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Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (John 11:25-26 – “The Truth About Death”)

“The Truth About Death”

John 11:25-26, “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

This morning, there are many things that people fear, and death is one of the top contenders. Over the years, I have heard that people fear public speaking more than death – as a general rule. As one that has to speak publicly quite a bit as a minister, I find it remarkable that people would generally rather die than have to do what I do. Regardless, death is greatly feared. There are few subjects that have been philosophized about as much as death. Men of learning and some measure of knowledge have wondered and tried to figure out what happens at death, after death, and all the connection points between this fragile thing we call life and the great unknown beyond it. Job of old (probably the oldest book of the Bible) even asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14a) At my secular employment, I get asked questions surrounding it on a regular basis. Yet, it seems to my observation that more energy has been put into trying to figure out what God has already plainly declared. After all, Job answered his own question when he said, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” (Job 14:14b)

The scene surrounding our study verses is focused on Jesus’ interaction with a family of Bethany that had lost a family member due to death. Mary and Martha recently lost their brother Lazarus, and when Jesus arrives with His disciples, He converses with both sisters before heading to the tomb to raise Lazarus back to life. Our study verses are in the midst of His conversation with Martha. In these thoughts we see what might seem at first blush to be a contradiction of thought. However, when placing these verses next to other passages of the Bible, they harmonize quite well with what the Bible plainly declares about life, death, and everything that follows. Notice the seeming clash of thought: 1. If someone believeth in Him, they will live though they have died, 2. If someone believeth in Him, they will never die. In side by side notation, they appear at odds with each other. But, as we have tried to stress many times over the years, problematic situations in Scripture comes from our problematic minds not the text itself. Our minds are frail and faulty, whereas the word is pristine and sublime.

To answer the critic’s charges while also probing one of the most discussed and philosophized concepts in history, we will see the great power of God’s deliverance while also strengthening our grip on fervent and assured service in the here and now. Man is composed of 3 parts: body, soul, and spirit, and two of these parts are unseen while the body is the portion that is visible to the naked eye. This writing, nor any other writing of man, can delineate what exactly the division of the soul and spirit is. Only Jesus can do such a thing (Hebrews 4:12), but Scripture affirms that man is composed of these 3 parts. (I Thessalonians 5:23) So, when Jesus makes a statement about never dying and also says that death shall be followed by the resurrection, we can clearly see the answer to the critic’s problem with the portion of man’s composition under consideration.

Scripture teaches that the internal, unseen parts of man do not die. The spirit goes back to God that gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7b), and the soul departs at the moment of death. (Genesis 35:18) The body, on the other hand, does lay down in death and go back to corruption. (Ecclesiastes 12:7a) So, from these places – among others – Jesus’ statement about never dying refers to the unseen parts of man, while the resurrection happens for the body that we see. One of the problems that man has in his postulating and philosophizing about death and things beyond it is the fact that he is thinking only in terms of things that we can see. To the natural sight, death is a reality with finality to it. We cannot see beyond that separation by natural ability, and to truly appreciate and cling to the things beyond this life, the sight of faith’s eye is required.

One of the things that I did not realize growing up is how different my perspective on death and the things surrounding it was from most of my peers. Most of my peers were unfamiliar with funerals, and they did not think about death much due to their youth. As a minister’s son, I went to many funerals and saw all the associated things with it such as grief, mourning, and comfort. Only after I was grown and began to understand how different my perspective was did I come to appreciate how treasured the situation of joyful hope and strong trust and belief in these things really is. Jesus strongly makes the point that there is a high premium on belief in these situations. Now, to be clear, belief is not what makes these things so. Belief never changes reality. Belief is simply an admission of what is reality. If I believe the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, my belief does not make it so. My belief is simply an admission of what is reality based on the evidence at hand. The reason death, things surrounding it, and the situation beyond it is so hard to grasp is because man does not see tangible evidence at hand to rely upon.

