Posted in Church, End Times/Revelation, Social

Avoiding the ‘Shemita’ Commotion

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, August 27, 2015

ShemitahOne ‘constant’ in church history is the appearance of religious leaders who pronounce the imminent end of the world.  Some sects, like the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and Seventh-Day Adventists, boldly predicted the return of Christ, then explained why nothing happened – and survive to this day.  Others within mainstream Christianity have predicted Jesus’ return was just around the corner: Ed Whisenant sold 4.5 million copies of his 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988…and who can forget the “Y2K” scare?

Earlier this year, San Antonio television pastor John Hagee published a book and produced a movie declaring that four blood moons signaled an imminent catastrophic change in the world – the hint being that this could be the rapture.  Now Johnathan Cahn, a Messianic Rabbi from New Jersey, has become famous for his books The Harbinger, and more recently The Mystery of the Shemitah.  Why are so many Christians taken in by this?  How should we respond to the seemingly endless line of ‘Christian’ leaders announcing impending doom and the return of Christ?

First, while I wish Christians would be more careful about believing what prophetic preachers say, I’m glad so many are anxiously looking forward to the return of Christ!  Almost 2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2.13), and at the end of the Book of Revelation, Jesus announces, “I am coming quickly,” to which John replies, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22.20).  In Matthew 24, Jesus gives signs that will signal the end of the age, and His return to reign.  We should be looking forward to that day!

But we should be careful.  If history teaches us anything, it’s that Christians are gullible.  Religious hucksters have been marketing their ‘snake oil’ for centuries, and too many of us are buying it!  Why?  Simply because, as Jesus Himself said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt.24.36).  It’s a mystery…and we all love unraveling mysteries!  But while we can look for signs, our motivation should not be to win an argument, or create a following of people who agree with our prediction, but to be ready – that is, to be living our lives for Christ, using our time, our talents, and our treasure to bring as many people to faith in Christ as possible.  So if you enjoy reading prophetic writings, go ahead, but don’t try to start a movement!  Instead, tell someone about Jesus, who died for their sin, rose from the dead, and is coming again!

How should we respond to things like the ‘four blood moons’ and ‘Shemita’ theories?  With healthy skepticism!  Too often, these are a distraction that actually serves the purposes of our enemy, instead of promoting a greater joy and appreciation for the grace of God.  Since the ‘mystery of the Shemita’ is the most recent entry into this prophetic arena, here’s my assessment: It’s a mixture of some Old Testament verses with a lot of unfounded speculation about how some Bible prophecy points to something going on today.

When Rabbi Cahn applies Old Testament laws to us today – as if we are going to be judged because we fail to obey them – he ignores that we are no longer under the law.  Like so many ‘Messianic Rabbis’ today, he wants to impose some of the law on us, but not all (none of them are calling for us to bring sacrifices!).  Worse, when he calls America “the Israel of the new world,” he betrays a lack of faithfulness to God’s original prophetic revelation of God.  You cannot replace “Israel” with “America,” and then ‘plug in’ prophecies that fit with the latest world events.  God’s prophecies to Israel and for Israel will be fulfilled by Israel, in God’s time.

More than anything, most of this prophetic ‘scare-mongering’ just grieves me…because it distracts us from ‘pursuing holiness’ (Heb 12.14), ‘walking by the Spirit’ (Gal 5.16), ‘looking forward to our our blessed hope’ (Titus 2.13), and being ‘ambassadors for Christ’ (2 Cor 5.20).  Instead of viewing ourselves as ‘more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Rom. 8.37), we are alarmed by sensational predictions of judgment, socio-political solutions, and personal survival.

Frankly, I don’t need any theories about the Shemita – or blood moons, or Islamic imams, or even the 70 weeks of Daniel – to know our nation is coming under the sovereign wrath of God.  God makes it clear in Scripture, both for Israel (2 Chron 7.13-14) and other nations (eg. Nineveh, Jonah 3), that sin leads to an outpouring of God’s wrath (Rom 1.18ff).

The ONLY answer to the problem of sin in our age is the gospel of Jesus Christ; every believer receives the Holy Spirit, and the enablement to live a victorious life in the midst of a world that is under Satan’s power (1 Jn 5.19).  Keep telling people about Jesus!

Posted in Evangelism, Social, Walk

Why I Appreciate Arian Foster

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, August 27, 2015

Half of you are probably thinking right now, “Who?”  For all those non-sports-junkies out there, Arian Foster is a Pro Bowl running back for the Houston Texans.  He’s been injured, and had some off-field problems in recent years, but he’s still one of the top running backs in the NFL.  But now he’s known for something else: He did an interview for ESPN magazine (“The Confession of Arian Foster,” Aug 17, 2015) in which he publicly declared that he does not believe in God.  His brother calls him “the anti-Tebow”!

Arian FosterQuick background: Foster was raised a Muslim,
was exposed to American ‘cultural Christianity,’ and sought for truth as a teenager.  He didn’t find it.  Instead, he found hypocrisy, even in himself.  He prayed five times-a-day, facing east…but felt he was living a lie each time he did.  He read the Bible and Quran in search of truth…but God just didn’t make sense.

In college at the University of Tennessee, he was the only member of the team who didn’t identify as a Catholic or Christian.  But what he saw was more dried-up formal religion.  Tennessee’s head football coach Phil Fulmer took his team to church on Sundays for “team-building exercises,” which just more deeply entrenched Foster’s distaste for all things religious.  Playing professionally in Bible-belt Houston has been more of the same.  “I get the devil-worship thing a lot,” Foster says.  He doesn’t care what others think; he just doesn’t believe in God.

At this point, a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction might be to view Foster as an arrogant pagan.  But you’d be wrong.  Unlike so many who unthinkingly either reject or casually accept some religious affiliation today, Foster thinks about what he believes.  Right now, he can’t understand how God – if there is a God – does things.  He asks questions like Why would a loving God create evil?  Why would he allow eternal damnation?  In other words, he is asking questions a lot of professing Christians are afraid to ask!

What is striking is that Foster has a close friendship with a devout Christian Justin Forsett, another NFL running back who played one season in Houston (he now plays for the Baltimore Ravens).  Forsett knew Foster was not a believer, but never defensively said “Hey man, you’re going to hell.”  When Foster made comments or asked questions, Forsett listened, engaged him in discussion, told him what he believed, said he would love Arian to experience what a relationship with God meant, and that he would pray for him.  No judging, no condemnation.  Says Forsett: “Arian pushes me to be a better man and a better man of faith.  He’s going to ask questions, tough questions, and I take that as a challenge.”

And that’s why I appreciate Arian Foster.  In a day in which – as one quip has put it, ‘5% of people think, 10% of people think they think, and 85% of people would rather die than think!’ – Foster is willing to think.  No, he hasn’t worked through it all…and right now, he’s taken some detours that all lead to dead-ends.  But if you ask me, I’d rather someone think about whether or not there is a God, instead of blindly following church dogma, or a famous religious leader.

I think of another man who, like Foster, was an atheist, looking for meaning and truth in a world full of evil.  He was running from God, too.  I’m thinking of C.S. Lewis, who lived rational and idealistic atheism…until the day he believed.  In his own words: You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.  That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.  In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England (Surprised By Joy, ch.14).

The lesson in all this?  Two things.  First, before we believe in Jesus, we’re all running from God: There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God (Rom.3.11).  On our own, we’d never come to faith.  But the good news is that God can outrun us!  And that leads to the second lesson: Never give up on someone who challenges your faith.  God didn’t give up on you before you believed!  They’re searching for truth, not easy answers.  Talk to them, listen to their questions, and let them see the answers in your words and deeds.

Who will you ‘show and tell’ about God’s love, and Jesus dying for their sin…this week?

Note: If you want to be better prepared to engage unsaved friends in discussion about God and truth, and to answer their questions, the Growing in Discipleship course is for you!  Sign up for the Comal County Fair outreach training on Sunday, September 20th, 1-3 pm, or Tuesday, September 22nd, 7-9

Posted in Church, Goals, Walk

Lessons from an Early Morning Run

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, Aug 21, 2015

Early mornings are a precious time…for sleep!  Frankly, that’s my ‘default setting’ – I’m not a great morning person.  But I have found that a five mile walk-and-jog in the early morning is a wonderful way to start the day, both physically and spiritually.  As the pre-dawn darkness gives way to morning light, there are a number of lessons the Spirit has impressed on my heart.  Here are five.

Race You To Goal_6  The First Battle: Getting Started!  I have never regretted an early morning walk-jog; in fact, I am happy about my decision to get up and go from the moment I walk out the front door on!  But I must confess, when my alarm goes off at five-something and I turn it off, a battle ensues in my mind – with all kinds of reasons why I should roll over and head back to dream-land for another hour.  This is the hardest part of my morning exercise.

My mind tells me I need the sleep; the kids were up late the night before, and furthermore, my pushing-60 body can’t take the punishment.  I’ve even had Scripture come to mind: Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11.28).  ‘Jesus said that,’ I tell myself, ‘so maybe I should stay in bed!’  Or this: It is vain for you to rise up early… For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep (Psalm 127.2).  ‘God will help me get in shape while I sleep!’

So too in our spiritual ‘walk’: The hardest part is getting started, overcoming spiritual lethargy  and deciding to ‘just do it’!  What ‘spiritual exercise’ is the Spirit prompting you to start doing?  Reading through the Bible in a year?  Get started.  Volunteering to help with Awana?  Contact Lee Hicks today!  Getting involved with the evangelism ministry?  Talk to Robert Ambs today!  Remember, the first battle is getting started!


Run hillDownhill, Uphill: Easy times, tough times.
  I follow a set route in my neighborhood, and like most places in the hill country, sometimes you go downhill, other times uphill.  I’ve learned that on the downhill sections, I can pick up my pace – push myself harder.  On the uphill sections, I keep within myself: I don’t push it, just keep from falling off my pace.

That’s a good approach for our spiritual lives, too.  Sometimes everything is going well, and we feel like we could almost ‘walk on water’!  That’s the time to look for new opportunities, to push the pace spiritually, try new ventures.  But other times circumstances overwhelm us – something unexpected knocks us off kilter, or the pressures of life build and make us vulnerable to Satan’s schemes.  That’s the time to ‘stick to basics,’ make time to read Scripture, get alone for prayer and meditation, or meet with a trusted Christian friend who can encourage you.

early morning runSunrise: Sometimes Golden, sometimes Gray.  Some mornings, sunrise is absolutely stunning: Beams of golden rays piercing the dark-blue hues of the sky, punctuated by the occasional star or planet.  As I walk, I feel my spirits lifted, and the words of an old hymn come to mind: When morning guilds the skies, my heart awak’ning cries, “May Jesus Christ be praised!”  Other mornings are like today: Overcast and gray…the only sign of morning sun is the faint glow between dark clumps of clouds.

This is a reminder that as we walk spiritually with the Lord each day, there will be times when the sun is shining and our spirits will soar, and there will be times when the forecast is not good – there will be ‘storms’ brewing on the horizon, and the light of The Son will be less inspiring to our earthly eyes.  But just as the sun is still there, still shining, whether it’s clear or overcast, so too our Lord is ‘shining’ in our lives every day, whether we always see Him clearly or not.  Often, in the still and quiet of those ‘overcast times,’ we can draw closer to the Lord than when it is ‘clear and sunny.’  Remember the Lord is always there: Trust Him!

This walk is for Me – not Everyone!  Some people are always trying to get others to follow their exercise regimen.  If you tell them you walk a mile, they tell you they run three.  Or they feel the need to tell you what you’re doing wrong, and how you need to change.  But this is my walk-and-run.  It’s not for everybody!

Sometimes we Christians are like this: We get our conviction by proxy!  Instead of listening to what the Spirit is telling us to do and doing it, we tell others what they should be doing!  But every Christian is different, and if I tell someone to do something the Spirit is prompting me to do, I may be setting them up for failure and defeat.

If God is prompting you to pursue a spiritual goal, or to ‘go deeper’ in your spiritual walk, great!  Don’t try to ‘export it’ to everyone else!  God wants to work in your life in His time, and in His way.  God will work with others in His time, in His way.  Give Him the freedom to do that.

Running-Goal

Set a goal, and pursue it!  I know my body…and I like to push myself.  I like to challenge myself, to see if I can take 5 or 10 seconds-per-mile off my pace.  I have an App on my phone that tracks my speed, and updates me every five minutes.  I know when I’m slipping back a little, and when I’m ahead of my pace.  As I head into the ‘home stretch,’ I stick to my goal, and finish strong.

In our Christian walk, we need to have goals as well.  Perhaps you have a daily goal: Read the Bible for fifteen minutes, make time for prayer.  Perhaps you have a weekly goal: Spend an hour in prayer with your spouse, or with a close friend.  You may have a ministry goal: To invest time in kids, or get involved with a Bible study, or a ministry like DivorceCare.  Whatever you do, set a goal, and pursue it.  Don’t ‘throw in the towel’ if you fail once or twice; stick with it, and finish strong!

Lessons from an early morning run…are god lessons for the Christian life.  May God bless you as you pursue your daily spiritual walk with Him!

Posted in Family

Remembering My Heritage

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, Aug 8, 2015

In a few hours, I will leave for a week in Oregon, the state in which I spent the first 20-some years of my life.  I always love visits to the Northwest: The natural beauty is stunning – snow-capped mountains, white-water rivers, rugged coastline, and everywhere pine forests and lush farmland.  Some might call it ‘God’s country,’ although the ethical and moral decline in recent years would suggest otherwise.

This trip, however, is going to be a bittersweet one.  About 1950, my parents bought a three-acre plot in east Portland that had a small two-story brick house, a barn and chicken-house, and one bathroom.  Since then, with minor changes (fences, a playhouse, turning a separate garage into sleeping space), time has stood still.  The trees have all grown taller, and some have died.  The house has seen 60+ years, with 13 children and 60-some grandchildren running the halls, exploring in the back pasture, climbing trees.

Congdon Phil siblings

During its ‘prime,’ these three acres not only were home to all us children (picture at right shows all living children at my mother’s memorial service last year; from left, front row: Rebecca, Marianne, Rhoda, Ruth, and Rachel; back row: Mark, Brad, Rob, Phil, Jon, Jim).  We also raised chickens, rabbits, and other animals.  I milked a cow – by hand – every morning and night, from the time I was in seventh grade, through high school.  I fed goats, pigs, ducks, geese, and other animals I can’t remember!  Oregon’s winters are dark, cold, and wet…and I remember chores on those nights.  Summers were beautiful, and I remember playing ball with my brothers into the night, picnics in the back yard, and picking cherries off the trees in the orchard.  We occasionally slept in the hayloft in the barn, and built rafts to float on the pond at the bottom of the property.

But of all the activities and events I remember, one eclipses them all.  Virtually every night, we had family devotions.  This ‘event’ included my mother reading to us (Little House on the Prairie, Chronicles of Narnia, etc.), then reading from the Bible, then singing (we each sang a solo, or played the piano for everyone to sing together), and prayer (youngest to the oldest).  I learned that God was the most important part of my parents’ lives.  I learned to respect and obey the Bible.  My parents lived out their faith in front of us, and let us watch.  And when I walk those three acres for the last time this week, a thousand memories will echo through my mind, but one surpassing impression will remain: What God wrought on those three acres is a heritage that remains strong to this day, and will affect generations to come.  I have been blessed beyond words!

What we all learn – if we pay attention through life – that everything in this world turns to dust…but what is done for the Lord, lasts forever.  The psalmist says this (Psalm 103.14-18):

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

We spend a lot of time and money on our homes…but not-so-much on our spiritual heritage.  And yet, how we live for the Lord, and what we do for Him, will outlast all the ‘real estate’ we own!  As I visit my childhood home for the last time, I will thank God for parents who left a rich spiritual heritage for all of us fortunate enough to grow up on those three acres.