Monday, December 26, 2011

Immediately below is Part Three in the "Facing Trials Redemptively" series.  You must scroll down to read Part One and Part Two.     -BL

PART THREE: A Matter of the Heart

”As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man.” Proverbs 27: 19

In commenting on the two previous posts a friend said, “Billy, I hope part three will include some REHAB.” His statement highlights the fact that it is easier to list problems than it is to provide solutions. “How To” books are generally disappointing to me. They give insights, inspire, and point in the right direction but are limited in their ability to bring us to full satisfaction in the results we anticipated. This is because the solutions lie primarily in the heart rather than mechanically following a list of steps. The heart, not the mind, determines our spiritual state. It is the heart that determines how a person perceives God, and how he deals with life, other people, and his environment. The mind is the battlefield, the mind can be blinded and confused, but it is a product of the heart. The disposition of the heart determines the revelation a person can receive, the clarity and accuracy of his perception, and the extent of his ability and willingness to change. The heart is the rudder of the mind.

A person can be enlightened by a simple presentation of truth when his deception is a simple matter of ignorance, wrong thinking, or not having access to the facts. Simple truth will correct the problem. But when error is a problem of the heart, the mind is deceived and will refuse to see the light, until the heart is surrendered and broken before the Lord.

A friend of mine having gone through a season of relational conflict complained to me that people had not forgiven him. I told him, “They have forgiven you, but they do not trust you. Forgiveness and trust are two separate issues. People will forgive you if you genuinely apologize, but they will not trust you unless they see brokenness.” (Brokenness is a humility in which a person sees himself, repents, and changes). My friend then asked, “What do I need to do to show them I am broken.” I responded, “I cannot give you a list of steps for you to mechanically walk through. The answer does not lie in outward behavior that might be only an outward and shallow act. To show them you have broken you must actually be broken (humbled and changed of heart). They must see a change of heart, otherwise they will instinctively sense you have only gone through a mental exercise of memorizing a list of outward steps that make you appear humble and changed."

Therefore, I am not promising to solve all the reader’s problems by giving him a “cure-all” list of things to do. But I do hope to give Biblical truths that will motivate and inspire. And if the reader has a heart after God and is open to the Lord’s voice, he may find a key that will unlock a door or gate leading to avenues of life and grace. He may receive a seed of truth that will grow into a tree of healing, blessing, and spiritual growth.

There is no “how to” book that will do all the work for you. The heart must be surrendered in faith and obedience before the Lord in order to receive the healing and life-changing word of God. A friend of mine wisely said, “You cannot lead a person past his heart.” The biblical principles presented on these pages are written to inspire and act as “triggers” or springboards for the obedient and surrendered heart. The words are simple and easy to understand but yet only the sincere and honest heart will succeed in comprehension and application.

In subsequent posts we will begin looking at Biblical principles that help us face life and trials redemptively.

“Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God…but exhort one another daily lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3: 11-12

“Let your heart retain my words…keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4: 4, 23

[Scroll down to review Part One and Part Two, the previous posts in this series].

Thursday, December 22, 2011

To read Part One and Part Two in this series of articles on "Burnt Stones" you must click "Older Posts" below.
-Billy Long

BURNT STONES -PART TWO

STANDING IN THE RUBBLE

"...The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are unable to build the wall."  -Nehemiah 4:10

"If a cat sits on a hot stove, he will not sit on a hot stove again. But by the same token, he will not sit on a cold one either."    -Mark Twain

Isaiah prophetically called our age the year of God's favor. This means that God is working by His grace to turn all things to good for those who yield to Him in obedience and faith. He sends the fire to purify. He allows trials in order to "perfect, establish, and strengthen." He applies the rod of discipline to train and to produce holiness. Even judgment itself, which generally represents punishment upon the wicked, is often God’s intense effort to effect repentance in the lives of rebellious people. God deals with His people in His love and wisdom, and intends for them to come through all things in better shape spiritually than when they started. It is man’s negative responses that hinder the plan and cause him to end up burned rather than refined. When men are inclined to rebellion and unbelief, when they do not have hearts to know God, they become burnt stones when they face the fires of life.

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

SYMPTOMS
Below is a simple outline listing numerous symptoms that describe these wounded veterans who no longer serve with joy and hope, and who have forgotten what it is to love and be loved by the people of God. They have decided that church is not a safe place, and so they remain at a “safe” distance from God's people, God's purpose, and often from God Himself.

Hurt
-grieving at the pain of loss, wounded by people they trusted.
-In shock because of some disappointment of hope, unwilling to trust again, and afraid to try again.
-See themselves as victims. They feel robbed.
-No longer willing to be vulnerable, and unwilling to be exposed to potential hurt.
They say, "I will not be hurt again!" This survivalist mentality is a form of self-centeredness and it produces the inability to risk obedience. The first motivation becomes self-protection or self-preservation which is a form of self-centeredness and a focus on self-interest. The obvious consequence is the inability to have a heart after God's interest. This represents a departure from the way of the cross.
(Mat.16: 24-25, Neh.6:10-14).

Unable to Trust
- Not trusting God or people
-Having lost confidence in God.
-Not trusting fellow-believers.
This ultimately is a loss of faith and trust in God. True faith in God must include the ability to trust His working with other people.

Withdrawn
-Superficial faith and superficial involvement with God’s people; withdrawn, independent,
-Detached and isolated. Separated from real church life, having drifted to the fringes and avoiding relationships.
-Drifting along and drifting away.
-Cautious and reserved in approaching God and other Christians.
-Withholding themselves from both God and man. The walls that protect also isolate.

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

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

Loss of Vision and Faith
-Failing to see and understand the sovereignty of God.
-Unbelief, lack of hope, lack of faith, lack of vision.
-Not understanding, not having the divine perspective.
When a person refuses to break and be obedient in the dealings of God, he will not be able to accurately interpret his experience. This lack of resolution will cloud his ability to see and understand God's plan.

When we are burned by the fire, we avoid those things which we perceive will get us burned again. We fall prey to isolation, self-protectionism, and a survivalist mentality. A person can not move forward in useful and fulfilling service to God while his life is controlled and directed by this perspective and disposition. One can not build the future while standing in the rubble of the past. The ground must be cleared of the rubble in order to face the future in faith, in obedience, and without fear. The first step in getting out of the rubble and clearing the ground is to clear our own heart. We must ask God to forgive us for our wrong reactions, find grace to forgive others, and then sit in the presence of Jesus to find renewed peace, joy, and courage.

There are many Biblical lessons and principles that help us to find that place of peace, joy, and purpose. It is possible to come through the fires of life without a negative complex and without smelling like the smoke of our last trial. We can be like the Hebrew men who experienced the presence of "the Fourth Man" (Jesus Himself) as they stood in the fire, and come through it with garments filled with the fragrance of His presence. I am reminded of the old hymn, "My Lord has garments so wondrous fine, and myrrh their texture fills. It's fragrance reached this heart of mine. With joy my being thrills."  When we hold to Him in faith we will diffuse the fragrance of His presence and life rather than the ashtray smell of the smoke from our last fiery trial.

