John T. Willis

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Any day, I can look out my office and see one of more woodpeckers in our trees. Often I see one perching on our large bird bath drinking water or taking a bath. Evelyn and I have seen as many as six woodpeckers near our house at the same time. Our woodpeckers stay in this area year around. Each creature of God has unique appearance, size, behavior, and traits. Woodpeckers, piculets, and wrynecks are a family, Picidae. Woodpeckers live throughout the world except for New Zealand and Australia, Madagascar, and the regions near the North and South Poles.

There are approximately 200 species and approximately 30 genera in this family. Woodpeckers range from about 3 and a half inches to 20 inches. Our woodpeckers appear to be approximately a foot long or so. Like most woodpeckers, our woodpeckers have red and yellow on the top of the head and under the throat, and the color of the feathers is black or olive and the underbelly is white.

Members of the family Picidae have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees and long sticky tongues for extracting food. In order to prevent brain damage from rapid and repeated decelerations, God created woodpeckers to protect the brain. The brain is small, the orientation of the brain is within the skull (which maximises the are or contact between the brain and the skull), and uses a short duration of contact. The millisecond before contact with wood a thickened nictitans membrane closes, protecting the eye from flying debris. The nostrils are also protected; they are often slit-like and have feathers to cover them.

The feet of woodpeckers have four toes, the first and fourth facing forward, and the second and third facing backward. This is good for grasping the limbs and trunks of trees. Woodpeckers walk vertically up a tree trunk, beneficial for foraging for food or nest excavation. The tail of a woodpecker is stiff, and when this bird perches on vertical surfaces, the tail and feet work together to support it.

Our woodpeckers are social creatures. They get along very well with birds of all types.

Who would ever have imagined and created a creature like a woodpecker? Think of all the features of the woodpecker, only some of which we have mentioned in this blog. Think of the color, the shape, the adaptivity, the size, the role it has on planet earth. Our God is a mysterious and marvelous God. Let us exalt and glorify and praise and worship him for all his wonders. One of these is the woodpecker.

How long has it been since you have seen a woodpecker. Take a few moments to ponder on this creature. The woodpecker will arrest and transform your life. Tell me your experiences about woodpeckers and other birds of God.

John Willis

The Book of the Covenant--Part II

The Book of the Covenant [Exodus 20:22-23:19] falls into eight sections. In this blog, we will make a few observations about the first three sections: Exodus 20:22-21:27.

Section I--Exodus 20:22-26--Instructions about devotion to Yahweh alone. This section contains two basic instructions.
1. God's people are not to make gods of silver or gold--verses 22-23. This is obviously a reinforcement and expansion of the "second commandment" in Exodus 20:4-6 God is in heaven. God is invisible. It is inappropriate to reduce the creator and sustainer of all the universe to a human-made image or idol.
2. God's people are to approach God on simple altar of earth, and sacrifice burn offerings and offerings of well being on it. One is not to chisel or carve the stones of the altar, and one is not to go up by steps to the altar so as to expose one's nakedness--verses 24-26.

Section II--Exodus 21:1-11--Instructions concerning male and female slaves. This section contains two fundamental instructions.
1. A male slave is to serve six years, then becomes free. If he marries during these six years, he becomes free but his wife and any children must remain with the master. But if the male slave chooses to stay with his wife and children and thus with the master, his master will pierce the slave's ear with an awl, and he will serve him for life--verses 1-6. This assumes that this type of master is caring, loving, understanding, and helpful.
2. The master must treat his female slave justly and lovingly. He is not to give her to another man, he is to treat her as his daughter, he must sustain all the possessions of the female slave. If the master does not treat her well, she shall go without debt, without payment of money--verses 7-11.

Section III--Exodus 21:12-27--Instructions concerning violence. Here there are two sets of instructions with four instructions each.
1. Capital Punishment--verses 12-17. According to God's law, four crimes call for capital punishment: (1) intentional murder; (2) striking parents; (3) kidnapping;
(4) cursing parents. Note the recurring phrase: ". . . shall be put to death." All of these instructions fit the "ten commandments": You shall not kill; Honor your father and mother; You shall not steal.
2. Violent assault against another person--verses 18-27. Here there are four situations.
a. If an individual hurts another person, the assailant must pay the victim for the loss of time and arrange for full recovery of the victim.
b. If a master hurts a male or female slave and the victim dies, the master is to be punished. If the slave survives, the master is not punished.
c. If two people are fighting and accidentally harm a pregnant woman nearby and the woman loses her baby but she survives, the one responsible for this action is to be fined what the woman's husband demands, paying what the judges decide. If the woman is harmed in any way, the responsible person is to give her eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound, etc. The technical term for this is "lex or jus talionis," or retribution.
d. If a master strikes the eye or tooth of a slave, the master must set the slave free.

All these "laws" or "instructions" have to do with PEOPLE. They have to do with our relationship to God or to others. These "detailed" laws are elaborations on the "ten commandments," which ultimately refer to the two GREAT COMMANDMENTS: Love God with all your heart, AND Love your neighbor as yourself.

How do these instructions strike YOU? Are they relevant or not? Share your thoughts with others. Let me hear from you.

John Willis

Friday, August 07, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now? Can You See Me Now?

When I was in my late 20s, I had to begin wearing eyeglasses. Over the years, I finally had to move into bifocals. Thankfully, with these eyeglasses, I can see very well--both traveling and reading. A few weeks ago, I went to be examined to find out whether I needed hearing aids. The analysts said I am doing very well, but since I am not 75, like all human beings, my hearing is somewhat diminished, so NOW I am wearing hearing aids.

