when Israel trusted in God, He enabled them to defeat their enemies
  • when Israel did not trust in God, He allowed their enemies to defeat them.

My sense is that modern-day believers struggle to a greater extent to determine if God is “on our side.” For example, if we sense that we are bearing fruit for Him, then we gain confidence in the belief that He is “on our side.” Yet what if we do not sense that we are bearing fruit for Him? Does that necessarily imply that He is not “on our side” – or could He have simply chosen to bear fruit through us at a later point? Perhaps modern-day believers must exercise even greater faith than that which David displayed, in light of the complexities of our circumstances.

Psalm 3 December 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 3.

Summary: In this passage, David acknowledges the severity of the revolt led by his son, Absalom. Yet he is confident that God will enable him to emerge victorious (even though he faces a host of enemies); thus, he calls on God to act in this regard.

Thoughts: This psalm includes the initial appearance of the word “Selah” in the Psalms. Spurgeon offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

The precise meaning is not known. Some think it simply a rest, a pause in the music; others say it means “Lift up the strain – sing more loudly,” “Pitch the tune in a higher key – there is nobler matter to come, therefore retune your harps.” Harp-strings soon get out of order and need to be screwed up again to their proper tightness, and certainly our heartstrings are evermore getting out of tune.

I anticipate meeting David in the next life and learning the precise meaning of this word (on a related note, I assume it inspired the name of this group). Now I must admit that when I previously read through the Psalms, I never paused to contemplate what I had just read when I encountered a “Selah.” Moreover, I never paused to contemplate the holiness of the verses after a “Selah.” In light of Spurgeon’s thoughts on “Selah,” I will attempt to treat each “Selah” with more care when I encounter it. In this way, I hope to gain a deeper appreciation for the verses that encompass each “Selah” – and draw closer to God in the process.

Psalm 2 December 15, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 2.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist draws a sharp contrast between two parties.

The first party is Jesus Christ – the Son of God. His Father has granted Him authority over all things, including the nations. Thus, those who choose to submit to Him will be blessed.

The second party consists of those who refuse to submit to Him. The psalmist exhorts them to submit to Him – lest He judge them.

Thoughts: This psalm includes several prophecies concerning the Messiah. I hope to meet the psalmist (possibly David) in the next life and probe them on this point. Did they intentionally reference the Messiah when writing this psalm? If so, what were their thoughts and feelings regarding the Messiah? Did they eagerly anticipate His First Coming? Were they filled with a sense of awe and humility while pondering the deeds that He would perform? Did they believe that His First Coming would occur in their lifetime? What was their conception of the spiritual facet of the Messiah’s kingdom? Did they receive any feedback from their compatriots regarding these prophetic references?

Here, the psalmist exhorts all who reject the authority of the Messiah to submit to Him. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

Delay no longer, but let good reason weigh with you. Your warfare cannot succeed; therefore desist and yield cheerfully to him who will make you bow if you refuse his yoke. How infinitely wise is obedience to Jesus, and how dreadful is the folly of those who continue to be his enemies!

I am curious as to whether other nations were aware of this psalm. If so, how was it conveyed to them? How did they respond to it? Did this psalm compel them to declare their loyalty to the king of Israel – or did they regard it as bluster? Did they have analogous “psalms” in praise of their deities that included exhortations for Israel to submit to them? If they suffered a defeat at the hand of Israel, did the survivors reflect on this psalm and bemoan their decision to ignore it?

Psalm 1 December 14, 2018

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I’ve recently started reading through the Psalms with the aid of a commentary by Charles Spurgeon. I should note that I’ve previously read through the Psalms. I hope to acquire a deeper appreciation for the range of emotions that are expressed in this book – along with a deeper understanding of God Himself and His relationship with His creation.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the book and Spurgeon’s commentary. Each post will generally correspond to a specific Psalm (exceptions will be made for longer Psalms).

For starters, here are my thoughts on Psalm 1.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist draws a sharp contrast between two parties.

The first party consists of those whom God regards as being in a right relationship with Him. These “lucky bums” consistently strive to obey His commandments, bringing glory to His name – as He succors them.

The second party consists of those whom God does not regard as being in a right relationship with Him. Since they are useless in His eyes, He will subject them to eternal punishment.

Thoughts: In verse 2, the psalmist commends those who consistently strive to obey God’s commandments. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

And yet, in David’s day, how small was the volume of inspiration, for they had scarcely anything save the first five books of Moses! How much more, then, should we prize the whole written Word which it is our privilege to have in all our houses! But, alas, what ill-treatment is given to this angel from heaven! We are not all Berean searchers of the Scriptures.

This passage should challenge us, as believers, to ponder the following questions. Do we actually block off time to study Scripture on a daily basis? If so, do we ponder what we have read throughout the day? Is our daily study of Scripture challenging certain facets of our relationship with God (and others)? How can we (painfully) put Scripture into practice? How can we maintain our focus on God and His commandments in the face of myriad distractions? This psalm sets a high bar for the modern-day believer, and we would do well to wrestle with the challenge of clearing it.

The Great Commission November 26, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 28:16-20.

Summary: In this passage, the eleven disciples go to a certain mountain in Galilee that Jesus has appointed. When He appears, they prostrate themselves in adoring worship. He then approaches them and asserts that He has freedom without limitation. Therefore, they – having gone around the world – must make disciples by:

  • immersing them in water – to demonstrate their union with Him
  • teaching them all of His commands – which they must obey.

To this end, He will empower them – by His presence – until His Second Coming.

Thoughts: This passage contains the Great Commission. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Let us never forget that this solemn injunction is still in full force. It is still the duty of every disciple of Christ to do all he can in person, and by prayer, to make others acquainted with Jesus. Where is our faith if we neglect this duty? Where is our love? It may well be questioned whether people know the value of the Gospel themselves if they do not desire to make it known to all the world.

I have found that obeying the Great Commission requires striking a delicate balance. On the one hand, we want unbelievers to know that God has graciously extended an offer of salvation to them; He has initiated this transaction, and they simply need to respond to Him. On the other hand, we should have empathy for unbelievers; if they are not prepared to respond to Him, then we must not compel them to accept His offer of salvation. I should note that I am naturally reserved, and so I often fall into the trap of placing undue weight on this latter point; thus, I often shy away from sharing the Gospel message. I need to pray for more wisdom (to be able to discern when an unbeliever may be prepared to respond to Him) and strength (to actually share the Gospel message when the timing is right).

Now that I have completed my stroll through Matthew, I have been reflecting on this journey. At this point, I believe that in this Gospel, Jesus sets an extremely high bar in terms of righteousness; moreover, He calls us to strive to clear it. In particular, His commands to:

  • love my enemies (or even those whom I dislike)
  • refrain from judging others (as I am rather judgmental)
  • make the advancement of His kingdom my highest priority (especially as I struggle with unfulfilled desires)

continue to challenge me. Upon further reflection, I believe that I was naive in assuming that I would be able to flawlessly obey all of these commands after completing this stroll through Matthew. Perhaps the mere fact that I am cognizant of my weaknesses (and continue to strive to overcome them) shows that God is at work within me, though. Indeed, I believe that God will continue to bear fruit through me as I wrestle with the interplay between His commands and my sinfulness.

Monterey Bay Aquarium November 19, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in History, Science.
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I recently visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey.

Here are four nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the aquarium.

1. The fishing industry in Monterey benefited from innovations such as the purse seiner and the arrival of Sicilian immigrant fishermen. Record numbers of sardines, which prefer warm water, were caught and processed, feeding American troops during World War I and II. Yet the fishing industry in Monterey eventually collapsed due to factors such as rampant over-fishing and a decline in ocean temperatures. It experienced a partial revival when anchovies, which prefer cold water, migrated to the Monterey Bay.

2. Otters consume about a quarter of their body weight on a daily basis. They spend about half the day resting on their backs with their paws in the air (as their paws are relatively poorly insulated). They are assiduous in grooming their fur, which serves as an insulator (note that they lack blubber). While they do not consume fish, they do consume clams, mussels, octopi, sea urchins, and squid – often diving into kelp forests in search of them.

3. Great white sharks can reach up to 20 feet long and can weigh over 4000 pounds. Different great whites can be identified by their dorsal fins. Many great whites congregate near the Farallon Islands for several months before migrating to Hawaii. They have also been observed in the Sea of Cortez.

4. Marine lifeforms have evolved in myriad ways to improve their odds of survival, including:

  • sand dollars, which anchor themselves to the seafloor – with half of their bodies remaining above the sand – to resist being swept away by ocean currents; young sand dollars will also swallow heavy grains of sand to increase their weight
  • scorpionfish, which can blend in with rocks on the seafloor due to their distinct coloration
  • octopi, which can alter the coloration – and even the texture – of their skin by forming muscular “bumps” and “ridges.”

