John T. Willis

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard

The Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma inornata) is a very specific type of lizard living only in the sandy plains of the Coachella Valley, Riverside County, California. The head and body of this lizard is between 3 to 5 inches long, and its tail is about the same length. It weighs about 7 ounces. It ranges from sea level to approximate 1,600 feet high. The USA has listed this species as "endangered," although experts have not been able to number the individuals.

This creature is restricted to habitats with fine, windblown sand deposits in the sandy plains. It is perfectly at ease with the blowing sand and scorching heat in this region of California. Its namesake fringed toes allow it to run quickly over sand without sinking, while its jaw, protected eyelids, ears with elongated scales and specialized nostrils allowing it to breathe below the sand without inhaling sand particles are all adapted to keep sand out. Active during the day, the dune dweller simply burrows into the sand with its wedged-shaped nose for relief when the temperature rises to extremes. This is also an effective strategy for avoiding predators. But the sand-wise lizard cannot hide from habitat loss, which has been driven by development and the influx of exotic vegetation. Its precious sand is slipping away, and this lizard is in hazard.

God created this amazing creature. Its "tribe" is small, but important on earth, even if we human beings do not fully realize its place and function. Zoologists are striving to preserve and enhance this creature. I hope YOU will participate in keeping all God's species on earth. According to Genesis 1:28, this is our human responsibility, especially as Christians. I am thankful to know good Christian people who work in this area--at zoos, in universities, in research agencies, and the like.

What are YOUR experiences. If YOU are in the Coachella Valley in California, let us hear from you about this interesting, endangered lizard. And have a tremendous 2010.

John Willis

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rebuilding Ruins--The Fifth Vision of Amos--Amos 9

Amos 9 essentially has the same structure as Amos 7 and 8. First, there is a vision, then there is an oracle. It is difficult to divide Amos 9. The vision could end at verses 6, 8, or 10. Arbitrarily, I will stop at verse 6, because verses 1-6 contain a message of doom, whereas verses 7-15 contain a message of hope. The fifth vision does indeed announces Yahweh's punishment of Israel for her sins, but not utter destruction. Hence, there is still hope because of Yahweh's grace and mercy. Follow Amos 9, which falls into two parts.

I. The Vision of Yahweh standing beside the altar. Amos 9:1-6.
a. In visions 3 and 4, Yahweh declared to North Israel: "I will never again pass by them" [see 7:8; 8:2], and now he declares that when the Assyrians come, there will be "no escape."
b. In a vision, Amos the prophet "saw" "the Lord standing beside the altar," and he commanded the attackers to smash the temple there and kills its inhabitants. And he declares:
"Not one of them shall flee away,
not one of them shall escape." Verse 1.
It cannot be certain what "altar" this text mentions. However, in the context of the entire Book of Amos, it is most likely that this is the altar at Bethel. Amos 4:4; 5:5; 7:10, 13 specifically denounce unacceptable "religious" activites at work at Bethel. 1 Kings 12:28-30 narrates that Jeroboam I built two golden calves for worship by the Israelites in North Israel, one at Dan in the north and the other at Bethel in the south. Bethel had a long history as a place of worship in Israelite tradition--see Genesis 28:10-22; 35:1-15. Therefore, the "altar" in Amos 9:1 is probably at Bethel.
c. Like human beings always do, when the invaders come, the Israelites will try to find ways to escape. Some go "down" as low as they may; some go "up" as high as they may; some flee to "Mount Carmel" on the shore of the Mediterranean; some strive to find a place in the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea; some seek safety in captivity. But Yahweh declares that all this is in vain. Yahweh WILL punish his people because of their persistent rebellions against him. Verses 2-4.
d. Then, for the third and final time in the Book of Amos [see earlier Amos
4:13; 5:8-9], the prophet quotes part of a doxology, extolling Yahweh for his power and wisdom, who touches the earth, builds his upper chambers in the heavens, founds his vault on the earth, and causes rain to fall on the land. Verses 5-6. THIS GOD is the God who will punish North Israel for her sins.

