Tag Archives: Acts

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Acts 28:4-6 -“Circumstances and Extremes”)

“Circumstances and Extremes”

Acts 28:4-6, “And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”

This morning, we perceive things and make judgments and conclusions based on our observations. However, our perception and observation is limited at best, making firm conclusions harder to come by in many things. Due to the rise of instant communication, people’s “snap judgment” levels have increased, even though the plethora of information has actually diluted much truth rather than magnified it. One of the biggest pitfalls that well intentioned children of God can fall into in this regard is judging who is and who is not a child of God. To avoid allowing circumstances get us into extreme thinking, we need to be cognizant of our limited perspective. For example, the best that I can say when seeing good works manifest is, “To my best observation, they have displayed grace that can only come from God.” When I see nothing but evil works, the best I can muster is, “To my best observation, I really don’t know.” The dying thief on the cross is a good example of a lifelong experience of evil, changed at the 11th hour by the Holy Ghost. Esau is a good example of God providentially blessing His chosen – Jacob – by preventing Esau from an evil purpose, thereby looking like a good man outwardly.

The lesson above shows how circumstances can lead to extreme thinking – in both directions. Paul and his companions were on a boat in Chapter 27 ultimately headed for Rome when a storm capsized the boat. Paul and the rest of the boat’s passengers all made it safe to an island inhabited by barbarians, though they were quite cordial barbarians. These very blinded natives observed the above happen to Paul and showed their ignorance about Paul’s position and state. When things went evil, they assumed that he was an evil man (not cutting him enough slack), and when things went well, they deified him (giving him too much credit). There are two popular clichés today that have been around all my life: 1. When things go well, someone says, “You must be living right.” and 2. When things go poorly, “You ain’t living right.”

What goads these conclusions? Circumstances do. Circumstances may and do change, but truth does not. Truth is not dependent upon circumstances as it stands firm no matter what is going on outwardly. Now, circumstances can lead us into truth when we observe things for what they really are. Courts have tried and convicted men by piling enough circumstantial evidence together that the jury felt compelled that they were really innocent or guilty. Good deeds piled together can give us a good indication that someone has been touched and regenerated by God Almighty. Though I do not spend a lot of time wondering who is and who is not a child of God, I do not have any real concern that those that I preach to on a week in and week out basis are really God’s children. They have exhibited Christian grace and charity over and over, thereby indicating to a reasonable conclusion that they are God’s own.

When Paul had bad circumstances go his way, the barbarians assumed the worst in him. Job’s three miserable comforters assumed the same when his bad days were in season. The heart of their inquiry to him was, “Job, obviously you’re guilty of some secret sin. Why don’t you just confess it, get it into the open, and get it over with?” In Paul and Job’s case, they had not done anything wrong to merit a bad experience, but life is full of circumstances where people suffer having not done anything wrong. I am always amazed by the disciples’ question to Jesus in the introduction of John 9 when they encountered the man born blind. They asked who sinned to make him this way: him or his parents? What a question! How could a man have sinned before his very own birth to get born that way? Yet, that is the power that circumstances play in warping our mental patterns.

There is perhaps no more important natural life lesson that parents can teach their children than this: The world is not fair, and bad things will happen whether you have merited it or not. People suffer. That is part of life. Not a pleasant thought, but it is verily the truth. Yes, if we live rotten, wicked lives, we should expect that we will suffer for it. If we live righteous lives, we should expect to be persecuted for it. Either way, we will suffer. Peter’s admonition is to suffer as a Christian rather than as a murderer, etc. (I Peter 4:15-16) When bad things happen, we should not automatically assume the worst as these barbarians did. We should rather seek to know the truth. Maybe the reason it happened is beyond our ability to determine, but either way, the truth is what is important. Paul was not a murderer under the curse of some intangible entity like “vengeance.”