Please visit again and look for Part Three in this series.
Scroll down below to read Part One.  - Billy Long

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The following post is Part One in a series of articles designed to encourage the believer to stand in faith and trust God in all circumstances. By engaging the Lord properly we can "come through the fire without smelling like smoke."      -Billy Long

BURNT STONES - PART ONE

"...The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."  Nehemiah 1: 3
"...Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?"  Nehemiah 4: 2

The drama of the church is often reminiscent of those scenes from war movies in which excited new recruits march toward the front lines while being met by weary veterans limping along bandaged and bloody, carrying their wounded, and still in shock from the trauma of battle. The new recruits move forward ready to conquer the world, while battle-weary veterans groan in the pain of failure and disillusionment. Multitudes start out in the Christian walk, everybody expects testing, they just don't expect it to be so intense and real. They expect victory without battle (naiveté and untested faith) or battle without victory (skepticism and unbelief). Untested faith and motives must inevitably face the refiners fire; and the disillusionments of time and testing can take a heavy toll on the lightheartedness of youthful innocence and inexperience. As a result many Christians tend to move over time and experience from the naiveté of the inexperienced novice unto the skeptical or bitter cynicism of the disillusioned veteran.

How many Christians do you know who sit “on the back row” hovering at the fringes of the Christian life? How many do you know whose lives have fallen apart? It's the spouse who has become spiritually defeated because of marriage conflicts. It is the pastor who feels he has been crucified by a rebellious flock. It is the Christian who has been abused or hurt by the church or by its leaders. It's the person who has been disillusioned and disappointed by his own failures and that of others and by the unexpected complications of life. Hopes held high in the beginning eventually dissipated in the midst of hard times, mistreatment, distresses, and sin. The experienced "veteran" is often the most depressed.

It is easy to find new Christians who rejoice in their new life in Christ, but how many seasoned and experienced Christians, after so many years and "miles," still retain that sparkle in their eyes, and still sing with the lightness and joy of a clear spirit and a pure heart unencumbered by the weight and baggage brought on by pain, conflict, and disappointment? They are out there, those seasoned veterans who know the joy of the Lord and who actually found it during the most difficult and trying circumstances. The Bible has many examples.

We marvel at the faith exercised by David as he killed the lion, the bear, and Goliath, but we should also marvel at the faith he demonstrated in facing mistreatment, conflict, failure, and God's discipline. We marvel at his faith in "slaying his ten thousands", but we should also stand in great awe at the faith which enabled him to patiently endure as he fled from Saul in the desert and which enabled him to wait in godly obedience until God placed him upon the throne of Israel. Rarely are our Christian brothers actually eaten by the lion or slain by Goliath, but they frequently fall in the wilderness while fleeing the "Sauls" of life, fall into bitterness facing "Shemei," (friends who forsake us), or succumb to temptation beholding "Bathsheba." Many who stood during the glory of victory over Goliath have fallen during their walk through the dark valleys of God's discipline.

Notwithstanding a few stumbles, David managed to stand through it all. He began his career as a youth filled with faith, courage, and a song. He endured, even wrote Psalms, during the dark days, and served the purpose of God in his generation. He ended his career with an abiding faith tested and refined in the fire, an enduring courage seasoned in the struggles of life, and a praise song tempered and enriched by both mountain peak and valley pit. The apostle Paul is a similar example. He exhorts us to attest to our servanthood by standing faithful to our Lord and Master as we pass through the wide spectrum of contrasting experiences—by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, in victories and in what appears to be failures (2 Corinthians 6: 4-10).

Many people never make it through these alternating changes and fluctuations in life. They are made desolate by the tests that sneak in the back door while they are guarding the front door. We must be faithful in good times, but we must also stand in faith and patience, with perseverance and endurance in the difficult places of life, such as...
(1) Mistreatment, which can leave us grieving, wounded and in pain.
(2) Conflict, which can leave us hurt and angry.
(3) God's discipline (which is meant for good) but which can leave us "black and blue" and
     spiritually disabled if we stiffen our necks and refuse to break.
(4) Failure, which can bring shame and disgrace.
(5) The evil day, which causes us to discard faith and to feel forsaken.
(6) Disillusionment, which brings despair when we are disappointed by people or some hope in which we trusted.

Many Christians (through these trials) have become desolate, spiritually disabled, and  "burnt stones" lying in the rubble of what they once thought could never be moved or shaken.

Burnt stones lie as a broken-down monument to some past tragedy and testify to a loss of vision and lack of hope for the future. Nehemiah described the ruined city of Jerusalem as being in great distress and reproach, with its walls broken down and its gates burned with fire. Glorious dreams and great expectations of its prophetic destiny had seemed to go up in smoke and scatter to the wind. Although the temple had been rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Ezra, the walls and gates of the city were still nothing more than shattered ruins and heaps of rubble with stones burned, torn down, broken, and scattered. This picture of desolation is a fitting description of those who have been derailed and sidelined from the mainstream of God's plan for their lives. Like the city Nehemiah came to rebuild, the temple is there, but the walls are down. Spiritually disabled and without vision, so many "burnt stones" lying in rubble, out of place, and dysfunctional. They have enough pulse to claim life but not enough life to enable usefulness in God's service.

Many of these wounded "veterans" expect to eventually recover their spiritual health and resume their normal functions in the Lord’s service. Others, however, have resigned themselves to spiritual "nursing homes." Their primary goal is to survive and make it to heaven. Some, even more sadly, have quit altogether and, from their prisons of disobedience, find themselves questioning God and refusing active service in His kingdom. Instead of being willing and obedient, they now refuse and rebel.

[Part Two of this series is posted above].

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The article posted below is a reprint from January 2010.  I had the privilege and joy of witnessing the Lord's amazing work in the life of my grandfather. Many of our new readers may not have heard this wonderful story.  -Billy Long

PaPa's Miracle When He Faced the Truth

Tharon Hardee was my maternal grandfather. The grandchildren called him Pa Pa. In 1964 he was in his seventies and a member of the church, but living a life inconsistent with his Christian testimony. I was 15 years old at the time, and remember sitting in Pa Pa’s family room and listening intently as my mother, her sisters, and brother expressed to him their concerns about his eternal soul.

“Daddy,” they told him, “we are worried about you and are concerned that you are not walking with the Lord as you know you should.”
“Why, Jesus is my all in all,” he responded emphatically, and acted surprised that they would question his behavior. He was not ready to admit the truth about where he was, and it seemed that the discussion had no apparent effect. He continued his life doing the things he knew were displeasing to the Lord.

A few months later on a Saturday evening while I was at my weekend job of steaming oysters at a local seafood restaurant I received word that Pa Pa had had a stroke and was in critical condition, and that I should go immediately to Loris Hospital where the family was gathering. I entered the emergency room just as they were pushing him down the hall. As his bed was rolled past me he looked up at me with distress in his eyes and with heavily slurred speech said, “Billy, pray for me!” This cry told me that in his heart he knew the reality of what his children had been trying to tell him. Facing death, he had to also face the truth.
“Okay, Pa Pa,” I said as they rolled him past me and on to treatment.

He was in the hospital for about three weeks, but finally recovered enough to be sent home. He was alive, but the stroke had left him unable to walk. The family decided I should sleep at my grandparents home at night in order to help my grandmother care for him. I would lift him up off of his bed every morning and literally carry him to the little cot that had been placed in the family room where he would remain all day. In the evenings I would go back to his house to resume my duties helping my grandmother. How well I remember going over to that little cot each night, lifting him up and carrying him in my arms, and placing him in his bed where he would sleep for the night. This routine went on for about two weeks.

Then one Saturday his nephew Carl came by to pray for him. He read 2 Chronicles 7: 14, and the verses leaped from the pages almost like an audible word from God to my grandfather. Every word seemed to be a word directly from God. They described him perfectly, stating the problem and the solution. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Carl read the scripture, said the prayer, and then left. Pa Pa, sitting alone on that cot with those words echoing in his heart, looked up to the Lord and took Him at His word. He repented and turned his life over to the Lord in that very moment.

