John T. Willis

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Two Viewpoints of Law

Exodus 20-23 contains quite a few "laws." From a traditional viewpoint of THE LAW in the Bible, LAW usually receives a BAD RAP. Here are some of the well-known POPULAR ideas.
a. The "laws" in the Old Testament are "outdated," "superseded," "irrelevant,"
"contrary to the New Testament."
b. Jesus and Paul CLEARLY teach that GOD'S LAWS in the OLD TESTAMENT are contrary to the teachings of the New Testament--BECAUSE:
i. The Old Testament teaches that human beings can be saved by human works, but the New Testament teaches the human beings can be saved ONLY by God's grace and love.
Jesus said: "The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). Paul said: "We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16). [Here, I trust it is not necessary to "multiple" New Testament texts on this matter].
ii. The Old Testament teaches that people are saved by performing "external acts" of religion, but the New Testament teaches that human beings must be saved by "internal attitudes of heart" which produce God-like lives following the example of Jesus Christ. Thus, spiritual circumcision is superior to and replaces physical circumcision (Romans 2:25-29).
c. Law exposes a sinful person and makes that person guilty, but does not have the power to "save" that person. Romans 7:7-25.

Here are a few INTERMEDIATE considerations.
a. IF anyone REALLY believes that the teachings of the Old Testament do not apply to Christian life today, then that person should NEVER appeal to ANY Old Testament text for godly living and Christianity. Why even have the Old Testament at all?
b. Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament speakers and writers CLAIM that the Old Testament is the authoritative WORD OF GOD, and thus Christians should live according to these teachings. Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 7:12; 2 Timothy 3:14-17. [There are MANY other New Testament texts teaching this].
c. The Old Testament teaches the VERY TRUTHS that the above-mentioned New Testament texts cite in opposition to them. For example, Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; 9:25-26 teach and emphasize that "circumcision" acceptable to God is a "circumcision" of the heart, NOT simply physical "circumcision."
d. There is a BIG DIFFERENCE between Jesus and Paul and other New Testament teachers and writers OPPOSING "incorrect" or "wrong" or "misled" Jewish teachers and people ABOUT the Old Testament and the ACTUAL teachings of the Old Testament. Hence, the teachings of the Old and New Testaments are "harmonious," not "contradictory."

What DOES the Old Testament TEACH about God's LAW or God's instructions? Here are a few important teachings.
1. There is an important "sequence" leading up to God's "laws" beginning with the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3-17.
a. God enters into a "covenant," an intimate, daily, personal "relationship" with his people Israel. God is like a husband, Israel is like a wife. God is like a parent, Israel is like a child. The metaphors go on and on. In Exodus 6:7, God says: "I will take you as MY PEOPLE, and I will be YOUR GOD." Exodus 20:2 re-emphasizes this in preparation for the ten commandments that follows. The possessive words "my" and "your" underline this intimate relationship between God and his people. In Exodus 19:5, God says to the Israelites: You are "my treasured possession," like a "bride" or "wife" endeared by a husband.
b. Next, God reminds the Israelites that he had just recently brought them out oft he land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2). God performed mighty acts in behalf of his chosen people BEFORE he every gave them any commandments. God's relationship with Israel and God's mighty acts in behalf of Israel happen BEFORE he gives his laws. Hence, God does not give his people LAWS IN ORDER TO bring them into salvation and into relationship with God. The Bible teaches the reverse. God's laws are the natural OUTFLOW or RESULT of an already established relationship with God's people.
2. Read carefully the ATTITUDE toward God's laws in the Old Testament--AND in the New Testament. Here are a few introductory passages.
a. God's law is like a "light" or a "lamp." Psalm 119:105, 130.
b. God's law is like "honey." Psalm 119:103.
c. God's law is like "gold." Psalm 119:72, 127.
d. God's law is like "streams of water" that sustain trees and enable them to yield their fruit. Psalm 1:1-3.
Do all these texts sound like God's laws are a burden or negative or degrading or opposing to human life?
3. The Bible consistently admonishes human beings to "meditate on," "delight in," "treasure," "cling to," "revere," "hope in," and "love" God's law. Read Psalms
1; 19; 119. Do all these verbs suggest that according to the Bible, God's laws are a burden, negative, opposed to God, and the like?
4. Now, turn to the New Testament. And think of 1 John 5:2-3:
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when welove God and OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS. For the love of God is this, that we OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS. AND HIS COMMANDMENTS ARE NOT BURDENSOME."

There is a huge difference between the biblical teaching of God's laws and human perceptions of what the Bible teaches about God's laws. How about "re-thinking" this issue.

Tell me what you think? How do you feel about God's commandments? God's laws? Discuss this matter with your friends, your family, your church, your community. Give me your ideas.

John Willis


We human beings take a lot of things FOR GRANTED. Yet, MANY THINGS IN LIFE are VERY IMPORTANT. One of these phenomena is what we call "breathing." The human body is a mysterious, miraculous, amazing piece of work. Just one part of the human body is a pair of two lungs. These are saclike organs forming the special respiratory organ of air-breathing vertebrates. Doctors and researchers can give us all the details of the intricate make-up of the lungs. Then, through the lungs the body moves into the nostrils. Outside the nostrils, there is air, and in the air there is oxygen. And somehow, these lungs pull in the outside air and filtrate through the air to sort out oxygen, so that each human being can LIVE. How can ANYONE who is thinking at all that there is not a MASTER WORKER who makes lungs and BREATHING?