II. BUT, Yahweh will "restore the fortunes" of his penitent people. Amos 9:7-15.
a. Yahweh loves, cares for, and deals equally with all nations. He chose one nation as an "object lesson" like a fish in an aquarium so that all could see, in the hope of saving the whole world. Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt [see Amos
2:10; 3:1; Hosea 11:1 and often in the Bible], BUT he also brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians [Arameans] from Kir. Verse 7. The same is true of ALL nations. God raises up nations to accomplish his purposes. God does not work among the Israelites or Christians exclusively on earth. God created the whole world, not just this or that isolated people. We badly need this message. God "chooses" or "elects" or "selects" a peculiar people, NOT to make them arrogant as if they were more important or religiously superior to others, BUT to use them to bring the world to God. This is the meaning of MISSION.
b. Verse 8 at first seems to be a contradiction. In lines a and b, Yahweh declares that he will "DESTROY" his sinful people. But in lines c and d, Yahweh declares that he will "NOT UTTERLY DESTROY" his people. Yahweh will leave a "remnant" to sustain those to repent and turn back to him. Verse 8.
c. Yahweh works like a miner who sifts out sand to find "gold nuggets" to use to accomplish his purposes. In this context, that "nugget" is Israel. God will find that "nugget" and "destroy" it. But actually this is "the sinners" of God's people, not all the people, because some will repent. The people at large arrogantly assume: "Evil [Punishment} shall not overtake or meet us." Obviously, this is a huge mistake. Yahweh WILL punish his hard-hearted sinful people. Verses 9-10.
d. And YET, there is hope. "On that day" [some time in GOD'S FUTURE], Yahweh will raise up the dynasty of David [remember that in the days of Amos, the king of JUDAH was Uzziah, and he became arrogant and thus failed] and raise up its "ruins" "as in the days of old," probably referring to the "golden age" of David and Solomon. Then, they will be in control of "all the nations" whom Yahweh created and sustains. Yahweh, and no one else, will accomplish this. Verses 11-12.
e. Yahweh assures the penitent that great prosperity lies in the future. Yahweh will "restore the fortunes" of Israel, and othey will rebuild the "ruined cities" and live there, and plant vineyards and gardens abundantly. Yahweh promises: "they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that Yahweh has given them [back in the days of Joshua--see Joshua 21:43-45].

Now, we have attempted to work through the Book of Amos. I hope these messages will inspire and encourage and build up your life and your church. Share YOUR insights and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

It is Christmas Eve 2009, and God woke up Evelyn and me this morning with a blowing snow. As I compose this blog, the snow is still blowing hard. Snow is everywhere. We are "socked in." There are at least six inches so far. Many of our birds are hovering near the house to get the grain. A fire is in the fireplace. This is an incredible day. We thank God for the gift of snow.

In 1934, Felix Bernard wrote the song: Winter Wonderland. Richard B. Smith wrote the lyrics. The Andrews Sisters and Perry Como made this song famous. The lyrics of Winter Wonderland have undoubtedly contributed to the magical vision of snow at Christmas together with the tradition of building snoemen and therefore turning fantasy into reality by creating a real Winter Wonderland. Here are the lyrics.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is the new bird
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.

He'll say: Are you married?
We'll say: No man,
But you can do the job
When you're in town.

Later on, we'll conspire,
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid,
The plans that we've made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he's a circus clown
We'll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kids knock him down.

When it snow, ain't it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We'll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

I hope YOU enjoy this song. Have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

John Willis

The Vision of the Basket of Summer Fruit--Amos 8

A previous blog has dealt with the first three visions of amos related in Amos 7-9. This blog is an attempt to discuss the fourth vision and an oracle of doom--related in Amos 8. [The order is strikingly similar to Amos 7, which contains three visions followed by a conflict between Amos and Amaziah the priest of Bethel]. Amos 8, then, falls into two parts.

