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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

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (II Corinthians 4:17-18 – “The Highs and Lows of Perspective”)

“The Highs and Lows of Perspective”

II Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

This morning, emotional upheaval seems to be rampant. Today’s age is marked by heightened duress, medicated depression, violence of various stripes, and many other things that directly link to people’s swinging emotions. While today’s entertainment is supposed to give a “high,” it is always transitory and fleeting. Today’s tensions generate “lows” that either hit the cliff wall or fall into the murky abyss. Solomon declares that life under the sun yields helplessness and hopelessness at times when viewed from the natural perspective. However, though we live with a natural vantage point, we do not have to keep a natural perspective. If all we had was life under this sun, we would be of all men most miserable, but since we have life under a different Son, we can stand with courage and peace rather than helpless and hopeless lives.

Our study verses are what I like to call “perspective texts.” Perspective can be a powerful thing, as we tend to view our perspective as reality. The truth is that reality is reality no matter whether I view it or not. As many ministers have declared, “The truth of Scripture is true whether anyone believes it or not.” If I was blind and could not tell light from dark, my perspective would not have day and night, sun and moon, etc. However, reality is still the same though I would not see it. Perspective governs what and how we think rather than what reality and truth are. Therefore, we should always try to tailor what we perceive to align with the truth rather than suppose that truth aligns with what we see.

Consider the magnitude and power of what Paul declares in these verses. Paul has labored in the context to show that persecutions and problems in this world do not change the truth. Though he and other ministers had suffered for the cause of Christ, nothing changed what God had worked in. The inward man is still renewed day by day no matter how much the outward man perishes. (Verse 16) Right after our study verses, Paul will go on in the next chapter to describe the reality of what awaits after this life. Nothing here changes that. Nothing can hinder it. That is reality. Praise God it is! But, the power of perspective is still clearly shown in these verses. Something is described as light and easy, while something else is described as weighty and powerful. Suffering here is light; eternal glory is weighty. Surely all of us in our right mind would freely confess to this truth. Heaven and immortal glory is go great and majestic that all things here pale in comparison. Paul attested the same in Romans 8:18.

However, though that is the truth, that is not exactly Paul’s point. It may be hard to convey the point to someone in dire suffering here of how light it is. It may be hard to convey the point to someone in the prime of life how weighty and glorious heaven is. Why is this hard to do? To the man dying of cancer whose body is wracked with pain, he sees the affliction as heavy rather than light. To the youth full of vim and vigor, heaven may be a distant thought because so much fun in life is right before him. The perspective determines how meaningful these truths are to the individual. In our present age, I have heard many ministers lament the experience that many of us have that people are not as energized and engaged in the gospel as they should be. However, one of the gospel’s functions is to comfort the child of God. How do you comfort someone who does not feel to need it? As a minister among us is known to say, “You can’t comfort people who are too comfortable to be comforted.”

Paul’s encouragement to this church is to align their perspective to the truth and reality of our suffering and future home. The reality is that suffering is light. The reality is that heaven is weighty. How do we see it? There is a condition. To see it as it should be, we must look at one set of things while ignoring or denying the other. We must set our affection on things above focusing on things that only faith can see. We must look up and above the vain and perishable things of this old world. When we constantly look down at the shifting sands of time, we will fall prey to sorrow, anger, depression, and other emotions that will drive down upon us until our knees buckle under the strain. When we focus our minds unto the hills from which cometh our help, we feel and understand that no matter the bondage here, the release and liberty is better.

When people find out that I am a preacher, I constantly have to field a specific question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Over the years, I have tried to formulate responses that are less offensive than others, and I also try to tailor the wording to the circumstance that they are focused on at the time. However, the simple answer is this. If we ask the wrong question, we will get the wrong answer. In computer programming lingo, “Garbage in equals garbage out.” We deserve nothing good as fallen creatures, and therefore, it is more fitting to ask, “Why do good things happen to any of us?” Grace is the only suitable reply to this question, and what a glorious answer it is!

Yet, let us probe a little further about suffering in this life. First and foremost, suffering in this world is a direct result of sin. To deny this truth is to turn a blind eye to plain Scriptural declaration. Creation’s original state was deemed good and very good by her Creator. The problems all came after the fall of man in the garden. So, no sin, no suffering. But, sin is a reality, and therefore, suffering is seen. Does this mean that suffering in this life cannot do anything good for us? Is all suffering needless and pointless? Not according to Paul in these verses. Yes, we do suffer a lot of needless and pointless things due to our own failings, but the general sufferings of life can actually help arm our perspective. Look at Paul’s specific language. The suffering “worketh for us” that which makes heaven appear weightier. Now, this powerful point will only apply when our perspective is focused where it should be. If someone is doggedly looking down at this life, they will either become despondent or embittered when suffering occurs. The pity parties and the “Why me?” statements will ensue. But, if we meet the condition of looking above, these sufferings actually draw our mind to think of heaven better and brighter than we may have before.

Friends, heaven is more glorious than we can imagine. It is more weighty and majestic than we can possibly consider. However, our minds and spirits get closer to that reality when we look above during the sufferings of this life. To the faithful saint upon his/her deathbed, heaven seems close enough to touch sometimes. As I heard a minister relate recently, a mule plows better when pointed towards the barn than away from it. As he is older himself, he said, “I feel like I’m heading towards the barn. I can see it, and I’m plowing away knowing that it’s getting close.” As we age and the body peels away from us, we can see that glorious city dawning closer and closer. Though I am not an old man by any stretch of the imagination, I can feel things inside me that were likely ignored as a youth. It is that powerful yearning to be home and at rest. To feel this and nurture this perspective, we need to spend our thoughts and moments in things that endure rather than with things that quickly pass through this temporal sod.

Several years ago, I viewed a “computer junkpile.” A company had set up to take old computers to get some of the material still inside them. As I looked at the various models stacked together it dawned on me that at one time these were all the happening new thing. They were the toys of the hour. Yet, looking at them now, they were so old and obsolete. Things of life are that way. New cars get dated quickly. Fashion styles leave and disappear. Today’s news lines tomorrow’s trash cans. Yet, there are things that are just as real today as they were yesterday, and if there is a tomorrow, they will be just as real then and through all eternity. Thinking and looking by faith at these things helps us keep things in frame. One of my favorite verses at the close of Isaiah 40 talks about mounting up like an eagle. Consider that perspective. An eagle flying through the heaven does not see “big” things on the ground as large as I do. His vantage point makes them smaller in sight than I see them from the ground. Yet, no matter how high he flies, the heavens above him are still stretched out grand and seemingly without end. If natural creation becomes bigger looking at those heights, how much more the heaven of heavens? If natural things can look so much smaller, how much more from God’s sight at the foot of His throne? Let us mind the things above, for when we do, our afflictions will be lighter and heaven more heavy. Does cancer still hurt? Sure it does. Can heaven still seem far away at times? Sure it can. However, minding things above will align us better and get us closer to thinking of things the way they really are.

In Hope,
Bro Philip