Posted in Church, Politics, Social

Keeping Our Heads (when others are losing theirs)

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, November 9, 2016


With millions of other Americans, I watched in something approaching shock as Donald Trump was elected president of the United States on November 8th.  Pollsters were so wrong in their predictions, and supporters of Clinton so sure of victory (including the vast majority of the news media), the whole process seemed almost surreal at times.  There are a few timely reminders to take from this.

First, we should stop believing what the major news sources tell us.  Much, if not most, of what is ‘fed’ to us is designed not to inform, but to indoctrinate, not to tell us what has happened, but to tell us how to think.  By any measure, the effort has been amazingly successful.  ‘Politically correct’ positions are presented with positive language, while ‘politically incorrect’ positions are presented in a negative light.  The responses of major news outlets to Trump’s victory is a case in point.  Most of them are opining on “what went wrong in the election” (Answer: Nothing) – as if the system must be wrong, since their candidate lost.  Others are ‘advising’ Trump on how he must govern.  This isn’t news; it’s propaganda.  Ignore it.

Second, our society has embraced atheistic, materialistic humanism (the idea that there is no God, that there is nothing but matter, and we are in control of our own destiny), and it has bred a culture of false self-importance.  We think that getting rid of those who disagree with us will make everything ‘bad’ in society good, and getting the ‘right’ person to lead us will make everything ‘good’ better.  This ‘messianic syndrome’ is prevalent in America, and causes irrational reactions (crowds rioting in the streets the night following the election because their candidate lost is one example).  If it goes unchecked, it can ultimately lead to anarchy.

As Christians, we should exhibit a wisdom that is ‘out of this world’ – that does not follow the foolishness of those who are blinded by sin.  How we react to this election, which seems the most startling in my life, can be a reflection of our faith in God, not men, and our commitment to His eternal truth, not the unstable and uncertain direction of our human leaders.
Every person who has lived through a few presidents probably has a view on which ones have been good, and which were not.  Some who are a little older than me might point to Eisenhower or Kennedy.  In my experience, and in my opinion (no offense if you disagree!), Reagan is the greatest president I have known.  But as I think back over the years of his presidency, I realize that the idyllic visions I had when he was elected didn’t happen.  Yes, there was much good that came out of those years – the economy was healthy, our military was strong, and the ‘evil empire’ of communism was weakened significantly.  But abortion was not stopped, or even impeded.  Our national debt grew worse.  There were moral and ethical scandals in his administration.

Many Christians – while disapproving of some of Trump’s actions and words, viewed him as a ‘better option’ than Clinton.  Her unbridled support of not only abortion, but also Planned Parenthood’s selling parts of aborted baby’s bodies, is an egregious evil.  Her ethical standards were an embarrassment to even her supporters.  Her deception and outright lies concerning Benghazi, and dubious accumulation of millions of dollars through the Clinton Foundation, are just two examples.

But while we may feel like Trump winning was the better outcome, we should ‘keep our heads’ about us.  We all know that Trump is not ‘the answer’ to America’s problems, or the solution to our evils.  Whatever ‘good’ he may do – for example, appoint justices to the Supreme Court who, unlike recent appointees, will uphold our Constitution – this is only dealing with ‘surface wounds’ in our nation.  The deeper needs are all spiritual, and will only be turned around when we recognize our Creator, accept His offer of life through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and follow Him.  Let that be our focus…as we head into the coming years.

Posted in End Times/Revelation, Social

Are these the ‘Last Days’ – and if so, what can we do about it?

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, May 14, 2016

Some sections of Scripture reveal more about our world today – the ‘end times’ – than others. While many of the Old Testament prophetic books contain apocalyptic glimpses, sections of Daniel (especially chapters 7-12), Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), and, of course, the Book of Revelation provide a more compelling view of things to come.

Are we living in the ‘last days’? I can answer that. Jesus said,

“I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 142b-3)

After His ascension, the angels affirmed that “this Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” This signaled the beginning of the end. Paul wrote the Corinthian Christian in the first century A.D. that they were living in “the ends of the ages.” But Scripture also contains clues as to when the ‘end of the ends of the ages’ will be upon us. I believe it is.

Living Last DaysAt the end of his amazing prophetic book, Daniel was instructed to “keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when m
any will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase” (Dan. 12.4). That is, in the last days, people will investigate biblical prophecies, and knowledge will increase. We see this today – indeed, we see many of the signs of the end apparently occurring before our eyes!

Jesus’ words to His disciples in Matthew 24 provide us with further clues. In this chapter, Jesus says there will be false religious leaders (5, 11), wars and rumors of wars (6), famines and earthquakes (7), and widespread persecution of Christians (9-10). I submit to you that this couldn’t be a more precise description of our day.

Skeptics will scoff, “There have always been false religious leaders, wars, earthquakes, and Christians have been persecuted since the first century!” They want us to forget about the end times. Ironically, in the first century, Peter revealed that the presence of such skeptics was itself a sign of the last days!

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3.3-4)

But something else Jesus said in Matthew 24 tells me that we are living in the ‘last days’: “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (v12). The Greek word translated “lawlessness” (anomia) is the opposite of righteousness. It refers to all that is sinful and opposed to God. Jesus did not say lawlessness would appear for the first time in the last days, but that it would be increased.

