Sunday, April 29, 2012

Billy, Stop Humming.

Panic Disorder
No one knew the mental torment I was going through, and I managed to keep it hidden from my parents, sisters, and friends through all my years in elementary, junior high, and high school. The problem was a blend of some sort of panic disorder accompanied by an obsessive-compulsive disorder. I first experienced it in the car returning home from my tonsillectomy surgery. As the car approached our home at the crossroads in Longs, SC I suddenly felt different and strange in the head. I thought to myself, “Something isn’t right.” I was only eleven or twelve years old and did not have the maturity or vocabulary to explain this strange mental abberation to anyone. I suffered with the problem for another six years, and revealed it to no one until I told my wife Laurel when I was twenty-two years old.

The next major episode was a full-force attack while I was sitting in my sixth grade class room. I suddenly felt crazy. This weird, unexplainable consciousness came over me, accompanied by a physical reaction in which everything turned green for a couple seconds. Everything literally felt surreal. I immediately went to the teacher and said, “Something is wrong. I don’t feel right.” She called my Dad who picked me up from school and took me to our family doctor.

“What’s wrong today,” the doctor asked.
Unable to explain it, all I could say was, “I felt green.”
It is difficult for an adult and impossible for a child to describe what it feels like when the mind or consciousness goes into that surreal state. One person described it as “feeling separated.” But I could not communicate this to the doctor.
Turning to my father he said, “You know how kids are. They look for ways to get out of school.” So I went home suffering with a real malady that would silently torment me regularly and intermittently for the next six years, and no one knew about it but me.

Most of the time I felt normal, but these weird mental torments would occur intermittently and occasionally every day or so. I remember thinking, “I am going crazy. Everyone has such high hopes for me, but I am going to end up in a mental institution. Daddy and Mama and everyone will be so disappointed.” It was frightening and I did not know how to tell anyone about it. I did not know there was a name for the condition and that there were others who suffered with it. I was just a little kid who thought he was going crazy.

Compulsive Disorder
Then came the obsessive-compulsive behavior. It manifested itself in many ways, all of which were tormenting and inconvenient. I went through a phase in which I would compulsively hum some song or familiar tune at the table during the family meal. My father would look at me with a stern look and say, “Billy, stop humming.” I would immediately stop, but since the humming was compulsive and done almost unconsciously, a minute or two would pass and I would look over and see my Dad staring at me again, this time more frustrated. “Billy, I said to stop the humming.” My mother and Father saw the problem only as a bad habit. They had no idea the problem was deeper.

There were many other symptoms. If I ran around a tree or the old well in the front yard while playing with other children I would be compelled to retrace my steps back around the tree or the well. It was as if there was an imaginary line attached to my back and anchored to some other point of reference in the yard. I had to retrace my path so I would not tangle this imaginary rope or wrap it around the tree or the well. I could not walk past a door without stopping to look behind it. There were times I had to swing a door back and forth looking behind it ten or fifteen times before I could leave it. Everything had to be symmetrical. I could not let my shoes fall to the floor and leave them as they lay. They had to be side by side completely straight and parallel. I could not leave a piece of clothing or sock in the opening of a partially closed drawer. When writing I had to retrace any word or letter where the ink had skipped or was not as dark as the rest of the line, sometimes retracing a word or sentence many times. I don’t know how I managed to keep all of these problems hidden from family and friends for so many years.

Obsessive Disorder
The obsessive side of the problem attacked me most severely when I was in the tenth grade. That was the year I tried so hard to walk with the Lord and apply myself spiritually. I took my Bible to school. I studied it and shared my faith with others. But I found myself beginning to be tormented with obsessive tendencies. My thoughts began to race uncontrollably and run on their own, especially in the area of my Christian experience. I felt myself losing control and it scared me. As a result I decided to not be spiritually aggressive. I was afraid of going insane.

My eleventh grade year of high school, therefore, was my period of lukewarm Christianity, a time when I backed away from real spiritual activity. I was simply a nominal church member. I believed in Jesus, tried to behave, but was reserved about my walk with God. I survived the year, but decided I could not live a life without an intimate, real, and deep walk with the Lord. I did not want to live a life without God, but I was afraid that if I tried to be spiritually aggressive I would become obsessive again and go crazy. I had to have a supernatural answer. I decided to go directly to God.

On the Housetop
It was the summer before my senior year in high school. I was 17 years old. I came home one Saturday night and decided it was time to reach out to God for help. In desperation to get into His presence, I went outside and climbed on top of a storage house in our back yard. I lay on the roof, looked up toward the sky, and called out to God.

“Lord Jesus, You are God. I know You are there and You hear me. You know me better than I know myself. You know the struggle that I have been dealing with. I cannot live without You. But I don’t want to risk going crazy like when I tried to serve you before. Therefore, Lord, I need you to visit me, touch me, and give me an experience with you that will make me what I am supposed to be. And show me what you want me to do for you with my life.” I knew He was hearing the cry of my heart.

