Friday, December 31, 2010

Practical Wisdom and the Spirit's Leading

A friend of mine was having to make a tough decision in an area where there appeared to be some tension between practical wisdom and what the Spirit of the Lord was leading him to do. Below is an email exchange of our conversation. The unusual nature of the topic may spur some of you to comment.


My friend's email
Billy,
I wanted to shoot a quick note your way with an update letting you know that I'm about to take a major leap of faith and leave my current job with no other job lined up to step into. I know many people would consider this to be CRAZY, especially with the current state of the economy, but, at the risk of sounding like a spiritual nut, I truly feel as though it's the direction God is moving me in.

I've been praying for wisdom/clarity of thought in what steps to take next, and I'd be much appreciative for your prayers as well. This is the first time in my life I've stepped away from something without having something else in place to move into...it's a bit nerve-racking. I'm sure you've experienced those times when you move back and forth between that peace that passes all understanding, and the fear of the uncertain...that's exactly what I'm feeling this past week. Any thoughts or wisdom you care to impart will ALWAYS be welcomed!


Thanks,
_________

My response
Hello, _______,
Thanks for the email. I certainly understand where you are. I’ve had a few similar situations in the past. I remember once, when I was making a similar step of faith, I told everybody I felt like a man standing on a platform blindfolded. I didn’t know if I was about to step-up or step-off. There were times it felt like I did both.


Paradoxes are abundant in our spiritual walk. Natural wisdom and specific, unique direction from the Holy Spirit most of the time flow together without tension. But once in a while they seem to stand in contrast, at times when the Holy Spirit leads us in what we normally wouldn’t do in the practical order of things. Sometimes people will foolishly use the “leading of the Spirit” as an excuse to do some very unwise things. Then other times we use “natural and practical wisdom” as an excuse to not follow the Lord’s specific leading, because we are either afraid or simply unwilling to obey. We should not use "spirituality” to neglect practical wisdom and prudence, but neither should we use natural wisdom to neglect our spiritual walk. Both are necessary in our walk with God in the real world.


We have to know natural wisdom (which is also godly) and we have to know the voice of the Holy Spirit, who generally leads us into practical wisdom. These are usually in perfect harmony, and we know our instrument is tuned properly when the strings harmonize beautifully. This requires a genuine walk with the Lord and the ability to discern the situation and hear His voice.


Sometimes though, the Holy Spirit will lead us down an unusual and unexpected path that on the surface appears to go against the normal expectations of wisdom. But this is God’s prerogative. But it means we really need to know His voice, and not let this principal of the “unusual road” become a stumbling block by using it to cast aside wisdom, discretion, and prudence in the name of the Lord’s leading. What it boils down to, is that a man has to cast himself at the feet of the Lord with a sincere and honest heart seeking to do His will, and then put his trust in the Lord for guidance.

I have lived and walked on both sides of the coin. Looking back, I don’t know whether everything I did was exactly according to the perfect will and direction of the Holy Spirit, or whether the Lord was merciful to me and simply blessed me in times I might have followed the foolishness of youthful or misguided zeal. In any case however, He has been merciful and good to me, blessing my obedience, and showing mercy over my ignorance and failures.


I’ll be praying for you, and I know the Lord will direct and guide you. Please let me know how things go. I’d love to hear what God does and some of the lessons you may learn. Keep in mind, if the Lord is in it, it will still require faith once you make the step. A word from God gives you faith to face what comes, but it does not remove the battle or the opposition. It gives you grace to persevere until the purpose of God is done.


Please let me know how things go. I look forward to the next time we can get together and visit in person.


Bless you,
Billy

Usual advice for the unusual decisions
Generally speaking, it is best to follow practical wisdom as taught in the book of Proverbs.The Holy Spirit's leading is not inconsistent with common sense. However, there are exceptional times when He may lead us in what appears on the surface to be unorthodox and unconventional. During these times it is important that we ask God to search and purify our hearts. We should also discuss the matter with someone we trust. A person who isolates himself from input is often a person who is seeking to do his own will. We can be led astray by selfish desires and wrong motives, and we need faithful friends who will be honest with us regarding what they see in us. Ultimately however, we have to make our own decisons. It is important that we be able to walk them out in faith and good conscience.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3: 5-6

“And when he brings out His own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” John 10: 4

“The integrity of the upright will guide them.” Proverbs 11: 3

“The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.” Proverbs 11: 6

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tribulation and Good Cheer

"..and a sword shall pierce your soul.” -Luke 2: 35

A supernatural word from God does not mean your life will henceforth be easy and free of grief and pain. Sometimes, to the contrary, it may mean the suffering, hardship and tribulation involved in entering the kingdom of God and extending it into a hostile world system. The Apostle Paul’s commissioning word from God included the phrase, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My sake.”

The angel Gabriel visited Mary telling her that she would be the earthly mother of Jesus. We celebrate these words at Christmas as we sing about the joy and wonder of it all, while often failing to recognize the perplexities that accompanied the fulfillment of that revelation. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song inspired by the subsequent word given to Mary by the elderly prophet who warned her of the grief she would someday suffer at Jesus’ crucifixion. “A sword shall pierce through your soul.”

Then later Mary must have wept with tremendous inner grief when she realized the price paid by those mothers in Ramah who lost their babies when Herod, overcome by the fear of One being born who might be a potential threat to his position, had all the male children under two years of age put to death by the sword. What were Mary's thoughts, knowing that others had lost their children when it was her child Herod was trying to kill? The realities would have been very difficult to understand and even harder to explain.  She must have pondered these things in her heart as she trusted God to comfort those who had suffered without knowing why.

Jameson, Faucet, and Brown in their commentary on Matthew 2:16-18 say eloquently what must have been God’s answer to these mothers: “O ye mothers of Bethlehem! methinks I hear you asking why your innocent babes should be the ram caught in the thicket, while Isaac escapes. I cannot tell you, but one thing I know, that ye shall, some of you, live to see a day when that Babe of Bethlehem shall be Himself the Ram, caught in another sort of thicket, in order that your babes may escape a worse doom than they now endure. And if these babes of yours be now in glory, through the dear might of that blessed Babe, will they not deem it their honor that the tyrant's rage was exhausted upon themselves instead of their infant Lord?”

Jesus died and gave His life that the Kingdom of God may come. And one day righteousness, peace, and joy will reign on this earth and the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The lion will lay down with the lamb. The child will play near the snake, and there will be no hurt or sorrow. There will be no breaking in or breaking out, and no outcry in the streets. But meanwhile, as we proclaim the joy and salvation that is in Christ Jesus, we must be prepared for the spiritual warfare that is necessary in proclaiming God’s kingdom and seeing it extended into the lives of people in this present age. The apostle Paul who preached in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit, returned to the new Christian communities strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and reminding them that "we through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  (John 16: 33)

Temptation's Deception

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Serving Faithfully and Joyfully Without Complaint

What blessing, strength, encouragement, and life we receive from those who serve the Lord faithfully and without complaint! How our hearts are touched by those whose lives demonstrate such surrender to God’s will, and whose love for the Lord is revealed in their willingness to lay down self, take up their cross, and follow Him. Below is an email from a friend whose life has been such an example to me.

An Email From A Friend October 28, 2002.
Dear Billy and Laurel,
...I've been meditating recently on a comment by FB Meyer: "There is a providence of loss, a ministry of failing and fading things, a gift of emptiness…" This has been relevant to me, obviously, in the face of our family's loss and the necessity of giving 5-6 hours a day, 7/7, en route to or at the hospital. Let me say, there is no place I'd rather be. I don't begrudge it at all. My heart is to be there. But it has been a huge pruning as far as having time, energy, strength for "ministry". And we have no idea what the future holds. It seems a strange way for Him to dispose of His servant's time and energies. I'm thinking of you and us.
Dennis Peacocke said, while he was with us in London, that we were "an expensive piece of work", indicating that the Lord has invested lots in our lives over the last 40 years. The phrase struck me, because He [the Lord] seems to be getting very little return on His investment during this season. But that is His job. I bow to His sovereignty, and wait in hope...
And I know that our friendship together, born out of years, deep love, and some fire, is inviolable. That friendship was Jesus’ goal with those the Father put with Him. And they are still with Him, surrounding Him, helping Him extend His government.

I don't have answers for our predicament at this point - and don't need them. I just need Him - and He gives Himself freely.

