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Whose Son is the Christ? August 31, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:41-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asks the Pharisees to state their understanding of the identity of the Christ.

They reply that the Christ is the son of David.

He replies by stating that if that were the case, then it would conflict with the fact that David refers to the Christ as his Lord – as seen in Psalm 110:1.

Since they are unable to resolve this riddle, they cease their quest to trap Him in a statement.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus continues to expose the Pharisees’ faulty understanding of the Old Testament; in particular, they do not comprehend the divinity of the Messiah. One must wonder how they responded to His revelations of their misconceptions. Were they enraged? Were they embarrassed? Were they baffled by His incisive statements and questions? This also raises the question of how they were able to assert that He had violated the Mosaic law as a pretext for His crucifixion – given that they failed to comprehend the Mosaic law itself. That being said, as modern-day believers, we have the benefit of hindsight; we can synthesize the Old and New Testaments to form a coherent text underpinning our faith in the fully divine – and fully human – Messiah.

The Greatest Commandment August 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:34-40.

Summary: In this passage, the Pharisees hear that Jesus has gagged the Sadducees; thus, they plot against Him.

Their plot is executed by a scribe who attempts to discredit Him, asking Him to identify the greatest commandment in the Mosaic law.

He responds by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18; these commandments state that they should direct their love of will towards God and others – with their whole being. Indeed, the remainder of the Mosaic law is an explanation of these two commandments.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus states that love for God – and others – comprises the core of the Mosaic law. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

How simple are these two rules, and yet how comprehensive! How soon the words are repeated, and yet how much they contain! How humbling and condemning they are! How much they prove our daily need of mercy and the precious blood of atonement! It would be happy for the world if these rules were more known and more practiced.

When I meet someone for the first time, I (usually) attempt to connect with them. Sometimes they will respond positively to my overtures, and I find that I have little difficulty seeking their best interests. Sometimes, though, they will respond negatively to my overtures; in these instances, I find myself pondering the following questions:

  • how can I love others – especially Christians – who do not seek my best interests?
  • can I even think positively about others – especially Christians – who do not seek my best interests?
  • have I spoken or acted improperly?
  • could I modify my speech or deeds to make a better impression on others?

These are challenging questions, and I often find that I hold grudges against other believers who respond negatively to me. This highlights the depth of my sinfulness and my need for the Holy Spirit to continue working in me.

Marriage at the Resurrection August 18, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:23-33.

Summary: In this passage, the Sadducees – who do not believe in a resurrection – confront Jesus. After noting that Moses had established the levirate law, they present the following scenario to Him:

  • there is a group of seven brothers
  • the eldest marries, and then dies
  • the second eldest marries his widow, and then dies
  • the process repeats until the youngest dies.

They then pose the following question: at the resurrection, who will be the husband of this woman?

He responds by asserting that they have wandered from the truth. In particular, they fail to grasp the following points:

  • marriage will not exist at the resurrection, as resurrected people will be spiritual beings
  • Exodus 3:6 proves the veracity of the resurrection, since God uses the present tense in describing His relationship with the Jewish patriarchs.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that marriage will not occur at the resurrection. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

We know little of the life to come in heaven. Perhaps our clearest ideas of it are drawn from considering what it will not be, rather than what it will be. It is a state in which we will no longer be hungry or thirsty; sickness, pain and disease will not be known; wasting old age and death will have no place…we shall always be in God’s presence…we shall give all glory to the Lamb.

I continue to struggle with the concept of the complete absence of pain and suffering. My sense is that this life conditions me to accept the duality of joy and pain; for example, joyfulness is sharpened by painful memories, and vice versa. If so, then I wonder how I can be permanently joyful. I sense that this is a concept that I will not fully comprehend in this life; thus, I must continue to ask God to help me draw closer to His understanding of that concept as time passes.

We also see that many are “astonished” by Jesus’ assertion that Exodus 3:6 proves the veracity of the resurrection. As modern-day believers, we often fall into the trap of viewing His contemporaries with an air of superiority, as we do not engage in debates over the veracity of the resurrection. Yet we should note that He put forth a novel explanation of Exodus 3:6; this was a paradigm shift. Indeed, we also struggle with paradigm shifts, especially if we have an emotional connection with our mistaken beliefs (on a related note, I am curious about the interplay between neuroplasticity and paradigm shifts). Thus, instead of belittling His contemporaries, we should approach this passage with humility, thanking Him for His grace in giving us the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all wisdom.

