John T. Willis

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Ant, the Flea, and the Fly

It is interesting that the Bible uses different insects to declare God's message. Three of these insects are the ant, the flea, and the fly. Here are some of the biblical ideas.

I. The Ant is an Example of Industriousness.
    a. Proverbs 6:6-11 is a paragraph emphasizing the sin of laziness.
          Go to the ant, you lazybones;
              consider its ways, and be wise.
          Without having any chief or officer or ruler,
               it prepares its food in summer,
               and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
          How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
               When will you rise from your sleep?
           A little sleep, a little slumber,
                a little folding of the hands to rest,
           and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
               and want, like an armed warrior.
    b. Paul was deeply troubled about Christians who would not work. He says in 2 Thessalonians
        Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
        to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that
                                     they received from us.
        For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, we were not idle when we were with you,
        and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it;
        but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.
        This was not because we did not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
        For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work
                                     should not eat.
        For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.
        Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly
        and to each their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
    c. True Christians work hard under God's guidance and motivation.

II. The Ant is an Example to show that Small Things are VERY IMPORTANT.
     a. Proverbs 30:24-28 uses FOUR examples of creatures who are small but wise.
         Four things on earth are small,
              yet they are exceedingly wise:        
         the ants are a people without strength,
               yet they provide their food in the summer;
         the badgers are a people without power,
               yet they make their homes in the rocks;
         the locusts have no king,
               yet all of them march in rank;
         the lizard can be grasped in the hand,
               yet it is found in kings' palaces.
     b. There are numerous examples of SMALL PEOPLE in the eyes of other human beings, but in the eyes of God they are exceedingly important. Size and wealth and power mean nothing to God. God's concern is the heart.

III. The Flea is an Example of Humility.
      a. Only two texts in the Bible refer to a flea. Both of them have to do with the attitude of David. When Saul was trying to kill David, David repeatedly refused to kill Saul when he was able, and declares that Saul was the Lord's anointed, and that David felt like he was only a single flea.
       b. When David and his men hid in the cave at En-gedi, Saul came into the cave to relieve himself. After he left, David called out to him from a distance, and said in 1 Samuel 24:14:
            Against whom has the king of Israel come out?
            Whom do you pursue?
            A dead dog? A single flea?
      c. The same thought also appears in 1 Samuel 26:20. After David could have killed Saul when Saul was asleep with his soldiers, David went up on a hill and called out to Saul, saying:
           Now therefore, do not let my blood fall to the ground, away from the presence of the Lord;
           for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea,
           like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.
      d. Ungodly people will often attempt to persecute and destroy people they do not like. When this happens, David is an outstanding example. He pictures himself as very insignificant, like a single flea.

IV. The Fly can be a Plague on Ungodly People.
      a . Several passages in the Bible relate the Fourth Plague that God sent on Pharaoh and the Egyptians when they refused to let the Israelites go out of captivity. Exodus 8:24 gives this description:
           Great swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh and into the officials' houses;
            in all of Egypt the land was ruined because of the flies.
      b. Here in West Texas, we are covered with flies, especially in the summer. So we can relate to this situation.
      c. Psalms 78:45; 105:31 allude to this event to emphasize Yahweh's power to punish wicked people.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts and dreams and setbacks and successes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, July 26, 2015

One can trust in God, because he is our Refuge--Psalm 31

One can quickly resonate with the feelings of the author of Psalm 31. He is burdened with many challenging problems. (1) He is very sick--verses 9-10. (2) He feels that God is punishing him because he has committed some terrible sins--verses 10, 22. (3) He has strong enemies who are plotting schemes against him and are trying to figure out how to put him to death--verses 4, 11, 13, 15, 17-18, 20, 21, 23. (4) His neighbors and close relatives avoid him because they are convinced his hardships are the result of God's punishment for his sins--verse 11. Psalm 31 falls into three parts.

I. The psalmist trusts in God to deliver him from his afflictions as God had done in the past--Psalm 31:1-8.
    a. 31:1-3 is almost verbatim with Psalm 71:1-3. It also contains thoughts similar to Psalm 18:1-2. The psalmist implores Yahweh to rescue him from his distresses. He seeks refuge in God. He asks God to deliver him. He beseeches Yahweh to incline his ear to him, rescue him quickly, be a rock of refuge and a strong fortress for him, lead him, and guide him. 31:1-3.
   b. The psalmist praises Yahweh for his righteousness, and because Yahweh is the psalmist's rock and fortress. 31:1, 3. Many biblical texts call Yahweh "ROCK"--cf. Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31, 37; 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 18:2, 31, 46; and often.
   c. The speaker asks God to take him out of the net. He praises God for being his refuge, and because he had redeemed him in the past. Thus he proclaims: "Into your hand I commit my spirit." Jesus quoted this line on the crucifixion (Luke 23:46). 31:4-5.
   d. The psalmist gives God THREE REASONS why he should answer his pleas.
       1. The psalmist's enemies are worshippers of idols--v. 6.
       2. God had delivered him in the past--vv. 5, 7-8,
       3. The psalmist commits God's care into his hands and totally trusts in him--vv. 1-7. 31:6-8.

