Monday, December 29, 2014

I want to remind the reader that you have to scroll down to read earlier posts. The article posted below is the most recent in the series on prophetic ministry in the New Testament Church. Scroll down to read earlier posts that lay foundations and help the reader to better understand the topic.  
At the very bottom of the page you can click "older posts" to go back even further and read the articles on Spiritual Gifts that preceded and serve as an introduction to this series.  ---Billy Long

A Healthy Context for Prophecy in the New Testament Church

Prophecy is supernatural, but it does not have to feel that way. The supernatural-ness is determined by context and timing as well as by content.
I remember on one occasion I was about to teach a Bible study to a group of about twenty or thirty young people, and was silently asking the Lord to confirm my direction for the teaching that night.
As the group was worshiping the Lord, one of the boys stood up. I knew he was about to share what he thought would be a prophetic word from the Lord. He said, “The Lord wants us to watch and pray.” He then paused and stood there silent for a minute hoping to add something more significant. But that was it. He had nothing else to say, and so he sat down feeling a little embarrassed and thinking he had failed.
I then stood up. “Our friend has just given a short, simple word telling us to watch and pray. He does not realize how the Lord has used him. He has not only shared a word to which we should all take heed, but also, without knowing it, he has given a word of confirmation to me. I was just now asking the Lord to confirm the teaching I am about to give. My text for tonight is Matthew 26: 41, ‘Watch and pray…’ My Bible was opened to that verse and my eyes were on those very words as our friend was saying ‘The Lord wants us to watch and pray.’”

You don’t have to act strange or take on a different personality.
In some cases a prophecy may be given directly from God syllable for syllable, word for word. In other cases God may inspire the concept, the idea, or the thought, but allow them, in their expression, to take on the flavor of the speaker.
The Spirit-filled Harvard professor very calmly walks up to someone and in a very dignified and stolid voice and says, “This is what the Lord is saying to you, Your canines will develop acariasis and become acaudal.”
A backwoods farmer then walks up to the same person and in a very emotional and energetic manner says, “Thus saith the Lord. Thy dogs-uh will become infested with ticks and lose their tails-uh.”
The fact is, these men said the same thing, but each one spoke out of his own personality and style. The Lord’s word was in the content while the style represented the individual vessel.

You can speak in a conversational tone.
“The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”  1 Corinthians 14: 32.
How do we expect people to act when they are being used by the Holy Spirit? A fellow once said to me, “My preacher is so anointed he pure foams at the mouth.” That is a strange one, and I am thankful that the Lord does not expect us to do that. So what style do we use in our presentation?
While there may be unusual and strange occurrences during great visitations of God’s presence, it is important for us to know that generally speaking we can move in the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit in the normal conversational tone of everyday life. How else can we approach the average person in the world with the reality of Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit’s work is not confined to a religious context. He can move in church or in any context of daily life as we interact with people.
We can be ourselves, we don’t have to act strange or change our voice. This is one of the keys to moving in the Holy Spirit on the job, in school, on the street, and out in the market-place. You don’t have to walk up to people and shout. You don’t have to say ‘’God-uh” or “yea, yea, thus saith the Lord.” You can be emotional or non-emotional. You can be enthusiastically zealous or you can be quiet and reserved. The key is to be genuine and real. The supernatural is not what you do, but rather what God Himself does. Sometimes God’s work is seen as obviously and patently supernatural. Other times it can be hidden and unnoticed because it is defined by the context and timing and may be significant only to those to whom it is directed.

A person moving in prophecy should not be passive.
“The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”  1 Corinthians 14: 32.
This verse deals with two problems: emotionalism and passivity. Emotions (such as joy and enthusiasm) are good, but emotionalism tends to be emotions posing as or substituting for the Holy Spirit, and generally tends to quench the Holy Spirit. Emotions represent our response to God’s presence. 
The verse also deals with the problem of passivity.  “The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet” means a person should not put his mind and thoughts in neutral waiting for “something” to take over.  Demonic counterfeits, the occult, and false religions work on the principle of passivity. We see it in meditation as practiced by eastern religions and in the demonic ceremonies of animistic cultures. Allowing your thoughts to go into neutral and your mind to be “blank” opens the door to demonic spirits, who take control. By contrast the Spirit of God works together with us while our faculties are at work and engaged. The Holy Spirit works through our spirits, and our spirits are subject to us. There are times when the Holy Spirit will move forcibly upon us (as in unusual revivals), but generally speaking He will be gentle and lead us rather than drive us. He requires our cooperation and our active involvement rather than a limp vessel with passive mind.

We Prophesy in part.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”1 Corinthians 13: 9
“For now we see in a mirror dimly.” 1 Corinthians 13: 12
Paul reminds us that we are not infallible and our knowledge is limited. A person moving in prophecy will generally be given only a glimpse of the issues to which he speaks. We may not fully comprehend or understand the implications of the words we give.   

Prophecy should be judged
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21
“Let … prophets speak, and let the others judge.” 1 Corinthians 14: 29
Because we are human, we have to deal with the principle of mixture. We make mistakes. Within proven Christian fellowship our ministry and words should be pure and clearly from God. However, we sometimes let the imaginations of our own heart blend in with the word and create mixture. This produces the need to test and evaluate whether a word is from God or from man, or a mixture of both. 
The devil can also be the motivating source of a word or activity. This is why a prophetic word or any ministry must be evaluated by the written word of God and discerned by those who are spiritually mature.  
Prophecy usually confirms issues which a person has already been dealing with or considering. It should not give direction “out of the blue.” A person should not accept a word with which he does not indentify. He might reject it if he thinks it is wrong, or place it in his “pending file” to be evaluated again later. A person should not make a decision base on a prophetic word alone. He should have an inner witness or a confirmation from fellow Christians or spiritual leaders. Prophecy must be harmonious with and not contradict the Bible.
Prophecy, like preaching, does not replace the Bible nor does it stand on the same level as scripture. It must be judged or evaluated the same as a sermon or any other word of instruction or exhortation. The Bible is the written word of God and is the standard by which prophecy and all ministry, church doctrine, and practice should be judged (Galatians 1: 6-9; 2 Peter1:16-21; Act 17:11).   In testing prophecy or any other word of ministry, we consider the following: Is it harmonious with scripture? Does the recipient of the word identify with it and does he have an inner witness to the truth of the word? Are fellow Christians or spiritual leaders able to confirm the word? Does the word reflect the love and peace of Christ.

