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].