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Psalm 20 March 24, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 20.

Summary: In this passage, David prays for himself (and for all of his successors). In particular, he asks God to accept his sacrifices and enable him to defeat his enemies.

He then praises God, as He has previously answered this prayer. He concludes by reiterating his main request.

Thoughts: The focus of this psalm is a prayer for each monarch of Israel. When I strolled through this psalm, I wrestled with this question: how does this psalm apply to modern-day believers? Clearly its primary application concerned the Old Testament monarchs of Israel (and Judah); what is a valid secondary application? One idea is that perhaps God has guaranteed that believers will eventually defeat all of their enemies – whether physical or spiritual. This raises the following question: do we truly “trust in the name of the Lord our God?” Are we going to hold fast to Him in the face of uncertainty? I pray that I will be able to answer these questions in the affirmative.

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Psalm 6 January 18, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 6.

Summary: In this passage, David beseeches God to have mercy on him by delivering him from his enemies. Although his heart is heavy, he is certain that God will answer his prayer.

Thoughts: The tone of this psalm shifts in verses 8-10. Thus, I am curious: did David compose this entire psalm in one sitting? If so, how did God sustain him through this emotional roller-coaster? If not, how long did David remain in a state of despair, and how did God eventually cause his enemies to “be put to shame?” I anticipate querying David on this point in the next life. I am also curious as to whether other psalms include conspicuous shifts in their tone; if so, did David compose all of them?

Psalm 4 January 7, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 4.

Summary: In this passage, David beseeches God to hear his prayer. He then addresses those who oppose him, reminding them that God is with him and exhorting them to submit to Him. He concludes by:

  • asking God for His favor to be upon him
  • reaffirming his trust in Him.

Thoughts: Readers of the psalms written by David will note the strength of his conviction that God is on his side. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

…God alone was his keeper; though alone, without human help, he was in good keeping, for he was “alone with God.”

My belief is that it was relatively easy for David to assert that God was on his side. In particular, as the leader of a theocracy, he was keenly aware of the following truths:

  • when Israel trusted in God, He enabled them to defeat their enemies
  • when Israel did not trust in God, He allowed their enemies to defeat them.

My sense is that modern-day believers struggle to a greater extent to determine if God is “on our side.” For example, if we sense that we are bearing fruit for Him, then we gain confidence in the belief that He is “on our side.” Yet what if we do not sense that we are bearing fruit for Him? Does that necessarily imply that He is not “on our side” – or could He have simply chosen to bear fruit through us at a later point? Perhaps modern-day believers must exercise even greater faith than that which David displayed, in light of the complexities of our circumstances.

Gethsemane October 7, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:36-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus – who is in deep anguish, knowing that He is away from home – and His disciples come to a garden called Gethsemane. He tells them to wait at the entrance while He pours out His heart to God. After bringing Peter, James and John with Him into the garden, He tells them that He is surrounded by sorrow – enough to kill Him.

He then:

  • tells them to keep watch over Him and pray for Him – and for themselves
  • goes a stone’s throw from them and prostrates Himself
  • calls on His Father, praying that if there is another way for His divine plan of salvation to be fulfilled, then He should let it happen
  • resigns Himself to the will of His Father
  • returns to His disciples and finds them sleeping
  • rebukes them, noting that although they have a renewed spirit, it is often defeated by their humanness.

This sequence of events is actually repeated two times. He then tells them to arise, as those who have come to arrest Him have arrived. In particular, they should go and meet Judas, who has come to deliver Him up.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus wrestles with His impending suffering and death. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Why is the almighty Son of God, who had worked so many miracles, so heavy and disquieted? Why is Jesus, who came into the world to die, so ready to faint at the approach of death…There is but one reasonable answer to these questions…the real weight that bowed down the heart of Jesus was the weight of the sin of the world, which seems to have now pressed down upon him with unique force…

When I strolled through this passage, I focused on Jesus’ impending physical suffering – influenced by my vivid memories of The Passion of the Christ. Yet Ryle’s thoughts compelled me to ponder Jesus’ impending spiritual suffering. In particular, we cannot begin to comprehend the intimacy of the union that He enjoyed with His Father and the Holy Spirit. When He assumed the burden of the sins of the world, that intimate union was marred (albeit temporarily). Imagine the depth of the anguish and pain that must have engulfed Him at the mere thought of being separated from the Father and the Spirit! How could He emerge victorious over those torturous feelings? Indeed, this passage sheds valuable light on the intimacy of the Trinity.