Seeing and hearing are marvelous gifts of God. Verizon popularized the slogan: "Can you hear me now?" And we joke about this in speaking to one another from time to time. We might also ask: "Can you see me now?"

Proverbs 20:12 says:
"The hearing ear and the seeing eye--
the Lord has made them both."

When the Lord appeared to Moses on Mount Horeb=Sinai at the burning bush, Moses' fourth excuse not to go back to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of bondage was: "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue." But the Lord responded: "Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or DEAF, SEEING or BLIND? Is it not I, the Lord?" (Exodus 4:10-11).

It is so easy for us to take for granted the ability to hear or to see. These abilities are GIFTS OF GOD. Be grateful EVERY DAY for these two very important gifts.

But, there is another consideration. It is very easy for us to SEE and HEAR physically, but not SEE or HEAR spiritually. God said to Isaiah in Isaiah 6:9-10:
Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.

God is the GREAT PHYSICIAN and the GREAT HEALER. All human beings need to go to this physician, this healer, to transform our spiritual eyes and ears into his image and into his service.

Two admonitions are very important. Reflect on these admonitions!!!

Mark 4:24: "Pay attention to WHAT you HEAR."

Luke 8:18: "Pay attention to HOW you LISTEN."

How is YOUR hearing? How is YOUR seeing? Is God transforming your hearing and your seeing? God is the giver of hearing and seeing. He knows how to use these gifts.

How do you respond to these thoughts? Share your ideas with your family, your friends, your church, your community, your city, your state, your country, the world. Let me hear from you.

John Willis

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Book of the Covenant--Part I

As we continue our journey through the Book of Exodus, we encounter:
*An Introduction--Exodus 20:18-21.
*"The Book of the Covenant"--Exodus 20:22-23:19.
*A Conclusion--Exodus 23:20-24:18.

As we have indicated in a previous blog, Exodus 19-24 is a distinct unit, since Exodus 19 narrates an experience of Moses and the Israelites on Mount Horeb=Sinai, and Exodus 24 narrates an experience of Moses and the Israelites on Mount Horeb=Sinai. These chapter form an "inclusio" around this material. Exodus 24:7 probably calls Exodus 20:22-23:19 "the Book of the Covenant," although this is not absolutely certain.

In this blog, we will look at two matters briefly: the "Introduction," and the "position" of "the Book of the Covenant" in biblical thought and in the Book of Exodus.

1. Exodus 20:18-21 relates a brief conversation between Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites are very fearful of God, and thus beg Moses to converse with God but plead with God not to speak to them directly. Moses encourages the Israelites not to be afraid, for the Lord is testing them and put the fear of him upon them so they do not sin. The Israelites keep at a distance, but Moses draws near to God.

2. Apparently, the Bible presents God's laws in three major "stages."
a. Two fundamental principles: Love God with all your heart AND Love your neighbor as you love yourself. See Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18. Jesus emphasizes this in Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28.
b. Ten broad instructions: Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
c. Specific, detailed, modified, clarified teachings, which go further into depth the great principles and instructions stated under a. and b. above.

In the following blogs, we will briefly work through "the Book of the Covenant" in Exodus 20:22-23:19.

Have you ever studied and considered and reflected on the statutes in Exodus 20-23? How do you respond? As we enter a little bit more into depth, come forth with your own understanding and ideas. Help me understand these passages better.

John Willis

Creighton University

Nestled in Omaha, Nebraska, along the Missouri River, is a Roman Catholc University called Creighton University. This school has approximately 4000 undergraduates and a few hundred graduates. Some of its strongest academic fields are education, science [especial medical emphases], exercise science, sociology and political science, art and the humanities.

Evelyn and I just spent five days on the campus of Creighton University living in one of the dorms to attend the national convention of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. We have been attending these meetings at various places all over the USA and Canada for many years, and I often give a paper [as I did this year] and participate in one of the Seminars [mine is on Divinity].

Several aspects of the CBA and Creighton are worthy of consideration. Briefly, here are some of them.
1. The Roman Catholic Church hosts these meetings, but the standing members belong to all denominations: Episcopalian, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Churches of Christ, Roman Catholic, Jewish, etc. All of us are very close and work together very well.
2. St. John's Church is on this campus, and we have services three times each day. All the services are done very well, uplifting, and motivating. The Song Book used in this church has many wonderful hymns. All of us could learn much from this liturgical experience.
3. The faculty, staff, and students at Creighton are devoted, well-rounded, and aggressively helpful for all of us who come from other places. While we were there, they went out of their way to help us in every conceivable way--for food, transportation, help in the dorms, the works.
4. The campus is elegant. Everything is green. There are beautiful flowers all around. At certain spots, there are sculptures which communicate deep spiritual truths. One that is especially striking is a Surrender sculpture. An individual lies prostrate on the ground, lifting up hands in a gesture of surrender to God. What an awesome thought!!!

I hope YOU get to spend some time at Creighton University. There is much more to experience and learn from there. Basketball and softball courts abound, and we saw some women softball games in action from a distance. The crowd was well attended.

Tell me about YOUR university. I am personally very encouraged about the future of our young women and men--those at Creighton University, those at my school, Abilene Christian University, and elsewhere. What do YOU think. Share your thoughts.

John Willis