Category Archives: Social

Tears, Prayers, and Faith: Thinking of Sutherland Springs

Phil Congdon, NBBC, November 7, 2017

Two days ago, as I was preaching, a few miles away in Sutherland Springs, a deranged man entered a church and methodically killed or gravely wounded most of the congregation. It’s hard for us to believe anyone would be so depraved they could do this. Every time we hear of acts of terror here and around the world, we wince, we grieve, we weep. In this case, both because it is so close by, and because the victims were gathered to worship the Lord, our sorrow is greater.

Our first priority must be to pray. Stop what you are doing, make time in your busy day, perhaps get together with a few others. Pray for those in the hospital, some in critical condition; pray for doctors and nurses who are providing their treatment. Pray for the grieving families of those who were killed, for the comfort that only God can give. Pray for healing for a shattered community, and the remaining members of the church. And pray for our nation to recognize the symptoms of spiritual need, and turn to God.

I know that ‘talking heads’ will raise issues like gun control and mental health after a shooting – as usual, they are sincere, but wide of the mark. According to the New York Times, costs of mental health in America exceed half-a-trillion dollars-a-year; if giving out drugs and talking could solve the problem, we would have long ago. Making guns illegal might prevent some senseless killings, but it won’t stop murder. I lived near Chicago for eight years; Illinois has very restrictive gun laws. And yet already this year, in Chicago alone, there have been 3201 shootings, 2644 wounded, and 557 killed. Something deeper than ‘gun law’ is the problem.

Let me be blunt: We are focusing on the symptoms, and ignoring the disease. Over the last generation, we have intentionally extracted God and faith from society, and we are suffering the results. When society can no longer discern right from wrong in obvious issues (partial birth abortion, selling aborted baby body parts, homosexual “marriage,” or men sharing bathrooms with girls), we have lost our moral compass. Remove God from society, and you remove moral absolutes; the vacuum will be filled with irrational and bizarre behavior. Psychology can define the problem, but never solve it. Governments can impose new laws, but never change the heart.

America, despite its rich heritage, has intentionally chosen a path that removes God and spirituality from the mainstream of life (academia, government, media, entertainment). Australia, where I lived for years, which has no ‘Christian heritage’ like America, still has “Scripture in Schools,” a program where groups (Christian and others) discuss spiritual issues with students. (Note: This has been under attack from anti-religious groups, so far unsuccessfully.) America effectively removed God from school years ago: In 1962 they removed prayer, in 1963 the Bible. We have forgotten God; these irrational and tragic killings are all-too-common reminders.

Is prayer and Bible-reading in school the solution for all society’s ills? No. But God and His Word are. While we cannot eradicate sin this side of heaven, we can shine the light of truth in darkness, and the good news of a God of love and forgiveness in a world of pain and hopelessness. So as you pray and weep for the families of Sutherland Springs, hold fast to the grace and truth of God, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2.4).

Responding to the Tragedy of Las Vegas

Phil Congdon, NBBC, October 4, 2017

It’s less than two days since a gunman opened fire on a crowd of thousands of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 59, and wounding hundreds more. The video of the scene is ghastly: The sound of gunfire is like something you’d expect to hear in a battle zone. The senseless loss of life is deeply painful and sobering. This is a far-too-common occurrence in the world today, and makes us all wonder, ‘What’s happening?!’

The names of victims were not even known before a search for reasons, and partisan recriminations, began swirling. It’s normal for us to immediately seek for an answer – some human deficiency or sinister evil that caused a man to do such a heinous thing. Pundits have been fighting for the ‘high moral ground,’ claiming that if our laws were different, or our political policies were changed, this wouldn’t happen.

But deep down, we suspect that try as we might, there is no ‘fix’ for this increasingly violent and amoral world. We’ll blame it on politics, the economy, the media, the entertainment industry, a ‘lack of social justice,’ or even ‘climate change.’ But in so doing, we betray a lack of serious self-examination. What will it take before we stop looking outside ourselves for the cause of evil, and look within?

