John T. Willis

Saturday, June 06, 2009

God's Birds

The February 2009 issue of the National Geographic reports that Zoologist Kristofer Helgen oversees the world's largest collection of mammals at the Smithsonian Institution Nation Museum of Natural History. His ongoing discoveries of new species help shape conservation efforts worldwide.

While Helgen's endeavors concentrate on "mammals," this blurb inspire me to reflect on God's marvelous world of birds surrounding all of us. Evelyn and I have travelled widely--in Singapore, Thailand, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, all over South America, Hawaii, all over Europe, Russia, New Zealand, and the list goes on and on. Everywhere we have seen, we are blessed with birds of all type. The National Geographic keeps presenting pictures and explanations of birds. For example, in the February 2009 issue, on p. 63, there is a photograph of a beautful adult finch with red beak. The shape and colors are amazing. Ornithologists continue to discover new kinds of birds all around the world. They find new species which human beings had not documented previously. God has populated birds on earth generously and diverse.

As I look outside my office window, every day I see a wide variety of birds. My wife and I keep nine grain feeders, three hummingbird feeders, and a large bird bath supplied every day. What a blessing to watch God's birds. Here are some that we see daily, and sometimes annually as they migrate.

barn swallows loggerhead shrikes woodpeckers
blue jays killdeer redtailed hawks
quail at least three different types of doves
whistling ducks brownthrashers finches [red, olive, golden]
hummingbirds meadowlarks grackles
egrets redwing blackbirds yellowheaded blackbirds
sparrows kestrels wild turkeys
guineas turkey vultures geese
mockingbirds roadrunners

I know I have overlooked some. We are surrounded by a veritable aviary. The Bible often speaks of various kinds of birds. One example occurs in Psalm 84:3:

"Even the SPARROW finds a home,
and the SWALLOW a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God."

Jesus used the example of birds to emphasize the value of each individual on earth. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26).

Thank God for birds. What birds surround you? Do you appreciate the shape, the color, the value of the birds around you? God cares for each one. And God cares for YOU.

John Willis

Friday, June 05, 2009

Change Is Inevitable

Throughout the centures, peoples around the world OFTEN ASSUME that culture, traditions, practices, ways of life, customs, clothing, food, transportation, thought patterns, and so on WILL STAY THE SAME, WILL CONTINUE TO BE THE WAY WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE THINGS. In our "narrow slice" of time, it is difficult to realize that WE, our FRIENDS, our CHURCHES, our NATIONS, and our WORLD are rapidly changing. And there is nothing we can do about this. IT IS INEVITABLE.

The Book of Exodus narrates a series of events or stories portraying CHANGE. Very briefly, we are some of the highlights.

1. From the time of Joseph to the time of Moses, the Israelites lived in the land of Goshen in Egypt, and, overall, the Egyptians treated the Israelites well because of the work Joseph had done to deliver Egypt from a severe famine. Gen. 39-50. BUT OVER TIME, the Israelites increased in number, and the Egyptians began "fearing" the growing "success" of the Israelites. At some point, a new Pharaoh came into power in Egypt, who did not know Joseph. With A NEW SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES, this new Pharaoh [many assume this is Rameses II] launched strong "oppression" against the Israelites. (Exod. 1:8-14).

2. In a few decades, a Hebrew family gave birth to Moses. Through a series of events, Pharaoh's daughter saved Moses and elevated Moses to a high position in Egypt, even though Moses was an Israelite. However, Moses became irate when he saw the ways the Egyptians were "oppressing" the Israelites, and at some point, Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster, and Moses SUDDENLY had to CHANGE HIS LIFE by fleeing from Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and came to Midian near Mount Sinai, where he lived there for 40 years, and where he married a Midianite woman, Zipporah, and gave birth to two sons. (Exod. 2:11-22).

3. After 40 years in Midian, God sent Moses back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of bondage. On the one hand, this was refreshing and invigorating for the liberated Israelites, but after they crossed the Red Sea, they had to CHANGE THEIR LIVES. Daily challenges in the wilderness drastically confronted the Israelites' way of life in Egypt. So, they began to complain. (Exod 15:22-17:15).

4. For approximately one year, the Israelites stayed around Mount Sinai, where God gave them the ten commandments, the tabernacle with its furniture and worship, and "the Book of the Covenant" (Exod. 20:1-23:19). But, INEVITABLY, after approximately, the Israelites "wandered" through the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the promised land of Canaan. (Exod. 24-40; Num. 10:11-36).

Life may be changing more rapidly today that in ancient times, when transportation, customs, etc., were slower in those days. In my own life, I have experienced many significant CHANGES. A few are: sophisticated cars [from the Model-T to the SUV), airplanes [from the one motor prop plane to four powered jets], TV [from none to modern types], complex computers [I had to use a typewriter to produce my PhD dissertation in 1966], the iPhone, the iPod, high-tech movies [from black and white to very sophisticated movie productions], etc., etc.

The church has changed dramatically through the past seventy decades. My first church was a very modest church of approximately 250 people. We debated about the King James Version versus the American Standard Version. We believed that the Holy Spirit works ONLY through the preaching and teaching and studying of the written Bible [usually KJV]. We believed that elders had to have at least two baptized children; elders could not be divorced, and if one of their children committed a serious sin, they had to withdraw from the eldership. Elders were virtually CEOs in business. Elders made ALL THE DECISIONS in the local church. The Lord's Supper had to exist in a certain order. The worship had to be in a designated order. Prayers had to be spontaneous, not prepared. Whites and Blacks [this is the older terms] must be kept apart in different churches--certainly segregational. Women and children must listen and be submissive. ONLY THE MEN LED the worship and activities of the church. The ONLY way to be saved is to OBEY the Gospel as we interpreted the Gospel, and it was BY AND THROUGH OUR OWN GOOD WORKS. We kept grace and love virtually out of the picture. We knew the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and expected all other human beings to agree with our position.

Over these 70 years [I am now 75], HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED. This is inevitable, and MOST of this is good, but, unfortunately, some is bad, because we all are [and always will be] sinful human beings.

There are two ways to look at change. One way is to become very cynical and irritated and enraged and resentful--and dig in deep and refuse to CHANGE. Another way is to accept the fact that God is constantly a God of CHANGE. In fact, at the very heart of the Gospel is GOD'S TRANSFORMATION of our hearts and lives. God's admonition through Paul in Romans 12:1-2 is:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MINDS, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Which way shall we choose?

John Willis

Thursday, June 04, 2009

God is With Us

Little words often convey important, powerful thoughts. One little word we use all the time is the word "with." The Bible uses the word "with" numerous times. Often, this word occurs in the marvelous promise that "God is [will be] his people."

Here are a few passages.

1. When God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in the wilderness of Midian, God told Moses to go back to Egypt and led his people, the Israelites, come out of Egyptian bondage.
"But Moses said to God, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?' He [God] said, 'I WILL BE WITH YOU . . .'" (Exodus 3:11-12).

2. When an angel appeared to Gideon and assured him that God was with him and that God would lead the Israelites to defeat the Midianites, Gideon responded:
"'But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest of Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.' The Lord said to him, 'BUT I WILL BE WITH YOU, and you shall strike down the Midianites . . .'" (Judges 6:15-16).

3. When Saul became very jealous of David and sought ways to kill David, the Bible repeatedly reminds the reader: "THE LORD WAS WITH HIM [DAVID]" (1 Samuel 18:12, 14, 28).

4. A memorable statement in the beloved Psalm 23 says:
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
FOR YOU ARE WITH ME . . . " (Psalm 23:4).

5. God's promise to the Jewish exiles in Babylon is:
"Do not fear, FOR I AM WITH YOU,
do not be afraid, for I am your God." (Isaiah 41:10).

6. The last words Jesus uttered to his disciples before he ascended into heaven were:
"I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20).

As we confront numerous challenges and setbacks and reversals, as well as successes and joys and encouragements, let us rest fully on God's daily assurance: I AM WITH YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

An Old Irish Blessing

When Evelyn and I recently traveled around Ireland, we came upon a wonderful blessing, which we want to share with all of you:

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

The rain fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

God Blessings to you all,

John Willis

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sleep and Waking

God has created human beings to experience a rhythm of life from sleeping and waking. The Bible often refers to this experience in literal and metaphorical ways. A few of these passages are intriguing and challenging.

Genesis 2:21-22 says that the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; then God took one of Adam's ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Adam's sleep was induced by God, and during his sleep one of the most important events in his life occurred. After he awoke, God presented the first woman to this man.

1 Kings 19:3-18 relates the story that Elijah the prophet fled for fear from the wicked Jezebel. On his journey, Elijah sat down under a juniper tree exhausted, and was so perplexed that he asked that he might die. Soon, Elijah fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and told him to get up [wake up] and eat. Elijah ate and drank the meal the angel provided, and this gave Elijah the strength he needed for forty days and forty night on the way to Mount Horeb, where the Lord appeared to Elijah and assured Elijah that he would sustain him.

The psalmists in Psalm 3:5 and 4:8 are faced with great danger from threatening enemies, but because they trust in God, they serenely lie down and sleep, then wake the next day refreshed to face their experiences by God's presence and help.

Psalm 13:3; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15; 5:10; and several other passages describe "sleep" as "death." This is indeed a metaphor, but for the Christian, in reality, sleep is not the end of life, but a transition to a new awakening, a resurrection from the dead.

Romans 13:11; Ephesians 5:14; and other biblical passages describes "sleep" as spiritual inactivity or regression. In this context, the call of God is to "wake up" and become alert to new spiritual life and service to God and humanity.

May our sleep in God is sweet because we trust in him. And when we are spiritually dorman and stagnant, may God's Holy Spirit motivate us to active service.

John Willis

Monday, June 01, 2009

Jeremiah 9:23-24

Jeremiah 9:23-24 summarizes succinctly the "heart" of spiritual life.

First, the prophet rejects three popular universal aspirations and desires of humanity:

"Thus says the Lord, Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom,
Do not let the mighty boast in their might,
Do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth.

Educational masters, military and political leaders, and successful millionaires unanimously proclaim that well-educated individuals, leaders of nations and universities and multilateral organizations lie at the apex or center of human life. God proclaims through Jeremiah 9:23 that all these goals and functions are destined to fall--and human history, ancient and modern, have demonstrated this is true.

Hence, the prophet extols and commends three noble, divine-centered aspirations and desires of humanity:
"But let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord;
I act with steadfast love,
and righteousness in the earth,
for in these things I delight, says the Lord."

When a person devotes herself/himself to steadfast love [love that persists, is dependable, is unfailing], justice [not counterfeit, duplicity, double-dealing, pretension], and righteousness [doing the right thing when all others call for an inferior ethical and religious standard], that person always invariably prevails in God's eyes and before his fellows.

May God give us the credibility to cling to this way of living.

John Willis