Friends, one of the things I prize about my growing up time is that I was surrounded at those funerals and times of natural sorrow by people that knew the truth about death and freely talked about it during those seasons. Churchgoers react to death and funerals very differently from those in the world. Even Martha in her interaction with Christ was able to cling to the idea of the resurrection while mourning the loss of her brother Lazarus. Paul encourages us in I Thessalonians 4 not to sorrow as others “which have no hope.” There are people in this world that literally have no hope or expectation of anything beyond this life. Such a mindset makes us of all men most miserable. (I Corinthians 15:19) These surroundings for me in my formative years staved off many of the fears and doubts I may have enjoined about death had I not had such grounded people around me all the time. It is my intent with my young children now that they have a similar situation. When they are full grown and facing the world themselves, my desire is that they have a good grasp about death without living in fear of it.

To the believer, there is an assuredness when the loss of death occurs that this is not the end. Job of old knew it was not the end, and I rejoice today in knowing that all of my friends and loved ones that we have buried over the years will be raised back to life one day. As I approach death in the future, I can do so with the joy and expectation that this body that is about to lay down with a final gasp will one day be raised in power and fashioned like unto His glorious body. (Philippians 3:21) This belief and trust allows us to have joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the midst of suffering. Jesus’ words should still ring and strike chords today that there is something beyond this vale that is glorious and majestic.

Taking it a step further, the believer today can rejoice in knowing that though the dead body of a loved one is being laid beneath the sod of this earth, the conscious aspect of them in soul and spirit is at that moment basking in the glorious presence of the Almighty. (II Corinthians 5:6-8) As soon as the eyes of the body close in death, the soul and spirit arrive in glory to rejoice and shout at the Saviour’s feet until the moment of reunion with their glorified body. When I think of those that have gone before me through that portal, I sometimes get a little envious. They are free of all the shackles that weigh us down daily. Oftentimes when I meet people at work in the morning, I will say, “How are you doing?” getting the response, “It’s another good day, because I’m above ground and this side of dirt.” While I understand the natural sentiment, the better day for our situation comes when the body is ready to go to the other side of the dirt. When that situation comes, we will see Him whom our soul loves and rejoice in glory surrounded by majesty.

From time to time, I ask a question in preaching, “What would you give for what you are blessed know about Jesus and all that He has done? How much is it worth?” Belief and trust in the Master is priceless, and the subject of death is a prime example of it. Though we mourn the loss of fellowship when others pass from this life, the knowledge that we have gives relief that nothing else can. I cannot imagine trying to live life without the steadfast belief in the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul. This should be so prized by us that we heed Paul’s concluding exhortation about this knowledge to be steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding the work of the Lord. (I Corinthians 15:58) Jesus would go on from these statements to raise Lazarus back to life showing His power over death. One day, He is going to raise all of the sleeping dust of men’s bodies and actually kill death itself by doing so. Death will have no more dominion. But, Lazarus still had 4 good days in soul and spirit basking in the beauty of heaven. Our trust and belief cannot rest in things we see but in the things that we cannot see. If we cling to these things, we can face our own death and of those we love with the resolution that we have not ended the story but just been parted for a while. The story continues. There is much more to come and left to see beyond this life, and if we believe these things, let us rejoice in life knowing these things. Jesus asked Martha if she believed. Do we? If we do, then let us show that in our love and devotion to Him who has so delivered us from the power of death.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (John 1:50 – “God With Us/Us With God”)

“God With Us/Us With God”

John 1:50, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.”

This morning, it would be impossible to say that we have seen all that we need to see. One of the surest ways for a man to fail to grow to his full potential is to think that he has “already arrived” in what he needs. The faithful disciple of the Lamb remains a student all his life. Once we think we have things figured out, we quickly find ourselves in the clutches of the devil’s devices, falling prey to his havoc. Unfortunately, the things that need to be seen and learned are pursued the least today. While various forms of entertainment and other vain jangling of the world attracts masses through its siren call, the bedrock institutions of God’s word and church are scoffed, dismissed, or ignored. While the Lord has blessed me to see great and mighty things thus far in my journey, I remain a student in the Master’s school, and my prayer for my future is that my mindset would not move from this position.

In this lesson, we read an interesting “back and forth” between a man by the name of Nathanael and Jesus. Nathanael has been gathered by Philip, and though probably with some doubts about this man Jesus that everyone is talking about (Verse 46), Nathanael goes to see Him. Upon arrival, Christ pays Nathanael a great compliment. He equates Nathanael’s life with that of moral uprightness and great honesty (Verse 47). Stunned by such an opening, Nathanael queries how Jesus could know him. After all, they have never met: or so he thinks. Christ then declares a knowledge of Nathanael’s private life by referencing an event under a fig tree. Now, I can tidily answer for the curious reader what exactly happened under the fig tree in the reference that Christ makes. It only takes three words. I don’t know. Though I have heard many theories about what this event was (some wilder than others), the main point is not what happened in this circumstance. The main point is that it was a situation that only Nathanael knew about, and the fact that Jesus tells him He is also aware and was there too was enough evidence to convince this doubtful – though upright – Jew that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah (Verse 49).

Our study verse is the tail end of this conversation between the two men, and Christ compares what Nathanael had just experienced to what he would later experience. In simple comparative language, Christ says that if Nathanael thought that Christ’s knowledge of the fig tree incident was great, just wait. It will get greater in the future. The distinction that Christ is making about Nathanael’s past experience and future expectation should give us some insight into our lives and what we hope for the future. Let us contrast the past fig tree experience with the future expectation of Nathanael’s life.

Nathanael learned something in this passage that Jacob learned in Genesis 28. The Lord is with us, even if we are not aware of it. His eye watches over us, and we are never outside of His faithful and loving gaze. The indication from the fig tree experience is that no one else save Nathanael was there, and he would have been positive that no one else knew what happened there – whatever it was. The fact that Christ knows it teaches Nathanael that this man is with him, even if his mind and spirit are not. In simple terms, God is with us, even if we are not with Him. We could say that being everywhere present and no where absent, God is always with everybody, but in the case of His children, He is with them specially. No matter the waywardness of the steps or how disobedient the behavior, His love for His own never wavers. He will never look at or say to one of His own, “I’m through with you. I’ve just had it up to here!” We should be supremely thankful that His love is perfect and unwavering to continue His faithful and loving care for us, even in the midst of our weakness and shortcomings.

The great thing to Nathanael was that His Lord and His God (now looking at him in fleshly form), was there all the time and saw everything. This should be a sobering thought to us. Years ago, I remember a sermon I heard preached when I was a young teenager. The minister said, “How would your life be if every step you took your father was attached to one hip and your mother to the other?” Plain and simple, my life would not have had some of the twists and turns that it took. Why? Mom and Dad’s presence would have kept me from some of the decisions that I made. How much more sobering should it be to us that our heavenly Father’s hand is upon us, and our Elder Brother’s hand is also upon us? Though sobering, how comforting should it be as well! Whatever the situation, He is there. No matter the problem, He is there. We many times focus on the greatness of the promise that He will never forsake us, but He will never leave us either. Though we may have to leave loved ones even though having not forsaken them (I am currently at this moment removed from my wife and children), God not only does not forsake us but never leaves us with His presence either.

What was going to be greater in the future? Christ plainly told Nathanael that he would see and experience greater things that what he had to this point. The difference was that though God was and still is with this man, this man would be with his Lord in body and spirit. By coming to where Christ was and then following after Him, he was able to witness and observe things that he knew at that moment were God’s presence with him. He had to be told after the fact of God being with him under the fig tree. He was going to see and know in the moment that God was with him in the future because he was with God. Nathanael observed many great things. In the next chapter a great miracle occurs of water being turned to wine. Christ would continue to bless and heal. Nathanael watched as Christ cleansed lepers, opened the eyes of the blind, and raised the dead. Equally great, Nathanael sat at the feet of the greatest minister to ever walk the earth and hear gracious discourses from the Master Teacher. On top of that, Nathanael witnessed and felt the hands of Christ upon his feet as his Lord knelt before him to wash those feet. Nathanael – like the rest – had ample evidence of the reality of who Christ was.

The reason Nathanael saw and experienced all these things was because he first of all heeded Philip’s invitation to “come and see” this great man. Secondly, he faithfully continued following Him after this initial meeting. Had Nathanael not gone with the invitation or not steadfastly followed Christ, God would have still been with him yes, but he would not have been with God. He would not have observed the wind and waves die immediately from three simple words, “Peace, be still.” He would not have been a distributor of a multitude of food that came from 5 simple loaves and 2 small fishes. He would not have had his own basket of fragments of mementos to recall to mind this great sight. So it is with us today friends.

Dear child of God, the Lord is always with you. Never let the devil convince you to heed his doubtful songs that God has forgotten you or does not care for you anymore. He is always there, and He always sees. (Hebrews 4:12-13) Your most private moments have not gone outside of his understanding. He was there too. He is in your head and heart and fully aware of all that goes on in both. Sometimes we can look back and come to realize, “Yes, He was there. Like Jacob, I didn’t know it. But without Him there then, I wouldn’t be here now.” I am living proof of this truth. Looking back on the folly of my youth, my life’s continuance is nothing short of a miracle. He was with me when I was the polar opposite of being with Him. However, I can also personally attest to the beauty and comparative greatness of being with Him.

Some might say, “But Nathanael was with Him in flesh on earth. I can’t do that!” Though we are not able to be with Christ physically like the 1st century apostles were, we have ample opportunity to be with Him nonetheless. Christ commends His sheep in Matthew 25 for doing many wonderful things to Him. When the confused sheep ask how that possible, Christ simply and plainly declares that doing it to one of the least of His is the equivalent of doing it to Him. Christ told His disciples on the night of that last Passover and first communion that He would eat and drink with them again in the kingdom of God. Though His flesh and blood is not on the earth, we should view every opportunity at communion as a time to put our feet under His table while His Spirit comes down to partake of the rich fellowship with us. By being with His people, helping one another, and faithfully presenting ourselves at His house, we are with the Lord.

Think of the great sights that can be seen when we faithfully follow the invitation to “come and see” and then faithfully follow after the life of a disciple. I have witnessed things in God’s house and with God’s children that are indescribable. Sometimes the Spirit can be so thick and powerful that heaven itself seems to be on earth. Sometimes the times of fellowship with God’s people in His house and in His service exceeds and overwhelms any experience I have ever had with natural blood. I can truly say as some of my forebears have said, “I’m closer with the people of God and His faithful than I am with my own blood kin.” While I love them yes, I have not seen the great sights that I have seen with the disciples of the Lamb. Like Nathanael, I can say that I have seen a small amount of food feed a great number, and I have been blessed as a minister to be a distributor on such an occasion. I have witnessed the storms and cares of life seem to disappear with His simple command and presence to still the house. I have witnessed great miracles of physical healing, but even moreseo, I have witnessed the great miracle that occurs when a broken spirit and burdened heart is bound up and cheered.

My life would be radically different were it not for the Lord’s word, His church, and the fellowship of His people. I have seen great sights. Yes, I can recall great things when He was with me, but the greatest events in my life came when I was with Him. Though the world continues to darken and crumble, being with Him should never be unfashionable for the Christian soldier. The cause is worth pursuing. The name is worth holding. The sights are breathtaking friends. May our steps, our hearts, our minds, and all that we are be found with Him. We are already in Him, and He is already with us. May we go to be with Him and dwell where He dwells. As Philip said, “Come and see.” (John 1:46) As the Samaritan woman said, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:49) As Abraham’s servant said, “I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren.” (Genesis 24:27b) I want to see him, and I want him to tell me all things. To do that, I need to be in the right way to faithfully go and steadfastly hold on to the house of my Master’s brethren.

In Hope,
Bro Philip