John T. Willis

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Lift Up Your Eyes

The eye is the physical organ by which a human being or animal can see another object of some sort. The eye and the ability to see is a miraculous gift of our Creator--see Exodus 4:11. It is unfortunate that most of us take the ability of see for granted. We need to be grateful every day for the ability to see. The eyes are affected by age, emotions, sleep, and death.

The Bible emphasizes that the eyes show emotional qualities, like generosity (Proverbs 22:9), greed (Psalm 10:8), arrogance (Isaiah 2:11), envy (1 Samuel 18:9), evil desire (2 Peter 2:14), sorrow (Psalm 119:136), well-being (1 Samuel 14:27), humility (Psalm 123:2), pity (Ezekiel 16:5). mockery (Proverbs 30:17), etc. Many figurative expressions appear in scripture to communicate significant thoughts. For example, "to keep someone or something as the apple [pupil] of the eye" means to preserve someone or something with particular care (Deuteronomy 32:10; Psalm 17:8).

Many biblical texts contain the expression "LIFT UP THE EYES" to symbolize the idea of "opportunity," "optimism," "anticipating a bright future," etc. Here are few examples.

*After the controversy between Lot and his herders and Abram's herders, and Abram told Lot he could have anything portion of the land of Canaan he wished, Yahweh 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 your offspring forever" (Genesis 13:14-15). Often, we human beings see only what is at the end of our noses. God challenges us to LIFT UP OUR EYES and look to all the opportunities God has for us in the future.

*When Moses and the Israelites arrived at Shittim just east of the Jordan as they prepared to cross the Jordan into the promised land, Yahweh said to Moses: "Go up to the top of Pisgah and LIFT UP YOUR EYES around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession ofthe land you you will see" (Deuteronomy 3:27-28). Often, wew human beings see only what might happen during our own brief lives. God wants us to LIFT UP OUR EYES to envision what might happen to the next generation and the next and the next. Our God is eternal. He is concerned above generations which preceded us and generations which will follow us.

*When God's people were in Babylonian exile, they were downtrodden, dejected, despondent, crestfallen, downhearted. After a brief time, God sent them this message:
"Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.'
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
Your builders outdo your destroyers,
and those who laid your waste go away from you.
LIFT UP YOUR EYES all around and SEE;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, says the Lord,
you shall put all of them on like an ornament,
and like a bride you shall bind them on."
We human beings often become very pessimistic. We look on the gloomy side of life. God summons us to LIFT UP OUR EYES and see all that God is and will do for us. He is our Creator and Sustainer. Trust in him alone.

*John 4:31-35 relates this familiar paragraph:
"Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, 'Rabbi, eat something.' But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.' So the disciples said to one another, 'Surely no one has brought him something to eat?' Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, "Four months more, then comes the harvest?" But I tell you, LIFT UP YOUR EYES around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting." We human beings assume that there is no way we can touch the lives of others and bring them to God through Jesus Christ. God responds that HE ALONE has the ability and power to bring people to him. All he wants us to do is LIFT UP OUR EYES and see all the people who are in need and go to them in love and let God work.

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

John Willis
or show no compassion

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Engrossment--Luke 5:1-11

The kind of life God calls all of his genuine people to live is a life of engrossment. We may use terms life riveted, totally committed, obsessed, captivated, enamored, passionate, focused, concentrated, absorbed, and other synonyms. But perhaps the most correct term is engrossed. The Bible makes clear the content of this engrossment: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

All of us can tell many stories of engrossment.
*In the 1960s, I was asked to preach a sermon at the Smith Springs Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee. In order to get into the pulpit, one had to step one step up to the side behind the pulpit, then turn to the right and step up another step into the pulpit. I preached the sermon, and approximately thirty minutes later, I turned around assuming I would walk back to my place on the stage forgetting that I needed to step down first. A resounding thud rang throughout the building as I reached out to to the wall behind the pulpit to keep myself from falling on my face. I had been so engrossed in the thoughts in the sermon that I forgot where I was.
*Quite often, I went fishing. One time, I caught a large fish. It took me approximately thirty minutes to land the fish. Later, I weighed it at eleven pounds. During those thirty minutes, I was oblivious to everything else what was happening around me. I was engrossed./
*You may share similar stories about being engrossed.

The Bible presents numerous stories of the importance of engrossment. One of these appears in Luke 5:1-11. [Similar passages appear in Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20]. This falls into four scenes.

I. The Background--Jesus taught crowds from a boat in the Lake of Gennesaret. Luke 5:1-3.
a. Luke relates an unknown time when Jesus was standing beside the Lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God. Gennesaret was a small, fertile, heavily populated region west of the lake, which the Hebrew Bible calls the Sea of Galilee. 5:1.
b. Jesus saw two boats at the shore, where the fishermen had gotten out of their boats and were washing their nets after they had fished all night in vain. 5:2.
c. Jesus got into the boat of Simon, asked Peter to put out a little from the shore, sat down, and taught the crowds from the shore. 5:3.

II. Jesus commands Peter to lower the nets into the deep water of the lake. Luke
a. When Jesus finished teaching the crowds, told Peter to put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a draught of fish. This was very odd, because fishermen usually fished at night. 5:4.
b. Simon snapped back at Jesus: "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing!" Peter and his companions were very tired. Undoubtedly, they were very dejected because they had caught nothing. Their nerves were on edge. They were irritable, complaining, critical. And when they got home, they would have to tell their wives and their families that they worked very hard, but had nothing to bring home so they could have food and clothing and shelter for that day and the days ahead. And now, they have to take the time and effort to wash and repair their nets to get ready to fish again the next night. And on top of all this, along comes this CARPENTER, Jesus, who knows nothing about fishing, and has the audacity of telling them to go back into the lake and try to catch fish again. Peter's negative response to Jesus was very logical and understandable.
But suddenly, Simon stops and realizes WHO JESUS IS. He is my MASTER. So, Peter changes his tone and says permissively: "Yet if YOU say so, I will let down the nets." 5:5.

III. Peter and his companions catch numerous fish. Luke 5:6-10a.
a. As soon as Peter and his companions put into into the deep part of the lake and dropped their nets, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 5:6.
Wait right there!!! Stop for a moment!!!What happened to those fishermen when they followed Jesus' simple instructions? Their weariness vanished. Their headaches ceased. Their irritability stopped. Their hard feelings toward one another disappeared. Their self-absorption fled.
b. Simon and his companions signaled their partners in the other boat (see 5:2) to come and help them. They came and filled both boats so they began to sink. 5:7.
NOTE: TOGETHER, these fishermen were engrossed in a COMMON GOAL AND A COMMON ACTIVITY--TO CATCH FISH. No one yelled out: This is MY BOAT, so I am the one who gets the credit for catching all these fish. Noe one bargained about who would win and who would lose. No one boasted about being the most important individual on either boat. No one faced the day with fear to explain to his family and friends that he had failed. These fishermen wer focused=ENGROSSED on ONE COMMON PURPOSE--to catch fish.
c. After the fishermen successfully landed the fish on the shore, Simon realized how he had felt and what he had said and done, and so he turned to Jesus in repentance: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" Peter and all who were with him were AMAZED at the catch of fish. James and John, sons of Zebedee, were partners with Simon. 5:8-10a.
Often, we doubt that Jesus can do anything to help us. But he is there to perform miracles to change our hearts and lives.

IV. Jesus told Simon to catch people. Luke 5:10b-11.
a. Jesus responded to Simon and his companions: "Do not be afraid." This command occurs often in scripture, and this is true in Luke-Acts: Luke 1:13, 30; 8:50;
12:32; Acts 18:9; 27:24. Jesus capitalizes on this occasion, and challenges Simon: "From now on you (singular) will be catching people." This example is for all followers of Jesus. Jesus alone has the power to catch people, just as he alone has the power to enable people to catch fish. God the Father through Jesus wants all his followers to catch people. 5:10b.
b. When Simon and his companions brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. 5:11.
Often, it is necessary for each of us to have a sobering experience to realize that the most important thing in life is to "let go, let God." We must abandon our families, our friends, our possessions, in order to follow Jesus alone.

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

John Willis

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Lift Up Your Face

The face [of a human being, but also of animals] is the portion of the body which most clearly reveals and expressions the feelings and attitudes of the heart. A person's face often "gives away" the "true feelings" of the heart even while that person is saying something very different from what that person really thinks or feels.

*Psalms 13:1; 27:9; 44:24; 69:17; 102:2; 143:7; Ezekiel 39:23 use the expression "to hide one's face" to communicate the idea of displeasure. God hides his face, that is, God is displeased with what a person or a nation has done.

*Jeremiah 21:10 uses the expression "to set one's face against" meaning act in a negative or hostile way toward another person or nation. God set his face against Jerusalem and the Babylonians attacked that city and destroyed it.

*Numbers 6:25; Psalms 80:3, 7, 19; 119:135 use the expression "make the face to shine on" [some person or group of people] in the sense of positive acceptance. One line in the priestly psalm in Numbers 6:25 says:
"The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you."

*Jeremiah 42:17; Luke 9:51 use the expression "to set the face to" to convey the idea of determination. Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem to the crucifixion.

*English translators of the Bible often read the literal word "face" as "presence." See Exodus 10:11. God's "face" is God's "presence." See Genesis
4:16; Exodus 33:14-15; Psalm 27:8; Matthew 18:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Some biblical passages summon human beings to "lift up one's face." The contexts vary.

1. Yahweh commanded King Jehu of North Israel to eradicate the present kings of North Israel and Judah and their families and officials. Among other things, Jehu went to Jezreel and came to the palace of the king. Jezebel was in the upper portion of the house. 2 Kings 9:32 says that Jehu "lifted up his face to the window and said, 'Who is on my side?' Two or three responded, and Jehu told them to cast down Jezebel.

2. When Abner, commander of the North Israelite army, was in battle against Joab and his army from Judah, Asahel the nephew of David approached to fight against Abner. Abner responded: "Turn away from following me; why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?" 2 Samuel 2:22. The opposite of lifting up the face is to be in shame. Abner did not want to have to kill Asahel because then he could not face Joab honestly and nobly.

3. When Zophar was trying to encourage Job to repent and turn to God, he declared in Job 11:13-16:
"If you [Job] direct your heart rightly,
you will stretch our your hands toward him.
If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,
and do not let wickedness reside in your tents.
Surely then you WILL LIFT UP YOUR FACE without blemish;
you will be secure, and will not fear.
You will forget your misery,
you will remember it as waters that have passed away."
In this context, to lift up one's face is to be cleansed, to be honest, to be accepted before God.

4. Eliphaz encourages Job to repent and turn back to god, saying in Job 22:23-26:
"If you return to the Almighty,
you will be restored,
if you remove unrighteousness from your tents,
if you treat gold like dust,
and gold of Ophir like the stones of the torrent-bed,
and if the Almighty is your gold
and your precious silver,
then you will delight yourself in the Almighty,
and LIFT UP YOUR FACE to God."

A person who lifts up one's head has nothing to hide. That person has no reason to pretend he or she is doing something he or she is not doing. To lift up one's head means to be honest, not to need to hang his or her head and turn away in shame.

Be honest, repent and receive God's forgiveness, then do not be ashamed to lift up your face and confront anyone in life as you move forward attempting to love and serve our marvelous God and Creator and Friend.

Share YOUR feelings and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Exorcism and Healing--Luke 4:31-44

After Jesus escaped from his friends and relatives who tried to kill him at Nazareth, Jesus "went down" northeast to Capernaum close to the Sea of Galilee (Gennesaret) approximately 900 feet lower than Nazareth topographically. At Capernaum, Jesus encountered many instances of exorcism and healing. This appears in Luke 4:31-44. This falls into four sections.

I. Jesus taught people at Capernaum. Luke 4:31-32.
a. 4:31-32 is a transitional summary from Jesus' events in Nazareth in Luke 4:14-30 to Capernaum in Luke 4:31-44.
b. In Capernaum, Jesus "was teaching" people on the sabbath. 4:31.
c. The people at Capernaum were "astounded" at Jesus' teaching, because he spoke with authority. 4:32.

II. Jesus cast an unclean demon from a man in the synagogue at Capernaum. Luke 4:33-37.
a. 4:33 indicates that Jesus had been teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum (see Luke 7:5). In that synagogue, there was a man who made the spirit of an unclean demon. 4:33a.
b. The demon recognized Jesus and cried out with a loud voice, "Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth" Have you come to destoy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." The demon knew who Jesus was. Demons have special knowledge and can evalute the importance of their superiors. Many people in the Western World do not believe demons, spirits, unclean spirits exist. People in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere interact with such beings regularly. The term "What have you to do with us?" means literally in Greek, "What to us and to you?", an expression that show real hostility--see Judges 11:12; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Chronicles 35:21. The demons did not want to have anything to do with the authority and power of Jesus. "Us" here means several demons. "The Holy One of God" is a common term for Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible. Luke 4:34 connects Jesus the Son with God the Father. God through Jesus has the power to overthrow demons living in the lives of human beings. 4:33b-34.
c. Bu authority, Jesus "rebuked" the demon, "Be silent, and come out of him [the troubled man]." The demon threw the man down on the ground before the people around but did the man no harm. Jesus was in full control. 4:35.
d. Jesus' exorcism of the demon "amazed" all the people who saw this. They told one another that with "authority and power," Jesus "commands" unclean spirits," and the unclean spirits come out of troubled people. A report about Jesus began to reach every place in that region in Galilee. 4:36-37.

III. Jesus healed Simon's mother-in-law, healed sick people, and cast out demons at Capernaum. Luke 4:38-41.
a. Jesus left the synagogue in Capernaum and went to the house of Simon. 4:38a.
b. Simon's mother-in-law had a high fever, and people asked Jesus about her.
1 Corinthians 9:5 states that Peter was married. Simon's mother-in-law lived in Simon's house or was visiting his family there. Jesus stood over Simon's mother-in-law and "rebuked" the fever, just as Jesus had "rebuked" the demon in 4:35. The fever left the woman. Immediately, Simon's mother-in-law got up and began to "serve" the people there. It is clear that Simon's mother-in-law was a person who enjoyed serving other people and was grateful for all God had done for her. She was a paradigm of other women who will serve Jesus in the future--see Luke 8:1-3; 23:49,
55. 4:38b-39.
c. As the sun was setting, people brought their sick friends and family members to Jesus, Jesus laid his hands of them and cured them. Laying hands on people is a means God instructs people to use to heal the sick. 4:40.
d. At Capernaum, demons came out of many people, saying, "You [Jesus] are the Son of God!" Jesus "rebuked" these demons [see 4:35, 39] and would not allow them to speak because they knew Jesus was the Messiah. 4:41.

IV. Jesus left Capernaum and preached God's message in the synagogue of Judea. Luke 4:42-44.
a. Luke 4:42-44 is a transitional passage. Jesus moves from Galilee to Judea. After spending the night in Capernaum, "at daybreak" Jesus departed and "went into a deserted place." Jesus had spent much time and effort among people, casting out demons and healing the sick the day before (see 4:40-41). Now Jesus was tired and needed solitude. 4:42a.
b. The people of Capernaum began looking for Jesus early the next morning. After a while, they found Jesus and urged Jesus to return to Capernaum to continue to work with them. 4:42b-c.
c. Jesus resisted the appeal of the people of Capernaum, explaining that he MUST proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to other cities also, for, Jesus says, "I was SENT for this purpose." The term "must," that is, "it is necessary," underscores the truth that God the Father sent Jesus on planet earth on a "mission," and that mission was to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to all people. 4:43.
d. So, Jesus left the people of Capernaum in Galilee and moved south into Judea, where he preached in the synagogues of Judea. Jesus' earthly ministry is growing now. 4:44.

Share YOUR experiences and concerns with others. Let me hear from You.

John Willis

Monday, January 02, 2012

Lift Up Your Head

The manner in which one holds one's head is a clue, an indicator. a sign, a token, a spiritual thermometer of what is going on in one's heart. A head lifted in just the right way portrays arrogance, self-conceit, cockiness, egotism. We have all seen that look. Immediately, this look makes all people think of the movers and shakers, people who think they have prestige, people who assume they are in control, the dominant bosses, the Herods and Hitlers and Mussolinis of the world. Some biblical texts use the expression "lift up the head" in this negative way.

But there is another positive sense of "lifting up the head." In this context, a person is oppressed, or feels dejected or rejected or abandoned, or is down on his or her luck or down in the mouth. We all have been in that situation. As we face the New Year 2012, God through Jesus Christ summons us to "lift up our heads," to be courageous, to be strenghtened by God, to have a purpose in life as God created all of us. Here are a few texts which emphasize this positive challenge and encouragement.

One of the most beautiful passages in scripture appears in Psalm 24:7-10. The background seems to be when the priests brought the ark of the covenant from the battlefield to lodge or house the ark in the Jerusalem temple. As the priests and the worshippers approached the Jerusalem temple, the call was:

and BE LIFTED UP, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
and BE LIFTED UP, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory."
Anytime we approach God in worship, God summons us to "lift up our heads," just as the gates of the Jerusalem temple were to lift up their heads symbolically. God is our king, God is mighty in battle, God is strong and mighty, God is the Lord of hosts, and these hosts are the angelic armies. In light of his GLORY, all of us must lift up our heads to hold our heads high to honor our king, our creator, our God.

Genesis 40:9-19 relates the account of the dreams of the Egyptian cupbearer and the Egyptian baker in prison when Joseph was there under the rule of Pharaoh. The outcome of each dream stands in bold contrast, each based on the expression "lift up the head."
*The dream of the cupbearer is that he saw a vine with three branches. The vine budded, blossoms, and in time produced grapes. Joseph explained that the three branches represent three days; Joseph tells the cupbearer, "within three days Pharaoh will LIFT UP YOUR HEAD and RESTORE YOU to your office." Whereas the cupbearer had been banished and in prison, in three days Pharaoh will "lift up his head," that is, restore him to his former position beside Pharaoh.
*The dream of the baker is that he saw three cake baskets on his head and the birds ate the bread in the baskets. Joseph explained that the three baskets are three days; Joseph tells the baker, "within three days Pharaoh will LIFT UP YOUR HEAD--from you!--and hang you on a pole." The contrast between the dream of the cupbearer and the dream of the baker is very clear. And it came to pass.
When we are dejected or downtrodden or sad, God has a way of lifting up our head and restore us to a much better condition or situation. This does not happen immediately, but God has mysterious ways to make this happen, because he loves us and because he supports those who love him.

One song we often sing is based on Psalm 3:3:

"But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory,
and the one who LIFTS UP MY HEAD."

The psalmist has experienced severe malicious enemies. He has struggled mightily with this. He has turned to God in prayer, and God has intervened and has delivered him from this conflictual situation. Now, he declares gladly that God is the one who "lifts up his head." He had been cast down, but now God has raised up his heart, his spirit, his life.

Luke 21:25-28 contains an intriguing, inspiring, encouraging passage. This has to do with the coming of the Son of Man.

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, the the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud and power and great glory.
Now when these things being to take place, stand up and LIFT UP YOUR HEADS, because your redemption is drawing near.

We will always face difficult opposition, losses, discouragements, fears, and anxiety. But by faith God calls us to LIFT UP OUR HEADS to receive God's intervention and delivery and encouragement and eternal salvation.

Share YOUR fears and anxieties and discouragements with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis