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Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (I John 3:14 & Revelation 12:12 – “How Do You Fight?”)

“How Do You Fight?”

I John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”

Revelation 12:12, “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

This morning, contests of skill and wars occur wherein the outcome remains uncertain until the final whistle or the last shot is fired. To the observer of such events, we may hope that the outcome goes one way or another, but we neither know nor can alter the eventual conclusion. To the participant of such events, one may fiercely try to swing the outcome in the direction that he wants though still not knowing how it will turn out. Years ago when the rise of DVR and other things allowed for sporting events to be recorded and watched later, one of my friends stated, “I don’t think I like that idea, because the outcome is decided already making it hard for me to root for someone when it has already finished.” When I asked him if it would help if he did not know what happened but was able to watch it without the outcome certain in his mind, he said it would make no difference. I was slightly bemused by this, knowing that his efforts in rooting for his team did not sway the outcome whether it was in progress or already complete. But, it reminded me of a richer truth. We are observers and sometimes participants in a great struggle wherein our engagement should be easier than it is, though we oftentimes make things harder on ourselves.

In the study verses above, we see some knowledge that both we and our adversary have. God in His gracious mercy has given us evidence of our standing with Him. One of the siren songs of today’s cynical world is, “How can you really know?” John tells us how we can know certain things. When people today are asked how they know they are saved (born again), they will many times say that at a certain place on a certain day, “I did ______ to get saved.” By Scriptural declaration, we did nothing to get saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we can state that we know we have been born again based on love experienced towards the brethren. To the child of God in general and the disciple more particularly, love in action to the kindred of Christ is a clear indication of this blessed state. God has not left us in the dark about our condition, but rather, He gave some clear markers that delineate it. Since love is the 1st of the nine fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the evidence of love is an evidence of passing from death unto life.

On the other hand, our adversary – the devil – knows some things too. One of the clearest things that he knows is stated above. I get asked a lot about how much the devil knows, and from Scriptural record, I do not have exhaustive information on the subject. However, I can say comfortably that he does not know what God knows (God alone is omniscient), does know the Bible (quoted from it when tempting Christ), and knows more by experience than we do (has been around longer and seen more). However, John states unequivocally that he knows the end is coming. The passage from Revelation 12 talks about him as a serpent, an adversary, and an accuser. While he knows certain things, it does not keep him from engaging all the time and at every opportunity.

Let us describe how our adversary fights first, and then proceed to how we should fight in the warfare of life. Notice what John says in conjunction to the devil’s knowledge. With the knowledge that he has, he makes concerted efforts to do the maximum amount of destruction. For whatever time he has, he is going to battle to the full. Though his power is no match for God’s, the text still says he has “great” wrath. He is a formidable foe. Two of the greatest pitfalls that we can experience in battling with him is either 1. give him too much credit (applying power and authority to him that God alone has) or 2. give him too little credit (underestimate his ability and strength of will). Though he is no match for God, he is more than capable of winning a “duke it out” contest with us when we “go it alone.” Though he knows the end is coming, he still fights and fights and fights. Since Revelation 12 calls him a serpent, here is a personal story of reflection to illustrate the point.

Growing up in South Mississippi, I had many influences in life, and one of those influences was a deacon in the church that Dad served named Alfred Cothren. Sometimes I even credit him with helping to raise me as he taught me much about life. He was avid outdoorsman, and I went hunting and fishing with him many times during my youth. He taught me how to hand grab for catfish and wrestle some really big fish. The man had no fear of anything except God. One day, I saw him grab a cottonmouth that was wrapped around the limb of a cypress tree while we were on the lake. With lightning fast hands and a grip of steel, he caught the snake right behind the head and observed him for a bit before his next move. In one swift motion, he separated the head from the body with his bare hands throwing the head one way and the body the other. He used to call this “making a 2 piece snake.” His reflection after doing this (while I sat there mouth agape) was profound, “Boy, that snake is dead. But, don’t go near the head. There’s enough in him to still bite you. It’ll hurt, we’ll have to take you to the hospital, and mama ain’t never gonna let you go with me again.”

Our adversary is much like that 2 piece snake. Christ’s work on Calvary crushed his head just as Genesis 3:15 said it would. However there is still enough wrath left in him to bite us, send us to the hospital, and cause grief to our loved ones. Where is the power that he has? When we get too close to his head (devices). We are not ignorant of what those devices are, and by getting too close to them, we will get bitten. Why does a snake still have the ability to bite and harm someone after it is effectively dead? That is the nature and makeup of its composition. Why does the devil continue to fight though he has effectively been crushed? That is his nature and his chief desire to bring as much destruction as he can for as long as he can.

Looking at our warfare, we have the opposite picture. Having passed from death unto life, we know that we have an endless time (eternity). We have been given the hope, promise, and assurance that our joy and peace will last world without end. When one considers the transitory suffering and misery of this life, it should be of chief comfort to the suffering child of God that all the bad things will one day be swallowed up by good things that will never change, decay, or pass away. However, our warfare is not nearly as diligent as our foe’s is. He does not “take the day off” though we often do. We do not stay fiercely determined like he does. I am reminded of a dear sister years ago who had the sweetest aunt that anybody had ever met. She was full of the milk of human kindness without a cross word to say. One day, this sister asked her aunt, “You’d probably say good things about the devil wouldn’t you?” Her aunt’s reply was, “Well, he isn’t lazy!”

The ultimate but sobering point is this: due to his knowledge and our knowledge, we should fight the opposite of how we do. If you knew that your side was going to lose the war, would you want to continue shooting? He knows that he has lost, yet he fights every day like victory is possible and still hanging in the balance. We know that we have won, yet we fight every day like defeat is possible and still hanging in the balance. Friends, I must confess that I have lost many skirmishes and battles with the old snake. He has gotten the better of me many times, but I am always supremely thankful to recall to mind that my battle record will not carry or overturn the war. The war was won by the Chief Captain of our salvation. He “duked it out” alone and won! Because He won, we won! Because He lives, we live now in passing from death to life and will one day live wholly (body, soul, and spirit) with Him. If you knew that your side lost the war or would lose the war, you might want to quit shooting. But, if you knew that your side already won the war, what greater encouragement could there be to keep shooting?

Life continues to deal us curves and problems to sort through. Our adversary continues to fire darts to discourage and trouble us. However, our Elder Brother has secured for us a life that knows no pain, sorrow, or strife. Before we get down or want to give up and quit, remember that glorious truth that as many times as I have quit on Him, he has never quit on me. As dead as the serpent is, let me cut wide berths away from his devices so that I do not get burned by his fire. His wrath will remain as long as his time lasts. Let the joy and strength that we will have for eternity infuse our lives now. If we have become weary in the way, let us begin anew to fight with the vigor worthy of the Name of Him who has won the strife for us.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Revelation 2:10 – “The Duration of Warfare”)

“The Duration of Warfare”

Revelation 2:10, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

This morning, life seems to follow a pattern of one of the famous literary lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” To the disciple of Christ trying to adhere faithfully to His injunctions, it seems so dark and distressing at what the world is propagating these days. To that same individual, today is the closest we have ever been to the 2nd coming of our Lord. Truly, this day – with all of its sorrowful circumstances – is still the best in the regard of being nearest to the blessed end. Till that blessed day arrives, much needs to be done in combating the problems that cross our path as diligent and faithful soldiers of the cross. While we will always have problems as long as we dwell in a sin-cursed plane, that does not necessitate our falling prey to them. So, the question that any soldier must ask is, “How long must this fight endure?”

As we launch into this mode of thought, please note dear reader that the only portion of our study verse that we will consider is the expression “be thou faithful unto death.” There are many more good things in this verse and the immediate context regarding the address to the church at Smyrna. However, our scope is more broad than the focus on one church as this lesson is primarily directed. Since the answer to the soldier’s question is readily apparent from the expression itself. Consider this quote from a famous American general as we go into this, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” — General Douglas MacArthur

The injunction on warfare’s duration is simple and straightforward. As long as we have breath, we should stand and war a good warfare faithfully. In the workforce, people look forward to one thing seemingly more than any other: retirement. I must confess that at my relatively young age, I think about it. Most of my thoughts revolve around how I much I could do that I want to do if retired. However, it should not be so for the disciple’s life of service. Our “want to” should align with our “ought to.” We may have times and seasons where we want to quit the fight or take a sabbatical. But, faithfulness should know no season and cessation of conflict with the world should never occur, as this world is not our friend.

In recent days, I have seen the rise of the retirement mentality in some Christian circles regarding their service and faithfulness to God’s kingdom. In the denominational world, preachers are retiring (mind boggling thought!), and even in our own churches, people are semi-to-fully retired in their efforts worshipping the Lord. While I am all for encouraging younger, fresher people in churches to take responsibilities as they grow and develop, there is no discharge in this war and service of ours. Prayers should stay most fervent. Worship should remain passionate and heart-felt. Daily life should still look as bright and refulgent as a shining light in a cold dark world. Years ago, a much older minister confessed to me that he had not really read or studied his Bible in years. His preaching was basically a re-presentation of things preached in years past. He said with shame that he had been brought to his knees by the Almighty to pick his sword back up and war again.

Let us transition this thought to our highest Example. Jesus Christ the Lord was faithful unto death. While this question does not apply to us with the same weight it does to Him, what are the ramifications of not being so? Had Jesus Christ not been faithful all the way to death, we would be yet in our sins and of all men most miserable. Thank God and bless His name that our faithfulness unto death does not carry such eternal ramifications! However, consider how our faithfulness in this regard does affect us, and more pertinently those around us. Most people are going to remember what portion of someone’s life? More than likely, the thing that will stand out the most is how they finished their course.

When runners run in a race, a fast starter that fades down the stretch will be a mere footnote as a participant in the race. Though he may have led the first half of it, his effort will not endure. There have been ministers I have known in the past that were great blessings for many years to God’s people. Their preaching was mighty and powerful, but down the stretch they either faded to a moral problem or theological error. All most people remember about them is not the years of faithful service but the reprobate or heretical behavior that came forth at the end. The greatest legacy we can leave for our children and those following after us is not money, land, possessions, or even seasons of faithful examples. Rather the greatest legacy we can leave those we love is the example of finishing our course with joy, rejoicing in hope even until the end, and steadfastly holding on to those things that bring lasting peace and joy to the soul.

Getting back to the quote from the beginning, every one of us should have the prayer of peace first and foremost in our hearts. Not peace with the world but peace from out of his world. We will be at peace one day with a full cessation of hostilities for evermore. That discharge will come from either death or Christ’s coming. Until one of those two events transpire, faithfulness should be our primary course: in all seasons, in all situations, and no matter the price that it costs. Faithfulness to His Divine will occurred for our Lord all the time, no matter what He was faced with, and even at the cost of His life for us. May our course follow the same direction and path. May our best days of faithful service be those before us. As the world grows darker, may we grow brighter. As death nears, may we rejoice in hope with all faith even more. As another memorable character said during a great time of conflict, “This was their finest hour.” May people remember the end of warfare as being our finest hour of service, thanksgiving, and praise knowing that our arms would be laid down forever to rest in peace and at home.

In Hope,
Bro Philip