We should not force people to accept our words.
A person giving a prophetic word must allow the recipient freedom to test the word and to accept or reject it. We do not coerce a person to act beyond what he has grace to do. We do not force a person to receive our words. We allow him the freedom to reject the word and go his own way, even if it is to his judgment and God’s discipline.

We should prevent excesses and abuses that harm the reputation of the prophetic ministry.
You should not prophesy every time you get a thought or feeling.
You should not “prophesy” things you ought to communicate from yourself.  Don’t “prophesy” what should be given as an exhortation, or counsel, or personal input and your opinion.
Prophecy should not be used as a substitute for personal confrontation. Some people attribute to God what they themselves would like to say. They put the other person in the psychologically uncomfortable position of having to disagree with God. 
It is best not to prophesy in situations where there is conflict. People will not accept it. If it’s wrong, it is soulish or carnal and not spiritual. If it’s right and a true word, it ends up “pearls before swine” and trampled on.

At this point I refer the reader to a previous post entitled “The Biblical Context for the Supernatural,” which shows the distinction between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the demonic counterfeits that are in our culture today. Just click this link: Biblical Context

(My next posting will deal with cautions to leadership regarding prophetic ministry in the New Testament church.---Billy Long)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Purpose of Prophecy: Part 3

A prophetic word can impart faith and strength to stand during spiritual warfare and when encountering assaults against us, our faith, and our work.

“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.”  1Timothy 1: 18

Timothy received prophetic words that confirmed his call and the specific work he was about to do. Those words were given through Paul, the elders, or other saints in the local church. According to Paul, these prophetic words would sustain and strengthen Timothy during the spiritual warfare he was certain to encounter. These prophecies would sustain him in the face of struggles, persecutions, and tribulations that come with advancing the kingdom of God.
This principle of “waging a good warfare” or “fighting the good fight” through the prophetic word is also illustrated in the life of the apostle Paul. A prophetic word can have the same effect as the instruction Jesus gave to Paul regarding his subsequent travel to Rome. The risen Lord appeared to Paul in the night and said, “As you have testified for me at Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11). This word gave Paul the assurance that whatever else might happened on the journey, it was inevitable that he would end up in Rome to preach the gospel there. This word sustained him as death threatened him many times on this particular journey.

Forty men banded together with an oath that they would not eat or drink until they killed him. I can imagine Paul thinking, “You men are going to be mighty hungry and thirsty because I am going to Rome.”

He was held in chains by the Roman authorities while the Jewish leaders wanted him taken to Jerusalem where he could be put to death. Paul’s response: “I am going to Rome.”

On a Roman ship in the Mediterranean Sea a severe and violent storm threatened to destroy the ship and everyone on it. Paul said, “I’ll not die here. I am going to Rome.”

When the ship ran aground and was breaking up, the soldiers were about to kill the prisoners, including Paul, but the centurion stopped them. Paul was “going to Rome.”

The passengers were marooned on the island of Malta. While gathering wood for a fire Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper. Everyone watched, expecting him to fall over dead, but he shook off the snake and suffered no harm. He was “going to Rome.”

The prophetic ministry in Christian fellowship often works on the same principle. When the Lord speaks to confirm his plan or purpose or to encourage us in an endeavor, we can stand on that word. Of course, the Bible is the written and final word of God on which we stand as the foundation for our faith and life in Christ. But the Holy Spirit does give us specific prophetic words, such as those given to Timothy, to encourage and help us “fight the good fight.” 

On one occasion I faced a difficult decision. I told the Lord that I did not have the courage or strength in myself to do what He was calling me to do. I did not want to refuse or say “no” to God. So I went to the Lord with these words: “My Lord, I do not want to make such a decision out of the imaginations of my own heart. The only way I can obey is to know that I have heard your voice, to know I have a clear commission from God. Only then will I be able to face the struggles and difficulties that might accompany this step.” This is why Peter, standing in the boat during the storm, said to Jesus, “Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter knew he would be able to take that step of faith only if He was certain Jesus was telling him to come. The same principle was at work when Peter responded to Jesus’ instructions to cast his net into the water. “Lord, we have toiled all night and have caught nothing. Nevertheless, at your word I will let down the net.”

Of course the Lord can and does speak to us personally and directly by the Holy Spirit in our daily walk with Him as we pray and read our Bibles. But He will not allow us to be so independent that we get everything we need from Him without receiving from others.  He delights in Christians’ blessing and serving one another. We see this in the ministry of the body of Christ as it is described in 1 Corinthians 12. The prophetic anointing is one of the means by which the Lord uses us to minister to one another.

(Scroll down to read previous postings. Also, keep a look-out for more to come. --BL)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Purpose of Prophecy: Part 2

This is Part 2 in the sub-heading of "The Purpose of Prophecy." To read Part 1 you must scroll down to the article below this one. Below that are earlier articles on the subject of Prophecy and spiritual gifts. -Billy  Long

A prophetic word may confront people with the truth about themselves or some issue, or help them face reality and realize that God sees and knows. It also gives evidence that God is present and active among His people.
“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”  1Corinthians14: 24-25
I was speaking at a church one evening when the Lord began to give me words for individuals. When receiving prophetic ministry people will often weep when they realize the Lord really does know what they are going through and that He is reaching out to them in a special way to show his love and care. However, on this particular night, I saw a lady and some people get up and walk out. The pastor later told me they left the building because they were afraid I might minister to them. Maybe they had things to hide and were afraid I might expose them. Or maybe they were simply unfamiliar and were afraid of the unknown. Nevertheless, I am absolutely confident that nothing would have been said to embarrass or make them uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit comes to express the same love and power that worked through Jesus when he spoke to and touched people during His earthly ministry.