Jesus also rebukes His disciples for failing to keep watch and pray for Him – and for themselves – “for one hour.” This caused me to ponder the fact that I have never prayed continuously for even one hour (to the best of my knowledge). While I attended several prayer meetings as a graduate student, the prayers during those meetings never lasted an hour. While I do pray before I sleep, those prayers never exceed twenty minutes. Perhaps this is related to the fact that I rarely wrestle with God in my prayers (though I will wrestle with Him after hearing about a tragic event, as that causes me to ponder the inevitability of evil and suffering in this world). At this point, I fail to appreciate the value of wrestling with God in prayer, as I believe that His will is paramount and that He will accomplish it regardless of my struggles. This raises the following questions:

  • is God pleased when believers wrestle with Him in their prayers?
  • will wrestling with Him actually enrich my prayer life?
  • how can I refrain from sinning when wrestling with 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.

The Little Children and Jesus July 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 19:13-15.

Summary: In this passage, people are bringing their babies to Jesus so that He would bless them and pray for them. Yet the disciples attempt to drive them away.

Jesus is furious with His disciples, as His grace extends to babies. He then blesses and prays for many babies before departing.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus blesses and prays for many babies. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Let us begin from their very earliest years to deal with them as having souls to be lost or saved, and let us strive to bring them to Christ; let us make them acquainted with the Bible as soon as they can understand anything; let us pray with them, and pray for them, and teach them to pray for themselves. We may rest assured that Jesus looks with pleasure on such endeavors, and is ready to bless them.

At my previous church, I served as a Sunday School teacher for a class where the majority of the students were in high school. I enjoyed serving in that capacity, especially since at least some of the students sharpened their understanding of God in the process. When I decided to volunteer as a Sunday School teacher at my current church, though, I was assigned to serve in a K-2 class. Serving in this capacity has been challenging, as I am unsure as to whether the students are drawing closer to God (e.g. most of the kindergartners are actually illiterate). Thus, I was glad to read Ryle’s above-mentioned quote; I must remain confident that God does look “with pleasure on” my teaching and that He will work, in His timing, to draw these K-2 students to Himself.

Prayer December 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:5-15.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus notes that the:

  • Pharisees pray in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men
  • Gentiles pray mindlessly.

In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to:

  • shun the applause of men in their prayers
  • know the Person to whom they are praying.

He then instructs them to pray that:

  • the attributes of God would be glorified
  • the kingdom of God would be established at His Second Coming
  • all mankind would perfectly submit to the laws of God
  • God would supply their daily necessities
  • God would be merciful to them
  • God would enable them to be merciful to others
  • God would not allow them to run into sin
  • God would preserve them from the power of evil.

He concludes by restating the importance of mercy – as a repentant heart naturally expresses itself via acts of mercy.

Thoughts: In verse 10, we see that we should earnestly desire the Second Coming of Christ. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This is the time when sin, sorrow and Satan will be driven out of the world. It is…a time that is to be desired more than anything. It therefore fills a foremost place in the Lord’s Prayer.

I can say that when I am in a good mood, I rarely pause and ponder the kingdom of God. It is only when God jolts me out of my complacency – e.g. when I am reminded of the evil and suffering that plague this world – that I pray that He would swiftly establish His kingdom in this world. Indeed, accounts of evil and suffering constantly remind us – as believers – that this world is imperfect and that we should long for the complete realization of the kingdom of God. One thought is that we can display this longing to unbelievers by persisting in our acts of service.

