John T. Willis

Saturday, July 11, 2009

God's Desire is to Set Us Free from Oppressive People, Addictions, and Activities

As we continue our journey through the Book of Exodus, we encounter a very important paragraph in Exodus 6:1-9. Moses and Aaron are now with the Israelites in the Land of Goshen in Egypt. Moses and Aaron have asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the wilderness for three days to celebrate a festival to Yahweh--to sacrifice to Yahweh. But Pharaoh denied their request, and require that the Israelites increase their harsh labor (Exodus 5).

Now, as we enter into Exodus 6, Yahweh speaks to Moses.
1. First, Yahweh assures Moses that Pharaoh will let the Israelites go out of Egypt and drive the Israelites out of Pharaoh's land by Yahweh's "mighty hand"--Exodus 6:1.
2. Second, Yahweh reminds Moses that Yahweh has done three things with God's people in the past.
a. Yahweh appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as "God Almighty," but did not make himself known to them as "Yahweh [the Lord]." Exodus 6:2-3.
b. Yahweh established his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them the land of Canaan, where in their lifetime were aliens. Exodus 6:4.
c. Yahweh heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians were holding as slaves, as Yahweh remembered his covenant. Exodus 6:5 [note Exodus 2:23-25].
3. Yahweh declares to Moses now:
a. I will BRING YOU [PLURAL--THE ISRAELITES] OUT of the burdens of the Egyptians. Exodus 6:6a [the same verb is repeated in Exodus 6:7c].
b. I will DELIVER you from slavery to them. Exodus 6:6b.
c. I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. Exodus 6:6c.
d. I will TAKE you as my people, and I will be your God. Exodus 6:7a.
e. I will BRING YOU INTO the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will GIVE it to you for a possession. Exodus 6:8.

Focus on three important biblical truths.
First, the Bible consistently and predominantly presents Yahweh [God] as the SUBJECT of ACTION VERBS. God "brings out" [of Egypt], God "delivers," God "redeems," God "brings into" [the promised land of Canaan]. THIS is the way God works through history--then and now!!! The first three verbs used here are synonyms using different metaphors. (a) "Bring out" in this context signifies "free from" slavery. (b) "Deliver" signifies snatching or rescuing people from danger [see Exodus 2:17]. (c) "Redeem" refers to the action of a kinsman who acts for the honor and well being of a wounded or abused member of the family [see Ruth 4:1-12]. The last verb, "bring into" affirms that Yahweh will lead his people into the promised land. We will study additional verbs declaring that Yahweh brings his people out of Egyptian slavery and bondage in later blogs.
Second, Exodus 6:7 is central to the biblical relationship between Yahweh and his people: I will be YOUR people, and you will be MY God. This is marriage language. The husband belongs to his wife, and his wife belongs to her husband. God is like a husband, and Israel is like a wife. This expression occurs very often throughout scripture. See for example, Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; Ezekiel 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:23, 27; Zechariah 8:8--this is just a start. Look these terms in your concordance. Read these passages.
Third, Exodus 6:8 contains the promise that Yahweh will GIVE the land of Canaan to the Israelites for a possession. Yahweh is the great giver of gifts. One great gift of God is the land of Canaan. What gifts has Yahweh given you? Is there ANYTHING, really, that God has NOT given you?

After Moses hears Yahweh's promises, Moses tells the Israelites what Yahweh has promised to them through Moses. But they would not listen to Moses BECAUSE OF
1. Their broken spirit, and
2. Their cruel slavery. Exodus 6:9.

Like the Israelites in Egypt for 400 years, all around us there are people in our city, in our state, in our country, throughout the world, who have broken spirits and endure cruel slavery. Oppressive, self-centered, dominating, insensitive, aloof "movers and shakers" of society--like Pharaoh and his taskmaster--so dictate the lives of those they control, they break their spirits and demand cruel slavery from them. Such oppressed people are so beaten down that it is virtually impossible for them to function as humane people.

