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Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Genesis 15:16 – “God’s Timing and Judgment”)

“God’s Timing and Judgment”

Genesis 15:16, “But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”

This morning, people today tend to put God “in a box” with their notions. Truth be told, we have all fallen prey to this thinking from time to time. God is so infinitely wonderful that mere mortals cannot fathom any of His attributes or actions in their fullness. Plumbing the depths of His grace, understanding the breadth of His righteousness, or climbing the peaks of His majesty is beyond our abilities to discover. (Isaiah 55:8-9) When we encounter something in the Scripture that seems to run counter to the God that we love and adore, the problem is not on the page but in the foggy recesses of our own minds. He declares the end from the beginning; we do not. There is nothing that is hidden from His eyes; ours are consistently clouded. Therefore, we should approach the Scriptures in attempts to learn and understand things about Him that we can learn and know to help us worship Him better and adore Him all the more.

Our study verse is in the midst of God’s declaration to Abraham about His promises to him. God loved Abraham and made him a father of many nations, that in him would all the nations of the earth be blessed. God’s covenant to him on this occasion also brought a prescient history of what Abraham’s heirs would encounter. God foretold of their Egyptian captivity and eventual dwelling in Canaan. The ground that Abraham now stood on would be inhabited many centuries later by his descendants from the Almighty’s declaration. God lists as a reason they would be so long in inhabiting the land was due to the decorum of the current inhabitants. Canaan was inhabited by a number of “ites,” and God said that the Amorites were sinners. However, their sin/iniquity was not yet full.

God deals with nations in different ways, and sometimes the answers are beyond us to understand why God does some of the things that He does. For example, why would He call a wicked, pagan king (Nebuchadnezzar) His servant? (Jeremiah 27:6) This wicked man ruling a pagan kingdom would be used by God to mete out judgment against the land of Judah and hold them captive for 70 years. Were the inhabitants of Judah wicked? Surely. But why use a wicked king to punish wickedness? The Bible does not specifically say, but we bow in the knowledge that the King of all the earth always does that which is right. Jeremiah 18 gives a declaration of how God repents of His purposed judgment or blessing upon a nation. Years and years of wickedness can be overturned by displays of righteousness while years and years of righteousness can be overturned by displays of wickedness. The Amorites were going to be dealt with by God in the days of Abraham’s descendants. Yet, it did not happen exactly like it should have, due to Abraham’s descendants own wickedness.

Fast forward to Numbers 13 and 14, and we read a sorrowful tale of doubt and disbelief. Abraham’s descendants were being led at this time by Moses and Aaron, and they sent 12 spies to look into this very land that God promised Abraham in Genesis 15. The purpose for the spies was to see how good a land God had promised them. Yet, they came back and 10 gave a woeful tale of how big the Amorites and other “ites” were. They failed to see that the One who promised them this land was bigger than any “ite” before them. The report of the 10 not only overwhelmed the good report of Caleb and Joshua, but it turned the heart of the congregation in fear. They accused Moses of bringing them out to die in the wilderness and that their children would die untimely deaths. God thundered from heaven and declared that the current generation of the congregation (20 yrs and above) would perish in the wilderness with the exception of Caleb and Joshua. Their children – whose fates they lamented – would go in without them.

Simple question. Had the spies not turned the heart of the people into doubt, would they have gone into the land right then? Just a mere handful of days after leaving Egypt, would they have entered into Canaan’s Land the same year they came out of Egypt? Caleb and Joshua plainly said (and God smiled on their actions), “if the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land” (Numbers 14:8a). God was pleased with these two men, and they attributed God’s pleasure in them going into this land promised unto their patriarch Abraham. What does this mean? Had the nation of Israel obeyed the Lord and gone in, they would have discomfited the Amorites, Amalekites, Jebusites, and the other “ites” of the land. This is precisely what they did in the book of Joshua 40 years later. The implication is that the Amorites iniquities had reached the “full” by this time. God was pleased to remove them. I do not know when the “full” is reached and God’s longsuffering reaches an end. But there is a full and an end of His longsuffering. Yet, the Amorites dwelt in the land 40 full years more past the full mark due to the doubts and disbeliefs of His own nation.

Today, we do not have clear declaration of how God will deal in the future with the nation of our dwelling. God does not have a chosen nation today like He did then. Rather, as Peter understood in Acts 10, God is not a respecter of persons but men from all nations are accepted with Him when they fear Him and work righteousness. (Acts 10:34) Yet, God still blesses nations and judges nations at times and in ways as is pleasing to Him. There is no doubt in my mind that the country of my dwelling has been blessed for many years now according to His kind protection and providence. The fact that I have lived my entire life with religious liberty and freedom is priceless. My forebears also lived with this blessing, and doubtless, God’s hand has been kind to us even in the midst of our waywardness. How does Israel’s action then coupled with God’s prophecy to Abraham correlate today?

Nations rise and fall. Kingdoms come and go. Only one King and kingdom is everlasting. If we find ourselves in a land smiled upon by the Almighty, we need to strive to live as salt and light so that His presence would go continually before us. If we find ourselves in a land being judged by the Almighty, we need to strive to bear it patiently and pray fervently that He would relieve us if He sees fit. Consider the centuries of sins that the Amorites committed from Abraham’s day to Moses’ day. All those remembrances being filled up before the Almighty. Yet, He suffered it till the day it became full and the time had arrived for His nation to enter in and overthrow them. However, at the 11th hour, He suffered it some more, due to the waywardness of His own people.

Later during the times of the kings of Israel and Judah, we see a litany of names and reigns. Some were good; most were bad. At times, the reign of a good king was undone by his wicked son – see king Manasseh following king Hezekiah. At other times, a good king staved off judgment by his righteousness – see God’s prolonged and delayed judgment because of king Josiah. Mere mortals do not see what God sees, nor do we operate and think like He does. Today, we see a litany of rulers and magistrates. Some are good; most are bad. Sometimes the righteous actions/edicts of an administration or generation are undone by the wickedness of the next generation. Sometimes judgment is prolonged or staved off by righteous people at the right time. Surely the 20th century of this country serves as a guidepost of the former, while the early 19th century is a good marker of the latter.

Over the last several years, I have heard many express anxiousness about what God thinks about all the wickedness going on in this country. Good is declared evil, while evil is celebrated. How long will God’s judgment abide or suffer? The short answer is that I do not really know. Is there a “full” mark? Yes there is. When full is reached is it the end? Perhaps. If God suffered the Amorites to continue another 40 years in their iniquity due to the slackness of His people, I do not doubt that God can suffer us to continue on for a time due to the righteousness of His kindred. Jonah discovered that fact in Nineveh, and we can experience that same goodness today. While God should not be tempted or put to the test, we can rejoice today knowing that He has been so very good to us. If I could see what He sees all the time, I would likely say, “I’ve had it with you!” Yet, He abides with us in this sin-cursed sod and smiles upon us even though we deserve none of it. May we pray to Him that our sins do not come full, and if they do that He will find enough salt to preserve the blessings and freedoms that we enjoy so that our children will enjoy them as well. The children of Israel declared their children a “prey” when God’s longsuffering for that generation ended. The children ended up better off than the parents. May we not limit God during our time or our children’s time. He is still just as infinitely powerful and majestic now as ever. Let us trust Him all our days for all things and at all times.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (II Corinthians 5:20 – “Home Soil”)

“Home Soil”

II Corinthians 5:20, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

This morning, we truly are living in interesting times. Looking at the expanse of human history, the most changes to lifestyle and culture have happened in the last 100 or so years. During that time, the advent of electricity usage, weapon development, transportation breakthroughs, etc. have shaped culture to be vastly different than it was for centuries and millennia prior. However, all of these breakthroughs and innovations – with their associated pros and cons – have also shaped and affected the kingdom of God too. Can anyone really want to go back to meeting without electricity or AC? Those innovations do not change or modify our worship, but they are a great natural benefit and comfort while we worship. Getting to meeting is easier now due to transportation development, and visiting different church bodies in different states is far easier now than it was for our forebears. Still, these comforts do come with some implied costs that can dampen the spiritual growth and development of a disciple of Christ.

In our study verse, Paul is honing in on a very pivotal doctrinal point from Verse 14 through our verse. Scripture teaches without equivocation that Christ has reconciled His people fully and completely to God. (Verses 18-19) By His grace and mercy, nothing needs to be done, added to, or changed for us to stand before God holy and without blame for all eternity. Christ accomplished that in spotless perfection. However, Scripture equally teaches a responsibility that God’s people have to honour and obey God from a pure heart fervently. The motivation for this behavior is rooted and grounded in love and thanksgiving for what God has already done for us rather than trying to get something out of him like mercenaries would. The duty of the minister in preaching and teaching these truths is to encourage God’s people in our walk and duty based on what has already been done for us. This is the exact message that Paul is laying out in this passage.

Therefore, the idea of being reconciled to God cannot be part and parcel to the steps necessary to get to heaven. That would lower the sacrifice and work of Christ that Paul has just laid down. Being reconciled to God is for the benefit of the believer in having peace in his mind, heart, and spirit: justification by faith. (Romans 5:1) This reconciliation is how the believer can latch into the concept, “As bad as I’ve been, God can still love me for His Son’s sake!” This peace and unity for the believer’s heart will greatly benefit further service as it brings great liberty. The word that Paul uses here to describe himself is rather interesting as well. The actual Greek word used is a form of the same word that is translated in other places as “elder.” Yet, the translators used our English word “ambassador” to convey the connotation of the work of a “presbyter” in the realm of representation. Ambassadors in a natural sense represent their home country in foreign lands. Ministers should convey the same principle of representing our homeland through their message to other citizens in this land wherein we dwell.

Considering the natural circumstance of an ambassador and the general location of a minister’s message (the church), I have made the point many times that the church is like an embassy. Just like natural embassies, the church is considered part of heaven’s land. The soil that embassies reside upon is considered soil of their homeland just as if it was within the natural borders of the country. The laws of the country apply to it, and the church functions similarly. Heaven’s rules apply, and the land is in this world but not of this world. With such a blessed condition, one might wonder why such a circumstance is not seized upon any more than it is. If I could experience an aspect of heaven before I actually leave this world, why would I not? There will be vast multitudes that enter heaven that never enter the church, and many that will enter heaven had opportunity to enter the church but did not.

Recently, I have come to realize through multitudes of conversations that many ministers across this land are greatly discouraged by lack of attendance at church services and a lack of energy by many that do come. Trying to attach one particular denominator to this widespread situation is likely futile. However, many commonalities exist and one seems to shine brighter than the rest. In my natural experience, I have had opportunity to visit several foreign countries. During none of those visits did I visit the American embassy, nor am I aware of who my “ambassador” was while there. Why did I not visit these locations? Simply put, it never crossed my mind as I was seeing other things and experiencing the various things that those countries provided. Whether in recreation or otherwise, my time was filled with the sights and sounds of that country. There was no compulsion to hear news from home or visit with fellow countrymen.

Life today is relatively easy. We may complain about different things that befall us, but most of us – if we are honest – have natural circumstances that are very good. We have ample food, clothing, and shelter (the necessities of life), and multitudes of creature comforts besides. For that natural situation, there is no compulsion in a great many to hear news from “home” or visit with fellow countrymen. Life is full of the sights and sounds of this land with creature comforts a plenty. Some may not even be aware of the embassy’s location or the name of the local church’s “ambassador.” Thinking about the correlation between my natural experience and the parallel to the church, none of the nations I visited had the level of freedom and liberty as America does. However, the lack of liberty and freedom in those countries was not something that I “felt” while I was there. Had I felt the repression and tightening of things, doubtless I would have wanted to see a friendly face that could help me.

Have you ever noticed that people can draw nigh to God and the church when times get tough? It really should be no surprise as the difference of liberty and freedom between heaven’s glory and this world becomes apparent. Though it might not be manifest through daily activities, tough times remind us of just how special our citizenship of heaven really is. The truth makes us free, and there is great liberty in the Spirit of God. Yet, fallen creatures as we are many times have to be reminded of this to re-focus and align priorities again. The greatest commonality to this great spiritual dearth that grips so many of God’s people goes back to a statement I heard often in my youth, “It’s hard to comfort people who are too comfortable to be comforted.”

The message that Paul preached is the only thing that can bring long lasting reconciliation to the child of God. The ever-changing circumstances of this old world will never yield lasting peace. Any faith and hope in the shifting sands of life’s experiences will bring nothing but a life filled with disappointments. Life changes. Hope in changing things is easily dashed on the rocks of sorrow. Hope in the eternal, unchanging God does not disappoint as it endures no matter the circumstances. (Romans 5:5) The message of Christ’s work endures no matter what happens here below. The great comfort of the gospel to me is that the Lord is reconciled to us no matter what. Nothing can change that. Knowing the fallible man that I am, I rest in knowing His greatness supersedes my weakness.

When next we meet together with fellow pilgrims and strangers in this world, may we consider that we are standing on heaven’s borderland. It is the home soil of that country to which we are going. When we hear the message come forth in power, may we receive it as though God Himself was speaking it. As a minister, that phrase from our study verse (as though God did beseech you by us) is one of the most awesome and humbling to me in the work that I have been called into. When I read the word of God, it is as though God said it personally to me, and when a gospel message is declared, it should be received as though God spoke it. Awesome! Truly awesome! Friends, as a lifelong churchgoer, I freely confess that there are times that I do not frame this experience as I should. I am meeting heaven’s citizens on heaven’s soil to hear a message from home as though the King Himself gave it. As the closing line of an old hymn lovingly states, “My soul shall pray for Zion still, while life or breath remains; There my best friends my kindred dwell, there God my Saviour reigns!”

In Hope,
Bro Philip