Jesus Reveals Himself
The next day I went into the woods and prayed. I remained isolated most of the day just reaching out to the Lord. Later that evening I was riding with my Uncle W.D. in his pick-up truck. I turned to him and said, “W.D., I think the Lord is calling me to preach. Then suddenly and powerfully, God answered my prayers. Jesus revealed Himself in that pick-up truck. He was there. The Holy Spirit moved in me and I was instantly changed and Jesus became so real, as if I could reach out and physically touch Him. In that moment He said, “That’s right. I am calling you to preach, and I am with you.” I began to bounce up and down on the truck seat and rejoice. The revelation of Jesus Christ in that moment transformed me.

W.D. stopped at the Dairy Maid, a hang-out for high school kids in the small town of Loris, SC back in the 60s. I jumped out of the truck and in my excitement ran up to some of my high school friends and began telling them, “I just had an experience with Jesus! He is real! He is alive! And He has touched me! And he has also called me to preach the Gospel!”

Jesus Healed Me
I knew from that moment that the Lord’s call was on my life. In the days that followed I began to realize that He had also healed me. The panic disorder and the compulsive-obsessive torments were gone. I was a new person. Jesus had become so real it seemed I could reach out and touch Him, and I was free from the mental vexations that had afflicted me for so many years. That was the beginning of a wonderful adventure in faith and walking with God.

There are some people who can ignore God and somehow live their lives with what appears to be relative ease. There are some Christians who appear to be satisfied and comfortable as lukewarm Christians. But there are also those for whom there is no “safe” area outside of God. Their choice is to walk with God or face disaster. I was among that group. To survive and live a normal life, I have to maintain my walk with the Lord. I recognize and appreciate the grace of God which has enabled every success and strength in my life. I also see so clearly the precipices, snares, pits, and helpless emptiness that would have been my portion had I not met Jesus Christ. He is truly my Lord and in its most real sense, my SAVIOR.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set a liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” -Luke 4: 18-19

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Word to Comfort a Friend

[Below is a re-print of a post I wrote in July 2009. It is a personal word that I shared with a friend who had been hurt by friends he loved and trusted. Obviously this word is not meant for everyone reading this entry, but there may be some of you to whom it will speak. –Billy Long]

During my prayer time this morning I was reading about Jeremiah’s “perpetual pain” (Jer.15:15-21), and realized this word is for you. I know there are no simple answers or quick solutions to the grief and pain you are experiencing. But I think the Lord has given me a word that will at least give a little comfort until you complete this particular phase of your journey into the Lord’s purpose for you.

I believe the Lord did lead you in the path you took. It was not a mistake. He sent you there because he knew your pure heart and good insight would allow you to see the realities of the situation. He also knew that your integrity would cause you to speak up rather than sit silent. He knew it would be difficult and painful. He knew that you would question your own motives and search your own heart and wonder if somehow you had failed. He knew you would do this because the humble and obedient tend to examine themselves more diligently than the rebellious and self-centered who usually blame everything on others. He sent you to represent Him in sharing the insight and admonition that those around you needed to hear. Whether you realized it or not, you were, in a sense, a prophetic voice into the situation. Your wounds, therefore, are the Lord’s wounds, and you carry them for His sake. The scars on the prophets’ backs were badges of honor to be held before the Lord. Part of your healing will be to realize that your scars are from wounds received for the Lord’s sake. They will not be festering, disabling, sores that sideline you.

Jeremiah said, “Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable?” Obviously this is what it feels like to you now and where you may be for a while. But ultimately you will not see these pains and bruises from the perspective of yourself, but as trophies borne as a result of obedience and being sent on a difficult mission for the Lord.

The thing you have been through may leave scars. But that is not necessarily bad. Jesus still carries the scars in his hands, feet, and side. They bear testimony to the work the Lord produced through His obedience. You will eventually thank God that He counted you worthy to be among those who suffer for Him in such a way.

Remember, it is no compliment when the Lord allows a person to have an easy life with no challenges. It is a great compliment and signifies the honor and confidence the Lord has in you when He gives you difficult assignments that don’t seem fair for you to have to bear. God requires more of those He loves. He asks more of those from whom he expects more. You have loved the Lord and have wanted to know and do His will. He has let you see reality. But Solomon said that with wisdom comes grief (Eccles 1:18). The more reality we see and the more insight God gives us, the more we will realize how “out of plumb” things are and how much “whitewash” rather than mortar is being used in the wall. Then when integrity forces us to speak up, we are attacked for pointing out the truth, even when presenting it humbly and in love.

So in summary. I know it will take a while to work through the pain, even as it was with Jeremiah in the verses referred to above. But when you see it in the light of what I have shared, you will let it take you to Jeremiah’s place of promise where the Lord ministers His grace, strength, and redemption.

This is not meant to be a cliché or quick-fix, but to encourage you to stand in faith until the Lord shines the warmth of His pleasure on you and rewards you with even more insight and spiritual substance as a result of faithful obedience and perseverance. As with Job, relief will come when God shows up and reveals Himself (as in Job 42) to celebrate with you your victory, and to reward you for passing your test while you were serving Him. If we see ourselves as His servants (i.e. we are serving Him and representing Him rather than ourselves) ultimately we will come through the fire without smelling like it. (Dan. 3: 24-28).