A few minutes later, my mother received a phone call from my grandmother saying, “Jessie Lois, Tharon wants you to come here now.” When Mama and I walked in, we saw Pa Pa sitting on his cot crying. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked up and said, “Lois, the Lord has restored to me the joy of my salvation,” and then after a pause, he continued, “And I think He has healed me, too.”
Mama then shouted, “Well, get up, Daddy!”
He immediately arose and began to walk. He was crying and laughing at the same time, and rejoicing in the overwhelming knowledge of God’s forgiveness, joy, and healing. I still remember him walking out the back door and circling the house a couple times with arms lifted, praising and thanking the Lord for his healing. My mom and I immediately called the rest of the family to tell them of the miracle.

Pa Pa was a new man after that. I remember being with him when friends from his past who had not heard of his transformation would come up to him and make some crude comment or some reference to his past life. He would get a very serious and stern look on his face. “I don’t do that anymore,” he would say, and then explain to them that he was walking with the Lord now and that his life had changed. I watched him love the Lord and walk with the Lord until the day of his death about two years later. Whenever I would visit him during those two years he would always ask me to pray for him and with him before I left. Often at night I would sit with him and read to him from the Bible. Those are precious memories. I had witnessed his years of hypocrisy, and then had the joy and privilege of witnessing his wonderful healing and the transformation which came to him when he faced reality and was honest with himself before God. We can all learn a lesson from this.
“But...the good ground are those who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patient endurance.” Luke 8: 15
“Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts…” Psalm 51: 6

You can make a comment by clicking "comment" in the line below this article. Or you can email me at blong8@sccoast.net .   -Billy

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Our self-centeredness often blinds us to the eternal perspective and causes us to approach God like spoiled children rather than humble, obedient servants. The article I have posted below is a re-print of an earlier article from November, 2010. It shares some important lessons about our need to trust God’s love, wisdom, and timing in how He apportions our responsibilities and dispenses our rewards.    -Billy Long




"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

Saturday, October 8, 2011

FAILURE?

“And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’” Matthew 11: 2-3

“Did I miss it?”
Sitting in a dark prison awaiting his execution John began to doubt himself, his message, and his work. “Are you the One or do we look for another?” he asked Jesus. He wanted to know if he had wasted his life in a pointless and now painful exercise in futility or if he had genuinely heard God’s voice and accomplished a legitimate and divine task. Jesus responded by giving him honor and calling him “more than a prophet.”

We too are often faced with inexplicable and unexpected turns in life that cause great perplexity and  bring us to the verge of despair. We forget the significance of our purpose in God and do not see the hidden fruit of our labor. During these times we must not necessarily trust our sense of failure. Perceived failure may not be real failure.

Flawed, but Succeeding
David completed his course and served the purpose of God in his generation (Acts 13: 36) even though his life was not perfect. There were instances of failure and stumbling, yet he still went on to fulfill God's plan for his life. David's example shows us that God, while not condoning sin and irresponsibility, does factor in our mistakes, failures, and short-comings.  He is not surprised. "He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust" (Psalm 103: 8-14) and so extends great mercy and abundant grace.

A Matter of the Heart, Not a Matter of Competency
There are Biblical examples of those who actually failed in God's service, but their failures were indicative of heart problems rather than competency issues. King Saul is an example. He was disqualified and removed from the throne, not because he lacked skill at being a king, but because he did not have a heart to obey the Lord (Acts 13: 22). He failed at obedience and faith, and he refused to surrender to the will of God. The issue comes back to the heart. A person who is rebellious at heart will fail and then use his failure as an excuse to disobey even more. A person who has a heart after God may stumble but will get back up and persevere in his attempt to please God and do His will.

A Graceful Thoroughbread, a Bucking Bronco, and a Swayback Mule
God is the ultimate judge of success and failure. In one phase of ministry I felt I was riding a graceful and beautiful thoroughbred. In another phase I was riding a bucking bronco, tossed and thrown. A third situation felt like sitting on an old sway-back mule that could barely stand up. The first seemed to be a success, the second was a partial success and a partial failure, while the third started off slow and then gradually tapered off, a failure by human standards.

But things are not always as they seem. Man and God do not always esteem things the same, and the mysteries of His will are not always known to us. Therefore, we should do our best, but let God be the judge. Sometimes we succeed in God's plan while failing in our own, while at other times we fail in our own while succeeding in His. What we think is failure may not be failure at all. The same is true for success. Our goal should be to please the Lord and leave the results to Him.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."   1 Corinthians 15: 58

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PUFF AND BLUFF

[There are three erroneous approaches to the subject of Satan and demons. The first is the open and active involvement in demonic activity as in the occult, psychic phenomena, and the animism of primitive societies. The second approach is to deny their existence altogether. The third, and somewhat irrational, approach is that of Christians who believe in the existence of evil spirits because they read about them in the Bible, but who simply ignore the subject as if the evil spirits described in the Biblical examples somehow mysteriously faded into the background and do not relate in any real way to our contemporary society except to entice people to sin.
The spiritual realm as it is described in the Bible is real. The following article simply touches the subject in a matter-of-fact manner without giving any preparatory instruction. If we follow the Biblical pattern and model, we will present the subject in a balanced and proper perspective. But still it is difficult to make it palatable to those who reject the Bible or the spiritual realm.]      –Billy Long



The Puff Adder
When I was a young child I came upon a snake that frightened me. It coiled up, looked right at me with head raised and puffed up making a hissing noise. I started to back away, but a friend told me not to fear, that this was only a puff adder. It had no venom and could do no harm but was simply putting on a show to intimidate me. I picked up a stick and poked gently in the snake's face. The snake then employed a new scheme when it realized its strategy had failed. It flipped over belly-up and pretended to be dead with its mouth disjointed and tongue hanging out to the side as if it had been beaten to death. I took the stick and tried a few times to turn the snake back over to the normal position. But it wanted me to think it was dead, and kept flipping itself back over onto the belly-up position. Its fierceness was only a bluff.

The Girl with the Demon
A young girl was involved with a fellow who practiced Satan-worship. She had decided to leave home and run away with him. One of her friends, however, brought her to Laurel and me, hoping we could persuade the girl to change her mind.

As we sat in our living room I addressed the girl with these words: “We are living in a day in which there is much spiritual activity. God is pouring out His Holy Spirit and we are witnessing a visitation of God’s presence and a revival in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural presence of Jesus Christ in His church. But there is also an intensification in the realm of darkness which tries to counterfeit the working of the Holy Spirit. This counterfeit is seen in the surge of demonic activity in the areas of psychic, occult, and new age activity.”
I proceeded to tell the young lady that this rise in spiritual stirrings had created a great hunger in the youth of her generation, and that she was faced with a choice. She could turn to the Lord and experience the treasures He is making available, or she could follow her boyfriend in Satan-worship and enter the bondage and deception of demonic activity.

At that point in the conversation an unusual thing began to occur unexpectedly. As I spoke to her she began to twitch and tremble, and her eyes began to turn up in their sockets. Laurel and I looked at each other knowing that the Lord’s presence had stirred up a demon in the girl. I then told the girl, “What you are experiencing right now is an evil spirit that entered you as a result of your involvement with your boyfriend in Satan-worship. We are going to cast it out.”

The girl immediately held up both hands with clenched fists, and with a very angry and threatening expression on her face said, “Don’t bother me. There is no telling what I might do!”
I was surprised by this unexpected response. As I paused for a second Laurel immediately spoke to the spirit saying, “We are not afraid of you. Come out of this girl now!”

The threatening and intimidating expression on the girl’s face immediately changed from anger to fear and grief. She began to cry as she actually slithered out of the chair and onto the floor. The demon came out of her with groans and cries.

