Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Answers are in Him

Below is a paraphrased excerpt from a letter wrote I about 6 years ago. I have edited out the "juicy" parts, but nevertheless it is a candid expression of what I was dealing with at that particular season. Many of you may identify with it to some degree. I would encourage you to follow it up with Psalm 73, which encourages God’s people to find their peace and solutions in the presence of God.

A personal letter, Summer of 2003:
“My life has come to a place of overwhelming shock to me. It is like waking up from a dream and finding I am in a nightmare. To start out with a vision for great things and to end up at the bottom has been a great and shameful disappointment to me. My life has been filled with wonderful signs of God’s presence and horrible pits of darkness at the same time. I have always tried to follow what I thought was the Lord’s way and direction, yet now I realize how I have been so influenced by my fears, anxieties, laziness, and lack of discipline. Over the years I have struggled with all sorts of mental weaknesses that have stunted and dwarfed my potential. The lines between these inherited mental infirmities and undisciplined self-centeredness have been blurry, and have made it hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins...

Yet I have learned to be content with the Lord Himself rather than needing ministry to make me happy. I have set my focus to facing my own inner monsters and destroying them. I have been making progress and am rejoicing in it…With the victory that I have moved into over this last month I have received tremendous hope for myself and the possibilities of further changes to come. I plan to climb a step daily and take advantage of whatever grace and plans the Lord still has available for me. When I say “hope for myself” I am referring to areas in me that need change, and changes in the areas that affect my family and the other important concerns of my life.

…I have faith for God to change me. I have faith for Him to continue the good work He has been doing in me in this season. And “ministry” does not matter. Changing, pleasing the Lord, and blessing my wife and family are what matters. [At this point in my letter I made reference to a specific area where I needed to see victory, and then said…] We just have to endure while the Lord defeats that enemy too."
-BL, summer, 2003.

Psalm 73
Whether a person is disillusioned because he has been genuinely disappointed by some hope, or simply going through a difficult and perplexing time, his answer and deliverance are in the presence of the Lord. David saw the wicked prosper while the people of God suffered. He saw the ungodly appear to sin with impunity while he himself was chastened every morning. His first reaction was to feel his efforts at righteousness had been in vain. What he saw troubled him, and his reaction to it grieved him deeply. "It was all too painful" he said— until he went into the presence of God. He would have given up had he not sought the Lord.
It is at Jesus' feet that we gain the right perspective. It is there that we get our bearings and reference points. We present our hearts for cleansing, open the Bible and see what God's word says, as we listen to the Holy Spirit and let Him minister to us. David's conclusion was, "I have put my trust in the Lord God."

Job 42: 5-6
Job was tested to the limit in his suffering and did not understand what was happening or why. I am sure that in his extreme pain he had many questions. But in the final chapter, God Himself showed up, and Job bowed before Him in humility, flooded with the knowledge of God's greatness, love, kindness, goodness, and wisdom. In that moment of revelation he did not question God. In God's presence we need no other answer, and yet in Him we have all the answers.
The Lord is pleased to give us understanding, but we must remember that He is our wisdom. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We should seek Him. It is in His presence that we find our answers, our peace, our strength, and our joy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Disobey and Have A Party?

“And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands (the idols)…” Acts 7: 41
“And…he…made a molded calf…and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Exodus 32: 4-6
“It is…the sound of singing I hear….He saw the calf and the dancing.” Ex 32: 18-19.

The verses above show that you can disobey the Lord and still have a party---at least for a while.

One of the problems with human nature is that it so often loses sight of both reward and consequences. When we get caught up in the temptation of the moment or in what we want right now, we forget that there is a reward for faith and obedience, and a consequence and a reaping for evil and disobedience. And so like Israel, we make our “golden calves” and have a party.

Moses had gone up the mountain to meet God face to face and to receive the commandments and the laws for Israel’s life as a nation. The people became impatient, discontent, perplexed, and maybe bored during the 40 day wait while Moses was on the mountain. They felt that God was taking too long, and maybe Moses was dead. So they decided to make their own gods. This would liven things up a bit and provide a more cheerful atmosphere. It would help them to feel better. They made an idol and rejoiced before it,” They were singing, dancing, and feeling good. It actually appeared to be one of their happiest moments since leaving Egypt. Sounds like something wonderful, but what a fleeting deception! 3,000 people died as a result of this egregious sin (the idol, not the singing and dancing).

