Sunday, July 15, 2012

Poems from Experience

[A reprint of some poems I posted a couple years ago]

Just for fun I decided to include some poems I wrote. The first two I think are quite witty. The first one I wrote in response to mine and Laurel's kidding about my tendency to repeat myself too much. The second one I wrote in response to my struggles to change in areas that would improve my role as a husband. The other poems are of a more serious nature and share some spiritual insight gained from experience and Bible study.

Vain Repetitions
My emails will say hello, communicate, and engage.
They may even dazzle you with eloquence and prose.
Expert tools of grammar will be utilized on each page.
But no trite phrases, and no repetitions. No. None of those.
Your heart will be warmed by thoughts so expressed
In simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and other additions.
But in the end you surely will have confessed
The thing has a glaring absence of those redundant repetitions.
His heart and mind are drawn with words
Telling revelation, his schedule, truth, and no fiction.
Impressing that pretty lady with things he’s heard,
Messages fresh and new, but no nasty repetition.
You can trust what I’ve said, you can trust what I wrote.
Repetitions are over, in the past, no longer to offend.
You can believe the truth of this note.
Repetitions are gone. As proof I’ve said it again.

A Husband’s Struggle to Change
The apostle said he had the privilege to “lead about” a wife.
I guess I’ve been trying to do that all my life.
But still I’ve had to deal with pain and strife
of only being able to be “about to lead” a wife.
I think about it and study on it which is what I usually do.
But the problem is being able to actually follow through.
And it’s not like I’m trying to learn a lot of something new.
I’m having trouble nailing down a few.
I look pitiful after failing a few tries,
She looks frustrated and rolls her eyes
Still I manage to give a little surprise
When occasionally I stand to the occasion and arise.
But It seems my progress is only brief
Enough to give hope but not relief.
Such little faith is beyond belief
What can I do to prevent such grief
But now after so much time has flown,
Through labor and grace I have finally grown.
Significant fruit from seed that was sown.
Thank God my wife did not leave me alone.

The fires were hot and the waters were deep.
Would I drown or be consumed?
But I had forgotten how grace is reaped,
and life in Jesus resumed.
The weapons that pierce and cause us to bleed
and lay us in mourning and gloom,
No matter how fierce, still they cannot pierce
the pain and wall of the tomb.
For in that dark place, the light of His face
will show mysteries before unseen.
And all the bad will remain in the grave
while we are raised redeemed.

Held in deep contempt, and stabbed by eyes of scorn,
Heart broken and rent, with dignity stripped and shorn,
The honor that was meant, to others has been borne.
But God's favor is not spent; why should I then mourn?
He has not changed His intent nor the reason I was born!
Laid aside and forgotten, no one calls for me.
Bereft of my begotten, none upon my knee.
But He shall lift His hand, and a banner shall the children see.
They shall fill the land, and they will come to me.
For God's favor is not spent; why should I then mourn?
He stands by His intent and the reason I was born!

A tree stood before me thick with limbs and leaves all green.
Its branches were home, shelter, and food to birds and smaller animals unseen.
Its whole being, as if signaling to God, waved in the breeze.
And quietly shouted, "The kingdom of God is like these."
It is home, provision, and protection. It is God's rule, His love and care
to all who follow Him, love Him, and build their nests in there.

Billy Long

Friday, July 13, 2012

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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Running From God

“But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord... ” Jonah 1: 2

Jonah was instructed by the Lord to warn the wicked city of Nineveh of impending judgment. He did not want that task. He was afraid the city would repent, and God in His mercy would withhold the judgment they deserved. Jonah, therefore, decided to run away.
He boarded a ship headed to Tarshish, a city located on the far west end of the Mediterranean Sea, probably in Southern Spain near Gibraltar. To sail past this point would be to enter the vast unknown Atlantic Ocean. Jonah was going to a remote location that represented the point farthest from and most opposite to where God was sending him. He was fleeing the purpose of God and the very presence of God.

Jonah went down into the ship and fell asleep. Usually a person running from God is unable to sleep very well, especially during a storm. Generally speaking there is no rest or peace to the wicked, but Jonah was able to sleep. He slept to escape his guilt and to avoid praying. He could not pray as did all the others on board who feared for their lives. He was in rebellion and he knew what God would say. He was trying to forget what he had already heard. So he avoided calling upon God.

"Throw me into the sea"
Jonah probably saw death as a means of continued disobedience, just another, yet final, step in avoiding Nineveh. He probably assumed he could repent, die, and go on to Abraham's bosom. So he landed in the water thinking he would drown and be out of his misery. But instead he was swallowed alive by the whale.

“Expelled From God's Sight”
Jonah "woke up" to realize that he was not dead, but in a very dark, remote, and frightening place. As the whale descended into the depths, Jonah came to the realization of what it really means to be expelled from God's presence. He had been hurled into the deep like a stone and felt himself falling to the bases of the mountains. The mighty waters covered him with an intensity of distress. Jonah cried out in horror thinking he had been expelled from God’s presence.

Sometimes the greatest discipline God can mete out is to give us a heavy dose of the very thing we claim to seek in our rebellion. An appropriate judgment upon those who "flee from God's presence" is to be "expelled from His sight".

In reality, however, Jonah was under the discipline of a loving, yet determined, heavenly Father who had not forsaken him, but was allowing him get a taste of what he was asking for while simultaneously being placed back on track toward Nineveh.

The wicked mistakenly think it will be a relief to get away from God, but it is a most awful terror. It is a cold, hopeless, and fearful place. How relieved Jonah must have been to discover that he was still alive and in the hands of God, and to know that he had not descended into Sheol in his rebellion.

A Whale: A Rebellious Person’s Gethsemane
Jonah intended to burn his obedience bridges when he embarked upon that ship to Tarshish. During Solomon's time ships from Tarshish came to Israel only once every three years. Therefore, it is obvious that Jonah was trying put himself into a situation in which it would be impossible to change his mind and in which God, even if He should forgive Jonah, would be unable to send him back anytime soon.

Jonah was to learn a hard lesson. If we deliberately burn our “obedience bridges” behind us in an effort to make obedience impossible, God can still make a way, a very uncomfortable way, to get us back on track. A person may think he is safe from the will and purpose of God as he sails far out onto the blue Mediterranean Sea. But God sends a storm…and then He sends a whale. Many who tried to run from God have found themselves traveling via "whale belly.” Once Jonah got onto the boat there was no easy way out and no easy or comfortable way back. But there was a way. He had to marinade in whale-belly enzymes for three days. He would definitely return to Israel a lot more tender of heart.

A “whale” is a very uncomfortable circumstance which God uses to return us to His will while giving us incentive not to run away again. A whale is also a place for a second chance, a door to restoration that otherwise would have been impossible. A “whale’s belly” can be a rebellious man’s Gethsemane—a place where even the rebel is willing to pray “not my will, but thine be done.”

The Goldfish
Like Jonah we cannot escaped the presence or the call of God (Ps 139: 7-12; Romans 11: 29). His incomprehensible mercy and steadfast love will follow us to the ends of the earth (Ps.23: 6). God's word will overtake those to whom He speaks (Zech I: 6; Prov. 13:13). He may give us room to run…but we will meet Him in the way. If God was so persistent with Jonah who was genuinely trying to flee, how much more will He work to apprehend and help those of us who desire to obey but yet struggle in the valley of decision.

And for those of us who are determined to flee, it is foolish to think we can succeed in escaping and hiding from God. It is like the goldfish that decides to run away from home. He has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. But why would we want to run from and hide from such a wonderful God who loves us so much? In the blindness of our humanity we fail to see the awesomeness of His love, power, and wisdom. He is good. His way is right and best. We should embrace Him and His plan for our lives.

“You have hedged me behind and before,
and laid Your hand upon me…
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your Presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And your right hand shall hold me.” -Psalm 139: 5-10

A Loving Hand and a Cedar Switch

(Below is a re-print of an article I posted last year.   -Billy Long)

“Therefore, consider both the goodness and severity of God…” Romans 11: 22

A tricycle and a cedar switch
I had a tricycle when I was four years old. Daddy told me I could ride it around the yard but never to go near the highway. But temptation came, and I figured it would be more fun and easier to ride my tricycle on the hard pavement than through the dirt in our yard. So I decided to ride it across the highway and visit the country store across the street. Away I went pedaling my little tricycle and making my way across the busy highway. As I rolled up to the front door of the store I suddenly felt a hand gently grab my arm. It was Daddy. He had broken a small, limber cedar switch from a little tree in our front yard. It did not harm me, but it stung my legs as he gave me a “switching” all the way back across the street to our house. We were a sight to behold as I “danced” across the road with Daddy’s right hand flicking the little cedar switch against my bare legs, his left hand holding mine while I held the tricycle with my other hand. I learned that the pain of discipline outweighed the pleasure of disobedience. I never rode that tricycle into the street again.

I knew instinctively that my father was disciplining me for my good. He was protecting me from dangers of which I was unaware. I could have been killed on that highway. Our heavenly Father deals with us in the same way. His severity does not denote a lack of love, but proves His desire to protect us from peril and to save us from the harm that sin and foolishness inflict upon us.

The parent and the coach
When a young athlete makes a mistake that hurts the team, he receives two very different but necessary reactions. His parents tell him, “It’s okay, you’re a great player; you’ll do better next time.” The coach, however, scolds the boy telling him he needs to focus and work on this particular area of weakness or be prepared to sit on the bench for a while. The coach's rebuke is necessary for growth and improvement. The parents' mercy encourages the young man and prevents him from losing heart. God deals with His children in the same way. He is kind, but severe when we need it. His steadfast love gives us hope and encourages us to persevere. His severity provokes us to obedience and helps us overcome our weaknesses.

“Consider the goodness…of God”
The first Bible verse that I memorized as a child was John 3: 16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The first song I learned was “Jesus Loves Me.” This truth is paramount to our understanding of God. He loves us with an incomprehensible and steadfast love. It preserves us when we would fall and holds us when we would flee. It woos us when we go astray and receives us when we return. His goodness leads us to repentance. It also causes Him to be patient beyond our comprehension. God's kindness is demonstrated in the longsuffering and forbearance He shows to a world in continual rebellion against Him and to His people who are often complacent and unfaithful.

“Consider the…severity of God.”
I serve the Lord because I love Him, but there have been times of weakness and vulnerability in my life when I remained faithful to the Lord because I fear His judgment. I do not want to forfeit rewards when I stand before Him, and I do not want to die lost and enter eternity without Him. The writer of Hebrews says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Nevertheless, it is God's love that holds me.

God’s discipline and even His judgments are acts of love designed to bring us back to Him when we don’t have grace to respond to His kindness. His discipline strengthens us to obedience. His wrath (and judgment) is an ultimate effort of love to get our attention and turn our stubborn and rebellious hearts back to Him when we go astray. The "rod" of God administers grace to enable my obedience when I might be too weak to respond simply to His love.

A chest pain kept me out of trouble.
I was not spiritually aggressive during my eleventh grade year of high school and my spiritual idleness made me vulnerable to temptation. On one particular occasion I was making plans to fall into some mischief, but awoke with chest pains on the morning of the “evil day.” I immediately decided not to go through with my plans. I was afraid I would die and go to hell. It was as if the Lord was saying to me, “Your friends might be able to do that, but I will not allow you to.” The fear of God preserved me when the weakness of my flesh was, for the moment, stronger than my resolve to obey. I thank God for His discipline which helped save me from a foolish decision in that hour.

God disciplines us because we are His beloved children. Discipline is part of His program for helping us to grow, mature, and be what He desires us to be. It is an aspect of grace, a manifestation of the love and wisdom of God in dealing with human nature. It is for our good. It corrects (makes right) those who need to be adjusted and punishes those who refuse the correction.

There are two Bible verses that on the surface seem to stand in contrast, but which are actually and truly compatible.
"Praise the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever." 2 Chronicles 5: 13; 20: 21
"Let us...serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 13: 28-29
God loves us, but He does have a "cedar switch," and will use it when we need it.

"My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." Hebrews 12: 5-6