The spirit in the girl behaved in a similar fashion to that of the puff adder snake. It first tried to intimidate and frighten. But it came out of the girl when faced with the reality of Jesus’ presence and our knowledge of the authority we have in His name.

A Superstitious Couple
A few years ago I was talking with a husband and wife who were beginning to delve into witchcraft and who thought they had received communications from dead relatives. I shared the gospel with them, pointing them to Jesus, and telling them that the Bible forbids involvement in these occult activities because witchcraft is of the devil, and ghosts are not dead people but are in fact demons or evil spirits pretending to be dead people.

The enemy was angry that I had shared the truth of the gospel with this couple. Later on that day I was in my motel room working at my computer when all of a sudden a couple cans of tuna sitting on the microwave were thrown across the room and onto the floor. It was a spirit trying to frighten me and intimidate me into not sharing the gospel with this couple.
I was not afraid but felt the power of the Holy Spirit and the righteous indignation of the Lord rise up within me. I immediately stood to my feet and commanded the spirit to depart, leave, and not come back.

I immediately felt the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. I took a few minutes to praise the Lord for the truth of His word, for the efficacy of the blood of Jesus, and for the power and joy of His presence. I then went back to my computer and finished my work.

The Bluff
“Bluff” means "to deter or frighten by pretense or a mere show of strength; to deceive an opponent in cards by a bold bet on an inferior hand with the result that the opponent withdraws a winning hand." This is how the devil operates. He seeks to frighten and intimidate us. This strategy often works on believers who do not know the scripture, the power of God, and their authority in Jesus’ name.

We as believers need not fear. Christ has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into His kingdom. He defeated Satan at Calvary and stripped him of his power.
Satan can only rule over those who chose to serve him and follow him and his ways. To gain advantage and control over Christians he must use fear and discouragement, deception, accusation, and enticements to sin. Fear and discouragement lead to unbelief and disobedience. Deception leads astray into error, accusation produces guilt which hinders faith and confidence, and sin causes us to turn away from God.

But when confronted head-on and in the open, the enemy tries to bluff his way by appearing strong and threatening. But he knows he is defeated. He knows that we as followers of Jesus are victorious in our God. The main point that I emphasize in this post is that we need to know it.


Then the seventy returned with joy saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you authority…over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10: 17-20


Phillip went down to Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitude with one accord heeded the things spoken by Phillip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many…and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in the city.” Acts 8: 5-8

Friday, July 29, 2011

ADVENTURES IN SLEEPWALKING

Awake and Asleep At the Same Time
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, one night during my sleep I woke up in the air, shocked to realize I had just jumped off the bed. When my dad was a child he walked in his sleep one night and threw his bed mattress and sheets out the upstairs window shouting “Fire, fire!” while his younger brother, my uncle Norwood, watched and laughed at him.

It’s difficult to explain somnambulism to someone who has never experienced it. Sleepwalking is an unusual state in which a person is sound asleep and acting out his dream, sometimes getting out of bed and walking around. He is awake enough to navigate through his environment but still asleep and interacting with the imaginary delusions of his dream. I have done this many times in my younger days.

Running From the Wrecking Ball
A few years ago I attended a conference with a group of pastors. We rented motel rooms with double beds in order to reduce each man’s cost. My friend Ron was across the room fast asleep on his bed. I was asleep in my bed but having a vivid dream about one of those huge wrecking balls that demolition experts use to destroy buildings. It was about to be dropped from a boom that had swung out over me. In an effort to escape I stood up on the bed and leaped to the floor trying to get out from under it. But the boom followed me, and so I took a couple quick steps and jumped up onto Ron’s bed. I managed to step over him without stepping on him, but I woke him from his sleep as I danced over him in a panic, running from that ball which was still hanging overhead and following me around the room.

Ron yelled out, “Billy, what are you doing?” as he watched me jump to the floor and run around the motel room trying to get away from that demolition ball. I call out, “Ron! How do you make that thing stop?”

He had no idea what “that thing” was, but playing along with my dream, his immediate response was a clear and authoritative, “By faith, brother.” I immediately stopped in my tracks and said, “Oh!” And then very calmly lay down and went back to sleep.

The True Watchman versus the Sleepwalker
“All you beasts of the field, come to devour, all you beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; Dreamers, lying down, loving to slumber.” Isaiah 56: 9-10

“Watchmen” are intercessors who pray and do battle in the spiritual realm in behalf of others. They are supposed to be awake, alert, and standing guard while others are asleep. From their position on the wall they have a clear view of the surrounding area. They are able to see an enemy approaching from a distance and blow the trumpet to give warning to those in the city.

"Dreamers" refers to watchmen who have fallen asleep on the wall and are failing in their responsibility to pray effectively. The literal Hebrew refers to those who are raving or talking in their sleep. Their anxiety, caused by their neglect of responsibility, oppresses them in their sleep and causes them to dream they are performing their duties. These watchmen, instead of engaging the real spiritual battle in prayer, are fighting phantoms in their dreams—while the real enemy slips in through the breaches in the real wall and devours the city.

“Be sober unto prayer.” 1 Peter4: 7
The “dreamer” or “sleepwalker” is an appropriate description of the intercessor who is not sober.
Sobriety is sound judgment rooted in a right spirit. It refers to the ability to stay in the realm of reality. We maintain sobriety by being spiritually awake, keeping our hearts right, and maintaining communion with the Lord. This is especially important for the intercessor.

An unhealthy disposition can distort our insight and perspective. A bad attitude will hinder our prayers. Sometimes in the midst of problems and conflict we allow our spirits to be overcome by anger, resentment, bitterness, hate, disillusionment, and despair. These can lead to confusion and the inability to see clearly. We begin to pray out of strife or we ask amiss. We speak “words without knowledge” as Job did, or “call fire down from heaven” as some of Jesus’ disciples wanted to do, or we simply pray erroneously because our wrong spirit has caused us to incorrectly assess a situation.

Our self centeredness will cause us to lose the kingdom perspective, and our prayers will tend to reflect self-interest rather than God's interest. Our prayers will be motivated by our wants and wrong motives rather than a heart for God’s kingdom and purpose. Under healthy conditions we “see through a glass dimly,” but with a bad attitude we add confusion and distortion. An inaccurate perception of God and life does not help our prayers.

When we cultivate our relationship with the Lord, keep our hearts right, and keep our spirits clear of ungodly attitudes, God lifts us up above the dust and clouds of battle and gives us the divine perspective. This is sobriety. Our "instruments" are working and we maintain the ability to follow them (as an airline pilot in the clouds at night in bad weather). With a good heart we are more inclined to have a good perspective on reality. But in those times when we cannot see, when we are disoriented and do not understand, a right spirit will help us to engage in effective prayer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

He Would Have Passed Them By?

[Below is a re-print of an earlier posting. The story is full of spiritual implications, but I will point out only a few of them. - Billy Long ]


 "Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side...Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by."    Mark 6: 45-52

“He made His disciples get into a boat.”
The “boat” is significant because it represents a context from which we can not easily escape. The disciples, on that small boat in the middle of the sea, could not simply change their minds and walk away from the problems and issues at hand. They could not escape the process; they had to ride it out. The Lord desires to work deeply and significantly in our lives, but He knows that human nature wants to run from the fire and will attempt to escape if it has the option to do so. We would rather sin than suffer, and in the crunch we seek relief rather than the purpose and glory of God. We tend to be like the Psalmist who cried out, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” It is interesting to note that a "successful" escape leads only to “wandering” and to “the wilderness.” Wandering gives the illusion of freedom, and the wilderness gives the temporary illusion of comfort, only because it is less intense than the crucible God designed for our change and growth.