While visiting in a home a few years ago I saw in the Spirit that one of the Christian men was struggling with a very serious temptation. I pulled him aside and ministered to him privately. I simply told him what the Lord had shown me, gave him a word of caution, and then prayed that the Lord would deliver him.
Jesus’ ministry to the woman at the well is a prime example of how prophetic insight (accompanied by a word of knowledge) can penetrate the heart and draw someone to the Lord. Jesus told her to call her husband to come to him. She responded, “I have no husband.” Jesus then said, “You have said well ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband.” The woman’s life was changed. She went and shared her experience with the men of the city. “Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” As a result of her words these men left the city and went to Jesus.

Prophecy may reveal knowledge and give spiritual instruction. Encouragement often comes with understanding.
“For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” 1 Corinthians 14: 31
Prophecy is not preaching or teaching, yet it may include words that enlighten and instruct. The seed of learning is always present when the Lord speaks to us.

Prophecy may show things to come or reveal what God is about to do.
“Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” Amos 3: 7
 “And in those days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.”  Acts 11: 27-28
“A certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” Acts 21: 10-11
Prophecy in the New Testament church is defined as speaking by immediate revelation and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It can relate to past, present, or future. While it may speak to the future, the time aspect is not primary, but rather it is the Lord’s speaking to encourage, comfort, strengthen, or to bring some revelation. It is not to be confused with or equated with psychic phenomena which are demonic counterfeits of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. (Compare Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

Prophecy is useful in the impartation of spiritual gifts and in confirming and launching individuals into ministry.
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Acts 13: 2
“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of hands of the eldership.” 1 Timothy 4: 14
The Holy Spirit spoke supernaturally through prophetic words when the Apostles Paul and Barnabas began their apostolic and missionary journeys. Timothy’s ministry also began with the impartation of his ministry gift through the laying on of hands and prophetic words from Paul and church elders. We often hear people speak of being “called” to their work or ministry. Usually they “hear” this call in their own hearts in their relationship and walk with the Lord. But the Lord also confirms that call through others in the body of Christ. That confirmation may be a simple affirmation from others who agree, or it may be a strong prophetic word as noted in the verses quoted above. The Old Testament shows Samuel prophetically confirming Saul’s and David’s call as Kings. In the New Testament we see similar confirmation coming to Timothy through the elders, and to Paul and Barnabas through prophets and teachers who were fasting and seeking the Lord.

Parts 3 and 4 dealing with the purpose of prophecy will be posted soon. Keep watch for the next notification. - Billy Long


Monday, December 15, 2014

Purpose of Prophecy in the New Testament Church: Part 1

This post begins a series of 4 parts dealing with the purpose of the prophetic ministry in the New Testament church. Three more posts on the subject of “Purpose” will follow this one. If you scroll down to the bottom of this post, you will find earlier postings. Subsequent posts will be located above this one. –Billy Long
The Setting
It is important at this point to help the reader to envision what the prophetic ministry looks like in the New Testament church.
A prophetic word can come through one who functions in the office of a Prophet who proclaims what God is saying to a church, a group of people, a nation, or the world (Ephesians 4: 11, Acts 21: 10-12). It can come through a church member who is not a Prophet but who has a special gift to move in prophetic ministry as he reaches out to others (Romans 12: 6, Acts 21: 9). It can also come as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit through any Spirit-filled believer as the Lord chooses to use him or her (“You can all prophesy”). 1 Corinthians 12: 7,10;  14:1-5, 24, 31).
Prophecy is the Holy Spirit’s inspiring a person to speak a word from God’s heart. It may be directed to a congregation or to an individual. The typical setting might be fellowship at church or Christians together in someone’s living room. It can occur during worship or during casual fellowship over a cup of coffee. It can be a simple statement made in normal conversation, as inconspicuous as the inspiration to tell someone the Lord loves them, or it can be as dramatic as the Prophet Agabus picking up the apostle Paul’s belt and saying, “Whoever owns this belt is going to Jerusalem, and when he gets there he will be bound and thrown into prison.”
Sometimes a person is moved upon by the Holy Spirit to give a word to the church. Sometimes he receives a special anointing to pray or share a thought in response to someone who has opened his heart or shared a need. Under a prophetic anointing those prayers and words will speak directly to the situation whether to the church or to an individual being prayed for and ministered to.

Prophecy confirms.
A young man named Tom came to me for counsel and discussed various issues he was dealing with in his life. I shared with him four or five major principles that applied to his situation. The next day Leland Davis, a genuine New Testament Prophet who had no knowledge of Tom’s situation, was guest speaker at our church. I stood amazed as he spoke over Tom a word of encouragement that contained in detail each of the points I had given in my counsel the night before. Tom was comforted by these words of confirmation and was able to be at peace.

Prophecy “directs” but only in a limited sense.
A prophetic word will generally confirm rather than direct. A person receiving a prophetic word should not act on a “prophetic” word that gives direction “out of the blue.” He should identify with the word and should have an inner witness affirming its authenticity.  If this assurance and peace is missing, he should either reject the word or place it in the “pending” file to be revisited later.

The prophetic word to the church in Acts 13:1-3 was not a strange word “out of the blue,” but rather confirmed what had already been planned. The Spirit was telling them the time had arrived for them to commission Paul and Barnabas to the work for which they had already been called. The word confirmed the timing of the ministry.
In Acts 16:6-10, The Holy Spirit spoke strongly and emphatically to the apostolic team, forbidding them to go into Asia and not permitting them to go into Bithynia. This direction obviously came through a very strong inner sense of what God was saying and was almost certainly accompanied by prophetic words similar to those prophecies that warned Paul about his trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). Following these words of caution and restriction, Paul received a positive direction through a vision in the night instructing him to go to Macedonia.

Prophecy is an instrument of God’s love in reaching out to people.
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” 1 Corinthians 14:1
The purpose of the supernatural in the church is not for show or theatrics. It is simply the presence of God at work. It happens when the people of God are moved with compassion and allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to encourage, strengthen, heal, comfort, and touch the people around them. God speaks and acts to reveal Himself through our words and our prayers. 

Prophecy is meant to build up and encourage.
“He who prophesies speaks edification, and exhortation and comfort to men…. He who prophesies edifies the church.” 1Corinthians 14:3
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…to another prophecy…” 1 Corinthian 12:7,11 
The prophetic word edifies or builds up those to whom it is directed. It strengthens and assists growth.  It also exhorts, which refers to words that motivate, prod us, and urge us strongly to obedience and faithfulness.  It can be a word of comfort given to bring relief from suffering and grief, a special word from the Lord to lighten the countenance, give courage, renew hope, and free one from despair and dismay.

An example
I was having breakfast with a pastor friend of mine at a motel restaurant when I noticed a gentleman sitting alone at a table across the room. I turned to my friend and said, “Sam, you see that man over there. He is going through the pain of a divorce.”
When Sam and I finished our breakfast I noticed the gentleman was still at his table and I decided to speak to him. I walked over to his table and said to him, “Sir, my friend and I are pastors. When I saw you sitting here, the Lord showed me that you are going through the pain of a divorce, and I would like to pray for you.”
The fellow stopped eating and looked up at me with sadness in his eyes. “I am in the middle of a divorce right now,” he said.
I told him that the Lord loved him and wanted to deliver him from the things in his life that helped cause the divorce. He responded, “I am from New England, and I am on my way now to Florida to get help for these very things.”
I gave him my card and told him I would be praying for him.
About a week later I received a letter from him thanking me for reaching out to him. He shared how our meeting that morning had encouraged him. His faith was strengthened and his hope renewed because he was made aware that there really is a God who knows him and cares about him.


Three more posts on the subject of “Purpose of Prophetic Ministry” will follow this one. –Billy Long

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Prophetic Ministry: Learning As We Grow

“Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.”   1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21.
A fellow stood up and gave what he felt was a prophetic word to the congregation. The pastor gently corrected him and told him that the word was not from the Lord. A little later in the service the same fellow stood up and said, “Yea, thus says the Lord, ‘It was Me, too.”

We learn to walk in the Spirit the same way the twelve disciples did. We step out in faith to minister timely words from the Lord that comfort, encourage, and strengthen. Yet we must also maintain humble hearts ready to receive instruction and correction. We learn from our mistakes knowing we have this treasure in earthen vessels.

“He has settled on his dregs, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel… therefore his taste remains in him.”  Jeremiah 48: 11 
Have you ever tasted water from a hose left out in the sun on a hot summer day? The water flowing from the hose initially smells and tastes like the hose. It has to flow for a while in order to get to the taste of cold, clear, and pure water. We are like that hose. Our goal is to have purity and allow the Holy Spirit to flow through us as life-giving water, but factors such as immaturity, personality issues, and mixture produced by human weakness can often cause our ministry to “taste like us.” The consistent purity of our message and ministry depends upon the degree we allow the Lord to refine and mature us in character and spiritual growth. Therefore, we must be prepared to learn through our mistakes and allow others to test our ministry. We must be prepared for the awkwardness of an occasional stumble as we learn to walk in a more mature and pure expression of spiritual gifts.
I have given words that were clearly from the Lord, and other times I have allowed myself to get in the way. But I do not reject the clear biblical operations of the Holy Spirit because of my mistakes. Instead, I learn from them and move forward by the grace of God.. 

Peter’s Example
"Get thee behind me, Satan" - Matthew 16: 16-17, 22-23
We learn through our mistakes if we remain humble and teachable. 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.

.Examples of some good words
I walked out of the auto repair shop and started across the parking lot, feeling the distress of certain trials that were pressing upon me at that time. I had cried out to God the night before, and had prayed with Laurel before leaving the house that morning. As I walked across the parking lot still silently reaching out to the Lord, I saw a man in a bright red shirt at the far end of the parking lot. I did not know him, and I don’t think he knew me. I was too far away for him to “read” the expression on my face, and so there was no way for him to know my disposition at that moment. But yet, he yelled at me from the other end of the parking lot saying in a loud voice, “God will make a way. No matter what the trouble, God will make a way. Just praise him.” This was a prophetic gift at work. That man came as an angel of the Lord with a word directly to me from God.

I was speaking to a church in Florence, SC a few years ago, when the Lord gave me a word for one of the men in the congregation. I told him that he was about to experience a job change, and for him not to fear. It will be from the Lord. He went into work the next week and discovered his job had been eliminated. He was “let go.” However, a better job opened up very quickly in another city.

A friend of mine had asked a girl to marry him, but then got “cold feet” and was wondering if he had made the right decision. Another Christian friend who knew nothing about the proposal felt led of the Holy Spirit to go to him and give the following word, not realizing the full implications of his message. “You made a commitment to D____. You need to keep it.” They have been happily married now for over 30 years.

Not complicated as you might think
Sometimes a prophetic word is simply a compassionate word to encourage someone who is alone, discouraged, or hurting, a reminder that God loves them and is aware of their situation, a word that lets them know they are not forgotten. A prophetic word can be dramatic and obviously prophetic or it can seem so natural that the supernatural-ness of it is disguised and hidden to all but the one to whom it is directed. A prophetic anointing can be expressed by an amazing and keen insight into a person’s situation and needs as we pray for him or her. It can be a dramatic word that speaks powerfully to confirm decisions about to be made. 

Moving in the gifts of the Holy Spirit does not require maturity or even stability. But maturity will bring depth and penetration to our ministry. Stability and holiness will bring longevity and endurance. Instability and impurity can eventually destroy ministry. The grace and mercy of God are shown by the fact that God will work through imperfect people. But He does expect us to grow and work on our weaknesses.
The Lord does not wait for our perfection before using us. But if we, in our imperfections, desire to grow and move in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we need a healthy context where leadership gives us freedom to step out and take risks. We need brothers and sisters who are willing to learn along with us and who understand the process. In this way we can rejoice in our successes and learn from our stumbles without feeling condemned or embarrassed.
“Those…who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”    Hebrews 6: 14
“Let…prophets speak, and let the others judge.”  1 Corinthians 14: 29
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.”   1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Prophetic Ministry in the New Testament Church

INTRODUCTION
Prophetic ministry in the New Testament church
The prophetic ministry as it operated in the New Testament church is either unknown or greatly misunderstood by too many Christians today. When the term “prophesying” is mentioned, most people think of the Old Testament prophets, Biblical end-time prophecies, or psychic phenomena (the demonic counterfeit of the true spiritual gift taught in scripture). In this series, I want to show how the prophetic ministry operated among the first Christians as recorded in the New Testament. Their practice should be the model that we emulate in our Christian walk today. We should do what they did.
Presenting this subject to those who are unfamiliar with it is like describing a landscape painting one brushstroke at a time. The partial picture sometimes produces as many questions as answers. The subject cannot be covered in one post, and there will be many points that need further explanation and clarification. Hopefully the reader will follow the process until I have covered the subject sufficiently in subsequent postings. Meanwhile, I welcome any questions or comments that the reader may wish to present.  -Billy Long

My first experiences with prophetic ministry
The gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit came alive to me when I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1967 during the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that became known as the Charismatic renewal. It was not uncommon to hear people giving general prophetic words to congregations or to the people gathered for worship. Usually at some point in the meeting a person might stand up and give a brief word, often beginning with the phrase “thus says the Lord.”  I learned later that a prophetic word does not have to begin with that phrase and is often given to individuals as well as to groups, and can be spoken in a more conversational rather than religious style.

The first time I witnessed the prophetic ministry in which supernatural words were given to individuals was when my wife Laurel and I visited in the home of Leland Davis. Our testimony had been published in Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association’s Abundant Life Magazine, and not surprisingly I had in my possession a rather large stack of these magazines that I kept on hand to pass out to people. When Laurel and I arrived at Leland Davis’ house, one of the first things I did was to hand him a copy. I guess I thought he would be impressed.
After the evening meal we went with him to church where he was the guest minister that night. After his sermon he began to move in his prophetic gifting, going from one individual to another, giving very encouraging supernatural words. This was the first time I had seen the prophetic ministry at this depth.
 My jaw dropped, and with mouth open I realized what a novice I was. I was ready to ask Leland to give back my magazine. I had given it to him with such an air of youthful arrogance. Now I was humbled into realizing there is more, more to learn, more to experience, and more to grow into. It is such arrogance for us to think we “have arrived,” to think we are so “deep,” and thus lose our hunger to grow and reach forward. If we look back in awe at how far we have come, we should look forward and be humbled by how far there is yet to go.
     
Prophecy- A General Introduction
Prophecy in the New Testament church is not “preaching.” Prophecy is speaking by immediate revelation and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It can relate to past, present, or future. The time aspect is not primary, but rather it is the Lord’s speaking to encourage, comfort, strengthen, or to bring some revelation. Prophecy is the Holy Spirit’s moving upon one to speak a word from God to a specific person or people. It can appear amazingly supernatural or it can sound very simple and uneventful to those standing by. It can be an intense and dramatic word or a quiet and gentle word to remind someone that God loves them. It is not to be confused with or equated with psychic phenomena which are demonic counterfeits of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12.

A careful reading of the New Testament reveals three levels of prophecy operating in the early Christian church.
1)    The office of a prophet (Ephesians 4: 11, Acts 21: 10-12).
2)     The ministry of prophecy in which a person is specially gifted in ministering to others prophetically (Romans 12: 6. Acts 21: 9).
3)    The manifestation of the Holy Spirit (“You can all prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14: 24, 31).

Scriptural Examples of Prophecy in the New Testament church
 For the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…to another prophecy…. 1Corinthians 12: 7, 10

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 1 Cor.14:1

Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied… Luke 2: 67

And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar…  Acts 11: 27-28 

Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”    Acts 13: 1-3

And now I go bound in spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.  Acts 20: 23

Now this man had four daughters who prophesied.  Acts 21: 9

And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”   Acts 21: 10-11

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may war the good warfare. 1 Timothy 1: 18

Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.     1Timothy 4: 14

The verses listed above should convince the open-minded reader that New Testament Christians experienced something more than we customarily see in our typical worship service and fellowship. For those of you who are being introduced to this subject for the first time and those who have known it only at a superficial level, I hope you will follow the entire series in subsequent postings. My objective is to clear-up misconceptions (of which there are many) and to help the reader to see how wonderful and precious this gift of the Holy Spirit is when it operates in the atmosphere of God’s love. It and the other gifts of the Spirit are meant to be instruments of compassion in which the Lord works through us to encourage and strengthen one another.                                                                                                                   

If you have a comment or question to address to me personally, please email me at blong8@sccoast.net     
Thanks for reading,
Billy Long


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Manifestations of the Holy Spirit: Definitions

Teaching this subject to those who are unfamiliar with it is like describing a landscape painting one brushstroke at a time. The partial picture sometimes produces as many questions as answers. As I read the paragraphs below, I see so many points that need further explanation and clarification, but which must wait for future posts to complete the picture.  The subject cannot be covered in one post. So…I will proceed as best as I can, and hope that my friends will follow the process until I have covered the subject sufficiently. Meanwhile, I do welcome any questions or comments that the reader may wish to present. –Billy Long

The Manifestation of the Holy Spirit
”Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant….But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…” 1 Corinthians 12: 1, 7
It is fitting that the Apostle Paul begins his discussion of spiritual gifts by expressing his desire that the church not be ignorant of them. This statement implies there is knowledge and understanding to be gained beyond a casual reference or quick dismissal of the subject. It also implies the apostle knew that, in spite of the pervasiveness of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in the early church, there would be the possibility of spiritual gifts being either neglected or abused. His concern is valid today and should motivate us to search out knowledge, understanding, and experience.

We can learn much from teaching, but experience is necessary to really understand the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught by word and by example. The disciples learned by listening to His words, watching Him in action, and practicing what He taught and modeled. Trying to understand the manifestations of the Holy Spirit without experiencing them is like trying to be an automobile mechanic just by reading the manual. It requires not only study, but also training. The Bible is our manual and is absolutely foundational, but James tells us to “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Experience gives substance and weight. Otherwise, we remain in the arena of intellectual discussion and doctrine. The apostle Paul said the gospel did not come in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit. 

“Charisma”
This Greek word is translated “gift” and is rooted in the word for “Grace.” It refers to a broad range of spiritual gifts, and by definition signifies they are the operations of God’s grace. “Charismata” (spiritual gifts) encompass three main areas: Offices, Ministries, and Manifestations. Here is a general definition of each.   
(1) Office gifts are given to equip and strengthen the body of Christ. They include apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, teachers, and are special callings.

(2) There are various, specialized areas of service which are in fact ministries, but not offices. These include teaching, ministries of miracles, healing ministries, serving, giving, prophesying (not the office of prophet), administrations, etc. All Christians can have ministries or areas where they are gifted to serve.

(3) The manifestation of the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11. Paul lists nine ways in which the Holy Spirit manifests Himself. They are…
The word of wisdom
The word of knowledge
Faith
Healing
Miracles
Prophecy
Discerning of spirits
Tongues
Interpretation of tongues  

Any Spirit-filled Christian can potentially move in any or all of the nine manifestations of the Spirit as they are needed. These operations of the Spirit do not refer to specialized ministries or one gift that a person carries around with him, but rather to a variety of ways the Holy Spirit may use any believer at any time as He chooses or as the need arises.

It is also important to note that the terms in this list refer to specific, supernatural acts of the Holy Spirit and not to natural human talent and acquired skill. For example, the “word of knowledge” does not refer to “knowledge” in general but rather to a “word” of knowledge. Jesus’ word to the woman at the well is a good example.

“Manifestation”
The term “manifestation” used in 1 Corinthians12:7 means that the Holy Spirit comes to reveal Himself as the presence of Christ at work through His people. He is not a vague, distant, impersonal presence, not just a doctrine, or emotions, or some nice concept we refer to in our liturgy.  He is the active presence of God revealed.  Peter described it as “this which you now see and hear(Acts 2:33). Paul described it as the “demonstration of the Spirit and power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). The Holy Spirit desires to carry us beyond empty ritual and theology and bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in tangible ways. This happens when we present ourselves to Him and allow Him to work.

Definitions of the Nine Manifestations
A Word of Wisdom
This does not refer to wisdom in general, but to a specific word of wisdom for a specific situation, a special word given to help in a difficult situation or a time of perplexity. It does not refer to philosophical wisdom, but to practical wisdom, helping us to know what to do, how to do, or what to say. It is a word that clarifies and gives divine perspective in a matter.

A Word of Knowledge
As noted above, this refers to a special word of knowledge, not to general knowledge acquired through study or by efforts of the natural mind. It is a supernatural knowing.
There are many example of this is the lives of the old Testament prophets, Jesus, and the apostles.

Faith
There are three categories of faith.
1.    Faith dealt to every Christian, the faith involved in salvation. Romans 12: 3 says that God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
2.    Faith which is a general trust and confidence in God. This faith is revealed in how we face life in our daily walk with God.
3.    A manifestation of the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12: 9.

Faith as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit does not refer to the usual or general faith that is always active and present with the Christian, but to a special faith for a specific purpose. It refers to a surge of confidence given for a particular need or circumstance. It is the supernatural emptying of doubt as an individual, by divine revelation, receives clear insight into the knowledge of God’s will and purpose regarding a matter, resulting in the absolute certainty that it will come to pass. It involves special insight into the will of God with the certainty that it will be done. This insight is accompanied by the grace to either pray or speak it done. This type of faith produces outstanding and unusual events.

Healing
Healing is a supernatural working of the Holy Spirit to cure sickness and disease in the name of Jesus. This was a common occurrence in the early Christian church. Jesus commissioned the church to heal and then placed healing in the church as one of the manifestations of the Spirit available for all believers. It can also be a specialized ministry.  The following methods were used in the Bible: Prayer, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, speaking the word of faith, simply believing, the use of handkerchiefs or aprons, having the sick person do something (such as wash or dip in water), and touching the garment or shadow of one anointed with healing ministry.

Miracles
Miracles can be defined as God using someone to do the impossible or various supernatural works. Miracles in the Bible include the dead being raised, food multiplied, walking on water, special healings, creative miracles, limbs restored, and miracles of provision.

Prophecy
Prophecy in the New Testament church was not “preaching.” Prophecy is speaking by immediate revelation and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It can relate to past, present, or future. The time aspect is not primary, but rather it is the Lord speaking to encourage, comfort, strengthen, or to bring some revelation. Prophecy is the Holy Spirit’s moving upon one to speak a word from God to a specific person or people. It can be an intense and dramatic word or a quiet and gentle word to remind someone that God loves them.
There are three levels of prophecy:
1)    The office of a prophet (Ephesians 4: 11, Acts 21: 10-12).
2)     The ministry of prophecy in which a person is specially gifted in ministering to others prophetically (Romans 12: 6. Acts 21: 9).
3)    The manifestation of the Holy Spirit (“You can all prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14: 24, 31).

Discerning of spirits
This refers to supernatural revelation giving one the ability to discern (recognize and know) what type of spirit is at work in a person or situation.  It is the ability to know if the source is God (of God), an evil spirit (of Satan), or the human spirit (of man). Another aspect of this particular gift is the ability to discern a person and his character. Jesus demonstrated this type of discernment many times as He “saw” or discerned the nature, character, and motivation of people around Him. This gift operates when it is specifically needed and when the Holy Spirit chooses. It is not intended to cause one to be critical, condemning, and always trying to judge others.

Tongues
“Tongues” (“languages”) is the supernatural ability to pray in another language (either earthly or heavenly) by means and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When praying in tongues, a person’s spirit is praying. It can be intercession or praise and worship. It strengthens the believer and builds him up. This type of tongues does not need an interpreter, and there is no limit to the number of people who can worship or pray together in this manner. All of the examples of tongues given in the book of Acts are of this type. In each of these occasions there are more than “three at the most” who are praying in tongues. Every Christian can pray in the Holy Spirit in intercession and praise.
A second type of tongues is the message given to the church or a prayer in tongues given before the church. In this case an individual is moved to speak a message in tongues while the church listens quietly. This is to be interpreted, and is limited to two or three at the most.

Interpretation of Tongues
The interpretation of tongues is the Holy Spirit giving someone an interpretation of or response to a message previously given in tongues. There are varying opinions as to the nature of the interpretation. It may be a literal translation of a message given in tongues to the church, or possibly a prophetic response to a prayer in tongues given before the church.
(For a complete study on the subject of “tongues” the reader is encouraged to go to this link http://councilroom.blogspot.com  and read the entire series of articles on “Praying in the Spirit.”  
    
Summary: Pursue Love and Desire Spiritual gifts
The gifts are for every believer and not just for some special person up front on stage.  They may be spectacular, but usually they will reflect the quiet and gentle moving of the Holy Spirit as Christians reach out to one another with compassion and care.
The apostle Paul tells us to “pursue love and desire spiritual gifts.” When we move in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit we are expressing our hunger for God’s active presence among us and we are showing our love and care for those around us. Jesus healed people because He was moved with compassion. We will move in the gifts of the Spirit as we are moved with His compassion. The gifts therefore are instruments of God’s love. I pray for the sick because of God's compassion for those who suffer. I want to move in prophetic insight because there are people who need an encouraging word from God. I want to have a word of wisdom because someone is perplexed or confused and asking God for direction. I want to see miracles because so many people are facing impossibilities and need the “waters to part.” I want to pray in the Spirit because it strengthens my prayer life, strengthens my spirit, and helps release my ability to move in the other gifts of the Spirit, which will in turn touch others with the compassion, presence, and power of God.

When we speak of spiritual gifts, we are speaking of the presence of Jesus Christ working among us. We are not necessarily focusing on the spectacular and the dramatic, although these do occur from time to time. But mostly we look for those unobtrusive and often unnoticed acts of the Holy Spirit working in the background and which flow among us as life and grace, quietly, yet deeply touching and blessing the lives of those around us. It is those daily, obscure, and non-spectacular acts of obedience that strengthen the church. It flows out of the individual’s desire to be used of God, and his willingness to reach out to people with love and compassion.

“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts.” 1 Corinthians 14: 1



Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Biblical Context for the Supernatural


Common errors in approaching spiritual gifts
There are three common errors in how churches approach the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Evangelical churches tend to either dismiss them (ignoring them altogether) or naturalize them (doing away with the supernatural aspect). Pentecostal denominations which claim acceptance of the gifts have often quenched them through emotionalism. 
The error of the non-Christian world is that it imitates spiritual gifts through psychic and occult phenomena which are demonic counterfeits of the true. When man seeks spiritual experience apart from the God of the Bible, he will encounter human soul power and evil spirits. In modern cultures evil spirits have masqueraded as “good” and so have lured many educated folk into the pantheistic world of the new age movement. In our modern culture the spirit realm has disguised itself as “good” and gives people spiritual experiences with “warm-fuzzies” included. The devil comes as an angel of light.
 Pagan and primitive societies have been generally animistic, either worshiping spirits or seeing them in everything. They know the reality of spirits and their malevolent nature. They generally fear them and constantly try to placate them in their religious rites and cultural practices. With the exception of modern new age philosophies that see good spirits in inanimate objects and nature, most primitive societies have always recognized the evil in the spirit realm, and have lived in fear of these spirits unmasked for what they really are.
American culture has seen a rise of activity in the non-Christian supernatural realm through new age and eastern mysticism and occult and psychic phenomena.  Multitudes have sought spiritual reality while attempting to avoid the God of the Bible and the moral demands He places upon His followers. This has resulted in a rise and acceptance of various facets of eastern religions with their new age practices including yoga and meditation (which seem harmless on the surface but are demonic in their origins), a fascination with the occult and paranormal phenomena, astrology (horoscope), and witchcraft.  All of these practices introduce people to the demonic supernatural realm.  The Bible forbids our involvement with such practices because they represent a form of idolatry (See Deuteronomy 18:10); they introduce people to the realm of evil spirits; and they counterfeit the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

The Biblical Context for the Supernatural: Jesus, the Bible, the Church
The genuine manifestations of the Holy Spirit occur within an atmosphere where Jesus Christ is glorified as Lord and the Bible is respected as the word of God. People are filled with joy and peace as they are healed, set free, encouraged, and strengthened. True Christians need not fear nor be apprehensive about the workings of the Holy Spirit. Within the context of the guidelines given below Christians can discern what is of God and what is of the evil one.

Jesus is Lord. The supernatural must be within the context of the people who confess and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The New Testament is very clear. The Holy Spirit comes to reveal and glorify Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus affirmed this to His disciples before He ascended to the Father (John 15:26). The Book of Acts is filled with examples of the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit as He reveals Christ and confirms the Gospel message with miracles, healings, exorcisms, prophetic utterances, and great joy. The letters of the apostles reaffirm and establish as foundational the truth that those under the influence of the Holy Spirit will acknowledge and confess that Jesus is Lord. The writers also stated that anyone working in the supernatural who does not acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus  is a false-prophet and of the anti-Christ.  (1John 4: 1-3, Revelation 19:10, 1 Corinthians 12: 1-3).

The Bible. The supernatural must be within the context of the biblical model, within the context of those who believe the Bible to be God’s word and who walk according to it both doctrinally and morally. The supernatural must follow the pattern found in the Gospels, the writings of the apostles, and in the Book of Acts.
The Biblical writers exhorted God’s people to trust only those whose message was according to their written Bible. Moses warned Israel to reject any prophet or miracle-worker who spoke contrary to the written law and word of God that Moses had given (Deuteronomy 13: 1-3). Isaiah warned Israel of those who claimed supernatural gifting but who did not speak according to law and testimony given by Moses and the prophets (Isaiah 8:19-20). The Apostle Peter tells us that the written word of God is more sure than a voice from heaven and that we do well to heed it as a light that shines in a dark place. (2 Peter 1: 12-21).

The Church. The supernatural must be within the context of the church, the people of God who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. We are referring to people, not buildings and corporate entities, but the living body of Christ that transcends all political and corporate entities.
The context of church refers to followers of Christ functioning under the authority of God’s Word, believers gathered in His name, as well as involved in personal ministry and outreach in daily life as they interacts with the world outside the church.1 Corinthians 11-14 speaks of the gifts of the Holy Spirit working within the context of the body of Christ, the church. The Apostle Paul tells us that God has appointed in the church the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:28).  Paul lists the manifestations of the Holy Spirit as well as ministry gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12: 4-8. Again he sets them within the context of the body of Christ.

The Gifts and Fruit of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit comes to reveal and glorify Jesus. The “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit is actually the manifestation of Jesus Himself walking among us and working through us. For the church to express the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4: 13) to this world it must abound and grow in both the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit (See Galatians 5: 22-23) express the nature of Christ, His love and holiness. The gifts or manifestations of the Holy Spirit (See 1 Corinthians 12: 7-12) express the power and actions of Christ. This is the true Biblical context for the supernatural—an atmosphere where followers of Christ walk in His word and express His nature and power by the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit.




Saturday, March 29, 2014

Holding Fast the Good

“If a cat sits on a hot stove, he will never sit on a hot stove again. But by the same token, he will never sit on a cold one either.” –Mark Twain

We fail to see the beauty and good purpose of a thing when blinded by prejudice, bias, and misinformation. Bad experiences often cause us to avoid even the good ones. Therefore, I am reaching out to those who have never done a biblical study of the Holy Spirit’s work and to those who have been “turned-off” by bad examples. I would encourage the reader to take another look at the subject from a biblical perspective rather than taking cues from negative experiences that often hinder our ability to see the pattern and examples given us by the first Christians in the book of Acts.
I plan in subsequent posts to give clear Biblical definitions of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11 in an attempt to remove some common misconceptions. But first, I submit this post as an appeal to those who may be skeptical. –Billy Long

Don’t be stumbled by bad examples.
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast that which is good.”  1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21.
I could write a book listing the miracles I have witnessed and the ones I have been a part of. Reading it you would be pressed to believe in God and His desire to work intimately in the lives of people. But then I could also write another book about the times I was in “the deep” about to be swallowed up and close to losing everything. Reading this list of my failures and struggles, you might then say, “Where is your God?” We don’t have all the answers. We don’t always do everything right. We make mistakes, we stumble, but because of our hunger to know God and His intimate presence, we step out in faith, trust Him to teach us, and press on to grow in the things of the Spirit.

I could tell you of friends being healed through prayer and also of others dying in spite of it. I have friends who have experienced miraculous healings and friends who have been raised from the dead. Some have received immediate response to prayer, and others have suffered what seems an interminable wait as they call on the Lord daily for healing, help, or an “open door.” My experiences, however, do not change the truth. My success or failure does not change the reality of God’s word and the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is arrogant to think that something is not real if I have not done it or seen it. One man boasted that miracles were not real today because not one miracle had ever occurred in any church in his denomination. That statement is no basis for a theology denying miracles. It is, however, an indictment against his denomination.

The New Testament church knew both the reality of a Sovereign God and the reality of human weakness. They were not afraid of God’s presence, and they were not daunted by human weakness and propensity toward mistakes. The first apostles did not prohibit the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit when they saw abuses and misuses, but rather they provided instruction and wisdom.They did not quench or despise the working of the Holy Spirit, but rather proved all things and held fast the good.”

“If You Avoid All Eggs, You’ll Never Eat A Rotten One.”
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?”

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 model. 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 stumbling blocks, 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.

“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast that which is good.”  1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21.

 In subsequent posts, I plan to give practical definitions and examples of the manifestations as listed in 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11.
Billy Long
3/29/14