Paying Taxes to Caesar August 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:15-22.

Summary: In this passage, the Pharisees plan to trap Jesus in a statement. They send their disciples – and those Jews who belonged to the political party of Herod – to Him. Addressing Him as “teacher”, they assert that He is:

  • truthful
  • a man of integrity
  • not intimidated by the face of anyone.

They then ask Him if it is lawful for them to give the census tax as a gift.

Yet He discerns their hypocrisy, asking them why they attempt to trap Him in a statement. He then asks for a denarius that they typically use to pay the census tax. Upon receiving a denarius, He asks them whose image and inscription it bears.

They acknowledge that it bears the image and inscription of Caesar. He responds by inferring that they should:

  • pay the census tax back to Caesar
  • continue to worship God only.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus deftly repels the challenge of the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The principle laid down in these well-known words is one of deep importance. There is one obedience owed by every Christian to the civil government under which he lives, in all matters which are temporal, and not purely spiritual…There is another obedience which the Christian owes to the God of the Bible in all matters which are purely spiritual.

Clearly the opponents of Jesus could only conceive of two answers to their challenge. Either answer would advance their position, since:

  • if He asserted that it was lawful for them to pay the census tax, then they would denounce Him as a God-hater and an idol-worshiper
  • if He asserted that it was not lawful for them to pay the census tax, then they would denounce Him as a rebel against the Roman Empire.

They certainly did not contemplate a third answer to their challenge; thus, they were bamboozled by His response. Now as modern-day believers who (hopefully) pay our taxes, we readily adhere to the approach that He establishes in verse 21. As law-abiding citizens, we can comprehend the gravity of tax evasion – yet it is heartening to know that paying our taxes does not disqualify us from citizenship in God’s kingdom. Moreover, we can be thankful that God is sovereign over our government, working through our taxes to advance His kingdom in mystical ways.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet August 12, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:1-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a king who hosts a wedding feast for his son. He sends his servants to those whom he has already invited to inform them that it is time for the feast – but they are unconcerned with his request. Some of them head to their farms and businesses, while others murder his servants. Enraged, he sends his troops to destroy them.

He then commands his servants to go to the crossroads and invite anyone they find to the feast, and they respond accordingly.

Later, he observes that one of his guests is not wearing the proper garments. He queries this guest on this point, but this guest has no excuse for his action. Thus, he orders his servants to permanently expel this guest.

Similarly, while God has invited many to enter His kingdom, He has only chosen a few to accept His invitation.

Thoughts: We see that many of the guests whom the king initially invited to the wedding feast subsequently reject that invitation. While I have declined wedding invitations in the past, I believe that my reasons for declining them were valid (e.g. I had already accepted an invitation to another wedding on that day). Indeed, the notion of declining a wedding invitation for a relatively frivolous reason is almost unfathomable; if I had extended an invitation in that instance, I would have been insulted. Perhaps this bolsters the king’s rationale for destroying the guests in this parable – and God’s rationale for punishing the Jews who had rejected the Gospel message.

We also see that the king in this parable expels a guest for his improper attire. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

So long as a man claims to submit to the Gospel, and lives an outwardly correct life, we dare not say positively that he is not clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But there will be no deception at the last day: the unerring eye of God will discern who are his own people, and who are not…It will avail the hypocrite nothing that he…had the human reputation of being an eminent Christian.

My understanding is that no believer can be completely certain – in this life – as to whether they are actually “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” We may have faith that this is the case – and that our words and deeds support that belief. Yet only God knows for certain whether we have truly put on His righteousness. Given this unavoidable state of uncertainty, how can we live victoriously? Perhaps we would do well to consider the fact that uncertainty is inherent to faith. Instead of being paralyzed by uncertainty, we should embrace it and aim to thrive in it, trusting that He will enable us to grow closer to Him in the process.