I. The Vision of the Basket of Summer Fruit. Amos 8:1-3.
a. The fourth vision contains the same message as the third vision recorded in Amos 7:7-9. These two visions communicate the same idea. Yahweh message is: "I WILL NEVER AGAIN PASS BY THEM"--7:8; 8:2.
b. In Amos 8:1-3, there is a word play in Hebrew. "Summer fruit" in Hebrew is "qayits." "End" in Hebrew is "qets." This is a word play. We do this all the time in English. For example, Mary says: "Bill, I see you are wearing a BLUE shirt." Bill replies: "Yes, Mary, and I am very BLUE, because I just BLEW my final exam in math." People in other cultures probably would not understand this "word play." And we do not understand the word play in Amos 8:1-2 in English. Some people struggle with making something out of the text, conjecturing that the basket of summer fruit symbolizes that Israel is "ripe" for punishment because of her sins. This is interesting, but misses the point in Hebrew. A study of Hebrew or a consultation of several good commentaries will point out to a non-Hebrew individual the word play between "qatits" [summer fruit] and "qets' [end]. The point of this text is: God will soon punish North Israel for her sins. In the first two visions, Yahweh gave the Israelites others opportunities to repent, butt hey refused. Therefore, Yahweh will soon punish his people for their sins. [This same principle appears in Amos 4:6-13]. Verses 1-2.
c. When the Assyrians sweep through the land of North Israel, wailing and mourning will be everywhere; the deal will lie all around. There will be nothing but silence. Verse 3.

II. Yahweh condemns the wicked rich, powerful, prestigious "religious" "leaders" of Israel for their injustice and unrighteousness against the poor and needy. Amos 8:4-14.
a. Yahweh through Amos begins by denouncing the wealthy who are cheating their customers. This section states four ways the wealthy cheat their customers. Verses 4-6.
1. They make the ephah small. An ephah is a measure for grain. The wealthy pretend that the measure is a certain size when in reality it is a different size. For example, the label on a bag is printed 100 pounds, but actually it contains 98 pounds.
2. They make the shekel great. The wealthy post a certain price for a certain product. The correct price in the market should be $5.00, but their charge is $5.15.
3. They use false balances. If a customer weighs the product he or she is purchasing, the merchant's scales are "rigged," that is, fixed at a different measure. The customer reads 100 pounds but in reality the weight is 98 pounds. Leviticus 19:35-36 specifically condemns such practices. Proverbs 11:1; 20:23; Micah 6:11 denounce the same thing.
4. They sell the "sweeping" of the wheat--either chaff or an inferior grade of wheat.
Times have not changed. People today still devise schemes of "making a buck" to increase wealth in the process of hurting honest innocent persons.
b. Because of these dishonest, ungodly practices, Yahweh will punish his people who sin against him. Verses 7-14.
1. Yahweh will not forget any of their wicked deeds. Hence, wailing and mourning will prevail throughout the land. We human beings often THINK we can deceive others and God and go scot free. Not so.
"The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and on the good." (Proverbs 15:3). Verses
7-10. "Sackcloth" and "baldness" were cultural practices symbolizing mourning in the ancient Near East. See Micah 1:16; 2 Samuel 3:31; Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 50:3; Lamentations 2:10; and often.
2. Yahweh declares that he is sending a "famine" on the land of Israel, not a famine of bread or water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. Right now, Yahweh yearns for his people to hear his message and repent, but they reject this message again and again. So, the time will come when Yahweh's message will not be present. Punishment will come, and then the people will scurry throughout the land to find Yahweh's message. But it will be too late. Verses 11-12.
3. The sinful people and their gods will "fall, and never rise again." The precise meaning of verse 14 is unclear. To cite one conjectural interpretation, John H. Hayes reads the first line: "the ones swearing because of the guilt or iniquity of Samaria." In this case, this verse denounces the wrongdoing and oppressive policies of Jeroboam II and the Israelites leaders in Samaria. Then, the next two lines may refer to swearing by the god of Dan in support of Damascus and Syria or Aram, and the life of the way of Beersheba may refer to the pilgrimage route to Beersheba. But this verse is very difficult, and the meaning is unclear. See John H. Hayes, Amos, The Eighth Century Prophet, pages 213-215.

There are many very important relevant contemporary messages in Amos 8. I hope YOU ponder over this chapter, and share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU. I need all the help I can get.

John Willis

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Palawan Hornbill

The palawan hornbill (Anthracoceros marchei), which the Filipinos call talusi, is a small forest-dwelling bird--it is approximately 21-25 inches long. It weighs approximately a pound and a half. This bird is predominantly black with a white tail, a dark green gloss on its upperparts and a large creamy-white beak with a casque typical of the hornbill family. The calls of a palawan hornbill sound like "kaaww" or "kreik-kreik."