This explains the boat. He places us in a class room or training context from which we can not escape, by-pass, or take the easy way out, at least not with integrity and righteousness. This is a good thing. It shows that God loves us enough to work with us in spite of ourselves.

“He made …His disciples go before Him.”
Jesus promised to go "before His sheep" when He sends them forth, but here He commands His disciples to go “before Him.” This seems to be in contrast to the promise, and when it happens to us we are tempted to feel alone and left to ourselves.
But the reality is the opposite. The psalmist, in his dark hour, feeling forgotten and forsaken, and crying out daily with sorrow in his heart, came to understand that God was actually dealing bountifully with him. Sometimes our darkest moments indicate God’s most intense presence rather than His absence. We must remember that the disciples, although in the middle of the sea in a storm at night, were not really alone. Miles away and through the darkness “Jesus saw them.” With Him there is no darkness nor distance. God may be out of our sight, but we are never out of His sight. He saw them and went straight to them. They were not ignored by God. To the contrary, the whole experience had been designed especially for them. They were getting special attention. As one story goes, we see only one set of footprints not because He is not walking with us, but because He is carrying us.

“He…would have passed them by.”
This sentence requires more discussion than can be done in this short space. It represents a principle that Christians often miss. While there is such a thing as Divine resistance which is accompanied by the absence of grace, there is also an area in our training where we encounter what appears to be Divine resistance but which is actually the Lord’s desire to stimulate us to aggressive faith and prayer, to provoke us out of passivity and apathy, and to move us to the assertive and determined action of obedient children passionate to do His will. It is a place where we work together with Him through intercession and patient endurance. How often do we let the Lord pass on by because we think that is what He wants to do? How often do we interpret His apparent reluctance as a genuine lack of interest? We think He does not want to engage us and so we back away, drop the subject, and let Him pass on by. It is clear that Jesus never intended to pass by that boat. His heart was with those men. They were the object of His special care and focus at that moment. We should take note and learn from this example.

There are other Biblical examples of God’s children pressing into Him when on the surface it appeared they were encountering resistance. The two men on the road to Damascus constrained Jesus to stay with them when He made as though He would have left them behind and gone on further. The Canaanite woman cried out to Jesus and obtained healing for her daughter after Jesus had given her three negative (almost offensive) responses (that would have caused most of us to turn and walk away). In wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless bless me!”

I don’t fully understand this principle, but I do know that God wants us to “trouble” Him with things. Our quickness to let Him pass on by is not courtesy, but rather complacency, passivity, and spiritual laziness. Sometimes it reflects our low self-esteem. We think we are not worthy of His attention and help. But ultimately it reflects our lack of understanding of God’s love and desire to be involved in our lives.

“He made His disciples…go…to the other side”
Our destiny is the “other side,” which means we will make it through. We must not be afraid of the storm that comes on the way. Jesus will silence and still it as soon as its purpose is completed. The experience in the boat was to make them grow and to cause them to know Him at a deeper level. Peter even had the opportunity to walk on the water with Jesus at this time. So maybe our goal should be not simply to get to the other side, but to be at His side. Let’s not jump to the conclusion that the Lord does not want to be bothered, that He has better things to do. Let’s touch the hem of His garment and cry out to Him to abide with us. Let’s also cry out to Him as Peter did, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” We will find that He is not only present, but very present, "a very present help in time of trouble."

Biblical references for further study:
Mark 6: 45-52; John 10: 3-5; Luke 24: 28; Mat.15: 21-28; Gen 32: 22-32; Luke 11: 5-8; Lu 18: 1-5; Psalm 13; Matthew 14:22-32; Hebrews 10:19-23; Psalm 46:1.

Please click "comment" below if you would like to make a comment or share an insight, or you can email me at blong8@sccoast.net

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Bible Quiz: Just for Fun!

I have written a quiz to test your knowledge of the Bible. Choose the right answer(s) from the list below each question, and then read the Biblical reference to confirm your answer. You might enjoy taking the test. It's just for fun. But the Biblical references contain some serious lessons.
Billy Long


Gideon was…

1. A man who left Bibles in all the motels of Israel.

2. One of the judges who delivered Israel from the Midianites.

3. One of the neighboring kingdoms and a faithful ally of Israel.

Judges 6: 11-16

Lazarus was…

1. The city where Jesus lived.

2. A friend of Jesus who was raised from the dead.

3. A prophet who prophesied of Jesus’ birth.

John 11: 11-15, 12:1

The Apostle Paul was sent to…

1. North Dakota

2. The Gentiles

3. Jerusalem

4. Summer Camp

Acts 9:15;


While Peter was preaching in Cornelius’ household…

1. Everyone in the house mocked him.

2. Everyone in the house was filled with the Holy Spirit.

3. His sermon lasted so long a little boy fell asleep and fell out the window.

Acts 10:44-48


When the Lame man at the temple gate asked for alms...

1. Peter took up a special offering for him.

2. Peter and John healed the man.

3. Peter rebuked the man for turning God’s house into a den of thieves.

Acts 3: 1-9


When Stephen preached to the elders, scribes, and Sanhedrin council…

1. He was preaching a trial sermon so they could vote whether or not to hire him as the pastor of their church.

2. 5000 people were saved and baptized.

3. The people stoned him to death..

4. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 7:51-60


Jonah was in the belly of the whale…

1. 40 days and 40 nights.

2. 3 days

3. Four score and seven years

4. No one knows the time or the hour

Jonah 1: 17


Ananias and Sapphira were…

1. Characters on a TV sit-com

2. The high priest and his wife

3. A husband and wife who lied to the apostles and dropped dead.

4. Gem stones that were popular in Israel

Acts 5: 1-14


Which two sentences are in the Bible?

1. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

2. Little children keep yourselves from idols.

3. Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.

4. It takes one to know one.

1 John 5: 21; Galatians 6: 7


Joseph and Mary went to Egypt because…

1. They wanted to visit with Moses.

2. They were warned by God to flee King Herod who wanted to kill the baby Jesus.

3. Egypt was a favorite summer vacation spot.

4. They went there to be taxed according to the Caesar’s command.

Matthew 2: 13


Which of the following is NOT in the list of miracles performed by Jesus?

1. He walked on water.

2. He healed the sick and raised the dead.

3. He turned stones into bread.

4. He multiplied fish and bread.

Matthew 4: 1-4


Which three of the following were NOT among the original 12 disciples?

1. Peter

2. Andrew

3. John

4. Larry

5. LeRoy

6. Barnabas

Matthew 10: 1-8


Which of the following books is NOT in the NewTestament?

1. Philemon

2. Titus

3. Hebrews

4. Gone with the Wind


What was Jezreel?

1. A Hebrew folk dance

2. A city in Israel

3. Ahab’s domineering and idolatrous wife.

1 Kings 21: 1


Sodom and Gomorrah were…

1. A wicked husband and wife who were turned into pillars of salt.

2. A famous brother and sister band who sang in the temple.

3. Cities that were destroyed because their wickedness was so great.

Genesis 18-19


Moses’ brother and sister were…

1. Aaron and Hur

2. Sharon and Hem

3. Aaron and Miriam

4. Todd and Luretha

5. Acquila and Priscilla

Numbers 12: 1-16


Balaam was…

1. A donkey who spoke English

2. A donkey who spoke to a man

3. A man who tried to curse Israel for money and was rebuked by a donkey.

Numbers 22-25


Jethro  was…

1. Uncle Jed’s nephew

2. Moses’ father-in-law

3. Half of the singing group “Homer and Jethro.”

Exodus 18:1

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thank You

I am grateful for all of you who visit this site, and especially those of you who visit on a regular basis. I now have visitors from all over the United States and from many countries around the world. I would enjoy hearing from some of you and getting to know who you are and where you are from. It would be a great blessing to me if you would write me at the email address below and introduce yourself. Thank you so much.