Breathing is absolutely vital to life. We all know this, but we easily forget. So let me give you a few quick windows of this reality.
1. I was born in 1933. A brother followed the next year. Then a third brother followed about six years later. And finally, a sister was stillborn, so never saw the light of lift. When I was about eight years old [remember, this was the early 1940s], our whole family was struck with a severe "bronchial" disease of some sort. I cannot tell you WHAT the disease was. I am not really sure at that time WHAT the doctors REALLY thought the problem was. At my early age, I remember that I an my two brothers were kept under a "tent" over our beds, and told to do certain things in the hope we would survive. I have tried to reconstruct what this might have been, and have come up with: bronchitis, bronchiolotis, catarrh, rheum, croup, flu, laryngitis, pleurisy, pneumonia, bronchopneumonia, lobar pneumonia, thrust, whooping cough, and the list goes on and on. As I flounder on this, my doctors probably laugh at my issue, and know exactly what occurred in those days. But the bottom line is this: I and my older brother died, and my little brother about age two or three did not survived, and his cemetery is still here in Abilene. "Breathing" is vital to life.
2. I have many friends who suffer from serious aspects of allergies or pollens. They must be very careful to avoid flowers, plants, perfumes, etc., in order to survive. Many of us are glibly unaware of the dangers of this type facing life BECAUSE of problems about "breathing."
3. Our government constantly urges people to avoid smoking, BECAUSE this may [and very often does] shorten a person's life. We can cite many "famous" people who died at an early age because they did not take "breathing" seriously--and, of course, this is inseparably connected with the lungs and the respiratory system.

NOW, having introduced this reality in human life. The Bible teaches that there are some very important truths we need to come to grips with about "breathing."

1. "Breath" or "breathing" is a GIFT OF GOD. I entered into life "breathing," and when I stop or quit "breathing," I will die. Psalm 104:29-30 states this succinctly:
"When you [God] hide you face, they [human beings] are dismayed;
and return to their dust.
When you [God] send forth your spirit [breath], they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground."
Echoing one of our songs: "YOU GIVE AND TAKE AWAY," God is the great giver of all gifts. And one of those gifts is "breath." Genesis 2:7 says: "The Lord God FORMED man from the dust of the ground, and BREATHED INTO HIS NOSTRILS THE BREATH OF LIFE; and the man became a LIVING being." This is the way--the only way--that each of us comes into being, and continue to live. SO, I am personally VERY THANKFUL for EVERY BREATH that God gives me. I am totally dependent on my GIVER. Some day, God will choose to "take away my breath," and I will die. But this is also A-OKAY--because has blessed me through many years to sustain me with his marvelous gift of "breath."

2. A breath is VERY BRIEF. The Bible says that life--whether it be a day, a month, a year, ten years, forty years, seventy years, even 100 years--is VERY BRIEF. And we need to realize EVERY DAY that life [my life and your life and everyone else's is VERY BRIEF]. Here are a couple of texts one might consider and ponder.

Isaiah 2:22: "Turn away from mortals,
for of what account are they?"
When we become so fearful and anxious and concerned about powerful, rich, influential people and we are striving to serve God, remember--all these people are "only a breath in their nostrils." God alone will prevail. God alone can sustain us.

Psalm 90:9-10: "For all our days pass away under your [God's] wrath;
our years come to an end LIKE A SIGH.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are SOON GONE, and WE FLY AWAY."
This simile--Life is LIKE A SIGH. What is a "sigh." It is pulling air into the nostrils for a brief moment--the beginning of a "single breath." Then the "sigh" is gone--Life [no matter how long] is gone.

These are sobering thoughts--and very important. Do you appreciate God's gift of "breath"? Be thankful for this mighty gift of God every day.

Share these thoughts with your family, your friends, your community, your church, your nation. Let me know how you respond.

John Willis

The Return to Mount Sinai

The composer of the Hebrew Bible now moves into a very long section in the story of the Israelites. The Israelites arrive at Mount Horeb=Sinai (Exodus 19:1), and they stay there until the Israelites depart from Mount Horeb=Sinai as they move toward the promised land of Canaan (Numbers 10:10). So, there is a huge amount of biblical material between Exodus 19:1 and Numbers 10:10.

In our little blogs, we will try to break these sections into smaller chunks. In the Book of Exodus, the next natural section is Exodus 19-24. This section has an "inclusio." It has "brackets" at the beginning and the end. Here is a very brief outline.
A. Yahweh appears to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. 19.
B. The Ten Commandments. 20:1-17.
C. The Book of the Covenant. 20:18-24:8.
D. Yahweh appears to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. 24:9-18.

In this first set of blogs, we will make some comments about the account in
Exodus 19.

After leaving the Red Sea, the Israelites moved south through the Wilderness of Shur to the Wilderness of Sin to Rephidim to a campsite at the foot of Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai was very familiar "stomping grounds" for Moses. Moses had spent 40 years in the land of Midian, which was in sight of Mount Sinai. He often took his flocks of sheep near or on Mount Sinai. Moses knew this region very well. It was on Mount Sinai that Moses saw the "burning bush," where Yahweh told him to return to Egypt and bring the Israelites out of bondage. When Moses uttered his "first excuse," "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?", God's response was: "I will be with you; and this shall be the SIGN for you that it is I who sent you: WHEN YOU HAVE BROUGHT THE PEOPLE OUT OF EGYPT, YOU SHALL WORSHIP GOD ON THIS MOUNTAIN." (Exodus 3:11-12).

NOW, as we enter into Exodus 19, this SIGN now comes to pass. Moses and the Israelites are NOW at Mount Sinai once again. And, according to Exodus 19, they WORSHIP Yahweh, as Yahweh promised Moses while he was still in the land of Midian.

