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John the Baptist Beheaded April 29, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 14:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Herod Antipas arrests John the Baptist, as John:

  • is tremendously popular
  • confronts his sinful marriage to Herodias.

Herod is later aroused on his birthday by the lewd dancing of Herodias’ daughter, Salome. He promises to fulfill her wishes, and her mother prompts her to request the murder of John. John is then executed.

Later, when Herod hears about Jesus, his guilty conscience leads him to believe that John has been resurrected in the person of Jesus.

Thoughts: Here, we see that John the Baptist died violently. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

If ever there was a case of godliness unrewarded in this life, it was that of John the Baptist. Let us think for a moment what a remarkable man he was during his short career, and then think to what end he came…Truly there was an event here, if there ever was one in the world, which might make an ignorant person say, “What is the good of serving God?”

This is a challenging passage, as it forces us, as believers, to plumb the depth of our loyalty to God. We may be willing to endure some of the trials that stem from following Him, but are we willing to suffer for Him to the point of death? Can we truly look past this life and focus on the promise of a reward in the next life? We know that God calls us to exercise a simple, childlike faith; can we maintain a childlike trust in Him when our instincts toward self-preservation are challenged? These questions do not have facile answers.

This account also highlights the character flaws of Herod Antipas. He did not want his dinner guests to view him as a weakling, and so he sacrificed an innocent man. Now while Herod’s actions made him a convenient target, we should ask ourselves: can we follow the example of John the Baptist and act rightly in the face of opposition? Can we live out our convictions even when our righteousness has a cost? Perhaps we should respond to this passage with humility, asking God for His wisdom and strength to avoid the trap that Herod set for himself.

A Prophet Without Honor April 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:53-58.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Nazareth and uses the Old Testament to instruct its denizens. The effectiveness of His instruction astonishes them – yet they do not believe that His authority comes from God. Instead, they are scandalized by Him.

He responds by asserting that their rejection of Him has actually obstructed the manifestation of His supernatural powers in their midst.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus responds to the denizens of Nazareth by not performing miracles in their town. I pondered potential modern-day applications of this point; my current viewpoint is that this passage lacks a clear modern-day application, since:

  • God can choose to perform miracles even when we question the veracity of His omnipotence and love
  • God can also choose to refrain from performing miracles even when we pray fervently for Him to exercise His omnipotence and love.

In this case, we can only assert that God chose to refrain from performing miracles in Nazareth in response to the actions of its residents. That being said, as believers, we should continue to place our trust in Him; even if He does not perform a miracle that we desire, we know that we can rest on His explicit promises in the Scriptures. We are assured of our ultimate salvation and victory over death, and these great promises should sustain us as we continue to wrestle with Him over the miracles that we desire.

The Parable of the Net April 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:47-52.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells a parable. He states that His kingdom can be represented by a large net that captures all life in front of it. A group of fishermen then:

  • place the captured fish in water-contained vessels
  • discard the other captured creatures.

Similarly, at His Second Coming, His angels will capture those who are not His subjects and discard them to hell.

He then asserts that His disciples are now equipped to teach others, as they grasp the unifying principles of the Old and New Testaments.

Thoughts: This passage inspired me to read about instances where fishermen caught more than they had bargained for, including:

I have actually never gone fishing, so I can only imagine the shock that these fishermen experienced when they inspected their respective catches. In any event, these accounts reinforce the main point of this passage. Just as a denizen of the deep cannot be consumed by a fisherman, so those who do not belong to Christ are useless to Him at His Second Coming. We must heed this warning and find our value in Him.

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl April 22, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:44-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells two parables. He states that His kingdom can be represented by:

  • buried treasure; a man who works in a field comes across that treasure, liquidates his possessions and purchases that field
  • a fine pearl; a wholesale merchant comes across that pearl, liquidates his possessions and purchases it.

These parables highlight the priceless value of His kingdom.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it compels us to consider the value of the kingdom of God in our lives. While believers generally agree that Jesus does not command us to promptly liquidate our possessions for the sake of His kingdom, we know that He does command us to value His kingdom above all earthly things. In particular, He does command us to place our possessions at His disposal so that He can use them as He sees fit. Now we often respond to this command with alacrity regarding some of our possessions (e.g. tithing, volunteering, donating in the wake of a natural disaster), but we may struggle to place other possessions at His disposal (e.g. car, laptop, office chair). How can we place all of our possessions at His disposal? We need wisdom and strength from Him, as our inclination to short-term thinking causes us to cherish them.

The Parable of the Weeds Explained April 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:36-43.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus explicates the Parable of the Weeds. In particular, He states that the:

  • sower represents Him
  • good seed represent the children of His kingdom
  • field represents the world
  • weeds represent the children of the devil.