Billy Long    blong8@sccoast.net

Friday, June 24, 2011

“My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me.” Daniel 6: 22


“Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth…I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure…. He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” Daniel 6: 26-28

“…I was delivered out of the mouth of the Lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.” 2 Timothy 4: 17-18

“The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” Psalm121:7-8

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16: 33

"The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; Though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident...For time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock."  Psalm 27: 1-5



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some Thoughts to Clarify the Previous Two Posts

A good friend presented some questions after my last two posts. Below are some thoughts to help clarify some of the points I discussed.

I have re-read my recent posts dealing with God’s judgment, and I am comfortable with what I what I presented, given the context in which it is given.

The first motivating thought in my post is that there is a God, as opposed to the Atheist who thinks God does not exist and that He is irrelevant to earth’s events, and as opposed to the deist who thinks God simply walked off and left us to ourselves. There is a God who manages the affairs of earth, and we must acknowledge and call upon Him.

When I say “nothing is out of His control” I am saying that nothing is “out of control,” that is, God is not helplessly standing by watching.

I would not make a blanket statement saying bad weather is God’s judgment. The weather is like everything else in life, some of it is good, some of it is bad, some of it is a blessing from God, some of it is an attack from the devil, some of it is Divine judgment, and some of it is simply mystery. I do not say that people who are experiencing bad things are being judged (See my “Icy Hot” post), although sometimes bad things do indicate reaping and judgment. But I would also add that sometimes bad things happen to innocent people like Job. But we should not be afraid to face the fact that God does at some point send judgment on iniquity.

Life is too complex to blame everything on God or on the devil. Discernment and compassion are necessary before we start making presumptions and judgments about other people. But I do feel that our nation is headed into judgment unless there is a national repentance or a sufficient amount of intercessors to stand in the gap  (Gen 18:16-33; Ezekiel 22: 30).

The kindness of God leads us to repentance. That is God’s first approach, and He is patient and longsuffering with His kindness. But when we do not respond to His kindness, there does come a time when He disciplines His children to help them along (See “Goodness and Severity of God” post). There also comes a time when the judgment of God does fall on a nation or people when iniquity reaches its fullness.

My opinion is that we would be a bit arrogant to think that our nation does not deserve judgment. It is this awareness of potentially impending judgment that awakens and stirs the intercessors to arise, pray, and stand in the gap. If we see no potential for judgment, then we see no urgent need to “sigh and cry because of the abominations” as Ezekiel said in chapter 9.

I believe in the “Goshen principal” (Exodus 10: 22-23; Zephaniah 2: 3) in which God hides and protects His people. I pray that my household and God’s people will live in “Goshen” in the days ahead. But I think also that there are times that the righteous may suffer to some degree along with the rest when judgments fall on a nation. Daniel and Ezekiel both were taken into captivity with Israel; and there must have been some righteous people in Israel who went into captivity with the others. If an economic crisis hits our nations, we will all feel it, including the church. Although, I think the church should ask for and believe for the “Goshen” experience.

I do see pestilence, sword, famine, etc as instruments of God’s judgment in scripture, and that He used them on Israel and other nations.

I think a “plague” can be a judgment on a nation in a general sense, but not necessarily on the individuals. For instance, an epidemic of AIDS might be judgment on a nation in general as a result of its rampant promiscuity, but not necessarily a judgment on every individual with AIDs since many innocent people have contracted the disease.

The “Euroclydon” post speaks to the same audience in our nation that Amos or Joel spoke to in their books. So I do believe God sends judgments, and I do believe sin will bring judgments. But I don’t believe everything bad is a judgment of God. I do think the topic is too complex to cover all the bases in a short post.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Merciful God, not Dispassionate Nature

In a recent posting (see below) I suggested that God is trying to get our attention. The calamities and natural disasters that have been occurring so frequently and intensely should cause us to fall on our knees and cry out to God for mercy and turn to Him in repentance and faith. In the late 1800s there was a major earthquake that hit Charleston, SC. People in the Longs community 120 miles away from Charleston were unfamiliar with earthquakes and many of them rushed to my great-grandfather’s home to find out what was happening. They responded by reaching out to God in prayer. Over the following decades they gathered every year at the little country Methodist church on the anniversary of the earthquake and thanked God for His protection and mercy. They acknowledged God and turned their hearts toward Him in that hour, and continued to do so for years afterward.

When I listen to the news and hear of the intense natural disasters, severe earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, fires, floods, hurricanes, in addition to all the economic disasters that appear to be coming, I prefer to believe in a personal God calling us to repentance than to think that the earth is on its own and going crazy and out of control with “no one at the wheel.” If these things are simply nature, then we are in big trouble with no real solution. Man has no power over nature gone awry, but He can call upon a merciful Heavenly Father who is able to save us. Divine judgment, even though fearful, at least implies a living and personal God. Otherwise, we are at the “mercy” of cold, impersonal, and dispassionate nature.

God is real and involved in history and in the affairs of earth. I cannot believe that He is sitting idly by and indifferent to all that is transpiring. The Bible says that He administrates times and seasons, each to its fullness, with a view toward eventually summing up all things in Christ. This means He is involved in the affairs of mankind. He determines the boundaries and times of nations, and not one sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge. Since God loves the world so much that He sent Christ to die for our sins, we must know that He is involved in the affairs and management of earth itself, and His involvement implies and necessitates action on our part.

Gather yourselves together, yes, gather yourselves together...before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger comes upon you! Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth… Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.   Zephaniah 2: 1-3

Now learn of the parable of the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—even at the doors! …But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Matthew 24: 32-39

And is shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Acts 2:25

"And Then Came Euroclydon!"

[This post accompanies the article posted above.  -Billy Long]

“When the south wind blew softly, supposing they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea they sailed close to Crete…but not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon…and all hope that we should be saved was finally given up.” Acts 27: 13-14.

The above verses describe the journey taken by the ship on which the Apostle Paul was traveling as a prisoner to Rome. The journey began peacefully with a warm, calm wind and beautiful weather. But then came Euroclydon, a tempestuous storm that destroyed the ship, and which would have taken the lives of all who sailed on it, had not Paul been there to hear from God and guide them to safety. A peaceful start followed by the storms of disaster is also illustrated in the examples that follow.

The prophet Amos lived in Judah, but was sent by the Lord to the northern kingdom of Israel. The nation was in idolatry and going through empty religious motions in their walk with God as they experienced a false sense of security bolstered by a time of prosperity and national optimism. The “south wind was blowing softly” and in their complacency they were “at ease” and unaware of the judgment of God that was looming on the horizon. “Euroclydon” was coming.

The prophet Amos warned them as he proclaimed “the end has come.” But in their self-satisfaction, comfort, and prosperity they did not believe him. Nevertheless, within 40 years the Assyrian army invaded and carried them away into captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah remained, but the northern kingdom of Israel was no more.

A little over a hundred years later the prophet Joel spoke to the kingdom of Judah. The nation was experiencing a great economic crisis caused by plagues of “chewing locusts, swarming locust, and crawling locusts.” These creatures had invaded the land like an army and had devastated the economy, stripping trees and crops, laying bare the vines and fields, cutting off the wine, the grain, the fruit, and the oil. The water brooks had dried up and the land mourned. The people thought the worst had come. But into this context the prophet Joel stood up to proclaim that the current devastations were only warning “tremors” compared to the real judgment that was to come if they refused to repent and turn back to God. The big “earthquake” was the Babylonian army that would later invade and carry them away captive.