The enemy of our souls is so very deceptive. He inhabits our idols and pretends to offer so much. And we foolishly rejoice in those idols because they indulge our flesh and allow us to do as we please. They help us to feel better by providing a quick momentary fix. They help us to temporarily drown our fears, and to forget our deeply troubling thoughts and unanswered questions. They appeal to our selfishness and our self-centeredness. They appeal to and feed our rebellious nature while also keeping us distracted from the one true God.

God calls a person to surrender now, and to pay the price of obedience up front. For now it may mean self-control, waiting, sacrifice, suffering, and doing the right thing when we would rather be doing something else. The cost is now, but the rewards will surely follow. The blessing is beyond the obedience.
The enemy, on the other hand, offers all the “good stuff” up front. He offers pleasures and “what you want” now. He makes you think it’s free or at a discount, and with no waiting. As a result, many have eaten at his table not realizing the horrible price they will inevitably pay. If you think God is asking too much of you now, just wait until the devil comes to collect later.

Israel sang, danced, and rejoiced before their idol, and shortly thereafter 3,000 lay dead. By contrast, Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoying the passing pleasures of sin he could have experienced by ignoring God's call on his life. He was able to do this because by faith he saw the rewards that would follow. (Heb 11: 25-26). Jesus said that the world will rejoice while you are sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy” (John 16: 20). In His own example, Jesus in His hour of suffering was able to endure the cross because of the joy that was set before Him, because He knew that His travail of soul would redeem man back to God (Heb 12:2). Impending sorrow and regret await those who live in disobedience; but for those who take up their cross to follow Jesus, joy will come in the morning.

It is an honor and a privilege when the Lord calls upon you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). And if you really knew the gift that is being offered, you would not be blinded by what you think is too great a price to pay. If you could really see who it is that calls you, you would fall at His feet in complete surrender knowing that He and the treasures He brings are inexpressible and far beyond comprehension.

The bible says they "rejoiced in the work of their own hands" (i.e., their idols). But this joy was fleeting, tenuous, and false. "Idols" are deceptive. They lie and are like clouds without water boasting of false gifts. I have a good friend who says he has his own religion, but he lives in fear of death, and with tremendous anxiety about growing old. Our idols can only offer a temporary "high" or a temporary "sleep" to help us avoid facing life, truth, and the reality of eternity. Grind up the "golden calf" and cast it away. Look up to the living and true God, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Only in Him is true joy and real peace.

[For those theologians among us, let me say that I know that salvation is a fee gift, and can not be earned. Please understand the terms such as "price" and "cost" in context of Luke 14].

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Poems from Experience

Just for fun I decided to include some poems I wrote. The first two I think are quite witty. The first one I wrote in response to mine and Laurel's kidding about my tendency to repeat myself too much. The second one I wrote in response to my struggles to change in areas that would improve my role as a husband. The other poems are of a more serious nature and which share some spiritual insight gained from experience.


Vain Repetitions
My emails will say hello, communicate, and engage.
They may even dazzle you with eloquence and prose.
Expert tools of grammar will be utilized on each page.
But no trite phrases, and no repetitions. No. None of those.
Your heart will be warmed by thoughts so expressed
In simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and other additions.
But in the end you surely will have confessed
The thing has a glaring absence of those redundent repetitions.
His heart and mind are drawn with words
Telling revelation, his schedule, truth, and no fiction.
Impressing that pretty lady with things he’s heard,
Messages fresh and new, but no nasty repetition.
You can trust what I’ve said, you can trust what I wrote.
Repetitions are over, in the past, no longer to offend.
You can believe the truth of this note.
Repetitions are gone. As proof I’ve said it again.


A Husband’s Struggle to Change

The apostle said he had the privilege to “lead about” a wife.
I guess I’ve been trying to do that all my life.
But still I’ve had to deal with pain and strife
of only being able to be “about to lead” a wife.

