John T. Willis

Sunday, November 09, 2014

A Psalmist Prays for Yahweh's Forgiveness and Protection--Psalm 25

Psalm 25 is an acrostic. Each verse begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet: 'aleph, beth, gimel, daleth, he, etc. The superscription contains only: "Of David." No one knows whether this is inspired or not originally. Two themes run throughout Psalm 25: The psalmist asks Yahweh to forgive him for his sins; the psalmist beseeches Yahweh to protect him from all his troubles. Throughout this poem, the composer speaks of himself in the first person singular, but in the last verse, he beseeches Yahweh to redeem all of Yahweh's people. The path through Psalm 25 falls into four parts.

I. The Psalmist asks Yahweh to teach him his ways. Psalm 25:1-5.
    a. The psalmist begins by imploring Yahweh to keep him from SHAME. He begins by declaring: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Then he proclaims: in YOU I trust. Then he asks Yahweh: Do not let me be put to SHAME or let his enemies prevail over him. He asks that Yahweh will not let those who WAIT FOR [i. e., trust in] Yahweh be PUT TO SHAME. In contrast, he prays: Let those who are wantonly treacherous BE ASHAMED. 25:1-3.
    b. Since the psalmist WAITS FOR [. e., trusts in] Yahweh, he beseeches Yahweh to MAKE HIM KNOW Yahweh's ways, TEACH him Yahweh's paths, LEAD him in Yahweh's truth, and TEACH him. What an important prayer for all of God's people in every generation!!! 25:4-5.

II. The Psalmist implores Yahweh to forgive him of all his sins. Psalm 25:6-15.
     a. The psalmist turns to address his sins. He beseeches Yahweh for his MERCY and STEADFAST LOVE. This is Yahweh's nature from the very beginning (see Exodus 34:6-7). Because of Yahweh's STEADFAST LOVE, the poet asks him not to remember the sins of his youth and his transgressions. This is not because the psalmist is good or righteous, but only "for Yahweh's goodness' sake." 25:6-7.
     b. The psalmist extols Yahweh's nature to forgive sinners. Yahweh is GOOD and UPRIGHT. Therefore, he alone INSTRUCTS sinners in the way. Yahweh LEADS the humble in what is right. He TEACHES the humble Yahweh's way. ALL THE PATHS OF YAHWEH are STEADFAST LOVE and FAITHFULNESS for those who keep Yahweh's covenant. 25:8-10.
     c. The psalmist then addresses Yahweh. He admits that his guilt of sins is GREAT. Thus he beseeches Yahweh to PARDON his guilt, not for the goodness of the psalmist, but for Yahweh's name's sake. Then he asks: Who are they that fear Yahweh? Yahweh will TEACH them the way they should choose. He seeks Yahweh's guidance all the way. This brings this bold promise that those who follow Yahweh's forgiveness and guidance will abide in prosperity, their children will possess the land, the friendship of Yahweh will be upon them, and Yahweh makes his covenant known to them. Thus the poet concludes with the resolve: My eyes are always toward Yahweh, because Yahweh will pluck his feet out of the net. 25:11-15.

III. The Psalmist beseeches Yahweh to relieve him from all his troubles. Psalm 25:16-18.
       a. The psalmist begins with the simple request: Turn to me, O Yahweh, and be gracious to me. He admits that he is lonely and afflicted. This poem does not go into detail about WHY the psalmist is lonely and afflicted. Clues in this psalm imply that this is because of the danger of his enemies and the feeling of guilt of his sins. But probably, many other issues reside in his heart. 25:16.
       b. The psalmist continues: Relieve the troubles of MY HEART, and bring me out of my distress. The troubles and distress are unclear. This leaves this psalm open to be applied to our personal lives and feelings of heart. 25:17.
       c. The psalmist concludes: O Yahweh, PLEASE consider my affliction and trouble, and forgive ALL MY SINS. The psalmist is greatly troubled, and seeks Yahweh's presence and help. 25:18.

IV. The Psalmist concludes by beseeching Yahweh to deliver him from all his enemies. Psalm 25:19-22.
      a. The poet reveals the fact that his enemies are very serious and dangerous. His enemies are MANY; they HATE the psalmist with VIOLENT HATRED. Obviously, they are determined to destroy the psalmist. Thus, the poet turns to Yahweh for help. 25:19.
      b. The psalmist TAKES REFUGE IN Yahweh. Accordingly, he beseeches Yahweh to GUARD his life against his enemies, DELIVER him from his dangers, and LET HIM NOT BE PUT TO SHAME--thinking back to verses 1-3. 25:20.
      c. The psalmist WAITS FOR [i. e., trusts in] Yahweh, and thus he prays that his integrity and uprightness might preserve him. 25:21.
      d. Finally, the psalmist thinks of his associates--all of God's people. Thus, he beseeches Yahweh to REDEEM Israel out of all her troubles, like he had besought Yahweh to deliver the psalmist. 25:22.

Share YOUR insights and beliefs and shortcomings and reversals and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Majoring in Minors--Part 1

Through the centuries, all churches have been plagued by focusing on matters which are of no significance to God. People always support their views by quoting various texts or explain texts away from what the Bible actually says. The Church of Christ denomination is no exception. In the next few blogs, we will briefly address only some of these issues in which we "major in minors."

I. Wealth.
    a. Like all churches, WEALTH has always played a huge role in the hearts and lives of our churches and institutions. We desire BIG churches. The bigger the church, the better the church. Yes, we explain all this away, using this argument or that argument. But Jesus taught us very clearly that wealth is meaningless in the eyes of God. For example, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-21:
     Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your HEART will be also.
     Universities cater to the wealthy. Their real concern is not in focusing on God, learning and following the Bible seriously, and engaging in difficult issues, but in keeping their constituents content and satisfied. Administration, faculty, and staff meetings rarely discuss difficult heart issues of life. The concern is to have bigger and better buildings, a well-kept campus, plenty of entertainment, food, supplies, etc. But where is the serious thinking and praying and living in the lives of all who attend?
   b. Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 6:6-10:
       Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

II. Beauty.
     a. Beauty attracts all people. God is the giver of every beautiful person and thing. But it is very easy for all people to focus on external beauty rather than on the heart. When Yahweh told Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next king of Israel, Samuel brought out the sons of Jesse. The oldest son, Eliab, was tall and handsome, a very good looking individual. Samuel immediately said:
         "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord. But the Lord said to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."
     b. A clear example of this principle is the existence of divorces in the United States, and in all the churches. A person often marries another person because that person is handsome or beautiful physically or externally. If one will just take time to learn the heart of that person, many marriages will be averted. God's picture of marriage is Jesus and the church in Ephesians 5:22-33. One must carefully restudy all the aspects of that relationship in this text.

Share YOUR insights and concerns and relationships and shortcomings and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The King of Glory--Psalm 24

The superscription over Psalm 24 is very brief: "Of David. A Psalm." Obviously, this give no information about the background or purpose of this poem. Psalms 24 is very brief; it contains only ten verses. It naturally falls into three parts. The fundamental theme is "Yahweh is the King of Glory."

I. Everything in the Universe belongs to Yahweh. Psalm 24:1-2.
    a. The poet begins with the proclamation: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it. This psalm assumes [like the rest of the Hebrew Bible] that Yahweh rules not just over the people of Israel but over all the earth, including all nations. 24:1.
    b. The proof that everything belongs to God is that Yahweh founded the universe on the seas, and established it on the rivers. This calls to mind the account of creation in Genesis 1. 24:2.

II. Preparing Hearts for Worship. Psalm 24:3-6.
     a. As pilgrims wind their way from their homes to gather at the Jerusalem temple and worship Yahweh, when they approach the gates or doors of the temple, they ask the official priest: "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand on his holy place?" The Jerusalem temple was built on Mount Moriah at the Threshing Floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24:18-25; 2 Chronicles 3:1; cf. Genesis 22:1-18). So, all the worshippers had to walk UP the mountain to get to the temple. 24:3.
     b. The priest responds with THREE comprehensive necessities for all worshippers:
         1. Worshippers must have clean hands and pure hearts. A person's heart lies at the center of all life. Proverbs 4:23 says: "Keep your HEART with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." The hand is the God-given means of carrying out what the heart directs. James 4:8 highlights this truth: "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. CLEANSE YOUR HANDS, you sinners, and PURIFY YOUR HEARTS, you double-minded."
         2. Worshippers must not lift up their souls to what is false. There are many enticements to lure godly people away from focusing on God alone. All such enticements and allurements are false. They lead to nowhere and accomplish nothing. Thus, true followers of God must avoid all such temptations at all cost.
         3. Worshippers must not swear deceitfully. Making promises to God is important and solemn. Each worshipper must choose carefully the decisions he/she makes in life. One must follow true and honest opportunities and  guidelines. 24:4.
     c. When worshippers follow these three powerful, simple instructions, they will receive blessing from Yahweh and vindication for God our Father. This is the company of those who seek Yahweh. 24:5-6.