II. The psalmist portrays a detailed description of his troubles--Psalm 31:9-18.
     a. First, the psalmist explains that he has been very ill for a long time. His whole body wastes away with grief. His life is spent with sorrow and sighing. His strength fails and his bones waste away. His whole life--physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually--is tormented with sickness. 31:9-10.
     b. Second, his close relatives and neighbors avoid him and scoff at him because of his terrible condition. Almost completely separated from all his acquaintances, he feels like he is dead, he is like a broken vessel. 31:11-12.
     c. Third, wicked enemies are devising conniving plans to destroy the psalmist.
         1. The poet is surrounded by his enemies, they terrify him, they whisper evil things about him, but do not speak to him face to face; they get together and scheme against him, they plot to take his life. 31:13.
         2. The psalmist's enemies are liars, they speak insolently against the righteous, they are filled with pride, arrogance, and contempt. 31:18.
         3. In the face of these enemies and their wicked plans, the psalmist still trusts in God. He knows that Yahweh  holds his times in his hand. Thus, he beseeches Yahweh to deliver him from his enemies and persecutors. He rests his life on Yahweh's steadfast love to save him from his enemies. He implores Yahweh to put the wicked to shame and bring them down into Sheol, the grave. 31:14-17.

III.  The poet exhorts his fellow worshippers to trust in Yahweh. Psalm 31:19-24.
       a. Yahweh has answered the psalmist's prayers. Now the poet praise Yahweh for all he has done for him. First, he praises Yahweh for "laying up" or "storing" his goodness to bring forth in behalf of the faithful. The psalmist has taken refuge in Yahweh, and now Yahweh showers him with his goodness. 31:19.
       b. Second, the psalmist declares that Yahweh has "sheltered" him from his enemies who had devised evil plots and spoken against him with contentious tongues. 31:20.
       c. Third, the poet felt that he had been like a city under siege against enemies, and that his enemies had driven him far from God's sight. And yet, Yahweh manifested his steadfast love when he cried out to him for help. 31:21-22.
       d. Finally, the psalmist turns directly to "all his faithful saints" in his community, encouraging them to be strong and take courage in the power of Yahweh, especially when their enemies act haughtily and seek to demean and destroy them. 31:23-24.

Share YOUR experiences and surprises and reversals and intentions and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, July 24, 2015

Majoring in Minors--VIII

Throughout history, God's people have focused on specific issues and lost the big picture of God's work in the world and God's plan for human beings. Here are only a few reminders of this spiritual myopia.

1. Baptism.
    a. When I first became a Christian at the age of 14, the preacher emphasized the necessity of being baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of sins. He stressed the importance of Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4. It is true that God wants all people to be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins. But there is much more to Christian living than being baptized.
    b. 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 troubles many Christian people. Here Paul said:
            "I thank God that I baptized non of you except Crispus and Gaius,
              so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
              (I did baptized also the household of Stephanas;
              beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
              For Christ did not sent me to baptize
              and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power."
    c. Obviously, many early Christians focused on their baptism rather than focusing on the cross of Christ. It is very easy for each one of us to turn in on ourselves rather than keep our hearts and minds on Christ--his incarnation, his life, his death, his burial, his resurrection, and his continuing work in the lives of human beings throughout eternity.

2. Conversion from sin.
     a. When a person was not raised in a Christian family and in time realized that he or she was a sinner, that person need to be converted from sin to God. Texts like 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10;
1 Timothy 1:12-17; and related passages show the importance of conversion from sin. At the same time, Christian living is much more than being converted.
     b. Most of life has to do with being formed in the image of Christ, which takes a lifetime to occur. Paul writes to Christians who were already converted from sin to God in Galatians 4:19: "My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth UNTIL CHRIST IS FORMED IN YOU." Roman 12:1-2 contains the same thought: "DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD, BUT BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MINDS."
     c. The history of the Church of Christ denomonation has been plagued by denying what they have called "social religion." As a result of this, numerous Church of Christ churches have denounced the importance of working to help needy people. They have refused to help needy people UNLESS they listen to their message and be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins. It is clear that Jesus would NEVER entertain such an idea. God through Jesus Christ is PRIMARILY concerned with the needs of people. The ONLY TASK of God's people on earth is to try to help and support and encourage people in distress, in hardship, in severe disease, in setbacks, in needs of all kind.