I think about it and study on it which is what I usually do.
But the problem is being able to actually follow through.
And it’s not like I’m trying to learn a lot of something new.
I’m having trouble nailing down a few.

I look pitiful after failing a few tries,
She looks frustrated and rolls her eyes
Still I manage to give a little surprise
When occasionally I stand to the occasion and arise.

But It seems my progress is only brief
Enough to give hope but not relief.
Such little faith is beyond belief
What can I do to prevent such grief


But now after so much time has flown,
Through labor and grace I have finally grown.
Significant fruit from seed that was sown.
Thank God my wife did not leave me alone.



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.


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!



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

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

His Purpose Will Prevail

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.

"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.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wounded Veterans

"...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 returning from battle, limping along bandaged and bloody, carrying their wounded, and still in shock from the trauma of conflict. The new recruits move forward ready to conquor the world, while the 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 real. They expect either victory without battle (naiveté and untested faith) or battle without victory (skepticism and unbelief). Motives and untested faith must inevitably face the refiners fire. The disillusionments of time and testing can take a heavy toll on the lightheartedness of youthful innocence, naiveté, and inexperience. As a result many Christians tend to move over time and experience from the naiveté of the inexperienced novice to the skeptical cynicism of the disillusioned veteran.

How many Christians do you know who no longer fellowship with other Christians or who just sit on the back row and hover 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 been through his own crucifixion at the hands of a rebellious flock. It is the Christian who has been abused or hurt by the church or its leaders. It's the person who has been disillusioned by the unexpected complications of life, and disappointed by his own failures or that of others. Hopes held high in the beginning eventually dissipated during hard times, mistreatment, distresses, and sin. The experienced "veteran" is often the most depressed.

The "burnt-stone" syndrome occurs when a person is overwhelmed by the various "fires" of temptation, mistreatment, conflict, failure, disillusionment, and disappointment. It occurs when one embraces wrong or sinful responses to difficulties and adversities.These wrong and sinful responses, left uncorrected, hinder the grace of God, choke out the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and produce spiritual desolation. When a person gets the wind knocked out of him, his primary concern becomes survival rather than service.When a person is standing amid the broken fragments of collapsed walls he loses heart and hope. How can I give of myself again after all my past investment has gone up in smoke? How can I build again? Why should I build again? Who can I trust again? These are questions asked by those who have been disabled by the fires of life.

Symptoms
There are a number of symptoms that describe these people. They no longer serve with joy, and they try to remain at a safe distance from God's people. They have lost sight of God’s purpose. They associate it with those people and things that brought them pain. They grieve because of unexpected loss. They are unwilling to trust again because they were wounded by people they trusted. Disappointment of hope destroys vision.

Loss of Confidence in God and His people
To lose confidence in God’s people can cause us to consequently lose confidence in God Himself. No matter how much Christians or people fail, we must not forget that there is a God on the throne who rules and who will ultimately bring forth the full manifestation of plan and His kingdomon this earth. It is a deception to give up on God because of the failures of His children. We are willing to risk obedience because we trust in God. True faith in God must also include the ability to trust God with other people.

Avoiding hurt
Seeing themselves as victims who have been robbed they become bitter and angry,unwilling to risk vulnerability, afraid of being exposed to potential hurt. They say, "I will not be hurt again!" This survivalist mentality produces disobedience because obedience is seen as a risk. The primary motivation becomes self-protection and self-interests. The obvious consequence is the inability to have a heart after God's interest and God’s heart. They depart from the way of the cross. (Mat.16:24-25, Neh.6:10-14).

Avoiding Relationships
Superficial faith and superficial involvement with other Christians; withdrawn, independent, detached and isolated, separated from real church life, having drifted to the fringes and avoiding relationships; Drifting along, drifting away.
-Cautious and reserved in approaching God and other Christians; withholding themselves from both God and man. The walls that protect also isloate.

