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Peter’s Confession of Christ May 26, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:13-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples travel to Caesarea Philippi. He asks them for the general opinions of men regarding His identity; apparently the public has not come to a consensus on this point.

Then Jesus asks them for their opinion on this point. Peter responds by asserting that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus approves of this assertion and responds by asserting that:

  • Peter will receive all of the divine blessings that His Father can provide
  • He will continue to build His redeemed people on the truth concerning His identity
  • death cannot hold His redeemed people
  • His redeemed people have the authority to declare His Father’s assessment of the actions of others.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter asserts the divinity of Christ. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

People forget that it is a widely different thing to believe in Christ’s divine mission when we dwell amid professing Christians, and to believe in it when we dwell amid hardened and unbelieving Jews. The glory of Peter’s confession lies in this, that he made it when few were with Christ and many against him. He made it when the rulers of his own nation, the scribes, priests and Pharisees, were all opposed to his Master…

This passage reminds us that Peter, for all his faults, said – and did – many things to advance the kingdom of God. Now we know that we express our faith among other believers with alacrity; for example, we passionately express our trust in Christ when we sing praise songs during our worship services. Yet this raises the following question: should we passionately express our trust in Christ when we interact with nonbelievers? On a related note, if (or when) we are plagued with doubts about honoring Christ in a secular setting, can we still advance His kingdom in such instances? Many of us are averse to conflict; moreover, even if we welcome it, we can sin in the midst of it by attempting to elevate ourselves above others. Truly we need His grace to live wisely among those who do not share our trust in Him.

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The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees May 25, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:5-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples return to the Decapolis. The disciples have failed to make arrangements in terms of food – and Jesus uses this opportunity to exhort them to shift their focus from physical needs to spiritual needs. In particular, they must shun the evil influence of the external religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples fail to comprehend this exhortation; thus, He reminds them of two instances where He met their physical needs. In light of this, they should focus on spiritual needs.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus exhorts His disciples to reject the words and deeds of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Some want to add to the Gospel, and some want to take away from it; some would bury it and some would pare it down to nothing; some would stifle it by heaping on additions, and some would bleed it to death by subtraction from its truths. Both parties agree only in one respect: both would kill and destroy the life of Christianity if they succeeded in having their own way. Against both errors let us watch and pray.

Of course, one must determine the entirety of the Gospel to answer the following question: are others attempting to add to it or subtract from it, and if so, how? I would assert that the Five Solas constitute the entirety of the Gospel, but that is debatable (e.g. the phrases “grace alone” and “faith alone” often yield divisions between Catholics and Protestants). Some may advance arguments that are clearly heretical (e.g. they deny the dual nature of Christ), but others may advance arguments that are difficult to assess (e.g. they believe that the Holy Spirit still dispenses charismatic gifts). Truly we need God’s guidance in:

  • making our best effort to discern truth from error
  • placing unresolved issues in His hands.

The Demand for a Sign May 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Jewish territory, where His enemies attempt to publicly discredit Him.

Jesus responds by asserting that while they are experts in physical matters, they are mere dilettantes in spiritual matters. Moreover, since they have abandoned God, He has abandoned them.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus reiterates the point that He made in Matthew 12:39. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This repetition shows us that our Lord was in the habit of saying the same things over again. He did not content himself with saying a thing once, and then never repeat it. It is evident that it was his custom to bring forward certain truths again and again, and so impress them more deeply on the minds of his disciples.

When I work through an inductive Bible study, I highlight recurring words and phrases, as they usually facilitate my search for the central point of the passage at hand. Indeed, recurring words and phrases reveal points of emphasis for the original audience of a particular passage. Perhaps this principle can be applied in other settings. For example, do praise songs contain recurring words, phrases or themes? Does your pastor emphasize certain points in their sermons? I should note that while applying this principle enables us to comprehend what God is saying to us, we still need to put His words into practice – and that is where I continue to struggle.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand May 19, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 15:29-39.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus leaves the southern mountains of Lebanon and travels to the Decapolis. He is greeted by a crowd upon His arrival, and He heals those who lack strength. They marvel at His actions, praising God while trembling in His presence.

He then informs His disciples that His heart goes out to this crowd of four thousand men – plus women and children. In particular, they will collapse on their way home if they are not fed.

The disciples fail to solve this problem – yet they know that He can solve it. Accordingly, He takes seven barley cakes and some pickled fish from them. After blessing His Father, the disciples distribute the food to the crowd – who ate as much as they wanted.

Thoughts: I have always been mildly curious about a potential connection between this passage and the passage recounting the feeding of the five thousand. Did Jesus actually feed two distinct crowds on two distinct occasions? I then read through John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage, which was invaluable in grasping its relationship to that other passage. In particular, MacArthur states that:

  • in this passage, Jesus feeds Gentiles
  • in that other passage, Jesus feeds Jews.