I look forward to talking.
Our love to you both,
Paul

The following true story stands in stark contrast to the email quoted above.
I was observing a roofing crew at work on a phone company facility. Because of the crucial nature of the equipment in this building and the absolute need to ensure no interruption of the phone service to customers, the contractor was required to have a man (the “spotter”) stand inside and inspect the ceiling underneath the roofing work area during the early morning tear-off phase of the work. The spotter’s job was to make sure there were no leaks, dust, or particles falling from the ceiling onto the equipment. His job, though very important, is relatively easy and comfortable compared to the physical labor of the men at work on the roof. Company policy requires the spotter to remain inside only during early morning tear-off and during removal of the old roofing membrane. He then returns to work on the roof with the other men as soon as the tear-off phase is completed and installation of the new membrane has begun.

On this particular job, however, the foreman kept the spotter inside the building through the entire workday. The other workers complained, thinking they were being treated unfairly and that the foreman was showing favoritism. “Why does he allow M____ to sit inside all day while we have to work, sweat, and suffer up here in the heat? Why does he not make M____ come back onto the roof when tear-off is completed, instead of remaining inside when it is not necessary for him to be there?”

A Surprising Explanation
Hearing their complaints against the foreman I went to him and asked, “Why do you allow the spotter to remain inside all day?” His answer surprised me. “I leave him in there because I don’t like him. He is lazy and he doesn’t do good work. I keep him down there because I don’t want him around me and I don’t want him up here where the work is going on.”

His response showed me how badly the working crew had misinterpreted the foreman’s actions and motives. They had completely misjudged him and his opinion of them and of the spotter. He was not honoring the man who was left in the shade, and he was not disrespecting the ones who were required to work in the hot sun. To the contrary, it was his respect for their skill and diligence that caused him to keep them in the more difficult and necessary place. He needed them on the roof because he could depend on them to do a good job. It was his displeasure with the spotter that caused the foreman to leave that worker inside in the “easier” place all day. He placed more responsibility upon and asked more of those from whom he expected more, from those he knew would do the best work.

Our Load May Represent God's Confidence In Us.
If these workers could so greatly misunderstand their boss, how much more do we in our limited knowledge misunderstand the deeper mysteries of God in the way He works in our lives?
God disciplines those He loves and He requires more from those He favors. He asks more from those upon whom He has placed a high calling and from those who have been given more. It is an honor for God to ask of you more than He asks of others.
The early Christians did not complain and say, “Why me?” when they were persecuted and beaten for Christ’s sake, but rather they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His sake. They knew they were being honored as “worthy to drink the cup” (Mark 10: 35-39). The true spiritual giants are not those who seem to glide along effortlessly in “flowery beds of ease” on a warm and balmy day. The horses who submit to the training bridle are the ones chosen to pull the kings carriage, not the ones who are left to run wild and free in the pasture. It is not a compliment when God asks nothing of you.


Why is God asking hard things of us and requiring more of us than seems fair? It may be that we need it. But also it may be associated with the high calling He has placed on our lives, a reflection of His great expectations regarding our character and potential. It may also be that He has honored us by allowing our  participation in such an important cause and great work, the depth and significance of which is known only to Him. We will not know the full ramifications of our service until we stand in His presence in the age to come.  But in any case, we should always know that He works with a view to the joy and delight He will have in bestowing rewards and blessing upon those He loves so dearly, and especially upon those who serve Him so faithfully.

Luke 12: 48. “…For everyone to whom much has been given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
Matthew 25: 23. "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'"



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"I've Worked All Day. It's Not Fair!"

The last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 19: 30; 20: 16.
 “The apostle Peter answered and said to Him (Jesus), ‘See we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?’”   Matthew 19:27.
 “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?”  Matthew 20: 9-15.

The first verse (Matthew 19:27) quoted above is a statement made by the apostle Peter, a devoted and obedient follower of Jesus. The second quote (Matthew 20: 9-15) describes complaining laborers who felt they were not adequately compensated. To both of these Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This statement, though difficult to understand, basically expresses God’s right of ownership and decision-making over our lives as His servants.

“Hey, it’s not fair!”
The workers who worked all day complained because those who worked only the last hour were paid first and received the same amount as those who worked all day. The reverse order of payment and the equal pay for unequal work hours exposed the hearts of those who worked longest. Their grumbling was rooted in self-centeredness, wrong motives, and blindness to the heart and character of the landowner. His kindness to the late-starters was being interpreted as mistreatment of the all-day workers. This illustrates man’s tendency to despise the riches of God’s goodness when it is poured out on others. In our short-sightedness we become envious and think we are deprived.

God’s economy is not limited to this temporary, natural age. His rewards are both now and in eternity. When we in our short-sighted self-centeredness judge God’s goodness and wisdom only by what we see in time (the temporal, natural perspective) we do seriously err. Men’s hearts are exposed when they judge God by the “wage and hour” mentality. Such attitudes reflect self-centeredness, lack of spiritual perception, and blindness to Jesus Himself and to the Sovereignty of God.

“But I was being good when they were being bad!”
I had friends and acquaintances who were still rebellious teenagers when I was seeking God and preaching the gospel as a young boy in high school and throughout my college years. These men now have significant and thriving ministries while I sit in relative obscurity and in what has at times felt like relative failure. I had to deal with a subtle jealousy regarding this, but have come to the place where I genuinely rejoice in God’s blessing over the lives and ministries of these friends and acquaintances.

It is God’s prerogative to bless whom He chooses based on His wisdom and purpose. He is Sovereign ruler over the temporal affairs of man. He chooses and apportions, and we must trust Him with how He disposes and rewards. We must rejoice when God blesses others. We praise the Lord when we are “hidden in His quiver” while others are being used in the spotlight.

Peter: “Lord, what about that man?”
Jesus: “What is that to you? You follow me.” John 21: 21-22
We should not make value judgments about ourselves by comparing our lot to that of others, or by judging our place in God according to how He treats other people. This leads to pride and arrogance if our lot is better, or to envy and jealousy if our lot is worse. In any case, it leads to erroneous thinking. God deals with each of us according to His own purpose and wisdom. He does not operate on the “fairness” principal. He does according to what is right and necessary according to what He has purposed in Himself.

Worker: “But I have borne the burden and the heat of the day!”
Jesus: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.” Matthew 20: 12-13.
It is common for people to feel they have not received adequate compensation or reward for their labor and efforts. We must remember that our labor is not in vain and that our just reward is with Him (Isaiah 49: 3-4). It might also be good to ask ourselves if we really have born the heat of the day? I may have worked hard, but still it is a matter of perspective. To the lazy man every way is hard, and to the self-centered person every task is an inconvenience and sacrifice. Often the ones who complain the hardest are those who do the least.

When we have done everything we should do, still we have done no more than was our duty to do in our relationship with God. Do we think we have given so much? What do we have that we did not receive? We have nothing that did not first originate with God. He is the source, the means, and the end. He is the center- not us. And we owe Him everything, including our lives.

“Take what is yours and go your way.” Matthew 20: 15.
The complaining workers received “what was theirs” but were sent on their way. They walked away not knowing the future blessings they had forfeited, and they were of no further use to the Master. They were grasping for wages rather than looking to the rewards that come with the Master’s favor. Instead of focusing on the meager and limited portion we think we have earned, we should humbly serve and look to the loving Master who plans to pour on us by grace a bountiful supply from the riches of His storehouse, a supply greater than anything we could ever earn. We do not want Jesus to “give us what is ours” and then tell us to “go our way.” We do not want Him to “give us our request, but send leanness to our soul.” (Psalm 106: 13-14). It would be the greatest loss and the cause of the deep regret to take what is “mine” and yet lose Him and the blessing of intimate fellowship with Him. He rewards faith and obedience. He Himself is our exceeding great reward.

“I have served all these years, and you never did that for me!” (Luke 15: 29.
We should rejoice when others are blessed. God does not detract from nor rob from me when He shows goodness to others. It is an evil heart that assumes God’s blessing on others represents something taken from me. The elder brother in the prodigal son story was not motivated by love. He was envious, and was probably afraid that the Father would take away some of his inheritance and give it to the prodigal brother who had returned empty-handed after wasting his own. In his comments on these verses Bob Mumford said, “The Father has unlimited wealth and increase. He would be able to restore the prodigal brother without ‘taking away’ from the elder brother.” But in any case, we should be willing to sit in a humble station and rejoice when God blesses someone we think does not deserve it? It is not proper to begrudge God’s benevolence shown to others or to think we deserve it more. We should not forget what the Father said to the Elder brother. “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours” (Luke 15: 31).