We as a nation have lived in relative peace, plenty, and prosperity. We have been secure thinking we were exempt from the troubles that plague the rest of the world. For us “the south wind has blown softly.” But recent national and global events have created a sense of apprehension and fear. We have seen how helpless we really are in the face of the power and fury of nature. 911 reminded us how vulnerable we are to human wickedness and to those who have malicious intent towards us. We witnessed hurricane Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Hatii, plus other catastrophes and strange weather and natural phenomena that have taken multiple thousands of lives. These events came suddenly and ferociously upon people who for the most part were at ease and not suspecting any danger. Even now we see conflicts and distresses around the world, governments gone crazy with spending and debt, and the ominous clouds of severe global economic crisis. For the first time in contemporary history, Americans realize that these plagues can come to our own doors. For the first time we have the sense that our government itself will also be helpless to aid us.

We have “sailed” with the warm “south wind blowing softly,” and in that place of prosperity and security we have as a nation turned our back on God, laid aside His written word and the godly values taught in it. We have called evil good and good evil. We have honored the wicked and persecuted the righteous. We have killed millions of babies in the womb, and rejected God’s word regarding morals and lifestyle. We have continued in our religious ritual without stopping to really touch the living God our creator and Lord.
Is it possible that God may be trying to get our attention?

In his storm at sea, the Apostle Paul arose with a word from God that saved everyone on his boat. Maybe the church in this season should touch God in the same way, and arise as a light in the darkness and speak a word of salvation to a generation that is beginning to feel the insecurity of a threatening storm.

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7: 14.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lawless Hands May Grab, But God's Hand Rules

“For…you have known my soul in adversities, and have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy.” Psalm 31: 7-8

The following paragraphs are intended to help us see that God’s hand is the undergirding “moving sidewalk” that is constantly carrying us forward in His purpose even when the enemy and circumstances try to point us in the opposite direction. Lawless hands may “grab” us, but God’s hand rules. We must see ourselves in God’s hands rather than victims of those who mistreat us.

Whose Prisoner?
“…I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you…” Ephesians 3: 1
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner….” 2 Timothy 1: 8

The apostle Paul did not take on the role of victim nor did he rail against those who placed him in chains. Focusing upon them would have depleted his spiritual life leaving him bitter and frustrated. He counted himself a "prisoner of the Lord" not of the Romans. And his enemies, without realizing it, sent him to the very city (Rome) to which Jesus had told him to go (Acts 23:11). His epistles from the Roman prison are in our Bible today and have been read by millions. Though he was bound, the word of God was not bound. His testimony is a poignant reminder that we are in the hands of God, not in the hands of those who afflict us.

Who Sent Joseph?
“But the patriarchs, being envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him.” Acts 7:9
“He [God] sent a man ---Joseph--- before them, who was sold as a slave.” Psalm 105: 17

Joseph’s brothers sold him to traders who carried him off to Egypt in chains where he served as a slave and was unjustly accused and imprisoned. His “owners” and masters controlled all the decisions for his life. They “hurt him” and had no regard for his God, yet unwittingly sent him to the very position of which God had spoken in the prophetic dreams of Joseph's youth.

“God sent me.”
“But now, do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45: 5

Had Joseph focused on the cruel acts of his brothers and masters, he would have developed the victim mentality with all its self-centeredness, ungodly attitudes, and deficiencies of character. He would have been overwhelmed with bitterness and anger. He might have written a book with a sad ending about how he had been mistreated and sent to Egypt as a slave. He most likely would have committed adultery with Potiphar’s wife and wasted away in prison.

Joseph, however, did not focus on those who mistreated him. His business and call was higher. On the surface it appeared that his brothers in cruelty had sent him to Egypt, but the truth is that God sent him to save his family and a nation, and to settle his people in a place where they could grow and develop until God was ready for them to enter the promised land 400 years later. Lawless hands had “grabbed” him, but God’s hand ruled.

In Whose Hands?
“Him, being delivered over by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, and have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” Acts 2: 23-24

“Lawless hands” were at work with malevolent intent grabbing Jesus to crucify him upon a cross, and yet beneath it all was the hand of God delivering Jesus over to his determined purpose. Here is the mystery of God's sovereignty. The actions of wicked men against an innocent person were turned to the purpose of God and to the salvation of the world.

Oppressed people tend to see only the “lawless hands” that mistreat them. The result is loss of  faith accompanied by harmful and ungodly attitudes. Jesus, however, kept his heart toward the Father's plan knowing that the redemptive hand of God was at work to fulfill the greater purpose of God. The enemy's plan backfired. Christ became the crucified lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and He was raised from the dead as our Lord and Savior.

We are in the hands of God.
The sovereign hand of God undergirds and holds us in spite of the “lawless hands” that work against us. His hand is the “moving sidewalk” on which we stand and which carries us forward even when it seems the enemy and life attempt to carry us backwards.

When we spend our emotional, mental, and spiritual energy on the "brothers" who "threw us into the pit" or the "Romans" who "threw us into prison," we make ourselves their victims and their prisoners. But when we engage the Lord, surrender to Him, and stand in faith with a right spirit, we experience the grace and power of God working all things together for our good and to His purpose.

We may not always be given the most comfortable route. The Apostle Paul might have preferred to go to Rome on a wonderful Mediterranean cruise ship with the bountiful buffet meals and lively entertainment. Joseph may have preferred to go to Egypt as part of a family vacation, a group tour of the Holy Land with all the first-class accommodations and helpful tour guides followed by a first class excursion to Cairo. But each man’s journey was painful and in chains. They took the way of the cross and drank the “cup” of suffering on their way to the joy set before them and to the fulfillment of a purpose which was greater than themselves and their comfort.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.’ So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying '…I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you. Now please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your fathers.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them. ‘Do not be afraid, for I am in God’s place. But as for you, you meant it for evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive…and he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50: 15-21

Monday, April 25, 2011

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.


The Cat at the Door
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.

The Fight
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."

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

BUT THE ROOSTER WAS FIERCE

“…I have fought with wild beasts at Ephesus.” -1 Corinthians 15: 32

Paul Law’s Message at the African Pastors’ Conference
The Kenyan pastors sat enthralled as Paul Law told them of the time he was surprised by the fierce growl of a lion crouching in the bushes in front of him near his missions ranch in the Congo.
He had been told that the creature had left the area, and so he considered it safe to look for the remains of a cow the lion had previously killed and dragged into the bushes. But now the threatening roar announced the presence of the beast.
Paul stopped in his tracks, and without turning his head was about to quietly give instructions to the three companions following behind him. They, however, were not there. They had already fled to the truck leaving him alone with the lion. He carefully and slowly walked backwards keeping his eyes in the direction of a possible attack. He made it safely back to the vehicle to find that the two men who reached the truck first, had jumped in, shut the doors, and locked out the third fellow who was now lying in the back of the truck in the fetal position.

The conference pastors sat on the edge of their seat as Paul proceeded to tell how he and his brother David returned later and killed the lion that had become a threat to their children and livestock. Contrasting his faithful brother with the men who had fled in fear, Paul spoke of the strength drawn from friends who stand with us in the battle and in our times of trial. It was a moving and powerful message.

When Paul finished his message, after a short break it was my turn to speak.
I looked at the group of pastors and said, “Paul Law has told you of the time he was face to face with the lion. I am going to tell you about the time I was attacked…” At this point they leaned forward to hear what harrowing tale I was about to tell. I proceeded, “I am going to tell you about the time I was attacked… by a rooster!” The audience began to mumble asking each other, “Did he say ‘rooster'?” And then the whole place “cracked up” as these African pastors all began to laugh. To them a rooster is nothing to fear. A rooster is food, not a predator. It was only a rooster, but it was fierce to me.