III. Exalting the King of Glory. Psalm 24:7-10.
      a. As companies of pilgrims carry the ark of the covenant as a symbol if Yahweh's presence as king, they beckon the Most Holy Place of the temple: "Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in." A more detailed picture of this approach of worshippers appears in 1 Kings 8:1-13 [note especially verse 11]. 24:7, 9.
     b. Finally, the worshippers reflect on the identity of Yahweh, saying: "Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle," and again: "Who is the King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory." This gives the picture of Yahweh as King as commander of the hosts or armies of Israel as they boldly move forward against any enemies to be victorious under the leadership of their heavenly King and Lord. See the similar picture in Numbers 10:35-36;
1 Samuel 4:3-4. 24:8, 10.

Share YOUR experiences and concepts and reversals and aspirations and dreams with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Elders and Deacons--Part 3

The role or function as a deacon is as unclear and ambiguous as is the role of an elder in the church of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament. It is not clear at all that Acts 6:1-7 has to do with deacons.

I. The Greek word for "deacon" is "diakonos." Obviously, the English word "deacon" is NOT a translation, but a transliteration. The same is true of the Greek word "baptizo," which is transliterated into English as "baptize." The translation of "baptize" is another matter.
     a. "Diakonos" occurs often in the New Testament, but only very rarely of a person who functions in some capacity in the church. The verb "diakoneo" means "to minister, to serve," cf. Matthew 4:11; 20:28; Acts 19:22; Romans 15:25; and often. Consult a good concordance. The cognate Greek noun "diakonia" means "ministry, ministration, ministering," which also appears often, e. g., Luke 10:40; Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 3:7-9; and often. Consult a good concordance. "Diakonos" occurs in many texts which clearly does not mean a designated functionary in a local church--see e. g., Matthew 22:13; John 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:5; and often. Consult a good concordance.
     b. The ONLY possible understanding of "deacon," therefore, is a person whose capacity in the church is to serve or minister to other people. Where there is a need, there must be a deacon, a servant, a minister.

II. The only text which gives a description of a deacon is 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The qualities described here are almost identical with the qualities of an elder. Two VERY IMPORTANT truths appear in this text.
     a. 1 Timothy 3:11 clearly states that both men and women are to be deacons in the church. The qualities of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 are essentially parallel to the qualities of "widows to be put on the list" in the church in 1 Timothy 5:9-10.
     b. This proves that the quality "be married only once" in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 cannot be gender specific. This quality has to do with fidelity in marriage whether the individual is a husband or a wife.

III. Romans 16:1 openly declares that Phoebe was a "deacon" in the church at Cenchreae.
      a. Biblically, these texts show that men and women can function as elders or deacons in local churches.
      b. Along the same line, there are numerous texts which emphasize that women are to be preachers in God's Church. Acts 2:17-18 says: "In the last days . . . your sons AND YOUR DAUGHTERS shall prophesy . . . Even upon my slaves, both men AND WOMEN, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
      c. Acts 21:9 says that "Philip had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy."
      d. Throughout the Bible, God raised up WOMEN to prophesy, that is, to preach God's word, including Miriam in Exodus 15:20, Deborah in Judges 4:4, Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14-20, etc.

Summarizing: The role of elders and deacons in the church is to serve God and serve others. They are NEVER ABOVE anyone else  in the church, but humble servants to honor God, the Creator and SUSTAINER of everyone and all creation.

Share YOUR fears and concerns and thoughts and feelings and beliefs with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Lord is My Shepherd--Psalm 23

Psalm 23 contains only six verses, but is well-known and well-loved throughout the world. The Superscription says only: "A Psalm of David." Obviously, this give no information about the background or setting. The anonymous author had recently been delivered from a severe illness from he almost died (verse 4), and from enemies that sought to kill him (verse 5). Knowing that Yahweh has delivered him from sickness and danger, the psalmist comes to the Jerusalem temple (verse 6) to thank Yahweh for intervening to save him from his troubles. He accomplishes this by using two very common ancient Near Eastern metaphors: (1) a shepherd (vv. 1-4); and (2) a host (vv. 5-6). This little psalms naturally falls into two parts.

1. Yahweh is My Shepherd. Psalm 23:1-4.
    a. Here the poet uses the metaphor of Yahweh as shepherd to emphasize his appreciation and gratitude for Yahweh providing all his needs and dealing with all his problems. It is possible that the composer is a king because he refers to Yahweh as "shepherd," and a king is frequently called a "shepherd" of his people in the ancient Near East. In Israel, the ideal earthly king would willingly subject himself to the rule of Yahweh, the real king. The verb "anoint" in verse 5 may suggest he is a king because the normal way of making an Israelite king is that a prophet anointed the chosen person to be the next prince or king of Israel. 23:1.
    b. The statement "he [Yahweh] makes me lie down in green pastures" communicates the idea that when a sheep is full and satisfied, he or she will lie down to rest and sleep. God's people are like "sheep" (see Psalms 95:7; 100:3), and Yahweh is like a tender, loving "shepherd," who guides his sheep into lush, green pastures so they will have plenty to graze and know they are safe. The statement "he [Yahweh] leads me beside still waters" suggests that Yahweh leads his people away from troubled waters to keep them in slow-moving streams. This is a perfect picture of peace. 23:2.
    c. The word "soul" throughout the Bible does not mean a spiritual part of the human body, but rather the whole person. Thus, the expression "he [Yahweh] restores my soul" means "he revives my overwhelmed or dejected spirit when I am down and out" (see Psalm 19:7). In this context, Yahweh has done this by delivering the psalmist from his illness and his enemies. The psalmist continues: "Yahweh leads me in right paths for his name's sake." This is a picture of a spiritual journey. "Right paths" are good and safe paths in the spiritual sense. 23:3.
    d. The psalmist explains that he has walked through the darkest valley. But since Yahweh is WITH him, he will fear no evil. "Evil" here means calamity, affliction, danger, and the like. Study the word "evil" in a good concordance. As a good shepherd, Yahweh carries a "rod" to correct a straying sheep and a "staff" to move a lagging sheep to move forward more quickly. Thus, Yahweh"s rod and staff comfort and strengthen the psalmist. 23:4.

II. Yahweh is My Host. Psalm 23:5-6.
     a. In verses 5-6, the poet introduces a second metaphor, comparing Yahweh with a host. Yahweh prepares a table in the presence of his enemies, Yahweh anoints the guest with oil, and the guest's cup overflows. Yahweh is the great GIVER of everything. We are all recipients. Let us constantly be thankful for all of Yahweh's gifts and blessings. 23:5.
     b. The "house" where this feast will take place is the Jerusalem temple, "the house of the Lord." Leviticus 7:11-17 states that the sacrificial meal connected with the offering of thanksgiving that the worshipper brings to express his gratitude to Yahweh for what he has done for the worshipper. It was a common courtesy to anoint the guest with oil (Luke 7:36-50, especially Luke 7:46) and to give him a full cup of wine with his mean (Genesis 14:18; 27:25; 1 Samuel 16:20; 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1-2). This demonstrates the genuineness of the host's hospitality and the generosity of his character. The poet is astonished at the limitless generosity of Yahweh's love and care throughout his whole life, and he is certain that this will continue all the days of his life. All of this comes from Yahweh's "goodness and mercy." 23:6.

Share YOUR insights and reversals and problems and dreams and aspirations with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Elders and Deacons--Part II

Out of the six terms for elders in the Bible itself: 1. Elder; 2. Presbyter; 3. Overseer; 4. Bishop; 5. Shepherd; 6. Pastor, the function or role of an elder is not clear at all. For example, "elder" or "presbyter" might mean an older person physically or an older person spiritually. The Bible does not tell anything about this. "Overseer" or "bishop" is not clear at all. This could mean a co-ordinator, a person appointed to do a specific job. The Bible does not make this clear at all. A text like 1 Peter 5:1-4 makes clear that none of these means a dictator or a boss of any kind. The best chance one has to determine the function or role of an elder is the term "shepherd" or "pastor." Great texts in the Bible describe the role of a shepherd. The most important texts are Ezekiel 34 and John 10. Anyone can study these great texts. One will find that the role of a shepherd is:

1. To lay down one's life for the sheep. John 10:11, 15, 17.
2. To lead the flock into green pastures and beside calm waters. Psalm 23; John 10:3-4.
3. To strengthen the weak. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
4. To heal the sick. Ezekiel 34:4.
5. To bind up the injured. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
6. To bring back the strayed. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
7. To seek the lost. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
8. To feed the flock with justice. Ezekiel 34:16.
9. To destroy the fat and the strong.; to overthrow those who rule harshly Ezekiel 34:4, 16.

Peter emphasizes that elders are not to "lord over the flock in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:3.

It is obvious that biblically, a church or a group of people must not elevate or set apart elders from the rest of the church, leaving the impression that they are more important or more spiritual or better trained or nearer to the heart of God. On the contrary, every good elder will always be in close contact with the flock to be an example for all. The purpose of all elders meetings is to deal with the issues which exist in the church of which they are a part. Their role is not to take the role of God the Father or Jesus Christ our Lord. We are all servants--period.

Share YOUR reversals and issues and concepts and fears and feelings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, September 29, 2014

God has Forsake me--Psalm 22

The setting and ideas of Psalm 22 are very similar to Psalms 6 and 30. The superscription of Psalm 22 is not helpful. It reads: "To the leader: according to the Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David." "According to the Deer of the Dawn" seems to be a familiar tune for the singers or praise leader. The superscriptions of the Psalms are later additions. The psalmist of Psalm 22 is confronted with three serious problems: (1) He feels that God has deserted or forsaken him; (2) He is very ill physically; and (3) His enemies have unleashed a malicious attack against him. This psalm naturally falls into two parts.

I. The Poet describes his afflictions, and pleads with Yahweh to deliver him. Psalm 22:1-21a.
    a. The psalmist begins by expressing his deep feeling that God has forsaken him. He desperately needs God's help, and he repeatedly groans over his anguish. He cries to God by day and night, but God does not answer, and the psalmist has no rest. There are times in everyone's life when we share this same type of feelings. 22:1-2.
    b. In his attempt to persuade Yahweh to respond, the poet compares his own situation with Yahweh's faithful responses and help in the past. He praises Yahweh because he is holy and confesses that Yahweh is enthroned as king on the praises of Israel. The ancestors of the psalmist trusted in Yahweh, and Yahweh delivered them. They cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh saved them. They trusted in Yahweh, and Yahweh did not put them to shame. Why doesn't Yahweh respond in the same way with the psalmist? 22:3-5.
    c. Then the poet reflects on his own miserable situation. He feels like he is a "worm and not human." His enemies scorn and despise him. They mock at the psalmist, they make horrible mouths at him, they shake their heads to symbolize he has no hope, they mock him, saying, "Commit your cause to the Lord, let him deliver--let him rescue the one in whom he delights!" These are obvious sarcastic words. When a person is down and out, sometimes other people throw salt into the wounds. 22:6-8.
    d. The psalmist turns back to address God. He reminds God that God is the one who took him from the womb and kept him safe on his mother's breast. The psalmist has been Yahweh's God from his birth. Thus, he pleads that Yahweh will not be far from him, because trouble is near and there is no help but from God. 22:9-11, 19.
     e. The poet then describes his enemies. He compares them with "strong bulls," "ravening and roaring lions," and "vicious dogs" surrounding him to destroy him. 22:12-13, 16, 20-21a.
     f.  Finally, the psalmist paints a vivid picture of his physical illness. He declares that he is poured out like water; all his bones are out of joint, one can count all his bones because he is so thin, and people stare and gloat over him. The psalmist says that his heart is like wax and is melted within his breast; he is very depressed. His mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and his tongue clings to the his jaws, he is near death. He is completed dehydrated. His enemies are convinced that he will die at any moment, and so they divide his clothes among themselves after his death, and each person receives different pieces of his clothing by casting lots. 22:14-15, 17-18.

II. The Psalmist praises Yahweh because Yahweh has heard his prayer and has delivered him from death and all his afflictions. Psalm 22:21b-31.
     a. The whole tone between verses 1-21a and verses 21b-31 stand in bold contrast. Apparently, between the first stanza and the second stanza, Yahweh intervened and delivered the psalmist from all his afflictions. It is also possible that a messenger of God [a priest or a prophet or a wise person] delivered an oracle to the psalmist after the psalmist's complaints in verses 1-21a.
     b. The poet praises Yahweh for "rescuing" him from his enemies, "the wild oxen."  22:21b.
     c. The psalmist then resolves to go to his "great congregation" to tell them how Yahweh has delivered him from all his afflictions. The psalmist "tells" of Yahweh's name to his brothers and sisters, "praises" Yahweh in the midst of the congregation. He encourages his brothers and sisters to "fear Yahweh," "praise him," "glorify him," "stand in awe of him." The structure in verse 23 is chiastic: abba. To fear Yahweh is the same as to stand in awe of Yahweh; and to praise Yahweh is the same as to glorify Yahweh. Then, in bold contrast to his complaints in verses 1-21a, the poet declares in verse 24:
      Yahweh did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted,
       he did not hide his face from me,
       but heard when I cried to him.
Often, we have similar experiences. We are very depressed, and suddenly God intervenes and changes our hearts, our situations, our lives, and turns us upside down. 22:22-24.