We are living in a day of unprecedented increase in willful opposition to God. With breathtaking rapidity, we have watched as godless politicians, judges, and other ‘social elites’ have first allowed, then endorsed, and now enforced open rebellion to God. We are watching as our world invites the wrath of God (see Romans 1.18-32 for a step-by-step outline of how we have done this!). Scripture is blunt: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Galatians 6.7).

How will you respond to this picture of impending judgment? That all depends on whether you let Scripture guide you. There are two things every growing Christian will do. First, you will stand strong and true for the clear, undiluted gospel of grace. The Church began on Pentecost (Shavuot) – the last of the Jewish ‘spring feasts’ – and it signaled the time of harvest. This is our ‘time of harvest’! Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white for harvest” (John 4.35). Tell someone about Jesus while you can!

Second, the growing Christian will confidently ‘look up’ – expectantly waiting for the return of Christ. This is our “blessed hope” (Titus 2.13). Our enemy (Satan) would like nothing more than for us to lose hope, joy, and expectancy. He knows his end; he hates God and His highest creation, mankind, and wants to take as many as he can to his doom (Matthew 25.41; Revelation 20.7-15). What better way to prevent people coming to Christ than to cause believers to lose their hope?

So…in these last days, tell others about Jesus, and look confidently to the future: Proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2.9)!

Posted in Church, End Times/Revelation, Resurrection, Social

Super Tuesday’s Past…Super Sunday’s Coming!

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, March 4, 2016

Tuesday, March 1st.  ‘Super Tuesday’!  Millions of dollars were spent leading up to it, with candidates touting their qualities, and trying to outdo each other with promises on how they would fix all our problems, and give us everything we want for free!  Honestly, it reminded me of the scene in Napoleon Dynamite scene where Pedro, running for class president, says, “Vote for me and all of your wildest dreams will come true.” Super Sun 1

What is amazing is the number of Americans who swallow this tripe!  Millions of  Americans went to the polls, cast their ballots, and – well, settle in for another eight months of this!  Which leads me to say two things: First, while political ads can drive you to the brink of insanity, we should be thankful that we have the right to vote, and a number of other rights and freedoms that most people in the world do not enjoy.  Second, while I’m not a pessimist, I can assure you that no matter who wins, we’ll be subjected to this quadrennial drum-beat in four years, unless…unless the Lord returns first!

How do I know?  What is the basis for this wondrous thought?  The last Sunday in March, this year.  They call the first Tuesday ‘Super Tuesday’ because of the number of delegates up for grabs in the presidential primaries on that day, but I’d sooner call the last Sunday ‘Super Sunday,’ because on that day – ‘Resurrection Day’ – God declared victory over sin and death once and for all through the resurrection of His Son…and His kingdom rule will commence when He returns from heaven.  He’s not making promises, angling for your vote, raising money to fund His campaign: It’s done, He is King of kings and Lord of lords!

Many world leaders have basked in the praise of followers who viewed them with almost messianic qualities, but all have proved to have feet of clay.  Only One can lay claim to the throne of the Kingdom of God, and He is not up for election.  Instead of trying to garner support in order to acquire a throne, He shed His own blood to enable others to share in that reign.  God’s plan to include us in this coming kingdom required the sacrifice of His Son.  I love how the author of Hebrews captures this:

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (Heb. 2.9-10, NAS)

Having paid-in-full the price for our sins, God raise His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead.  The empty tomb is the promise of a coming throne!  Again, Scripture is clear (Philippians 2.9-11, NKJV):Risen

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you’re looking for something to really shout about this election season, look beyond the hype and promises of the candidates, and look to Christ.  On March 12th, 19th, and 25th, we’ll celebrate His life, death, and resurrection in the His Story drama, and on ‘Super Sunday,’ March 27th, we’ll celebrate the empty tomb.  Here’s a leader you really can believe in!

Posted in Evangelism, Family

Christmas Comings and Goings

 Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, December 23, 2015

Airports are great places to observe humanity.  In the arrival area you see expectant faces, people holding signs, children craning their necks, parents waiting to hug sons or daughters or grandchildren who they haven’t seen in too long.

Coming Going 1But ride the escalator and walk a few feet to the departure area, where travelers are heading
into the security check, and you’ll see a different side.  Mothers hug children goodbye, heading off to college or work, or back home – wherever home is for them now.  Family members crane their necks for one last look, then leave the airport with a lost look on their faces. We love comings…we endure goings.

Christmas is a season of travel – this week tens of millions will travel to visit loved ones, or look forward to loved ones traveling to visit them.  In a couple of days my son Joseph will fly from Florida, and arrive at the San Antonio airport.  He hasn’t been gone that long, but I’m still looking forward to his arrival.  Having children home for Christmas is nice.  On the way home we may stop for a meal together – to hear about his experiences, to tell jokes, to share the finniest You Tube videos we’ve seen.  You know what I’m talking about; it’s fun driving to the airport to pick someone up.

But as sure as he comes, a week or ten days later, he’ll leave again.  That trip to the airport won’t be as fun.  I know he had to go, and it’s a good thing…but it’s hard.  As children head to college, or to work, or get married and move away, something tugs at you when they go…and you look forward to the reunion when they come home.

All of my older children have left home – some for college, some for jobs in other states, and it never gets easier.  I’m happy that they’re learning to face life’s challenges on their own, growing spiritually, becoming independent.  But the memories of when they were young still come back – and it’s always good when they come back home, too.