Hardened Heart
-Using problems as an excuse to neglect their spiritual lives. Ungodly attitudes, when embraced and nurtured, will take their toll upon the Christian's walk with God.
-Heart hardened through anger, bitterness, hurt, and other unhealthy attitudes. As the heart hardens, the fruit of the Spirit (those good qualities which usually mark the Christian's life) will begin to wither, and the worst tendencies of his flesh will begin to grow.
-Stumbled by tribulation, they allow the heart to become unfruitful soil; the word of God and its fruit are choked by the stresses and distresses.

Spiritually Disabled
-Spiritually paralyzed, disabled, and incapacitated.
-Sitting at home angry, confused, disillusioned, with loss of purpose.
-Living far below their potential, hiding their candles under baskets.

Loss of Vision and Faith
-Failing to see and understand the sovereignty of God.
-Unbelief, lack of hope, lack of faith, lack of vision.
-Do not understand, do not have the divine perspective. When a person does not acurately interpret his experience, especially if this misinterpretation stems from his failure to be broken and obedient before God, he will have short-circuited his power of discernment and will be unable to see God's plan and hope for his future. Not having resolved the past, he will be unable to proceed.

When we are burned by the fire, we avoid those things which we perceive will get us burned again. We fall prey to isolation, self-protectionism, and a survivalist mentality. A person can not move forward in useful and fulfilling service to God while his life is controlled and directed by this perspective and disposition. One can not build the future while standing in the rubble of the past; therefore, the ground must be cleared of the rubble in order to find freedom to face the future in faith, in obedience, and without fear.

And the future must be faced, for we have within us a God-given inner need to progress and move forward. It is no wonder that the enemy does everything within his power to destroy our future by ruining our past. To lose all that we have invested in, to be hurt by those from whom we least expected it, to be dismayed in the grief of our failures will strain anyones faith to the limit. When the past is seen only in terms of hurt and regret, the present is experienced as pain and emptiness left by the void, and the future is viewed as a dark place devoid of vision and purpose. When the past is a disaster the future is faced with fear. In such a state, it is very difficult to look forward, much less to reach forward.

Our God, however, is the God of redemption. Time after time the Bible gives testimony of God's ability and willingness to turn all things to our good and to His purpose. Christianity was built to successfully sustain us in difficult times. A spiritual and godly approach to life's difficulties will cause the Christian to please God in all things and to come through it all in communion and relationship with the Lord and with feet firmly on the path of God's purpose. It is a matter of our engaging the Lord properly, understanding His Sovereignty, walking in faith and obedience, and maintaining a right spirit and relationship with Him. For the Christian there is never an excuse for spiritual disability, quitting, or settling for less. There is a place in God where every Christian can come through every fire without "smelling like smoke".

My purpose in writing in this article is to encourage and inspire Christians to face adversity in a manner consistent with God's word. The fires of trials and testings will thus refine the Christian rather than leaving him burnt and disabled.
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8: 28
"But 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
"Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather let it be healed. Heb.12: 12-13

Wednesday, July 22, 2009



Ralph the roofer is checking the hot asphalt temperature for the sixth time today.

Human nature does not always learn wisdom from experience, does it?





Saturday, July 11, 2009

ICY HOT?

Isaiah 50: 4 “The Lord has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.”

Icy Hot or Preparation-H
Years ago a lady in my hometown was suffering from that “burning and itching sensation” that we hear about in TV commercials. She sent one of her children to the drugstore to purchase a tube of Preparation-H Ointment, which was placed in the tiny medicine cabinet above her bathroom sink along with other medicines which promise relief from various physical ailments.
Soon afterwards, her hemorrhoids began to “flare up,” and the pain drove her back to the medicine cabinet for the relief she so desperately needed. Reaching for the Prep-H Ointment she inadvertently took the Icy Hot instead. Icy Hot is a wonderful medication for muscular pain and various aches that need penetrating heat, but it was never intended for hemorrhoids. You can imagine what happened as she applied a very generous portion to the afflicted area.