Exodus 19 presents two scenes. Each is very significant.

1. Yahweh speaks to Moses and tell Moses to communicate some very important truths about Yahweh and his people. Moses does what Yahweh instructs. Exodus 19:1-9.
a. Yahweh declares: I bore the Israelites on eagles' wings, and brought them to myself. Verse 4. What a powerful metaphor! Yahweh portrays himself as a mother eagle, who cares for her young and teaches them how to fly by letting them fall and swoop under them and buoy them upon on her wings. Isaiah 31:5 and Luke 13:34 depict a very similar metaphor. Our God is like mother eagles and hens who have special concern and care for their young. Women have instincts and capabilities that males just do not have. And the Bible teaches that God is like women in some metaphors, just as in other metaphors God is like men. God is neither male nor female. God is spirit. Women are extremely important in God's kingdom--just like men.
b. Yahweh declares: I am making you "my treasured possession" out of all the peoples. Indeed the whole earth is mine. Verse 5. Two important truths exist here.
1. There is another metaphor here. God is like a husband; the people of God are like a bride or a wife. They are God's "treasured possession." God enters into human beings in a very intimate relationship, like a husband and a wife. This metaphor recurs consistently and regularly throughout the Bible--Old and New Testaments. A very few examples are: Hosea 2:2-15; Jeremiah 2:1-4:4; Ezekiel 16; Romans 7:1-6; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ephesians 5:22-33. What an incredible honor to be a part of God's spiritual wife.
2. Yahweh declares: THE WHOLE EARTH IS MINE. It would very easy for God's chosen people to become arrogant or elite or self-important. John 3:16 says: "God so LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his only Son, so that EVERYONE who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life." God chose a special people, the Israelites, and in New Testament times, the church, as an instrument to reach the rest of humankind BECAUSE "the whole earth is God's," and God loves and cares for and desires to save every person throughout the whole world.
c. Yahweh declares through Moses to the people of Israel: "You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation." Verse 6. God chose Aaron and his sons and their descendants from the tribe of Levi to be "priests" throughout the territories of Israel. Priests have two essential tasks: to bring God to the people, and to bring the people to God. SO, Yahweh is proclaming in Exodus 19:6 that the chosen people of God TOGETHER AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD have two tasks for the whole world: to bring God to the nations, and to bring the nations to God. One term people often use to describe this is "mission." God has a great "mission." And a major way God does this is by choosing a people to carry out his "mission." That mission is to bring God to all peoples, and to bring all peoples to God.

2. At the foot of Mount Sinai, Yahweh tells Moses and Aaron to go up into the mountain, and instruct all the people to remain at he foot of the mountain and not touch the mountain. Exodus 19:10-25. There are two important thoughts here.
a. Yahweh instructs the people to prepare themselves to worship him. They are to "consecrate" themselves, "wash their clothes," and "prepare" for the "third day," the day when they will actually meet God in worship. Verses 10-11, 14-15. In order to worship God, we must spend time "preparing" for engaging in worship with him. We must search our hearts and our lives, and be in a proper attitude for communing with God.
b. Worship is a "two way" involvement and communion. "A loud blast of a trumpet" signals that the time of worship has arrived, and the people must move forward. NOW, human beings present themselves before God. AT THE SAME TIME, God "descends," God "comes down" from heaven to meet human beings for worship. Verses 18, 20. Human beings are in the presence of our "holy" God. We cannot comprehend him--his nature, his thoughts, his ways. But we know that he is God, and we stand in awe of him, and we worship.

How does Exodus 19 strike YOU? Share this with your friends, your community, your church. Let me know what you think.

John Willis

Friday, July 24, 2009


You probably have heard about or read about or talked to people about the ancient Phoenicians. In this blog, I simply want to encourage you to learn more about the Phoenicians. I plan to go more in depth in future blogs on the Phoenicians, but right now, here are a few highlights to get you started.

Go to Wikipedia under "Phoenicia," and you will get a lot of good introductory information.

Go to the entries under "Phoenicia" in The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible and The Anchor Bible Dictionary. These articles include a lot to introductory information with maps and pictures.

For a good history of the Phoenicians, two contemporary authors are: Sabatani Moscati, The Phoenicians, London, 1968. Glenn E. Markoe, Phoenicians, 2000.

Here are a few highlights which I think will be of interest to you.

1. Phoenicia is a land along the coast of North Israel. The Phoenicians were the great navigators and sailors of the ancient world. Their main cities were Tyre and Sidon. The Old Testament has much to say about these cities. See, for example, Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 26-28.

2. Phoenicia was renowned in antiquity for the production of fabrics in PURPLE extracted from the Murex gastropods, and whelk were crushed together in an alkaline solution. When decanted and used for dyeing, this solution was practically colorless in the container. But when textiles like wool, silk, or cotton were taken out of the bath, they began to become purple in contact with oxygen in the air. By the way, PURPLE and WHITE is ACU's color.

3. Among famous characters in the Old Testament are:
a. Hiram, king of Tyre, who worked with David and Solomon in preparing and building the Jerusalem temple in the tenth century B. C. 2 Samuel 5:11-12; 1 Kings 5:8-12; 1 Chronicles 14:1; 22:4.
b. Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon. She married Ahab, king of North Israel. 1 Kings 16:29-34; 18; 21.

4. The main deity of the Phoenicians was Baal, but there are others.

5. Archaeologically, and for biblical interest, scholars have discovered a huge amount of Canaanite myths and legends and other types of materials from Ras Shamra-Ugarit. Numerous scholarly books and articles have been published on the language we now call Ugaritic.