Billy Long

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Manifested Presence of God

[This article is a follow-up to the post immediately below it. I recommend you read both articles. -Billy Long]

“A little longer, and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me...”   John 15: 19.

 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice as of a trumpet…And I turned to see the voice that spoke to me…and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength…”    Rev. 1: 10-17.
“…He rose again on the third day…and was seen…by Cephas…by the twelve…by over five hundred brethren at once…and after that He was seen by me also….”  1 Cor. 15: 3-8.

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

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

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

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

What is the attitude of churches toward the presence of God?
In many cases the attitude of churches can be described as follows. They want the Lord to be present; but they want Him to behave. They want Him close enough to keep watch, but not close enough to be seen. They want God to be generally and mystically around but not specifically and pointedly obvious. They want Him to move in a general sense quietly and unnoticed over an audience of passive spectators waiting to receive a warm feeling as they focus on what is happening up front on the platform.

Pastors want God to be present in the church, but are often afraid of the risk involved in letting God show up in His people. They want God to work, but they don’t want Him to use people. They are afraid of what might happen if the Holy Spirit is free to work through people in a supernatural way. Therefore, the agenda and programs tend to quench the working of the Holy Spirit. It is "safer" to prohibit than to learn from experience and actually lead.

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

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

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…to make Your name known to your adversaries.” Isaiah 64: 1-2.

“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness…and with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was on them all.” Acts 4: 31, 33

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunger for God's Presence

When I was a child I marveled at the stories in the Bible. There was something in my heart that longed to see the manifestation of God’s presence working intimately among His people. I wanted to experience the Lord’s presence in the same way as did those people in the Bible. I especially remember sitting in a revival meeting in our Baptist church and feeling such frustration at how complacent and satisfied the people seemed to be. The Lord was with us; I knew that. But I felt so strongly He wanted to do more and that He would surely come if we asked Him. I decided to do something about it.

When the pastor gave the invitation at the end of his message, I walked up to him and asked if I could say something to the congregation. He stopped the music, asked the congregation to be seated, and stepped back so I could speak. I am sure he thought it would be a good thing and “safe” to let a sixteen year old boy speak to the congregation.

Everyone listened intently. I looked over the crowd and said, “I don’t think we as a people are really praying and asking God to work among us. If each of us would actually take time talk to the Lord before we come to these meetings, and ask Him to visit us, God would surely be here revealing Himself in some special way. I don’t know what He would do, but I know He would do more than what we are seeing here now. As we sing another verse of the song, I want those of you who feel the same way to join me up front, and let’s all kneel down here and ask the Lord to visit us.” The worship leader resumed the music, I knelt on the front row to pray, and about twenty-five or 30 people joined me. My heart rejoiced. People were responding. Something wonderful was happening. "Surely there will be a change now," I thought. "The Lord may visit us in a special way tomorrow night." I naievely thought the people would all go home and take some time to pray, and that the pastor would be so happy about what I had done.

I was disappointed the next evening when I saw that everything was back to routine and nothing had changed. I thought, “Obviously not many, if any, are praying at home, and no one seems really hungry to see the Lord work among us beyond this ritual and routine.” So during the invitational song I once again went up to the pastor and asked if I could say something. He very politely declined and said, “I think it is best if you don’t say anything tonight.”

My heart sank. I realized then that he was satisfied with things the way they were. He was not interested in God's “showing up” beyond the usual, and he especially did not want the congregation at the altar praying on their knees. He was afraid of what might happen, and he was not about to allow a 16 year old boy to instigate such activity.

But something happened a few months later to highlight the issue in my mind once again. During another revival meeting, a very well-dressed military man walked into the back of the auditorium during the meeting. I saw him bend over and whisper to a gentleman on the back row, who then arose and walked over to one of the families in the church and led them out to speak with this visitor. The pastor followed them out, and after a few minutes, he returned to the meeting, and stood before the congregation to share the terrible news. “The C___ family has just received news that their son’s plane has been shot down in Viet Nam, and he is now missing in action. Let’s all come up to the front and pray for God to save this young man’s life.” I watched as almost the entire congregation gathered at the altar area to pray.

I asked the Lord, “If this is the thing to do now, to break the routine, to gather in prayer to lift our voices together to cry out for God’s help in an emergency, why then do we not do it all the time? Why is it not a way of life? The world is full of emergencies and needs. People are always suffering everywhere. People are groping about and in need of God. People need the Lord. Why do we not sincerely and passionately call upon Him as part of our daily routine? Why is this not a part of our daily spiritual life as a people?” It blessed me to see the church in agressive and passionate prayer during this time of need. But my question was, "Why do we not thirst like this every day? Why do we not thirst to know Him?" To seek to walk intimately with the Lord daily, will this not strengthen our faith when we call upon Him during our times of need?

“Arise, cry out in the night, At the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children…” Lamentations 2: 19

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens! That you would come down! That the mountains might shake at your presence…” Isaiah 64: 1

“Oh God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no waer. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” Psalm 63: 1-2