If that is the case, then this passage would illustrate a neat facet of Jesus’ ministry. In particular, while His primary calling was to the Jews, He still ministered to Gentiles when the timing was right. Perhaps this brief account serves as a preview of Paul’s extensive work among the Gentiles as recorded in Acts – and his epistles.

In verse 32, we see that Jesus has compassion for those whom He has just healed. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

It is a curious and striking fact, that of all the feelings experienced by our Lord when upon earth, there is none so often mentioned as “compassion.” His joy, his sorrow, his thankfulness, his anger, his wonder, his zeal, all are occasionally recorded. But none of these feelings are so frequently mentioned as “compassion.”

This is an important point that we, as believers, should consider. If Christ frequently showed compassion for others, how should we show compassion for others on a regular basis? How can we comprehend the needs of others – and then take concrete steps to meet those needs? Moreover, one can connect this point to my above-mentioned thoughts about Jesus’ primary and secondary callings; while we may be called to minister to a particular demographic, how can we show compassion to members of other demographics when the timing is right?

The Faith of the Canaanite Woman May 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 15:21-28.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus leaves Galilee and goes to the southern mountains of Lebanon. A woman from the area of Syria and Lebanon comes to Him and declares that He:

  • has supernatural power
  • is the Messiah.

Since her little child has been demonized, she asks Him for mercy.

Initially, He does not grant her request. Yet she is persistent, asserting that even though He is a Jew and she is a Gentile, He can heal her little child.

He finally proclaims the greatness of her faith, and He heals her little child.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus initially responds to the Canaanite woman’s request with two (apparently) dismissive comments. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The saying which then came from our Lord’s lips sounded discouraging: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (verse 24)…The second saying of our Lord was even less encouraging than the first: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (verse 26).

When I read through this passage, I was confused by these two comments. In particular, what was the purpose of His comment in verse 24? If His intention was to cause the Canaanite woman to display the depth of her faith in Him, did she hear that comment? Was He only addressing the disciples in verse 24? Did He also divinely ordain this encounter as a vehicle for increasing the disciples’ faith in Him? In any case, this passage can challenge us as believers: what is the extent of our faith in Him? Can we truly look beyond short-term losses and focus on long-term gains – namely, our rewards in heaven? Persistence in the face of setbacks is counter-intuitive; thus, we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit to overcome our instincts. Indeed, we must painfully rest in Him as we encounter setbacks in our walk with Him.

Clean and Unclean May 11, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 15:1-20.

Summary: In this passage, representatives of the Jewish religious establishment accuse Jesus’ disciples of violating religious tradition regarding washings. Yet He dismisses their accusation – and accuses them of violating the command in Scripture to revere their parents; He reminds them that those who violate this command are subject to capital punishment. In particular, they have introduced the selfish tradition of corban – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 29:13.

He then calls those whom He has healed from the countryside of Gennesaret and asserts that defilement is a spiritual – not physical – issue. Indeed, if the inner self is defiled, then the entire person is defiled.

Thoughts: In verses 16-20, Jesus explains the assertion that He made in verse 11. I must admit that when I read through this passage, I had a haughty attitude toward the disciples, assuming that they were incapable of comprehending His teaching regarding defilement. Upon further reflection, though, I cannot claim that I would have comprehended His teaching at that time, as His assertion challenged Jewish orthodoxy. Indeed, I am not an iconoclast; I tend to dismiss any assertions that challenge dogma, including:

  • the Earth is only about six thousand years old
  • Lee Harvey Oswald was assisted by domestic and/or foreign enemies of President Kennedy
  • P = NP.

Ideally, one would be open-minded when confronted with such assertions; in practice, though, we dismiss them and indulge our biases.

Here, we see that Jesus exhorts His followers to resist – and forsake – false teachers. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

No fear of giving offense, no dread of ecclesiastical censure, should make us hold our peace when God’s truth is in peril. If we are true followers of our Lord, we ought to be outspoken, unflinching witnesses against error…No false delicacy, no mock humility should make us shrink from leaving the teaching of any minister who contradicts God’s Word.

I suppose that I obey this command by not attending any church with a statement of faith that contradicts the Five Solas. Yet I do not confront false teachers – or those who subscribe to false doctrine. This stems from my:

  • tendency to avoid conflict
  • belief that arguments are often unproductive.

That being said, perhaps this blog is a form of resistance to false teachers. I hope to continue to use it to promote correct doctrine and practice.

Motown Museum May 7, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Arts, History.
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I recently visited the Motown Museum in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of Motown.

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

1. Berry Gordy Jr.’s father worked as a contractor, while his mother sold real estate. Gordy initially struggled to find a regular source of income; he worked on a Ford assembly line, received plaudits as a pugilist and even owned a jazz record store. Eventually he tried his hand at songwriting; when Smokey Robinson laughed at his meager remuneration of three dollars and nineteen cents, he was spurred to form his own company. He took out a loan of eight hundred dollars from his parents with the stipulation that he repay it within one year at six percent interest. He coined the term “Motown” for his new company in honor of his hometown.