This is just a "bare beginning." I hope this will interest you. An article appeared in the National Geographic in October 2004 on the Phoenicians. You might want to read that article with the maps and pictures.

Let me hear from YOU. Are you interested in things like THE PHOENICIANS? They are of great interest to me. I will plug in a blog every now and then on the Phoenicians. Let me know what you would like to discuss.

John Willis

Thursday, July 23, 2009

God's Remarkable Overpowering of His Enemies

God and his faithful people are always confronted with opponents [enemies, adversaries], both external and internal. As the composer of the Book of Exodus moves the story from the Red Sea to the northwest to Mount Horeb=Sinai to the southeast, two opponents encounter God and his people. This blog sketches these two encounters.

1. At Rephidim, where the Israelits complain because they are thirsty, and God commands Moses to strike the rock, and water bursted forth and provided abundant water for the people (Exodus 17:1-7), a wandering people attacked the Israelties. At God's guidance, Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill, and Joshua led the Israelites into battle against the Amalekites. As long as Moses lifted his hands, the Israelites prevailed; but when Moses became weary and had to lower his hands, the Amalekites prevailed. So Aaron and Hur took a stone and put it under Moses, and they help up his hands on either side, and the Israelites defeated the Amalekites. To commemorate this significant event, Moses built and altar, and called it: "The Lord is my banner." For many generations, the Lord continued to have war witht he Amalekites. Exodus 17:8-16.

2. As the Israelites moved further south and encamped at the mountain of God, that is, Mount Horeb=Sinai, Jethro came from Midian to this place. Moses told Jethro all the mighty acts of God in Egypt and at the Red Sea. Jethro listened, and rejoiced. Then Jethro said:
"Blessed be Yahweh [the Lord], who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. NOW I KNOW THAT YAHWEH IS GREATER THAN ALL GODS, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them." Then Jethro offered a burnt offering and sacrifices to God, and Jethro ate bread with Moses and the people of Israel in the presence of God. Exodus 18:1-12.
This passage clearly teaches that God CONVERTED Jethro from his Midianite origin and gods and practices to the worship and service of Yahweh. Jethro's sacrifices and meal are a religious communion with the people of God. God often "overpowers" his enemies by "converting" them from their former manner of life into a new life under God.

God then uses Jethro to help Moses. The Israelites have numerous problems, and this completely consumes all day every day for Moses. Obviously, Moses' task is "too heavy." He cannot do this work "alone." Jethro immediately sees the problem, and proposes a reasonable solution. Choose "able people," people who "fear God," "trustworthy," people who "hate dishonest gain" (Exodus 18:21). Organizes these people among the nation. Have the assigned selected people deal with "minor" cases, and only the "major" cases will come to Moses. Exodus 18:13-27.
Often, gifted, conscientious people think they should do "all the work" in God's kingdom themselves. But the Bible teaches [and common sense indicates] that the people of God, the "body" of God, the "family" of God, the church of God is made up of many wonderful people. When will we ever learn that we should entrust the ministries of God to "able people," people who "fear God," "trustworthy," people who "hate dishonest gain," and freely and openly let them do their ministries? The idea that a pulpit minister or a CEO or an eldership or an overseer should "micro manage" every ministry of God is absurd!!! AND UNBIBLICAL!!! AND UNCHRISTLIKE!!!

God accomplishes his purposes in numerous ways. Often, he does this by overcoming hard-hearted enemies on the one hand, and by converting opponents--like Jethro and Saul of Tarsus--and many others. THEN, God uses these people as God's instruments to glorify God and serve others.

Has God "overthrown" your heart and your life, and is now using you as God's instrument for his purposes? Can you see God working in these ways in your family, your church, your community, your state, your country? Tell me your stories. God is at work even today.

John Willis

The Little Engine That Could

In 1910, Mary C. Jacobs wrote a story under the title "The Poney Engine," in the Kindergarten Review under the pseudonym "Watty Piper" used by publishing house Platt & Munk. Over the years, "editors" have "tweaked" and "updated" this story, but it is essentially the same.

We know this story undert the title "The Little Engine That Could." It is a moralistic children's story which appeared in the USA. Its purpose is to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. Some critics contend that this book is a metaphor for THE AMERICAN DREAM.

The tale says that a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Various larger engines, treated anthropomorphically, are asked to pull the train. For various reasons, they refuse. Finally, this request reaches to a small engine. This engine agrees. The engine begins slowly with the determination: "I think I can--I think I can." And the long engine begins building up steam and movement forward very slowly, and in time, "the little engine" ultimately guided the train over the mountain.

This is a very simple story. But it is very inspiring and motivating. Every day, disappointments, enemies, losses, dashed dreams, apathy lie all around us. God constantly reminds us:
"I will be with you. I will not fail you or forsake you." (Joshua 1:5)

Let us all listen to an accept this great promise of God. Then, under God, like "the little engine that could," let us slowly, surely, daily, with determination, continue to serve God and others.

How is YOUR TODAY? Let me get your feelings. Share your feelings with those around you you love.

John Willis

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The biblical composer recited four cases of "complaining" by the Israelites between the Red Sea and Mount Horeb=Sinai in rapid fire order. Each text relates the complaint and Yahweh's response. PLEASE read each story carefully. Here is a synopsis.

First "complaint"--Exodus 14:10-20.
*Complaint--The Israelites complain that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, but now the Egyptians are sweeping down upon us and we will all die. Verses 11-12.
*Yahweh's response--Yahweh's tells Moses to tell the Israelites to move forward. Then Yahweh tells Moses to lift up his staff and stretch his hand over the sea and divide it. Then Yahweh assures Moses and the Israelites that Yahweh will overthrow the Egyptians. Verses 15-18.