The Parable of the Tenants August 11, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:33-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a man who owns an estate. This estate owner decides to plant a vineyard in a portion of his land; he later protects it, digs a winepress and builds a tower. He then leases it out to some tenant farmers and goes abroad. At harvest time, he sends his servants to receive his portion of the crop.

Yet his tenants scourge one of his servants, murder another, and stone a third to death. He sends other servants to his tenants – yet they also treat them harshly. Finally, he sends his son to his tenants, assuming that they would be ashamed of treating him harshly.

Yet his tenants plan – and execute – the murder of his son.

When prompted by Jesus, the Jewish leaders assert that this estate owner will:

  • punish his tenants in a devastating manner
  • lease his vineyard to other tenants.

Jesus responds by concluding that they have fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 118:22-23. They have rejected Him, just as the tenants in this parable have rejected the son of the estate owner. Thus, they will be broken to pieces, as they have tried to harm Him. Moreover, God will take His kingdom from them and give it to His church.

Thoughts: Here, an estate owner sends a group of servants to his tenants to collect his portion of the harvest – even though his tenants had killed at least two of his servants on a previous occasion. When I read this passage, I was bewildered by his decision. After that initial act of violence, why did he fail to summon armed guards to evict his tenants? Was he unaware of the fact that his servants had been killed? Did he view this initial act of violence as a mere fluke? Did he assume that his tenants were ready to confess their sins? One thought is that he was presenting his tenants with a choice: they could either 1) reform their ways or 2) persist in their sinfulness. When they selected the latter option, they actually provided further justification for his decision to evict them from his land – and lease it to others.

We also see that those who try to harm Christ will either 1) stumble over Him or 2) be broken to pieces. As modern-day believers, we know that the false doctrine of many cults consists of an incorrect view of His Person and work; thus, He will “crush” these cult members. Yet this passage should also challenge us; do we also “stumble over” Him? For example, when we hear His calling to “love your enemies” and “do not judge others,” can we actually obey Him in this regard? Perhaps we are in danger of “stumbling over” Him; if this is the case, then we need to approach this passage with humility, asking Him to truly – and painfully – cleanse us.

The Henry Ford August 6, 2018

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I recently visited The Henry Ford in Dearborn. This “cultural destination” consists of four venues that present a slice of Americana.

Here are fifteen nuggets that I gleaned from my time at these venues.

1. Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac may have been inspired by the color of the sediment in the Rouge River when he christened it. In 1915, Henry Ford built his Rouge Plant on wood pilings in its watershed. The Rouge Plant was the site of the watershed Battle of the Overpass in 1937. Today, the Rouge Plant has been ISO 14001 certified and has a “living roof” that consists of sedum.

2. The engine of the Model A had twice the capacity of that of the Model T. The Model A was the first car to be completely assembled at the Ford Rouge Plant and debuted in 1927. In contrast, the Great Depression impacted the design of the engine of the V-8; in particular, each V-8 engine was made from a single block of metal – reducing its weight and cost. Noted criminals John Dillinger and Clyde Barrow both wrote letters to Ford, praising the V-8 as a getaway car.

3. Ford’s observations of workers at meatpacking and textile plants spurred him to develop the concept of the assembly line. Initially, Ford’s employees labored for about twelve hours to produce a single Model T; the introduction of the assembly line reduced that time to roughly ninety minutes. Currently, about 1200-1300 F-150 trucks are manufactured on a daily basis at the Ford Rouge Plant.

4. Several innovators in Massachusetts contributed to the Industrial Revolution, including:

5. While the first colonists brought ladderback chairs to Colonial America, the Windsor chair only appeared in colonial homes starting in the mid-1700s; George Washington actually ordered a set of Windsor chairs for his estate at Mount Vernon. Innovations in chair design did not cease at that point, though. For example, the 19th-century inventor Lambert Hitchcock based his eponymous chair on the design of clocks in Connecticut. Also, the 20th-century designers Charles and Ray Eames were inspired by their work for the U.S. Navy during World War II when crafting their unique line of chairs; they used plywood and fiberglass to that end.