2. Gordy spared no expense in developing his stable of talent, including:

  • purchasing an upright piano and labeling the keys to assist those who lacked formal musical training
  • hiring Maurice King to teach music theory and serve as a voice coach
  • hiring Cholly Atkins to teach choreography
  • hiring Maxine Powell to teach comportment.

3. The Miracles were one of the earliest Motown acts to achieve commercial success. Their lineup included Robinson and Claudette Rogers, who would later marry. Their hits included Bad Girl, which was their only release on the Motown Records label, and You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me. They also wrote the hit song My Girl for The Temptations. Last but not least, they broke a color barrier by performing on American Bandstand.

4. Gordy eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1972, as he wanted to use the silver screen to promote Motown. He co-produced the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross, Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones. He also directed Mahogany, starring Ross and Billy Dee Williams. He would later write the book for Motown the Musical.

5. Gordy purchased seven homes on one side of West Grand Avenue in Detroit (and one home on the other side of that street) and repurposed them for his company. Recording sessions occurred in the renowned Studio A. Vocals and instrumental tracks were mixed in a control room, while another room was designated for billing and collection. One room contained a vault of master tapes. This set of buildings was later designated as a historical landmark in 1987. Gordy’s sister, Esther, founded the museum itself in 1985.

The exhibits in the museum can only be viewed in the context of a guided tour. That being said, our tour guide was friendly and well-informed. She related several anecdotes and even led us in several renditions of Motown hits, including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit (supporting the theory that I advanced in the final paragraph of this post).

Jesus Walks on the Water May 6, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 14:22-36.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus displays His sovereign authority by thwarting the attempt of the crowd that He has just fed to enthrone Him. He also commands His disciples to leave Him and cross the Sea of Galilee, where they are caught in a violent storm.

He then appears between 3 and 6 a.m., walking on the water. This miracle throws them into a state of panic. Peter seeks His protection from the violent storm and begins to walk to Him – yet he, overcome by fear, begins to sink. Jesus rescues him; the disciples worship Him as one with God.

He and the disciples finally arrive in the land of Gennesaret. All who are ill in the countryside come to Him. Upon touching Him, they are instantly made totally well.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter began to sink when he was overcome by fear. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

What a lively picture we have here of the experience of many believers! How many there are who have enough faith to take the first step in following Christ, but not enough faith to go on as they began. They take fright at the trials and dangers which seem to be in their way. They look at the enemies that surround them, and the difficulties that seem likely to beset their path…

My experiences indicate that Christians occasionally derive amusement from Peter’s tendency to speak and act rashly. One thought is that as Christians, we should be more humble when we encounter his words and deeds in our studies of the Gospels. Indeed, we often declare our willingness to follow Christ when we sing praise songs – but are we willing to act on this declaration when confronted by trials and temptations? Can our deeds match our words when we are plagued with doubt? Instead of elevating ourselves above Peter, we should continue to ask God for His grace so that we can make progress in our walk with Him.

We also see that Jesus miraculously walks on the surface of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a violent storm. It is tempting to read this passage, hastily acknowledge that this miracle occurred, and dismiss it from our thoughts. Yet this miracle compels us to consider the following dichotomy:

  • the universe is a closed system that is based on immutable laws
  • Christ is willing and able to circumvent the laws of the universe.

Our finite, earthly minds struggle to resolve this dichotomy. Perhaps this miracle should also spur us to ask the following questions:

  • if God is omnipotent and unchanging, how does He exercise His power in our modern context?
  • if God continues to exercise His power, does He choose to work through us in that regard?
  • how can we allow Him to exercise His power through us?

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand May 5, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 14:13-21.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus responds to the news of the murder of John the Baptist – and Herod’s belief that He is the resurrected John – by traveling across the Sea of Galilee to a wilderness area. He is greeted by a crowd upon His arrival, though. His heart goes out to them and He heals those who lack strength.

The disciples are concerned about how to feed this crowd of five thousand men – plus women and children. He takes this opportunity to test them. When they fail to solve this problem, He takes five barley cakes and two pickled fish from a child. After blessing His Father, the disciples distribute the food to the crowd – who ate as much as they wanted.

Thoughts: I was struck by verse 13, which notes that the events in this passage occurred after “Jesus heard what had happened.” I assume that He was moved by the violent death of John the Baptist and that He grieved the loss of the prophet who had prepared the way for His ministry. Yet this passage implies that His mourning was curtailed by the appearance of a crowd after He crossed the Sea of Galilee. He immediately displayed compassion by performing several miracles, i.e. healing the sick and feeding the entire crowd. Indeed, it is amazing that He was not consumed by His grief, as He was able to fulfill His divine mission in the midst of His pain. I certainly anticipate meeting Him in the next life and learning more about His thoughts and emotions during His trip across the Sea of Galilee.