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.
“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
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.      ---Billy Long