Christmas is a celebration of a going and a coming.  From heaven’s point of view, of course, this was a going.  God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son had co-existed in eternal tri-unity.  Our time-trapped brains can’t comprehend eternity – timelessness.  Not only were they together, they existed in perfection, absolute holiness.  There were myriads of angels there, too, created to share God’s glory.

What happened next is not totally clear, but we’re given clues in the Bible.  One angel, Lucifer, rebelled, and in his pride tried to overthrow God.  He was cast out of heaven, and became Satan.  When God created the earth, Satan was there, and thought to himself, ‘What better way for me to gain victory over God than to destroy His creation on earth?’

In the Garden of Eden, that’s what happened.  Satan deceived Adam and Eve, and lured them into rebellion against God.  All creation, and the whole human race, was stained with sin.

The results of sin were catastrophic.  God’s holiness cannot look on sin!  Just as Satan had been cast out of heaven, so now any communion between God and men was gone.  And as a result of sin, every person ever born would die.  You might say that mankind was ‘lost in space,’ with no way home to God.

Coming Going 2If you’ve see the movie The Martian, you’ll remember that Matt Damon’s character – astronaut Mark Watney, was alone, stranded on Mars, with no way to contact earth.  You think he had it bad?  He was just 140 million miles from earth!  Because of sin, we were stuck in a dead-end universe, unable to reach a holy God who is outside of space and time!

This is where God’s plan began.  The real problem, of course, was sin.  Like a cancer that infected every person, it had to be eradicated, or we would never be reunited with our Creator.

The Mission

The only way to take care of the problem of sin was for someone who didn’t have any sin to die for the sins of the people on earth.  Enter God the Son, who accepted the task of becoming the ‘rescuer’ for a lost planet.

But in order for that to happen, He had to leave heaven.  It may seem trite, but let me ask you: Do you remember your child’s first day at kindergarten – watching them walk away from you into school?  Maybe you remember them leaving for college – wondering what would happen to them…how would they change?  I don’t really know what it was like when God the Son left heaven for earth, but it was a ‘going’… Was it a tearful ‘good-bye’?  I don’t know…

You would’ve thought that coming all that way to earth would’ve been cause for celebration on earth…but we didn’t know.  Remember, sin had strained our relationship with God.  All His attempts to communicate with us got garbled by Satan.  God sent messages about His Son coming through prophets, but we were confused and misinterpreted them.  Satan was blinding our eyes, keeping us in the dark – deceiving us the way he deceived Adam and Eve, making us think our own way was as good as it gets – keeping us from thinking about out Creator.

Coming Going 3So the greatest rescue mission ever attempted touched down in a cattle stable in the little town of Bethlehem.  No one in town cared.  To give this infant King from heaven a bit of a welcome, angels startled shepherds outside town and announced his birth.

That was how it started, and, well…you know how it finished.  After teaching and healing and raising the dead and doing good, God’s Son, Jesus, was condemned to die.  He who knew no sin became sin for us.  And when He died, the payment for sin for every person was complete.  He had fulfilled His mission.

The Departure

On the third day after his death, God raised Jesus from the dead.  Soon, it would be time for Him to return home.  Of course, returning to heaven would mean leaving the earth.  For weeks Jesus met with His small band of followers, encouraging them, instructing them, and then, at the ‘interstellar ascension port of the Mt. of Olives,’ He ascended back into heaven.

What a sight it was in heaven – like a victorious warrior returning from battle!  He had rescued the lives of all those imprisoned in sin, and now he was back home!  Scripture gives us some glimpses of what it was like – and by all indications it was bigger than anything we’ve ever seen here on earth!

Coming Going 4But back here on earth, it wasn’t a happy time.  Jesus, God’s Son, the Savior of the world, had just left.  His band of followers stood looking up into the sky.  Was this the end?  Was that the end of the story?

Suddenly, two heavenly messengers appeared beside them, and spoke:  Why do you stand looking up into the sky?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven.

The Return

When would it happen?  No date or time was given.  As they poured over things Jesus had told them, they found clues… but then, one of the last things He told them was that it wasn’t for them to know the exact time!

Instead, He gave them a task to do: Go everywhere in the world, and tell anyone who would listen that the Savior, who came from heaven once, was coming again to take home with Him all who believed in Him.

That day could be today.  It could be on Christmas.  Or it might be a day years from now.  All I know it that I’m looking forward to it.  And ‘if I should die before I wake, I know the Lord my soul will take,’ and I will be at home with Him. because I believe in Jesus as My Savior.

An old hymn has these lyrics: I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my theme in glory; to tell the old, old story, Of Jesus and His love.

It’s the story I’ve just told to you.  It’s the Christmas story… without any Santas, reindeer, elves, Christmas trees, lights, or presents.  Because the real Christmas story is so much greater than that.  And if there is a real Christmas present, it’s the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Have you ever realized that you are a sinner, and that you’re in need of a Savior?  Did you ever know that the God who made you, loves you and sent His own Son to die for you?  Well, now you do.

Coming Going 5The only question is, What will you do about it?  Right now, you can believe in Jesus as your Savior, receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Others of you sitting here believed in Jesus years ago, but over the years, you haven’t given much thought to the real meaning of Christmas – you’ve forgotten about the ‘old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

This Christmas, remember it again.  Tell God you love Him for His gift of Love.  Tell Jesus you love Him for coming the first time to die for your sins…and for coming again, maybe today, to take all who believe in Him to heaven.

A lot of people dream of a white Christmas.  Others think of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  But for me, I think, Joy to the world, the Lord has come…and He’s coming again!

