John T. Willis

Friday, May 13, 2011

There are more with us than there are with them

The odds are stacked against God's people. The world and its forces far outnumber and outstrategize the people of God. Throughout history, a situation has been very gloomy, discouraging, dismal. Read the daily newspapers. Listen to the morning or evening TV news. Peruse most recent books and articles. Everyone challenging situation poses serious anxious problems for all human beings.

2 Kings 6:8-23 describes a dismal situation for Elisha the prophet and his servant and the people of Israel at the little town of Dothan not far from Samaria, the capital of North Israel. Ben-hadad the king of Aram [Syria] and his army surround Dothan and its inhabitants and threatens to destroy them. 6:8-14.

When this serious situation, Elisha's servant cried out: "Alas, master! What shall we do?" 6:15. We can quickly resonate and empathize with this very feeling. In frustration, we do not know which way to turn, how to react, where to seek help.

Elisha responded immediately: "Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them." Suddenly the Lord opened the eyes of Elisha's servant, and he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 6:16-17.

As we confront new situations each day, it is so helpful and meaningful to remember that our God is always with us, and that invisible beings surround us for protection, resources, and support. Unfortunately, many people assume ONLY visible human beings exist. NOT SO. Angels are everywhere. And they are constantly ready to intervene in our behalf under the leadership of our heavenly commander.

So, let us be encouraged by the realities of life rather than "buying into" the false news of the world. God's people will prevail, because God is in control.

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

John Willis

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Misguided Influential Religious Leaders--Jeremiah 23:9-40

After delivering five oracles concerning king of Judah, God through Jeremiah turns to deliver an oracle concerning prophets and priests of Judah whom God and Jeremiah oppose. From God's perspective, these influential religious leaders are FALSE. They are misled, misguided--whether deliberately or unintentionally. The introduction in Jeremiah 23:9 says merely: "Concerning the prophets," but 23:11, 33, 34 include priests of Judah as well. This long paragraph in Jeremiah 23:9-40 falls into five parts.

I. Jeremiah's deep concern for the hypocrisy of the leaders of God's people. Jeremiah 23:9-12.
a. Jeremiah begins by expressing his deep frustration because the people of God are all "adulterers." They have forsaken Yahweh their true husband and gone after other gods. Jeremiah is "crushed" within him. He has become like a "drunkard." 23:9-10.
b. "Both prophet and priest are ungodly"--pretending to serve Yahweh while they are "in God's house"=the Jerusalem temple. Therefore, the Lord declares that he will bring "evil"=disaster on them because of their wicked ways. 23:11-12.

II. The prophets of Jerusalem are worse than the prophets of Samaria. Jeremiah 23:13-15.
a. In the days of Amos and Hosea, the prophets of North Israel forsake Yahweh to worship Baal and lead North Israel into wickedness. 23:13. As a result, the Assyrians overthrew North Israel and carried the North Israelites into Assyrian captivity. See 2 Kings 17.
b. But now [in the days of Jeremiah], the prophets of Judah in Jerusalem are worse because they commit adultery, walk in lies, and strenghten evildoers. They are like Sodom and Gomorrah. 23:14.
c. Therefore, Yahweh through Jeremiah declares that Yahweh will make God's people "eat wormwood" and give them poisoned water, the same figures Amos uses in Amos 6:12 [cf. Amos 5:7] to symbolize God's punishment of his people. 23:15.

III. Jeremiah through Yahweh commands his audience not to listen to the words of these false prophets. Jeremiah 23:16-22.
a. Jeremiah introduces his message to his audience: "Thus says the Lord of hosts." God is the commander who leads his heavenly and earthly army into battle [See Psalm 29:1-2; 1 Samuel 17:45]. 23:16a.
b. Yahweh through Jeremiah instructs his audience not to listen to the false prophets of God's people who delude them. They speak visions of their own mind, not from God. 23:16b-e.
c. The false message of these prophets is: "It is well with you," and "No calamity [evil] shall come upon you." 23:17.
d. Every day in the ancient Near East, a king gathered trusted individuals before him to "send" each one to a specific audience with a specific message. Assembled, these individuals composed the king's "council." God's true prophets appear before Yahweh to hear Yahweh's message and proclaim it. True prophets collectively are God's council. False prophets of God did not do this, but proclaimed their own messages. 23:18, 21-22.
e. God's true message is: "The storm of the Lord" is imminent. God's wrath has gone forth through the Babylonians. God's anger will not turn back. "In the latter days," that is, some time in the future, this will happen. 23:19-20. [And this happened!!!].