In verse 12, we see that we should ask God to forgive us – as we have forgiven those who have offended us. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Its object is to remind us that we must not expect our prayers for forgiveness to be heard if we pray with malice and spite in our hearts towards others. To pray in such a frame of mind is mere formality and hypocrisy…Our prayers are nothing without love. We must not expect to be forgiven if we cannot forgive.

This section of the Sermon on the Mount continues to challenge me, as it exposes the obstacles that plague my walk with God. Lately I have pondered God’s ability to forgive us in light of our propensity to sin. One thought is that His ability to forgive stems from His understanding of His identity. When He forgives us, His glory is not diminished – even if we fail to accept His forgiveness and/or continue to offend Him. Perhaps my inability to forgive others reflects my lack of understanding of my identity in Him. If so, then I need to grow in that understanding – on a daily basis – in order to extend forgiveness to others.

Jeremiah’s Prayer March 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah prays that God would:

  • discipline him – yet not in anger, lest he be destroyed
  • punish Babylon for its war crimes against the people of Judah.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder this question: when is it proper for believers to pray that God would punish others? Perhaps we should consider those actions that are clearly sinful, e.g. rape, pillage and murder. Those of us who follow the news know that these sinful deeds still occur today; we immediately recoil from their inherent wickedness. Yet our desire for God to punish those who commit these sins is, in some sense, mitigated by our desire that they repent of them and seek mercy from Him. How can we know that they will never repent of their sins? Perhaps we should place these evildoers into God’s hands and ask that He would deal with them as He sees fit, as we lack His wisdom and foresight. He knows their hearts and can determine if they have hardened beyond the point of no return.

The Stoning of Stephen June 10, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 7:54-8:1a.

Summary: In this passage, the members of the Sanhedrin responded to Stephen’s rebuke with a paroxysm of rage. They dragged him out of Jerusalem and – with the approval of Saul – stoned him to death. Before Stephen passed away, though, he prayed for:

  • his ultimate salvation
  • God to forgive his murderers.

At that time, he was full of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: In verse 60 of chapter 7, Stephen prays for the forgiveness of his murderers. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

We know that we are all commanded by Christ to do what Luke tells us Stephen did, but nothing is harder than to forgive injuries so completely that we wish well to those who want our downfall. Therefore, we must always look to Stephen as an example.

In terms of doing good to others, one should consider the following cases:

  • doing good to those who do good to us; this could be viewed as a straightforward application of quid pro quo
  • doing good to those who are indifferent to us; this can be a difficult task – especially if we have high expectations of the other party
  • doing good to those who harm us; I wonder if anyone can do this without hesitation.

I would say that I have no struggles with the first case, as I strongly believe in the concept of quid pro quo. In terms of the second case, I have improved over the last few years – especially when I spend time with younger believers. I still fall short when it comes to the third case, though; I often find myself inwardly cursing those who harm me – even if I do not respond outwardly to their actions. Clearly I do not fully understand the concept of grace; thus, I need God’s help when it comes to loving those who harm me.

The Believers’ Prayer May 6, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 4:23-31.

Summary: In this passage, Peter and John rejoined their fellow believers and recounted their meeting with the Sanhedrin. This spurred the believers to pray to God, where they:

  • declared that people have always opposed Him and the Messiah – as evidenced by Psalm 2:1-2 and recent events concerning Jesus
  • appealed to His sovereignty in light of this opposition
  • asked Him for the strength to preach the Gospel message – and perform miracles to authenticate it.

God responded to their prayer in a mighty way; thus, they were able to boldly proclaim the Gospel message.

Thoughts: It is amazing that the believers in the early church were willing to boldly proclaim the Gospel message and bring glory to God – even in the face of threats from the Jewish aristocracy. My conjecture is that they knew that they had to decrease in order for God to increase. Thus, they viewed the threats of the Jewish aristocracy as verbal assaults on God Himself – as opposed to assaults on their standing in their community. As modern-day believers, we should also strive to magnify God in our lives – while avoiding the temptation to protect our reputation at all costs. If others insult us for adhering to “blind faith,” we should remember that Jesus had many opponents while He conducted His earthly ministry; why should we shun the insults that our Master endured?