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Herod’s Death July 31, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 12:19b-25.

Summary: In this passage, King Herod traveled to Caesarea, where he resolved an ongoing dispute with the people of Tyre and Sidon. When he addressed them, they shouted that he was divine. Since he accepted this praise, God struck him down; in contrast, the kingdom of God continued to thrive – with the assistance of Barnabas and Saul.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Herod suffered an untimely demise. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 23:

What is certain is that even while he was alive he was wasting away with rottenness and an offensive smell, so that he was not only suffering pain but was a laughing-stock to everybody. God chose a punishment of great ignominy for repressing this proud man’s cruelty…But by the worms and putrefaction that devoured him and broke out of his body, he was treated as he deserved.

I am curious as to how the people of Tyre and Sidon – along with Blastus – responded to God’s judgment of Herod. If they were unbelievers before God struck him down, did this dramatic event spur them to investigate the truth of the Gospel message? Did they even ascribe his death to the God of Israel? Had they even heard of the God of Israel before this dramatic event? Why did they praise Herod as being divine when he addressed them?

Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison July 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 12:1-19a.

Summary: In this passage, King Herod began to persecute the church in Jerusalem; in particular, he executed James – the brother of John. He also imprisoned Peter, planning to execute him after the Passover feast; this spurred the church to pray earnestly for Peter. On the night before his execution, God sent an angel to free him from prison. He then went to the house of Mary – the mother of John Mark – and recounted this miracle to the astonished believers who had gathered there to pray for him. In the morning, King Herod executed the prison guards for their ostensible negligence regarding Peter.

Thoughts: In verse 5, we see that believers prayed fervently for Peter. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary:

When we see our brothers persecuted by the wicked for preaching the Gospel, we must not be lazy and unmoved by their danger, or we shall be cheating them of the love we owe them and treacherously abandoning the confession of our faith. If we have common cause with them and especially if they are fighting for our safety, we forsake not only them but also Christ and ourselves.

While this passage demonstrates that God will overcome all of the obstacles that sinful men place in His path, it also demonstrates that earnest prayer plays some role in this regard. It is clear that when believers are persecuted, God calls their brethren to pray earnestly for them – as that action will bring more glory to Him when He defeats the persecutors. As a believer in a First World country, this passage is a helpful reminder for me to pray for my brethren in nations where religious freedom is not protected by laws.

I certainly hope to meet the servant girl Rhoda in the next life and learn more about her. If she was a believer before the events described in this passage, then how did she hear the Gospel message? Was she confident that God would perform a miracle and free Peter from his impending execution? Did she join the believers at Mary’s house in praying fervently for Peter? How did she respond to Peter’s account of the miracle that God performed? Did she help spread the Gospel message in Jerusalem and bring others to faith after the events described in this passage?

The Church in Antioch July 26, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 11:19-30.

Summary: In this passage, some believers from Cyprus and Cyrene preached the Gospel message to Gentiles in Antioch. Many of them accepted it; thus, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to support this fledgling church. He worked with Saul to teach and encourage these Christians – who would later provide financial support to their poor brethren in Judea, as the Lord had warned them of an impending famine in that area.

Thoughts: This passage highlights the virtues of Barnabas. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 25:

For a second time Barnabas’ simplicity is commended: he could have taken the leading part in Antioch, but he went to Cilicia to fetch Paul, who he knew would be given the more prominent place. He forgot himself, thinking only of Christ as the most important; he aimed only at building up the church. He was content that the Gospel should prosper, and so he was not at all afraid of Paul diminishing him, so long as Christ was glorified.

I must admit that I struggle with feelings of envy and rivalry towards other Christians – especially when it is evident that we have the same gifts. My sinful nature craves acclaim and acknowledgement of my supremacy in terms of those gifts. The actions of Barnabas, though, serve as a stinging rebuke to my sinful nature; he “forgot himself” and focused on the best interests of Christ and the church in Antioch. Thus, I must:

  • celebrate the gifts that others possess
  • give thanks to God for His sovereignty in that regard
  • focus on how others can benefit from the exercise of these gifts
  • focus on how God can be praised when gifts are exercised.

In verses 29 and 30, we see that the new believers in Antioch blessed their poor brethren in Judea with their financial resources. This is an awesome illustration of believers successfully meshing Christian theory and practice:

  • they heard the Gospel message from the brothers from Cyprus and Cyrene, and they were taught and encouraged by Barnabas and Saul
  • being full of the Word of God, they exercised their spiritual muscles by meeting the needs of others.

As modern-day believers, we should continually ask: if we are receiving sound instruction in the Word of God, then how can we use those lessons to bless others?

Computer History Museum July 25, 2016

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I recently visited the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. This museum showcases the history of computing.