Nine species of hornbill live in the Philippines and the palawan hornbill is endemic to Palawan Island, but has also been seen on nearby islands of Balabac, Busuanga, Calauit, Culion and Coron. Most visiting birdwatchers travel to St. Paul's National Park to view this bird. It acts as a bio-indicator due to its sensitivity to environmental changes. It is officially classied as "vulnerable" and its numbers have reduced by at least 20% in the last ten years due to habit destruction and hunting for food and the live bird trade.

Palawan hornbills are usually seen in pairs or small noisy family parties, and have a communal roosting. They are usually seen in fruiting trees at the forest edge, but also feeds on insects and small reptiles. The palawan hornbill gathers fruits in a gular pouch, then processes and spits out seeds where they are able to thrive, away from the competing parent tree. Scientists estimate that there are up to 10,000 palawan hornbills on earth.

The palawan hornbill is another example of our God's wonders. It has its own features and characteristics and needs and contribution to this planet. YOU have a unique place here on earth. God created YOU for an important reason. Examine YOUR heart and YOUR life, and strive to determine WHO YOU need to be. Share YOUR thoughts and insights and dreams with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Vision of the Plumbline--Amos 7

As pointed out in an earlier blog, the third section of the Book of Amos contains five visions. Three of these visions appear in Amos 7. Then a fourth vision appears in Amos 8. And, finally, the fifth vision appears in Amos 9. This blog is devoted to a brief treatment of Amos 7. This chapter falls into two parts.

I. The First Three Visions of Amos. Amos 7:1-9.
a. The first two visions communicate the same message. Amos 7:1-6.
1. The vision of the locusts. Yahweh showed Amos that Yahweh was "forming" [creating] locusts when the Israelites most needed to harvest their crops. The locust plague wiped out this crop. When Yahweh revealed this vision to Amos, Amos made an "intercession" in behalf of Israel. Amos cries out:
"How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!"
In the minds the Israelites, they were "the most powerful nations on earth" [see Amos 2:13-16; 6:13]. But in the mind of Yahweh and Amos, they are VERY SMALL. When Amos makes this intercession, Yahweh responds by GRACE; Yahweh CHANGES HIS MIND and HIS PREDICTIONS, and gives his people another chance. Throughout history, this is the way Yahweh works. Verses 1-3.
2. The vision of the devouring fire [drought]. Yahweh showed Amos that Yahweh was calling a fire to devour the land of Israel. Yahweh sent a drought. Just as in Amos's response to the locusts, here again Amos makes an intercession in behalf of Israel, using the same words. And again, Yahweh agrees and changes his mind and his predictions, and gives Israel another chance. Verses 4-6.
b. The third vision: the plumbline. Amos 7:7-9.
1. Yahweh showed Amos that Yahweh was standing beside a wall built with a plumbline with a plumbline in his hand. Yahweh declares that he is setting a plumbline in the midst of his people Israel. His point is: "I WILL NEVER AGAIN PASS BY THEM." Yahweh had given Israel chance after chance after chance [as illustrated by the first two visions; see Amos 4:6-13]. Yahweh declares that Amos can and must not make an intercession for Israel any more. Israel has hardened her heart, and hence Yahweh will never again pass by Israel--Yahweh will punish Israel. Verses 7-8.
In these two verses, there is a "technical" interpretation. Some scholars argue that the Hebrew word 'anak here means "tin" rather than "plumbline." Then the idea would be that the Israelites are like "tin," and therefore cannot resist the attacks of the invading Assyrians. See John H. Hayes, Amos the Eighth Century Prophet, pages 204-206. This may be true. But all scholars admit that we really do not know what this term means. The New Revised Standard Version still reads "plumbline," and this makes good sense in this context. The idea is that Yahweh originally built Israel by a "plumbline," the law of Moses. Now, Yahweh requires the Israelites to measure up to this standard. When this happens, the Israelites fail the test. Hence, Yahweh will punish them through the Assyrians. Either interpretation fits. Study this for yourself, and share your ideas with others and with me. I need all the help I can get.
2. Yahweh announces two punishments of the Israelites. First, Yahweh through the Assyrians will overthrow the land of Israel. Second, Yahweh through the Assyrians will overthrow the dynasty of Jeroboam II [this is the dynasty of Jehu]. Historically, both of these events occurred.