Job’s Comforters
Truth, like medicine, is meant to be applied appropriately, especially when we are dealing with people’s lives. “Job’s Comforters” are people who are quick to give an opinion based on a superficial observation and without any revelation or true insight into the realities of the person to whom they speak. The first two chapters in the book of Job portray Job as a godly man bearing up under unbearably severe infirmities. Then his friends came and sat with him a few days. Job probably sensed what they were thinking and knew they were about to open a jar of “Icy Hot” to rub into his hurting wounds. As a result he cursed the day he was born. They had come to comfort him, but proceeded to add to his distress with their insensitivity, condemning words, and misapplication of truth. How often does this happen in our own lives!

Not in the Same Boat
It is not wise to make rash judgments against people based on outward circumstances. We need wisdom when we reach out to people in their moments of trial, so that our words are in season. We cannot tell what season a person is in just by looking at the “color of the leaves on his tree.” It is possible for two people to be in similar circumstances for opposite reasons, and it takes revelation to know why a person is where he is. Jonah was in his distress because of his disobedience. Job, in contrast, suffered because he was perfect, and God was pleased with him. Jesus was hanging on a cross among thieves and criminals, but he was there for a vastly different reason. “Job’s Comforters” cannot tell the difference; they swing the sword of truth without discerning the people to whom they speak.

What counsel would you give the two men I am about to describe? What would you say to the people who are with them? These two men are in two different boats. The boats are being tossed in a terrible storm at sea. Both men are asleep in his boat while everyone else on board in both situations are terrified that everyone is about to perish. What do you say to these men whose circumstances, in terms of outward description, are almost exactly the same? Well, one of these men is Jonah. He is there because of disobedience and must be thrown overboard. The other is Jesus. He is God and is about to teach His disciples a lesson in faith. A Job’s Comforter most likely would have taken his lesson from Jonah, looked at the outward similarities, and would have proceeded to throw Jesus overboard.

Truth and Love
Knowledge alone does not make a person spiritual, wise, or mature. Knowledge alone can produce arrogance and be used to inflict pain. With our knowledge we need wisdom and insight. And if you feel you are short on these, then just fall back on love. In many cases compassion, mercy, and love will prevent you from speaking foolishly and behaving unwisely when it comes to giving words and advice that might hurt people. Obviously there is a time for “open rebuke” and the “wounds of a faithful friend” (Prov.27:6). But too often people suffer from the insensitivity of a “Job’s Comforter” who brings in the Icy Hot for a pain it was not meant for.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Comfort for a Hurting Friend

[Below is a personal word that I recently shared with a friend who had been hurt by friends he loved and trusted. Obviously this word is not meant for everyone reading this entry, but there may be others of you to whom it will also speak. –Billy Long]

During my prayer time this morning I was reading about Jeremiah’s “perpetual pain” (Jer.15:15-21), and realized this word is for you. I know there are no simple answers or quick solutions to the grief and pain you are experiencing. But I think the Lord has given me a word that will at least give a little comfort until you complete this particular phase of your journey into the Lord’s purpose for you.

I believe the Lord did lead you in the path you took. It was not a mistake. He sent you there because he knew your pure heart and good insight would allow you to see the realities of the situation. He also knew that your integrity would cause you to speak up rather than sit silent. He knew it would be difficult and painful. He knew that you would question your own motives and search your own heart and wonder if somehow you had failed. He knew you would do this because the humble and obedient tend to examine themselves more diligently than the rebellious and self-centered who usually blame everything on others. He sent you to represent Him in sharing the insight and admonition that those around you needed to hear. Whether you realized it or not, you were, in a sense, a prophetic voice into the situation. Your wounds, therefore, are the Lord’s wounds, and you carry them for His sake. The scars on the prophets’ backs were badges of honor to be held before the Lord. Part of your healing will be to realize that your scars are from wounds received for the Lord’s sake. They will not be festering, disabling, sores that sideline you.

Jeremiah said, “Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable?” Obviously this is what it feels like to you now and where you may be for a while. But ultimately you will not see these pains and bruises from the perspective of yourself, but as trophies borne as a result of obedience and being sent on a difficult mission for Him.

The thing you have been through may leave scars. But that is not necessarily bad. Jesus still carries the scars in his hands, feet, and side. They bear testimony to the work the Lord produced through His obedience. You will eventually thank God that He counted you worthy to be among those who suffer for Him in such a way.
Remember, it is no compliment when the Lord allows a person to have an easy life with no challenges. It is a great compliment and signifies the honor and confidence the Lord has in you when He gives you difficult assignments that don’t seem fair for you to have to bear. God requires more of those He loves. He asks more of those from whom he expects more. You have loved the Lord and have wanted to know and do His will. He has let you see reality. But Solomon said that with wisdom comes grief (Eccles 1:18). The more reality we see and the more insight God gives us, the more we will realize how “out of plumb” things are and how much “whitewash” rather than mortar is being used in the wall. Then when integrity forces us to speak up, we are attacked for pointing out the truth, even when presenting it humbly and in love.

So in summary. I know it will take a while to work through the pain, even as it was with Jeremiah in the verses referred to above. But when you see it in the light of what I have shared, you will let it take you to Jeremiah’s place of promise where the Lord ministers His grace, strength, and redemption.

This is not meant to be a cliché or quick-fix, but to encourage you to stand in faith until the Lord shines the warmth of His pleasure on you and rewards you with even more insight and spiritual substance as a result of faithful obedience and perseverance. As with Job, relief will come when God shows up and reveals Himself (as in Job 42) to celebrate with you your victory, and to reward you for passing your test while you were serving Him. If we see ourselves as His servants (i.e. we are serving Him and representing Him rather than ourselves) ultimately we will come through the fire without smelling like it. (Dan. 3: 24-28).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"That Ain't What I Said!"

Hebrews 4: 13 “And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

We have all heard about the dumb criminal who robbed the convenience store after filling out an application for employment and turning it in with his real name and phone number on it. The police simply read the application and went to his home and arrested him. Here are a few other situations illustrating the truth that “all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."

The men in the police line-up stood stood facing a mirror on the wall. Behind it was the victim who was about to identify the one who had stolen her purse. The men were being told to repeat the same sentence the thief had said to the woman when he robbed her. The officer addressed the first man, “Suspect number one, step forward, hold out your hand and say, ‘Give me all your money.’” The man complied. The officer then gave the same instructions to the second man who then stepped forward and said, “Give me all your money.” But the third man, after receiving the same instructions, became irritated and looked up at the glass and said, “That ain’t what I said!”

Here is a true story from a courtroom trial. The prosecuting attorney was questioning a witness who had seen two men running out of a convenience store after they had robbed it. The attorney said, “Now you say that you met two men running out of the store as you were walking into the store? You say each had a gun in his hand, and one was carrying a bag.” The prosecutor then began to turn slowly toward the couroom as he continued to query the witness,“Now, are these two men in the courtroom today?" But before the witness could respond, everyone, including the jury, noticed that the two defendants had raised their hands.

I bought a bottle of cologne that I had never tried before. It smelled pretty good, at least on everyone else. I splashed some on my face, and then walked out to the car. I sat in the driver’s seat waiting for my mother to get in. She opened the door, sat down, tilted her head up, and began sniffing the air. She then looked down at the bottoms of her feet as she said to me, “Billy, check the bottom of your shoes and see if you stepped in any dog poop before you got in the car.” I knew it was the cologne, but said nothing about it. I just went through the motions of checking my shoe soles. I did not use that cologne any more after that.

Years ago I was babysitting my 4 or 5 year old sister Kay and her cousin Ginger who had come to visit and spend the night with her. They were playing hide and go seek, and Kay had gone into the bed room and was hiding behind the bed. Ginger entered the room smiling and laughing and began searching behind the doors and in the closet trying to find her. So as Ginger was standing beside me and searching the room, I called out to Kay, “Kay, be very quite. Don’t make a sound. Don’t say a word.” Immediately from behind the bed, a little voice called out, “I not!” Ginger looked at me with a big smile and then ran straight to the hiding place.

Numbers 32:23 “Be sure, your sins will find you out.”

The lesson in these unrelated stories illustrate the utter foolishness of our attempting to hide who we are. It is not only impossible to hide from God, but neither can we hide from those around us. Who we really are is ultimately revealed in our words, our countenance, and our behavior. The smell of our “bad cologne” will expose us. And if we are good at hiding it, we must remember the old proverbs that tell us the “walls have ears” and “the little birdie” will tell someone. We are like the goldfish in the bowl. We cannot run away from home and there is nowhere to hide. So it is best to have an honest heart before the Lord, for He loves us and will give grace for reality if we will face it. He does not give grace for pretend. The apostle John said that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Monday, June 22, 2009

SURRENDERING TO GOD'S DISCIPLINE




"When with rebukes you correct man for iniquity, you make his beauty melt away like a moth," Psalm 39:11



Discipline is often painful but is not harmful unless it is stubbornly resisted, despised, and rejected. Discipline has a positive purpose. Discipline is God's love providing us with incentive to obey, working to help free us from disobedience and harmful ways, and attempting to bring us closer to Him. Surrendering to God’s discipline results in strength, righteousness, peace, maturity, wholeness, and holiness (Hebrews 12: 12-17), but stubborn refusal to break leaves us stripped, bruised, and spiritually disabled (Isaiah 1:5-6; Psalm 38:1-5).

David is a wonderful example of how to respond to God’s discipline. He was quick to humble himself with a broken and contrite spirit before God. He acknowledged his sin and attempted no excuses or self-justification. His prayer was, “Have mercy upon me…for I acknowledge my transgression.” (Psalm 51).


Psalm 31: 9-10 "Because of my iniquity"

When David was confronted with his sin, he did not pretend to be innocent and allow God to be blamed or charged with injustice. How many times have we gotten what we deserved while letting God be blamed for allowing the "sweet thing" to suffer? If a man's secret sin causes him to fail and lose everything, while he "goes down" blaming Satan and people, others will look at him and say, "How could God let this happen to such a good man?" If he does not admit his own responsibility, his children and those who observe his life will have nagging fears that God was either helpless or unfaithful. They will accuse God of evil instead of recognizing the man has reaped what he sowed.

2 Samuel 15: 24-26 "But if He says thus: 'I have no delight in you,' here am I,let Him do to me as seems good to Him."

In this verse we see David "leaning over" and submitting obediently to the rod of discipline. Submitting to God’s discipline does not mean you are a bad person. To the contrary, it is a wonderful expression of humility, character, and faith. Allowing God to "take you in hand" (2 Samuel 23: 5-6) produces security. Rebellion and resistance produce insecurity, grasping, manipulation etc. (James 4: 6).
David had faith under discipline and trusted in the Sovereign, Almighty God. He was willing to forfeit his throne if God required it, and he would not grasp in the flesh to save it as Saul had done. In attaining the throne, David had not reached forth with rebellious hands to seize and grasp it as Absalom was attempting to do; and as king he would not reach forth with rebellious and unbelieving hands to keep it. He had trusted God to procure it and he would now trust God to secure it. He refused to grasp in the flesh against the will of God. He submitted to God's discipline even to the point of laying down his place, his throne, and his ministry. Many of God's servants have failed under discipline because they were unwilling to forfeit what God was asking them to lay down. As in David's case, we may not actually lose it, but we must be willing, if God asks us.
The way of the cross is the path to take when under discipline. During these times a person must have faith in God. He must be willing to surrender everything to God, including his position. David, by his surrender to God's discipline, stands in sharp contrast to Saul and Jeroboam who resisted God's discipline by selfishly grasping to hold what God was taking from them. They had forfeited the throne and, in their rebellion, could not see the futility and foolishness of their carnal manipulation. We must always beware of the grasping attitude.

1 Peter 2:19-20
If we are expected to endure grief when suffering wrongfully, how much more then when we suffer for our faults! For example, if a man has given himself to pornography and immorality, what should be his response when he discovers his wife has had an affair? Of course, she needs to turn from her transgression, but he should be on his face in repentance realizing that his own sin helped bring on the situation. He should fall before God with a broken and contrite heart rather than venting anger and looking for revenge.

Psalm 39: 9-11 "because it was you..."

David recognized his predicament was God's hand being laid upon him as result of his own disobedience and need for discipline. David knew it was from the Lord because Nathan had told him by prophetic utterance what the consequences would be. Therefore, he did not blame others. A rebellious heart will often fail to associate the rod of discipline with the sin that precipitated it. For instance, while a man may be falsely accused of some immorality that he did not do and suffer unjustly because of it, he may, in reality, be under God's discipline for arrogance or some other sin completely unknown even to his detractors. The adversary may be completely wrong in his charge and may be accusing falsely, but God may still be using him as the rod of correction. Shemei and Absalom in their rebellion accused David falsely. David was innocent of their charges against him, but he was not innocent before God.
A rebellious heart will make the presumption that "Since I am innocent of these false charges, I am therefore innocent, period." Consequently, this person will resist God's discipline instead of surrendering before God and committing himself into the hands of God who is not only a merciful Father but also the Righteous Judge. We must be careful lest in fighting “Shemei” we find ourselves fighting God.

Revelation 16: 5; 1 Peter 2: 23 “He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

Rebellious men in this age often surrender in the face of great power simply because of having been overcome by the sheer force of power they cannot resist. This is an outward surrender but with inner defiance. But when men stand before the God of the universe in that great day of the Lord, they will not only yield outwardly, but will face the clear, absolute, and incontrovertible truth that God is right and has always been right. Before God in that day, everyone will realize the utter and total foolishness of his own ways and will be compelled by the sheer force of truth to admit that God is righteous and that rebellious man was in error. There will be no lie or deception in the presence of God. There will be no pretending, no games, no manipulation, no false accusations, no specious finagling, no devious twists of facts, no spurious arguments, no perversion 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 washed by the blood of Jesus Christ and clothed with his righteousness.
Meanwhile, let us surrender to the loving hand of our Heavenly Father and trust completely in His love and purpose in our lives. His discipline is not bad. He disciplines those He loves.

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Encouraging Word

I am sharing from my journal a couple examples of how the Lord encouraged me with a word in season when I needed it. The entries go back to the beginning of 2001.

January 29, 2001
I was sitting at my desk preparing to go to work one morning and struggling with frustration at where I was in my life. I had gone from being a successful pastor to facing the failure of a new church plant and trying to find a job that would provide for my family. Looking through a notebook I came upon a poem I had previously written to encourage myself to persevere and trust the Lord in the waiting process: “When it seems you are forgotten and your good days in the past, His grace brings forth a new song. He saves the best for last.”
The poem was based on the words spoken to Jesus when He turned the water into wine: “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine…and then the inferior. [But] you have kept the good wine until now” (John 2: 10). Laurel and I believed this was God's plan for our life and "ministry." The best is being saved for last.
In a flash I thought of all the good words the Lord had spoken into my heart over recent years. I realized I had to resist the temptation to be angry at my situation and to resist feelings of failure, and feelings of being forgotten and abandoned.
I closed my notebook and started to arise but decided to read a verse of scripture before going to work. I reached over and opened my bible. It fell open to Ecclesiastes 7: 8-10. It was like an audible voice from God. Each word applied to me:
“The end of a thing is better than the beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools. Do not say, ’Why were the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.” I knew the Lord was encouraging me to stand in faith and confidence, and to trust Him for what He will yet do.

February 14, 2001
I stopped by an auto shop a couple miles from my home. As I walked out of the office and across the parking lot to my van I was feeling the stress of financial pressure and a little despair and distress at my perplexity concerning direction for my life. I had cried out to the Lord in prayer the night before, and Laurel and I had prayed together before I left the house that morning.
As I walked across the parking lot, a black fellow in a bright red shirt who was at the other end of the building yelled to me across the parking lot, “God will make a way! No matter what the trouble, God will make a way! Just praise Him!” I did not know this man. I had never seen him before. But I received his word as from an angel of God, for he was truly sent to me by the Lord.
Then, like icing on the cake, the very next week, our grandson Christian, who was not more than 3 years old at the time, just out of the blue said to Laurel, “God will take care of you, gammy.”

I believe the Lord speaks to us on every side if we will only listen. He reveals Himself and strengthens us as we face the issues of life. That word does not remove us from the battle, but rather helps us to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18).
"But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord. I say, 'You are my God. My times are in Your hand.' "
Psalm 31: 14-15.