“They complained…” Matthew 20: 11.
The workers acted like they were part of a union organized to protect themselves against management. God is the Sovereign Master who actually loves us. We don’t have to negotiate for our benefits. He has already given us all things in Christ. We serve Him knowing that in His great love, knowledge, and wisdom He is acting for His purpose and our good. It is our self-centeredness that makes us complain and charge Him with inequity. When we make ourselves the center (instead of God and His purpose), we darken and distort our discernment, our interpretation, and our understanding.

“Friend, I am doing you no wrong.” Mat. 20:13
God’s ways are infinitely higher than ours. He acts according to His will and purpose which are based on His perfect and complete knowledge and upon His incomprehensible wisdom and goodness. We humans are foolish to charge Him with evil. The prophet Daniel said that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He pleases.” (Daniel 4: 25). The apostle Paul said so eloquently, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom 11: 33). We should daily join the biblical writers who said, “Praise the Lord, for He is good.”

Billy Long

[For further study see Matthew 19: 27-30; Matthew 20: 1-16; 20: 20-28; Luke 15: 25-32]




Friday, November 12, 2010

If you avoid all eggs, you'll never eat a rotten one; but then you'll never eat a good one either.


This article is a follow-up to an earlier post entitled "Some Thoughts On the Manifested Presence of God."   To read that article you have to scroll to the bottom of the page and click "older posts" and do that until you reach the post you're looking for.  -BL

We should not use “bad apples” as an excuse to avoid all “apples.” Grocery stores and trees are full of good apples, and it is extremely rare to find a bad one. When I was a kid I found a worm in a peach taken from a tree in our yard, but it did not stop me from eating peaches. I found a rotten egg once when I was a child. It stank worse than anything I had ever smelled before or since. But I knew that it was an exception to the norm. Eggs are good, and so I continue to enjoy them as a part of my usual breakfast menu. I did not let one bad egg cause me to henceforth approach all eggs cautiously as if they might be rotten.

If you were to visit a church where people were swinging from the chandeliers or behaving strangely, would you then reject emotions and joy in your spiritual walk ? Would you say, “These people are crazy,” and use this as an excuse to avoid any search for God? Or would you search for the reasonable Biblical pattern for worship and the healthy expression of joy and emotions? Would you read the Bible to find out what it really says or just assume that the “apple” or “egg” you found represented the norm for all apples and eggs? Why is it that people are so quick to reject God and spiritual things because of bad examples and unwise people who misrepresent Him and His ways?

The things that people usually fear in spiritual experience are not the true Biblical patterns, but rather the unreal “phantoms” they have created in their own minds as a result of prejudiced propaganda or experiences with bad examples which most likely were exaggerations or soulish aberrations of the true biblical thing. For example, I have seen and heard some preachers that caused me to flinch, but the greatest portion of my experience is with the many stable, sincere, and gifted men of God who serve the Lord faithfully and wisely. The preachers we see portrayed on the typical TV show and in the movies are usually parodies or burlesque exaggerations of the real thing. Anyone investigating a spiritual truth or experience should go to the Bible first and see what is actually described there, rather than skipping the Biblical model and arguing against the distorted, the false, or the counterfeit they may have encountered. Our hunger to know God should cause us to wade past the stumblingblocks, go to His word, call out to Him, and search for the real thing.

This principal is especially true in the matter of the supernatural manifestation of God’s presence among His people. The problem is that people tend to approach the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit from an initial negative perspective. Rather than welcoming the potential of God’s wonderful presence supernaturally at work among us, they begin with a negative disposition seeing the working of the Holy Spirit as a necessary evil, as something from which to protect themselves. Their first response is not to hunger for the amazing, positive possibilities, but rather to assume a defensive posture with their primary focus on avoiding the abuses. They are so worried about the “bathwater” they don’t see the baby. The result is avoidance, severe regulation, or prohibition. We should not fear the presence of God. Jesus, in referring to the Holy Spirit, said, "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Lu 11: 11-13).  To always expect the "scorpion" rather than the "egg" is an expression of unbelief and is a lack of confidence in God's goodness and in His ability to manage His church.

This tendency to approach God's presence negatively with fear causes churches and Christians to remain in “safe” waters where the boat will not be rocked and where there is no need for discernment and risk taking. We don’t have to worry about the “bathwater” problem if we don’t have the “baby” among us. We don’t have to worry about “cleaning the stall” if we don’t have an “ox” in the barn. We don’t have to worry about a “rotten egg” if we just avoid all eggs. This fear causes us to miss out on the adventures of life. It keeps us from launching out into the deep and witnessing the supernatural presence of God at work.

The point here is that the church should not be ruled by the fear of misuse and abuse of spiritual things. The church should be secure and discerning enough to move out courageously and in faith into the wonderful area of God’s presence at work among us, not fearing the awkwardness and stumbles that are often necessary in the growth and learning process. We see this principal in the example of how Jesus trained the twelve disciples. He knew the mistakes they would make, but He did not “roll His eyes” and withdraw, but instead, He “rolled up his sleeves” and moved on with the full training program.

We should follow His example.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Struggling With Condemnation?

In our weakness and failures we go through self-condemnation and guilt, we feel the disdain of society, the disappointment of our friends, and neglect or rejection from the church. This swirl of emotions and experiences can leave a person confused and struggling, and cause him to forget that God loves him with a steadfast and unfailing love that is beyond comprehension.


Self-Condemnation
I received the following email from a friend. He writes…
“I say this with mixed feelings of regret and joy: at (almost!) 60 years old, and after 42 years as a Christian, I am actually beginning to have an abiding awareness of God's affection for me and gracious care of me. It has taken me an awfully long time to get past feeling like expecting Him to really like me and want to do good for me is presumptuous. (‘Who is poor, pitiful me to expect anything from a holy God?!’) Not sure where that came from, except a lot of shame in my past, but I am very gratefully learning to renounce such a curse and embrace blessing. I considered you and Bob Stamps my very closest friends for a lot of those early years, and I continue even now to rejoice in our friendship.”

I responded with the following email:
“Thanks, L____, I appreciate and treasure our friendship. And regarding your comments about ‘pitiful’ you, even the Apostle Paul said, ‘Oh wretched man that I am...’ But he did it in the context that we are all that way, and God loved us while we were yet sinners. I think the low self image that thinks God does not like me, and the pride that thinks I am such a great person are both equally a lie. God simply loves us because we are His and created in His image and because that is His nature.
Even His discipline in our lives is a sign of His love. He ‘scourges every son whom He receives’ (Heb 12). And the key word there is ‘receives’ because it is the opposite of ‘reject.’ If God loves you, He takes you out to the ‘woodshed’ every now and then. If He leaves you alone, then you're in trouble.
You projected onto the Lord the rejection you felt from others, and also you believed the lie of the devil that said you were unlovable, not worth much, and not very important. His love for us ‘passes all understanding.’ We just have to accept it and believe it and know that our thoughts to the contrary are a big lie. He loves us- all of us. ‘To whom much is forgiven, the same loves much,’ Jesus said.”

Society’s Condemnation
“Love covers a multitude of sin.” -1 Peter 4:8
“Dead flies spoil the ointment and cause it to give off a foul odor, So does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor." -Ecclesiastes 10: 1

The two verses above stand in contrast. One refers to the mercy you receive from people who love you, and the other refers to the disdain you receive from the general public when you fail.
It is true that love covers a multitude of sins. People who love you will tend to think the best of you, give you the benefit of the doubt, and be merciful to your faults and offenses. However, those who dislike you will see every wrinkle, blemish, and flaw (including some that aren’t there), and will tend to be critical of everything you do, no matter what you do. And they will take pleasure in making sure everyone is informed and knows about your areas of sin and failure.

A man's folly is more entertaining to the public than his wisdom, and his sins will be trumpeted much louder than his accomplishments, especially if they follow his accomplishments. Our failures often make a bigger “splash” than our successes, and so a little bit of foolishness can spoil an otherwise good reputation. People will often forget all the good things a man has done and judge him based on the one mistake or failure in his life. Some well-known Christian leaders have learned this the hard way. Many who have done great works and accomplished many good and significant things will be remembered primarily for the moral failure or some area of mismanagement that was discovered in their lives.

Satan’s condemnation
The Bible calls the devil “the accuser of the brethren.” Our proclivity to sin makes us vulnerable to accusation, and the enemy of our souls takes advantage of this in order to accuse us to ourselves, to society, and even to God. He slanders us in our innocence, and accuses us in our guilt.