Sin. It’s the cancer of the world. The one spreading this killer virus is Satan, who introduced it into the human atmosphere in the Garden of Eden. Since then, history records an endless succession of sinful pursuits, spreading misery and suffering, sometimes killing millions, sometimes 59. But Satan’s ‘fingerprints’ are all over this, and until we recognize it, we’ll keep putting a ‘Band-Aid’ of human solutions on a spiritual problem.

The reason mankind resists the “sin diagnosis” is that it indicts us all – we’re all guilty. Scripture is clear: The best of us is still a hopeless sinner. And this drives us to the one-and-only solution to sin, the God who loved us enough to dispatch His Son to take our sin and its punishment – the worst it could inflict, death – on Himself. But if this be our need, then man is not the master of his fate, and we are beholden to our God.

The logic of our agony in the wake of Las Vegas is not that complicated. A society rejects God, and therefore His solution to the sin problem. We posit a world where ‘the fittest survive,’ and since we’ve survived, we must be the fittest! Everything happens because it happens, there’s no meaning or direction in life, we’re just space dust passing through time on our way to nowhere. It’s all dumb luck…or not. In Las Vegas, not.

This ‘creed’ gets us into a hopeless vacuum. We made our “god” a mindless, heartless, ‘force,’ and now we are left wondering who to blame. Poet Steve Turner captured precisely the conundrum of our despair:

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!

It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

We often underestimate the significance of our gospel as Christians – after all, most people don’t seem to want to hear about God’s love, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin, then rising from the dead. They’re too busy for that…places to go, people to see. Perhaps going to a concert – like thousands on Sunday night. Then evil, sin, rears its ugly head, and we wonder ‘Why?’

I hope you will never apologize for sharing the good news of the gospel with someone. It’s God’s priceless gift of His Son to the world, and by believing in Him, a life is changed from eternal death (and hell) to eternal life (and heaven), and beyond this, delivered in this life from the hopeless meaninglessness of the ‘god of chance,’ to the joy of knowing God, who sent His Son that we might live, and live abundantly (Jn. 10.10).

The search for meaning in the Las Vegas killings will continue. Perhaps some connection with ISIS, or some financial pressure, or a lover’s betrayal, or some other unseen ‘reason.’ But if someone asks you, “What do you think caused Las Vegas?”, don’t fumble for some temporal solution – “If only…”  Instead, expose the ugly reality of sin, and the Solution to it: And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it (1 Peter 3.15, NLT).

Why Christians Should Support Israel

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, March 2, 2017

During his address to the nation on February 28th, President Trump spoke of middle east affairs, specifically the problem of Islamic terrorism, and declared his intention to “demolish and destroy ISIS.”  He then briefly added that he had “reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel.”  Although it was only one phrase, it represents one of the most abrupt changes of direction from the previous administration.  For the last eight years, President Obama has given lukewarm support for Israel, at best.  His tacit endorsement of Israel’s foes culminated in his approval of a UN resolution condemning Israel in the last days of his presidency.

This raises a question which continues to divide American Christians: Should we, as believers in Jesus Christ, support Israel – and encourage our nation to support Israel?

On a purely ‘common sense’ level, I believe as a nation we should support Israel.   We should stand with Israel because Israel stands with us.  Israel reflects much of our western culture and values, unlike many middle east nations.  Despite claims to the reverse, Israel has always supported peace in the middle east (Israel recognizes the right of Palestinians to have their own state despite repeated attempts by Palestinians and other Arab nations to destroy Israel completely).  Despite having the strongest military in the region, Israel has never sought to conquer other nations (despite repeated provocations).  Israel has a strong human rights record – despite some isolated cases of violence against Christians.  Israel is a democracy, giving its citizens the right to have their say in the nation’s affairs.

But leaving all this aside, the more important question for me is this: Should I, as a Christian, support Israel?  For me, this question is not decided by comparing Israel with other countries around the world, and deciding whether to support her based on subjective qualities.  My support of Israel is directly related to God’s Word.

Although many theologians today have mangled the biblical teaching concerning God and Israel, any literal reading of Scripture is unambiguous.  In my study in the early chapters of Genesis, the narrative of creation, the flood, and the Tower of Babel all lead inexorably to one event: God’s choice of Abram.  The nation of Israel was created and grew with the mighty hand of God guiding and guarding them.  God’s promise to Abram was unconditional – that is, it was not dependent on anything Abram or his descendants might do. God promised, and that was that.  Listen to the words of Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

For Christians in particular, we rejoice because God chose to bless us through Israel.  Our Bible is a Jewish book, and our Savior is a Jewish Savior.  Our spiritual heritage is interwoven with the history, prophecy, and passion of the Jews.  It is true that Israel, today, does not recognize her Messiah; the nation is a secular, unbelieving (as to the claims of Jesus Christ) nation; but even this present reality is not a cause for believers to reject Israel.  In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul notes that although ‘some of the branches were broken off’ (i.e., some Jews were severed from the tree of blessing) and ‘wild olive’ branches (Gentile Christians) were ‘grafted in’ and shared in God’s blessings, we should never forget ‘our roots’:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, the root supports you. (Rom. 11.17-18)

Finally, I take God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:2-3 literally: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

America is not, as a nation, following God.  Our sins are many, both of commission and omission.  We do not have any claim on God’s blessing – and should He extend it to us for many years into the future, it will be a sign of His great grace and mercy.  But if He does, it may be in large part because we have been a blessing, and not a curse, to His people Israel.

Keeping Our Heads (when others are losing theirs)

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

election-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.

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)!

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!

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?

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!

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

Dare to Be a Daniel

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, June 28, 2015

Two days ago the Supreme Court of the United States decreed that any and all state laws against homosexual marriage are unconstitutional.  In layman’s terms, this pits the law of our land against the law of God.  By mandating this understanding, we in the church who uphold the teaching of Scripture are set on a collision course with the law of our land.  As the Family Research Council put it, “in one breathtaking move, the nation’s highest court took for itself the power reserved for its people – overturning the votes of millions of Americans and demanding that they walk away from millennia of human history, human nature, and the explicit teachings of Scripture in the process.”

God blessed America in our founding with pilgrims, settlers, and pioneers who believed in God and obeyed His Word.  They established a democratic system of government to guard against tyranny and protect liberty.  Chief Justice John Roberts declared that this week’s decision “completely undermines America’s democratic process.”  He wrote:

“The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.  The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent. …The Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are? …

“If you are among the many Americans – of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision.  Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal.  Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner.  Celebrate the availability of new benefits.  But do not celebrate the Constitution.  It had nothing to do with it.”

In his joyful response to the decision, President Obama announced that “this is a victory for America,” and that as a result of this decision, “we are all more free.”  He couldn’t have been more wrong.

In 1857, the church was largely silent when the Supreme Court handed down its infamous Dred Scott decision decreeing that African-Americans were property, not persons, a direct denial of God’s truth that all men are created in His image.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the Civil War.

In 1973, the church again was largely silent when the Supreme Court handed down its infamous Roe v. Wade decision mandating legalized abortion, the killing of unborn children in the womb, in direct defiance against God, who made “Thou shalt not kill” one of His commandments.  To date, over 50 million human beings have been put to death before their first breath because of that ruling.

With this week’s decision by the Supreme Court, we who claim allegiance to God and His Word must not be silent.  In their decision this week, the Supreme Court has shaken their fist in the face of God, who established the institution of marriage in the Garden of Eden, and decreed that it was between one man and one woman, for life.  God’s Word has nothing good to say about homosexuality; rather, it everywhere and always condemns homosexuality as an abomination, an affront to God as Creator.  Romans 1 singles out homosexuality as a sin which invites God’s wrath.

After Friday’s decision was announced, Franklin Graham wrote, “I pray God will spare America from His judgment, though, by our actions as a nation, we give Him less and less reason to do so.”

I have no special gift of prophecy, but I know God’s Word: Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people (Prov. 14:34).  God’s judgment is coming to America.  Our leaders are brazenly inviting God’s wrath.  It may be slow or it may be swift.  But whatever comes, as the author of Hebrews said of Moses, we choose “to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of” this world (Heb. 11.25-26).

When I was a child, we used to sing a song (written by P.P. Bliss, 1873):

Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.

Like Daniel in Babylon, Christians are in ‘exile’ in America today.  This is a day for Christian ‘Daniels’!  Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, and dare to make known to all the message of God’s truth and grace.