Saturday, December 15, 2007

NO NEED FOR DISILLUSIONMENT

ROMANS 11: 33-36; DEUTERONOMY 32: 3-4
In all things we must acknowledge the Sovereignty of God. We must remember that His nature is love, wisdom, knowledge, truth, justice, and power. We do not have access to all the facts. Therefore, we must trust His wisdom and His power. Even when it seems that everything has gone sour or has fallen apart, we must remember that God is still on the throne now just as He has been throughout history. Though now we see as through a glass very dimly, someday we will be given the divine perspective. We will understand then with great clarity that truly He does all things well. We have every reason to stand in faith and hope. For our God is the God who works all things after the counsel of His own will and who causes all things to work together for good to those who love him.

LUKE 23: 38-43; 24: 21; Matthew 27: 63
It seems that a criminal was the only one not suffering from "disillusionment" when Jesus was hanging on the cross. Because of the complexities, contradictions, enigmas, and anomalies of life, those with the most knowledge may face the greatest temptation to disillusionment. Those who know the truth also have the highest expectations and may have great difficulty during the testing. During the times that press toward disillusionment they will say, along with the two on the road to Emmaus, "We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24: 21). This is why it is important for the heart to be fixed in God as the mind gains knowledge. With knowledge comes responsibility and a need to be rooted and grounded in faith. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that Wisdom and knowledge produce sorrow. They do this by revealing how much everything is out of plumb. Truth causes the wise man to see how crooked we've made the road and the wall.

The word that brings faith can also produce disillusionment if it is not believed when the testing comes. The disciples had heard the truth of the resurrection many times, but the crucifixion still caught them off guard. Who knows what their thoughts were during those dark hours! Some like Mary may have pondered the situation in pain and perplexity. Others, echoing the thoughts of the two Emmaus Road disciples, may have thought, "We had been hoping that He was the One." There was one man, however, a criminal hanging on the cross beside Jesus, who had no previous access to the truth. Hanging there near death and seeing Jesus near death he looked above Jesus' head and saw a piece of wood on which the Romans had written in mockery, "This is the king of the Jews." Those words, though placed there in mockery, were nonetheless the truth, and, being touched by the finger of God, became the word of God to this dying man's heart. He turned to Jesus and said, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." God used the unbelieving Romans to speak His word to a dying thief.

Christians should learn a lesson. Don't allow the dark times to cause you to cast aside the truth. While you are tossing it away, some miserable and destitute soul may pick it up like the homeless man who finds a diamond in the garbage can. Don't drop your truth when you face Calvary. Cling to it and cry out to the Lord, "Remember me as Your kingdom comes."
It is also interesting to note that while the disciples had temporarily forgotten Jesus' words about the resurrection, the Pharisees had not. As the disciples scattered in confusion, the Pharisees went to the Romans saying, "Put a guard at the tomb because that man said that he would rise again on the third day." (Matthew 27: 63)

THE FINISHED WORK IN CHRIST
"according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Ephesians 3: 11.
"continue in the faith steadfast ... not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard..." Colosians 1: 23.

Seeing so many things that could discourage us and seeing the failures of God's people we are tempted to lose heart and faith and to think that there is no use trying. We have seen what we thought were the wrong people succeeding and the wrong people failing. Like John the Baptist we have seen the glory and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God!" Then we have sat in our "prison cells" and said, "Are you the one or do we look for another? Did I miss it?"

We have stood on the mountain top and cried out, "This is it!" And we have crawled on the valley floor crying, "Where did it go?" We have said, "Lord, I'll never leave you nor forsake you" and later denied Him before the rooster crowed. We have slept while others were in their Gethsemanes. We have had friends walk into our Gethsemanes and betray us with a kiss. We have seen churches fly and churches fall. We have been in the processes of God and were not sure whether we were being pruned or stripped, whether we were being purged and refined or burned and rejected. In our attempts at obedience we have at times stepped out in faith not sure whether we were stepping up or stepping off. We have been asleep in the boat during the storm and did not know whether to stand up and say, "Peace! Be still!" or whether to ask someone to throw us overboard to the whale.