YET, God assures the oppressed that he CAN and WILL set us free. God does this miraculously and powerfully and definitively!!! PLEASE, lift up your hearts and spirits to God. There IS hope. God can overthrow the powerful, and exalt the humble. Praise God for the kind of God he is.

What is YOUR situation right now? Share your burdens, your anxieties, your fears. God will deliver you, redeem you, set you free--in his own way and in his own time. BELIEVE!!!

John Willis

We Are Very Tiny

My wonderful astute wife, Evelyn, just saw a news flash from Paris as follows:

Astronomers on Wednesday [that would have been 8 July 2009] said they had found the farthest supernova ever detected, a giant star that ripped apart around 11 billion years ago.

A new technique enabled the cosmologists to make the find, which should help advance knowledge into these rare phenomena and their role in generating other stars, they said in a report published by the British journal Nature.

A supernova occurs when a massive start runs out of fuel, collapses in upon itself under the foce of its own gravity to become a tiny, ultra-dense object called a neutron star.

The star then explodes, sending out a shock wave that reverberates around the galaxy. The blast distributes elements that are heavier than oxygen, such as iron, calcium and silicon, and enriches the molecular clouds that over the aeons cluster together and form new star systems.

The ancient supernova was found after atronomers compared several years of images taken from a portion of the sky, enablingo them to look for objects that changed in brightness over time. The universe is believed to be 13.7 billion years old, so the supernova marks the death of one of the earliest stars in creation.

The previous supernova record was an event that happened around six billion years ago. [End of News Report]

This does not surprise me at all!!! What about YOU???

This is the year 2009 A. D. [more recent terms C. E.]. WE ARE JUST NOW BEGINNING TO LEARN IMPORTANT FACTS AND TRUTHS ABOUT OUR UNIVERSE. If ANYONE here on earth thinks that person KNOWS all there is to know about our little earth, to say nothing about the whole universe--better think again--long and hard. We ain't seen nothin' yet out there--in the universe AND on planet earth.

I now live in Abilene, Texas. For several years, I lived in or near Nashville, Tennessee. Evelyn and I have traveled over all the earth--South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands--you name it. BUT, whenever and wherever I [or YOU] am, I am VERY, VERY TINY--just a speck.

Biblical speakers and writers acknowledged this ages ago. Here is one example. The poet who composed Psalm 8 declares:
When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4).

When I think clearly and seriously about my life in light of God's magnificent tiny earth and tremendous universe, how could I ever think that I am important or arrogant or haughty or "not like other people" [as Jesus keeps reminding us in Luke 18:11]--no matter how wealthy or powerful or wise I might be?

The Bible teaches:
"All of you must clothe yourselves with HUMILITY in your dealing with one another, for
'God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.'
HUMBLE YOURSELVES therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time." (1 Peter 5:5-6; see James 4:10).

Dice it any way to cut it. No matter how tall I am, no matter how much I weigh, no matter how money I have, no matter how degrees I possess, no matter how exalted is my "office" or position [politically, socially, educationally, religiously or what], I am exceedingly tiny. GOD ALONE counts--not me--not you. GLORIFY GOD ALONE!!!

How do YOU respond to all this?

John Willis

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pestilence, Sword, Famine

As we continue our story in the Book of Exodus, more narrowly Exodus 1:1-15:21, and now more specifically Exodus 4:18-7:7, we have covered everything in Exodus 5 except an intriguing statement in Exodus 5:3.

The setting is this: Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh, stating that Yahweh, the God of Israel, commands that the Israelites go celebrate a festival to Yahweh in the wilderness three days. Pharaoh replies that Pharaoh does not "know" Yahweh, and thus has no reason to let the Israelites go into the wilderness. (Exodus 5:1-2). In response, Moses and Aaron say to Pharaoh:
"The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord [Yahweh] our God, OR HE WILL FALL UPON US WITH PESTILENCE OR SWORD." (Exodus 5:3). Exodus 5:3 is an almost exact repetition of Exodus 3:18 which Yahweh declared to Moses at the burning bush on Mount Horeb near Midian EXCEPT FOR THE FINAL STATEMENT: OR HE WILL FALL UPON US WITH PESTILENCE OR SWORD.