Second "complaint"--Exodus 15:22-27.
*Complaint--The Israelites complain because they cannot drink the water at Marah, because it is bitter. Verse 24.
*Yahweh's response--Yahweh tells Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water. Moses does this, and the water becomes sweet. Verse 25.

Third "complaint"--Exodus 16:1-35.
*Complaint--The Israelites complain because they have nothing to eat, as they did in the land of Egypt. Verse 3.
*Yahweh's response--Yahweh rains upon the Israelites "bread" from heaven. They do not know what it is, so they cry out: "Man Hu," a Hebrew phrase meaning, "What is it?" So they called it "manna." Yahweh also sends quails and covers the camp of the Israelites. Verses 4, 13-15, 31.

Fourth "complaint"--Exodus 17:1-7.
*Complaint--The Israelites complain because they have no water. Verses 1-2.
*Yahweh's response--Yahweh tells Moses to strike a rock at Horeb. When Moses does this, water comes out of it, and the people are able to drink abundant water. Moses calls this place: "Massah," a Hebrew word meaning "test," and "Meribah," a Hebrew word meaning "quarrel."

Here are a couple of observations:
1. All of us human beings are "complainers." I complain, and you complain. Admit it. Often, we assume that "all complaining" is sinful. In my opinion, OFTEN, complaining is sinful. It indicates "lack of faith in God." This sounds true. BUT, I do not believe this is always sinful when people "complain."
2. When the Israelites "complained" between the Red Sea and Mount Horeb=Sinai, Yahweh consistently responded "positively," NOT negatively. Why? Perhaps we will never know, but here are a couple of thoughts.

"Complaining" is like boiling water erupting from the teakettle's spout. Sometimes, it is "good" and "helpful" when a person under great pressure "releases" his or her feelings--rather than keeping it all inside.

"Complaining" may be a "legitimate" means of "letting God know how we really feel" about "difficult problems" in life. This gives God an opportunity to "field" our feelings and then respond. GOD CAN TAKE IT WHEN WE COMPLAIN.

NOW, I am certainly not advocating "complaining, complaining, complaining." BUT, I think there are APPROPRIATE times to "complain" to release our own feelings bubbling in our hearts and chests, and then to listen to God's response to help us out of our dilemmas and frustrations.

Have I gone crazy? Give me your ideas. Trust in God, but God is willing to listen. He wants us to have conversations--honest conversations--about the way we feel. What do YOU think?

John Willis

The Orinoco River and The Bumblebee

The Orinoco River is the largest river in South America. It rises on the western slopes of the Parima Mountains along the border between Venezuela and Brazil. It flows in a giant arc through Venezuela for approximately 1,700 miles and enters the Atlantic Ocean near the island of Trinidad. It is the uttermost of South America's four major river systems. The aquatic fauna include the piranhas and the Orinoco crocodile. The river basin is largely inhabited by indigenous Indian groups.

The Casiquiare canal-Orinoco River hydrographic divide is a representation of the hydrographic water divide that delineates the separation between the Orinoco Basin from the Amazon Basic. The Orinoco Basin is west-north-northeast flowing, into the Caribbean; the Amazon Basin is east-flowing into the western Atlantic. Essentially, a west-flowing, upriver section of Venezuela's Orinoco River has an outflow to the south in to the Amazon Basic. This named outflow is the Casiquiare canal, which as it heads downstream, picks up speed and also accumulates water volume. During flood stage, the Casiquiare's main outflow point into the Rio Negro is supplemented by an overflow that is second, and more minor entry river bifurcation into the Rio Negro and upstream from its major entry confluence.

The bumblebee is any member of the bee genus Bombus, in the family Apidae. There are over 250 known species, existing primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. Bumblebees are social insects characterized by blank and yellow body hairs, often in bands. But some species have orange or red on their bodies, or may be entirely black.

According to 20th century folklore, the laws of aerodynamics prove that the bumblebee should be incapable of flight, as it does not have the capacity (in terms of wing size or beats per second) to achieve flight with the degree of wing loading necessary. It is believed that the calculations which purported to show that bumblebees cannot fly are based upon a simplified linear treatment of oscillating aerofoils. The method assumes small amplitude oscillations without flow separation. This ignores the effect of dynamit stall, an airflow separation inducing a large vortex above the wing, which briefly produces several times the lift of the aerofoil in regular flight. More sophisticated aerodynamic analysis shows that the bumblebee can fly because its wings encounter dynamic stall in every oscillation cycle. Another description of a bee's wing function is that the wings work similarly to helicopter blades, "reverse-pitch semirotary helicopter blades." Bees beat their wings approximately 220 times a second, which is 10-20 times as fast as nerve impulses can fire. Their achieve this because their thorax muscles not expand and contract on each nerve firing, but rather vibrate like a plucked rubber band.

Our marvelous world is full of mysterious wonders. From our perspective, it is "impossible" for a river to flow uphill--but the Orinoco River runs uphill for many miles. From our perspective, it is "impossible" that a bumblebee can fly. It is not possible aerodynamically. But a bumblebee flies. Now, experts have tried to "figure out" HOW these things happen. But from our simple-minded perspectives, these things are "impossible," AND YET they happen--all around us in many places and in many ways.

Some people argue that it was "impossible" that the Red Sea parted and the Israelites walked across on dry ground--as the Bible reports in Exodus 13:17-1:21. Some people argue that a "young Jewish virgin" was conceived of a child without having sexual relations with a male--as the Bible reports in Matthew 1:18-25.