Posted in Social

Planned Parenthood and Moral Confusion

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, December 2, 2015

Last week a man went on a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado, killing three and wounding nine.  According to early reports, the gunman, Robert Dear, evidently told investigators “no more baby parts” after his arrest – possibly a reference to recent videos which show PP personnel marketing parts of aborted unborn children.  If Dear did have a “pro-life” agenda, he has a screwed-up way of showing it.

Planned ParenthoodIn addition to the predictable ‘we need more gun control’ mantra that incessantly follows these shootings (usually committed by people who own guns illegally), we are now being forced to listen to the PC crowd ‘polish the halos’ of Planned Parenthood – the victims of this attack.  I deplore the loss of life at the PP clinic last week, but it’s time to stop hiding the truth.  Yes, there were three killed at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility last week, but there are far more killed every week at PP clinics across this nation.  It’s time to stop pretending PP exists for any purpose except to take human life.  It’s time to admit PP is primarily engaged in killing unborn babies, and marketing their bodies.

A 2012 report released by PP revealed that the organization exceeded all its previous targets by performing 333,964 abortions that year.  The average abortion performed by PP in the first trimester costs $470.  The math isn’t difficult: That’s nearly $157 million dollars – roughly half the amount generated by all its activities.

Ask ‘the man on the street,’ and you’ll get a very different view.  Recent research found that 60% of those surveyed wrongly believed that PP provides education for new and expectant parents.  37% wrongly thought PP provided counseling for parents interested in adoption.  And only 36% even knew that PP performs abortions – even though it performs more than any other organization in America.

Baby lifePP likes to announce that they tell girls, “If you are pregnant, you have three options to think about – abortion, adoption, and parenting.”  But if you want help with the second or third of these options, don’t ask PP.  Former PP clinic directors and staff have testified that any attempt to promote anything but abortion is denied.

So what we witnessed last week was a lunatic committing the crime of murder at a clinic that exists to legally make millions of dollars by killing unborn babies (and as we learned recently, sell their bodies for profit).  Does anyone still wonder why we are seeing a generation now come into adulthood who are defined by moral confusion?

Posted in Family, Phil's Blog

Make This Christmas Memorable

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, November 30, 2015

Every year about this time the thoughts of every boy and girl – and some of us older ‘kids’ as well – turns to presents.  We enjoy the manger scenes, and the Christmas stories, but it’s hard to buck Madison Avenue…and eventually, we give in – not too reluctantly – to the anticipation of opening gifts.  Perhaps we should all be as honest as the little boy who was sitting on Santa’s lap.

“What would you like, son?” Santa

“Peace on earth,” the boy replied.

“Well, that’s very nice!” Santa replied.

“But in the meantime,” the boy added, “I’ll settle for the Mutant Ninja Lizard Ray of Death!”

What do you want for Christmas this year?  Made your list…checked it twice?  We all want to give – and receive – the perfect gift.  But what makes a really good Christmas gift?  I like to ask folks what they got for Christmas last year.  Most can’t remember.  And yet, some of us adults can remember Christmas presents we received years ago!  Why are some gifts forgettable, and others so memorable?

I’ve done a little unscientific study on this, and come up with three things that make a gift truly memorable.  First, it is unexpected.  The bigger the surprise, the more likely you’ll remember it for years to come.

Second, memorable gifts are useful.  The more you use something, the more you appreciate it.  It’s a ‘winner’ of a gift!  I still remember a stapler my younger brother gave me one Christmas.  I used that stapler for years.  I still remember it years later.

And that suggests a third thing that makes a gift memorable: It’s dependable.  When our kids were very young, we lived in Australia…and we didn’t have much money.  Near our home was one of those penny-pincher heavens, a store called Cunningham’s Warehouse, where you could get toys that looked like ones from expensive stores, for half the price.  I couldn’t resist – it was a stocking-stuffer’s delight…but boy, were they cheap!  These toys didn’t even make it through Christmas morning!  The cap guns didn’t go “bang”; the flashlights didn’t light up; the battery-powered toys wouldn’t work.  All were soon forgotten.

Memorable gifts are unexpected, useful, and dependable.  And about now, you know where I’m going with this.  These are all characteristics of God’s Christmas gift to us.

What could be more unexpected than to find the Savior of the world being born in poverty and lying in a stable?  For that matter, what could be more surprising than Him being born at all?!  It’s the total unexpectedness of the Christmas babe that makes the story – and the gift – so memorable.  No matter how many lights and reindeer and Santas we see, no matter how much noise the cash registers make, the story still comes through.  It always will.  It’s just like God to do something no one expected: To introduce the God-man in the form of a helpless baby; to wrap this priceless gift in tattered rags; to have Him grow up as a common man, not a royal prince; and to defeat the enemy of sin by Him laying down His own life, instead of taking the lives of others.

gift jesusAnd talk about usefulness!  What could be more useful to us?  From the dawn of creation, the result of the fall has been universal.  God’s assessment is unchanging: There is none righteous, not even one. . . For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3.10, 23).  If ever there was something we needed, it was a Savior!  In fact, without a Savior, nothing else would ever matter.  You can gain the whole world, but when your life is over, what then?  That’s why Scripture shouts in 2 Cor. 9.15, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

Of course, the key to all this is the dependability of God’s gift.  You can count on it; you have God’s Word on it.  You don’t have to think or hope or wish that you are saved.  With Jesus, you can know.

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5.11-13)

Make this a truly memorable Christmas.  If you never have before, open God’s unexpected, useful, dependable gift of His Son Jesus Christ.  Believe in Him as your sin-bearer, and receive the gift of eternal life.  And if you’ve received this gift…pass it on.  Make this Christmas one someone else will remember – forever!

Posted in Phil's Blog

Islam’s Allah and Calvinism’s God: An Uncomfortable Comparison

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, November 16, 2015

In a packed baseball stadium a few days after 9/11, a Christian minister stood to pray.  Ever since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, politicians and celebrities had been presenting Islam as no different than Christianity, and God as no different than Allah.  The minister began: “We pray in the name of our God – the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam…”

Twenty years earlier, while a student in seminary, I spent two summers in Saudi Arabia leading a ministry for high school and college-aged children of Aramco Oil workers.  In Dhahran, a community of ex-patriots fenced off from the Saudi population, a small Protestant fellowship met in a community center each week.  One night in a service, a man prayed that God would reveal Himself “in this land where You are not known.”  Afterward, he was criticized by some who insisted that “Allah is just another name for God.”

While many uncritically equate Allah and Yahweh, informed Christians and Muslims reject it out of hand.  At a lecture on the campus of North Texas State University two months after 9/11, converted Muslim Ergun Caner spoke to a student gathering, and showed from the Qur’an and Hadith (Islamic ‘scriptures’) that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible.  Following his talk, Muslims in the audience attacked his conclusions.  One man insisted that ‘Allah is benevolent and merciful.’  Ergun Caner asked him directly: “Sir, may I ask you – Is Allah the same god as Jehovah?”  The man looked at Caner, then the crowd, and replied, “No, of course not.”[1]

We all would agree that Yahweh is not the same as Allah, but if ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ why not a ‘god by any other name’?  The answer is simple; while “Allah” is the Arabic ‘name’ for God, the deity which Muslim theology describes is very different from the biblical Yahweh.  We might say that this is not God, by another name.

But this raises another, and more troubling question: What if a group of Christian theologians conceive of God in a way that sounds a lot like the Allah of Islam?  Let us be clear: How Christians conceive God varies greatly.  Different theological groups (e.g., Calvinists, Arminians) have different concepts of God.  How we view God matters!  That is, how we see God affects the way we view the world, determines how we will respond to those who follow other religions, how we treat those who reject our faith or live ungodly lifestyles, how and why we live the way we do, and so on.  The attitudes, emotions, and actions we attribute to God will be reflected in the attitudes, emotions, and actions we live out as followers of our God.

A wrong concept of God is at the heart of every non-Christian religion – like Islam, but it is troubling to find that unbiblical views of God are also present in many ‘strands’ of Christianity, and are a source of theological and spiritual-life confusion in many Christians’ lives.  For example, Chuck Swindoll states that any Christian theology which focuses more on what we do for God, instead of what God has done for us, is really the heresy of humanism in disguise.[2]  Our view of God is either grand and glorious, and permeated by grace – or it is muted and mangled, and permeated by human merit.  One quip put it well: “In the beginning God created man in His image, and mankind has been ‘returning the favor’ ever since!”  If our understanding of God is wrong, everything that flows from it will be wrong as well!

With this in mind, my purpose today is to compare the concepts of Allah in Islam and God in Calvinism.


The Sovereignty of God in Islam and Calvinism

No one will dispute that God is sovereign.  God alone possesses the divine attributes of omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), omnipresence (present everywhere), eternality (no beginning or end), immutability (unchanging), and holiness (perfection).  But the implications of the sovereignty of God are open to debate.  In particular, how does the sovereignty of God ‘play out’ in His dealings with mankind?  The answer to this question is determined by our conception of what sovereignty entails.

Determinism.  Allah in Islam, and God in Calvinism, as absolutely sovereign, are both absolutely deterministic.  They are the author of every action, word, and thought, and this includes being the author of evil.  Within Islam and Calvinism, sovereignty is equated with determinism: That is, God predetermined before time everything that shall occur in time.  In reference to salvation, this means that God, knowing before creation every person who would ever live, decreed without respect to anything any person would ever do to give the gifts of faith[3] and perseverance to some, and therefore eternal life, and to refuse this enabling grace to others, thus condemning them without any hope to eternal hell.

Calvinist church historian Phillip Schaff writes:

Calvinism…starts with a double decree of predestination, which antedates and is the divine program of human history.  This program includes the successive stages of the creation of man, a universal fall and condemnation of the human race, a partial redemption and salvation: all for the glory of God and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice.  History is only the execution of the original design…[4]

Note that Schaff does not shy away from affirming that God Himself decreed the fall of man, and is thus the author of sin!  As the omnipotent cause of every event, God is therefore the absolute and final determiner of who will be saved, and who will be damned.  Calvin clearly affirms this view of God:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.  All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of those ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.[5]

God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.[6]

Islam teaches the same thing.  According to Islam, Allah is absolutely deterministic.

En sh’Allah means “Allah wills it.”  One of the foundational doctrines of Islam is the absolute sovereignty, to the point of determinism, of Allah.  Allah knows everything, determines everything, decrees everything, and orders everything.  Allah is even the cause of evil.[7]

It follows that Allah predestines all who will be saved, and all who will be eternally damned.  Of those who cannot be saved, Surah 2.6-7 states:

It is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.  Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing.  And on their eyes is a veil; Great is the chastisement they [incur].

Fatalism.  It follows that Calvinism and Islam are both inherently fatalistic.  In Calvinism, the sovereign God elects those who will be saved, and rejects all others.  Chuck Smith declares,

According to Calvinism, it is futile to try to convert the lost who are not predestined to be saved.[8]

Fatalism is seen repeatedly in Calvin’s writings:

…some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of those ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.[9]

…God…arranges all things by his sovereign counsel, in such a way that individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death…[10]

In the same way, Allah leads astray those he pleases, and saves who he pleases (Surah 14.4).  Caner and Caner summarize:

Allah is exalted and pleased as he sends people to hell: this is the fatalistic claim of Islam.  Fatalism is a belief that events are fixed in advance for all time in such a manner that human beings are powerless to change them.  In this case, Allah will send to heaven whomever he pleases, and send to hell whomever he pleases.”[11]

An old joke recounts the Calvinist who fell down the stairs, got up, and said, “Boy, I’m glad that’s over!”, since after all, every event is predetermined by God and must happen.  Interestingly, Caner and Caner recount from their Islamic childhood:

Our father used to say, “If you fall and break your leg, say, ‘Allah wills it,’ because he caused it to happen.”[12]

At the heart of both Calvinist and Islamic theology proper is a God who is entirely deterministic.

The Love of God in Islam and Calvinism

Perhaps the most fundamental of all aspects of God’s character is love.  He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love (1 John 4.8).  For God so loved the world… (John 3.16)  God demonstrates His own love toward us… (Romans 5.8).  These are just a few of the numerous biblical texts which affirm the universal, sacrificial, eternal, personal, and unconditional love of God for all mankind.  No character of God is more central to the message of the Gospel; the incarnation and substitutionary atonement shout it.  Everything in God’s saving action toward mankind declares it.  But what do we see in Islam and Calvinism?

Love de-emphasized.  In Islam, Allah is virtually devoid of love.  Caner and Caner list 99 names of Allah, and only one includes a reference to love (and this only to those who are “his own”).[13]  They write:

When Allah is discussed within the Islamic community, the absence of intimacy, atonement, and omnibenevolence becomes apparent.  In all the terms and titles of Allah, one does not encounter terms of intimacy. . .  Even the most faithful and devout Muslim refers to Allah only as servant to master; Allah is a distant sovereign.[14]

But what do we find in Calvinism?  God’s sovereignty – His power and holiness, are emphasized at the expense of His love.  Hunt observes:

But where is God’s love?  Not once in the nearly thirteen hundred pages of his Institutes does Calvin extol God’s love for mankind.  This one-sided emphasis reveals Calvinism’s primary defect: the unbiblical limitations it places upon God’s most glorious attribute. . .  Something is radically amiss at the very foundation of this unbiblical doctrine.[15]

Limited love.  As we look closer, we find reasons for this muting of God’s love in Islam and Calvinism.  For example, Calvin’s God, and Islam’s Allah are both bereft of unconditional love for everyone.

Allah’s heart is set against the infidel (kafir).  He has no love for the unbeliever, nor is it the task of the Muslim to “evangelize” the unbelieving world.[16]

Caner and Caner note, “This is why so many Muslims quickly disown children who have converted to another religion, especially Christianity.  Why love them when almighty Allah will never love them?”[17]

But is this any different than Calvinism?  Dave Hunt puts it bluntly:

Never forget that the ultimate aim of Calvinism…is to prove that God does not love everyone, is not merciful to all, and is pleased to damn billions.  If that is the God of the Bible, Calvinism is true.  If that is not the God of the Bible, who “is love” (1 John 4:8), Calvinism is false.  The central issue is God’s love and character in relation to mankind, as presented in Scripture.”[18]

Conditional love.  While Calvinists (but not Muslims) would object to the idea that their God has a conditional love, that is the effect of their doctrine.

This doctrine is openly announced in Islam: Allah loves not transgressors (Qur’an 2:190).  For [Allah] loves not any ungrateful sinner (Qur’an 2:276).  For Allah loves not those who do wrong (Qur’an 3:57).  For Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious (Qur’an 4:36).

Calvinists claim to teach that God’s love is unconditional because He gives it ‘unconditionally’ – not in response to anything we do.  But whether or not one is actually loved – in a ‘salvific’ way – is ultimately determined and demonstrated by what we do.  This fact is enshrined by the last of the Five Points of Calvinism, ‘Perseverance of the Saints.’  Because all who are saved will inevitably ‘persevere’ in living a faithful life, God’s saving love, in the end, is determined by our works.[19]  Notably, as is always the result with synergism (salvation by faith and works), no amount of good works can assure that one will go to heaven.[20]

Insecure love.  It is impossible in Calvinism and Islam to know that you are loved by God.  While Calvinists proclaim their belief in eternal security, what they mean by this is that if you are really saved (which you cannot know with absolute certainty until you die), then you will never lose your salvation.  But the threat of falling into some sin, and thus finding out that you were never really saved in the first place, is a ‘Damocles’ Sword’ which hangs over the head of every Calvinist.

Similarly, and blatantly, Islam teaches this same doctrine.  Caner and Caner make this clear:

The Qur’an contains many words of wisdom and pieces of good advice.  What is lacking is the promise of life everlasting.[21]

The Qur’an hints that the believer in Allah can be confident of his or her eternal destiny, but there is no guarantee, even for the most righteous. . .  In Islam, the answer to the question, “What must I do to go to heaven?” is mysterious and complex. . .  Islamic tradition argues that the guarantee of heaven is as impossible to find as a chaste virgin and pure speech.  Consequently, the devout Muslim makes every effort to please Allah and thereby obtain heaven.  But fate (kismet) in the hands of the all-powerful Allah will decide the outcome.[22]

There is no security for the believer of Islam.  One is left wanting and waiting for the will of Allah to be accomplished. …the question of whether one is admitted to heaven is left unanswered until the Day of Judgment.[23]

The promise of eternal security is the ultimate motive behind the passion for Allah in the eager young Muslim warrior. …if he is killed in battle, he achieves the desire of his heart – Allah’s guarantee of a spot at the highest level of Paradise.[24]

No Muslim has eternal security.  Every Muslim fears the scales of justice, which weigh his good deeds against his bad deeds.[25]

Clearly, the love of God is at best compromised in both Islamic and Calvinistic theology proper.

The Violence of God in Islam and Calvinism

Despite appeals to the contrary, Islam is demonstrably a religion of violence.  This should come as no surprise.  A god (Allah) who is arbitrary, distant, and crass in his nature, and devoid of love, will naturally demonstrate this in violence toward whomever he chooses.  Caner and Caner entitle their chapter on the history of Islam, “A Trail of Blood.”[26]  In countries across the middle east, north Africa, and southeast Asia today, those who defy Islam, especially Christians, are beheaded and mutilated.  These ‘infidels’ are given three options: Convert to Islam, leave, or face persecution (often death).  For Muslims fighting in jihad (holy war), “ethical values [seem] to play little or no role.  Whatever the Muslims [do is] justified, since their cause [is] just.”[27]

This same kind of violence showed itself in Calvin’s Geneva, where rejection of Reformed dogma brought three options: convert (to Calvinism), leave (deportation), or face persecution (imprisonment or death).  The similarity to ‘pure’ Islam is unmistakable.  In February of 1555, Calvin and his supporters gained absolute control in Geneva.  Those who disagreed with Calvin’s theology were excluded from communion, and fled.  Four who failed to escape were beheaded, quartered, and their body parts hung in strategic locations as a warning.  Calvin referred to them as “henchmen of Satan,” and justified his barbarity by saying, “Those who do not correct evil when they can do so and their office requires it are guilty of it.”  From 1554 until his death in 1564, “no one any longer dared oppose the Reformer openly.”[28]

While there are many cases throughout history of violence by those claiming to be Christians, when the founder of a religious movement demonstrates a capacity for violence, it is more significant.  The fact that both Calvin and Mohammed distinguished themselves by their violence toward those who disagreed with them reflects their impaired view of God and His love.

A Curious Connection: Mormonism

More than a century ago, Bruce Kinney wrote Mormonism, The Islam of America,[29] revealing the similarities between Islam and Mormonism – a ‘modern form of Islam.’  In his book, he details the plan of Mormons to take over the world, their violence toward ‘unbelievers’ (one illustration, the Mountain Meadow Massacre in 1857), and their practice of polygamy (Young himself had at least 25 wives and 44 children – a number no one thinks is complete, since he had women “sealed’ to him in almost every town in Utah).[30]  Mormon doctrine imagines every faithful Mormon man having celestial wives – a ‘heavenly harem’ to mother countless spirit children, who will then populate the world of people for whom they will be “god”.  I could go on, but the similarities between Mormon practice and Islamic practice are pervasive.

In 1997, a book entitled How Wide the Divide? A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation[31] was published, co-authored by Craig L. Blomberg (a professor at Denver Seminary) and Stephen E. Robinson (a professor at Brigham Young University).  The authors concluded that the difference between evangelical and Mormon doctrine is less than is usually understood.[32]  It is important to note, however, that Craig Blomberg writes from a strong Calvinist evangelical viewpoint.  As a Calvinist, he found common ground with Mormon doctrine![33]

I submit that it should not be surprising that if a Calvinist theologian finds common theological ground with Mormonism – the ‘Islam of America,’ there will be similar common ground between Calvinism and Islam.  While this will surely be an uncomfortable comparison for most Calvinists to admit, it is undeniably true.  At the very least, it should give Calvinists pause to realize that their view of God so closely reflects the view of God within Islam.

[1] Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner, Unveiling Islam (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2002), 103-104.
[2] Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1990), 17-19.
[3] Even the Calvinist idea that faith itself is a gift given arbitrarily by God, without which no one can be saved, is reflected in Islam; “…eternal faith is ultimately given at the subjective whim of Allah…” (Caner and Caner, 150).
[4] Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Albany, Ore.: The Ages Digital Library, Books for the Ages, Ages Software, Version 1.0, 1997), Book 8, Ch. 14, Sec. 114.
[5] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxi, sec.5, 1030-1031.
[6] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxiii, sec. 7, 1063 (emphasis mine).
[7] Caner and Caner, 109.
[8] George Bryson, The Dark Side of Calvinism, (Santa Ana, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004), from the Foreword by Chuck Smith, p.9.
[9] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxi, sec. 5, 1030-31.
[10] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxiii, sec. 6, 231.
[11] Caner and Caner, 31-32.
[12] Caner and Caner, 109.
[13] Ibid., 110-117.
[14] Ibid., 117.  See also the moving story of a Muslim convert to Christianity in Caner and Caner, pp.37f.
[15] Dave Hunt and James White, Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2004), 47.
[16] Ibid, 118.
[17] Ibid., 33.
[18] Hunt and White, 21.
[19] See Bryson, Dark Side, 351-357; David R. Anderson, Bewitched: The Rise of Neo-Galatianism (Grace Theology Press, 2015), 66-67; Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Seige: Faith and Works in Tension, 2nd ed. (Dallas: Redención Viva, 1992), 40.
[20] Philip F. Congdon, “John Piper’s Diminished Doctrine of Justification and Assurance,” JOTGES 23:44 (Spring 2010), 59-73.
[21] Caner and Caner, 151.
[22] Ibid., 144.
[23] Ibid., 31.
[24] Ibid., 36.
[25] Ibid., 18.
[26] Ibid., 66-81.
[27] Ibid., 48.
[28] Hunt and White, 23-24; Francois Wendel, Calvin: Origin and Development of His Religious Thought, trans. Philip Mairet, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), 100; Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000),198-200.
[29] Bruce Kinney, Mormonism, The Islam of America (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1912), republished most recently in 2010 by Nabu Press.  Kinney is not alone in seeing a link between Mormonism and Islam.  In 1856, a Danish convert to Mormonism, John Ahmanson, emigrated to Utah.  He knew Brigham Young personally, and was an eyewitness to early Mormon history.  Unlike many, he left the Mormon Church, and survived to tell about it, in his book originally entitled Vor Tids Muhamed (“A Mohammed of Our Time”).  The book is available in English now: Secret History: An Eyewitness Account of the Rise of Mormonism, by John Ahmanson, trans. Gleason L. Archer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984).
[30] Ibid., 28.  For a detailed account of the violent and polygamous history of Mormonism, see the entire first chapter, pages 15-44; also Secret History.
[31] Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
[32] See Philip F. Congdon, “How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation:  A Review,” JOTGES 13:25 (Autumn, 2000), 67-72.
[33] It is notable that the Mormon Robinson is effusive in his agreement with John MacArthur in The Gospel According to Jesus, and other Calvinists: “We would agree with Bonhoeffer and MacArthur that one cannot “have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God.” I would judge the terms “being saved,” “coming to Christ,” “accepting the gospel,” “entering the covenant,” “making Christ Lord in my life” and “serving Christ” as being roughly equivalent. It follows, then, that saying “I have come to Christ, but I refuse to serve him” is self-contradictory.  How does one accept Christ without accepting Christ as Lord?  And to accept Christ as Lord is to accept myself as his vassal, and vassals do the will of their Lord, not their own will” (How Wide the Divide?, 148-149); see ibid., 70.

Posted in Phil's Blog

An ‘Infomercial’ Worth Considering

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, November 4, 2015

I’ve just about had it with TV.  Regular programming that used to be free now costs every month, and what’s on the air is mostly ads!  In other words, I’m paying money to watch professional marketers tempt me to give them more of my money!  As if that’s not enough, there are half-hour long “shows” offering everything from CD sets to jewelry to weight-loss programs to kitchen appliances that make you think you simply ‘can’t live’ without what they’re offering!  This can be dangerous to your bank balance!

So this month, I’m giving you an ‘infomercial’ with a difference.  I’m not asking you for money.  What I offer is absolutely free.  And I can say, without ‘stretching the truth,’ that you will never be sorry, either in time or in eternity, that you ‘invested’ in this.  I’m talking about the adult Sunday morning classes offered at NBBC.

Let me start with ‘old faithful’ – the Adult Bible Class, which has met since virtually the beginning of NBBC.  Over the years, different godly men have taught, sometimes topically, sometimes going through Bible books.  Last year, Ron First led a study of Jewish Feasts and their significance for Christians today.  Clarke Englund is now teaching through 2 Corinthians.  The class meets in Room 101, with the sliding glass doors.

 Another class which is a favorite for many women is taught by Renee Garner.  You know Renee for her musical abilities – she is a singer-songwriter with four CDs, but she’s also a teacher-extraordinaire, especially clarifying biblical teaching about grace.  Her class is often referred to as the Women’s Class, but some men have dared to attend!  Renee is now teaching on the parables of Jesus. Her class meets in Room 109, next to the kitchen.

A third adult class meets in Room 100 (at the end of the hall, near the restrooms), and is taught by Robert Ambs (who just became an elder) and Daniel Mitchell (who is a deacon).  Both these men are committed to grace and truth, and are leading a study of the Gospel of Luke.  What do you really know about the life of Jesus Christ?  Attend this class and you’ll get to know Him better!

A fourth class meets in the Library, and is geared toward married couples.  Called “The Homebuilders’ Class” (from a series of studies produced by FamilyLife ministries), it tackles subjects that are applicable to married couples raising a family.  Dustyn and Novie Tysdale facilitate the class.  If you’d like to focus on God’s plan for your marriage and family, try out this class!

Finally, every other month (or so), we offer a “Welcome Class” in the ‘Round Room’ located just off of the main entry foyer.  This class last just four weeks, during which we get to know each other, learn about the history of NBBC and its ‘DNA’ (why we do what we do!), review the church’s statement of beliefs, and talk about spiritual gifts and ministry opportunities in the church.  All newcomers are welcome!

Yeah, I know…another ‘infomercial’!  But this one is all about you and me growing as Christians into the kind of people God wants us to be.  We’ve all got 168 hours each week.  Every Sunday morning from 9:00-10:00, you can invest one in learning truth that will change your life!  See you there!

Phil Congdon
Senior Pastor

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