On the other hand, they glorified Paul overmuch when the miraculous happened. God spared his life by not allowing the poison to kill him, thereby making them assume he was a god. To different degrees this happens to ministers a lot. While we do not get bitten by snakes and live, we are blessed with miracles from God’s hand repeatedly when we enter the pulpit. When the man’s words become more than words and the gospel goes forth miraculously in demonstration of the Spirit and power, there is a tendency to think too much of the messenger. More credit is given to the man than is deserved. Paul labored to expunge preacher worship in his opening to Corinth (I Corinthians 1), but sadly that mindset still plagues people today. If “their guy” really knocked one out of the park, they crow about what their guy did. Friends, if real preaching is to be had, the Holy Ghost blessed it, and God alone is glorified in it.

In a more natural application, we tend to credit people with things beyond their real scope of influence. I get sadly amused today when people pin successes and failures in all areas to the president. Now, the president has an important job function to fulfill, but he is not culpable for every up and down that we see daily. Just as the preacher is responsible to put forth his effort in study, meditation, and prayer, the president must labor honorably to execute his office to the best of his ability. However, the president is not the one who ups and downs the gas prices or many other things. The pastor is not the source of credit for new members nor necessarily the cause for dwindling members. Those things may be beyond his control, yet good circumstances can deify someone and bad circumstances can vilify him in people’s minds.

What was Paul’s position? He was neither a murderer nor a god. What is our position? Hopefully we are not murderers, but we are definitely not gods. Paul was dependent on God for all things. So are we. Paul labored to follow the will of the Lord. So should we. What is the real truth? The real truth is that man by himself is nothing. God is everything. We can do all things with His help and strength. We can overcome problems, honorably bear suffering, and deal with the doubts and dark days of life. He has loved us with an everlasting love. Because of that love and His work, we will abide with Him where he is. None of the good or bad circumstances in life will change these truths. When things go well and we think we can do all right by ourselves, we deceive ourselves. When things go awry and we think that God has forsaken us, we deceive ourselves. God does not change; His truth does not change. Therefore let us not let the sliding and slipping sands of life cause our minds to wander from the unchanging One and His promises. Let us not ascribe too much credit where none is warranted, and let us not overly criticize someone/something when we may not know all that we need to know about the situation.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Acts 27:25 – “I Believe God”)

“I Believe God”

Acts 27:25, “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.”

This morning, there are any number of things in the world to be depressed about.  One of the many devices of Satan is to deflect the child of God’s gaze downward at the sorrow’s of life, rather than upward on the beauty of heaven’s glory.  The more he can distract our attention to the affairs of life, the more susceptible we are to making rash, ungodly, and very harmful decisions.  Friends, life is – as it has always been – a “tangle of toil and care” as one old hymnwriter put it.  We may see more toil and tangled cares than before, but depravity and sin have plagued this old earth and will continue to do so until the Lord says “no more.”  Therefore, while traversing through the brief shores of this life, we need to remember some things and act upon (believe) those things.

Our study verse is set in the midst of the most “seafaring” chapter of the Bible.  The whole chapter is devoted to Paul’s somewhat tempestuous journey from the coasts of his homeland and eventually to Rome, where his life here would end.  Earlier in the chapter, Paul encouraged the men not to make the next leg of the journey as he had revealed to him that it would be perilous.  Now the peril is upon them, and Paul rebukes them for not listening.  However, once the rebuke is over, Paul then encourages them to keep their chin up.  He had something else revealed to him: not a single soul on the boat would die.  Paul tells them that “his angel” had come to him and told him that both his life and all those with him would be spared, though the boat would perish.

At this point in the story, Paul is the only one we read about on the boat that has any sense of optimism.  He is upbeat though all around them things are – quite literally – falling apart.  Paul’s attention to the word of God should here garner our finest attention today.  How many of us feel to be passengers on a sinking craft that is on a journey that our guardian listened to the wrong sources? (Verse 11) Paul was not a volunteer on this boat, and his advice for its journey was not followed.  We may today feel like we are on an involuntary journey when none of our advice or counsel is followed.  It would be easy for Paul to simply rebuke the boat’s owner, master, and his own centurion, and yet, after the rebuke, he comforts them.  “Be of good cheer” he says.

Today, our desire should be to tell fellow travelers in this tempestuous journey, “Be of good cheer.”  Why would Paul say that?  He believed God!  God told him simply and plainly that all would be well with his life and the life of those with him.  Before we get into the meat of believing God, we need to make a fine point of distinction here.  Many equate believing God with believing in God, but they are not the same.  To believe that God exists is but the first point of belief.  To believe God (trust Him for His word) is to extend beyond the confident affirmation of His existence.  Many today affirm a belief in God, but their actions show a sad, lacking trust in Him.  Paul did not say “I believe in God” but rather “I believe God.”

Now, that we are ready to talk about believing God, some might argue, “Yes, but Paul had an angelic vision and direct revelation from God.”  Indeed He did.  Yet, you and I have something that I would argue is better than that.  Peter said that when we preach the Bible in church with the Holy Ghost’s attendance, we talk of things that “angels desire to look into.” (I Peter 1:10-12) Peter would go on to declare that the sacred pages of Scripture are “more sure” than even a Mountain of Transfiguration experience. (II Peter 1:16-21) By simply reading the Bible and taking it for what it says and means, you and I get a better revelation than Paul’s experience on the boat.

So what did the angel tell Paul, and how should we see that in the Bible today?  The angel told him that his life was secure and so were the lives of those with him.  That verily came to pass, as they all escaped safe to land by the chapter’s end, even though the boat utterly perished.  What does the Bible tell us?  We read where God’s children – each and every one including us – will be with God where He is. (John 5:26-29) Jesus even gave similar language to Paul when He said “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1a) Why?  Because He is going to prepare a place for us to be with Him when He receives us to Himself. (John 14:1-3)

God does not promise us that our boat will be safe, but He promises us that we will be safe.  He does not promise us feathery landings in this life, but He promises to be with wherever we are in this life. (Hebrews 13:5-6) Should that be our happy lot, Paul encourages us in the Hebrews passage not to fear what man can or will do to us.  Instead of looking at the stormy sea, the men in the boat should have been looking where Paul was looking.  Paul saw all the destruction and said “I believe God.”  Too many times today we look around and our steps say “I want to believe God…”  Friends, no matter what it looks like outside, trust Him.  Believe Him.  Nothing He has ever said has ever or will ever come to naught.

Currently, I am a young father with 4 small children, and our “schedule” brings us in contact with many other young parents of small children.  Here lately, I have heard quite a lot of talk, “I just feel so sorry for our children don’t you?  I just don’t know what they’re going to do.”  Doubtless parents of the previous generation thought the same for my generation.  My parents may have even had similar thoughts: though I really do not know.  Consider the name that has endured generation after generation.  Consider the One that has endured through all generations.  He has been with previous generations, and He will be with the coming ones too.  The same God that has delivered me thus far will not only lead me home, but also lead, guide, and guard His own that come after me.

Yes, their boat – and mine too – may crumble, but the Lord will preserve and watch over the souls of those whom He loves.  People ask today, “Is this country finished?”  Maybe, perhaps even probably.  However, the more important thing to consider is that no matter what happens to the boat, God’s own will all escape safely to heaven.  Nothing here will change the precious promise that all of God’s own will be kept forever.  What did that knowledge do to Paul?  He was upbeat.  He encouraged others.  He declared freely what God had so mercifully revealed to Him.  Do we believe God?  Ah, but the more sobering question; do we act like we believe God?  If we are upbeat, encouraging others, and declaring freely what God has so mercifully revealed to us, then yes, we are acting like those that believe God.

Friends, I freely confess that most of my life is much like the father in Mark 9 that had the possessed son.  “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”  So much of my life looks like belief and unbelief mixed together.  My fountain sends forth sweet and bitter at the same source, which James says ought not so to be.  Let us encourage one another with the motto of “Be of good cheer.”  No matter how stormy the sea, how broken the ship, or how downcast the sailors are, we need to maintain the firm and steadfast trust in God for His word. (I Corinthians 15:58) As I have heard a wise elder say on many occasions, “The problem with most of God’s children is that they have an outlook.  They need an uplook.  If we have an uplook, we can help others out there that are stuck on an outlook.”  Let us look up together.  As the wise woman of Shunam was able to say when her only son died, “It is well.” (II Kings 4:26) Be of good cheer, for it is well.

In Hope,
Bro Philip