According to Genesis 18:1-15, "three men" came to the tent of Abraham [age 99] and Sarah [age 89], announcing that Sarah would have a son in her old age. Sarah understandably "laughed" at such an absurd idea. But the Lord replied: "Is ANYTHING too wonderful [hard, impossible] for the Lord?" (verse 14). Jeremiah 32:17 rehearses this prayer of the prophet Jeremiah: "Ah, Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great hand and by your outstretched arm! NOTHING is too hard [difficult] for you."

I do not know about YOU, but I am not surprised that our CREATOR and SUSTAINER can and does "impossible" things all the time. After the Enlightenment, where "rationalism" predominates, this sounds foolish to many. But look around at all the phenomena around us. Many things, like the Orinoco River, like the bumblebee, are "impossible"--AND YET GOD MAKES THEM TICK!!!

What do YOU think? Is there ANYTHING that is "impossible" for God? Share your thoughts--with me, with many others.

John Willis

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One of God's Saving Acts: The Crossing of the Red Sea--Part III

The conclusion of the biblical account of the crossing of the Israelites across the Red Sea out of Egyptian bondage into the wilderness relates two songs of Moses and the Israelites, and Miriam and all the women in Exodus 15:1-21. It is probably that the song of Miriam and the women in verse 21 is simply the introduction of the song of Moses and the Israelites in verse 1, so the hearer or reader should understand verses 1-18 as the same song which the biblical composer chooses not to include the entire song as a repetition.

This song naturally falls into three stanzas:

Verses 1-3--The worshipers exalt Yahweh, the God of Israel, in praise for all Yahweh has done for his people. Yahweh is triumphant, strong, mighty, savior, exalted, and warrior. These are all very important aspects of Yahweh's nature and character.

Verses 4-10--The worshipers emphasize the utter failure of the enemies of Yahweh. The determined opponents of Yahweh are cast down, sunk, covered, overthrown. Powerful enemies of God and his faithful servants frequently cause anxiety and fear and doubts. But the biblical story of the crossing of the Red Sea should be renewed encouragement for anxious and fearful hearts.

Verses 11-18--The worshipers underline the eternal characteristics of the God we serve: God is incomparable, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders, steadfast love, redeeming and guiding his people, and ultimately bringing his people into the land of Canaan, where he establishes his sanctuary and reigns as king of Israel and the whole world.

The songs, the tambourines, the dancing blend together in unity to glorify God for his mighty, saving acts. We should glorify him in similar, biblical ways.

Two modern religious songs seem to capture the mood and thoughts of the powerful songs recorded in the Bible in Exodus 15:1-21. Ponder over these songs:

The Battle Belongs to the Lord
[Words and Music: Jamie Owens-Collins--1985]

Stanza I:
In heavenly armor we'll enter the land,
The battle belongs to the Lord.
No weapon that's fashioned against us will stand,
The battle belongs to the Lord.

Stanza II:
When the power or darkness comes in like a flood,
The battle belongs to the Lord.
He's raised up a standard, the power of his blood,
The battle belongs to the Lord.

Stanza III:
When your enemy presses in hard, do not fear,
The battle belongs to the Lord.
Take courage, my friend, your redemption is near.
The battle belongs to the Lord.

And we sing glory, honor, power and strength to the Lord.
We sing glory, honor, power and strength to the Lord.

Onward, Christians Soldiers
[Words: Sabine Baring-Gould--1864; Music: Arthur Sullivan--1871]
Stanza I:
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before;
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe,
Forward into battle, see his banners go!

Stanza II:
At the sign of triumph, Satan's host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers, on to victory;
Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
People, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise!

Stanza III:
Crowns and throne may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain;
Gates of hell can never 'gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ's own promise and that cannot fail.

Stanza IV:
Onward, then, ye people, join our happy throng;
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song;
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This thru countless ages humans and angels sing.

Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching as to war.
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

Do you love songs? What are some of YOUR favorite songs? Share them with your friends and associates and church. Let me hear your songs. Songs keep our lives alert and motivating and uplifting.

John Willis


From a very early age, I have always been intrigued by "giants." I think of the fairy tales of Jack and the Beanstalk, or the movie King Kong. I think of the "three-headed dog" chained to protect the "trap door" in the innermost part of a corridor in the stories of Harry Potter. Giants always seem to be in "a different world," but still a vital part of my life.

The Bible describes a race including numerous giants among the original inhabitants of Canaan, Edom, Moab, and Ammon. The invading Mesopotamian king Chedorlaomer defeated them, according to Genesis 14:5. Deuteronomy 3:11; Joshua 12:4; 13:12 relate that the Israelites defeated Og, the giant King of Bashan east of the Jordan. Og's bed was nine cubits long and four cubits wide. He was huge. Goliath, a Philistine, was a descendant of these giants. 1 Samuel 17:4. The Bible says he was six cubits and a span, nine feet, nine inches tall. 2 Samuel 21:18-22 and 1 Chronicles 20:4-8 name other Philistine giants. Some think the Nephilim, mentioned in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33, were a race of giants on earth. 1 Samuel 9:2 says Saul [the first king of Israel} "stood head and shoulders above everyone else."

We categorize human beings in various ways. One of these is the height. A few years ago, Evelyn and I were flying from Tokyo through Los Angeles to Dallas, then on to Abilene. As we boarded the plane at Los Angeles, Yao walked into the terminal and boarded on the same plane. I did not realize how tall Yao is--he is over seven feet tall. He is huge.