Did Moses [and Aaron] "make this up" as an "argument" to try to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the wilderness? Or, did Moses [and Aaron] inferred from this on the basis of Yahweh's instructions in Exodus 3:18? Does "He [Yahweh] will fall on US" mean the Israelites, the Egyptians, or both? If the latter is the case, is this a prefiguration for the ten plagues to follow in Exodus 7:8-11:10? To me, this is a series of puzzling questions.

One matter is very clear: according to the Bible, God often punishes disobedient people by "pestilence, sword, and famine." Numerous passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel declare that Yahweh will punish disobedient Jews near the time of the Babylonian invasion in 587 B. C. by "pestilence, sword, and famine." Here are a few texts if you want to read and study and pray about them:
Jeremiah 14:15-16, 18; 15:2; 16:4; 27:8, 13; 28:8; 29:17; 32:36.
Ezekiel 5:12; 7:15; 33:27-28; 35:8-9.
Read these texts in their contexts. Look for additional texts in your concordance.

This is indeed an "unpleasant" biblical teaching. Some people dismiss this or ignore this or even reject this as an Old Testament teaching. Have you read the New Testament? The New Testament has NO teaching, NO warning about God's punishment against those who refuse to repent and return to God? God is unbelievably patient and merciful and gracious and tolerant.

BUT, according to the Bible, there comes a point at which God says: THIS CONTINUAL REBELLION AGAINST ME STOPS RIGHT HERE!!! Thinks through Amos 7:1-9. Then think through Matthew 25:41-46; Romans 1:20-32; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 10:26-31--and there are MANY ADDITIONAL Biblical teachings.

NO!!! NO!!! NO!!! I do not want to revert back to the old view of several decades ago filled with negative preaching and works salvation "religion." At the same time, if we believe and accept the teachings of the Bible, God, our gracious God, our merciful God, our patient God, CAN and WILL punish us if we insist on rejecting God and turning away from God and develop a "pattern of sinful living" over life.

I have no intention of giving anyone a "guilt trip." But I do believe we must accept God and his ways seriously. Tell me how YOU respond to this biblical thought. And how are you going through the Book of Exodus?

John Willis

A Landmark Day

Yesterday--9 July 2009--four of our 38 shepherds at the Highland Church of Christ went to San Antonio to spend the day with Lynn and Carolyn Anderson. With myself were Jim Clark, Bob Gomez, and Jerry Strader. I have been a shepherd since 1976, Jerry since 1974, Bob for approximately twenty years, and Jim for approximately ten years. [Forgive me if I miss the "exact" dates a little]. Our purpose was to anoint Lynn and Carolyn with oil [since we trust God and strive to follow the biblical teaching of James 5:14], pray for them [again for James 5:14-15], and encourage them in the name of the Lord [believing the teachings of 1 Thessalonians 5:11].

For many ways, this was indeed A LANDMARK DAY. There is no way I can "capture" everything that occurred, but here are a few "highlights" that EVERYONE needs to note and remember.

1. Approximately, Lynn was diagnosed as Stage 2 of lung cancer, which the doctors just learned he is about 60% successful. Lynn had just been through surgery, and is now going through rehab. Soon, he will undergo several weeks of chemo. We knew all of this in the past three weeks except the latest information, which changes the issue a little. But we fervently BELIEVE that God is the great HEALER of all human beings, and so we go to anoint Lynn and Carolyn, pray, and strive to encourage. Lynn has always had a positive attitude. One of his responses was: God will remove my disease, OR God will remove me from my disease [which, of course, leads to death]. All of us have to face this reality as some point in life. I resonate with Lynn and Carolyn's situation right now, because approximately 14 months ago I had open heart surgery and a stroke. My wife and I were and are in a similar type of situation.