In the midst of all of the situations above, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the eternal purpose of God was accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3: 11). Instead of being in the pits of unbelief because of our failures and that of others, we should rejoice that Almighty God will complete the church and bring forth His kingdom. Not one jot or tittle shall fail of what He has said regarding the church and His kingdom plan. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, gored by the "bulls of Bashan", bitten by demonic dogs, and "pierced by the congregation of the wicked" (Psalms 22) which surrounded Him on Calvary, could still, in the face of this, know that all things were accomplished and that the Scripture concerning Himself had been fulfilled. He thus could say, "It is finished!" (John 19: 25-30). How much more from His place of glory and authority at the right hand of the Father, even in the face of a hostile world and a stubborn and stiffnecked church, will He not again come to say in the proper time, "It is finished!"?

The book of Ephesians speaks of God's purpose, God's people, God's grace, and God's power. These are high and lofty elements; they represent the wonderful work of God. The book also deals with the nitty-gritty areas of life such as unity, godly living, spiritual warfare, the family, relationships, etc. Sooner or later God's purpose, power, and grace will prevail in the nitty-gritty, and God will reveal in His people just how much He really is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think (Ephesians 3: 20). He is able to subdue all things unto Himself (Philippians 3: 21). He will complete His work.

We have faith for the past and for the future—but we think God has trouble handling the present. We believe God controls all things. He controls the whole—but we think He has difficulty with the parts and the particulars. We believe He sets the boundaries of nations—but we think he has no control over the unreasonable and trespassing neighbor who has moved the boundary lines of our front yard. We believe, according to the scripture, that God will produce the glorious church, that He will succeed with the whole—but we think He is failing with the parts, with the individuals, that He controls the "whole" but not the "each." Obviously we must realize that to determine the boundaries of nations God must have power over the neighbor's small plot. To be God of history, He must also be God of the moment. To control past and future, He must control the present. He is God over all. He will complete His work and fulfill His counsel. Not one jot or tittle shall fail of all his good promises.

The apostle Paul experienced every type of evil from the hands of men, including attempts to destroy his life. He experienced grief from the failures of churches under his ministry. He was forsaken and rejected. He even suffered at the hands of the demonic messenger of Satan sent to buffet him. Yet in spite of all this, he spoke eloquently and with great faith concerning God's plan for the church. He trusted in God, in God's wisdom and power. Paul began the book of Ephesians with the phrase "Paul...an apostle by the will of God." Having experienced God's sovereign initiative and power, and having seen how it completely transformed him into God's faithful and passionate servant, Paul basically proceeded to say, both explicitly and implicitly in the book of Ephesians, that the church, the people of God, will also be transformed and made into the perfect man by the same will of God and by the same power of God.

God is building together a people into an habitation of God through the Spirit. That People is His heritage, His chosen possession, through which His great power and grace shall be demonstrated, through which the manifold wisdom of God shall be made manifest unto principalities and powers, and through which His life and image shall be reflected upon the earth. His kingdom shall come. He shall bring down all principalities and powers until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. His glory shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Therefore, we should not be moved away from the hope (the confident expectation) of the fulfillment of all that is promised and proclaimed in the gospel. The Sovereign God is administrating times and seasons, each to its fullness, until all things are fulfilled in Christ. God's sovereignty, His power, His grace, and His wisdom are the backdrop and foundation for our faith and confidence. There is no place to sit down disillusioned with God, His purpose, His plan, or His church. God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think. No matter how discouraging our own experiences have been, God will succeed. "Why are you cast down, O my soul?...Hope in God." (Psalm 42: 11).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Some are saints and some are ain'ts.

If I made a list of the miracles I have witnessed and the ones I have been a part of, you would be pressed to believe in God and His desire to work intimately in the lives of people. But then if I were to make a list of my failures and struggles, you might say, “Where is your God?” I could write a book listing miraculous provision and answers to prayer in which the reality of the Lord’s presence was palpable. But then I could write another book telling of the times I was in “the deep” about to be swallowed up and close to losing everything. I could tell you of friends being healed through prayer and also of others dying in spite of it. I have friends who have experienced miraculous healings and friends who have been raised from the dead. Some have received an immediate response to prayer, and others have suffered what seems an interminable wait as they call on the Lord daily for healing, help, or an “open door.”

I have experienced the people of God, their love for one another, and the presence of God in them in a way that was like being in heaven itself. Then on the other hand, I have seen church people bite and devour one another and leave people bleeding in their wake. We see people of God who truly represent godliness and right living, but we also know of those who have stumbled through sin and hypocrisy. A dear friend once said, “Some are “saints” and some are “ain’ts.”

