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