IV. Yahweh is against the false prophets of his people. Jeremiah 23:23-32.
a. No one can hide from God. God is far off, but he is also near. He is everywhere at all times. God fills heaven and earth. 23:23-24.
b. The false prophets claim they have received dreams. These dreams have led them to forsake Yahweh and worship Baal. 13:25-27.
c. The message of false prophets is like straw. God's true message is like wheat. God's word is like fire and a hammer. God's word will prevail. 23:28-29.
d. Yahweh is against false prophets. They utter lying dreams and lead God's people astray. 23:30-32.

V. False prophets declare that the "burden of the Lord" is a bright future, but Yahweh declares that these false prophets are the "burden of the Lord." Jeremiah 23:33-40.
a. Occasionally, the Old Testament uses the term "burden" for a message of God by different prophets. For example, this appears in Hebrew in Nahum 1:1 and Habakkuk
1:1. Thus, false prophets whom Jeremiah mentions in 23:33-40 use this term.
b. Yahweh through Jeremiah responds that God's message is that "the burden of the Lord" is the false prophets and priests of God's people. 23:35-40.

Not all prophets and preachers are true or genuine. God's word is the standard as correctly applied to each new situation.

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

John Willis

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lift Up Your Eyes

All of us tend to look below and look around. We are surrounded by sickness, loss, depression, divorce, crime, poverty, failure, malicious enemies, reverses, disappointments, old age, death. It is very easy to become gloomy and pessimistic. In this brief blog, I want to encourage you to LIFT UP YOUR EYES. Look ABOVE, not on the issues of earth. God summons us to do this through the Bible. Here are four examples.

1. When Abram was encountering serious conflicts with his cousin Lot and ultimately had to separate his household from that of Lot, the Lord said to Abram:
"Lift up your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever." (Genesis 13:14-15). God calls all of us to move far beyond "where we are," lift up our eyes to God in heaven, and see what God has in store for us. What a tremendous encouragement.

2. The worshipper speaking in Psalm 121 affirms:
"I lift up my eyes to the hills--
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore."
What a wonderful promise! What a marvelous assurance! Lift up your eyes, and God alone is your help.

3. The singer of Psalm 123 declares in verses 1-2:
"To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us."
God is our MASTER; we are his SERVANTS. Thus, the only position of a servant is to kneel before the master and wait and expect for the instructions and blessings of the master. God the Master is enthroned in heaven; he is our king. The only appropriate response we have is to lift up our eyes and receive his next move.

4. Paul proclaims to Christians [originally at Colossae]:
"If you have been raised with Christ, SEEK the things that are ABOVE, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. SET YOUR MINDS ON things that are ABOVE, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3).

Our feelings and motivations and actions all emerge from the heart, to think through and determine whether we are going to wallow in the pessimism of sin and trouble and disappointment in daily living OR to lift up our eyes to our God, the king, in heaven and live daily optimistically, because HE is always with us, and gives us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Have a great day, a great week, a great month, a great year, a great decade, a great life. God empowers all of us to do this if we just trust in him daily. See Ephesians 3:14-21.

Share YOUR dreams, YOUR drives, YOUR ambitions. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, May 09, 2011

Five Oracles about Judean Kings shortly prior to the Babylonian Exile--Jeremiah 21:11-23:8

The Book of Jeremiah present FIVE oracles concerning kings of Judah from Josiah to Jehoiachin, recorded in Jeremiah 21:11-23:8. Three introductory thoughts are appropriate before dealing with these oracles.
*The composer of the Book of Jeremiah does not arrange Jeremiah 21-24 in chronological order. Zedekiah surrounds 21:11-23:8 [in 21:1-10--589-587 BCE; 24:1-10--598 or 597 BCE], and although 21:11-22:9 and 23:1-8 are anonymous, mostly likely 21:11-22:9 has in mind Josiah [see 22:15-16] and 23:1-8 has in mind Zedekiah, because "The Lord is our righteousness" in 23:6 is a word play on Zedekiah in Hebrew. Hence, the oracles in 21:11-23:8 seem to be in chronological order.
*22:11-23:8 may contain two oracles in 22:11-14 and 23:1-8, but the content and message are so similar that I am assuming this is one oracle.
*The dates of the reigns of these five kings are:
+Josiah--640-609 BCE
+Jehoahaz=Shallum, one son of Josiah--609 BCE for 3 months, when Pharaoh-neco carried him into Egypt. See 1 Chronicles 3:15, which equates Shallum with Jehoahaz.
+Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah--609-598 or 597 BCE.
+Jehoiachin=Jeconiah=Coniah--son of Jehoiakim and grandson of Josiah--598 or 597 BCE for 3 months, when Nebuchadrezzar II carried him and 10,000 leading citizens of Judah into Babylonian exile.
+Zedekiah, another son of Josiah--598 or 597 BCE-587 or 586 BCE. In 587 or 586 BCE, the Babylonians destroyed the walls and temple of Jerusalem and carried many Judeans into exile.

Let us now discuss each of these oracles.

I. An Oracle Concerning Josiah. Jeremiah 21:11-22:9.
a. Yahweh through Jeremiah addresses 21:11-14 to the king of Judah [probably Josiah]. The Hebrew text simply reads: "To the house of the king of Judah." The word "say" in the NRSV is not in the Hebrew. "Hear" is a PLURAL imperative. Thus, apparently, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to summon the king and his people to hear God's word. 21:11.
b. God's message is that the king of Judah and his people are to "execute justice," "deliver" the robbed from their oppressors, who boast that they are impenetrable. 21:12.
c. Yahweh declares he is "against" such oppressors, and will punish them according to the fruit of their doings. 21:13-14.
d. Yahweh re-emphasizes that his message through Jeremiah is: "Act with justice and righteousness, deliver the robbed from their oppressors, do no wrong to the alien, orphan, or widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 22:1-3.
e. If the kings of Judah obey Yahweh, Yahweh will bless them richly. If they rebel against Yahweh, Yahweh will punish them severely. The fundamental issue is whether God's people will serve Yahweh or serve other gods. 22:4-9.

II. An Oracle Concerning Shallum=Jehoahaz. Jeremiah 22:10-12.
This is a very simple, clear, straightforward oracle announcing that Jehoahaz will be taken into Egypt and will remain there the rest of his life.

III. An Oracle Concerning Jehoiakim. 22:13-23.
a. 22:18 makes clear that this oracle pertains to Jehoiakim, not Shallum= Jehoahaz.
b. Yahweh through Jeremiah denounces Jehoiakim for treating the people of God unjustly and unrighteously. Jehoiakim's laborers built his palace, and paid them nothing in return. 22:13-14.
c. Jehoiakim behaved precisely the opposite of his father Josiah. Josiah did justice and righteousness, and Yahweh blessed him. To defend and support the poor and needy is to KNOW God. 22:15-16.
d. Unlike Josiah, Jehoiakim is interested ONLY on his dishonest gain, shedding innocent blood, and practicing violence and oppression. 22:17.
e. Therefore, Yahweh declares Jehoiakim will be buried like the burial of a donkey. 22:18-19.
f. Yahweh declares that "all the lovers" of Jehoiakim and Judah will go into captivity. Apparently, these "lovers" are foreign nations to whom the king of Judah and his people make alliances. 22:20-23.

IV. An Oracle Concerning Jehoiachin. 22:24-30.
Yahweh through Jeremiah declares that Yahweh will "hurl" Jehoiachin out of the land of Canaan into a foreign land=Babylon under King Nebuchadrezzar II. Jehoiachin will be "childless" in the sense of his descendants to continue into the land of Canaan.

V. An Oracle Concerning Zedekiah. 23:1-8.
a. Yahweh through Jeremiah rebukes the "shepherds" of Judah because they have scattered the flock. The flock is Judah, and the shepherds are the kings of Judah and their associates. 23:1-4.
b. In contrast, Yahweh announces that he will raise up "a righteous Branch" for David to execute justice and righteousness among God's people. The new name of the righteous branch is: "The Lord is our righteousness," a word play on the Hebrew word Zedekiah. 23:5-6. Zechariah 3:1-10; 6:9-15 make clear that this "righteous Branch" is Zerubbabel, who will lead a remnant of Judah from Babylon back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. See Haggai 1-2; Zechariah 1-6.
c. As a result of this, no one will say: The Lord brought his people Israel out of Egypt, but The Lord brought his people Israel out of Babylonian exile. 23:7-8.

Unfortunately, most human leaders soon become corrupt. Josiah was an exception, not the rule. So, eventually Yahweh sent the people of God into exile. The primary theme of the oracles in 21:11-23:8 is justice and righteousness. This is God's primary concern for all time. James 1:26-27 emphasizes this truth.

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

John Willis

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A Show or Genuine Worship?

A fundamental issue for all human beings is whether we are genuine about our religious motives, beliefs, practices, actions, and experiences. Jesus focuses on this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:1-18.

All of this is a heart issue. When we gather together for a religious assembly, we do many things. Is this a show or genuine worship? All of us realize that NO ONE PRESENT KNOWS--BECAUSE a person may seem to OTHERS to be genuine or false. In each case and for each person, this depends on the heart and the way of life of the person involved. Let's test this, beginning with Jesus' own teaching in Matthew 6:1-18.

1. Is giving a show or genuine generous sharing for the good of others and to glorify God? 6:1-4. Let me cite ONLY TWO of several possible extremes.
a. There are some church people who give generously because they are able to do this because they are rich. But if the majority of the church differs with the ideas or beliefs or interpretations of the Bible championed by that person, that person attempts to hold the whole church in hostage, or causes friction in the spiritual body, or moves to another church. Is such giving genuine?
b. There are some church people who feel the church or God Himself does not love and encourage them because they do not have the resources to give a large amount of money. Jesus' assurance of the gift of the poor widow in Mark 12:41-44 should lay this feeling to rest.

2. Is prayer [public praying before the church] a show or genuine speech to God? 6:5-15. The person praying may utter a marvelous prayer but not be acceptable to God because in his or her heart may be a mere "show off" to the church so everyone will praise him or her for the tremendous prayer. Or, the person may utter a poorly stated prayer and be acceptable to God because it is from the heart and life of that person.

3. Is fasting a show or genuine practice? 6:16-18. Some people assume that if a person fasts, that person is "showing off" his or her "religiousity." Some people assume that fasting is a deeply committed practice to glorify God. Only the heart of the person involved can know.

4. Is preaching a show or genuine proclamation? An eloquent speaker may appear to be genuine and committed to God, when in reality that person may be counterfeit. Any sermon may be a show. No one knows but the speaker to proclaims the words.

5. Is a song leader leading a song a show or genuine worship? The song leader may have a wonderful voice and uplift the hearts of the audience. But that song leader may be false. Only his or her heart can know.

6. Does a group of song leaders put on a show or worship God genuinely? Some in the audience think these are great song leaders; others think they are only putting on a show. Who knows which is correct? ONLY the hearts of these song leaders know.

7. Is partaking in the Lord's Supper a show or genuine worship? Merely eating the unleavened bread and drinking the wine is not necessarily genuine worship. Any time a church participates in the Lord's Supper may be only a show. It all matters about the heart and lives of those participating.

8. Is making announcements for the people of God a show or genuine worship? Great announcements may come from ungodly hearts and lives, or they may come genuinely from the heart. No one knows in any case. This all depends on the heart and life of the speaker.

It is inappropriate to go to church and keep a beady eye on whether a preacher or a song leader or a worship team or a person leading prayer or whatever. We gather to focus on God and attempt to worship God, not to scrutinize and criticize and badger others in the family of God.

May God help us change our attitudes, our hearts, our lives to focus on God, to glorify God, to exalt God, and to think well of others. We are all sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God.

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

John Willis