Christians gasp in shock at these anomalies, and the world uses this inconsistency as an excuse to deny God and to mock the church. Why are we surprised? The New Testament writers address these very issues. None of this was foreign to the early Christians. They knew both the reality of a Sovereign God and the reality of human weakness. The high priest in Zechariah 3 stood before the Lord clothed in filthy garments (representing the sin and failure of God’s people whom he represented). The enemy was there to accuse them. But God shut the mouth of the accuser by saying, “I have chosen them, and that settles it.” (my paraphrase).

God is Sovereign and He has chosen us. This should give each of us hope, not only for ourselves but for the entire body of Christ. Remember the words of the old hymn: “I hear my Savior say, ‘Thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness watch and pray. Find in me thine all in all.”
In my morning intercessions each day, I have included the following prayers:
“Lord, my hope is in the Sovereign, Almighty God.”
“My hope is in Your mercy.”
“My hope is in the Lamb who is worthy to loose the seals and open the scroll.” (Rev.5)
The purpose of God will be accomplished not because we are worthy, but because HE is worthy.

Instead of falling back because of our failures, we should rejoice that Almighty God will complete His plan for His people, and will bring forth His kingdom on earth. Not one word shall fail of what He has said regarding the church. If Jesus, while hanging on the cross and facing the agony of death could in that hour say, “It is finished.” (ie all things are accomplished and the scripture is fulfilled here today. John 19:25-30), how much more, in the face of our weaknesses and failures, but from His position at the right hand of the Father in heaven will He not be able to accomplish His plan and purpose. The eternal purpose of God was accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Its outworking and realization will be fulfilled because He is God (Ephesians 3: 11). As my friend said, "Some are saints and some are ain'ts." But we will succeed because God is. He is the great "I AM."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Poetic Insights

JOURNAL ENTRY: SPRING 2004 INSPIRED BY JOHN 12: 24-25.
The fires were hot and the waters were deep.
Would I drown or be consumed?
But I had forgotten how grace is reaped,
and life in Jesus resumed.

The weapons that pierce and cause us to bleed
and lay us in mourning and gloom,
No matter how fierce, still they cannot pierce
the pain and wall of the tomb.

For in that dark place, the light of His face
will show mysteries before unseen.
And all the bad will remain in the grave
while we are raised redeemed.
-Billy Long

JOURNAL ENTRY: 6/30/99. INSPIRED BY JOB 29:1-6; ISAIAH 49.
Held in deep contempt, and stabbed by eyes of scorn,
Heart broken and rent, with dignity stripped and shorn,
The honor that was meant, to others has been borne.
But God's favor is not spent; why should I then mourn?
He has not changed His intent nor the reason I was born!

Laid aside and forgotten, no one calls for me.
Bereft of my begotten, none upon my knee.
But He shall lift His hand, and a banner shall the children see.
They shall fill the land, and they will come to me.
For God's favor is not spent; why should I then mourn?
He stands by His intent and the reason I was born!
-Billy Long

JOURNAL ENTRY: SPRING, 2004 INSPIRED BY MAT 13:31-32; DAN 4: 10-12.
A tree stood before me thick with limbs and leaves all green.
Its branches were home, shelter, and food to birds and smaller animals unseen.
Its whole being, as if signaling to God, waved in the breeze.
And quietly shouted, "The kingdom of God is like these."
It is home, provision, and protection. It is God's rule, His love and care
to all who follow Him, love Him, and build their nests in there.
-Billy Long