II. The Conflict between Amos and Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. Amos 7:10-17.
a. When Amos declares Yahweh's third vision, announcing the fall of the dynasty of Jehu and of North Israel, the rich, powerful, prestigious priest of Bethel, Amaziah, reproves and rejects Amos' message. First, Amaziah the priest of Bethel sends a message to king Jeroboam II, accuses Amos the prophet to be a traitor, a "Judas Iscariot," a "Benedict Arnold," and reports that Amos predicted that Jeroboam II will die by the sword, and Israel will go into exile. [The second prediction is accurate, but the first is not. Amos actually predicted that the "house" or "dynasty" of Jeroboam will come to an end [see verse 9], not that the king Jeroboam II will die by the sword]. Second, Amaziah confronts Amos and commands Amos to leave North Israel and never enter into this land again or preach there, because Bethel is "the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom." Amaziah scornfully denounces Amos as a "SEER," implying that a "seer" is a lowly person. Verses 10-13.
b. Amos responds by declaring that he was not "trained" to be a prophet. He was "trained" to be a HERDSMAN and a DRESSER OF SYCAMORE TREES, whose job was to take care of a special kind of sheep and to cut the hard bulbs of the flowers to allow the bugs to come out so the tree could grow properly. While Amos was doing his work, Yahweh told him specifically to go to North Israel and proclaim Yahweh's message to the the Israelites there. This is a brief description of the prophetic call of Amos. Verses 14-15.
c. Finally, Amos proclaims Yahweh's message to Amaziah in two parts. Verses 16-17.
1. Amos quotes Amaziah's previous message: Amos, Do not prophesy against Israel. Verse 16.
2. Amos responds to Amaziah's command: Yahweh declares that Amaziah's wife will become a prostitute in Samaria, Amaziah's sons and daughters will fall by the sword, the land owned by Amaziah will be parceled out by land among the invading Assyrians, and Israel will surely go into exile to Assyria. Verse 17.

Amos 7 contains several powerful messages of God that we all need to heed. Share YOUR thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Catmas Carols

Evelyn and I have three cats: Boots, Siam, and Catalong--and it is Christmas time. Our cats now apply normal Christmas carols to their own thoughts. Let's peek in and listen to THEIR carols.

We Three Cats

We three cats of Orient are
Terrified to get in the car.
Why go out for celebrating?
We'll stay right where are are. Oooh--

We're not happy with a trip yet.
Seems they always end at the vet.
These excustions are diversions
We'd just as soon forget. Oooh--

We three cats are Siamese,
Himalayan, and Tonkinese.
Bring us gifts of meat with gravy
And mild kinds of cheese. Oooh--

Home is heaven. Home is good.
Home is where we get our food.
Why go out for Christmas parties?
Frankly we're not in the mood.

The First Meow

The first meow,
the angels did say,
Was to certain white Persians
On rugs where they lay.
On rugs where they
Lay trying to sleep.
Having dreams about cat life
That were so deep.
Meow, meow, meow, meow,
They'll get to do what they want, somehow.
Meow, meow, meow, meow,
They'll get to do what they want, somehow.

Oh, Come

Oh, come all ye furful,
Hungry and well-rested,
Oh, come ye, oh, come ye to
The master bedroom.
Come and behold them
Snoring loudly 'neath the sheets,
For now it's time to wake them,
For now it's time to wake them,
For now it's time to wake them,
On this Christmas morn.

Meow, choirs of felines,
Meow in expectation.
Meow till you get you Mom
And Dad out of bed.
Glory to food
In the cat dish.
Oh, come let us enjoy it,
Oh, come let us enjoy it,
Oh, come let us enjoy it,
Breakfast at last!

O! Little Town of Cat Mayhem

O! Little town of Cat Mayhem,
What mischiefs among you lie?
They look angelic in their sleep,
But there's nothing they won't try.
And in the dark night shineth
Alert, translucent eyes
As they attack the Christmas stockings
Carrying off the prize.

These are "songs" written by Laurie Loughlin. I hope you enjoy at least one of these. This book has several more.

Have a wonderful Christmas--and enjoy your cats. They are a pleasure. Share YOUR experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis