Monday, September 23, 2013

THE FIERCE SOCIETY: PART 4

The following article is a re-print from April 2011.  I decided to include this more light-hearted word before my next post which will be more somber.     ---Billy Long


BUT THE ROOSTER WAS FIERCE

“…I have fought with wild beasts at Ephesus.” -1 Corinthians 15: 32

Paul Law’s Message at the African Pastors’ Conference
The Kenyan pastors sat enthralled as Paul Law told them of the time he was surprised by the fierce growl of a lion crouching in the bushes in front of him near his missions ranch in the Congo.
He had been told that the creature had left the area, and so he considered it safe to look for the remains of a cow the lion had previously killed and dragged into the bushes. But now the threatening roar announced the presence of the beast.
Paul stopped in his tracks, and without turning his head was about to quietly give instructions to the three companions following behind him. They, however, were not there. They had already fled to the truck leaving him alone with the lion. He carefully and slowly walked backwards keeping his eyes in the direction of a possible attack. He made it safely back to the vehicle to find that the two men who reached the truck first, had jumped in, shut the doors, and locked out the third fellow who was now lying in the back of the truck in the fetal position.

The conference pastors sat on the edge of their seat as Paul proceeded to tell how he and his brother David returned later and killed the lion that had become a threat to their children and livestock. Contrasting his faithful brother with the men who had fled in fear, Paul spoke of the strength drawn from friends who stand with us in the battle and in our times of trial. It was a moving and powerful message.

When Paul finished his message, after a short break it was my turn to speak.
I looked at the group of pastors and said, “Paul Law has told you of the time he was face to face with the lion. I am going to tell you about the time I was attacked…” At this point they leaned forward to hear what harrowing tale I was about to tell. I proceeded, “I am going to tell you about the time I was attacked… by a rooster!” The audience began to mumble asking each other, “Did he say ‘rooster'?” And then the whole place “cracked up” as these African pastors all began to laugh. To them a rooster is nothing to fear. A rooster is food, not a predator. It was only a rooster, but it was fierce to me.

I was an eight or nine year old boy at the time, and to me the event was very traumatic. My Aunt Maggie’s old “flogging” rooster came charging at me jumping up trying to claw me with those sharp talons. He was not one of those little bantam roosters, but a full-grown, combative, big barnyard boss, almost as big as me. I picked up my cousin’s old rusty B B gun and used it as a bat. Every time that rooster jumped up I would swing that rifle down on his back and knock him back to the ground. I should have swung sideways and hit him up side the head, but I was too afraid to think of that. I struggled for a few minutes until Mrs Grace Gore, an elderly lady passing by, saw my plight and saved me. It was not much to brag about. I was attacked by a chicken, and rescued by an old lady, but the battle was real to me, and she was a beautiful woman on that day.

"...For if they fall, one will lift up his companion."   Ecclesiastes 4: 10
Both of the above stories illustrate our need to have brothers and sisters to stand with us as we face the issues and trials of life. But even more importantly they remind us that we should be vigilant in our walk with the Lord so that we are “there” spiritually for those who depend on us and who may need us in their hour of need. Often I have prayed, “Lord, I want to stay in that place where the heavens are open to me, and I can call upon you in faith as I pray for my wife, my children, my friends and all those for whom I am to stand in the gap. I want to be among those who pray 'Thy kingdom come,' and it represent a real force in bringing your kingdom, rather than just the prayer of rote that so many simply recite." I want to cry out to God in faith for those who are searching, serving, or suffering, and to actually encourage and strengthen them rather than locking myself in the safety of the vehicle while others are left outside to fight or die alone. We need to stand with those who face the “lion,” but we should not despise the struggle of those who face the “rooster.”

“But we don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf…”  2 Corinthians 1: 8-11

Suggested reading: Ecclesiates 4: 8-12; Luke 22: 28; Ezekiel 22:30; 2 Timothy 4: 9-18; 4: 16-18

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Other Blog

Check out some good articles at my "Billy and Friends" blog.
Just click the following link to visit that site.
http://blongandfriends.blogspot.com/

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Fierce Society: Part 3

This article is meant to be a discussion of current times, not end times. I don’t want to get into theological debates around eschatology. Some emphasize the great falling away while others argue that the Gospel will conquer. There is often an element of paradox in spiritual truth. The Bible speaks of great evil and darkness while also speaking of the glory of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of a person’s perspective on end times, it is indisputable that we are currently in a time of world-wide intensity, as seen in nature, politics, economics and sociological dynamics. Nations are filled with conflict and distress. Those that seem to be at peace are better described as being in a malaise (that vague sense of ill-being and debility that accompanies the onset of an illness). Even people who lack spiritual perception can sense the urgency of the times.
We are moving into an era of troubled people and troubled times, a time when the devil will be active and angry, but also a time when the glory of God will be upon His people. In the days that are coming, Christians should be spiritually alert, in prayer, and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  –Billy Long

The Fierce Society: Part 3
The following quote from “Minute Man News” gives a current example of the thin line between civilized and savage in its comments on the behavior of passengers on the cruise ship that recently lost power on the Gulf of Mexico.
“But what is interesting and terrifying...is how quickly this situation started looking like the Lord of the Flies. Just like what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. People started acting like wild animals. And this will keep happening. The ready availability of abundant resources has given all of us the illusion that we are in fact civilized. But the reality is that the civilization we’ve undergone has been largely superficial. Most of us are still savages at heart.”  -(a quote from MINUTE MAN NEWS).

By laying aside God, the Bible, and Judeo-Christian values our society is deliberately or unwittingly destroying the under-girding foundation necessary for a peaceful, stable, and prosperous society, and in turn is laying the grounds for an intellectually inferior, undisciplined, morally depraved, lawless, and fierce society.
2 Timothy 3: 1-3, and Romans 1: 28-32 describe the ultimate characteristics of a culture that rejects God and which is "given over" to itself and its sin. Paul says that the times will be “perilous.”   The Greek word is also translated “fierce” and is the same word used to describe the demoniac (Matthew 8:28) out of whom Jesus cast a legion of demons. This man was exceedingly “fierce,” living among the tombs, naked, cutting himself, breaking chains used to bind him, and producing fear in all who came near. It is quite disturbing that the word used to describe this man is also used to describe times and the people that “will come.”

 “This Generation”
Jesus, grieved at the society around him, gave three descriptions of “this generation.”  In Matthew 11: 16-19 He refers to “this generation” as sitting in the “marketplace” of reality, irrelevant and playing games while the real issues of the day transpire all around them. It is a picture of the church sitting inside its four walls and failing in its responsibility to be salt and light in the world.
In Matthew 11:20-24 he speaks of “this generation” that had access to grace, truth, and the presence of God like no other generation and yet rejected it.
In Matthew 12: 38-42 He speaks of “this generation” that wanted proof but rejected the very proof that was standing right in front of them.
In Matthew 12: 43-45 He warns us of “this generation” that knew God, like the man who was freed from the demon, but failed to follow-through in his walk with God. The demon came back with seven other demons more wicked than himself, and entered the man causing the last state of the man to be worse than the first. Jesus said, “So shall it be with ‘this wicked generation.’”

Serious Consequences
We should not take lightly the moral and social issues of the day and their consequences on our society. We should not think that the laws of the land are set apart into some neutral territory for which God is not concerned. More and more as we move into the ends of the age we will see an intensification in the spiritual warfare in the heavens. And it will affect our daily lives. Government will not just simply be the benevolent force that facilitates peace and order, but will become an instrument of godlessness that tries to control our lives and take away our prosperity and freedom, and at some point persecute those who follow Jesus and the God of the Bible. As we remove Judeo-Christian values from our laws, institutions, and daily lives, we will experience more and more troubles. A society that forgets God and turns to its various idols will become the “fierce” society that the Apostle Paul describes, a disintegrating society filled with selfishness, violence, immorality, unrest, and conflict.

A Fierce People
In the two paragraphs quoted below, we see the Apostle Paul’s description of a culture that turns its back on God, a society which God has “given over” to itself. He describes what we can look forward to if our nation continues its move away from God and His word.
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come; For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such turn away…[they are] always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” -(2 Timothy 3: 1-5).

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife deceit, evil-mindedness, they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful, who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. - (Romans 1:28-32).

“Arise, cry out in the night.”
 Regardless of a person’s eschatology (study of end times) it is not difficult to see that our nation is entering difficult times. Christians will agree, regardless of their theological perspective, that it is time to call on God.
It must start with the individual, with each one of us. The challenges of today also bring great opportunity for God's people to know Him and touch Him as they never have before. Christians may have been comfortable being lukewarm and complacent in the past. But I don't think that is an option for us in the days ahead. Peter, James, and John slept in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus agonized in prayer.They did not realize the hour that was approaching. I believe that we are facing an hour in which we must prepare ourselves by genuine commitment to the Lord, and by calling on the Lord. One of my prayers these days is that the Lord will prepare me and my household for the days that are coming. I also pray this for my neighbors.

 “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).

“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 heal their land.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14).

“Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.”  (Isaiah 60: 1-2).

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Fierce Society: Part 2

This is the second post in the series entitled “The Fierce Society.” The purpose of the series will be to help Christians to understand the times and the nature of the society we will be dealing with. Christians should be living in and demonstrating the kingdom of God in the midst of an ungodly society in perilous times. This second post simply touches on the Christian’s influence in a society that seeks to silence that perspective. –Billy Long


The Church and Government
The church as an organization should not control civil government, but Christians as individuals should participate in government and express themselves and their values in matters of civil law. Everyone else does; why not us? Every legislator votes according to his moral values or lack thereof. The problem for us is that humanistic and godless people have been gradually taking over and pushing the Judeo-Christian perspective into the corner and out of the room. God and the Bible are considered irrelevant and offensive. Christians have been told to be quiet.

 Amidst the silence of compliant and passive Christians many of us have been deceived into thinking this is normal and that God and His word are irrelevant in public discourse. Humanistic unbelievers have laid down the rules saying, “You can’t quote the Bible.” I say, “Why not?” If you remove God and the Bible, then you have no authoritative basis for rules and morality. If you remove God and the Bible, then you have no authoritative answer to give your children when they ask you why they should not engage in sex with their friends. Without God there is no basis for right and wrong, except what the majority decides, and even then why must we be bound to the will of the majority? The only final authority is the Sovereign God, who commands us. Without Him, we go “each to his own way” as the prophet Isaiah said.

The framers of our constitution never intended to remove God, prayer, and the Bible from our national life. The bill of rights in the United States Constitution was designed to maintain freedom of religion and to prevent the government from controlling the spiritual and religious life of the people. It also prevents any organized religion from using the government to force people to follow their particular brand. It states that “congress shall make no laws” respecting the establishment of religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof. The government cannot force or prevent religion. But from the beginning of our nation, prayer and the Bible were freely referenced in law, courts, public institutions, and schools. This is because the individuals themselves acknowledged God. Regardless of the actual spiritual condition of the people, our national culture was formed from a Judeo-Christian world-view. Most people acknowledged the God of the Bible whether or not they were personally Christian in their practice and behavior. The government could not establish or prohibit religion, but Judeo-Christian values were a natural part of our national life, and God was acknowledged in all branches of Government.

Even with our differences it used to be that our society was a more peaceful blend of variety that seemed to co-exist with “give and take,” with “conviction and compromise” working together. Now we are becoming more and more polarized with world-views that are hostile to one another, incompatible, and separated by a gulf difficult to cross. This leads to tension and conflict. The Judeo-Christian consensus that gave reality to our motto “E Pluribus Unum” (One out of Many) is now being replaced in practice by the principle of “Division out of Plurality.” We have been losing the Christian consensus.

Christian Influence
The church as an organization should not control the civil government, and the secular government should not control the church. When the Roman Empire was split into east and west, there was a period when the Pope in Rome gained political ascendency and power over secular rulers, while in the eastern half of the empire the secular ruler in Constantinople had power over the church. Both dynamics proved harmful to the church and led to corruption and hindrance to true spiritual life. The government should not infringe on religion, and the institutional church should not try to control secular government. But individual Christians should be involved in government as in all aspects of public life.

Legislating Morality?
All laws represent a legislation of morality and reflect the world-view and values of those who make the laws. People have often attempted to silence the Christian influence by saying, “You can’t legislate morality.” But this statement is only partially true. You cannot use law and legislation to make a person moral, but you can use law to affect his behavior. If a man is a thief at heart, the law is not designed to make him moral but to prevent him from stealing. Law is, in fact, a legislation of morality. The only question is: Whose morality?

This is why it is unreasonable to silence Christians and tell them they should not be involved or give input into the legislative processes of our nation. If Christians are forbidden to have a voice or influence, then whose values will be the basis of our laws?

The Role of Christians
If the church sits in hypocrisy or empty ritual and confines itself to the four walls of the Sunday morning meetings, it will be despised as being irrelevant and detached from reality. But if the church arises in the integrity and power of who she really is, expressing the supernatural life and character of Jesus Christ, she will potentially be hated by a world desiring to keep God at a distance and cast off his rule over their lives.

So what should we as Christians do? We must love the world as Jesus did. We must proclaim the good news that Jesus came to save them and bring them into relationship with God. We should live in and teach the ways of God as taught in His Word the Bible.

Regarding government, we should pray for rulers and authorities. We should be involved in government. We should do all we can to influence legislation so that laws are just and not morally reprehensible.

But we must remember that we cannot “Christianize” the nation by laws and statutes. The Christian’s main thrust should be to change the nation by prayer and evangelism, by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. We need another national revival like those experienced under Jonathon Edwards in the 1700s, Charles Finney in the 1800’s, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, just to name a few. The solution is for men and women turn to God. We will not find the answer in politics.

We should remember that Jesus is "King of kings" (and King of presidents). All rulers will answer to Him.  

"Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Annointed saying, 'Let us break Their bonds in pieces, and cast away Their cords from us.'  He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: Yet I have set My King on His holy hill of Zion... Now, therefore, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him."  -Psalm 2

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Fierce Society

Introduction
I have been working for a few weeks on a series of posts entitled "The Fierce Society." I have not posted any articles until now because I have been waiting for inspiration on how to present the series in such a way that people will actually take time to read it. I decided to begin with one of my past articles that illustrates how Christians tend to enjoy church but also fail to take the message of the Gospel out into the world.
Since the founding of America we have had the unique experience of living in a society that has enjoyed the fruit of the Judeo-Christian world-view, ethics, and values. This context has made it relatively comfortable for Christians. For the most part we have not been seriously persecuted. 
This, however, has been changing over the last few decades, and the trend seems to be intensifying.

While Christians have been reluctant to face the battle out in the world, we need to be aware that the battle may now come to us. The spiritual forces that hate God and His word will also hate Christians. But to be more specific, they may claim to love God, but just hate Jesus Christ, and those who follow Him. That's why the Bible calls the  end time "man of sin" the anti-Christ." As the western world tends to unite under some all-inclusive religious unity devoid of Christ, it will begin more and more to attack Christians  personally and legally through the laws of the land, and thus attempt to silence the testimony of Christian who would share the good news of Jesus Christ and His Word. 

We are in a spiritual battle. And Christians who have tended to retreat into the four walls of the church need to be aware that the world-system will attempt to make those four walls our prison in an effort to keep the message hidden away from the real world and the issues of the day.

Christians have tended to hide within the four walls of the church, but the truth is we cannot avoid the spiritual warfare that affects all of us in the real areas of life we face everyday. We will not be able to hide in church. The battle will come to us anyway, and at some point in time the only way to avoid it will be to deny the Lord either in word or actions, or to hide in one of the so-called Christian, religious institutions that will compromise and deny their very foundation in Christ and the truth of the Bible.  

I am beginning this series with a more light-hearted approach, an older post entitled "The Cat and the Rat."  Subsequent posts, however, will be a little heavier.  
                                                                                                     Billy Long,  5/11/13


The FIERCE SOCIETY: PART 1- THE CAT AND THE RAT

The Cat at the Door
When I was just a kid we had a yard cat that should have been out hunting mice, but instead, was always sitting at the screen door meowing and whining plaintively, “begging” for someone to let him in the house. “Meow, meow, meow!” he cried. Translated into English this means, “Let me in. Feed me, pet me, help me, comfort me, make me happy. I want to go inside where it is comfortable and safe. I don’t want to face the world outside.”
My Dad hated for a cat to sit at the door begging like that. So he pushed the door open, and shoved the startled cat out onto the carport. As he walked past he said, “When I get back, I am going to haul you off to the shopping center.” He fully intended to get rid of the cat.

The Fight
About an hour later, I heard a commotion beside the corn barn at the edge of our back yard. I turned my head in time to see about 15 or 20 squawking chickens flapping their wings, jumping in the air, and scurrying in every direction to flee the water hole that had formerly been a mud-wallow for a few hogs. And among those chickens I saw that cat in the middle of a back-flip somersault a couple feet in the air. I ran over to see what was happening and found the cat locked in mortal combat with a large wharf-rat that was as big as the cat. Most of us have seen how a cat will often toy with a mouse, playfully tossing it into the air until he is ready to eat it. In this case, however, the rat had tossed the cat into the air.

I watched this battle until the cat finally killed the rat. He crouched over his prey and maintained a firm grip on the dead rat as he looked up at me with blood flowing from a big cut running across his entire face. His expression almost seemed to say, “I did it! Thank God I’m still alive!” He then proceeded to eat as much of the rat as he could. A couple other cats wandered over and joined the feast. There was rat to go around, and rat left over.

When my dad learned of this event he decided to keep the cat. There was no trip to the shopping center, and the cat’s lifestyle changed dramatically after that. It was as if he had understood my dad’s threat to “haul him off.” He never again sat whining at the door, and every few days he would drag up a dead rabbit, or rat, or bird and lay it on the carport, as if to say, “I’m still on the job.” The cat, with that ugly trophy scar across his face, stayed with the family a few more years until it died of old age.

The "Door" of the Church
As Christians we tend to be like that cat. In our focus on self it is easier for us to “sit at the door” of the church seeking our own comfort and self-fulfillment, rather than facing the tasks and challenges associated with reaching out to people in the real world. We often fear getting involved in the spiritual battle that is involved in the advancement of God’s kingdom.

Contemporary culture surrounds us with things that look good, sound good, taste good, and feel good, things that are fun. We want to do what pleases us--- DVDs, movies, TV, Music, video games, sports, and various amusements. We don't want to face what is difficult, demanding, and tedious. We often expect rewards and fruit when there has been no effort or labor. And then we carry this over into our walk with God, expecting Him to bless us, help us, comfort us, etc, without our enlisting to serve Him and His purpose. We want the blessings of the kingdom without the travail and labor involved in the spiritual walk. We avoid anything that causes discontentment, inconvenience, adversity, or pain. We subconsciously think everything in our spiritual walk should be fun, convenient, and focused on “me.”

We expect our meetings to entertain us and not be unpleasant. We want positive messages that do not challenge us. This tends to produce a large crowd of superficial and shallow Christians sitting as spectators enjoying the performance up front. It seems that the multitudes are not attracted to depth and substance but to glitter, show, and celebrity. They run to the latest thing, the newest thing, and to what gets the most PR. They go after the latest trends and those things that feed their fancy. Church becomes either a buffet or fast food which makes us “fat,” rather than the family meal which provides real nourishment, strength, growth, and spiritual substance.

A crowd is a good thing when it is made up of real disciples who want to know and follow Jesus, but a crowd is not necessarily a good thing, when the self-centeredness of the people is indulged, and when they are not confronted with truth nor helped to see themselves or the purpose of God. I believe that the Lord does want to bring us in and set us on His lap and embrace us with His love and kindness, but I also think He wants us to quit sitting at the “screen door” and to boldly face the challenges and “giants” that await us as we conquer the land with the message of the kingdom of God. Otherwise, as one friend of mine said, "I'll see ya'll at the shopping center next week."

“I have fought the good fight.” 2 Timothy 3: 7

This concludes Part One. I hope you will visit this site to read the articles that will follow. - B.Long

Saturday, April 13, 2013

PaPa's Miracle When He Faced the Truth


Tharon Hardee was my maternal grandfather. The grandchildren called him Pa Pa.  He loved to play the banjo and was well-known for playing at square-dances all around the area. The photo below was taken sometime around 1950.  Below is an article that I posted last year. I think it will be  beneficial to those of you who are new visitors to my blog.  -Billy Long                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
The Pretending
In 1964 PaPa 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.

The Stroke
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.

The Miracle
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.

The Testimony
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

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Struggle to Find Comfort

This article is a re-print from last year. I am posting it again because there are so many who need to find the comfort that only our Lord can give.     Billy Long

"In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19.

Refusing Comfort
“Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, ‘For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.’ Thus his father wept for Him.” Genesis 37: 34-35
"Refusing comfort" refers to the state in which the loss or pain is so great and final that there seems to be absolutely nothing that could possibly heal the hurt, relieve the pain, or replace the loss. Jacob found himself in this condition as he experienced heart-wrenching grief over the loss of his son Joseph. No one was able to comfort him. No words could relieve or console him.

Genuine and Not Superficial
To a person in such grief the idea of comfort often seems like an empty and futile promise. Consolation is viewed much like the consolation prize which is usually given to the losers of a contest. The "consolation game" is a contest for those who have lost early in the tournament. Likewise, a person in the intensity of his pain often tends to view attempts at comfort as being merely the "consolation game" or the “consolation prize,” a substitute for the real thing, a shallow and superficial attempt to make him feel better,

This, however, is not what the Bible means by “comfort.” God's comfort is real and genuine, not imaginary or illusory." It is supernatural and comes from and with God Himself. There is a depth of reality and glory and a supernatural quality in genuine comfort which makes it substantial. It represents real healing rather than a mere superficial "second prize."

In God Himself
Job could find no comfort in words, rationalizations, or in sweet thoughts from friends. He, like Jacob, found that there are times when the anguish, the loss, the disappointment, and the hurt are so great that nothing will comfort because nothing can change what has happened. He also discovered that it is difficult to find comfort in the midst of so many unanswered questions, when there is suffering without explanation and understanding. The great question “Why?” sometimes stands between us and our comfort.

In these times our comfort, relief, and hope is in God Himself, not in ideas, words, or in anything that could be said. Our comfort comes only in God, in the revelation of His presence, in seeing Him and His eternal perspective. He comes to us Himself and brings a comfort that is supernatural and beyond comprehension. It is interesting to note that Job, with the confusion and questions that must have been swirling around in his head, posed none of them to God during the Divine visitation. Seeing the Lord brought a supernatural revelation and understanding that needed no further explanation.

God’s Visit Makes the Difference
Before God visited Job, no one could comfort him for the loss of his children and reputation. No one could soothe the pain of his boils nor answer any of his questions. But all of this was resolved when God came to him. Job arose in joy and relief as he looked into the eyes of the Eternal. Any questions he may have had were answered in the supernatural touch and in the revelation of God Himself. Once Job resolved his situation between himself and God, he was then able to receive comfort from and be comforted by his friends.

From Job and Jacob we learn that comfort does not usually come instantly but rather follows certain processes such as the normal time needed for grief, as well as the time required to take care of necessary spiritual transactions between us and God. We need to realize that God loves us, that He desires to reveal Himself to us and bring us into His presence to receive enabling power by His grace. He may come to us in our private prayers, He may reach out to us through the love and touch of a friend or through fellow Christians. He may allow us to grieve for a while, but He will not leave us bereaved and desolate. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be His Presence with us to strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (John 14: 16-18)

“…It was too painful for me---until I went into the sanctuary.” Psalm 73: 17

“I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you…” Job 42: 5

“…in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Ps. 16: 11

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation…” 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

Friday, April 5, 2013

Handling Mistakes and Failure

This post is a reprint of a past article. I think there are many of you who will be encouraged by it.  -BL

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 that your faith would not fail..." -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 [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.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

In God's Hands

“For…you have known my soul in adversities, and have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy.” Psalm 31: 7-8

The following paragraphs are intended to help us see that God’s hand is the undergirding “moving sidewalk” that is constantly carrying us forward in His purpose even when the enemy and circumstances try to point us in the opposite direction. Lawless hands may “grab” us, but God’s hand rules. We must see ourselves in God’s hands rather than victims of those who mistreat us.


Whose Prisoner?
“…I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you…” Ephesians 3: 1

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner….” 2 Timothy 1: 8

The apostle Paul did not take on the role of victim nor did he rail against those who placed him in chains. Focusing upon them would have depleted his spiritual life leaving him bitter and frustrated. He counted himself a "prisoner of the Lord" not of the Romans. And his enemies, without realizing it, sent him to the very city (Rome) to which Jesus had told him to go (Acts 23:11). His epistles from the Roman prison are in our Bible today and have been read by millions. Though he was bound, the word of God was not bound. His testimony is a poignant reminder that we are in the hands of God, not in the hands of those who afflict us.

Who Sent Joseph?
“But the patriarchs, being envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him.” Acts 7:9

“He [God] sent a man ---Joseph--- before them, who was sold as a slave.” Psalm 105: 17

Joseph’s brothers sold him to traders who carried him off to Egypt in chains where he served as a slave and was unjustly accused and imprisoned. His “owners” and masters controlled all the decisions for his life. They “hurt him” and had no regard for his God, yet unwittingly sent him to the very position of which God had spoken in the prophetic dreams of Joseph's youth.

“God sent me.”
“But now, do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45: 5

Had Joseph focused on the cruel acts of his brothers and masters, he would have developed the victim mentality with all its self-centeredness, ungodly attitudes, and deficiencies of character. He would have been overwhelmed with bitterness and anger. He might have written a book with a sad ending about how he had been mistreated and sent to Egypt as a slave. He most likely would have committed adultery with Potiphar’s wife and wasted away in prison.

Joseph, however, did not focus on those who mistreated him. His business and call was higher. On the surface it appeared that his brothers in cruelty had sent him to Egypt, but the truth is that God sent him to save his family and a nation, and to settle his people in a place where they could grow and develop until God was ready for them to enter the promised land 400 years later. Lawless hands had “grabbed” him, but God’s hand ruled.

In Whose Hands?
“Him, being delivered over by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, and have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” Acts 2: 23-24

“Lawless hands” were at work with malevolent intent grabbing Jesus to crucify him upon a cross, and yet beneath it all was the hand of God delivering Jesus over to his determined purpose. Here is the mystery of God's sovereignty. The actions of wicked men against an innocent person were turned to the purpose of God and to the salvation of the world.

Oppressed people tend to see only the “lawless hands” that mistreat them. The result is loss of faith accompanied by harmful and ungodly attitudes. Jesus, however, kept his heart toward the Father's plan knowing that the redemptive hand of God was at work to fulfill the greater purpose of God. The enemy's plan backfired. Christ became the crucified lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and He was raised from the dead as our Lord and Savior.

We are in the hands of God.
The sovereign hand of God undergirds and holds us in spite of the “lawless hands” that work against us. His hand is the “moving sidewalk” on which we stand and which carries us forward even when it seems the enemy and life attempt to carry us backwards.

When we spend our emotional, mental, and spiritual energy on the "brothers" who "threw us into the pit" or the "Romans" who "threw us into prison," we make ourselves their victims and their prisoners. But when we engage the Lord, surrender to Him, and stand in faith with a right spirit, we experience the grace and power of God working all things together for our good and to His purpose.

We may not always be given the most comfortable route. The Apostle Paul might have preferred to go to Rome on a wonderful Mediterranean cruise ship with the bountiful buffet meals and lively entertainment. Joseph may have preferred to go to Egypt as part of a family vacation, a group tour of the Holy Land with all the first-class accommodations and helpful tour guides followed by a first class excursion to Cairo. But each man’s journey was painful and in chains. They took the way of the cross and drank the “cup” of suffering on their way to the joy set before them and to the fulfillment of a purpose which was greater than themselves and their comfort.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.’ So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying '…I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you. Now please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your fathers.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them. ‘Do not be afraid, for I am in God’s place. But as for you, you meant it for evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive…and he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50: 15-21

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Visit To A Philosophy of Religion Class

This post is a reprint from August 2010.   -Billy Long

A girl from our church in Raleigh NC was taking a philosophy of religion class taught by a professor from Duke University. Nancy came to me one evening and shared how she had been brought to tears when some of the other students mocked her for sharing her faith during a class discussion. Nancy was a committed Christian and loved the Lord. She was shocked at the unbelief and skepticism of the professor and the students,and soon came to discuss it with me and fellow believers at church.

Now she was asking me to visit the class. The professor had told the students to invite their pastors to come sit in on the discussions. My first thought was, “This professor wants to pull out all his weapons of complex, intellectual, theological, and philosophical thought, all his esoteric terms, and make me or any other pastor who shows up look like an idiot in front of the class." But I knew this was a great opportunity and so agreed to go. The next week one of the men from the church went with me to the class. I was a little nervous as we took our seats but was filled with faith knowing the Lord wanted us there.

The professor opened the class, welcomed me and Colin, and then addressed me with the following question: “In light of ….”
[At this point he began very eloquently using so many “ten dollar” words, rare theological terms and historical names hardly known to the common layman, the meaning of which was very difficult to follow. At first I thought he was deliberately trying to use class-room esoterics to confuse me so that I would not be able to intelligently answer his question. But then, to my surprise and great delight he concluded his thoughts with the following question.]
“Jesus and the apostles are said to have worked miracles. Therefore, since you teach your people that the Bible is true, what do you say to your parishioners who ask you why we do not see miracles today?”

This professor thought he was dealing with a dispensational cessationist, a person who believes the Bible but also believes miracles have ceased. This cessationist base is a weak position on which to stand in the face of an articulate liberal philosophy which sees it as an illogical and irrational religious hypocrisy. They conclude that if miracles don’t happen now, they never did.

My response to this proferssor shocked him and the whole class. I answered, “We teach that the Bible is true, that Jesus died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and is alive today, and that He has given us His Holy Spirit as His living and active presence with us. Therefore, when people ask me why we do not see miracles today, I tell them, ‘Hang around here a while, and you will see one!’”
You could have heard a pin drop as I proceeded to share testimonies of healings and miracles that I and others in our church had either witnessed or been a part of. I gave examples of supernatural healings, exorcisms, and examples of the workings of the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12.

The same students who had scorned Nancy’s testimony before were now sitting there silent and amazed. Suddenly one of them spoke up, addressing the professor. “The way it looks to me,” he said, “you’ve been talking only theory and words. These guys have been out doing it.”
I know there were still some skeptics in the class, but our boldness to share the truth along with real-life examples seemed to embolden those timid souls who secretly believed, but who had previously been afraid and too intimidated to speak up.

The professor then surprised me as he addressed the class. “This has truly been our most fascinating class yet.” He then turned to me and said with a subtle sadness and sense of regret, “I wish you had been my pastor when I was a kid.” It seemed to me he was saying, “I am set in my place and position now, and I don’t see how I can change now, but if I had heard these things in my younger days, I might have taken a different road.”

Certain principles were impressed upon my mind as I left that classroom. I saw very clearly the power of the truth, the reality of the Word of God and how it penetrates the heart when spoken with confidence that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit who confirms it to the hearers. I saw the blindness of the world and the emptiness of philosophy. Intellect can be impressive, but devoid of spiritual life it is so empty. It does not touch the needs and hearts of the common man. I also saw the weakness of silent, impotent Christians who do not speak up. That segment of the class had remained "invisible" when Nancy had been scorned for her belief. But upon hearing our message, they were emboldened to speak up. I also saw the folly of mixture. Some of the students in that class believed some of the Bible, but not all of it. Therefore, they had no real authority on which to base any argument or belief. To be selective with the Bible is to make yourself the authority. Therefore, you have no authority on which to base anything. When human reason is the final authority, we end up with millions of ideas and no real grounds or authority for any of it.

I have witnessed with my own eyes the reality of the scripture. I have seen people healed through prayer. I have witnessed the miracle of a broken back healed instantly. I have witnessed a young man healed instantly of severe and advanced cases of asthma and emphysema as he was prayed for. I have cast demons out of people and witnessed the same effects as those described in the New Testament.
When given a chance, the Bible will come alive and prove itself true. I therefore, choose to believe Moses, the apostles, and those saints who have given us the Bible. I prefer to believe the written account of those eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus rather than putting my life and trust into the hands of modern unbelieving philosophers who speak out of their own intellectual arrogance and emptiness.

“[We have]…so great a salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Hebrews 2: 3-4.

“And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…” Acts 4:33

“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to take heed as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1: 16-21

Thursday, February 21, 2013

If You Avoid All Eggs, You'll Never Eat a Rotten One; But Then You'll Never Eat a Good One Either

This article is a re-print of an article I posted a couple years ago.  -Billy

We should not use “bad apples” as an excuse to avoid all “apples.” Grocery stores and trees are full of good apples, and it is extremely rare to find a bad one. When I was a kid I found a worm in a peach taken from a tree in our yard, but it did not stop me from eating peaches. I found a rotten egg once when I was a child. It stank worse than anything I had ever smelled before or since. But I knew that it was an exception to the norm. Eggs are good, and so I continue to enjoy them as a part of my usual breakfast menu. I did not let one bad egg cause me to henceforth approach all eggs cautiously as if they might be rotten.


If you were to visit a church where people were swinging from the chandeliers or behaving strangely, would you then reject emotions and joy in your spiritual walk ? Would you say, “These people are crazy,” and use this as an excuse to avoid any search for God? Or would you search for the reasonable Biblical pattern for worship and the healthy expression of joy and emotions? Would you read the Bible to find out what it really says or just assume that the “apple” or “egg” you found represented the norm for all apples and eggs? Why is it that people are so quick to reject God and spiritual things because of bad examples and unwise people who misrepresent Him and His ways?

The things that people usually fear in spiritual experience are not the true Biblical patterns, but rather the unreal “phantoms” they have created in their own minds as a result of prejudiced propaganda or experiences with bad examples which most likely were exaggerations or soulish aberrations of the true biblical thing. For example, I have seen and heard some preachers that caused me to flinch, but the greatest portion of my experience is with the many stable, sincere, and gifted men of God who serve the Lord faithfully and wisely. The preachers we see portrayed on the typical TV show and in the movies are usually parodies or burlesque exaggerations of the real thing. Anyone investigating a spiritual truth or experience should go to the Bible first and see what is actually described there, rather than skipping the Biblical model and arguing against the distorted, the false, or the counterfeit they may have encountered. Our hunger to know God should cause us to wade past the stumblingblocks, go to His word, call out to Him, and search for the real thing.

This principal is especially true in the matter of the supernatural manifestation of God’s presence among His people. The problem is that people tend to approach the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit from an initial negative perspective. Rather than welcoming the potential of God’s wonderful presence supernaturally at work among us, they begin with a negative disposition seeing the working of the Holy Spirit as a necessary evil, as something from which to protect themselves. Their first response is not to hunger for the amazing, positive possibilities, but rather to assume a defensive posture with their primary focus on avoiding the abuses. They are so worried about the “bathwater” they don’t see the baby. The result is avoidance, severe regulation, or prohibition. We should not fear the presence of God. Jesus, in referring to the Holy Spirit, said, "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Lu 11: 11-13). To always expect the "scorpion" rather than the "egg" is an expression of unbelief and is a lack of confidence in God's goodness and in His ability to manage His church.

This tendency to approach God's presence negatively with fear causes churches and Christians to remain in “safe” waters where the boat will not be rocked and where there is no need for discernment and risk taking. We don’t have to worry about the “bathwater” problem if we don’t have the “baby” among us. We don’t have to worry about “cleaning the stall” if we don’t have an “ox” in the barn. We don’t have to worry about a “rotten egg” if we just avoid all eggs. This fear causes us to miss out on the adventures of life. It keeps us from launching out into the deep and witnessing the supernatural presence of God at work.

The point here is that the church should not be ruled by the fear of misuse and abuse of spiritual things. The church should be secure and discerning enough to move out courageously and in faith into the wonderful area of God’s presence at work among us, not fearing the awkwardness and stumbles that are often necessary in the growth and learning process. We see this principal in the example of how Jesus trained the twelve disciples. He knew the mistakes they would make, but He did not “roll His eyes” and withdraw, but instead, He “rolled up his sleeves” and moved on with the full training program.

We should follow His example.

Friday, February 15, 2013

LEADERS AND MANIPULATION


Manipulation in Leadership
Too often leaders are guilty of manipulation. Manipulation is unhealthy in any relationship and is a violation of trust. It involves the dishonest use of influence to get people to do what you want them to do and is an underhanded means of controlling people. Leaders use manipulation when they lack the ability to lead by inspiration, when they have ulterior or hidden motives, or when they are trying to get people to do what the individuals most likely would not do if they had access to all the facts. Manipulation involves giving partial truth and withholding information that would be necessary for others to make an objective decision. It means distributing information selectively, giving little twists to the facts, and sharing only that which would cause other people to respond favorably to the objectives being presented.

Diplomacy and Truth
Being diplomatic can “put a sweet face” on manipulation. Diplomacy in its positive sense refers to the ability to handle affairs in such a way as to arouse the least hostility, the ability to deal with people wisely in such a way as to stir up the least amount of conflict. This is consistent with proverbs wisdom which exhorts us to control our spirit, guard our tongue, and to speak wisely without stirring up unnecessary strife. This can be a good characteristic in leadership. However, we must also remember that diplomacy disassociated from truth becomes manipulation. A leader who is being diplomatic in his pursuit of peace must be careful lest he become less than honest in dealing with people. A lie that makes people feel better is still a lie. A leader must adhere to truth and reality in working with people. He should not stretch the truth, give half-truths, or lie in order to pacify or to get what he wants.

Manipulation: A Lack of Integrity, and a Lack of Faith
Manipulation in leadership represents a failure at honesty and sincerity. It is an absence of faith in the Sovereign God to accomplish His work by the Spirit of God. It is a lack of faith in God's ability to work in other people. It is also a failure to respect other people.
Godly leaders lead by influence, example, and truth, and not by manipulation. People follow good leaders because they trust them. Many people were offended by Jesus, but they were offended by truth. Jesus never lied or misled people to get them to do what He wanted. It is not God’s will that integrity be sacrificed for vision. If the vision is of God, then God will fulfill it in His time and in His way. When leaders have to sacrifice integrity to get people to “do the right thing” then the leaders are “off track.”

Leadership should always remember that obtaining objectives by the use of specious arguments (those which appear sound and correct without really being so) only create the illusion of success. Sooner or later reality will come to light and people will be upset.

Godly leadership requires reality and spiritual substance in those who lead. People of spiritual depth, integrity, and truth do not have to manipulate. They are willing to trust God to inspire people to do the right thing, and they are willing to let the vision fail rather than use the enemy's methods to get the job done.         -----Billy Long

AN UNHEALTHY CONTROL OF COMMUNICATION

[This is a reprint of an article I posted in 2008.  Scroll up to read the companion article on the subject of "Manipulation in Leadership."  --BL]


Introduction
The issues highlighted below are principles I learned while serving “as referee” (and in some cases a participant) in a few church “fights” and were originally written with the intention of helping pastors understand some of the issues that get them into trouble. Initially I was reluctant to share these with a broader audience, but then realized that the principles are apropos to any discussion of healthy leadership. Many readers will identify with one or more of the problems discussed.

For every issue there is a flip side. There is always the “other side of the coin.” This “flip side” issue is especially true for some of the areas covered in this article. For example, pastors usually teach on gossip, and they legitimately try to prevent unhealthy and destructive communication within their community of believers. But my emphasis here is the other side of the issue, which is leadership’s unhealthy control of communication among members.

Control of communication among members
A typical dilemma for leadership is how to create an atmosphere of open and healthy communication while discouraging gossip and destructive talk. There is such a thing as the scorner and the gossip whose tongues can damage good fellowship, but even in a healthy group there are issues and concerns that need to be addressed from time to time. Leadership needs wisdom in this arena. Forbidding people to talk (restricting communication) can be a form of manipulation and a means of isolating people in order to control them. There are verses in the Bible that warn us of gossip and of the discord created by loose and uncontrolled tongues, but leaders have often used this principle to stifle necessary communication, and not allow people to have free communication among themselves when genuine concerns or controversial issues arise that should be scrutinized and honestly evaluated. People should be free to communicate openly on issues that arise within the group, and individuals should have the freedom to communicate their concerns and complaints. The problem here is that leaders often exhort people to not talk, while the leadership itself fails to provide a genuine, honest, realistic, and healthy platform to deal with the real issues.

Speaking the Truth in Love
The apostle Paul tells us we should “speak the truth in love.” With this statement he points out three operative principles that are necessary in healthy relationships. “To speak” means that people should communicate rather than suppressing real issues and concerns. It is not healthy to not speak. The error in leadership is that they often think that it is spiritual for people simply “to not speak.” And so they work at keeping people quiet rather than getting “all the cards on the table” and dealing with the realities, whatever they are. A wise man once told me that God gives us grace for reality not for pretend.

The second and third principles are to speak "truth" and to do so "in love." It is not hard to get people to speak, but it can be difficult to get them to do it in a godly manner. This is probably why leaders can be nervous about encouraging communication. The tongue can set the world on fire, but still, communication is necessary for a healthy community.

Providing a Platform for Communication
I think it is interesting to note here that one real problem in leaders who have control issues is that they fail to provide a platform for individuals on their leadership teams to communicate their real concerns or talk about the real issues that bother them. One tool used in this form of manipulation is to plan such full agendas and organize the meetings so that the individual council members have no opportunity to “let their hair down” and share their hearts. It is possible for every member of a council or board to sit there with a shared concern over a particular issue but remain silent because the head of the group would not include or allow the topic in the agenda. The other aspect of this strategy is that leaders condemn individuals if they talk with each other individually outside the council. As a result the real concerns of people are never addressed in or outside the councils, and the consequences will be a continual stream of frustrated people who eventually leave the church.

The Openness of a Healthy Group
In an atmosphere where people are intimidated into silence they become unwilling or unable to speak up, and fail to discuss genuine or perceived issues that are important to them. This becomes a potential volcano waiting to erupt as frustrations develop over time. Unspoken and suppressed problems remain unresolved problems. They build up pressure and may eventually become explosive. Insecurity and lack of integrity create a closed atmosphere where people are afraid to talk. This is an unhealthy protectionism in leaders. It is based on a suspicion and distrust of people. It assumes they will always do the worst if they have access to facts and information. In a healthy group where there are integrity, life, and security, there will be an atmosphere of freedom and openness. People will be able to speak the truth in love, which aides in the growth of the individual and the group.

The tongue can “set things on fire,” but leadership needs to remember that some issues and problems are real. Leadership falls into serious trouble when it views the discussion of a problem as being in itself the problem. This is often an evasive action that diverts attention away from the real issues and causes the real concerns to not be addressed properly. When problems arise, they do not go away by suppressing them. Problems and complaints need to be faced and addressed. It is a mistake to evade people’s concerns and attack them for "talking.” If someone complains that there is a rattlesnake in the Sunday school, you need to at least check the room and make sure there is no snake hiding in a corner before you condemn the person for talking about it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Religious or Compassionate?


Pigs or People (Mark 5: 1-19)
Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a man who lived wild among the tombs, cutting himself, breaking chains, fierce, and threatening all who approached him. The spirits left the man and entered a nearby herd of swine which promptly ran down a steep embankment into the sea and drowned. When the multitude saw the healed man and the dead hogs they were afraid and begged Jesus to depart from their territory. How is it that these people who had endured the fierceness of this demon-possessed man were now so afraid of the holy and compassionate power of God that they begged Jesus to leave? They seemed to have more compassion on the hogs than on the suffering man, and they were more afraid of the power of God than of the demon-controlled man. This exposes the misplaced priorities and twisted perceptions of those who do not have a heart to know God.

The Religious Response (Matthew 12: 7-14)
The Pharisees also showed this same lack of compassion. Their religious spirit caused them to have no sympathy for suffering people. They could not rejoice that a sick person was made well, but in their self-righteousness and pride they could only complain that the healing was done on the Sabbath. They demonstrated the typical characteristics of a religious spirit. They lacked compassion on suffering humanity and ignored the word of God while focusing on the traditions of men. They would rather people suffer than for God to upset their usual routine by healing someone.

The Compassionate Response
The miracles of the New Testament were not just attestations of God’s supernatural presence, but were visible and concrete evidences of our Lord’s compassion, love, and willingness to work intimately in the lives of His people. The people of God must be instruments of God’s compassion and not just preachers of doctrine. Like Jesus we must "teach" and "do." (Acts 1:1)

“The Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when Jesus saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” Matthew 9: 35-36

“Go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” Mark 5: 19

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Lord Works With Us

“…And we are His witness to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Acts 5: 32

We usually think in terms of the Lord enabling us to share the good news of Jesus death and resurrection, but we should not overlook the “also” in the verse quoted above. We should remember that He will walk beside us to give His own witness and add power to our testimony. We bear witness, but so does He. Below is a dramatic example of this second dimension of our testimony.

High School Kids Experience Jesus
In 1971 when Laurel and I were first married we were asked to speak at a youth retreat for a group of high school kids from a Baptist church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The youth pastor had prepared for the event by calling friends and intercessors to pray and fast for the Lord to visit these kids. There were about 40 of them at the event. Most of them attended church, but I don’t think many of them really knew the Lord or had a real personal relationship with Him.

Laurel sang and I spoke. While I was sharing our testimony of our walk and experiences with the Lord, you could have heard a pin drop. It was as if Jesus was walking among us. His presence became more real each time I mentioned his name. A couple of the kids expressed a desire to know Him. Then a few more. Suddenly twenty of them were on their feet and praying with and for one another. The other twenty, along with the football players, remained seated and just gazed in wonder at what was happening.

Rob's Healing
Then a young man named Rob came up to me. He had both emphysema and asthma. His breathing was a loud wheezing and was so labored that it could be heard all over the room. He had a breathing machine with him, and his doctors had recommended that he not go to this retreat. But there he stood before me with a look of despair and desperation. I pulled him off to the side and said, “Rob, do you want to know Jesus?” He said, “Yes,” but then pointed to his chest to communicate the agony he was going through with his lungs.

I quoted Jesus' words about laying hands on the sick, and then I laid my hands on his head asking Jesus to touch him. Suddenly he fell back and began to shout, “I can breathe! I can breathe!” The Lord had instantly healed him of the emphysema and asthma. I then yelled out to the group, “Hey, everybody, God just healed Rob!” Immediately the other twenty kids rose up like a covey of quail. All forty kids were standing with arms uplifted to the Lord praising and thanking Him for the miracle. They all instantly gave their lives to the Lord and stood there weeping, laughing, and praising Him.

The Holy Spirit Confirms Our Testimony
I did not orchestrate this. This event seemed so spontaneous; I simply watched it happen. I had told the group that Jesus died for our sins, that He had risen from the dead, and was alive now as living Lord and Savior. But as I was speaking, Jesus Himself was moving around that room apart from me and was speaking to them by the Holy Spirit. Their lives were transformed because God revealed Himself to them.

We speak of faith and of the need to believe, but there was in those days a dimension of God's presence that arose from Sovereign acts of Divine grace, providence, and purpose that transcended what we wanted. We did not cause it to happen, we simply responded to His presence. We testified, but He also testified. May we even in this day again proclaim the presence of Jesus expecting that God will again, "...also bear witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" [Hebrews 2: 4].

“…And we are His witness to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Acts 5: 32

“When the helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of me. And you also will bear witness…” John 15: 26-27
Thanks for visiting. I would love to hear from those of you who have been encouraged or blessed by these posts. If you are a regular visitor or an occasional guest, please introduce yourself. You can send me an email at this address:    blong8@sccoast.net

Billy Long



Friday, February 1, 2013

A Parable:The Bald-tail, Nubby-butt, Plucked Peacock

I strutted around thinking I was really something, pleased with myself as I showed off the tail-feathers of my talents and abilities.

Then the Lord gently spoke to my heart as He placed His finger on certain areas of my life, and asked me to humble myself and obey His leading.

But I closed my ear and did not listen. So He quietly plucked a feather.

I did not notice the plucking, and so went on in my sense of self-importance.

Soon He returned, and placed His finger again on the area of my heart that He wanted me to surrender.

Again, I ignored Him.

So He plucked another feather. And I, unaware of it, continued on my way.

In His lovingkindness and patience He continued to visit me and point out the area of my need. But I kept strutting around in my self-satisfaction.

Then one day, my tail-feathers were all gone.



But amazingly, I kept strutting about thinking I was as beautiful as ever.

 When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity, You make his beauty melt away like a moth. Surely every man is a vapor.    Psalm 39: 11


Monday, January 7, 2013

Adventures in Sleepwalking: Being Sober unto Prayer


Awake and Asleep At the Same Time
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, one night during my sleep I woke up in the air, shocked to realize I had just jumped off the bed. When my dad was a child he walked in his sleep one night and threw his bed mattress and sheets out the upstairs window shouting “Fire, fire!” while his younger brother, my uncle Norwood, watched and laughed at him.

It’s difficult to explain somnambulism to someone who has never experienced it. Sleepwalking is an unusual state in which a person is sound asleep and acting out his dream, sometimes getting out of bed and walking around. He is awake enough to navigate through his environment but still asleep and interacting with the imaginary delusions of his dream. I have done this many times in my younger days.

Running From the Wrecking Ball
A few years ago I attended a conference with a group of pastors. We rented motel rooms with double beds in order to reduce each man’s cost. My friend Ron was across the room fast asleep on his bed. I was asleep in my bed but having a vivid dream about one of those huge wrecking balls that demolition experts use to destroy buildings. It was about to be dropped from a boom that had swung out over me. In an effort to escape I stood up on the bed and leaped to the floor trying to get out from under it. But the boom followed me, and so I took a couple quick steps and jumped up onto Ron’s bed. I managed to step over him without stepping on him, but I woke him from his sleep as I danced over him in a panic, running from that ball which was still hanging overhead and following me around the room.

Ron yelled out, “Billy, what are you doing?” as he watched me jump to the floor and run around the motel room trying to get away from that demolition ball. I call out, “Ron! How do you make that thing stop?”
He had no idea what “that thing” was, but playing along with my dream, his immediate response was a clear and authoritative, “By faith, brother.” I immediately stopped in my tracks and said, “Oh!” And then very calmly lay down and went back to sleep.

The True Watchman versus the Sleepwalker
“All you beasts of the field, come to devour, all you beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; Dreamers, lying down, loving to slumber.” Isaiah 56: 9-10
“Watchmen” are intercessors who pray and do battle in the spiritual realm in behalf of others. They are supposed to be awake, alert, and standing guard while others are asleep. From their position on the wall they have a clear view of the surrounding area. They are able to see an enemy approaching from a distance and blow the trumpet to give warning to those in the city.

"Dreamers" refers to watchmen who have fallen asleep on the wall and are failing in their responsibility to pray effectively. The literal Hebrew refers to those who are raving or talking in their sleep. Their anxiety, caused by their neglect of responsibility, oppresses them in their sleep and causes them to dream they are performing their duties. These watchmen, instead of engaging the real spiritual battle in prayer, are fighting phantoms in their dreams—while the real enemy slips in through the breaches in the real wall and devours the city.

“Be sober unto prayer.” 1 Peter4: 7
The “dreamer” or “sleepwalker” is an appropriate description of the intercessor who is not sober.
Sobriety is sound judgment rooted in a right spirit. It refers to the ability to stay in the realm of reality. We maintain sobriety by being spiritually awake, keeping our hearts right, and maintaining communion with the Lord. This is especially important for the intercessor.

An unhealthy disposition can distort our insight and perspective. A bad attitude will hinder our prayers. Sometimes in the midst of problems and conflict we allow our spirits to be overcome by anger, resentment, bitterness, hate, disillusionment, and despair. These can lead to confusion and the inability to see clearly. We begin to pray out of strife or we ask amiss. We speak “words without knowledge” as Job did, or “call fire down from heaven” as some of Jesus’ disciples wanted to do, or we simply pray erroneously because our wrong spirit has caused us to incorrectly assess a situation.

Our self centeredness will cause us to lose the kingdom perspective, and our prayers will tend to reflect self-interest rather than God's interest. Our prayers will be motivated by our wants and wrong motives rather than a heart for God’s kingdom and purpose. Under healthy conditions we “see through a glass dimly,” but with a bad attitude we add confusion and distortion. An inaccurate perception of God and life does not help our prayers.

When we cultivate our relationship with the Lord, keep our hearts right, and keep our spirits clear of ungodly attitudes, God lifts us up above the dust and clouds of battle and gives us the divine perspective. This is sobriety. Our "instruments" are working and we maintain the ability to follow them (as an airline pilot in the clouds at night in bad weather). With a good heart we are more inclined to have a good perspective on reality. But in those times when we cannot see, when we are disoriented and do not understand, a right spirit will help us to engage in effective prayer.