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