I was an eight or nine year old boy at the time, and to me the event was very traumatic. My Aunt Maggie’s old “flogging” rooster came charging at me jumping up trying to claw me with those sharp talons. He was not one of those little bantam roosters, but a full-grown, combative, big barnyard boss, almost as big as me. I picked up my cousin’s old rusty B B gun and used it as a bat. Every time that rooster jumped up I would swing that rifle down on his back and knock him back to the ground. I should have swung sideways and hit him up side the head, but I was too afraid to think of that. I struggled for a few minutes until Mrs Grace Gore, an elderly lady passing by, saw my plight and saved me. It was not much to brag about. I was attacked by a chicken, and rescued by an old lady, but the battle was real to me, and she was a beautiful woman on that day.

"...For if they fall, one will lift up his companion."   Ecclesiastes 4: 10
Both of the above stories illustrate our need to have brothers and sisters to stand with us as we face the issues and trials of life. But even more importantly they remind us that we should be vigilant in our walk with the Lord so that we are “there” spiritually for those who depend on us and who may need us in their hour of need. Often I have prayed, “Lord, I want to stay in that place where the heavens are open to me, and I can call upon you in faith as I pray for my wife, my children, my friends and all those for whom I am to stand in the gap. I want to be among those who pray 'Thy kingdom come,' and it represent a real force in bringing your kingdom, rather than just the prayer of rote that so many simply recite." I want to cry out to God in faith for those who are searching, serving, or suffering, and to actually encourage and strengthen them rather than locking myself in the safety of the vehicle while others are left outside to fight or die alone. We need to stand with those who face the “lion,” but we should not despise the struggle of those who face the “rooster.”

“But we don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf…”  2 Corinthians 1: 8-11

Suggested reading: Ecclesiates 4: 8-12; Luke 22: 28; Ezekiel 22:30; 2 Timothy 4: 9-18; 4: 16-18

Friday, April 22, 2011

If There Are Snakes In There, There are Fish In There!

The Surprise Attack
My son Reuben and I were working in the yard one summer’s day a few years ago and stumbled upon a nest of bumble bees hidden in the ground beside a storage shed out back. Bumble bees are normally non-aggressive and mind their own business, but they will attack with a vengeance if anything disturbs their nest. Reuben and I backed away, but our dog saw an adventure and fearlessly began to bite and snap at the buzzing creatures as they flew out of the hole to defend their nest. This was the dog’s first experience with bumble bees, and she was enjoying it immensely --- until she received a couple well-placed stings. She was not expecting this. The startled dog cried out with a loud yelp and took off running as fast as she could around to the front yard and out of sight. She had learned her lesson. She found a quiet place, lay on the ground, and began licking her wounds assuming the worst was over.

The Bumblebee did not play fair.
When things calmed down I returned to investigate the nest. Suddenly, one lone bumble bee came flying out of the hole and right towards me. I took off running as fast as I could toward the front yard hoping he would give up if I ran far enough away from the nest. Nevertheless, when I looked back, I saw this bumble bee at eye level about 3 feet behind me, closing in, and only a couple seconds away from stinging me. Then all of a sudden he inexplicably turned away from me, made a sharp right turn, and went straight for the poor dog lying quietly in the front yard minding her own business. Instantly I heard the dog give another loud yelp as the bumble bee stung her again. The dog then jumped up and ran off into the trees to hide in the bushes. This second attack was an even greater shock than the first one.

Snakes are fun?
This same dog used to catch snakes. She would come running up into the yard with the snake’s body hanging out both sides of her mouth and flapping around as she jumped about playing with it. Her prey had been limited to harmless garden snakes, green snakes, and rat snakes. She had never met a bad snake and so her education was not yet complete. I knew she would one day run up on a copperhead which would disillusion her and drastically change her approach to snakes.

I came home one day to find the dog listless and moping about with her snout swollen up as big as the rest of her head. She had finally met up with a Copperhead thinking she could play with it, and kill and eat it as easily as she had done with so many with other snakes. Again she had learned a hard lesson. Henceforth, whenever she found a snake she would bark and growl, but keep her distance. She would not avoid them, it was her nature to be aggressive and to fight, but now she did so with a little more knowledge and wisdom. She was never bitten again.

Religion versus harsh realities
The dog was caught completely by surprise in both instances, not expecting any real pain or problems other than the fun of the game. Are we like that? What about you? Were you expecting a toaster oven for joining? Were you expecting a tour of duty in Hawaii rather than warfare in the spiritual battlefields of the world? Did you expect the enemy to be fair and play by the rules? Did you expect your Christian friends to be perfect and never disappoint you? Did you expect no surprises, no enigmas, no anomalies? Did you not realize that you might “wake up” one day to say “Oh God, what happened to me?”

John the Baptist may have felt this way as he sat in a cold, dark prison awaiting his death and questioning his whole life and ministry. He sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one or do we look for another?” Jesus sent encouraging words letting him know that things were progressing according to God’s plan. The snake may have bitten your foot, but we are crushing his head. John had done a great work, he had prepared the way, and now Jesus was demonstrating the kingdom of God through miraculous signs and wonders. Jesus at that time also reminded the multitudes that the kingdom is not about men in soft garments, nor religious people acting like children sitting in the marketplace playing religious games and pretending while the real world and reality passes all around them. “The kingdom,” He said, “suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” We get real bruises and real hurts, but we stay in the battle.

Because we have confined our spiritual realities to the inside of the four walls of a church building, and placed God behind our religious traditions, choir robes, and candles, it is hard for many to see Him in the harsh realities of everyday life. This is one of the reasons why it is so easy for people to ignore God in real life while checking-in with Him on Sunday morning and then inviting Him to the funeral so they can get into heaven if it should happen to exist. Maybe that is one of the reasons the Old Testament had so much blood and sacrifice. People were reminded constantly of life and death and the fact that their spiritual life was intimately tied to the harsh realities of the every day real world.

"If there's snakes in there, there's fish in there."
When I was a teenager my friend Mr. Arthur Harrelson and I went fishing in the black waters of Woods Lake just off the Wacamaw River. We paddled with one hand and fished with the other as we slowly maneuvered our small, two-man boats through the moss-covered cypress trees and river oaks in the water along the edge of the lake. A tree had fallen over into the water and was lying on its side with half its branches under water and half above water. We slowly guided our boats toward the tree and aimed our hook and line to catch fish that were surely lurking in its branches underwater. The branches and limbs above the water were loaded with snakes, and I kept hearing “Ker-Plop” and “ker Plop” as I watched many of them drop into the water as our boats approached. Suddenly, I heard splashing and looked around to see that Mr. Harrelson had gotten out of his boat and was wadding waist deep in the black water. He was moving toward the tree and leaning forward with his hook and line dropped into the midst of those limbs.
“Mr. Harrelson!” I said, “What are you doing? There are a lot of snakes in there!”
Never taking his eyes off his cork, he replied, “If there’s snakes in there, there’s fish in there.”

Mr Harrelson was willing to face the snakes to catch the fish, and he caught more than I did. The same is true in our walk with God. The battle is real and the enemy is real.Therefore, we should not play games and pretend, but neither should we be afraid and shrink back because of the realities. If the “snakes” are there, the “fish” are there. We should be of good courage and bravely go forward expecting to be more than conquorers through Christ Jesus. The spiritual battle is real, and often difficult and painful, but we will succeed as we continue in faith and patient endurance placing our trust and confidence in Jesus Christ our Lord.

“…I have fought with wild beasts at Ephesus…” 1 Corinthians 15:2

“..in all these things we are more than conquerors than through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37