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

1. The simple abacus had various native idiosyncrasies. For example, the Chinese suan pan had two beads in its upper section and five beads in its lower section. In contrast, a Korean abacus had one bead in its upper section. Furthermore, a Japanese soroban had one bead in its upper section and four beads in its lower section.

2. Punched cards were proposed by Herman Hollerith as a solution to a challenge posed by the U.S. Census Bureau before the 1890 census. They had been previously utilized by Joseph-Marie Jacquard as an essential element of the Jacquard loom for weaving. Later, they were employed by Maurice Wilkes in a landmark survey of the native flora and fauna of Great Britain.

3. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, relied on approximately 18000 vacuum tubes to perform its computations. Since these vacuum tubes had high failure rates, users of the ENIAC employed a plethora of tricks; for example, they ran the tubes well below their performance limits. When a tube did fail, a skilled technician would locate it within 15 minutes.

4. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert capitalized on the success of the ENIAC in their development of the Universal Automatic Computer, or UNIVAC. They founded a company to manufacture the UNIVAC; this company was later acquired by Remington Rand. General Electric (GE) was one of the first entities to purchase a UNIVAC for its accounting division; after some initial setbacks, GE was able to integrate its UNIVAC with its business processes. The UNIVAC was later rendered obsolete by IBM.

5. Quipu was utilized by officials in the Incan Empire as a form of documentation; this system was based on colored cords and the precise placement of knots in these cords. Tally sticks were also used for record-keeping through 1) the precise placement of notches of varying depths in these sticks or 2) splitting a stick in half and giving the larger portion to the stock-holder in a stock transaction.

6. Seymour Cray was arguably the impetus for the rise of supercomputers. As a staunch opponent of bureaucracy, he enjoyed working in small engineering teams and would often work late at night to minimize distractions. He was particular about minimizing delay; thus, many of his products had to be meticulously hand-wired to satisfy that requirement. He also relied on fluids such as Fluorinert and Freon as coolants for his products. His final product, the Cray-3, flopped – due to its reliance on unproven gallium arsenide technology.

7. The Chalk River Laboratories worked with the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to develop a computing device that could control one of its reactors. In the process, DEC engineers Gordon Bell and Edson de Castro designed a landmark device – the PDP-8, which was the first commercially viable minicomputer. The PDP-8 relied on flip chip technology, where a machine automatically wired connectors on the back of a panel containing various components.

8. Vacuum tubes acted as digital logic components in early computing devices; when a filament (cathode) was heated, current would pass through a grid and strike a plate (anode). They were superseded by transistors. John Bardeen and Walter Brattain developed the first transistor – two gold contacts on a sliver of germanium. Texas Instruments then played a pivotal role in an industry-wide shift from germanium-based transistors to silicon-based transistors by touting the robustness to temperature of silicon.

9. The University of Utah played a pivotal role in the rise of computer graphics. For example, Martin Newell used a simple teapot to show how a wireframe mesh could divide a three-dimensional object into sections of (roughly) constant smoothness. Also, Ivan Sutherland allowed his students to create a wireframe mesh model of his car and apply polygonal shading to it. In addition, Utah alumni have founded several leading graphics companies, including Silicon Graphics and Pixar.

10. The Simon Personal Communicator was developed by IBM and BellSouth as the first smartphone. Users could place calls, organize their contacts, and send e-mails with that device; it flopped, though. Other early smartphones included the Nokia Communicator, which allowed users to browse the Web.

The museum featured an impressive array of exhibits and artifacts, including a wooden optical mouse that had been donated by Donald Knuth, a copy of a pamphlet of IBM “company songs” that extolled the virtues of Thomas Watson, and a Google server from 1999. I also enjoyed perusing the explanations of devices such as Napier’s bones and slide rules.

I should note that the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics section was a bit sparse; hopefully it will be upgraded soon.

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

San Jose Museum of Art July 22, 2016

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I recently visited the San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose. This museum showcases several local artists and special exhibitions.

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

1. The tonalpohualli was a 260-day sacred Aztec calendar. This calendar was divided into 20 weeks, each consisting of 13 days. Each day was associated with a particular deity; the Aztecs believed that one’s birthday shaped their destiny.

2. At one point, the U.S. Border Patrol placed sensors near the U.S.-Mexico border that could detect the footsteps of migrants. Migrants adopted ingenious strategies to defeat these sensors. For example, they would bring bicycles to the border, toss them over the border fence, clamber over the fence, and then ride them for a sufficient distance before abandoning them in the desert.

