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).

Living With Death

Phil Congdon, NBBC, November 1, 2017

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, but that another senseless killing is in the news. The mass shooting in Las Vegas is seared in our memories because of hundreds of videos, and the number of casualties, but I keep wondering if this is ever going to end. It’s the same all over the world – worse in many places than here. Trucks driving into crowds, bombs going off in churches or mosques or police stations or restaurants, knife attacks on city streets, shootings in nightclubs or on college campuses. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, reflecting on news of another murder, said “Death is always with us.” But on this scale?!

Since the turn of the century, we’ve been engaged in military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the years of those conflicts, almost seven thousand American soldiers were killed. Although no one knows for sure, the number of civilian deaths in those two countries is estimated at well over 200,000. That number continues to rise, with internal fighting and terrorism still rife throughout the region.

I’m old enough to remember the Viet Nam War; I vaguely remember reports of American casualties in those dark days. Over 58,000 U.S. military personnel gave their lives in a war that, in the end, resulted in more killing – the communist Viet Cong murdered tens of thousands of South Vietnamese citizens after we pulled out.

When we factor in genocides (Nazi, Japan, Rwanda, Sudan, etc.) and mass murders of citizens by their own governments (Soviet Union, China, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, and North Korea today), the number of human beings senselessly put to death staggers the mind – tens of millions.

Now consider this: In America, since the Supreme Court legalized abortion, over 50 million babies have been killed. According to the World Health Organization, there are about 125,000 abortions worldwide every day – that’s 40-50 million killed every year. These casualties don’t make the evening news; no videos record the carnage. They may be ‘out of sight and out of mind’ – but they’re happening. We’re surrounded by death.

These paragraphs have been hard for me to write. They aren’t easy to read. Frankly, we’d rather not be forced to look at death. In particular, we cringe when death is the result of evil – at the hands of megalomaniacal tyrants or deranged sadists or greedy abortionists – something inside us screams for it all to end. Those who believe in God cry out for justice; those who don’t believe in God blame Him for doing nothing (figure that out!). But is there a value in us coming face-to-face with the reality of death?

As World War II was just beginning to ravage countries around the globe, C.S. Lewis preached a sermon in Oxford that he entitled “Learning in Wartime.” The writing was on the wall, so-to-speak; war was coming, and with it, the specter of many deaths. In that setting, Lewis said this:

War does something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why cancer at 60 or the paralysis at 75 does not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us: And that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right. All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centered in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realize it.

 Now the stupidest of us knows. We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.

I don’t know if war is on the horizon. I hope not, but if it did erupt, would it really shock any of us? Violent Islamic regimes are spreading their influence, especially in Africa. North Korea is led by an unpredictable (some would say unhinged) dictator who has been a god to his enslaved subjects since he was born. Middle eastern countries have their weapons trained on Israel. If war comes, it will force us to face death. Whether or not it does, death is always with us.

But there is a ‘silver lining’ to this ‘dark cloud’ of death – a ‘value’ in recognizing the sea of evil in which we live (1 John 5.19). It is the reminder that This world is not my home, I’m just a-pass’in through… The Apostle Paul said much the same thing this way:

But you, brethren, are not in darkness…for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness. (1 Thess. 5.4-5)

We are not as those who have no hope – not because we ignore death or pretend it doesn’t matter, but because we know we have been given victory over it. Again, Paul writes (1 Cor. 15.55-57):

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Keep your eyes on the Light of the World, and reflect the light of His life to those who are still walking in darkness.

The God Who Keeps His Promises

Phil Congdon, NBBC, October 4, 2017

This month we commence the second stage of our study through Genesis, the story of Yahweh and His dealings with Abraham. This fourteen-chapter narrative begins in Ur, a pagan city, and ends in Canaan, a land which God promises to Abram and his descendants. This begins a series of events, experiences, and encounters that jeopardize God’s promise, take detours from the path God wanted them to go, and lead ultimately to the greatest test in God’s ‘school of faith’.

There are some awesome lessons to pick up on as we work our way through this epic story. One truth every Christian should embrace has to do with a life of faith. Anyone who knows anything about Abraham knows that he is a ‘hero of faith’ – in fact, the greatest one. In Hebrews 11, while most Old Testament greats get a passing mention, just two – Abraham and Moses – get extensive exposure. Moses gets seven verses, Abraham eight. But if you think that means that Abraham is always a paragon of virtue, you need to read Genesis 12-25 again! Here we find a man who is a champion of faithfulness one day, then a wavering doubter the next.
There is a principle of faith we can apply to our lives here. A life of faithfulness to God is not an immediate achievement; no one suddenly and totally begins living a life of faith. Abraham didn’t. Instead, God patiently and persistently led Abraham on a journey through his life, and only in the end did Abraham finally realize that nothing is ‘too difficult for the Lord’ (Gen. 18.14), and trust Him completely. You and I are on that ‘journey of faith’ – and will be throughout this life. When you experience doubts, or fall for Satan’s deceptions, remember: You are ‘on the way.’ God is not finished with you yet! God always keeps His promises.

In a way, Abraham’s life is an apt ‘blueprint’ of the way God works in all our lives. No, God is not going to make a great nation out of you or me! But just as God called Abram from a godless society, in a world where he was prosperous and content, so too God calls each of us who have responded to Him in faith to leave behind that which – in this world – seems to mean everything to us: In Luke 14, Jesus calls His followers to put Him before their families, possessions, and even our own lives! Why?

When Abram left Ur, he could not have known even a smidgeon of what God had planned for him and his descendants. The full wonder of God’s redemptive plan would only come into focus more than two thousand years later, when the Messiah, Jesus Christ, came into the world. In Him the promise made to Abraham was finally realized: In you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12.3). The effects of Abraham’s life stretch into eternity.

God has a wonderful plan for our lives, too. In Eph. 2.10 we read that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Did you get that? God has already ‘prepared’ good works for us to do on our journey of faith. He’s called us. We’ve responded in faith. Now our lives, as we live them for Him, can have an effect that stretches into eternity. Are you trusting Him to use your life? Is anything too hard for the Lord?

 

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.

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)!