But remember, I was 5 foot seven inches tall most of my life. At 75, I have shrunk to five foot five. All of us lose a few inches through life.

Through my life, I think of people who were or are "spiritual giants." Their physical size does not matter. What REALLY matters is their "hearts" and "influences" on others.
I think of J. Eskew, a simple, loving, caring banker whom I served as a preacher at the Maple Hill in Lebanon, Tennessee in the late 1950s. J. had four children. Our young family with four children had rough times in those days. Frequently, J. would come and encourage us through difficult situations. J. died at age 39 because of a heart condition. I was honored to hold his funeral. I was indeed a "giant" in God through Christ.
I think of J. D. Thomas, one of my teachers at ACC, in the early 1950s. Churches of Christ were at a "different" stage in their life and dealing with different issues. Dr. Thomas "paved the way" to open the eyes of the oncoming generation for the future. He boldly brought together preachers and scholars all over America to deal with "tough issues" with whom we struggled in those days. The "issues" we now are different. But the principle is the same. Evelyn and I asked Dr. Thomas to officiate our marriage ceremony in Stamford on 27 January 1956. J. D. Thomas was indeed a "giant" in God through Christ.
I think of Tim Tucker, one of my former students at David Lipscomb College [now University] and later a professor of history. Tim stood alongside myself trying to support "integration" of American Americans and people of all races when the administration and many associates opposed. Tim has now suffered a degenerated disease over several years. But I am so grateful for him. Tim Tucker was and is indeed a "giant" in God through Christ.
I think of Glenn Owen. Glenn and his wife Marlene were "train blazers" for mission work in Brazil for approximately twenty years. Glenn was a very gifted person. He learned Spanish growing up as a child. He mastered Portuguese in Brazil. Later he learned Russian and did great work in the Ukraine. I was so blessed to be a fellow-shepherd at the Highland Church of Christ for many years. We did so many things together--counseling, fending off critics, often praying together on our knees. Glenn died suddenly with a heart attack a few years ago. But, like Abel, "he died, but through his faith, he still speaks" (Hebrews 11:4). Glenn and I would often disagree, but we always knew we loved one another. Glenn would say: "It is alright for you to be wrong." And he was usually right. Glenn Owen was indeed a "giant" in God through Christ.

MY list of "giants" is long. But I will stop here for now.

But I am guessing that there are some "giants" in YOUR life. Share these "giants" with your friends and your church and your community and your friends. Tell me your stories.

John Willis

Monday, July 20, 2009

One of God's Saving Acts: The Crossing of the Red Sea--Part II

Let us now continue our story about the crossing of the Red Sea, examining Exodus 14:19-31.

Three important scene appear in this section of the story.

1. The angel of God intervened between the Israelites and the invading Egyptians to protect the Israelites by means of the pillar of cloud. 14:19-20. Dangers often encroach on God's people, but there are angels present to protect us in difficult times. This event should encourage us.

2. At God's command, Moses "stretched out his hand" TWICE in dealing with the Egyptians. First, Yahweh drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land so the Israelites could walk through safely on the other side of the sea. 14:21. Second, at dawn, Yahweh caused the sea to return to its normal depth, killing the Egyptians pursuing against the Israelites in the midst of the sea. 14:26-29.

As a "side note," 14:21 states that Yahweh did not "part" the Red Sea in a "flash," at a "moment." He could have done this, in my opinion. But the Bible says that God did this by sending a "strong east wind" and spent "all night" slowly but surely parting the sea. Exodus 10:13 says Yahweh sent a "strong east wind" to bring the locust plague into Egypt, then a "strong west wind" to drive them away in Exodus 10:19. God can use "wind" to accomplish his purposes. An Egyptian journalist that night might have reported: "You would never believe what happened at the sea. A terrible wind blew and parted the water, and the Israelites crossed over on dry land. Then, the wind subsided and the pursuing Egyptians got trapped in the sea and drowned." You know, things happen in life which we assume are "natural phenomena." That may be true part of the time. BUT, is it possible that God works in such ways sometimes?

3. The biblical composer gives a brief summary of the crossing over of the sea.
Exodus 14:30-31.
a. Yahweh "saved" the Israelites from the Egyptians. God is a great savior, a great deliverer. God can "save" us from all our problems.
b. The Israelites "saw" "the GREAT WORK that the Lord did against the Egyptians." When people "see" God at work, we need to tell others what we have experienced God do. This is what the early apostles did when they "saw" Jesus teach and act.
c. The people of Israel "feared" the Lord. I do not believe this mean they were "scared to death" of God. Rather, they held God in the highest regard. They revered God. They esteemed him with the most exalted respect. Our hearts should feel this way about God at all times.
d. The people of Israel "believed in" the Lord and in Moses. When God does something, the natural response is to gain confidence or trust in God.

How does this story strike you? Does it increase your trust in God? Share these ideas with your friends and your church. Give me your ideas.

John Willis


One of the greatest blessings through the years of my efforts as a teacher is to befriend students from all over the world. One of our students at Abilene Christian University is Ana Pruteanu. She is from the Republic of Moldova. Her major is Nutrition. She is a very bright and astute individual. She is a distinct blessing to our university community.

From the United State Department of State, I have tried to learn a little bit about Moldova. Let me share a few details with you.

The Republic of Moldova is surrounded by Ukraine on the north and east, and by Romania on the west, just northwest of the Black Sea. It consists of approximately 13,000 square miles, a little larger than the state of Maryland in the USA. The capital is Chisinau. The terrain is rolling steppe, gradual slope south toward the Black Sea. The climate is moderate in the winter and warm in the summer.

