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.

Sermon Series this Spring at NBBC

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

From February through May this year, we’re exploring the first eleven chapters of Genesis, God’s revelation of Himself in creation and the events which followed.  Today, many view Genesis 1-11 as myths – religious stories with little or no real historical truth.  We do not.  The text itself, and the way it is referred to by Jesus and other biblical writers, demonstrates that this is a record of the actual beginnings of human history.

Genesis 1-11 actually serves as something of a ‘prologue’ to the rest of the book of Genesis, revealing the sovereign power and holiness of God in creation and His reaction sin.  But also, ‘woven throughout the tapestry of the story,’ we see the thread of His grace and mercy, leading to redemption.  The ‘formless and void’ earth is redeemed, becoming a place of beauty and life.  Following the Fall, God works to provide a restoration of the broken relationship.  When sin becomes pervasive, God provides for a new beginning through Noah.  When the Babel rebellion necessitates the confusing of languages, resulting in the creation of nations, God’s ultimate redemption plan for a sinful humanity is revealed as He singles out the line of Terah, and we are introduced to Abram, who God will subsequently call to become the father of His Chosen People.  Through them the Redeemer of all mankind will come, bear the sins of the world, and finally and effectively rescue fallen creation.  As such, these chapters form the ‘seed-bed’ for the entire biblical story, culminating in the redemption of fallen creation, in the new heavens and new earth.

To get the most out of these studies together, why not start reading Genesis 1-11 on your own?  As you read, look for key words that describe God’s character, His passion, His holiness, and His power.  Truly, the stories in these chapters are a revelation of our God, and His will for our lives.  To prepare for this Sunday’s message, read Genesis 1.1-2.3.

Introductory Notes on Genesis:

As we begin our sermon series going through Genesis 1-11 this spring, these introductory notes provide a brief survey of four common ‘approaches’ to Genesis today, and my assessment of them.  There is also an overview of the literary structure, and an introduction to the first eleven chapters, which form a ‘prologue’ to the rest of the book.

Prolegomena

The study of Genesis has been burdened with more invasive approaches than any other genre in Scripture, almost always resulting in the virtual dissolution of its authority and veracity.  Prophecy, for example, is often attacked, but the options are straightforward: Interpret what is written with a literal, historical, grammatical (‘normal’) hermeneutic, or treat it as figurative or spiritualize it.[1]

But there are four approaches to Genesis which diminish its historicity and factuality.[2]  The literary-analytical approach (JEDP) sees Genesis as a collection of writings by different authors throughout Israel’s history, which were ‘edited’ into their final form in the fifth or sixth centuries B.C.

The form-critical approach examines the genre, structure, setting, and intention of each section to ‘reconstruct’ the original ‘tradition’ that is behind the text.  Scripture is not ‘divine revelation,’ but a reflection of the ‘evolution’ of ideas that developed over time.

The traditio-historical approach analyzes the compositional, historical, ideological, and psychological elements of the text to determine how it arose from ‘preliterary’ traditions.  Basically, old fables told around the campfire in prehistoric days evolved into biblical stories, with spiritual lessons thrown in.

The rhetorical-critical approach focuses on literary forms, key words, alliteration, and other devices which may signal what the writer sought to communicate.  While this kind of study can be helpful in discovering narrative and theological emphases in the text, it is sometimes used to ‘humanize’ the text, to the extent it is no longer viewed as factual history – or divine revelation, but rather the artful creations of ancient writers.

To sum up, any approach to Genesis which sees it as anything other than divinely-sourced ‘inspired’ revelation from God to man, recording true events which happened in time and space, reduces it to the level of a fairy tale, and makes any objective basis for gaining knowledge of God and His program for mankind impossible.  The creation story, the flood event, the tower of Babel, and essentially, the foundational history of Israel as God’s Chosen People, are all rendered ‘myth,’ having ‘religious value’ for those so inclined, but communicating no actual ‘true’ history, or ethical and moral revelation, which mankind is beholden to his Creator to heed.

Allen Ross concludes (and we agree):

Conservative scholarship rightly rejects the critical views that the stories were fabricated tales or idealized events told for some didactic purpose.  The narratives themselves give the impression that the events happened, and the rest of the Bible confirms this view.[3]

Structure/Outline of Genesis

The structure of the Genesis narrative is outlined by the key Hebrew word tôledôt (תֹּולֵדֹות), which is translated “account” in 2.4, but usually “generations” (5.1; 6.9; 10.1; 11.10; 11.27; etc.), as in the phrase, These are the generations of…  In more common vernacular, we might read this phrase as something like, “This is what became of…”  Each tôledôt section follows a ‘narrowing process’ – that is, the focus of revelation is honing in on an increasingly narrow subject.  Following the creation account, the focus turns to the creation of man, then the descendants of Adam, then the family of Noah, then his sons, then one of his sons – Shem, then one specific descendant of Shem, Terah, and on and on.