I especially enjoyed two humorous (and engaging) 15-minute presentations by the museum staff regarding great white sharks and Luna the sea otter.

I should note that admission to the aquarium is expensive. Also, one should arrive early for popular shows (e.g. feeding otters) to have an unobstructed view of the proceedings.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the aquarium, and I would recommend it to those who happen to visit Monterey.

The Guards’ Report November 18, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 28:11-15.

Summary: In this passage, some of the guards report back to the chief priests after regaining consciousness. The Sanhedrin is then convened officially and passes a formal resolution, which entails:

  • giving silver money to the guards
  • instructing them to lie about the resurrection by asserting that while they were asleep, Jesus’ disciples stole His body
  • promising that if this news reaches Pilate, then the Sanhedrin will 1) satisfy him and 2) make the guards without anxiety.

The guards follow their instructions, and the Jews are convinced by their story for at least thirty years.

Thoughts: Here, the Jewish elites instruct the Roman guards to lie about the resurrection. Their actions raise several questions, including:

  • did the Jewish elites believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead?
  • were the Jewish elites (privately) convinced that Jesus was the Son of God?
  • did the Roman guards entertain any doubts about their instructions?
  • how did Matthew learn about this act of collusion between the Sanhedrin and the guards?
  • did a member of the Sanhedrin – or a guard – accidentally reveal the details of this plot to Matthew (or a trusted source)?
  • did any of the guards repent of their lie concerning the resurrection?
  • did Pilate remain ignorant of the news concerning the resurrection?

While I long to travel back in time and interview the Roman guards, the impossibility of that act compels me to trust in the veracity of this passage.

The Resurrection November 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 28:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, a group of women – including Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James the Less – come to Jesus’ tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint His corpse.

At that point, an angel hits the ground, causing an earthquake. The angel then rolls back the stone from Jesus’ tomb and sits on it. The Roman guards are knocked unconscious out of terror, and the women are afraid.

Yet the angel asserts that the women do not need to be afraid, since the whole Trinity has been involved in Jesus’ resurrection. He then tells them to:

  • go into Jesus’ tomb
  • convey the news of Jesus’ resurrection to His disciples.

They then run towards Jerusalem, fearful – yet joyful. Along the way, they meet Jesus – who gives them the ordinary salutation of the marketplace. They fall at His feet and worship Him, and He repeats the angel’s instructions to them.

Thoughts: The resurrection of Jesus is (arguably) the most important event in human history, and many questions have been raised concerning it. My queries regarding this passage include:

  • did the guards actually see Jesus depart from His tomb, and if so, how did they respond?
  • did anyone besides the guards and the group of women sense the angel-induced earthquake?
  • what were the thoughts and feelings of the women when Jesus greeted them?
  • what were Jesus’ thoughts and feelings as He greeted the women?
  • what happened to the angel after he spoke to the women?
  • when did the guards regain consciousness?
  • if the guards did not see Jesus depart from His tomb, did they search for His body after they regained consciousness?

The Guard at the Tomb November 9, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:62-66.

Summary: In this passage, the representatives of the Sanhedrin enter the praetorium on the Passover to see Pilate. They state that while Jesus was alive, He asserted that He would rise from the dead after three days. They then order him to prevent His disciples from stealing His body – enabling them to “demonstrate” the veracity of His assertion.

Pilate responds by giving them a Roman guard. They then:

  • place some wax on the stone before His tomb
  • place some wax on the wall of His tomb
  • run some string to seal the wax
  • place the Roman guard before His tomb.

Thoughts: Here, the Jewish religious elite order Pilate to prevent Jesus’ disciples from stealing His body. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

They little thought what they were doing; they little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection. They were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition. Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen. They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming out of the tomb.

The Jewish religious elite were convinced that Jesus would not rise from the dead. They did believe that His disciples could steal His body from His tomb, and so they took what they believed to be appropriate precautions. Broadly speaking, it is amazing that God can work through the plans of those who oppose Him; while they utilize their limited knowledge and understanding to advance their plans, He utilizes His omniscience and omnipotence to advance His plans. As modern-day believers, we must maintain our confidence in this point as we are confronted by the apparent triumph of evil throughout the world on a daily basis.