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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Faith, Love, and Spiritual Gifts Work Together

Faith vs Spiritual Gifts?
People who reject the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in the church today often tend to emphasize “faith” and “love” as substitutes for and reasons to eliminate the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit. This logic sounds spiritual but is inconsistent with the life and ministry of Jesus, the practices of the New Testament church, and the ministry of the apostles. The paragraph in italics below (written by an acquaintance of mine) is an example of this type of thinking.
“The trial is to walk in faith alone.....that is the true miracle to stay strong without inventing additional reasons to be blessed. He said so himself, I am the way, through me is debate....and that we will have to live on faith alone.” 
On the surface these words sound spiritual, but a logical reflection will show the error of such thinking and how inconsistent it is with the very scripture my friend uses to support his position.

 The concept of “faith alone” is found in Paul’s letters and in Peter’s preaching. It means we are saved by faith alone rather than by works or merit. But “faith alone” for salvation does not eliminate its other functions and its role in the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit. Faith permeates every area of our Christian walk. It is the instrument of salvation, it sustains us in our daily walk and when it seems God’s presence is far away. It also releases the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said to the Canaanite woman, “O Woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed from that very hour. The scripture also says that Jesus could do no mighty work in His home town because of their unbelief. The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Faith invites God’s miraculous presence; it does not remove the need for it.

Jesus’ statement saying “I am the Way” was not meant to contradict or do away with His miraculous works. Obviously He was performing miracles, healing the sick, and casting out demons in the very context in which these words were spoken.  Jesus did not say to the multitudes, “I am the Way. It is by faith alone, therefore, I will not work miracles.” 
The early Christians walked in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit and recognized them as God’s very presence at work. They did not consider these experiences to be gimmicks. We should be as comfortable with the supernatural presence of God as were those first followers of Christ.

Love and Spiritual Gifts
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts.” 1 Corinthians 14: 1
So many people approach the subject of the manifestations or gifts of the Holy Spirit from a purely doctrinal or analytical point of view. To do this is to miss the real significance and wonder of all it all. A person’s ability to fully appreciate the magnificent gifts and tools the Lord has placed in his hands depends on the depth of his vision and motivations. What a person sees determines what he reaches for. What a person desires (and why he wants it) determines the passion and enthusiasm with which he pursues it.

The apostle Paul covered the issues of desire and motivation when he said we should “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. It is Pharisaical to argue the theology of healing when you have people around you sick and in need of healing. 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 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. It is to these that I direct you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Visit to a Philosophy of Religion Class

This article is a reprint of a post from my "Out of the Box" blog, which many of you have read. It continues our series on the subject of the Holy Spirit's work in the church. Subsequent postings will be new to the reader. -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 professor 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

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"My preacher is so anointed he pure foams at the mouth!"

 This post is a continuation of our series on the Holy Spirit's work in the lives of God's people. I have begun this particular theme by posting articles that give examples I have witnessed in my own life. This particular post is a reprint of an article that many of you may have previously read in my "Out of the Box" blog.  To read earlier posts, please scroll down to bottom of the page.  -Billy Long 
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?
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 enegertic 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 exact 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.

I want to share three examples below that show us that we can be ourselves and not have to act a certain, expected way when we are being used by the Holy Spirit.

A Casual word that was supernatural
I was visiting a church in Lexington, Kentucky a few years ago. The morning worship service had ended and people were standing around the auditorium talking and enjoying the fellowship of friends and family. I happened to notice two girls standing on the other side of the auditorium. I was acquainted with one of these girls from a singles conference at which I had recently spoken. I knew that this young lady would one day make some man a good wife, and so I decided to walk over and, in a light-hearted and humorous way, encourage her.

I crossed the auditorium and went up to these two young ladies. As they turned to me I said, “There is a crazy man out there!” They both reacted with surprise and said, “What?” I responded by addressing the unmarried girl with these words, “You are going to make some man a fine wife, and there is a crazy man out there for not having already snatched you up and married you!”

I was expecting her to respond with a laugh, but instead, her eyes filled with tears. I said, “What’s wrong? What did I say to make her cry?”
Her friend then explained to me the conversation they were having just before I walked up. The single girl was sad because her fiancĂ© had recently broken off their engagement. She was depressed and questioning herself wondering why he had ‘dumped’ her. As they stood there she had asked her friend, “Is something wrong with me that he would not want to marry me?” The friend had responded, “No. There is nothing wrong with you. He’s crazy!.”
Then, “out of the blue” and totally unaware of the situation and their conversation I walked up and said, “There is a crazy man out there.”

I believe I was sent to encourage her. However, I was completely unaware of the significance of what I was saying until the friend explained to me how my words confirmed what she had said just moments before.
I was just simply trying to encourage someone based on what I had seen with my natural eyes. I was not trying to be spiritual or do anything special. The timing, however, made the word supernatural.

A Short word that was supernatural
During our first year of marriage Laurel and I were part of a church in southern California. It was composed mostly of young people and had sprung up during the Jesus Movement and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was taking place at that time. Multitudes of kids were coming to know the living reality of Jesus Christ and His presence in the working of the Holy Spirit. One thing that stands out in my memory of those days is the hunger for God that was demonstrated in the lives of those kids. They took their Bibles with them almost everywhere, they always had pen and paper to take notes during Bible study, and they all wanted to be used by God in some way.
I remember on one occasion I was about to teach a Bible study to a group of about twenty or thirty of these kids, and was silently asking the Lord to confirm my direction for the teaching that night.
Then 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 dejected, and a little embarrassed 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 just 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.’”

A miracle of healing in response to hardly a prayer
As I was leaving a friend’s house one day, He and I passed his five-year old son playing with some toys on the ground. As we discussed other things the father showed me some sort of bone growth that was on the back of the child’s head. It was just a little smaller than half a ping-pong ball and had been there for years. The doctors had told him it was nothing to worry about. It would not harm the boy, but was simply unattractive and inconvenient. My friend and I did not focus on the child but continued our conversation.

However, as I talked with my friend, I very casually laid my hand on the back of the child’s head a couple times saying, “Lord, bless him.” Again I said, “I know it’s nothing to worry about, but Lord bless him anyway,” as my friend and I went on with the conversation about other things. Then I drove away feeling guilty that I had not taken time to pray an official and “real” prayer over that child. Instead I had only said a “Lord, bless him” in passing as I talked about other things.
I was surprised a couple days later when my friend called to tell me that the child’s growth had completely disappeared. The Lord had healed it in response to a simple “Bless him” prayer.

So what is the lessons here?
While there are often 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? 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.

When we care about people and reach out to them in a real and genuine manner, we will see God at work. And, as in the examples given above, we may find out later that He was at work when we were not aware of it. We may be able to say as Jacob did, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

PaPa's Miracle

Tharon Hardee was my maternal grandfather. The grandchildren called him Pa Pa. In 1964 he was in his seventies and a member of the church, but living a life inconsistent with his Christian testimony. I was 15 years old at the time, and remember sitting in Pa Pa’s family room and listening intently as my mother, her sisters, and brother expressed to him their concerns about his eternal soul.

“Daddy,” they told him, “we are worried about you and are concerned that you are not walking with the Lord as you know you should.”
“Why, Jesus is my all in all,” he responded emphatically, and acted surprised that they would question his behavior. He was not ready to admit the truth about where he was, and it seemed that the discussion had no apparent effect. He continued his life doing the things he knew were displeasing to the Lord.

A few months later on a Saturday evening while I was at my weekend job of steaming oysters at a local seafood restaurant I received word that Pa Pa had had a stroke and was in critical condition, and that I should go immediately to Loris Hospital where the family was gathering. I entered the emergency room just as they were pushing him down the hall. As his bed was rolled past me he looked up at me with distress in his eyes and with heavily slurred speech said, “Billy, pray for me!” This cry told me that in his heart he knew the reality of what his children had been trying to tell him. Facing death, he had to also face the truth.
“Okay, Pa Pa,” I said as they rolled him past me and on to treatment.

He was in the hospital for about three weeks, but finally recovered enough to be sent home. He was alive, but the stroke had left him unable to walk. The family decided I should sleep at my grandparents home at night in order to help my grandmother care for him. I would lift him up off of his bed every morning and literally carry him to the little cot that had been placed in the family room where he would remain all day. In the evenings I would go back to his house to resume my duties helping my grandmother. How well I remember going over to that little cot each night, lifting him up and carrying him in my arms, and placing him in his bed where he would sleep for the night. This routine went on for about two weeks.

Then one Saturday his nephew Carl came by to pray for him. He read 2 Chronicles 7: 14, and the verses leaped from the pages almost like an audible word from God to my grandfather. Every word seemed to be a word directly from God. They described him perfectly, stating the problem and the solution. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Carl read the scripture, said the prayer, and then left. Pa Pa, sitting alone on that cot with those words echoing in his heart, looked up to the Lord and took Him at His word. He repented and turned his life over to the Lord in that very moment.

A few minutes later, my mother received a phone call from my grandmother saying, “Jessie Lois, Tharon wants you to come here now.” When Mama and I walked in, we saw Pa Pa sitting on his cot crying. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked up and said, “Lois, the Lord has restored to me the joy of my salvation,” and then after a pause, he continued, “And I think He has healed me, too.”
Mama then shouted, “Well, get up, Daddy!”
He immediately arose and began to walk. He was crying and laughing at the same time, and rejoicing in the overwhelming knowledge of God’s forgiveness, joy, and healing. I still remember him walking out the back door and circling the house a couple times with arms lifted, praising and thanking the Lord for his healing. My mom and I immediately called the rest of the family to tell them of the miracle.

Pa Pa was a new man after that. I remember being with him when friends from his past who had not heard of his transformation would come up to him and make some crude comment or some reference to his past life. He would get a very serious and stern look on his face. “I don’t do that anymore,” he would say, and then explain to them that he was walking with the Lord now and that his life had changed. I watched him love the Lord and walk with the Lord until the day of his death about two years later. Whenever I would visit him during those two years he would always ask me to pray for him and with him before I left. Often at night I would sit with him and read to him from the Bible. Those are precious memories. I had witnessed his years of hypocrisy, and then had the joy and privilege of witnessing his wonderful healing and the transformation which came to him when he faced reality and was honest with himself before God. We can all learn a lesson from this.
“But...the good ground are those who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patient endurance.” Luke 8: 15

“Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts…” Psalm 51: 6

Monday, March 10, 2014

God's Presence: To See or Not To See?

This article continues our series on the subject "God's Presence Among His People." Scroll down to read previous posts.   -BL

“A little longer, and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me...”   John 15:19.
 To see or not to see?
The natural man comprehends God in the same way as a blind and deaf man would view a brilliant sunrise or listen to beautiful music. He would be oblivious to the wonders around him no matter how brilliant the sight or how loud the sound. The revelation of God works on the same principle. The person who has a heart after God will see or hear Him in the smallest sign, while the one who has rejected God in his heart will see nothing or will explain it away, no matter how powerful the Presence or how obvious the miracle. Jesus said that no sign would be given to an evil and adulterous generation. He hides Himself from the proud but reveals Himself to the humble and to those who seek.

It is amazing how those who reject God can close their eyes to His manifested presence.
The Pharisees knew first-hand that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. They witnessed with their own eyes the awesome effects of this miracle on the people around Bethany and Jerusalem. They responded by plotting to kill Lazarus (again) and silence his testimony.
The people of Israel trembled before the presence of God on Mt Sinai, and yet at the foot of this very mountain they made a golden calf and fell into idolatry. Jesus rebuked certain cities where most of His mighty works had been done because they had refused to repent even in the face of such powerful evidence.
Jesus told of the man in hell who begged “Father Abraham” to send someone back from paradise to warn his brothers not to come to “this place of torment.” His argument was, “If one goes to them from the dead they will repent.” The Divine response was, “If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets (their Bible) neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
The lesson is clear. The heart of man determines how he responds to God’s presence and initiatives. If he is inclined toward God, he will see the evidence and embrace the Lord. Otherwise, he will remain blind.

God’s Presence Has Implications for us.
People often resist the presence of God because of the significance of its implications to them personally. The presence of God automatically shines a spotlight on our own nature. The more clearly we see God the more clearly we know ourselves. This is one reason for our tendency to keep God at a safe distance away. When He shows up we are forced to face certain realities in our lives. The manifested presence of God automatically creates a consciousness of our responsibility to respond to Him. If He shows Himself and we see Him, then we have lost our excuse for not seeking, serving, and obeying. The more silent and distant God is, the more we feel we can in good conscience ignore Him. But when He shows up we are forced by His very presence to say “yes” or “no” to Him. Nominal Christians and people who are spiritually unresponsive are threatened by the manifested presence of God because it disturbs their complacency. And complacency is another form of saying “no” to God. To know Him greatly means to follow Him deeply. If He “stays away” then I can be lukewarm and live my life without being bothered. But if He shows up, I am then forced to deal with where I am in my relationship with Him.

Stephen was stoned because God showed up. The power of God was on Stephen so strongly that his words could not be resisted by the council before whom he stood. When stubborn and rebellious hearts encounter the irresistible words of God at this level they cannot remain neutral, and they cannot hide underneath a cloak of pretend and complacency. Unable to resist Stephen’s words, they had to either receive his words or kill him. They chose the latter. They actually stopped their ears, and shouted loudly as they ran at him and stoned him to death. On a side note, we should take note of the fact that the ones who resist God the loudest may be the very ones whose hearts are being pierced by the word God is speaking.

What is the attitude of churches toward the presence of God?
In many cases the attitude of churches can be described as follows. They want the Lord to be present; but they want Him to behave. They want Him close enough to keep watch, but not close enough to be seen. They want God to be generally and mystically around but not specifically and pointedly obvious. They want Him to move in a general sense quietly and unnoticed over an audience of passive spectators waiting to receive a warm feeling as they focus on what is happening up front on the platform.

Pastors want God to be present in the church, but are often afraid of the risk involved in letting God show up in His people. They want God to work, but they don’t want Him to use people. They are afraid of what might happen if the Holy Spirit is free to work through people in a supernatural way. Therefore, the agenda and programs tend to quench the working of the Holy Spirit. It is "safer" to prohibit than to learn from experience and actually lead.

We stand and pray for God to move among us and we appeal to people to take initiative and be spiritually aggressive, while at the same time we create an atmosphere that prevents both. We quench the Spirit, and we do not allow people to really express themselves. We want God to act, but within our pre-set parameters. We want people to act, but only in our pre-cast organizational slots that exist to serve the institution. In other words, we ask God to show up and people to function, but in reality are afraid of both.

We should hunger for His presence.
Since I was a teenager I have never been able to understand why people who know and love God would not be passionately hungry and desirous to see Him and His works. Why would we be afraid of the miraculous visitations of His presence in our gatherings or out in the streets as we tell people about Jesus Christ who was crucified for our sins and who is now alive and working among us by the power of the Holy Spirit? Why would we not be willing to take the risks involved in learning to be vessels to whom He can reveal Himself, and through whom He can reveal Himself to a world that so desperately needs Him.

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…to make Your name known to your adversaries.” Isaiah 64: 1-2.

“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness…and with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was on them all.” Acts 4: 31, 33

“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice as of a trumpet…And I turned to see the voice that spoke to me…and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength…”    Rev. 1: 10-17.

“…He rose again on the third day…and was seen…by Cephas…by the twelve…by over five hundred brethren at once…and after that He was seen by me also….”  1 Cor. 15: 3-8.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


This is the 4th post in a series on the Presence of God at Work Among His People. These first few posts are reprints of articles I have posted over the last few years. They give examples and testimonies of Jesus revealing Himself by the Holy Spirit. 
My plan is to begin a more in-depth series of teaching after I post a few of these testimonials. 
Please scroll down to read previous posts.  -BL

…and thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.  1 Corinthians 14: 25
A lady on the plane
On a flight to Raleigh, NC I was seated beside a lady who was flying into Columbia, SC. As the plane was about to land in Columbia, I prayed quietly to myself, “Lord, this lady is about to get off the plane, and I have not said anything to her about You. Is there anything special I should say to her?”
Suddenly the Holy Spirit gave me a name. [This is the only time this has ever happened to me]. I turned to her and said, “Who is Frank?”
Suddenly her expression froze and she stared at me speechless with her mouth open.
I continued, “Sometimes the Lord shows me things to pray for people and I think the Lord has shown this to me for your sake. You can tell me. Who is Frank?”

She very sheepishly mumbled quietly, “Frank is a friend of mine who is having marriage problems.”
I responded, “And Frank is coming to you for comfort, isn’t he?”
With mouth still open and still staring at me in shock she just shook her head and whispered, ”Um hum, yes he is.”
I then told her that the Lord loved her and had a plan for her, and wanted to reveal Himself to her, but the enemy had placed this temptation and stumbling block in her path to distract and lead her away. I encouraged her to go home and find a quiet place to sit and talk to God, to seek Him and get to know Him.
Immediately the plane was at the gate, and this lady got up and walked away still in a daze. I thought to myself, “She will go home with a fresh realization that there is a God who knows her and cares about her. Maybe she will look to heaven in faith and know that He is there and that He is listening to her.”

A man in a restaurant 
I was having breakfast with a pastor friend of mine at a motel restaurant on Interstate 95 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 decided to go 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.

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.

“For the Lord revealed Himself…to Samuel by the word of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 3:21

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mrs Bertha Dances and Ernest Does the Twist!

This is the 3rd post in a series on the Presence of God at Work Among His People. These first few posts are reprints of articles I have posted over the last few years. They give examples and testimonies of Jesus revealing Himself by the Holy Spirit. 
My plan is to begin a more in-depth series of teaching after I post a few of these testimonials. 
Please scroll down to read previous posts.

It was the summer of 1969. I was 20 years old. My friend Larry Rodeffer and I had just finished our second year of college at ORU and were preaching revivals during the summer in Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. On this tour we held a series of meetings for 9 nights in my home community of Longs, South Carolina. We used the Ebenezer Methodist church building. Though thriving and growing now, it was abandoned with no congregation at that time, but in good condition and maintained by a family who hoped to see church activities revived again someday. Larry and I were granted permission to use the facility for our meetings.

The little church building was filled almost to capacity with about 80 people attending our meetings nightly. The atmosphere was electric, and people came expecting to see the hand of God at work. Larry and I preached the Gospel, sharing the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was raised from the dead as Lord of all. We proclaimed that He had sent the Holy Spirit as His living Presence among us to reveal Himself. “He is here now to save and to heal,” we proclaimed. Great faith arose in the hearts of the people, and the presence of God moved over the congregation.

One Baptist lady, Mrs Bertha, came to the meetings with a very serious back problem. She complained that she was unable to do any gardening or housework because of the affliction. She stood before me praying silently and expecting something from God. I asked Jesus to touch her and laid my hands on her head. She immediately raised both of her arms straight up toward heaven, began to cry with joy, and started dancing. The Lord had instantly touched her and healed her back. She later told me how she went home from that meeting and began the next day doing garden work and house work with no pain.

As I walked into one of the meetings I saw a young man seated and wearing a back brace. He had been in a car accident and had broken his back. As I walked past him, he looked up and said, “I’m expecting God to heal me tonight.” I responded, “If you’re expecting it, you’d just as well get ready for it,” as I walked on up to the platform. When I finished preaching, Ernest came to the front for prayer. When I laid my hands on his head he began to cry saying, “I’m healed! I’m healed!”. He then went outside, removed the back brace, and began bending over and twisting around. He was healed. He went to his doctor in Loris, SC who confirmed the healing.

There were other testimonies of God’s intervention in the lives of people during those meetings. One lady was healed of psoriasis. Another was healed of a tumor. Larry and I were just 20 years old at the time and were moving in a child-like faith. We simply expected God to show up.

Great grace was present to bring forth faith in the people, and we rejoiced to see lives touched and changed. But the greatest joy of those days was the strong sense of the presence of Jesus Christ. It was as if He was physically walking among us. In one of the meetings I turned to see a little six-year old girl standing to the side and softly crying. “Are you okay? What is happening?” I asked. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Jesus is in this place. Jesus is in this place.” He was revealing Himself, even to the children.

I remembered the words of Jesus, “The world will see Me no more, but you will see Me…. And he who loves me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14: 19-21). “

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Jesus is in This Place

I want to remind the reader that this is the 2nd post in a series on the Presence of God at Work Among His People. These first few posts are reprints of articles I have posted over the last few years. They give examples and testimonies of Jesus revealing Himself by the Holy Spirit. 
My plan is to begin a more in-depth series of teaching after I post a few of these testimonials. 
Please scroll down to read previous posts.
-Billy Long

“…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

Monday, March 3, 2014


The first Christians “went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs.” The book of Acts is filled with examples of God’s intimate presence and involvement in the life of the church. The Holy Spirit anointed the Gospel message and presented Jesus Christ alive to those who heard the good news. Lives were changed, the sick were healed, demons were cast out, and the dead were raised. The church with convincing power bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the first in a series of posts that will give examples of God’s miraculous intervention that many of my friends and I have witnessed with our own eyes.  My desire is to stir spiritual hunger in those who are satisfied with dry routine and tradition and who have never witnessed the manifested presence of God working through His people by the precious work of the Holy Spirit.  I hope to rekindle the expectation and zeal of those who may have forgotten those wonderful days when they first experienced the power and presence of the Lord. I would also like to remind them of the love and joy that accompanied that visitation of Jesus into their lives.     -Billy Long

Hunger for God's Presence
When I was a child I marveled at the stories in the Bible. There was something in my heart that longed to see the manifestation of God’s presence working intimately among His people. I wanted to experience the Lord’s presence in the same way as did those people in the Bible. I especially remember sitting in a revival meeting in our Baptist church and feeling such frustration at how complacent and satisfied the people seemed to be. The Lord was with us; I knew that. But I felt so strongly He wanted to do more and that He would surely come if we asked Him. I decided to do something about it.

When the pastor gave the invitation at the end of his message, I walked up to him and asked if I could say something to the congregation. He stopped the music, asked the congregation to be seated, and stepped back so I could speak. I am sure he thought it would be a good thing and “safe” to let a sixteen year old boy speak to the congregation.

Everyone listened intently. I looked over the crowd and said, “I don’t think we as a people are really praying and asking God to work among us. If each of us would actually take time talk to the Lord before we come to these meetings, and ask Him to visit us, God would surely be here revealing Himself in some special way. I don’t know what He would do, but I know He would do more than what we are seeing here now. As we sing another verse of the song, I want those of you who feel the same way to join me up front, and let’s all kneel down here and ask the Lord to visit us.” The worship leader resumed the music, I knelt on the front row to pray, and about twenty-five or 30 people joined me. My heart rejoiced. People were responding. Something wonderful was happening. "Surely there will be a change now," I thought. "The Lord may visit us in a special way tomorrow night." I naievely thought the people would all go home and take some time to pray, and that the pastor would be so happy about what I had done.

I was disappointed the next evening when I saw that everything was back to routine and nothing had changed. I thought, “Obviously not many, if any, are praying at home, and no one seems really hungry to see the Lord work among us beyond this ritual and routine.” So during the invitational song I once again went up to the pastor and asked if I could say something. He very politely declined and said, “I think it is best if you don’t say anything tonight.”

My heart sank. I realized then that he was satisfied with things the way they were. He was not interested in God's “showing up” beyond the usual, and he especially did not want the congregation at the altar praying on their knees. He was afraid of what might happen, and he was not about to allow a 16 year old boy to instigate such activity.

But something happened a few months later to highlight the issue in my mind once again. During another revival meeting, a very well-dressed military man walked into the back of the auditorium during the meeting. I saw him bend over and whisper to a gentleman on the back row, who then arose and walked over to one of the families in the church and led them out to speak with this visitor. The pastor followed them out, and after a few minutes, he returned to the meeting, and stood before the congregation to share the terrible news. “The C___ family has just received news that their son’s plane has been shot down in Viet Nam, and he is now missing in action. Let’s all come up to the front and pray for God to save this young man’s life.” I watched as almost the entire congregation gathered at the altar area to pray.

I asked the Lord, “If this is the thing to do now, to break the routine, to gather in prayer to lift our voices together to cry out for God’s help in an emergency, why then do we not do it all the time? Why is it not a way of life? The world is full of emergencies and needs. People are always suffering everywhere. People are groping about and in need of God. People need the Lord. Why do we not sincerely and passionately call upon Him as part of our daily routine? Why is this not a part of our daily spiritual life as a people?” It blessed me to see the church in aggressive and passionate prayer during this time of need. But my question was, "Why do we not thirst like this every day? Why do we not thirst to know Him?" To seek to walk intimately with the Lord daily, will this not strengthen our faith when we call upon Him during our times of need?

“Arise, cry out in the night, At the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children…” Lamentations 2: 19

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens! That you would come down! That the mountains might shake at your presence…” Isaiah 64: 1

“Oh God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no waer. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” Psalm 63: 1-2