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The Call of Jeremiah January 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 1:4-19.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks to Jeremiah on three occasions:

  • first, He states that He had predestined him to serve as His prophet to the nations; although Jeremiah attempts to resist that calling, God declares that He will empower him to fulfill it
  • later, Jeremiah has a vision of an almond tree; God uses that vision to reinforce the point that He will actively work through him
  • finally, Jeremiah has a vision of a boiling pot; God uses that vision to reinforce the point that He will work through the peoples of the north to punish his compatriots.

God asserts that his compatriots have committed the following sins:

  • forsaking Him
  • worshiping other gods.

He then reiterates that He will empower him to condemn their sins – through his prophecies.

Thoughts: In verse 6, we see that Jeremiah attempts to resist his prophetic calling. I was struck by the fact that Jeremiah acknowledges God as the “Sovereign Lord” – yet immediately resists his calling. If Jeremiah accepted the sovereignty of God, then why would he attempt to resist His will for his life? Perhaps this verse highlights the cognitive dissonance that plagues many Christians – including me. On one hand, we readily acknowledge the sovereignty of God through various praise songs and (public) prayers. On the other hand, our actions reveal our trust in our own abilities; we do not genuinely believe that God is sovereign in our lives. This indicates that we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in overcoming our crippling doubts and leading lives that reflect our trust in His sovereignty.

In verses 18 and 19, we see that God assures Jeremiah that He will empower him to fulfill his calling – despite the opposition of the kings of Judah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

God encourages this prophet to be firm and to persevere, as though the battle would be long, so that he would not faint from being tired. The prophet would not have to contend with one king only, but as soon as one died, another would rise up and replace him. From this Jeremiah saw there would be no hope of rest until the time that God had appointed arrived.

This caused me to ponder the fact that God wanted Jeremiah to proclaim His message of judgment to all of his compatriots – even if it elicited an angry response. I often have difficulty saying what people need to hear, as my instinct is to say what people want to hear. This tendency may have hampered my effectiveness in my previous ministry roles as a Sunday School teacher and a youth counselor, where I had great difficulty rebuking students for their misbehavior. As my Christian walk progresses, I need to trust that if I say what is right, then God will be pleased with me – regardless of human opinions. It is difficult to discount human feedback, yet we need to be more attuned to God’s feedback – with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

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Strolling Through the Book of Jeremiah January 25, 2017

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I’ve recently started reading through the Book of Jeremiah with the aid of a commentary by Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through Jeremiah. As in my recent stroll through the book of Acts, I hope to comprehend Jeremiah as a whole. Regular readers of this blog will also know that this is my first stroll through a book of the Old Testament; thus, I am eager to acquire a greater understanding of God’s unchanging nature.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the book and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 1:1-3.

Summary: In this passage, we see that God called Jeremiah as His prophet. Jeremiah’s ministry encompassed the reign of at least three kings of Judah:

God spoke through him until the people of Jerusalem were exiled by the Babylonians.

Thoughts: In verse 3, we see that Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry concluded when the people of Jerusalem were forced into exile. Thus, it would appear that his ministry concluded on a disappointing note – as he was ultimately unsuccessful in compelling his countrymen to heed God’s warnings. Yet this raises a salient question: was his ministry a failure in the eyes of God? Did he accomplish all of the tasks that God had assigned him? I shall have to continue my stroll in order to answer that question…

Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard January 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 28:17-31.

Summary: In this passage, Paul met with the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome. He conjectured that they had heard unflattering reports of him; thus, he asserted his integrity. They allayed his fears and invited him to present the Gospel message to them. He accepted their invitation and subsequently preached the Gospel message to a large crowd of Jews. While some of them believed it, the rest rejected it. Paul anticipated those negative reactions, as he knew that Isaiah 6:9-10 predicted their behavior in that regard. He spent the next two years boldly preaching the Gospel message to those in Rome who visited him.

Thoughts: In verse 24, we see that Paul’s presentation of the Gospel message to the Jews in Rome yielded mixed results. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

We know that the apostle had such grace of the Spirit that he could have moved stones, and yet he could not win everyone to Christ even after debating and testifying for a long time. Therefore, let us not be surprised today if many people’s unbelief resists the plain teaching of the Gospel and if many people remain obstinate, although the truth of Christ is just as clear as the midday sun.

