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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.

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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.

The Sign of Jonah March 31, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:38-45.

Summary: In this passage, several experts in the Jewish law ask Jesus for a supernatural proof of His identity as the Messiah. He responds by stating that He will only provide one supernatural proof of His identity to them: He will die and rise again in three days – just as Jonah was trapped in the belly of a fish for three days. Indeed, they will be condemned by:

  • the Ninevites, who repented of their sins when Jonah provided them with a supernatural proof of his identity as a messenger from God – and He is greater than Jonah
  • the Queen of Sheba, who acknowledged the wisdom of Solomon – and He is greater than Solomon.

He concludes by condemning them for promoting external reformation in lieu of internal reformation based on the Gospel message.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus warns his audience about the dangers of external reformation in lieu of internal reformation. This is a valuable reminder of the importance of a valid motive for performing good deeds. Indeed, we see that the only valid motive in this regard is a desire to worship God: He has initiated a gracious plan of salvation that applies to us, and so we are compelled to respond to His act of initiation with deeds of thankfulness. This does raise the following question: does God actually detest acts of kindness that are performed by unbelievers? If an unbeliever wants to “make the world a better place” and participates in relief and development projects in a Third World country, how does He view their efforts? One thought is that He seeks to glorify Himself through their efforts, though this is just speculation on my part.

Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta March 30, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. The museum showcases the American civil rights movement and raises several difficult questions concerning modern-day injustices.

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

1. Claudette Colvin was arrested on March 2, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to yield her seat on a city bus to a white person. Yet she did not become the public face of the protest against segregation on Montgomery city buses, as she had a child out of wedlock and was relatively dark-skinned (compared to Rosa Parks). Her mother also pressured her to cede the spotlight to Parks.

2. During the preparations for the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hosea Williams spied a cart outside an antique store in Atlanta. He appropriated it, promising Ralph Abernathy that he would compensate the owner. He also found two mules about twenty miles outside Atlanta to pull this cart during the funeral. King’s body was placed on it during the funeral procession – highlighting his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign in his latter years.

3. Some Jim Crow laws were particularly absurd, including the following regulations:

  • a white woman carrying a mixed-race child could be imprisoned for up to five years
  • books intended for white school districts should be physically separate from books intended for colored school districts
  • ticket booths at circuses that catered to white and colored patrons, respectively, should be separated by at least twenty-five feet.

4. Bayard Rustin played a crucial role in organizing the March on Washington in 1963; he – and A. Philip Randolph – appeared on the cover of Time in recognition of that landmark event. During the run-up to the March on Washington, he ceded the spotlight to Randolph; this may have stemmed from the following facts:

  • he was gay
  • he had a brief association with leftist labor groups.

5. Ruby Bridges was the first student to integrate the New Orleans public school system. She compared the events surrounding her first day of school to a Mardi Gras celebration. John Steinbeck captured her experience that day in Travels with Charley, inspiring Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting The Problem We All Live With.

6. Many whites in positions of authority opposed the American civil rights movement, including:

  • Lester Maddox, who refused to serve black patrons at his family-run restaurant
  • Jim Clark, who marched a crowd of demonstrators to jail with the aid of cattle prods
  • James Eastland, who doubted the accounts of the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.

7. In contrast, many whites in positions of authority supported the American civil rights movement in the South, including:

  • William Hartsfield, who helped integrate the Atlanta police force
  • Robert Woodruff, who threatened to move the Coca-Cola headquarters from Atlanta if local white business leaders boycotted a dinner in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964
  • Ivan Allen, Jr., who helped cover the expenses for King’s funeral in 1968.

The museum included a special exhibit of some of Dr. King’s papers, including a formal invitation to the celebration of Ghana’s independence from Great Britain. Another exhibit included Dr. King’s death certificate, which contained several nuggets of information. Several exhibits highlighted ongoing struggles around the world concerning the rights of women, LGBT individuals, and migrant workers.

My main quibble with the museum concerns its layout. In particular, the exhibit that allows visitors to experience the harassment that protesters endured at Southern lunch counters attracted a plethora of patrons, hampering my ability to navigate the surrounding exhibits.

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

Jesus and Beelzebub March 30, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:22-37.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus casts out a demon from a man who was blind and mute – healing him of his infirmities. Many are astonished by this miracle and wonder if Jesus is the Messiah. Yet the Pharisees dismiss this speculation, asserting that Satan is actually empowering Him.

Jesus responds by debunking this argument; in particular, He:

  • asserts that Satan would not be divided against himself
  • contrasts His genuine acts of healing with the counterfeit acts performed by Jewish exorcists.

Indeed, His acts of healing:

  • prove His superiority to Satan
  • are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, they must either accept Him or reject Him. Those who reject Him – and the Holy Spirit – are eternally condemned by God the Father.

He concludes by asserting that their rejection of the Holy Spirit stems from the fact that they have not been renewed by God. Only those who have been renewed by God will acknowledge the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus condemns those who reject the work of the Holy Spirit. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

The brighter the light, the greater the guilt of the person who rejects it; the clearer a person’s knowledge of the nature of the Gospel, the greater the sin in willfully refusing to repent and believe…Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Judas Iscariot, the Emperor Julian and Francis Spira are fearful illustrations of our Lord’s meaning.

I was unfamiliar with Francis Spira before I read this section in Ryle’s commentary, and I was inspired to learn more about him. Perhaps his story highlights the importance of regular reflection on Christ’s finished work for our salvation. If we fail to meditate on this point, we might dwell on our inherent sinfulness and begin to question the truth of our salvation. Indeed, Satan constantly attempts to exploit the fact that almost two millennia have passed since Christ completed His work for our salvation; thus, we must combat this tempter on a daily basis – with the invaluable assistance of the Holy Spirit.

We also see that Jesus highlights the connection between our words and our hearts. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Let us be humble as we read this passage and recollect time past. How many idle, foolish, vain, light, frivolous, sinful and unprofitable things we have all said! How many words we have used which, like thistle-down, have flown far and wide and sown mischief in the hearts of others that will never die!

While these thoughts may be somewhat depressing, it is important to note that we will never be perfect in this life; we cannot hope to avoid speaking “unprofitable” words. Thus, we should consider this question: how can we maximize the profitability of our words? One thought is that we should:

  • attempt to pause before speaking
  • evaluate our thoughts and reject as many foolish notions as possible
  • attempt to consider the thoughts and feelings of our audience.

Of course, it is extremely difficult to execute these steps; we need constant grace as we navigate a thicket of misunderstandings.