6. The farming industry has seen its share of successful – and failed – innovations, including:

  • the Fordson tractor that was designed by Ford in 1918; his intention was that it would serve as the “Model T” of tractors
  • the mechanical reaper that was patented by Obed Hussey; his fifteen minutes of fame were ended by the marketing campaign of Cyrus McCormick
  • the mechanical cotton picker with an innovative spindle that was designed by Daniel Rust
  • the grain drill, which allows planting before corn is ready to be harvested
  • the no-till harvester, which was developed in 1978.

7. In 1983, Atari buried about 750000 video game cartridges in the desert outside Alamogordo. Some of the buried cartridges were unsold copies of E.T. which was designed by Howard Warshaw in five weeks. E.T. is considered to be among the worst video games ever produced. Although Atari denied any knowledge of buried cartridges outside Alamogordo, they were eventually unearthed in 2014.

8. George Corliss invented his eponymous steam engine and fought a legal battle with Noble Tuckerman Greene over patents for a valve mechanism for speed control. William Seward served as Corliss’ counsel. When Corliss emerged victorious, Greene was obliged to wait until 1870 to market his steam engines, as Corliss’ patents expired that year.

9. Raymond Orteig offered a prize to the first person to complete a trans-Atlantic flight. Charles Lindbergh responded to this announcement by working with the Ryan Airline Company to modify its M-2 three-seater; for example, five fuel tanks were placed on the Spirit of St. Louis. Since Lindbergh wanted to travel light, he only packed five meat sandwiches, one flashlight, one rubber raft and one wicker chair for his landmark achievement; in fact, he did not bring a parachute or a radio.

10. Roy Allen operated a root beer stand in California before founding A&W Restaurants with his business partner, Frank Wright. “Tray boys” and “tray girls” provided curbside service at A&W drive-ins. Walt Anderson, who worked as an A&W fry cook, developed a novel approach for cooking hamburgers. He would later found White Castle with his business partner, Billy Ingram.

11. U.S. presidents have adopted diverse modes of transport, including:

  • Theodore Roosevelt’s brougham
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Sunshine Special, which was modified to accommodate his disability
  • Dwight Eisenhower’s Bubbletop, which enabled crowds to view him even in inclement weather.

Also, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an armored top was added to presidential limousines. Yet Ronald Reagan successfully requested that his limousine include a modified sunroof, which enabled him to stand and wave at crowds.

12. Orville and Wilbur Wright lived about three blocks from the first bicycle shop that they opened in Dayton, Ohio; they would eventually rent five different shops. They constructed their first prototype plane – in sections – in one of these shops; it was 40 feet long, 21 feet wide and 9 feet high. They then wrote to the National Weather Service (NWS) for advice regarding a suitable location for testing their prototype; the NWS recommended Kill Devil Hills, a windy locale with an abundance of sand that would prove useful in mitigating the effects of crash landings. They accepted that recommendation and then spent three years learning how to glide. On a side note, Orville Wright was invited to the dedication of Greenwich Village in 1929.

13. Thomas Edison held nearly 1100 patents during his lifetime. His first patented invention was an electronic vote recorder that was intended for use in state legislatures. He was supported in his endeavors by a capable staff, including his foreman, John Kruesi, and a talented chemist, Alfred Haid. Their innovations included:

  • a filament for an incandescent light bulb that was made from carbonized cotton fiber
  • a dynamo that could convert mechanical energy to electricity.

14. Henry Carroll was the head of one of the wealthiest families in antebellum Maryland. He owned about 200 acres of land, and he adhered to the standard practice of planting tobacco for three to five years – before allowing that parcel of land to lie fallow for about twenty years. His slaves were ingenious, using crushed oyster shells to repel vermin and creating whitewash from a mixture of salt, water and milk. Some of them subsequently escaped, declaring themselves as “contraband of war” to avoid re-enslavement; this was permitted by the Confiscation Acts.

15. Noah Webster included about 70000 words in his eponymous dictionary. He only invented one of those words, though: “demoralize.” A strict Calvinist, he viewed slavery as an economically inefficient endeavor – yet he was opposed to abolitionists’ acts of civil disobedience. He remodeled his home to include a first-floor bedroom for his wife; contemporary homes lacked first-floor bedrooms. As he disapproved of his son-in-law, he raised his grand-daughter, Mary.

