Tuesday, May 29, 2012

FAILURE?

[Many of you read this article when I posted it in October, 2011. I am printing it again here because it is an appropriate follow-up to the previous post dealing with "Handling Failure."   -Billy  Long]


“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

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Handling Mistakes and Failure


Peter's Examples

"Get thee behind me, Satan"   -Matthew 16: 16-17, 22-23

We learn through our mistakes if we remain humble, teachable, and entreatable. At one moment Peter received a great revelation from the Father; the next moment he was influenced by the enemy. In one moment he was praised for his insight; the next moment he was rebuked for speaking without knowledge. Experiences such as these helped Peter to grow in discernment. If Peter and the other disciples had to learn through their mistakes, how much more should we expect to do the same? Instruction and discipline are the way of life. We should not be surprised and ashamed when we need them.

"Lord, let us build three tabernacles..."   -Luke 9: 33

Peter stood in the glory of God and, even there, spoke foolishly. The Father had to silence him and move Peter's focus back to Jesus. It is a mistake to think a person is infallible just because he has been in the glory of God's presence. Experiencing the miraculous and the supernatural does not guarantee that a person's every thought, idea, and response is accurate. God uses imperfect vessels. Likewise, if God uses a person in one area, that does not make him perfect or an expert in other areas. Once again Peter learned from his mistakes.

"Lord, bid me come."    -Matthew 14: 24-31

Peter was nervous about taking the risk. Therefore, he did not say "Let me come" walking on the water, but rather, "Command me to come." The clear commission removes the fear. At His command we can go forward in faith. And even if we, like Peter, begin to sink we can still rejoice that we were going to Jesus in faith as opposed to staying safely in the boat with those who never fail but who never accomplish anything either.
When Peter began to sink, he did not drown in failure but called out, "Lord, save me!" God is more pleased with those who stumble attempting to walk on water than with those who remain safely in the boat.

"I have prayed for you..."   -Luke 22: 31-34, 60-62

Jesus did not rebuke Peter for the denial that was to come, but rather encouraged him and prayed that he would respond properly, repent, and come through it in faith rather than giving up and quitting. Jesus wanted him to come through the situation strong and able to strengthen others.

Your ability to strengthen and encourage others does not come from your never failing, nor does it come from your always being strong, but rather from your ability to break and "turn again," to repent and appropriate grace when you have failed or have sinned. Don't let faith fail when you fail.

"The Lord turned and looked at Peter" at the very moment Peter was denying Him. Considering the context, this is one of the most precious sentences in the Bible. The sovereignty and love of God are revealed in this glance. That look was not one of condemnation, but of mercy, acceptance, and encouragement. God had providentially orchestrated the events of Jesus' trial so that Jesus would be able to turn and look at Peter at just the right moment. That glance came at the perfect time to encourage Peter and remind him of Jesus' words— "I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."

"...What diligence it [godly sorrow] produced in you,..."   -2 Corinthians 7: 8-11

What will you do with your shame? Just be embarrassed, or be broken and turn to the Lord?
Often people are humiliated but not humbled. We must find godly sorrow and not the "sorrow of the world." Worldly sorrow can be a form of self-centeredness and rebellion. It causes us to wallow in self-pity, to remain in the pit, and to stay stubborn before God. Godly sorrow causes us to arise, to depend upon God's mercy, and to appropriate His transforming and enabling grace.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

LOOK AT YOUR NOSE

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” -Genesis 1:1.
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead..." -Romans 1: 20.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the expanse of heaven His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." -Psalm 19: 1-4.

Life is infinitely too complex to have come into being randomly and by itself. There are so many interdependent systems that are necessary for the existence of life on earth; and the degree of refinement, accuracy, and perfection in the coordinated performance of all these operations necessary for life are too complex to exist apart from design. They are independent yet dependent and interdependent, and their functions must be exactly precise and with perfect timing. These dynamics testify to the existence and reality of God.

I see the reality of God in many simple, subtle, and yet so obvious aspects of life that we often take for granted. For example, look at your nose. It is located in a most beneficial and practical place on your body. The nostrils point down so you don’t have to cover them to keep rain from falling into your sinuses. It is just above your mouth so that the sense of smell can work together with your sense of taste to help you enjoy your food. I can think of other more unpleasant places your nose could have been located. Your ears have their own little “satellite dishes” on the sides of your head to help capture sound. Your eyes are in recessed sockets to help protect them. They are located in the front of your head so you can see where you are going. Your feet point in the same direction as your eyes. The size of our moon, its distance from the earth, the tilt of the earth’s axis, the distance of the earth from the sun: If you change any of these in the smallest degree you will end life on earth. This is also true of the numerous systems that operate in the human body: Skeletal, circulatory, reproductive, pulmonary, muscular, neurological, etc.

Life is just too orderly to have come into being without design. Everywhere you look you see evidence of design. The necessary interacting, interdependent, and coordinated operations of the systems required for life, from biological to geological to astronomical are so exact and precise that it is impossible for life to have developed on its own by chance.

And what about sex? I could rest my case on that point, but will continue my thoughts. Male and female. In terms of species development the world could not have seen reproduction without the complete and fully developed male and female. If you could have reproduction without these, then there would have been no need for male and female. So how could this have possibly evolved---two separate systems made to be completely separate and absolutely compatible, and yet totally interdependent with neither being able to carry out the reproductive function without the other? There would have been no births, no reproduction without fully developed reproductive systems. “SOMEBODY” had to design this, and it had to begin fully functional.

This law of “irreduceable minimums” eliminates the possibility of evolution. Scientists have discovered that there is no such thing as a “simple cell” to start with. [Just get a scientist to explain the complexity of the DNA in any single cell]. I recently saw a documentary on TV in which a scientist described the complexity even in the single-celled amoeba. Too many complex, separate, yet interdependent systems have to be in operation at the same time for life to exist. If you eliminate any one of them, life would cease to exist. In other words, for life to exist, all of these systems would have to be created simultaneously.

Evolution is a very awkward and yet convenient way for people to try to avoid God. Evolution itself is foolish, but if you do away with God, evolution is about the only thing you are left with to explain how we got here. So the very concept of “evolution” is a product of intellectual “devolution,” i.e., what you arrive at by default when you reject the reality of God. A few years ago I was reading a book in which the author had recorded his conversation with a prominent evolutionist. The evolutionist told him, “We did not evolve from anything. Life is too complex to have evolved, but I prefer to believe in evolution than to believe in God.”

I prefer to believe in God. It is more comforting to believe in God, that there is a power beyond and greater than our comprehension who created us as finite beings with limited capacity to understand the created universe, and who created us with no capacity within ourselves to comprehend or grasp the infinite realities beyond our created universe, but Who also desires to introduce us to Himself and take us beyond what we see and know. As the Bible says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him."

If there is no God, then we face the most depressing prospects, a meaningless procession of people heading into an eternal oblivion. But there is a God and this gives us hope for eternal life. The very issues raised in the paragraphs above echo the words of the psalmist who tells us that the heavens, the earth, and all creation testify to the glory and existence of God. This means that there is more to life than this life. This is only the beginning, not the end. To see and understand this, one must look up to the One who is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ our Lord who brings us to the Father.

"For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him." -Colossians 1: 16.
"For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. -Romans 11: 36.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Couple Testimonies of God's Help

Two dear friends responded to my last post about God's healing me of panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have printed their emails below. Each has a really good testimony of how the Lord responded to their cry for help.   - Billy Long

A Testimonial from Beth Tuggy
Hi Billy,
I really enjoyed reading this. I remember you sharing bits and pieces of this story when you would preach in NC. Hearing it all in chronological order spoke to my heart, mostly because I had a very similar experience when I was a child. So I could relate to the suffering and to the wonderful feeling of deliverance.

As child I was plagued with fear of dying, and I was obsessed with the topic of death. I was constantly afraid. Even words like bones, skeleton, disease or anything related to the topic of death would put me into inner turmoil. This all started when I was around 5 years old and continued until I was 17. I don't know why or where the fear originated. Often, and sometimes even daily, I would have those moments where I felt like I was not real and that I was just watching a movie. In those moments my brain would buzz and I would hear voices in my head chanting and tormenting me but in a language that I couldn't comprehend. I would lay awake for hours on end trying to think of all the sins I had committed that day, and I would ask for forgiveness over and over and still not feel safe. By the time I was 17 I felt so heavy with the burden that I was tired all the time and just escaped by sleeping my days away. My mom took me to the doctor that year and he diagnosed me with severe depression. She refused to believe the doctor, probably thinking that the diagnosis was a reflection on her mothering, and so she denied the issue.

I was truly alone in the struggle. I had probably prayed the sinner’s prayer a thousand times but it was always out of fear of death and not out of a real desire to follow Him and so it just didn't have any power. I started to believe that God wasn't real or that he really didn't care about little old me. However, after wrestling with my fears of Jesus and various doubts about God, I finally gave my life completely to Him and finally decided to trust Him with all areas of my life. I went forward in an evangelism event and the pastor prayed for me and I invited Jesus into my heart. The Spirit came over me and took that fear away completely. It wasn't something that I even asked Him to do but rather a natural result of a dead soul brought to life by the breath of the Holy Spirit. He breathed life into me I have never struggled with fear of death since then, although I still occasionally have "unreal" feelings and struggle with fear in general. I still have a ways to go in other areas of my life!

That day I felt as if a literal burden had been lifted and if I were to jump real hard I would just shoot up like a rocket. I felt kind of silly about the idea but I actually tried that in the privacy of my room, and much to my disappointment I didn't lift off! It really felt like I could have taken off in flight. For about a month I had a feeling of weightlessness. The voices have never returned and neither has the fear of death. I really believe that Satan's demons were tormenting me with this fear. When the Holy Spirit came on board they hit the road!

It is so wonderful to not be afraid of death anymore since that is a real part of life that we all have to face one day. I actually look forward to that day and see it more like a graduation into something far better. I can't wait! I felt compelled to share this story with you and you may share it with others if you feel like it would be an encouragement or bring glory to God. Say "hi" to Laurel for me.

Blessings on you,
Beth

A Testimonial from Tim West
Billy,
I can identify with this so well. I had the exact same thing happen with me when I was in the 7th grade. I was sitting in my English class and all of a sudden, I felt so strange and became very nervous and ended up passing out. After that, it would happen every time I was in a class and I thought the teacher might call on me. Up until that moment I had been such a ham. I would have been upset if she had not called on me.

From then until my junior year in high school, I became a total wreck. I could be in Sunday school with 3 guys, one of whom was my brother, and if the teacher called on me to read a bible verse, I would pass out. I would cut classes, have coughing seizures or whatever I could do to get out of the class. My junior year in high school, I was nominated for vice president of the student council and would have to make a speech in front of the entire 3000 students. I wanted to get out of it but the principal and advisors said I needed to do it for college transcripts etc. Being weak, I let them bulldoze me into it.

I prayed and prayed and prayed, asking God to take over my life and help me through this situation. I thought I was going to pass out during the assembly, and it was not until they called my name as the next candidate that God did something supernatural. When I walked to the microphone, I felt His presence as strong as I have ever felt it in my life. I was totally calm, and the peace of God which passes all understanding was exactly what I felt. I still don't like speaking publicly, but am no longer paralyzed by the fear. Thanks for this reminder of another thing that God has done in my life besides the obvious things.

Tim