2. We have learned over approximately 40 years that GOD ALONE can deliver us. The Highland Church of Christ [everyone--not just the shepherds, not just the preacher, not just the deacons, not just the teachers, but EVERYONE] determined that we will trust God no matter what happens. As we reflected on the 19 years that Lynn and Carolyn functioned as pulpit minister, we remember some of the experiences we underwent. Many criticized and slandered and defamed and tried to fire Lynn. But, guess what, we are GOD'S ETERNAL FAMILY, and so we stayed in the floods and the flames and ONLY BY GOD'S GRACE AND POWER, we are now much, much better than where we have ever been spiritually in our lives--and the Highland Church of Christ has grown tremendously. There were many changes during those years:
a. Emerging out of the wonderful series of sermons on Romans about God's grace just before Lynn came, we changed from a work centered religion to a grace centered spiritual family.
b. We changed from an "elder" mindset to a "shepherd" function as a part of God's family. The elders are not CEOs any more, but "servants" of the whole flock.
c. We changed from "deacons" as "officers" to REAL "ministers" [kinda "biblical" in concept and daily life functioning] involving males and females. [Oh--check the biblical term--a "deacon" is a "minister," NOT an officer in the church].
d. We changed from a "preacher" focused church to a "proclaimer" servant family. Oh, by the way, our FAMILY--our SPIRITUAL FAMILY--our ETERNAL FAMILY is very precious to us. We have one Father--God; one elder brother--Jesus Christ; one Holy Spirit--and the rest of us are "parts" or "members" or "functions" or "sons" and "daughters" in the body or in the family. So, this is not "top to bottom" from elders to deacons to teachers to members. EVERYONE is an important functionary in the family--kinda like a human body--eyes and ears and a nose and hands and fingers and legs and feet and toes, etc. I think that may be somewhere--maybe in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
e. We changed from differentiated groups like older people, young married couples, high school, toddlers, etc., to an intergenerational concept of life--kinda like a family. Oh, we still recognize and work with all these groups, but they know they are a vital part of the family--from the very youngest to the very oldest.

3. How did we respond to our critics and slanderers and "preacher firers" and opponents? It was tough--very tough. But we "bit our tongues." We realized and still realize we are human and thus we are sinful and we are wrong. But BY FAITH from the Bible, our response was to our critics: We love you. We pray for you. We wish you well. We wish we had time to argue with you and debate with you. But we have only 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year, and we think we should spend our time serving God and serving others. So--we have given our lives to God for the service of others. We probably made the wrong decision. But, in our feeble thinking and efforts, this is what we are going to do. [Oh--I think someone said that Jesus criticized and slandered and "fired" and crucified RELIGIOUS people in his own lifetime--HMMM!!!].

4. Lynn and Carolyn left Highland almost twenty years ago, but they know that they are a vital part of our FOREVER FAMILY at the Highland Church of Christ. It was marvelous to us that Lynn and Carolyn's sons and daughters and son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws and grandchildren surrounded Lynn and Carolyn all through this. Several of them were with us yesterday. A real family is always there. There is no competition or wrangling or bitterness. Just love.

We are so blessed by God for all these experiences over the past 40 years. We hope and pray that all of you have a similar experience. Let me share YOUR EXPERIENCES.

John Willis

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

When Moses and Aaron Testify, God's People Believe and Worship

As we work our way through the Book of Exodus--now working through Exodus 4:18-7:7, after Yahweh resolves a conflict with Moses and his family at a lodging place on the journey from Midian to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26), the text in Exodus 4:27-31 describes briefly three important meetings:

1. Aaron tells Yahweh to meet Moses at "the mountain of God" [Mount Horeb=Sinai]. They meet, and Moses tells Aaron all the "words" and "signs" Yahweh had given to Moses at the burning bush recorded in Exodus 3:1-4:17. [Exodus 4:27-28].
2. Moses and Aaron go and assemble all the elders of Israel [apparently now in Egypt]. Aaron speaks all the "words" Yahweh had spoken to Moses, and performs the "signs" in the sight of the people. [Exodus 4:29-30].
3. As a result of this, the people of Israel "believe," and when they "hear" that Yahweh had "given heed to" the Israelites" and had "seen their misery" (see Exodus 2:23-25), "they bowed down and worshipped." [Exodus 4:31].

The "sequence" of events is very significant. (1) Moses gave his testimony to Aaron. (2) Aaron gave his testimony to the people of Israel. (3) The people of Israel heard and saw this testimony, and they believed God and worshipped God.

This is the way God has always worked. First, God acts. Then, those who hear and see what God does testify what God has done to others. And as a result, those who see and hear this testimony believe and worship God.

God still works this same way today. Have you seen and heard God's mighty acts through the testimony of biblical speakers and writers? If so, the natural result will lead people into hearts who believe and worship.

Let me know what you receive and think about this passage in Exodus 4:27-31.

John Willis

The Lord Bless You and Keep You

In 1975-1976, Z. Meshel and his archaeological team discovered a Hebrew inscription on a jar at Kuntillet `Ajrud in the Upper Sinai dating from the eighth century B. C., containing these words: "The Lord bless you and keep you and be with you."

In 1980, G. Barkai and his archaeological team discovered two small inscribed silver plaques, fashioned in the form of women jewelry found in the burial caves at Keteph Hinnom, dating from the late seventh century B. C. Essentially, these two plaques contain Numbers 6:24-26--the so-called priestly blessing.

For many years at Abilene Christian University, it was a unanimous decision to conclude the last chapel each semester by singing together the song: "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," which, obviously, is a choral adaptation of Numbers 6:24-26.

This poem contains three simple blessings.
1. Concrete gifts--blessing and security.
2. The hope that God will be well disposed toward the person (to lighten or shine upon the worshiper) and thus temper judgment with mercy (to be gracious).
3. Assertion that God will pay attention (lift his face), thus providing fullness of life (peace).

Here is this blessing:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Make God bless you daily through this ancient blessing--the oldest extant written text in the entire Bible.

How do YOU respond to this blessing?

John Willis

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Chainsaw Pharaoh

As we work through the biblical account in the Book of Exodus--right now Exodus 4:18-7:7 [a smaller segment of Exodus 1:1-15:21], we encounter Pharaoh's unrelenting, unyielding, inflexible, adamant, resolute, rigid, determined decision not to let the Israelites go into the wilderness to worship Yahweh for three days, BUT to increase the hard labor of the Hebrew people. See especially Exodus 5:1-21--but there are several passages throughout Exodus 1:1-15:21 on this theme.

Throughout history, there are people like Pharaoh presented in this section of the Book of Exodus. They are all predictable. They are all the same. One thinks of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:1-11, who would not lighten the burdens of the North Israelites, but increase them. One thinks of Herod who sought to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger--Matthew 2:16. One thinks of Hitler in the years before the beginning of World War II, who slaughtered millions of Jews. The approach of all such people is the same. Here are some of the major characteristics:
1. I [Capital I] know what is right. I [Capital I] have made up my mind. Forget about ANY other suggestion or proposal. MY WAY is the ONLY WAY.
2. If anyone else gets in MY WAY, I will pull out my CHAINSAW and cut down immediately anyone and everyone that stands in my way. Pharaoh sought to "mow down" all Hebrews who got in his way. Rehoboam sought to "mow down" all North Israelites who got in his way. Adolf Hitler sought to "mow down" all Jews who got in his way.
3. One cannot accomplish this without "henchmen." Pharaoh had his "taskmasters." Rehoboam hired "Adoram" to force the North Israelites to do what Rehoboam decreed or else. Adolf Hitler had his "staff" who were forced to carry out Hitler's decrees.

Unfortunately, in each generation, a few self-designated religious leaders in the name of God or Jesus Christ assert themselves as "chainsaws." They appear as preachers or elders or influential leaders. They gather their "henchmen" around them tightly, and proceed to "mow down" anyone in their way. Religious movements have their representatives.

"Chainsaw" leaders have created movements among young people because they are not committed enough to God. It is hard to realize are were people like this. One would assume that a Christian would sit down and discuss through a difficult or disputed issue. Not a "chainsaw." Approach such a person and propose that we talk through this issue. Forget it!!! So, when Moses and Aaron kept coming to Pharaoh to ask him to let the Israelites go into the wilderness for three day, it was wasted time and effort.

But praise the Lord. Solid, faithful, stalwart, quiet, persistent, TRUE followers of God through Jesus Christ find ways to avoid "chainsaw" leaders and promoters and do great things in and for good people. We can always "work around" those who think they are the leaders. God prospers us in mysterious ways.

"Chainsaw" people do not last very long. Oh yes, they get their way. They pat themselves on their backs and say, We have done great things. But, like Pharaoh, guess what--God is still in control. And it was not very long until God overthrew Pharaoh and his henchmen, and set the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt. Praise God for his steadfast love and faithfulness.

John Willis

Family Reunion

On June 28-July 7, Evelyn and I called everyone of our family to come to a family reunion. We have done this many years over the past twenty years or so. We have had reunions in Flagstaff, Arizona; Malibu, California; twice at Red River, New Mexico; Nashville, Tennessee; and Galveston, Texas. [Did I miss a place somewhere sometime? My memory is slipping!!!]. THIS TIME, we went to Possum Kingdom Lake near Mineral Wells and Breckenridge, Texas. Our "family" is "blood" relatives and long-time spiritual relatives. We had 17 participants, 10 males and 7 females. This ranged all the way from 75 to 4 weeks of age--so all the way from great-grandparents to great-grandchildren.

What happens when people have a "family reunion"? It is always very diverse. Each person has a unique set of interests. Each age is at a certain point in life. We did some fishing. Some canoed and kayaked. Some did some hiking. We worked together through two 1,000 piece picture puzzles. We played rook. We watched the Rangers. GO RANGERS!!! But, best of all, we did a lot of talking. We got "caught up" on current events in our lives. We remembered events in our lives through the years. We talked about many experiences we had in Europe and Asia and South America and Africa and throughout the USA. As we thought of all these, we have been so blessed. We are diverse, but we are united, and we love one another.

Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24 relate a parable of Jesus telling about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son, and invited many people to come. Some came, but many made excuses to avoid coming to the banquet. One said: "I cannot come because I bought a piece of land and I must go and see it." Another said: "I bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out." Still another said: "I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come." In this parable, the king is God the Father, and his Son is Jesus Christ. God wants all people to come to His banquet, His dinner. But there are ALWAYS GOOD REASONS NOT to accept such an invitation. SO, the king sent out other invitations to others, and finally, enough people came to fill the banquet.

This is the way life is. God WANTS all people to come to his REUNION. The invitation is there. He REALLY WANTS all to come. But there are ALWAYS GOOD REASONS NOT to come. But have you noticed that those who DO COME do so at a great price. They have to take their money, their effort, their time, their sacrifice in order to come. It is never easy to come to a reunion.

It is a matter of a "mind set." Inevitably, because of family backgrounds, ages, preferences, jobs, traditions, foods, tastes, THE WORKS--this person or that person in the family will NOT LIKE one or more others in that family for one reason or another. This is just a FACT OF LIFE for EVERY FAMILY. And this is just as true of GOD'S FAMILY. YET, God EXPECTS all people to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. There is a big difference between LIKE and LOVE.

If we cannot LEARN to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in a family, how can we EVER imagine we can LEARN to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in God's family? God calls all people to come to a FAMILY REUNION. Will YOU come when he calls--or will you fill the air with GOOD EXCUSES?

Tell me about YOUR REUNION. Ours was wonderful!!! Everyone who came "tolerated" all the others. We had a great time. We love one another now more than we did before. I hope you have the same experience.


John Willis