John T. Willis

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Do Not Fear

On September 17, 1998, Walter Brueggemann expressed this prayer at chapel, based on Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 7:18-23, entitled "Do Not Fear." This prayer should challenge and encourage all of us. Here is the prayer.

We are a fearful folk, and we dwell in the midst of a fearful people,
fearful of our world falling apart,
in terror and moral decay,
fearful of too many "dangers, toils, and snares,"
fearful of not doing well,
of being found out,
of being left out,
of being abandoned,
of our own shadow.
And then we hear, astonishingly in the midst of our fearfulness,
your mighty, "DO NOT FEAR"
do not fear, I am with you,
with you in wealth and in poverty,
with you in success and in failure,
with you for better or for worse.
We hear, we trust, we receive your comfort and are made new.
We thank you for the newness of our identity,
of our trust, of our calling.
Because of your new utterance of life to us,
we will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.
We, your new people, thank you for your newness and notice that
your work newness among us, for we know about being,
lame people who walk,
blind people who see,
dead people who live,
poor people who are unburdened.
We rally round your newness that is both our hope and our work.
Your fearless newness into which we are immersed
is beyond our expectation;
But we are not offended by it;
not scandalized by you;
not ashamed of your newness;
not embarrassed by your healings.
We ask now for energy and freedom, rooted in your fearlessness, for we may live
toward and from and for your newness that bubbles up, even in the midst of us,
all around us to bhe uttermost parts of the earth.
We pray in the name of your fearless gift of newness who scandalizes the
world and makes all things new, even Jesus. Amen.

I hope the thoughts of this prayer will lift you up and encourage and support you by God through Jesus Christ. Share YOUR prayers with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, January 15, 2010

Paul Greets the Colossians Christians--Colossians 1:1-2

The Book of Colossians begins with a greeting, which is quite common at the beginning of letters in the ancient Near East. This greeting is rich and full of important information for the entire letter. We will attempt to follow the words of this greeting step by step. This appears in Colossians 1:1-2.

I. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother. Verse 1.
a. Hebrew and Greek, Jewish and Christian letters in the ancient world began with the name of the sender or senders of a letter. This is quite different from the modern letter, in which the sender or senders appear at the end of the letter: We write: "Love, John Willis," or "Cordially, John and Evelyn Willis," etc. An example in the Bible appears in Daniel 4:1: "King Nebuchadnezsar to all the peoples, nations and languages that dwell on the earth, etc."
b. Colossians 1:1 is identical to 2 Corinthians 1:1: "Paul, and apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother." Here, Paul uses his name "Paul" as his Hellenistic-Roman name as God's "apostle" to the Gentiles, rather than his original name "Saul," his Jewish name. Note that this man's name is called Saul from Acts 7:58-13:8, and with Acts 13:9, his name is changed to Paul, which continues through the book of Acts.
c. In Galatians 1:1, 15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:8-11, Paul explains that he became an apostle of Christ Jesus "as to one untimely born," "the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle," to proclaim the gospel of God through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Paul became an apostle ONLY "by the will of God."
d. Paul works with Timothy in his letters to 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, and Philippians. Paul probably talked with Timothy to compose all these letters together. Paul probably dictated these letters to Timothy, who wrote them down. But neither Paul nor Timothy actually worked at Colossae. Colossians 1:7-8 indicate that Epaphras established the church there. Paul is an "apostle," Timothy is Paul's "brother" in the Christian faith, and hence the "brother" of all fellow-Christians.

II. "To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae"--Verse
a. Paul and Timothy do not call the Christians here "the church," but "the saints." But 1 Corinthians 1:2 makes clear that these two terms are identical in meaning: "To the CHURCH OF GOD that is in Corinth, to those who are SANCTIFIED in Christ Jesus, called to be SAINTS." The church of God is a group of HOLY people. They are not holy in and of themselves, but they ARE sanctified by God through Jesus Christ. To be a saint is not to be exalted spiritually, but to be blessed by God in a special way.
b. Unfortunately, not all "Christians" are "faithful." In this letter, Paul and Timothy address "faithful Christians."
c. Colossae is located in the upper valley of the Lycus River, surrounded by high mountains in modern Turkey. Colossae was established by Antiochus II (261-246 B. C.), and at first was a flourishing city. But by the time of Paul, it had declined significantly, and Laodicea had become the capital of this region.
d. The important expression "in Christ" underlines the conduct of life in obedience in the Lord. Jesus Christ owns the life of such a person. This expression permeates Paul's letters.

III. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father"--verse 2b.
a. "Grace" is a unique greeting in Christian letters. Christians are saved only by God's grace, never by their own good works. "Peace" is a common greeting, dating far back into Old Testament times.
b. God is the spiritual "Father" of all Christians. Jesus Christ is the "elder brother" of all Christians. Paul names Jesus Christ in verse 2 and God our Father in verse 2.

Each word and line in Paul's greeting in Colossians 1:1-2 is very important. As one studies through the Book of Colossians, one will appreciate more and more the significance of this greeting.

Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Macaroni Penguin

The Macaroni Penguin--Eudyptes chrysolophus--was described from the Falkland Islands in 1837 by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich von Brandt. English sailors apparently named this species for its conspicuous yellow crest. Maccaronism was a term for a particular style in the 18th century England marked by flamboyant or excessive ornamentation. A person who adopted this fashion was called a maccaroni or macaroni, as in the song "Yankee Doodle."

The Macaroni Penguin is the closest relative of the Royal Penguin--Eudyptes schlegli. The difference is that the Royal Penguin has a white face instead of the usually black face of the Macaroni Penguin. The adult Macaroni Penguin is about 28 inches long ranging from seven to 13 pounds in weight. Th head, chin, throat and upperparts are black and sharply demarcated against the white underparts. The black plumage has a bluish sheen when new and browning when old. The most striking feature is the yellow cresh that arises from a patch on the center of the forehead, and extends hotizontally backwards to the nape. The flippers are blue-black on the upper surface with a shite trailing edge, and mainly white underneath with a black tip and leading edge. The large bulbous bill is orange-brown. The iris is red and there is a patch of pinking bare skin from the base of the bill to the eye. The legs and feet are pink.

Like all penguins, the macaroni penguin is flightless, with a streamlined body and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine lifestyle. The diet consists of a variety of crustaceans, mainly krill, and small fish and cephalopods, the species consumes more marine life annually than any other species of seabird. These birds moult once a year, spending about 3 to 4 weeks ashore, before returning to the sea. Specialists count approximately 20 millions macaroni penguins on earth, living primarily in the Atlanta Ocean and Antarctica.

The Macaroni Penguin is another example of God's wonderful creatures. Every creation of God is important, even when we human beings do not fully understand or appreciate all of God's great works. I hope YOU appreciate the Macaroni Penguin and all of God's marvelous creatures.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Paul Encourages Christians at Colossae

After attempting to work through the little Book of Philemon in several blogs, it seems natural to turn to another small letter of Paul, the Book of Colossians. Colossians is closely tied to Philemon.

1. Paul specifically refers to Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, and Epaphras by name in both letters (Philemon 10, 23-24; Colossians 4:9, 10, 12).
2. Paul deals with the issue of masters and slaves in both letters (the entire Book of Philemon; Colossians 3:22-4:1).
3. Paul explicitly says that he is in prison while he is writing these letters (Philemon 1, 10; Colossians 4:3, 18).
4. In both letters, Paul states that he is writing "with his own hand." Philemon 19; Colossians 4:18).

Paul states that he had never seen Colossae--Colossians 2:1. When Paul was on his third missionary journey, he went to Ephesus--Acts 19. Colossians 1:7-8 implies that Paul sent Epaphras from Ephesus to Colossae, and then on to Laodicea, and in those places Jesus Christ established the church through the efforts of Epaphras--Colossians 2:1.

The entire Book of Colossians is primarily a letter of encouragement to Christians at Colossae and Laodicea. At the same time, Paul devotes one section of this Book to refute false teaching taking place at Colossae. A careful study of this letter suggests that perverted Jewish and pagan ideas were disturbing the church there. Colossians 2:8-23 confront a heretical "philosophy"--verse 8. Four primary ideas emerge: (1) ascetic practices; (2) worship of angels; (3) cosmic elements; and
(4) attempts to gain access to the full knowledge of God, possibly through the mystery cults. We will discuss each of these issues as we work through the Book of Colossians.

Several religious themes arise in the Book of Colossians. (1) Paul exalts God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit at key places in this book. (2) Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication reflects various types of prayer in this book. (3) Christ's forgiveness of sins and his position as "head" of the church are important. (4) The significance of Christians being buried with Christ by baptism and putting off the old person and putting on the new is central.
(5) Godly living is very important in this book.

The Book of Colossians falls into three parts.
I. Introduction. 1:1-8.
II. The Body of the Letter. 1:9-4:6.
A. Explanation of the Gospel of God through Jesus Christ. 1:9-2:7.
B. Warnings against False Teachings. 2:8-23.
C. Teachings and Exhortations concerning Godly Living. 3:1-4:6.
III. Conclusion. 4:7-18.

Think and pray with me as we work through this little letter passage by passage in the blogs to come. Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bristled-thighed Curlew

The Bristle-thighed Curlew, Numenius tahitiensis, is a large shorebird tha breeds in Alaska and winters on tropical Pacific islands in a wide variety of places there. It has a long-decurved bill and bristled feathers at the base of the legs. Itis 15 to 17inches long and weighs one to two pounds. Its wingspan is 32 to 35 inches.

The size and shape of the Bristle-thighed Curlew are the same as the Whimbrel's, and the plumage is similar, spotted brown on their upper body with a light belly and rust-colored or buffy tail. The bigger buff spots on the upper body, unmarked light belly and barely marked blanks, tail color, and pale buffy-orange rump distinguish it from the Whimbrel. Experts estimate there are approximately 3,500 pairs of this bird, thus a total of approximately 7,000 birds.

Bristle-thighed Curlews feed on a wide variety of vegetation such a flowers and berries and on insects, sea life, and other bird's eggs, which they use rocks to break open--the only tool use among shorebirds.

This bird is rarely seen near populated land masses, with only a handful of sightings in Canada, California, and Oregon. It was first described scientifically during James Cook's visits to Tahiti in the 18th century, but its nesting grounds were not identified until 1948.

Nesting grounds are on the lower Yukon River and Seward Peninsula, with the birds preferring low-lying tundra near the shore line. Nests are built in ground depressions and lined with tundra moss. Eggs are greenish with brown spots, with four to a clutch and one brood per season. Incubation lasts 25 days, with both parents tending the nest and protecting the newly hatched chicks.

Adults have their chicks at about five weeks of age to migrate south. The chicks continue to feed until they are able to make the journey. The first leg of the migration includes a nonstop 4,000 km flight from Alaska to Laysan. They can make non-stop flights in excess of 6,000 km. This is amazing. This bird makes among the longest flights any bird has made every year.

Bristle-thighed Curlews are unique among shorebirds because they are flightless during molt. Also, their migration departures consist of small flocks and have no diurnal patterns. The winter habitat extends from Micronesia to Fiji to Tonga to the Hawaiian Islands to Samoa to French Polynesia. There is concern over encroachments and introduced predators in their winter habitat.

The Bristle-thighed Curlew is another example of God's unique, creative, marvelous creations. I hope YOU appreciate God's works. Above all, I pray that you are thankful for God and all he does daily. Share YOUR experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Paul Hopes to Visit Philemon's Home--Philemon 17-25

The little Book of Philemon is a genuine, inspiring, exemplary letter to a fellow-Christian pertaining to a sensitive, delicate spiritual issue involving interrelated human beings. Every Christian [in fact, every human being] needs to study and re-study this little letter. Three previous blogs have dealt with the Book of Philemon. This blog concludes this letter--the concluding remarks of Paul addressed to Philemon, recorded in verses 17-25. For practical purposes, this section seems to fall into four parts.

I. Verses 17-19--Paul beseeches Philemon to receive Onesimus back to Philemon as Philemon's slave.
a. Early in this letter, Paul calls Philemon "our DEAR friend and co-worker" (verse 1), "my brother" (verse 7). Now, in verse 17, Paul says: "if you [Philemon] consider me [Paul] your [Philemon's] partner"--without any doubt, Philemon considers Paul Philemon's partner. THEN, Paul beseeches Philemon to "welcome" Onesimus as Philemon would "welcome" Paul. Powerful rhetoric!!! How could Philemon say NO? BUT, Paul does NOT COMMAND Philemon to do this. It is Philemon's choice. Verse 17.
b. Paul knows that Onesimus has probably wronged Philemon or owed Philemon something--probably time or money. Paul says: "charge that to MY [PAUL's] account." Paul will pay the bill to Philemon in behalf of Onesimus, no matter how much time or money might be involved. Verse 18. [All this assumes that Paul is convinced that Onesimus has NOW become a committed Christian. So Paul and Philemon and God's people need Onesimus, just like God's people needed Saul when he became a Christian at Damascus, as related in Acts 9; 22; and 26].
c. Paul usually dictated others to write his letters by THEIR hands[see
1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Galatians 6:11-16). And Paul apparently wrote most of the Book of Philemon--probably Onesimus and Tychicus [see Colossians 4:7-9]. But Paul states that he is writing verses 18-19 with his own hand, BECAUSE here he is guaranteeing Philemon that he will pay Philemon the full amount that is due to Onesimus. Then Paul adds: "I say nothing about YOUR OWING ME even your own self." Verse 19. [Paul had converted Philemon to Christ at Colossae, but as more recently Paul had converted Onesimus to Christ at Rome].

II. Paul tells Philemon that he is confident that Philemon will do what Paul wishes. Verses 20-21.
a. As in verse 7, Paul again reminds Philemon that Paul considers Philemon Paul's "brother" in Christ. Then Paul asks Philemon to do Paul a favor: "Let me have this benefit in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ." The context shows that what Paul desires is: (1) that Philemon receive Onesimus back to Philemon not only as a slave, but as a brother beloved in the Lord (verses 15-16); and (2) that Philemon will voluntarily send Onesimus back to Paul while Paul is in prison at Rome so that Onesimus will help Paul (verse 13). If Philemon would do these two things, this would "refresh" Paul's heart. Verse 20.
b. Paul says he is "confident" that Philemon will respond in "obedience," NOT in obedience to Paul's "command," but in obedience to Paul's plea and kind approach to Philemon. Paul adds: I know "you [Philemon] will do even more than I say." What Paul SAYS is that Philemon receive Onesimus back not as merely a slave but as a beloved brother. EVEN MORE that Paul implies is that Philemon will send Onesimus back to Paul to work with Paul at Rome. Verse 21.

III. Paul hopes that in time Paul will be set free from prison at Rome, in which case he will return to Colossae and spend time with Philemon in Philemon's home. Verse 22.
a. Paul tells Philemon to prepare a guest room for Paul, because Paul feels certain that God will set Paul free. Verse 22a.
b. Paul asks Philemon to pray to God in Paul's behalf that God will set Paul free so that Paul may resume his missionary work in the Lord. Verse 22b.

IV. Paul concludes the Book of Philemon by naming several individuals with Paul in Rome whom Philemon knows mutually with Paul. Verses 23-25.
a. Paul reassures Philemon that as he writes, there are several fellow-workers known to Philemon that are there in Rome. Paul specifically names Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. All of these are sending Christian greetings to Philemon in this letter. Verses 23-24. [Other texts in the New Testament refer to these individuals. See especially Colossians 4:10-12, which state that Mark is the cousin of Barnabas; 2 Timothy 4:9-12].
b. Paul concludes with the loving statement: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your [singular--thus Philemon's] spirit." Verse 25.

The Book of Philemon is a little book--only 25 verses. But this is a powerful, moving, inspiring, emotional letter. All Christians, all people, need to study and re-study this little book. I hope this will touch your heart and change your life.

Share YOUR insights with others and with me. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis