John T. Willis

Saturday, April 07, 2012

I know the Plans I have for you--I

When the Babylonians overthrew the Judeans when king Jehoiachin and 10,000 citizens of Jerusalem went into exile in 598 BCE, Jeremiah the prophet wrote a letter and sent a messenger to these people far away. In this letter, Yahweh through Jeremiah uttered this promise in Jeremiah 29:11:
"For surely I [Yahweh] know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm,
to give you a future with hope."

Throughout human history, groups of people have struggled with all the changes and problems that have arisen over the past years and decades and centuries, attempting to evaluate the past, the present, and the future. Right now, churches and universities and states and nations are trying to deal with this massive problem facing humanity.

Our God, through the Bible, offers hope and a divine strategy to move forward. The next several blogs call attention to this divine message.


Only if human beings focus on God can there be a future of any kind. Hence, the first step [and every subsequent step] is to STAY ON OUR KNEES, to PRAY CONTINUALLY, to TRUST IN GOD ALONE. All of our plans and strategies are futile. We need to turn to God alone daily.

It is meaningful to study and write about our past. As a recent historical example, the denomination called The Church of Christ arose for the first time in history in the 1700s. Approximately 300 years later, some good scholars have gathered information about our history. We need to learn this history if we are a part of this religious tradition. The realities of the past should be presented openly and completely and truthfully. This is the story of every church that every existed on planet earth.

For the future, the traditions of every church are interesting, but have no future. The future is with God our Creator, King, Lord, Leader, Father, and Master. As we face the future, let us lift up our hands and our hearts to God our Father.

More to come.

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

John Willis

Friday, April 06, 2012

Lamp, Family, Storm--Luke 8:16-25

After stating and explaining the parable of the soils in Luke 8:4-15, Luke relates three teachings in the life of Jesus in Luke 8:16-25. This section falls into three sections.

I. The responsibility of Christians being WITNESSES to others. Luke 8:16-18. [Compare Matthew 5:15; 10:26; 25:29; Mark 4:21-25].
a. Jesus now uses the figure of a LAMP. A person lights a lamp, not to hide it, but to put it on a stand so that it will shine to others all around. To cover a lamp with a jar was the ancient means of extinguishing the light. In the ancient Near East, a lamp was circular, spouted, partly covered with oil, made of terracotta. 8:16 b. Jesus now uses two contrasts: the hidden will be disclosed, and something secret will be made known. 8:17.
c. Having used this language, Jesus speaks directly to his audience: "Pay attention to HOW you listen." YOU have received God's message; NOW, it is YOUR responsibility to witness to this message by sharing this with other people. "Those who enter" in 8:16 are people who had not previously heard God's message. 8:18.

II. Jesus' REAL FAMILY is those people who HEAR and DO Jesus's message. Luke 8:19-21
a. At some point, Jesus' mother (Mary) and his brothers (James, Joses, Judah and Simon--Mark 6:3) came to Jesus, but could not get to Jesus because the crowd was so tightly knit. Somone in the crowd told Jesus that his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to see Jesus. 8:19-20.
b. Jesus immediately and pointedly responded that his mother and brothers were those who HEAR the word of God and DO it. This does not mean that Jesus denies his blood family or criticize them, but that a HIGHER RELATIONSHIP, a spiritual relationship, is much more important than one's blood relatives. 8:21.
*Many people do not understand or accept this concept. They favor their blood relatives above God, Jesus Christ, and committed believers of God. This is tragic, but true.

III. Jesus calms a storm on the Lake of Gennesaret. Luke 8:22-26.
a. One some unnamed day, Jesus and his disciples [the Twelve and the women described in Luke 8:1-3] got into a boat and set off toward the other side of the lake. 8:22.
b. Jesus, now a human being, had worked hard and was very tired, so he fell asleep as they sailed across the lake. The Lake of Gennesaret in north Galilee is surrounded by hills with gorges which rush into the lake. Usually the atmosphere is calm, but quite often gusts of cold air from the west rush down the gorges and create storms in the lake. A windstorm arose, the boat was filling with water, and all the people were in danger. 8:23.
c. Jesus' disciples came to Jesus and woke him up. They were very afraid and SHOUTED, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" Jesus awoke an rebuked the wind and the raging waves, spirits which were causing the storm. The wind and the waves ceased, and there came a calm. 8:24.
d. Then Jesus turned to his disciples with this pointed question: "Where is your faith?" Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, The Anchor Bible 28, page 728, observes aptly:
"A disiple of Jesus, faced even with the worst, must realize where his basic relation to God and Jesus really lies."
Jesus' disciples were "afraid" and "amazed." Then they dialogued with one another: "Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?"
Anyone who studies the Bible knows the close connection between Luke 8:22-25 and Psalm 107:23-32. Luke is deliberately using language from Psalm 107 to emphasize that Jesus is divine. God the Father enables Jesus to overcome the most serious storms. As divine, Jesus has the power to command the winds and the waves. The obvious answer to the question, "Who is this?" is that Jesus is divine. God the Father works through his son Jesus Christ. 8:25.

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

John Willis

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Fallacious Fads, Fetishes, and Rages

By nature, human beings drag other human beings into luring, attractive, appealing life styles. MOST of these are useless, meaningless, and futile. Biblical speakers and writers declare CLEARLY the fallacies of these life styles. They are FALLACIOUS FADS, FETISHES, AND RAGES. Unfortunately, most human beings fall into one of these traps. ONLY by trusting in God can God lift us above these fads. Here are ONLY a few examples.

1. MONEY or WEALTH. In all types of media daily, we are bombarded by enticing ways of MAKING MONEY and BECOMING WEALTHY. We ALL want to be MILLIONAIRES or BILLIONAIRES. We assume that IF we can JUST become wealthy, we will have a wonderful life and be happy and everything will be great. Think of the LOTTERY, WALL STREET, CASINOS, firms, corporations, nest egg, stockpile, the list goes on and on. BUT it is not long until ALL OF THIS sours in the mouth. IN NO WAY does wealth satisfy the human heart. Jesus said simply:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your HEART will be also." Matthew 6:19-21.
God is seeking a GENUINE HEART. All the fine buildings, means of travel, the works are nice and appealing, but not lasting for very long.

2. FOOD. IN all types of media daily, we are bombarded by enticing ways of preparing and consuming food of all types. Sales persons spend billions of money every year to persuade people to BUY and EAT this or that FOOD or DRINK. Think of Dr. Pepper, Coca Cola, Blue Bell Ice Cream, etc., etc. OF COURSE, we all HAVE to EAT food and DRINK the right kinds of liquids. But for many people, FOOD is the PASSION of life daily. Jesus said simply:
"Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give you." John 6:27.
Paul wrote: "The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Romans 14:17.
YES, God has created us in such a way that we MUST eat food and drink healthy liquids. BUT this is only a means or an instrument which God created so we would and could serve HIM.

3. POSITION and FAME. OUCH!!! WE ALL want PRAISE from other people. ALL OF US want to have a POSITION which will make us feel we are BETTER and MORE IMPORTANT than other people. Jesus said with regard to the RELIGIOUS LEADERS contemporary to Jesus in his lifetime:
"They do all their deeds to be seen by other; for they make their phylacteries borad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have people call them RABBI." Matthew 23:5-7.
WE ALL fall into this subtle trap. This is especially true in the Western World, including the USA. In secular life, I want to be president, governor, senator, representative, mayor, the works. In religious life, I want to be a widely acknowledged RELIGIOUS LEADER. All the disciples of Jesus wanted to have such POSITIONS. James and John asked that they sit on right and left of Jesus. Jesus rejected all these ideas to teach his genuine followers to be servants. Mark
10:35-45. Humility is the first letter in the alphabet of Christianity.

4. GADGETS. Through the centuries, God has given human beings the ability to make new GADGETS of all kinds which fascinate, hypnotize, mesmerize, intrigue, captivate, and entice the hearts of millions of people to distract themselves from the true nature of life. Right now, there is an ongoing RAGE about facebooks, text-messaging, iPods, iPads, websites, games of all types, and the like. Many of my students do not know how to think, to concentrate, to meditate, to pray, to spend time with God and with others. WHAT A TERRIBLE WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY AND EFFORT. Even several universities are buying into this rage. Education, especially Christian education, is possible ONLY if godly people actually work and interact with other living human beings on a daily basis. Jesus set the example. Jesus worked with other human beings to set his example, and he calls all of us to follow his example. PLEASE recall this simple story about Jesus in Luke 10:38-42:
"Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcome him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha WAS DISTRACTED BY HER MANY TASKS; so she came to him and asked, 'Lord, do not you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you ARE WORRIED AND DISTRACTED BY MANY THINGS; there is need of ONLY ONE THING. Mary has CHOSEN THE BETTER PART, which will not be taken away from her.'"
I hope and pray that JUST ONE PERSON will hear and follow this message of Jesus.

Share YOUR ideas and thoughts and concerns and reactions to others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Jesus' Parable of the Soils--Luke 8:1-15

Luke states that the events related in Luke 8:1-15 occurred "soon afterwards" the story of Jesus' conversation with Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman reported in Luke 7:36-50 (see Luke 8:1a). This paragraph falls into four sections.

I. Jesus went through unnamed cities and villages accompanied by "the twelve" and several women. Luke 8:1-3.
a. Luke does not name the cities and villages mentioned here, but these must have been in Galilee because of the connections with Luke 4:44; 5:12. As Jesus went from place to place, he proclaimed and brought good news of the kingdom of God. 8:1a-b.
b. The twelve accompanied Jesus. Also several women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities accompanied Jesus. Luke specifically names Mary called Magdalene [foreshadowing Luke 23:39; 24:10 where she becomes a witness to the crucifixion and the empty tomb] from whom seven demons had gone out, implying the severity of her demon possession; Joanna the wife of Herod's steward Chuza [this is Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, Luke 3:1, indicating Jesus preached and had great influence in high places, and foreshadowing the question of Herod Antipas in Luke 9:7-9]; Susanna; and many other women who provided for them [Jesus and the Twelve] out of their resources. 8:1c-3.
c. In this paragraph, Luke is carefully emphasizing to all readers that many women were closely connected with Jesus as Jesus travelled from place to place just as the Twelve did. Jesus surrounded himself by BOTH men and women. Women play as important a role in Jesus' ministry as men. This is an inescapable truth in the Bible that God through Jesus Christ desires to have women teach, preach, shepherd, support, and encourage all of God's people. This is a consistent truth found both in the Old and New Testaments.

II. Jesus proclaims his parable of the soils. Luke 8:4-8.
a. As Jesus was going from town to town, over time "a great crowd" gathered and came to Jesus, and then Jesus told a parable. 8:4.
b. Many people call this parable the parable of the sower. Others call this the parable of the sowed seed. But a careful examination of this text shows that this is the parable of the soils. 8:5-8a.
1. First, Jesus paints the picture of a sower going out to sow his seed. 8:5a.
The normal practice of sowing seed was to cast the seed over an unplowed field. After this, the farmer plowed the soil and waited in prayer for rain and growth.
2. As the sower sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled on before the farmer plowed the soil, and the birds ate it up. 8:5b-c.
3. Some seed fell on the rock, and as the seed grew up, it withered from lack of moisture. 8:6.
4. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8:7
5. Some seed fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold. 8:8a.
c. When Jesus described this parable, he said to the crowd: "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!: 8:8b.

III. Jesus explained the meaning of parables to his disciples. Luke 8:9-10.
a. When Jesus described the parable of the soils, his disciples [the context here shows that the disciples intended here are the Twelve and the women traveling with Jesus] asked him what this parable meant. 8:9.
b. Jesus tells his disciples [the Twelve and the women accompanying him] that God has given them the secrets of the kingdom of God, but Jesus spoke in parables to prevent the crowds from knowing the meaning of his parables. Parables are illustrations drawn from everyday Palestinian life. 8:10.

IV. Jesus now explained to his disciples [the Twelve and the women traveling with him] clearly the meaning of this parable. 8:11-15.
a. First, Jesus clearly states that the seed is the word of God. The word of God is God's oral message to faithful messengers to various audiences. 8:11.
b. Jesus clearly states that the soils represent four different types of HEARTS. The whole point of the parable of the soils is about the human heart.
1. One person's heart is like an individual who has heard the word of God, ando the devil comes and takes away the word of God from his or her heart so that he or she may not believe and be saved. The devil is a REAL person invisible to human beings. The devil is very powerful and attempts to persuade a human being's heart to reject God's message of mercy and hope and salvation. 8:12.
2. Another person's heart is like an individual who hears and receives the word of God "with joy." That individual believes in God "for a while," but he or she falls away from God "in a time of testing." Many people initially become very enthusiastic about receiving God through his divine message. People like this are quick to condemn others who do not seem to have that GREAT ENTHUSIASM. In my liftime, I have watched several so-called committed Christian movements determined to CHANGE THE WORLD. But when they were confronted with REAL LIFE, it was not long into they divided, fell into the darkness, and totally lost their so-called enthusiasm. Real Christianity is a daily commitment during times of THICK AND THIN. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, The Anchor Bible 28, page
714, writes aptly: "he [Jesus] has little tolerance for enthusiasts or fadists who espouse a cause as long as it suits their pleasure." 8:13.
3. A third type of person's heart is like an individual who hears and receives the word of God, but becomes concerned with (1) the cares of life: anxieties, fears, problems, the works; (2) riches: spending time and effort to make money in anticipation of fame and retirement; greed; covetousness; (3) the pleasures of life: smoking, drinking, sex, all types of fleshly indulgences; and thus his or her fruit never matures. One cannot serve God and money or anything else. 8:14.
4. Thankfully, the heart of some people is like an individual who hears the word of God, HOLDS IT FAST in AN HONEST AND GOOD HEART by prayer and meditation and persistent service and worship and the like, and bears fruit with PATIENT ENDURANCE. 8:15.

What a POWERFUL PARABLE with deep, lasting truth. One should spend much time mulling over this parable and its daily significance.

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

John Willis