In Zechariah 3, when Satan tried to point out all the reasons why God could not use the people of Israel and why God should reject them, the Lord’s answer was simply, “I have chosen them.” God’s sovereign choice settles the matter. The work of the cross makes the enemy powerless in his accusations. When he charges us with sin and failure, God simply says, "Jesus bore their sin, the penalty has been paid, and I have chosen them. They have been tried in the fire (they have been disciplined). I have chosen them, and My sovereign choice stands."

Zechariah 3 should be very encouraging to us because it reveals the enemy's helplessness before the blood of Christ and the sovereignty of God. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. God has chosen us and we have surrendered our lives to follow Him. How great is His abundant grace and steadfast love to His children!

God’s Redeeming Power
A student who had confessed to sexual immorality was asked to stand before her Christian high school to express her repentance. Word of her situation had spread around school and everyone knew about the sin. Therefore, it was decided that the students should also be informed of her repentance. She stood before the assembled students and told of her failure and how she had turned back to the Lord. The Holy Spirit began to touch people. Teachers and students began to weep throughout the auditorium. Afterwards many came up in tears asking for prayer and confessing their own sins and need for help. The Lord had forgiven her and enabled her to be a blessing to many others. God is able to turn our shame and remove our reproach.

We are able to strengthen others when we turn to the Lord in our weaknesses and failures. Those who have never failed tend to be proud and critical and are often judgmental and condemning of others. Those who know their own frame (Psalm 103: 13-15) and who have seen their own “feet of clay” are more prone to show compassion and mercy toward others.

Like the woman "who was a sinner" we should turn our sin into true repentance, deep love, sincere gratitude, faithful service, and a faithful testimony (Luke 7: 36-48).
Have you stumbled or failed in some way? Is the enemy pressing you down with guilt and shame? Do you feel like you are standing before God wearing filthy garments? The Bible says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Some Random Thoughts on Human Nature

An Honest Heart
In trying to “referee” a relational conflict I found that one of the parties involved was a man with whom I could not find any solid ground on which to communicate. I realized that he was one of those people who create their own false reality and then make themselves believe it. A man deceives himself first, so he can lie to everyone else with a clear conscience. Integrity starts with being honest with ourselves.

Learning the Hard Way
Human nature often learns the same thing the hard way more than once.
When we were kids, my cousin William walked up to me one day limping.
When I asked him what the problem was, he told me, “I stepped on a bumblebee barefoot.”
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“I just felt like it,” was the reply.
Then a few days later he was limping again.
“What happened this time?” I asked.
“I stepped on a bumblebee barefoot,” he replied.
“Why?” I asked. “Didn’t you learn anything the last time?”
“I thought if I did it quick, it wouldn’t hurt.”

A high school girl had her foot in a cast.
“What happened?” I asked.
“My boyfriend backed over it with his car,” she replied.
“How?”
“He started to back out of the driveway and I put my foot behind his front tire and told him he could not leave. He figured if he drove over it fast, it would not hurt.”

“Breathe on me!”
We should commit our lives into God’s hands and be prudent in planning and attaining goals, but we should also shun manipulation and the use of questionable means to get what we want.
My sister had the mumps, and my cousin William decided he wanted to get the mumps too so he could stay home from school. So he came over to our house before getting on the school bus each morning during the first week of her sickness. He would go over to Eva’s sickbed and lean over in her face and say, “Breathe on me.” He would inhale deeply as she breathed on his face.
One morning not long after that, he awoke with the mumps, with jaws and neck all swollen. His first thought was, “Oh boy! Now I can stay home from school!”
But to his chagrin, he looked out the window to see that our coastal Carolina community had received one of its extremely rare winter snows. He lay in bed while all the rest of us kids stayed out of school to play in the snow for a couple days.

"I love everybody?"
A person who says he loves everybody may not actually love anybody. It is easier to love everybody than to love somebody. “Everybody” refers to a vague and general group of people. We are called to love the individuals we have to deal with on a daily basis.

The flesh is never satisfied.
A man who can have any woman he wants will not want any woman he has. He thinks he is desired of all, and that there will always be a better one around the next corner. The Bible says that the desires of the flesh are deceitful. They lie to us and are never satisfied when indulged. When we feed our “flesh” it never (for more than a moment) sits back and says, “Thanks, I’m okay now.” It always wants and usually demands more and more.
The most contented and satisfied person is the one who has disciplined himself or herself to commit to and love the spouse God has given.

The Problem with “Mr. Cool”
Why do some of the prettiest girls often get involved with some of the sorriest guys? Maybe it’s because the sorriest men will “use” a girl for sex, and the girl is deceived into thinking this is love. People who are seeking love need to realize that promiscuity prevents intimacy. A girl desiring to be loved and to have an intimate relationship will give her body to a guy not realizing that it will distract him from her. Sex should follow the real intimacy of commitment and love in a real relationship (in marriage).
Also, girls who are looking for “Mr. Cool” will tend to live in the moment and foolishly ignore the future. “Mr. Cool” is good for a “one-night stand” or for a short-term relationship because he makes a girl feel attractive and needed for the moment. But he most likely will not commit to or be faithful for the long haul. He will skip out when the need for disciplined responsibility is called for and when it’s time to live in the nitty-gritty daily life of caring for someone other than himself.

So many kids today are being hurt by the fantasy and unrealistic expectations fed to them by the entertainment industry and the lack of healthy parenting.

Monday, September 20, 2010

L D and the Religious Folk

[The following article is a re-print of an earlier post. It is a good story, and some of you newer visitors may not have read it yet] -Billy

L.D. was a colorful character who ran a country store a couple miles from Longs crossroads where I grew up. I used to stop in occasionally, and visit with him and any of the local farmers who happened to be standing around the old wood heater that sat in the middle of the one-room store. He watched and listened as people from the local churches dropped in. From his position behind the counter he would hear all the latest gossip and get a good whiff of all the “dirty laundry” to which he was exposed on an almost daily basis. Consequently he did not have a favorable impression of many of the church members who passed by. When one of the local pastors tried to talk with him about his need to repent, LD quickly responded, “You surely don’t want to check behind your members too close. Cause if you do, you’re going to be disappointed.” LD knew all that was going on. He could tell you who had been “on a drunk”, who was having an affair, and how the various communities took turns with their episodes at sin.


As you would expect, he never attended church, but like so many people who believe in God but don’t claim to be a part of any Christian fellowship, he did have his own philosophy of religion which he was quick to share, especially if he thought you were about to “preach” to him. He would share his own philosophy of religion with the added implication that you might want to clean your own house before you try to clean his.

He had an amazing insight into human nature, as well as an almost humorous insight into the life he observed around him. He once told me, “It’s a shame for a church to have more doors than members. That being the case, if they live long enough, that church will eventually die.” Referring to one of the cult groups that came knocking on his door, he said, “The thing that makes me feel so bad is how people treat them. It’s about as wrong to mistreat them as it is to believe them.”

There came a time when L.D. became very sick and soon learned he was dying. And even then he had some interesting things to say. Knowing death was imminent he told me, “If I have to take the early bus, that’s okay.” A local pastor visited him and was telling him he needed to change his life. His response was, “Well, there ain’t much sin I can do right now---unless I do it in my mind.”

In spite of all this, he did make a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord while he was in the hospital. A local pastor, Owen Johnson, prayed with him one evening during a visit. I went to visit him shortly after that and found him very eager to tell me about his experience. He told me, "The time was just right. It could have been you or any other preacher, but the time was meant to be. Owen was leaving. He got to the door, stopped, and turned to me. My hand was sort of stretched out toward him. He came back and started leading me in the sinner's prayer. It wasn't planned. It was like two trains colliding. Like lightning striking. It just happened.” His encounter with the Lord was real.

Soon afterward, I went again to visit him in the hospital. As I walked up to the door of his room I overheard a pastor talking with him and telling him that his recent conversion experience was not valid, and that he was not saved because he had not been baptized in water, and that it had to be by immersion. I thought, “How can this religious leader say something like this to a man who is on his death bed and unable to walk?” I entered the room as the pastor was leaving. L.D. looked up at me from his bed, and the first words out of his mouth were, "That little man was telling me that what me and Mr. Owen did won't but a bunch of sh_ _. If I won't felling so bad, we might a had to call 911."