This “cultural destination” is expansive, and I actually toured it over two days. I especially enjoyed my tour of the Ford Rouge Plant; the sight of workers playing their roles in assembling a Ford F-150 truck was humbling and awe-inspiring. I also enjoyed my stroll through the Greenwich Village, as the staff members were pleased to share various nuggets.

One point worth noting is that at the main venue, a 6-dollar parking fee is automatically added to the cost of admission; guests should request that this fee be removed if they do not park at that venue.

Overall I enjoyed my time at this “cultural destination,” and I would recommend it to those who happen to visit Michigan.

The Parable of the Two Sons August 5, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:28-32.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a father who asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son initially rejects this request – yet he subsequently goes to the vineyard. The second son initially accepts this request – yet he never goes to the vineyard.

When the Jewish leaders assert that only the first son obeyed his father, Jesus declares that they are like the second son; while they declare their obedience to God, they fail to obey Him. In contrast, the rebels of society are like the first son; while they initially reject God, they will subsequently obey Him.

This point is borne out in the diametrically opposed responses of these two groups to the righteous words and deeds of John the Baptist.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus condemns the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy, as their outward profession of faith is invalidated by their inward sinfulness. After I read through this passage, I believe that I can identify with the second son in this parable, at least to some extent. I regularly declare that I will obey God, especially when I sing praise songs in church on Sundays. Yet during these worship services, I tend to mull over the song lyrics, wondering if my deeds – especially during the rest of the week – match my words. In those moments, I sense that I cannot achieve a desired level of consistency between my words and my deeds. Perhaps I should be encouraged by the fact that I am aware of my shortcomings in this regard, as I am humbled by them – enabling God to work through my weaknesses.

The Authority of Jesus Questioned August 4, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:23-27.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to the temple and preaches the Gospel message. There, He is confronted by the Jewish leaders, who question Him regarding His authority to preach.

He responds by querying them regarding the origin of the ministry of John the Baptist. The Jewish leaders then engage in a continuous discussion, noting that:

  • if they acknowledge that John was commissioned by God, then He would probe them on their failure to acknowledge this point during John’s ministry
  • if they assert that John was not commissioned by God, then the people would reject them.

Thus, they refuse to answer His query – and so He refuses to answer their query.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders with an incisive query. This passage furnishes yet another example of Jesus’ strategy of asking questions to reveal the thoughts and attitudes of others. Indeed, the questions that He poses during His ministry are probing – and relevant for modern-day believers. For example:

  • do we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ?
  • can we endure the suffering that He endured in this life?
  • can we refer to ourselves as His mother and brothers?

While these questions are challenging, we must confront them; if we can answer them in the affirmative, then we are confident that we belong to Him.

The Fig Tree Withers August 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Jerusalem. He is very hungry and sees a fig tree – yet it is diseased and fruitless. He curses it – and it immediately dies.

His disciples marvel at this turn of events; He states that just as He has displayed His power by causing that fig tree to die, they can display His power – if they trust in the revelation of God and petition Him.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus curses a fruitless fig tree. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Finally, is not everyone who claims to be a Christian but does not bear fruit, in awful danger of becoming a withered fig-tree? There can be no doubt of it. So long as a person is content with the mere leaves of religion – with a reputation for being alive while he is dead, and a form of godliness without the power – so long his soul is in great peril.

When I read passages that condemn those who do not bear fruit, I often think of other believers, wondering if they are actually withered fig-trees. Yet I fail to assess my walk with God; indeed, I merely assume that I am bearing fruit. Thus, this passage challenges me with this simple question: am I bearing fruit? Am I bringing glory to Him through my words and deeds? I believe that I am bearing fruit, but I could be wrong on that point. One thought is that as long as I continue to wrestle with the weaknesses in my walk with Him (e.g. failing to love other believers who may have offended me), He can enable me to bear fruit through those struggles. Indeed, I believe that my willingness to wrestle with those weaknesses reflects my dependence on Him – which is pleasing in His sight.