Monday, June 11, 2007

Making it Through Hard Times

"...The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."
Nehemiah 1: 3
"...Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?"
Nehemiah 4: 2
The drama of the church is often reminiscent of those scenes from war movies in which excited new recruits march toward the front lines while being met by weary veterans limping along bandaged and bloody, carrying their wounded, and still in shock from the trauma of battle. The new recruits move forward ready to conquer the world, while battle-weary veterans groan in the pain of failure and disillusionment. Multitudes start out in the Christian walk, everybody expects testing, they just don't expect it to be so intense and real. They expect victory without battle (naiveté and untested faith) or battle without victory (skepticism and unbelief). Untested faith and motives must inevitably face the refiners fire; and the disillusionments of time and testing can take a heavy toll on the lightheartedness of youthful innocence and inexperience. As a result many Christians tend to move over time and experience from the naiveté of the inexperienced novice unto the skeptical or bitter cynicism of the disillusioned veteran.
How many Christians do you know who sit on the back row hovering at the fringes of the Christian life? How many do you know whose lives have fallen apart? It's the spouse who has become spiritually defeated because of marriage conflicts. It is the pastor who feels he has beeen crucified by a rebellious flock. It is the Christian who has been abused or hurt by the church or by its leaders. It's the person who has been disillusioned and disappointed by his own failures and that of others and by the unexpected complications of life. Hopes held high in the beginning eventually dissipated in the midst of hard times, mistreatment, distresses, and sin. The experienced "veteran" is often the most depressed.
It is easy to find new Christians who rejoice in their new life in Christ, but how many seasoned and experienced Christians, after so many years and "miles," still retain that sparkle in their eyes, and still sing with the lightness and joy of a clear spirit and a pure heart unencumbered by the weight and baggage brought on by pain, conflict, and disappointment? They are out there, those seasoned veterans who know the joy of the Lord and who actually found it during the most difficult and trying circumstances. The Bible has many examples.
We marvel at the faith exercised by David as he killed the lion, the bear, and Goliath; but we should also marvel at the faith he demonstrated in facing mistreatment, conflict, failure, and God's discipline. We marvel at his faith in "slaying his ten thousands", but we should also stand in great awe at the faith which enabled him to patiently endure as he fled from Saul in the desert and which enabled him to wait in godly obedience until God placed him upon the throne of Israel. Rarely are our Christian brothers actually eaten by the lion or slain by Goliath, but they frequently fall in the wilderness while fleeing the "Sauls" of life, fall into bitterness facing "Shemei," or succumb to temptation beholding "Bathsheba." Many who stood during the glory of victory over Goliath have fallen during their walk through the dark valleys of adversity, hardship, and God's discipline.
Notwithstanding a few stumbles, David managed to stand through it all. He began his career as a youth filled with faith, courage, and a song. He endured, even wrote Psalms, during the dark days, and served the purpose of God in his generation. He ended his career with an abiding faith tested and refined in the fire, an enduring courage seasoned in the struggles of life, and a praise song tempered and enriched by both mountain peak and valley pit. The apostle Paul is a similar example. He exhorts us to attest to our servanthood by standing faithful to our Lord and Master as we pass through the wide spectrum of contrasting experiences—by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, in victories and in what appears to be failures (2 Corinthians 6: 4-10).
Many people never make it through these alternating changes and fluctuations in life. They are made desolate by the tests that sneak in the back door while they are guarding the front door. Below are six problems that cause people to stumble.
(1) Mistreatment leaves them grieving, wounded and in pain.
(1) Conflict leaves them hurt and angry.
(3) God's discipline (which is meant for good) can leave people "black and blue" and spiritually disabled when they stiffen their necks refusing to break.
(4) Failure brings shame and disgrace.
(5) The evil day causes them to discard faith and to feel forsaken.
(6) Disillusionment brings despair to those disappointed by people or some hope in which they trusted.
These circumstantial and relational trials have left many Christians desolate and spiritually disabled, "burnt stones" lying in the rubble of what they once thought could never be moved or shaken.
Burnt stones lie as a broken-down monument to some past tragedy and testify to a loss of vision and lack of hope for the future. Nehemiah described the ruined city of Jerusalem as being in great distress and reproach, with its walls broken down and its gates burned with fire. Glorious dreams and great expectations of its prophetic destiny had seemed to go up in smoke and scatter to the wind. Although the temple had been rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Ezra, the walls and gates of the city were still nothing more than shattered ruins and heaps of rubble with stones burned, torn down, broken, and scattered. This picture of desolation is a fitting description of those who have been derailed and sidelined from the mainstream of God's plan for their lives. Like the city Nehemiah came to rebuild, the temple is there, but the walls are down. Spiritually disabled and without vision, so many "burnt stones" lying in rubble, out of place, and dysfunctional.
In future entries I would like to share thoughts that will encourage and strengthen those who find themselves in this difficult place. We need to be reminded that His faithfulness is great, and His mercy and stedfast love endure forever.

“…You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end (final outcome) of the Lord, that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 11.

“…May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” 1 Peter 5: 10.

“You are my servant. I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphyold you with My righteous right hand.” Iaaiah 41: 9-10.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Psalm 110: 3 We obey because God is right.