We should remember that God displayed His sovereignty in this instance, as He knew beforehand who would accept Paul’s teaching and who would reject it. That being said, I ponder the following questions:

  • does genetics play a role in determining someone’s openness to novel teachings?
  • how does one’s upbringing – including the influences of parents, teachers and peers – impact their response to a novel argument?
  • how can God supernaturally intervene in the life of a hardened skeptic to enable them to accept the Gospel message?

Verse 31 is an apt conclusion of this book, as it reminds me of Jesus’ command to the eleven apostles in Acts 1:8 to preach the Gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This stroll through Acts has shown me how God enabled His followers to fulfill that command and bring many souls into His kingdom. Now that I have completed this stroll, I am inspired to continue engaging with nonbelievers in this world. I believe that we:

  • must not conceal our worldview from the nonbelievers around us – though we must be tactful in that regard
  • should continue to build our relationships with them
  • should pray that God would be glorified through our interactions with them
  • should pray that He would bring their souls into His kingdom – if it is His will.

Arrival at Rome January 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 28:11-16.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions sailed from Malta to Puteoli via Syracuse and Rhegium. After spending a week with some fellow believers, they finally arrived in Rome. There, they were welcomed by some other believers; Paul was encouraged by that act of kindness on their part.

Thoughts: In verse 15, we see that Paul was encouraged by the fact that some of the believers in Rome greeted him upon his arrival. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The brothers’ zeal and godly care are seen in their inquiring about Paul’s arrival and traveling to meet him. At that time the profession of the Christian faith brought hatred and could endanger life. And this was not just a matter of a few men running a personal risk – the whole church was affected. But they could not neglect their duty without being seen as reluctant and ungrateful; it would have been dreadful to neglect so great an apostle of Jesus Christ, especially since he was suffering for the common salvation.

I hope to meet these Roman believers in the next life and learn more about them. How did they first hear the Gospel message? Did they accept it with alacrity, or did they initially harbor doubts that were later addressed? How did they respond when the emperor Nero blamed them for The Great Fire of Rome? Did the Jews in Rome persecute them? How did they know that Paul was coming to Rome? What were their thoughts and feelings when they read Paul’s epistle to them? Did they attempt to preach the Gospel message in Rome? Was it difficult to live with integrity in a decadent city?

Ashore on Malta January 11, 2017

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

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions found that they had landed on the island of Malta. During their sojourn in Malta, God:

  • protected Paul from the venom of a viper
  • enabled Paul to heal the father of the chief Maltese official, Publius
  • enabled Paul to heal the rest of the sick Maltese.

The Maltese responded by blessing Paul and his companions in sundry ways.

Thoughts: In verse 4, we see that the Maltese inferred that Paul was a criminal when he was bitten by a viper. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

We must not make hasty judgments of people we do not know, based only on what happens to them. God punishes the good as well as the bad, and it often happens that he spares the reprobate and punishes his own people severely. If we are to judge aright, we must begin by asking about people’s lives and actions.

This caused me to consider a tangentially related point – I tend to render snap judgments. For example, when I interact with employees at fast-food restaurants, I instinctively view them with an air of superiority. I know that such thoughts are contrary to God’s desires – yet my instincts lead to those thoughts. Perhaps my sinful nature has warped my mind to the extent that my instincts reflect my inherent prejudices. If that is the case, then I must rely on the Holy Spirit to immediately reject those snap judgments and attempt to formulate more mature and reasoned thoughts (e.g. what are the issues facing employees at fast-food restaurants, and how can I alleviate those issues).

The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum January 10, 2017

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I recently visited The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal. This museum showcases the life and work of Hannibal’s most famous resident, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain.

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

1. Clemens chose the pen name “Mark Twain” based on his experience as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. Steamboat pilots often checked the depth of an unfamiliar stretch of water. To that end, they would lower a knotted rope into the water; one “mark” on that rope represented a depth of six feet, while a “twain” on that rope represented a depth of twelve feet. A river depth of twelve feet was sufficient for a steamboat.

2. One of Twain’s characters, Injun Joe, was probably based on Joe Douglas, an Osage Indian boy who was brought to Hannibal after his family was attacked by Pawnee warriors. Douglas never adjusted to life in Hannibal, though.

3. The tentacles of antebellum slavery extended to Hannibal. Slaves in Hannibal typically slept on pallets on kitchen floors and rose early on the following day to begin preparing food for their owners. During his upbringing, Clemens was aware of slavery – though he only had a limited understanding of it.

4. Another of Twain’s characters, Becky Thatcher, was probably based on Laura Hawkins, who lived in an upper middle class home right across from the home where he grew up. Hawkins was the first girl who Clemens liked.

5. Clemens’ younger brother, Henry, sailed on the steamboat Pennsylvania. In 1858, a boiler exploded on the Pennsylvania, scalding Henry. He would later succumb to his injuries, and his death greatly affected his older brother.

6. Clemens’ father, John, was unable to make a living as a farmer. He then moved his family to Hannibal and managed a store; he also served as a judge. Unfortunately, he passed away when Clemens was only twelve years old; Clemens then became a printer’s apprentice to support his family.

I appreciated the fact that the museum consisted of several distinct buildings, as that allowed me to get some much-needed exercise while touring it. The museum staff was also quite friendly and helpful.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would certainly recommend it to tourists who happen to visit Hannibal.

The Shipwreck January 7, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 27:27-44.

Summary: In this passage, God worked through Paul on the fourteenth night of the ongoing storm to forestall a catastrophe. In particular, Paul learned that the sailors were attempting to escape via lifeboat; he then advised the soldiers to compel them to remain on board, as he knew that they would play an integral role in their impending deliverance. He then exhorted his companions to regain their strength by eating, as they would soon be delivered from the storm. On the following day, the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. All of those on board eventually reached dry land; some of them were able to swim to shore, while the rest clung to flotsam and jetsam.

Thoughts: In verse 38, we see that grain comprised at least part of the cargo of the ship that carried Paul and his companions. When I meet Paul in the next life, I plan to ply him with questions pertaining to the cargo. Did they keep the grain from being ruined by the storm before they threw it overboard? Did they make bread before they were beset by the storm, or did they prepare it while the storm raged around them? What was the financial loss that the owner of the ship incurred as a result of those two perilous weeks? Were the Roman soldiers on board subjected to any discipline due to the storm?

Here, God performed a miracle by delivering Paul and his companions from the storm. Did those two perilous weeks affect the worldview of the unbelievers on board? Was Paul able to discuss the Gospel message – and his belief in the God of Israel – with any of them after their deliverance? Did the unbelievers merely assume that their gods had delivered them from the storm? I assume that they prayed to their gods during the storm; perhaps they had confidence that their gods would save them according to their timing.

The Storm January 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 27:13-26.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions were buffeted by a violent storm as they sailed along the coast of Crete. The storm almost caused their ship to disintegrate; in order to save it, they discarded their cargo and the tackle. When the storm refused to abate, they began to lose hope – yet Paul exhorted them to continue battling it, asserting that God would deliver them from it (since He planned for him to stand trial before Caesar in Rome).

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul and his companions were beset by a hurricane. I must admit that I have difficulty relating to their struggles in this passage, as I rarely travel by sea. I do occasionally travel by air, though, and this passage reminded me of a eventful flight to Houston several years ago. On that occasion, we had to pass through a thunderstorm on our final approach. The ensuing turbulence led to a bout of nausea; I was extremely grateful to God when we landed safely. Indeed, one of God’s attributes is His immutable sovereignty over nature.

In verse 21, we see that Paul and his companions did not eat for a prolonged stretch as they battled the hurricane. When I meet them in the next life, I would like to learn how they resisted the storm on empty stomachs. Were they fueled by adrenaline as fierce waves crashed onto the deck of their ship? Were some of them on the verge of death? Did God give Paul supernatural strength to exhort his companions – just as He gave His Son supernatural strength to resist the temptations of Satan after His baptism? Also, I assume that they drank fresh water during the storm; how did they preserve their supply of fresh water at that time?