I assured him that the Lord had honored his prayer and his commitment. I told him that normally a believer should be baptized in water out of obedience to the Lord’s command, and I personally believe in immersion. However, I reminded him of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who went to paradise without being baptized. I told L.D. that he was already in right standing with the Lord, that the Lord understood his inability to get out of that sick bed, but if it would help him feel better about it all, I would baptize him by sprinkling right there in that hospital bed. He was delighted. We invited a couple other people to join us and we had a little ceremony right there. The Lord’s presence was with us, and LD was at peace.

It is amazing how unloving a religious spirit can be. It is a religious spirit that makes us so rigid, cold, legalistic, unbending, and pharisaical. This type of attitude will not reach our contemporary culture. We who follow the Lord need to “oil our hinges” and “loosen our joints” in order to reach the people in the world around us today. We don’t have to throw out our convictions in order to reach sinners, but there are many things we are uncomfortable with that are not sin. We have to be careful that our religious convictions are not just religious rather than spiritual. We often separate ourselves into irrelevancy. Those who desire to be fruitful in reaching this current generation will find themselves being led into strange and religiously uncomfortable territory in the season ahead.
Jesus did ask the Father to sanctify us, which is to set us apart from the world. But then Jesus said to the Father, “As You have sent Me into the world, even so I send them into the world” (John 17: 18). Sanctification is God’s taking the world out of us. A religious spirit is our taking ourselves out of the world and separating ourselves into being out of touch, out of reach, and irrelevant to the very people we need to reach. How do we obey Jesus’ command to not eat and drink with the drunken, while following His example of eating with sinners and being called a drunkard? There is a place where God’s love brings wisdom. A religious spirit is so sanctimonious it keeps us away from the very people we need to reach; and when it does not keep us away, it drives them away. Jesus told the Pharisees, “The harlots and sinners will get into heaven before you." Sometimes we are so busy keeping the outside of the pot clean that we lose touch with the inner living fountain of God’s life and love.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"My preacher is so annointed he pure foams at the mouth!"

How do we expect people to act when they are being used by the Holy Spirit? A fellow once said to me, “My preacher is so anointed he pure foams at the mouth.” That is a strange one, and I am thankful that the Lord does not expect us to do that. So what style do we use in our presentation?

The Spirit-filled Harvard professor very calmly walks up to someone and in a very dignified and stolid voice and says, “This is what the Lord is saying to you, Your canines will develop acariasis and become acaudal.”
A backwoods farmer then walks up to the same person and in a very emotional and enegertic manner says, “Thus saith the Lord. Thy dogs-uh will become infested with ticks and lose their tails-uh.”

The fact is, these men said the exact same thing, but each one spoke out of his own personality and style. The Lord’s word was in the content while the style represented the individual vessel.

I want to share three examples below that show us that we can be ourselves and not have to act a certain, expected way when we are being used by the Holy Spirit.

A Casual word that was supernatural
I was visiting a church in Lexington, Kentucky a few years ago. The morning worship service had ended and people were standing around the auditorium talking and enjoying the fellowship of friends and family. I happened to notice two girls standing on the other side of the auditorium. I was acquainted with one of these girls from a singles conference at which I had recently spoken. I knew that this young lady would one day make some man a good wife, and so I decided to walk over and, in a light-hearted and humorous way, encourage her.

I crossed the auditorium and went up to these two young ladies. As they turned to me I said, “There is a crazy man out there!” They both reacted with surprise and said, “What?” I responded by addressing the unmarried girl with these words, “You are going to make some man a fine wife, and there is a crazy man out there for not having already snatched you up and married you!”

I was expecting her to respond with a laugh, but instead, her eyes filled with tears. I said, “What’s wrong? What did I say to make her cry?”
Her friend then explained to me the conversation they were having just before I walked up. The single girl was sad because her fiancĂ© had recently broken off their engagement. She was depressed and questioning herself wondering why he had ‘dumped’ her. As they stood there she had asked her friend, “Is something wrong with me that he would not want to marry me?” The friend had responded, “No. There is nothing wrong with you. He’s crazy!.”
Then, “out of the blue” and totally unaware of the situation and their conversation I walked up and said, “There is a crazy man out there.”

I believe I was sent to encourage her. However, I was completely unaware of the significance of what I was saying until the friend explained to me how my words confirmed what she had just said moments before.
I was just simply trying to encourage someone based on what I had seen with my natural eyes. I was not trying to be spiritual or do anything special. The timing, however, made the word supernatural.

A Short word that was supernatural
During our first year of marriage Laurel and I were part of a church in southern California. It was composed mostly of young people and had sprung up during the Jesus Movement and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was taking place at that time. Multitudes of kids were coming to know the living reality of Jesus Christ and His presence in the working of the Holy Spirit. One thing that stands out in my memory of those days is the hunger for God that was demonstrated in the lives of those kids. They took their Bibles with them almost everywhere, they always had pen and paper to take notes during Bible study, and they all wanted to be used by God in some way.

I remember on one occasion I was about to teach a Bible study to a group of about twenty or thirty of these kids, and was silently asking the Lord to confirm my direction for the teaching that night.
Then one of the boys stood up. I knew he was about to share what he thought would be a prophetic word from the Lord. He said, “The Lord wants us to watch and pray.” He then paused and stood there silent for a minute hoping to add something more significant. But that was it. He had nothing else to say and so he sat down dejected, and a little embarrassed thinking he had failed.

I then stood up. “Our friend has just given a short, simple word telling us to watch and pray. He does not realize how the Lord has just used him. He has not only shared a word to which we should all take heed, but also, without knowing it, he has given a word of confirmation to me. I was just now asking the Lord to confirm the teaching I am about to give. My text for tonight is Matthew 26: 41, ‘Watch and pray…’ My Bible was opened to that verse and my eyes were on those very words as our friend was saying ‘The Lord wants us to watch and pray.’”

A miracle of healing in response to hardly a prayer
As I was leaving a friend’s house one day, He and I passed his five-year old son playing with some toys on the ground. As we discussed other things the father showed me some sort of bone growth that was on the back of the child’s head. It was just a little smaller than half a ping-pong ball and had been there for years. The doctors had told him it was nothing to worry about. It would not harm the boy, but was simply unattractive and inconvenient. My friend and I did not focus on the child but continued our conversation.

However, as I talked with my friend, I very casually laid my hand on the back of the child’s head a couple times saying, “Lord, bless him.” Again I said, “I know it’s nothing to worry about, but Lord bless him anyway,” as my friend and I went on with the conversation about other things. Then I drove away feeling guilty that I had not taken time to pray an official and “real” prayer over that child. Instead I had only said a “Lord, bless him” in passing as I talked about other things.

I was surprised a couple days later when my friend called to tell me that the child’s growth had completely disappeared. The Lord had healed it in response to a simple “Bless him” prayer.


So what is the lessons here?
While there are often unusual and strange occurrences during great visitations of God’s presence, it is important for us to know that generally speaking we can move in the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit in the normal conversational tone of everyday life. How else can we approach the average person in the world with the reality of Jesus Christ? We can be ourselves, we don’t have to act strange or change our voice. This is one of the keys to moving in the Holy Spirit on the job, in school, on the street, and out in the market-place. You don’t have to walk up to people and shout. You don’t have to say ‘’God-uh” or “yea, yea, thus saith the Lord.” You can be emotional or non-emotional. You can be enthusiastically zealous or you can be quiet and reserved. The key is to be genuine and real. The supernatural is not what you do, but rather what God Himself does. Sometimes God’s work is seen as obviously and patently supernatural. Other times it can be hidden and unnoticed because it is defined by the context and timing and may be significant only to those to whom it is directed.

When we care about people and reach out to them in a real and genuine manner, we will see God at work. And, as in the examples given above, we may find out later that He was at work when we were not aware of it. We may be able to say as Jacob did, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Please introduce yourself.

Over the last 30 days 411 visitors from around the USA and other parts of the world have made over 900 visits to this site. I want to thank each of you for taking the time to visit and read the postings. Your comments posted to the blog as well as your emails have been so appreciated.
If you are a visitor whom I have not had the privilege to meet, would you consider sending me an email and introducing yourself. It would be a blessing to me to know who you are and what part of the country you are from.
Send correspondence to blong8@sccoast.net
Thanks,
Billy Long

Friday, September 3, 2010

"...As Bro Larry Brings Us the Message."


“Hot Off the Griddle of Heaven.”
Pastor and Mrs Varnell did all they could to encourage us young college “preacher boys.” Their little church in a nearby town provided many opportunities for us to speak at their meetings. I remember one special occasion when Pastor Varnell called me and said, “You boys come and preach this Sunday.” Usually one of us would deliver the sermon, but on a couple occasions we did a “tag team” message, dividing the time up between us. On this particular occasion Pastor Varnell was letting us decide who would address his congregation.

Our circle of aspiring ministers consisted of Larry, Lonnie, Mike, George, and me. On this particular Sunday, however, Larry Rodeffer and I were the only ones able to attend the meeting. On our drive to the church I turned to Larry and asked, “Do you have the message?” He shook his head and said, “No, Billy. I don’t have a thing. Do you?” Very confidently I replied, “Yes, Larry. I’ve got the message.”

We arrived at the church, went in, and took our seats on the platform beside the pastor. I began looking through my Bible, doing some last minute preparation for the sermon. Larry was sitting there relaxed with his Bible lying on the seat beside him.
When it came time for the sermon, Pastor Varnell walked up to the podium and said, “Bro Billy and Bro Larry are with us this morning, and one of these boys has a message ‘hot off the griddle of heaven.’ ” He turned and looked at us, and I gave the signal that I would be the one he should introduce.

I walked up to the podium, read a few verses from Luke chapter 4, said a prayer, and then looked out at the congregation. But to my great horror, my mind went blank. I had preached from those verses many times, but this time I could not find the message. As I began to mumble to the congregation I thought to myself, “Oh Lord God, how am I going to get out of this? I have read the scripture and said the prayer.” Once you do that you are into the message. “But I have nothing to say. What am I to do?”

A brilliant idea came to mind. I paused a second, and then with renewed confidence and peace, I looked at all those people and said, “You all remember what I have said---as Bro Larry brings us the message.”
I then went to my seat and sat down, looking at Larry with that “innocent” guilty look on my face.

Without saying a word Larry looked at me in a mild shock, and very slowly picked up his Bible and walked over to the podium. He laid his Bible on the pulpit, opened it up, and then slowly looked back and stared at me for about three seconds with that questioning look of surprise and shock still on his face.
He then gained his composure, told the congregation to turn to the chapter where Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood, and proceeded to give one of the best sermons he had ever given.

“Brother Larry” did have the message. I did not. And though Larry had not planned to speak at that particular moment, he drew from the resources of his life of prayer and study and gave a message that really did turn out to be “hot off the griddle of heaven,” as Pastor Varnell had promised in his introduction. Larry was the only one there who knew I had been rescued from a predicament. His success overshadowed my mistake.

Mistakes are part of growth .
We must be willing to make mistakes and to stumble in order to learn and grow. It takes faith to be willing to take risks. Peter spoke up and was wrong a few times, but learned in the process. In the Bible we see men of God moving in great success, accomplishment, victory, and accuracy in the things of God, yet we also see them in failure, missteps, and errors of judgment. Why is it that we have difficulty seeing ourselves on either end of this spectrum? We are shocked to think that we can experience and participate in the same successes as those men of the Bible. We also are shocked and discouraged when we find ourselves in the same types of mistakes and failures. Too often we are content to stay in some path of mediocrity and safety where we do nothing great and make no major mistakes. We even think this is where we belong. But that is not real life as God intended for us. God meant for us to learn and grow. And to do that we need to be willing to take risks in our walk of faith.

Likewise, leaders must not be afraid for people to make mistakes. Often church leadership is afraid to create an atmosphere where people can take risks, especially in the things of the Holy Spirit. They are afraid people will become strange and spooky or get into some eccentric and crazy behavior. Therefore, they prohibit people from stepping out and taking initiative. My philosophy has been that church members should have freedom to speak up and “step out”, as long as they give the leadership and their brothers and sisters permission and liberty to correct and instruct them in the process. This atmosphere of freedom and love where people are comfortable attempting obedience, unafraid of failure, yet loyal to truth, teachable, and willing to be corrected rather than indulged or rejected is what we see in the relationships of the twelve disciples in their walk with Jesus and each other. This same atmosphere is good for us also. Training and growth require the freedom to stumble and slip a bit.

For more Bible study on the subject of "Handling Mistakes and Failure" go to the following link:
http://councilroom.blogspot.com/

Billy Long

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Lord Revealed Himself...By the Word of the Lord.

“But if all prophesy (speak by revelation), and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.” 1 Corinthians 14: 24-25

The verse quoted above indicates that the Lord moved among the early Christians in a very supernatural way in giving revelation, discernment, and insight to His servants as they reached out to people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would like to share with you three examples of this happening in my own life.

A fellow on a plane
A few years ago the Lord gave me a word for a fellow who was sitting across the aisle from me on an airplane. Awkwardly I turned to the young man and said, “I am a Christian, and sometimes the Lord shows me things about people so I know how to pray for them. The Lord has shown me that there are issues between you and your father that need healing.”
The young man looked at me with a blank stare and said, “No, not really. There is nothing going on between me and my father.”
“Well, okay,” I said apologetically as I leaned back in my seat wondering if I had made a mistake. But the impression was so strong that I turned to the gentleman again and said, “Sir, I don’t mean to bother you, but I feel very strongly that there is a problem between you and your dad that the Lord wants to minister to.”
“The fellow looked at me and said, “No. there is no problem between me and my father, but there will be if I ever see him again!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
In a very somber tone he replied, “He abandoned me and my mother when I was a little kid, and I haven’t seen him since.”
“Hmm, “I responded, “Don’t you suppose THAT is the issue the Lord wants to minister to?” I could see the light come on in his mind as he looked at me and said, “I guess you’re right.” I told him that I would say a special prayer for him. I also prayed that the Lord would use that experience to show him that there is a God who knows and cares about him.

A lady on the plane
On another occasion on a return flight to Raleigh, NC I was seated beside a lady who was flying into Columbia, SC. As the plane was about to land in Columbia, I prayed quietly to myself, “Lord, this lady is about to get off the plane, and I have not said anything to her about You. Is there anything special I should say to her?”
Suddenly the Holy Spirit gave me a name. [This is the only time this has ever happened to me]. I turned to her and said, “Who is Frank?”
Suddenly her expression froze and she stared at me speechless with her mouth open.
I continued, “Sometimes the Lord shows me things to pray for people and I think the Lord has shown this to me for your sake. You can tell me. Who is Frank?”
She very sheepishly mumbled quietly, “Frank is a friend of mine who is having marriage problems.”
I responded, “And Frank is coming to you for comfort, isn’t he?”
With mouth still open and still staring at me in shock she just shook her head and whispered,”Um hum, yes he is.”
I then told her that the Lord loved her and had a plan for her, and wanted to reveal Himself to her, but the enemy had placed this temptation and stumbling block in her path to distract and lead her away. I encouraged her to go home and find a quiet place to sit and talk to God, to seek Him and get to know Him.
Immediately the plane was at the gate, and this lady got up and walked away still in a daze. I thought to myself, “She will go home with a fresh realization that there is a God who knows her and cares about her. Maybe she will look to heaven in faith and know that He is there and that He is listening to her.”

I-95 Roanoke Rapids
I was having breakfast with a pastor friend of mine at a motel restaurant on Interstate 95 when I noticed a gentleman sitting alone at a table across the room. I turned to my friend and said, “Sam, you see that man over there. He is going through the pain of a divorce.”
When Sam and I finished our breakfast I noticed the gentleman was still at his table and decided to go to him. I walked over to his table and said to him, “Sir, my friend and I are pastors. When I saw you sitting here, the Lord showed me that you are going through the pain of a divorce, and I would like to pray for you.”
The fellow stopped eating and looked up at me with sadness in his eyes. “I am in the middle of a divorce right now,” he said.
I told him that the Lord loved him and wanted to deliver him from the things in his life that helped cause the divorce. He responded, “I am from New England, and I am on my way now to Florida to get help for these very things.”
I gave him my card and told him I would be praying for him.

About a week later I received a letter from him thanking me for reaching out to him. He shared how our meeting that morning had encouraged him. His faith was strengthened and his hope renewed because he was made aware that there really is a God who knows him and cares about him.

Conclusion
The purpose of the supernatural in the church is not for show or theatrics. It is simply the presence of God at work. It happens when the people of God are moved with compassion and allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to encourage, strengthen, heal, comfort, and touch the people around them. God speaks and acts to reveal Himself.