3. The Lord's Supper.
    a. Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper shortly before he was arrested and crucified. He told God's people to commemorate this until he returns in his Second Coming. So keeping the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, is very important. See Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-23; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. At the same time, observing the Lord's Supper is ONLY a small aspect of Christian living.
     b. One can partake of the Lord's Supper physically without having a true heart. How does a person live during the week? How does one treat a "foreigner," a "rejected individual," like the so-called "Good Samaritan." The Jews denounced Samaritans. They were not acceptable to them. Luke
     c. One can USE the Lord's Supper to condemn others. A classic example of this is John Calvin. He opposed the understanding of a fellow-Christian named Servetus, and Calvin was so powerful at that time in Geneva, he had Servetus executed because of his understanding of the Lord's Supper. It is very difficult for me to accept the idea of DEBATING over the Lord's Supper. What an oxymoron!!!

Share YOUR concepts and reversals and insights and fears and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, July 23, 2015

God Changes Mourning into Dancing--Psalm 30

The poet of Psalm 30 is confronted with enemies who attempt to destroy him (verse 1) and with a threatening disease (verses 2, 9). He prays to Yahweh to deliver him from his afflictions, and God rescues him. When this happens, the psalmist goes to an assembly of God's people and summons them to praise God for what he had done for him (verse 4). He is full of thanksgiving for God's gracious intervention. Psalm 30 naturally falls into four small paragraphs.

I. The composer extols Yahweh for delivering him. Psalm 30:1-3.
    a. At the very beginning, the speaker addresses Yahweh as "O Lord" and as "O Lord my God." Because of his enemies and his severe disease, the psalmist felt that he was drowning. But God the great spiritual SAFEGUARD "drew the poet up" from drowning and "brought up his soul [him] from Sheol," the grave, the Pit. What a graphic picture of God saving people in danger! 30:1, 3.
    b. When the psalmist was in deep trouble, he did not seek help from other people. Instead, he "cried to the Lord for help." Yahweh is a very dependable resource when we are in great distress. It is always best to turn to God for help and deliverance. 30:2.

II. The poet encourages his fellow worshippers to praise Yahweh. Psalm 30:4-5.
     a. After addressing Yahweh directly, the writer turn to his fellow worshippers, Yahweh's "faithful ones." While we depend on Yahweh, it is always helpful to turn to reliable faithful followers of God to support and encourage us. The psalmist admonishes his fellow worshippers to praise and thank Yahweh for what he has already done for him. 30:4.
    b. Like all people, the psalmist committed sins, and Yahweh punished him demonstrated by his anger. But God's anger is "but for a moment," while God's steadfast love is "for a lifetime." A loving parent chastises his or her son or daughter in order to refine that person's heart and life. Hence, weeping is often necessary for a brief period of time, but in time joy comes in the morning. 30:5.

III. The psalmist gives a brief testimony of his own experience with God. Psalm 30:6-10.
       a. The psalmist explains that for a long time in his life, he experienced great prosperity under God's guidance. At that time, he concluded, "I shall never be moved." Because of God's favor, God had established him as "a strong mountain." It appeared that he was invincible. 30:6-7b.
       b. But because of his pride and attendant sins, the psalmist sinned, and thus God hid his face and the psalmist was dismayed. In this dark period of his life, the psalmist besought Yahweh, reasoning that there would be no profit in his death. So he prays fervently that God will be gracious to him and help him through this difficult situation. 30:7c-10.

IV. The poet praises Yahweh for delivering him from his troubles. Psalm 30:11-12.
       a. When Yahweh rescued him from his afflictions, the psalmist addresses Yahweh directly:
             "You have turned my mourning into dancing;
                    you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy." God is so powerful that he can change hearts and lives from bad to good. Often, people go through challenging setbacks, and miraculously and surprisingly God intervenes and gets us through. 30:11.
      b. Because Yahweh has been so gracious, the psalmist concludes by praising him for what he has done and to give him thanks for all his great works. 30:12.
This psalm is a great encouragement for everyone who encounters reversals, serious problems of all kinds, losses, fears, and setbacks.