3. The U.S. Border Patrol has also attempted to detect the presence of migrants by linking several large tires with chains and dragging them to level a patch of ground. If any migrants then passed through that area, their tracks would be easily spotted. Migrants have adopted various countermeasures, including tying carpets under their shoes and then walking on them for a sufficient distance before abandoning them in the desert.

I was especially impressed by the Border Cantos exhibit that featured 1) a plethora of gripping photographs of the U.S.-Mexico border fence and flotsam discarded by migrants and 2) a collection of musical instruments that had been constructed from this flotsam. These musical instruments were made from sundry items including pages from a Spanish-language New Testament, empty shotgun shells that had been fired by U.S. Border Patrol agents, and childrens’ sneakers.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to any visitors in the area – especially if it is hosting an intriguing special exhibition.

Peter Explains His Actions July 22, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 11:1-18.

Summary: In this passage, Peter went to Jerusalem – where he was criticized by several Jewish believers for associating with Gentiles in Caesarea. He responded by:

  • furnishing a precise account of his experiences in Joppa and Caesarea – including the fact that the angel who appeared to Cornelius stated that Peter would preach a message of salvation to his family
  • citing the authority of God in giving the Holy Spirit to Cornelius and his family – just as He had given the Holy Spirit to the Jewish believers.

The Jewish believers responded by withdrawing their accusations and praising God for His work among the Gentiles.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the angel who initially appeared to Cornelius stated that Peter would bring a message of salvation to his family. I wonder when Peter learned this fact. This verse implies that Peter first heard it when he met Cornelius; if so, why did Cornelius not tell his messengers to relay it to Peter? Did God – in His infinite sovereignty and wisdom – determine that it was best to keep it from Peter until he arrived in Caesarea? I hope to probe Peter and Cornelius on this point in the next life.

In verse 18, we see that the Jewish believers withdrew their objections to Peter’s conduct in Caesarea. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The outcome shows that Peter’s opponents were not moved by malice. Their example teaches us not to despise people who criticize wrongly because of misguided zeal; their conscience must be pacified by the Word of God – they are being tested to see if they are teachable.

This spurred me to consider my willingness to admit ignorance – especially in the workplace. I am fairly confident in my knowledge in certain areas; occasionally this confidence morphs into arrogance. Thus, it is difficult for me to admit weakness when it turns out that my understanding is flawed. I have heard that an admission of ignorance is a sign of humility and maturity, and so I need to be less concerned with asserting my intellectual superiority over others. I pray that God would continue to guide me in that regard so that I can be a better witness of His superiority in all things.

Peter at Cornelius’ House July 20, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 10:23b-48.

Summary: In this passage, Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house in Caesarea; Cornelius greeted him and introduced him to his relatives and close friends. Peter asked Cornelius why he had sent for him, citing the well-known restriction on Jews associating with Gentiles. Cornelius responded by recounting the vision that he experienced three days ago. Peter then shared the Gospel message with his audience, and the Holy Spirit came on them in power. They were subsequently baptized with water.

Thoughts: In verse 34, Peter finally divined the meaning of his dramatic vision in the preceding passage. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

Then Peter began to speak. This phrase introduces an important speech (compare Matthew 5:2). It could be translated, “He began to speak, having first thought carefully about what he was going to say.”

The account that Cornelius provided before this verse enabled Peter – after much deliberation – to overcome his biases and accept this revelation:

God had called him to preach the Gospel message to this group of Gentiles – despite the prevailing animosity between Jews and Gentiles.

Peter had accepted his prior call to preach the Gospel message to Jews with alacrity. In contrast, God had to confront him with the futility of his prejudices in order for this group of Gentiles to receive His free gift of salvation. Perhaps we, as modern-day believers, should consider if we have any biases that hamper our obedience to the Great Commission.

I certainly hope to meet Cornelius’ relatives and close friends in the next life and delve into their emotions during this chapter. When Cornelius called them to hear a message from Peter, did they respond with enthusiasm? Did they have a growing sense of anticipation during the dialogue between Peter and Cornelius? If they were “devout and God-fearing”, how did they reconcile this fact with Peter’s declaration in verse 43 that their sins could be forgiven through Jesus Christ? Did they ever speak in tongues after this dramatic passage? How did they spend their time with Peter after this momentous occasion?

This passage marks a watershed in the early church, as we see a large group of Gentiles accept the Gospel message. Since I am a Gentile (as far as I know), this passage spurred me to ponder the concept of a “spiritual family tree.” In particular, any believer can probably name at least one other believer who brought them to Christ. This fact can be used to construct a “spiritual family tree,” and the believers in this book should appear near the top of this structure. Hopefully we, as modern-day believers, are playing our part in terms of growing this structure and bringing glory to God in the process.

Peter’s Vision July 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 10:9-23a.

Summary: In this passage, Peter had the following vision:

  • a large sheet that contained a panoply of unclean animals descended from heaven
  • a voice from heaven commanded him to kill and eat these animals
  • he demurred, citing his strict adherence to the Mosaic law
  • the voice asserted that God had nullified the distinction between clean and unclean animals.

After the vision occurred three times, Peter was left to ponder its significance. At that point, the messengers whom Cornelius had sent from Caesarea arrived and called for him. God alerted him to their presence and told him to go with them. He greeted them, and they conveyed their instructions from Cornelius.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter had great difficulty comprehending the significance of his vision. This stemmed in part from the fact that he had been raised to observe the Mosaic law – and the law specified a distinction between clean and unclean animals. I was spurred to consider any beliefs that I had acquired in my youth that I later discovered to be flawed. Perhaps the best example of this is that I grew up believing in the relative superiority of my race; I believed that those who belonged to my ethnicity were naturally more intelligent and hard-working than those who belonged to other ethnicities. As time has passed, I have acquired a greater sense of my ignorance in this regard – yet ridding myself of bigotry has been quite difficult. Perhaps it is natural for people to have difficulty renouncing incorrect beliefs that reinforce their self-esteem…

We also see that Peter continued to ponder the meaning of his vision after it occurred three times. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

But we must also note that Luke adds that Peter thought about the vision intently (after he came out of his trance, that is). It was a sign of his godly reverence that he did not carelessly allow the vision to escape him. Therefore, the Lord opened to him when he knocked. We are rightly chastened for our laziness by not making better progress in the Word of the Lord, for we are so cold and have so little desire to inquire.

At this point, I still find many sections of the Bible to be abstruse; examples include the lessons of Jesus in the Gospels, the prophetic visions in the Old Testament, and large sections of the Pentateuch. Thus, this passage encourages me in that Peter strove to understand truth from God. Of course, I am reminded that I should not be content with a mere intellectual understanding of truth from God. Just as God helped Peter understand his vision in order to bring the Gentiles to Himself, I must also see how God can help me understand His truth in order to be a blessing to others.

Cornelius Calls for Peter July 12, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 10:1-8.

Summary: In this passage, an angel of the Lord appeared to a Roman centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius. This angel told him to send men to Joppa for the apostle Peter, and he obeyed.

Thoughts: In verses 2 and 4, we see that Cornelius strove to be internally and externally acceptable to God. Yet it is clear that he had not been justified by God, as he needed to hear the Gospel message from Peter. This passage, then, bolsters this Protestant belief:

Deeds cannot lead to salvation.

Now I – along with many Protestants – often struggle with the question, “do my deeds constitute the response of a genuine believer to God’s offer of salvation?” I believe this struggle stems from the fact that evaluation is intrinsic to our society. Authority figures evaluate their subordinates; thus, it is natural for us as believers to assume that God is constantly evaluating our deeds. While He does approve or disapprove of each of our deeds, the challenge for us as believers is to separate that process of evaluation from the question of salvation. Indeed, we must trust that He has already saved us through the perfect life of His Son and consider how we can express our thankfulness to Him on a daily basis.

Aeneas and Dorcas July 8, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 9:32-43.

Summary: In this passage, Peter performed the following miracles:

  • healing a paralytic named Aeneas in Lydda
  • raising a disciple named Dorcas from the dead in Joppa after praying to God.

Both of these miracles caused many people to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.

Thoughts: I am eager to meet Aeneas and Dorcas in the next life and learn more about them. How was Aeneas paralyzed? What were his thoughts and emotions after Peter healed him, and how did he praise God after that watershed moment? As for Dorcas, how did she come to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah? Who were the relatively needy people whom she helped by making “robes and other clothing?” What were her thoughts and emotions when Peter raised her from the dead, and how did she praise God after that watershed moment?

In verse 40, we see that Peter prayed to God before raising Dorcas from the dead. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

When he took time to pray, it seems he was still not sure what would happen…It seems absurd that he should send all the believers out of the room – it would have been better for them to see it with their own eyes. But the Lord had not yet revealed when or how he would display his power, and so Peter wanted to be alone to pray…By withdrawing from company and praying fervently, he was plainly showing that the matter was not in his own control.

I am eager to meet Peter in the next life and ply him with questions about this prayer. Did he lament the fact that Dorcas had been overcome by her illness? Did he pray that God would be glorified if He enabled him to raise her from the dead (if so, then we see in verse 42 that God answered him in the affirmative)? How long did he pray in that upstairs room? Did the intensity of his prayer approach that of Jesus’ prayer when He was in the garden of Gethsemane? How did God reveal that He would empower him to perform this miracle?