He also states that the children of His kingdom must not judge the children of the devil before the Second Coming – as that is God’s prerogative. Indeed, at that time, He will:

  • place all of the children of the devil in eternal hell
  • enable the children of His kingdom to dwell with Him.

Thoughts: The Parable of the Weeds and Jesus’ explication of it in this passage are actually on separate pages in my Bible. When I read that parable, I assumed that Jesus had not explicated it to His disciples; thus, I pondered it for quite some time. I leveraged my understanding of similar parables to grasp the gist of it, yet two points baffled me:

  • it was evident that the weeds represented unbelievers, yet I wondered: were these unbelievers in the visible church, or unbelievers in general?
  • did the act of weeding represent an attempt to purge the visible church of unbelievers, or an attempt to proclaim God’s judgment on unbelievers in general before the Second Coming?

The summary that I have provided above is drawn from John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage. Yet Ryle offers some contrasting thoughts on these two points:

The visible church is pictured as a mixed body: it is a vast “field” in which “wheat” and “weeds” grow side by side (verses 24-26). We must expect to find believers and unbelievers, converted and unconverted, “the sons of the kingdom” and “the sons of the evil one” (verses 38-39), all mingled together in every congregation of baptized people.

Thus, I am unsure as to the correct interpretation of these two points. I hope to meet Ryle in the next life and hear his response to the thoughts expressed by MacArthur in his sermon.

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast April 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:31-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells two parables. He states that His kingdom can be represented by:

  • a mustard seed; while it is the smallest of all edible seeds, it can grow to a height of fifteen feet. Similarly, while His kingdom is small at its inception, it will be very large at His Second Coming, sheltering and protecting many nations.
  • yeast; a piece of sour, fermented dough spreads throughout a large batch of dough, causing it to rise and improving its taste. Similarly, His kingdom spreads throughout the world and improves it.

He reiterates that those who reject Him will become more perplexed regarding His kingdom – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Psalm 78:2.

Thoughts: As believers, we can draw strength from this passage as we help advance God’s kingdom in this world. Though our efforts often appear insignificant, this passage reminds us that God is working through us to achieve His purposes. Each of us can:

  • nurture “the mustard seed” as it grows to a great height
  • cause “the large batch of dough” to rise and become more flavorful.

Thus, we must continue to serve faithfully, trusting that He will utilize our gifts and abilities to bear good fruit in His timing.

The Parable of the Weeds April 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:24-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells another parable about a man who sows good seed in his field. Yet his enemy arrives at night and oversows his field with bastard wheat. His servants are taken aback upon their discovery of the bastard wheat, and they ask him if they should uproot it. He notes that good wheat might also be uprooted in the process. Instead, it would be better for them to wait for the harvest, when his reapers will:

  • burn the bastard wheat
  • gather the good wheat to his barn.

Thoughts: Jesus explicates this parable in Matthew 13:36-43, so I will defer my thoughts on this passage until the corresponding blog post.

The Parable of the Sower April 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:1-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus sits in a fishing boat by the sea and presents several riddles to a crowd. He begins by telling them a parable about a sower whose seed lands in the following places:

  • hard, beaten paths – where it is snatched up by birds
  • soil that lies on top of limestone rock – where plants die because their roots cannot penetrate the rock to access water
  • soil that contains weeds – where plants die because their roots must compete those of the weeds for moisture and sunlight
  • soil that is deep and clean – where plants grow abundantly.

He then informs His disciples that He tells parables because parables enable those who:

  • accept Him – including His disciples – to attain a deeper understanding of His kingdom
  • reject Him to become more perplexed regarding His kingdom – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 6:9-10.

He then explains the parable about a sower to His disciples, asserting that the sower represents those who preach the Gospel message. Moreover, when the Gospel message is preached to those who:

  • reject it, Satan causes it to have no impact on them
  • respond with exuberance, they later fall away due to trouble and persecution
  • are occupied by worldly things, these worldly affections prevent them from praising God
  • accept it and genuinely repent of their sins, they will praise God.

Thoughts: In verses 16 and 17, we see that Jesus pronounces the disciples “blessed” as they are able to hear directly from Him. In some sense, I envy this privilege of His disciples. The “prophets and righteous people” whom Jesus references looked forward to the day when the people of God could hear directly from the Messiah – instead of hearing indirectly from Him through their words. We, as modern-day believers, look backward to Jesus’ earthly ministry. While Jesus has spoken to us through the human authors of Scripture, we know that it would be better to see Him and hear His voice. Perhaps this should spur us to long for the Second Coming when we will see Him with our own eyes and hear Him with our own ears.

Verse 23 shows that the one who “understands” the Gospel message will praise God with their lives. When I read this passage, I pondered the following question: what does it mean for a believer to understand the Gospel message? Perhaps one should consider the connection between the four potential responses to the Gospel message that Jesus describes in this passage. In order to understand it, we should be cognizant of the following facts:

  • Satan is still active in this world
  • believers experience trouble and persecution
  • worldly things distract believers from praising God.

I believe that “understanding” the Gospel message implies receiving it in humility in light of these facts. We must calmly and soberly respond to the Gospel message, trusting that God will empower us to praise Him with our lives. Indeed, we bear fruit by facing these facts and overcoming them on a daily basis by His wisdom and strength.

As a believer who grew up in a Christian home, I have attended church for many years and listened to countless sermons. Based on my experiences, I believe that those who have studied the Scriptures for many years readily grasp the main point of an arbitrary sermon. Yet it appears that at least some of those whom Jesus addressed in this passage did not grasp the main point of the parable of the sower. This raises the following questions:

  • Did any of them ponder the meaning of this parable?
  • Did the Holy Spirit enlighten any of them in this regard?
  • Did any of them immediately forget it, dismissing it as a mere riddle?
  • Did the Pharisees and teachers of the law pressure any of them to ignore it?

I hope to meet at least some of them in the next life and learn how they initially responded to this parable.

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers April 7, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:46-50.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is informed that His mother and half-brothers are waiting to speak with Him. He responds by declaring the primacy of spiritual bonds over earthly bonds, as those who are spiritually bonded to Him obey His Father.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus stresses the importance of spiritual relationships. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Who can conceive the depth of our dear Lord’s love towards his blood relatives? It was a pure, unselfish love. It must have been a mighty love, a love that passes man’s understanding. Yet here we see that all his believing people are counted as his relatives: he loves them, feels for them, cares for them as members of his family, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.

When we sense that we are fulfilling God’s will in our lives, we can draw strength from this passage. Indeed, we know that He delights in our submission to His will. Moreover, He enables us to sense His delight and to share in it. We know that fulfilling His will in our lives can be wearying; thus, whenever we experience weariness, we can return to this passage and experience His pleasure in our efforts, knowing that He will not forsake those whose lives reflect their eternal bond to Him.

College Football Hall of Fame April 2, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in History, Sports.
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I recently visited the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. The museum showcases the history and traditions of college football.

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

1. Tailgating was inspired by the feasts that were held during sporting events in ancient Greece and Rome. During the first college football game between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869, famished fans allegedly dined on victuals from the gate of a wagon pulled by a tail-wagging horse. Modern-day tailgating traditions include:

2. The idiosyncrasies of cheerleading squads include:

  • the Rice Marching Owl Band dressing up as mobsters and toting fake tommy guns
  • the RUF/NEK squad at Oklahoma refusing to shave after Sooner defeats
  • the origin of the Yell Leaders at Texas A&M (an effort to prevent freshman coeds from leaving athletic events before their conclusion).

3. Jackie Jensen starred at Cal, making an impact as a passer, runner, receiver and even as a kicker. Yet he achieved greater success on the baseball diamond, lifting the Golden Bears to the 1947 College World Series title by defeating a Yale squad that included George H.W. Bush. He would later win the 1958 American League MVP award as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

4. The first game between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869 featured a round rubber ball. This round ball was eventually replaced by an oblong leather ball, which featured laces that were designed to secure the constituent pieces of the ball itself. Coaches later realized that players could use these laces to improve their grip on the ball.

5. The protective equipment in college football has evolved significantly since the formative years of that sport. Approaches along these lines include:

  • a nose protector, worn by Edgar Allan Poe III during his career at Princeton
  • the first helmet, designed for a player at Navy whose doctor warned him that if he refused to wear it, he would either die or become mentally ill
  • leather strips on the chest and arms of uniforms, allegedly designed to increase friction and limit fumbles.

6. The idiosyncrasies of college football teams include:

  • the stipulation preventing players for Army from wearing the number 12, as it represents the cadets who support the team in the stands
  • the number 16 at Kansas State, as it is the number of rules that form the foundation of Bill Snyder’s program
  • a lunch pail at Virginia Tech, as it represents the blue-collar attitude of the Hokies’ defense; after a road victory, the Hokies will fill a pail with sod from that stadium.

7. The practice of sports psychology was influenced by the work of Coleman Griffith in the early part of the 20th century. College football teams often rely on the advice of sports psychologists; for example, Florida quarterback Chris Leak apparently wore a replica of a 1996 national championship ring during the Gators’ run to the 2006 BCS championship. Also, Trevor Moawad ran the following drill for Alabama players to improve their mental focus: read a sequence of numbers while ignoring the shouts of teammates.

The museum provides visitors with a badge that contains a microchip, enabling them to interact with various exhibits and earn “badges” that are saved to an account that they have created. I logged into the museum’s website after my visit and saw the “badges” that I had earned, which was neat. The museum staff was also friendly and helpful; many of them were passionate college football fans.

My only quibble with the museum is that some of the exhibits appeared to be non-functional.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to sports buffs who happen to visit Atlanta.