There are ten of these tôledôt sections, preceded by the initial section on creation.  A structural outline of Genesis is as follows[4]:

  1. Creation (1.1-2.3)
  2. Tôledôt of the heavens and the earth (2.4-4.26)
  3. Tôledôt of Adam (5.1-6.8)
  4. Tôledôt of Noah (6.9-9.29)
  5. Tôledôt of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10.1-11.9)
  6. Tôledôt of Shem (11.10-26)
  7. Tôledôt of Terah (11.27-25.11)
  8. Tôledôt of Ishmael (25.12-18)
  9. Tôledôt of Isaac (25.19-35.29)
  10. Tôledôt of Esau, the father of Edom (twice) (36.1-8; 36.9-37.1)
  11. Tôledôt of Jacob (37.2-50.26)

Introduction to Genesis 1-11

While this is the structure that ‘moves’ the progression of the narrative forward, it does not reflect the content of the developing story.  Genesis 1-11 is the ‘prologue’ to the Book of Genesis, revealing the sovereign power and holiness of God in creation, His reaction to the fall and the spread of evil, culminating in the flood, His reaction to the rise of nations – a result of God’s division of mankind after their prideful rebellion against Him at Babel, and the singling out of Terah’s line, leading to the call of Abram.  Everything which follows in Genesis, and in the entire Pentateuch (and thus to the whole Old Testament, and ultimately to the end of Revelation), flows directly from the ‘headwaters’ of Genesis 1-11.

In these chapters, along with the revelation of God’s sovereignty as creator, and His holiness in judging evil, we discover ‘woven throughout the tapestry of the story’ the thread of His grace and mercy, leading to redemption.  The ‘formless and void’ earth is redeemed, becoming a place of beauty and life.  Following the Fall, God works to provide a restoration of the broken relationship.  When this fails and sin spreads, God destroys the world, but provides for a new beginning through Noah.  When the Babel rebellion necessitates the confusing of languages, resulting in the creation of nations, God’s ultimate redemption plan for a sinful humanity is revealed as He singles out the line of Terah, and we are introduced to Abram, who God will subsequently call to become the father of His Chosen People.  Through them the Redeemer of all mankind will come, bear the sins of the world, and finally and effectively rescue fallen creation.  As such, these chapters form the ‘seed-bed’ for the entire biblical story, culminating in the redemption of fallen creation, in the new heavens and new earth.

[1] Amillenialism (often ‘Covenant Theology’), Preterism, and ‘Replacement Theology’ all do this.  While they differ in the details of how biblical prophecy is fulfilled, they all treat future biblical prophecy as meaning something other than what the text literally says.

[2] See Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), pp.23-36.

[3] Ross, 39.  Also see his discussion in Chapter 3, “The Nature of Genesis,” pp. 50-64.

[4] Ross, 70.

How Should We Pray for Trump?

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, January 3, 2017

Eight years ago, I wrote an article in this space entitled How Should We Pray for Obama?  At the time, many Christians were feeling uneasy about the incoming president.  Indeed, some of his first acts as president – expanding funding of abortion internationally, enshrining homosexuality in the military, and setting in motion policy changes which eventually led to homosexual marriage, only served to confirm these fears.  But this did not change the fact that Christians needed to pray for him.  This is what I wrote:

I do not agree with many of President Obama’s policies: When he promotes activity which God condemns, I cannot support him.  And yet I will pray for him.  1 Timothy 2:2 urges us to pray “for kings and all who are in authority.”  This cannot mean only good leaders – since the Roman leaders in Paul’s day certainly weren’t that!  So, how should we pray for Obama?

My answer to that question was threefold:

  1. That he will discover the truth of the gospel, that he can have eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ.  Nothing is more important, for if he comes to faith in Jesus Christ, then I can also pray that the Holy Spirit will convict him of evil within our culture, and motivate him to stand against it.
  2. That he will promote peace in our nation and the world, so that in coming years we will have opportunities to proclaim the gospel and see people saved as a result.  This is what God wants: He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
  3. That he will be frustrated in his efforts to endorse and promote ungodliness in the world.  Although there may not be many, there are still some around him who will stand for moral values, and we can pray that their voice will affect his decisions.

Now it is 2017.  After one of the most remarkable election nights America has ever known, Trump is the incoming president of the United States.  In essence, the three things I encouraged us to pray for Obama eight years ago apply to Trump today.  If he is not a Christian, we can pray he will come to believe in Jesus as his sin-bearer.  If he is (as some have claimed), we can pray that he will grow in grace, and allow the Spirit to guide him in his decisions.  We can pray that he will promote peace in our nation and the world.  By virtually all accounts, the world is a more dangerous place in 2016 than it was in 2008, and anti-Christian hatred, violence, and marginalization has been ratcheted up both here in America and around the world.  We can pray that this will not continue.  And finally, we can pray that any attempts Trump makes to further ungodliness will be frustrated.

There is one more specific thing for which I will pray.  In the last eight years, Obama has reversed American policy since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 by consistently encouraging those who desire to destroy them (e.g., the treaty with Iran).  On the eve of Hanukah a couple of weeks ago, he allowed what the New York Daily News termed “a lynch mob at the United Nations” to condemn Israel for building settlements in her own country.  The Jews are – notwithstanding their present unbelief, God’s ‘Chosen People.’  Whoever touches Israel touches the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2.8).  We are admonished to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps. 122.6).  Therefore, I will pray that President Trump will pursue a closer and more benevolent relationship with Israel.

Finally, it is appropriate for me to end this ‘call to prayer’ for President Trump the same way I ended my article eight years ago:

But you know what I pray for most of all?  For us – that we will take this opportunity, as the world continues to sink further into the darkness of sin, to shine more brightly and clearly the pristine gospel of God’s grace.  This is our Great Commission, from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, to preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15), and make disciples (Matthew 28:19)!  And that’s something we should pray for, no matter who is president.

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.

Remembering the Great Commission

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, July 1, 2016

The so-called ‘Great Commission’ of Jesus is most memorably recorded at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 28.18-20).  These timeless words summarize the task our Savior entrusted to all His followers.  As my son Joseph and I prepare to leave for Ghana, I am reminded of this charge:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus ‘prefaced’ his command with a reminder of His authority.  He had risen from the dead, and would soon ascend back to heaven.  After He had gone, He knew fears and doubts would creep in.  So He states that ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.’  As the Apostle Paul would put it years later, Jesus was ‘declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1.4).  That power is our guarantee of ultimate victory, and encourages us to be ‘steadfast…always abounding in the work of the Lord’ (see 1 Cor. 15.57-58).

And what is that work?  It can be summarized in two words: Go and Make!  Going is assumed – you can’t reach people if you don’t go to where they are.  Where should we go?  To all nations.  Just as the testimony of God’s creation ‘speaks’ to people all over the world (see Psalm 19.1-3; Romans 1.19-20), so too we proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth (Mark 16.15; Acts 1.8).

And what is the goal?  To make disciples.  Making disciples involves two stages.  When we tell someone about Jesus and they believe in Him, they receive forgiveness of their sin and the gift of eternal life.  The act of baptizing was a public profession that a person believed, illustrating in their immersion in water that the ‘old person’ they were had ‘died,’ and the ‘new person’ they were in Christ had been ‘born’.  Two thousand years later, this remains unchanged: We go with one simple message for every person, no matter what their nationality, education, or position in life.  God loved the world and sent His Son to pay the penalty for all sinners – and for all their sins (John 3.16; 1 John 2.2).

Commission The second step in making disciples is teaching.  Like a newborn baby longs to be fed, and needs to eat in order to grow, so too every new believer needs to ‘eat’ the truth of God’s Word, so they will grow (see 1 Peter 2.2).  This second step in disciple-making has perhaps never been needed as much as today: The presumptuous pride of human knowledge has led to an ignorance of God, and an ignoring of God, in the world.  We have deluded ourselves into thinking we don’t need God, and we have come to openly flaunt His truth.  Even in churches God’s Word is doubted and His gospel distorted.  It is critical to teach the Word today!

That is what my son Joe and I will be doing in Ghana…but you don’t have to go overseas to fulfill the Great Commission.  You can do it right here in New Braunfels, or wherever you are.  Just heed the Apostle Peter’s admonition:

…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3.15)

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!

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!

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?

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 asks.gifts

“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!