Psalm 110:3 “Your people shall be volunteers (willing) in the day of your power.”
There are many lessons that can be learned from this chapter dealing with the kingdom of God and Christ’s rule, but I want to look at the word translated “willing” or “volunteers.” When we really see the Lord and really know in our hearts who He is, we will follow Him because we know He is right. How often in life have we disagreed with someone or ignored their advice, and then later found out how wrong we were. How many times have you had to say to someone, “You were right.” This is the essence of some of the praises in scripture which address God's goodness and uprightness. He is a God of truth and without injustice; True and upright is He.” (Deut 32: 3-4).
Not everyone obeys God with the purest of motives. Some people serve Him as long as He is doing something for them, as long as they can “get something out of it.” Some serve when its convenient or costs nothing. Psalm 78 says that Israel went through the motions of obedience but without a change of heart. They gave outward conformity without inner transformation. Others obey because they fear the threat of discipline or punishment.
David, on the other hand, repented and asked God to change his heart (Ps 51:10). He asked the Lord to uphold him with a “willing” spirit [Ps.51:12]. In the original Hebrew it is clear that “willing” refers to David’s own spirit rather than to God’s. David is asking God to bring him to a higher level of obedience. He sees and understands God's love. He has a vision of who God is. David’s prayer resonates with the character of the people noted in Psalm 110: 3. “Your people shall be willing in the day of your power.”

Ps 18: 30; Deut 32: 1-6; Romans 11: 33-36.
One of the greatest revelations we can have is to really see with our mind and spiritual eyes that God is right and His ways are perfect. What He tells us in terms of how to live and behave is actually the best way to live. This truth will help us in the face of every temptation. God is right. He is never wrong. His ways, His word, and His judgment are all right and true.
If we were to really see and know this truth, we would offer ourselves to obey and serve Him without reservation. We would say no to the lies that come to us in the temptations of the flesh, the devil, and the world system. We would say yes to God. If we only knew who it is who speaks to us, if we really knew Him and the gift He brings (John 4:10), we would not wait for Him to ask, we would be volunteering freely to serve Him and His will.

God allows evil because He does not force men to submit against their will. The people who serve God are not robots programmed to serve. They follow Him because He is a wonderful and awesome God. He is right and His way is perfect.

Rebellious men in this age often yield and surrender in the face of great power simply because they have been overwhelmed or overcome by a force they are unable to resist. This is an unwilling surrender. But when men stand before Almighty God our Creator in that great day of the Lord they will not only simply yield but will face the clear, absolute, and incontrovertible truth that God is right and has always been right. In that day everyone will realize the utter and total foolishness of his own ways and will be compelled by the sheer force of reality and truth to admit that God is righteous and that rebellious man was in error. There will be no lies or deception in the presence of God. There will be no pretending, no games, no manipulation, no false accusations, no perversions of truth, no legal technicalities to obstruct justice. God will judge righteously according to absolute truth. Man will be absolutely naked except for those who in repentance and obedience have been justified by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and His blood which was shed for us on the cross. These will be clothed with His righteousness.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

False Teeth and Sin

Steve was a homeless fellow at Myrtle Beach when one of the hurricanes came through a few years ago. Huddled in a corner alone and frightened he cried out to the Lord for mercy and said, "Oh God, if you will bring me through this thing safely, I will get rid of my cigarettes and my false teeth!” Then having made it safely through the storm, he got rid of his false teeth and went around toothless, but hung on to his more pleasurable sins such as profanity and whoremongering. When I asked him about his logic in the matter, he told me that it is a sin to wear false teeth because the Bible warns us about things that are false. He told one of his friends, “You don’t want to be wearing false teeth when Jesus comes back. But then again, you just as well go ahead and smile and look pretty cause it will be too late then.”
This story is true, and we smile at the crazy logic involved. However, the world often sees the church in this light. We often "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." I think this is what Jesus meant when he said the sons of this world are often wiser in their generation than the sons of light (Lu.16:8). When the church gets religious it ends up like the children playing games in the marketplace, irrelevant and not touching people in the realities of their lives (Mt11:16-17). It also loses touch with the heart of God.
I learned in a sociology course in college that one of the unspoken requisites for being an accepted part of a group is that everyone in it consciously and subconsciously ignores the inconsistencies of the group. I pastored for many years, but I think I've seen the church more clearly since being in a "secular" profession for the last five years. Being on the outside gives a different perspective. Not seeing the forest for the trees is a true saying. Therefore, we should not quickly dismiss our detractors. While they may see us in a distorted light, yet very often they will see and point out faults that our friends can not see.
This season of being on the outside has caused me to cry out to see the real church. What will the church be like when the Holy Spirit is allowed to develop it without all of our impositions.
God is going to work according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is going to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think, and He is going to do it in, with, and through the church.