Share YOUR inclinations and concerns and beliefs and insights and responses with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Majoring in Minors--VII

All human beings have the capacity of deceiving others. When Samuel assumed the next king of Israel is the oldest son of Jesse, Eliab, God essentially told Samuel that he was deceived. He said: "Do not look on his [Eliab's] 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 LOOK ON THE HEART." 1 Samuel 16:7.

The composer of Psalm 55 struggled with close friends who attempted to deceive him. For example, in verses 20-21 he explains:
    My companion laid hands on a friend
         and violated a covenant with me;
    with speech smoother than butter,
         but with a heart set on war;
    with words that were softer than oil,
         but in fact were drawn swords.

Like most people, I have had close friends who took the opportunity of stabbing me in the back to get what they desired to gain and to attempt to hurt or demean me. Other people may TRUST such people, but SORRY, I cannot. When people lie through their teeth, they are obviously untrustworthy. One striking example of this is when Joab "took Abner aside in the gateway to speak with him privately, and there he stabbed him in stomach. So he died for shedding the blood of Asahel."
2 Samuel 3:27. Another striking example is when Judas Iscariot came to Jesus and kissed him to indicate to the Roman soldiers who Jesus was so he would be crucified. Matthew 26:48-50; Mark 14:44-46; Luke 22:47-48. No true Christian should be surprised that a "trusted friend" might betray him or her for his own gain and to demean or hurt that person.

Most of the Judean people around Jeremiah CLAIMED that they were faithful followers of God, but their hearts and daily lives contradicted their claim. Jeremiah 12:1b-2 contains one of Jeremiah's complaints about this situation:
    Why does the way of the guilty prosper?
       Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
    You plant the, and they take root;
        they grow and bring forth fruit;

Paul says to Titus in Titus 1:15-16:
    To the pure all things are pure,
    but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure.
    Their very minds and consciences are corrupted.
    They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

In the present culture in the United States, the emphasis is on digital works and expressions of all kinds, impressive buildings, great highways, unrealistic movies, and all types of politics. What God desires is true hearts and pure lives. When this does not happen, history has shown that such a nation, a community, a church, a family, is doomed.

Share YOUR concerns and shortcomings and concepts and fears and hopes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Yahweh's Storm--Psalm 29

Since 1929, Ugaritic texts from the 13th century BCE contain poems which are very similar to Psalm 29. In these Ugaritic texts, Baal, the god of the Canaanites and the Canaanite storm god, sends a storm. Apparently, Psalm 29 is very early. The composer intentionally mimics the picture of a storm by declaring that Yahweh, and not Baal, is the only true God, who is in control of all nature, including thunderstorms. Psalm 29 lays out a vivid picture of a typical thunderstorm in Palestine or Israel. A typical storm began over the Mediterranean Sea, then moved in eastward onto the Lebanon and antiLebanon mountains in the north, which deflects the storm southward to move through the Jordan River Valley into the wilderness of Kadesh in the south, where the storm finally dies out. The storm is usually very strong and leaves much water. Between the introduction and the conclusion, there are three movements of the thunderstorm.

I. Introduction. Psalm 29:1-2.
    a. The psalmist addresses the angelic armies of Yahweh. Literally, verse 1 designates them as "sons of God," and the New Revised Standard Version translates "heavenly beings." It is important to realize that biblically, there are numerous invisible intelligent powerful beings in the heavenly realms. 29:1a.
   b. The composer charges the angelic beings to ascribe to Yahweh what he already has: his glory and his strength. They summons them to worship Yahweh in holy splendor. Yahweh's glory is his magnificence, splendor, grandeur, majesty. Like human beings, angelic beings must constantly worship Yahweh.

II. The Storm is over the Mediterranean Sea. Psalm 29:3-4.
     a. The theme of Psalm 29 is "the voice of God." In this psalm, "the voice of God" is thunder. Verse 3a-b makes this very clear by the synonymous parallelism. As in verses 1-2, in verse 3 the emphasis is still on the "glory" of God. The waters or the mighty waters are clearly the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. 29:3.
    b. Thunder [the voice of Yahweh] is powerful and full of majesty. Anyone who has experienced a thunderstorm knows firsthand the power and majesty of God. 29:4.

III. The Storm is over the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Psalm 29:5-6.
      a. Deflected southward by the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains in North Israel, the wind and thunder of the storm breaks the cedars of Lebanon. The cedars of Lebanon are famous for their texture and strength. Solomon had workers float cedar trees from North Israel to the shore to the west of Jerusalem to bring them to build the first temple. 1 Kings 5:6-12. 29:5.
     b. As lightning flashes all around, viewers imagine the mountains to skip like a calf or a wild ox. Sirion is another name for [Mount] Hermon. Deuteronomy 3:9. 29:6.