“For the Lord revealed Himself…to Samuel by the word of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 3:21

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Visit To A Philosophy of Religion Class

A girl from our church in Raleigh NC was taking a philosophy of religion class taught by a professor from Duke University. Nancy came to me one evening and shared how she had been brought to tears when some of the other students mocked her for sharing her faith during a class discussion. Nancy was a committed Christian and loved the Lord. She was shocked at the unbelief and skepticism of the professor and the students,and soon came to discuss it with me and fellow believers at church.

Now she was asking me to visit the class. The professor had told the students to invite their pastors to come sit in on the discussions. My first thought was, “This professor wants to pull out all his weapons of complex, intellectual, theological, and philosophical thought, all his esoteric terms, and make me or any other pastor who shows up look like an idiot in front of the class.”
But I knew this was a great opportunity and so agreed to go. The next week one of the men from the church went with me to the class. I was a little nervous as we took our seats but was filled with faith knowing the Lord wanted us there.
The professor opened the class, welcomed me and Colin, and then addressed me with the following question: “In light of ….”

[At this point he began very eloquently using so many “ten dollar” words, rare theological terms and historical names hardly known to the common layman, the meaning of which was very difficult to follow. At first I thought he was deliberately trying to use class-room esoterics to confuse me so that I would not be able to intelligently answer his question. But then, to my surprise and great delight he concluded his thoughts with the following question.]
“Jesus and the apostles are said to have worked miracles. Therefore, since you teach your people that the Bible is true, what do you say to your parishioners who ask you why we do not see miracles today?”

This professor thought he was dealing with a dispensational cessationist, a person who believes the Bible but also believes miracles have ceased. This cessationist base is a weak position on which to stand in the face of an articulate liberal philosophy which sees it as an illogical and irrational religious hypocrisy. They conclude that if miracles don’t happen now, they never did.]

My response to this proferssor shocked him and the whole class. I answered, “We teach that the Bible is true, that Jesus died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and is alive today, and that He has given us His Holy Spirit as His living and active presence with us. Therefore, when people ask me why we do not see miracles today, I tell them, ‘Hang around here a while, and you will see one!’”
You could have heard a pin drop as I proceeded to share testimonies of healings and miracles that I and others in our church had either witnessed or been a part of. I gave examples of supernatural healings, exorcisms, and examples of the workings of the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12.
The same students who had scorned Nancy’s testimony before were now sitting there silent and amazed. Suddenly one of them spoke up, addressing the professor. “The way it looks to me,” he said, “you’ve been talking only theory and words. These guys have been out doing it.”
I know there were still some skeptics in the class, but our boldness to share the truth along with real-life examples seemed to embolden those timid souls who secretly believed, but who had previously been afraid and too intimidated to speak up.

The professor then surprised me as he addressed the class. “This has truly been our most fascinating class yet.” He then turned to me and said with a subtle sadness and sense of regret, “I wish you had been my pastor when I was a kid.”
It seemed to me he was saying, “I am set in my place and position now, and I don’t see how I can change now, but if I had heard these things in my younger days, I might have taken a different road.”

Certain principles were impressed upon my mind as I left that classroom. I saw very clearly the power of the truth, the reality of the Word of God and how it penetrates the heart when spoken with confidence that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit who confirms it to the hearers.

I saw the blindness of the world and the emptiness of philosophy. Intellect can be impressive, but devoid of spiritual life it is so empty. It does not touch the needs and hearts of the common man.

I also saw the weakness of silent, impotent Christians who do not speak up. That segment of the class had remained "invisible" when Nancy had been scorned for her belief. But upon hearing our message, they were emboldened to speak up.

I also saw the folly of mixture. Some of the students in that class believed some of the Bible, but not all of it. Therefore, they had no real authority on which to base any argument or belief. To be selective with the Bible is to make yourself the authority. Therefore, you have no authority on which to base anything. When human reason is the final authority, we end up with millions of ideas and no real grounds or authority for any of it.

I have witnessed with my own eyes the reality of the scripture. I have seen people healed through prayer. I have witnessed the miracle of a broken back healed instantly. I have witnessed a young man healed instantly of severe and advanced cases of asthma and emphysema as he was prayed for. I have cast demons out of people and witnessed the same effects as those described in the New Testament.
When given a chance, the Bible will come alive and prove itself true. I therefore, choose to believe Moses, the apostles, and those saints who have given us the Bible. I prefer to believe the written account of those eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus rather than putting my life and trust into the hands of modern unbelieving philosophers who speak out of their own intellectual arrogance and emptiness.

“[We have]…so great a salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Hebrews 2: 3-4.
“And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…” Acts 4:33
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to take heed as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1: 16-21

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Never Give Up, The Father Comes to Help

After you read this, scroll down and watch the accompanying video.
I have received so many responses from people telling me they wept as they watched the Derek Redmond video below. Why does it have this effect on so many of us? First of all, the anguish and disappointment in the young man's face is heart-wrenching. Also, the determination of his loving father to help him finish the race is deeply moving.
But I think it touches us so deeply because subsconsciously we identify with this young man. Most of us don't see ourselves finishing the race so strong and proud as those who sped across the finish line up front, but rather we see ourselves stumbling, broken, limping, and often crippled, and finishing the race because our Father in heaven in His great love and mercy towards us has come to pick us up and help us along to the finish line, holding us in His arms.

These Bible verses seem very appropriate here.
"If I say, 'My foot slips,' Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me Your comforts delight my soul."
"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us." 1 John 3: 1.
"Now unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and forever, Amen."
Jude 1: 24-25.
"Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith..." Hebrews 12: 1-2.

"...He will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." Romans 14: 4

I encourage you to watch this inspiring video.
Billy Long

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Pews

Over the years I have occasionally drawn cartoons for church newsletters. Below are a few from the past. Many of the characters are actually caricatures of real people whom some of you may recognize. You have to know the people to fully appreciate the humor.










Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Manifested Presence of God

John 15: 19. “A little longer, and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me...”
Rev. 1: 10-17. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice as of a trumpet…And I turned to see the voice that spoke to me…and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength…”
1 Cor. 15: 3-8. “…He rose again on the third day…and was seen…by Cephas…by the twelve…by over five hundred brethren at once…and after that He was seen by me also….”


To see or not to see?
The natural man comprehends God in the same way as a blind and deaf man would view a brilliant sunrise or listen to beautiful music. He would be oblivious to the wonders around him no matter how brilliant the sight or how loud the sound. The revelation of God works on the same principle. The person who has a heart after God will see or hear Him in the smallest sign, while the one who has rejected God in his heart will see nothing or explain it away, no matter how powerful the Presence or how obvious the miracle. Jesus said that no sign would be given to an evil and adulterous generation. He hides Himself from the proud but reveals Himself to the humble and to those who seek.


It is amazing how those who reject God can close their eyes to His manifested presence.
The Pharisees knew first-hand that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. They witnessed with their own eyes the awesome effects of this miracle on the people around Bethany and Jerusalem. They responded by plotting to kill Lazarus (again) and silence his testimony.
The people of Israel trembled before the presence of God on Mt Sinai, and yet at the foot of this very mountain they made a golden calf and fell into idolatry.
Jesus rebuked certain cities where most of His mighty works had been done because they had refused to repent even in the face of such powerful evidence.
Jesus told of the man in hell who begged “Father Abraham” to send someone back from paradise to warn his brothers not to come to “this place of torment.” His argument was, “If one goes to them from the dead they will repent.” The Divine response was, “If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets (their Bible) neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
The lesson is clear. The heart of man determines how he responds to God’s presence and initiatives. If he is inclined toward God, he will see the evidence and embrace the Lord. Otherwise, he will remain blind.

God’s Presence Has Implications for us.
People often resist the presence of God because of the significance of its implications to them personally. The presence of God automatically shines a spotlight on our own nature. The more clearly we see God the more clearly we know ourselves. This is one reason for our tendency to keep God at a safe distance away. When He shows up we are forced to face certain realities in our lives. The manifested presence of God automatically creates a consciousness of our responsibility to respond to Him. If He shows Himself and we see Him, then we have lost our excuse for not seeking, serving, and obeying. The more silent and distant God is, the more we feel we can in good conscience ignore Him. But when He shows up we are forced by His very presence to say “yes” or “no” to Him. Nominal Christians and people who are spiritually unresponsive are threatened by the manifested presence of God because it disturbs their complacency. And complacency is another form of saying “no” to God. To know Him greatly means to follow Him deeply. If He “stays away” then I can be lukewarm and live my life without being bothered. But if He shows up, I am then forced to deal with where I am in my relationship with Him.