Moldova became a Republic by declaration of Independence from the Soviet Union on 27 August 1991. It adopted its constitution on 28 July 1994. This is indeed a very recent "country." It has a President [Vladimir Voronin], a Prime Minister [Zinaida Greceanii], and a governmental Cabinet. It has a legislative unicameral Parliament, and a judicial Supreme Court. Moldova is divided into 32 counties or raions, 4 municipalities, and one autonomous territorial unit.

The population of Moldova is 4.1 million people, and is growing at the rate of approximately -0.3%. Its ethnic groups are Moldovan (83.7%), Ukrainian (6.6%), Russian (1.7%), Gagauz (4.5%), Bulgarian (1.7%), Romanian (1.4%), and 0.4% others. The main religions are Christian Orthodox (93.3%), Baptist (1%), Adventist, Roman Catholic, Jewish--all very small. The languages are Romanian (officially known as Moldovan), Russian, Ukrainian, and Gagauz. The education in this country is very high: 96%. The work force is 1.3 million people: Agriculture--35%; Industry--12%; and other--47%. The life expectancy of people in this country is 68.4 years.

For centuries, this country has suffered from all kinds of wars, more recently World War II. Due to the ongoing unrest in this country, there are constant problems in the government in various parts of the area. The region of Transnistria, which lies along the Ukrainian border, finds it very difficult to get along with other portions of the country.

Moldova suffers from economic difficulties of all kinds. The people are valiantly striving to regain their resources and work. But in 2007, the country experienced a severe drought which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in agriculture sectors losses and prompted concerns about food availability.

Most of us know little or nothing about Moldova. But, as Christians, we should love and be concerned about the welfare of all people. Will join me in praying for Ana and the people of Moldova? Maybe one or more of you may plan to go to this country and try to help those in need.

Let me get your ideas.

John Willis

Sunday, July 19, 2009

One of God's Saving Acts: The Crossing of the Red Sea--Part I

We now come to that point in the account of Exodus 1:1-15:21 in which the biblical narrator relates the story of the crossing of the Israelites from Egypt into the wilderness through the Red Sea--Exodus 13:17-15:21. Spiritual truths are abundant here, so we will divide this into three parts.

Exodus 13:17-14:18 describes three scenes in this divine drama.

1. God commanded the Israelites not to go north by way of the land of the Philistines, but go south. So they went from Rameses to Succoth, then to Etham. Then the Israelites reversed their journey and went north again in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the Red Sea, in front of Baal-zephon. All the way, they were carrying the bones of Egypt who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, "God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here." [See Genesis 50:24-26]. Yahweh went in front of the Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead them along the way and travel day and night. Pharaoh saw this, and concluded that the Israelites were "wandering aimlessly." So Pharaoh amassed together a large army of horses and chariots with their drivers, and started off to pursue and re-conquer or destroy the Israelites. 13:17-14:9.

2. When the Israelites saw Pharaoh and the Egyptians coming after them, they became very fearful, and uttered their FIRST COMPLAINT of the Israelites at the beginning of the exodus and ensuing wilderness wanderings. They said to Moses: "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." (Exodus 14:11-12). But Moses encouraged the people not to fear, but see the deliverance of God, for the Lord will fight for you. 14:10-14. In times of crisis, it is tempting to "cave in" to the pressures tumbling down on our hearts and our lives, just as the Israelites did when the Egyptians rushed down against them. In times like this, we must trust in God, and realize that he will fight for us and deliver us from our troubles.

3. Yahweh assures Moses to tell the Israelites to GO FORWARD. By God's power, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the Israelites will go through the Sea on dry ground. Thus, Yahweh will gain glory for himself over Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know that Yahweh alone is God. Exodus 14:15-18.

Throughout history, significant events occur. One of these is the exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Israelites through the Red Sea. THIS event is memorable, inspiring, challenging, and motivating. There are many important truths we can learn from this. Here are a few.

How does this story strike you? What lessons from this would you share for others? Let me hear from you.

John Willis


My marvelous wife, Evelyn, is a docent in the Abilene Zoo. She assists visitors of all types to give directions through the zoo, make explanations about the animals when needed, help in a variety of ways.

Several months ago, our zoo attained a coati or a coati mundi, a mammal of the genus Nasua, of tropical America, allied to the raccoon, but with a longer body and tail and a long flexible snout. The staff began to ask what name we might give to the coati mundi. After some thought, Evelyn suggested--this is a coati MUNDI--Let's call this creature "Tuesday." Get it: a MONDAY [Mundi] with the name TUESDAY--and the staff thought that was a great idea. SO--go the the Abilene Zoo, and watch "Tuesday" doing its activities.

Let me encourage YOU to go to the zoo. Children learn so much by going through a zoo. We have been through zoos in Fort Worth, San Antonio, and even Singapore. This is all marvelous. Observe the great diversity of all kinds of God's creatures. How can anyone go through a zoo and not be amazed at God's creativity and wisdom and ingenuity?

Oh--by the way!!! GOD is the greatest ZOOKEEPER on earth. God's ZOO is from the North Pole to the South Pole, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, throughout every continent and every country and every city in the world. All kinds of creatures range throughout the world that most people never see them. YET, God cares for each of them.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus often went to a zoo. Think about Jesus' magnificent messages. Here is just one example:

"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?" If God cares for all he animals and birds and insects and other creatures on earth, you can count on it that God cares for YOU and me.

Go to your zoo. Tell me about your zoo experiences. Share this with your friends and neighbors and church and community. Give me some of YOUR ZOO STORIES.

John Willis