IV. The Storm moves through the Jordan River Valley into the Wilderness of Kadesh. Psalm 29:7-9.
       a. Thunder [the voice of Yahweh] is accompanied by lightning, here called "flames of fire." Most people have experienced such thunderstorms. 29:7.
       b. As the thunder roars and the wind blows, Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. Again, thunderstorms usually contain very strong wind. 29:8.
       c. As the wind blows, it strips bark from the trees on the mountains and in the wilderness. It twists and uproots mighty oaks when the wind is very strong. In Yahweh's heavenly temple, all the heavenly angelic beings shout again "GLORY." 29:9.

V. A Flood and a Calm after the Storm. Psalm 29:10-11.
     a. Ordinarily after a drenching thunderstorm, two things happens. First, water surrounds everything. It is like a flood. The "flood" in verse 10 is not Noah's flood, but the flood deposited after the thunderstorm. Most people have experienced this type of God's magnificence. 29:10.
     b. Second, the loud thunder, lightning flashes, and powerful wind subside, and people experience a striking silence or calmness or peace. This is all very refreshing. Thus, the psalmist concludes by declaring: May Yahweh give strength to his people just as he has demonstrated his strength in this thunderstorm (see verse 1); May Yahweh bless his people with peace just as he produced peace or calmness after the thunderstorm. 29:11.

For approximately six weeks, Abilene and all West Texas rejoiced many thunderstorms, and brought water to a much higher level than it has been for a long time. We know firsthand of Yahweh's power in thunder, lightning, wind, and thunderstorm. It would be difficult to find a more vivid picture of a thunderstorm than in Psalm 29.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts and questions and failures and doubts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, May 29, 2015

Majoring in Minors--VI

Throughout human history, human beings have always been fascinated and engrossed with building GREAT buildings. Only a few examples in the Bible should be sufficient, but there are many.

1. The Tower of Babel--Genesis 11:1-9. After God initially created human beings on planet earth, people first spoke only one language, and in time the population grew greatly. At Babel in the ancient Near East, the people met together and decided in unison: "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and LET US MAKE A NAME FOR OURSELVES, otherwise we will be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Genesis 11:4. God intervened and came down and scattered human beings abroad and forced them to speak different languages. Obviously, he was not pleased with their self-centered attitude rather than lifting their hearts and eyes and hands to God. Have human beings, nations, Christians, churches changed about this over the centuries?

2. David planned and Solomon built a significant temple in Jerusalem--2 Samuel 7; 1 Kings 8. When the temple was completed, Solomon delivered a very important prayer before all the people of God. Among other things he said:
    "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you,
      much less this house that I have built? Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O Lord my God,
      heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open
      day and night toward this house, the place of which you said, 'My name shall be there," that you
      may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and
      of your people Israel they they pray toward this place; O HEAR IN HEAVEN YOUR
      DWELLING PLACE; heed and forgive."
    Impressive cathedrals, beautiful church buildings, well-laid out and attractive campuses draw the hearts and lives of all kinds of human beings to certain localities and situations. All of this is nice and compelling, but in the eyes of God, they mean nothing at all unless the hearts and lives of the people involved are engaged.

3. An impressive period in North Israel's history was during the reign of Jeroboam II, who expanded all Israel from Lebo-hamath in the north far beyond Dan to the Sea of the Arabah in the south far beyond Beer-sheba, which was the only time in Israel's history that this happened except in the time of Solomon. 2 Kings 14:23-29; 1 Kings 4:21, 24. During Jeroboam II's reign, the richer became richer and the poor became poorer. The rich built beautiful homes with beautiful furniture. This was very impressive. Some even had houses and beds of ivory. But God through Amos strongly condemned these people for their wealth and their injustice toward the poor. Several texts in Amos announce that all these houses will fall--Amos 3:15; 5:11; 6:1-7, 11.

4. In spite of all this, we still emphasize the importance of building new buildings. We feel this is necessary. But should God's people place emphasis on building buildings? If we set our minds and hearts on the things above and not on the things on the earth (Colossians 3:2), hopefully we will begin to emphasize the great truths taught and emphasized in the Bible. God alone is our leader and king. Let us follow him.

May God bless YOU in your hearts, your lives, your aspirations, your pursuits.

John Willis