Stephen was stoned because God showed up. The power of God was on Stephen so strongly that his words could not be resisted by the council before whom he stood. When stubborn and rebellious hearts encounter the irresistible words of God at this level they cannot remain neutral, and they cannot hide underneath a cloak of pretend and complacency. Unable to resist Stephen’s words, they had to either receive his words or kill him. They chose the latter. They actually stopped their ears, and shouted loudly as they ran at him and stoned him to death. On a side note, we should take note of the fact that the ones who resist God the loudest may be the very ones whose hearts are being pierced by the word God is speaking.

What is the attitude of churches toward the presence of God?
In many cases the attitude of churches can be described as follows. They want the Lord to be present; but they want Him to behave. They want Him close enough to keep watch, but not close enough to be seen. They want God to be generally and mystically around but not specifically and pointedly obvious. They want Him to move in a general sense quietly and unnoticed over an audience of passive spectators waiting to receive a warm feeling as they focus on what is happening up front on the platform.
Pastors want God to be present in the church, but are often afraid of the risk involved in letting God show up in His people. They want God to work, but they don’t want Him to use people. They are afraid of what might happen if the Holy Spirit is free to work through people in a supernatural way. Therefore, the agenda and programs tend to quench the working of the Holy Spirit. It is "safer" to prohibit than to learn from experience and actually lead.

We stand and pray for God to move among us and we appeal to people to take initiative and be spiritually aggressive, while at the same time we create an atmosphere that prevents both. We quench the Spirit, and we do not allow people to really express themselves. We want God to act, but within our pre-set parameters. We want people to act, but only in our pre-cast organizational slots that exist to serve the institution. In other words, we ask God to show up and people to function, but in reality are afraid of both.

We should hunger for His presence.
Since I was a teenager I have never been able to understand why people who know and love God would not be passionately hungry and desirous to see Him and His works. Why would we be afraid of the miraculous visitations of His presence in our gatherings or out in the streets as we tell people about Jesus Christ who was crucified for our sins and who is now alive and working among us by the power of the Holy Spirit? Why would we not be willing to take the risks involved in learning to be vessels to whom He can reveal Himself, and through whom He can reveal Himself to a world that so desperately needs Him.

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…to make Your name known to your adversaries.” Isaiah 64: 1-2.
“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness…and with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was on them all.” Acts 4: 31, 33


Click on the Youtube song below to hear a beautiful worship song about the glory of God's presnece.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Cat and the Rat

“I have not been alone in hearing… that God is moving His people …from a focus on self, personal healing and individual blessing to a focus on demonstrating the power of the kingdom of God beyond the walls of the church for the sake of all those Jesus came to save.” -a quote from Sanford article in Charisma Magazine.


Cat and Rat

When I was just a kid we had a yard cat that should have been out hunting mice, but instead, was always sitting at the screen door meowing and whining plaintively, “begging” for someone to let him in the house. “Meow, meow, meow!” he cried. Translated into English this means, “Let me in. Feed me, pet me, help me, comfort me, make me happy. I want to go inside where it is comfortable and safe. I don’t want to face the world outside.”

My Dad hated for a cat to sit at the door begging like that. So he pushed the door open, and shoved the startled cat out onto the carport. As he walked past he said, “When I get back, I am going to haul you off to the shopping center.” He fully intended to get rid of the cat.

About an hour later, I heard a commotion beside the corn barn at the edge of our back yard. I turned my head in time to see about 15 or 20 squawking chickens flapping their wings, jumping in the air, and scurrying in every direction to flee the water hole that had formerly been a mud-wallow for a few hogs. And among those chickens I saw that cat in the middle of a back-flip somersault a couple feet in the air. I ran over to see what was happening and found the cat locked in mortal combat with a large wharf-rat that was as big as the cat. Most of us have seen how a cat will often toy with a mouse, playfully tossing it into the air until he is ready to eat it. In this case, however, the rat had tossed the cat into the air.

I watched this battle until the cat finally killed the rat. He crouched over his prey and maintained a firm grip on the dead rat, as he looked up at me with blood flowing from a big cut running across his entire face. His expression almost seemed to say, “I did it! Thank God I’m still alive!” He then proceeded to eat as much of the rat as he could. A couple other cats wandered over and joined the feast. There was rat to go around, and rat left over.

When my dad learned of this event he decided to keep the cat. There was no trip to the shopping center, and the cat’s lifestyle changed dramatically after that. It was as if he had understood my dad’s threat to “haul him off.” He never again sat whining at the door, and every few days he would drag up a dead rabbit, or rat, or bird and lay it on the carport, as if to say, “I’m still on the job.” The cat, with that ugly trophy scar across his face, stayed with the family a few more years until it died of old age.

The "Door" of the Church
As Christians we tend to be like that cat. In our focus on self it is easier for us to “sit at the door” of the church seeking our own comfort and self-fulfillment, rather than facing the tasks and challenges associated with reaching out to people in the real world. We often fear getting involved in the spiritual battle that is involved in the advancement of God’s kingdom.

Contemporary culture surrounds us with things that look good, sound good, taste good, and feel good, things that are fun. We want to do what pleases us--- DVDs, movies, TV, Music, video games, sports, and various amusements. We don't want to face what is difficult, demanding, and tedious. We often expect rewards and fruit when there has been no effort or labor. And then we carry this over into our walk with God, expecting Him to bless us, help us, comfort us, etc, without our enlisting to serve Him and His purpose. We want the blessings of the kingdom without the travail and labor involved in the spiritual walk. We avoid anything that causes discontentment, inconvenience, adversity, or pain. We subconsciously think everything in our spiritual walk should be fun, convenient, and focused on “me.”

We expect our meetings to entertain us and not be unpleasant. We want positive messages that do not challenge us. This tends to produce a large crowd of superficial and shallow Christians sitting as spectators enjoying the performance up front. It seems that the multitudes are not attracted to depth and substance but to glitter, show, and celebrity. They run to the latest thing, the newest thing, and to what gets the most PR. They go after the latest trends and those things that feed their fancy. Church becomes either a buffet or fast food which makes us “fat,” rather than the family meal which provides real nourishment, strength, growth, and spiritual substance.

A crowd is a good thing when it is made up of real disciples who want to know and follow Jesus, but a crowd is not necessarily a good thing, when the self-centeredness of the people is indulged, and when they are not confronted with truth nor helped to see themselves or the purpose of God. I believe that the Lord does want to bring us in and set us on His lap and embrace us with His love and kindness, but I also think He wants us to quit sitting at the “screen door” and to boldly face the challenges and “giants” that await us as we conquer the land with the message of the kingdom of God. Otherwise, as one friend of mine said, "I'll see ya'll at the shopping center next week."

2 Timothy 3: 7 “I have fought the good fight.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

When Disillusioned by People and Life

DISILLUSIONMENT
The term "disillusionment" means to be freed from illusion and no longer be misled or deceived. Disillusionment can be helpful because it forces one to face reality. It is beneficial to see truth and be freed from misconceptions, but the term also has a negative connotation when it describes one who has been enlightened to some disheartening reality. It refers to the disappointment that accompanies the enlightenment, to the paralyzing effect that it can have on a person's will to act, and to the discouragement that comes with discovering the disappointing truth about someone in whom hope and trust were placed.

Disillusionment becomes a problem when a person does not respond to it correctly, when he overreacts and becomes overwhelmed by it. If it is not handled in the grace of God it can cause one to become cynical and bitter, to quit trusting people, and even to question God. Disillusionment, taken to an extreme, causes people to enter into another form of illusion— seeing only the negative and the bad. It is good for a person to see reality, but he who sees no good is no longer in reality and has moved from naieve idealism to the misconceptions and deceptions of skepticism and cynicism.

The person who is disillusioned needs to be encouraged to believe that truth and integrity do exist, that not everything nor everyone is false. He must be encouraged to learn from experience and grow in discernment so that he is not misled again. He must hold to the good and discard only the bad. He must stand in faith and walk on in obedience.

Psalm 73
Whether a person is disillusioned because he has been genuinely disappointed by some hope, or because his heart has perverted his perceptions of reality, 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— 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. The “dust” of life’s complications combined with the flood of negative input into our minds can harden our hearts and cause our understanding of the simple words of scripture to dim and fade from our spirit. Our answer is to sit at Jesus’ feet with God’s word and listen to the Holy Spirit. David did this, and his conclusion was, "I have put my trust in the Lord God."