Friday, December 11, 2015

The Moment before "the Moment"

“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. ... In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. … You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart…The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”
— Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

I love the way Buechner here captures the beauty of the moment before the moment, and names it Advent.  I think of the many times I have waited with grooms just before they have gone to meet their bride.  It is not “the moment” but the anticipation impregnates it and it becomes its own moment!  Jesus will come again, of this we can be sure.  Until then we have Advent to savor.

Friday, December 4, 2015


O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.
My God in his steadfast love will meet me; …O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress,the God who shows me steadfast love. Psalm 59:9,10,17
I love how David here refers to God as his Strength. He doesn’t just mention that God is strong, but this attribute becomes his identity. Are you seeing God this way? In the midst of the current pressures of your work and family, O God my Strength. In the wake of yet another shooting and more bloodshed in our country, O God my Strength. Faced with the looming prospect of lonely holidays, O God my Strength. And furthermore our Strength meets and enfolds us in his steadfast love. No wonder David sings his praises.
So we press on. Not in our strength but in the Lord, our Strength. This was very much the mindset of young David as he went out to face the giant, Goliath. Pastor Steve will continue our Advent look at the life of David and great David’s greater Son by revisiting this story in I Samuel 17.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday

Is it worth it? Getting up early.  Fighting the crowds. Dealing with low inventory.  All to save a few bucks? Maybe it is.  Whether it is or not, I do know that Black Friday has become a cultural phenomena.

Of course Christians recognize another Black Friday.  One on which the Son of God was hung from a cross and the sky went pitch black as the Father turned his back on his Son.  It was the Blackest of Fridays. Yet, that Black Friday was the very reason for which Jesus came to this earth. As we get ready to celebrate the King born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, it is important to remember that behind the all the majesty and trappings of Christmas lies the ultimate Black Friday. This Sunday we will begin our Advent season, a season of expectation and longing, by looking at the anointing of King Jesus’ great ancestor, King David. You can read along in 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and Luke 2:1-7.

Friday, November 20, 2015


As I am sure that you are well aware Thanksgiving is less than a week away! There are a number of “thanksgiving” related items on my mind this week.  I am thankful for safe travels to and from Japan and for a stirring time of Gospel encouragement and Gospel usefulness. I was told to be sure and relay thanks to you, Christ Church, for sending me to Japan and allowing yourselves to be represented there to those contending for the faith in Japan. I am thankful too to have been reminded of Christ Church’s past connections to Japan through the Young family and how those connections are bearing fruit today.
But being a thankful person is not always easy.  Author Nancy Leigh De Moss puts it this way:
In the midst of widespread home foreclosures, high unemployment, soaring national debt, and shrunken retirement accounts here in America, along with unending news of global unrest, starvation, and disease, it has become increasingly natural for people to become discouraged, even to feel at times, as though God has abandoned this world. For those who love and follow Christ, the rising tide of secularism and moral relativism provides all the more temptation to become despondent.
It may be an understatement to say that thankfulness does not come naturally.  That is why thankfulness, or gratitude, must be cultivated.  De Moss goes on to say,  “I am convinced that we must cultivate the grace and spiritual discipline of gratitude if we are to avoid losing our footings in these days. An important key to not becoming overwhelmed by what is going on around us is looking for evidence of God’s hand at work in the midst of the turmoil and being “simply overwhelmed with thankfulness to him.”  Another theologian Alexander MacLaren echoes a similar sentiment in saying, “Seek to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.”
These words of MacLaren really hold the key. It is recognizing the kindnesses of God that elicit a thankful lifestyle.  For those who find it difficult to see these kindnesses, perhaps a start at the very beginning is what is needed.  What do I mean by that?  These words from Oswald Chambers pretty much sum it up, “The thing that awakens the deepest well of gratitude in a human being is that God has forgiven sin.”  Grasping this mind-boggling truth can set us free for a life of thankfulness even in the midst of a messed-up world. 
And frankly, thankful people are what the world needs. Nothing buoys the spirit of the despondent more than to encounter someone who is truly thankful. Again De Moss, “Thankful people are refreshing, life-giving springs, while unthankful people pull others down with them into stagnant pools of their selfish, demanding, unhappy ways.” 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Observations from Japan

Well the Japan trip is in the books.   I have been privileged to see what God is doing around the world in a number of different ways over the last couple of decades, but this trip will stick out.  Here are a couple of observations:

  1. Gospel work in Japan is hard and slow, but God is on the move …  There is a reason why Christianity is so small in Japan.  There are so many social and cultural obstacles for a person to overcome to become a Christian, that you really do recognize God’s work when it happens.  There are so many pressures: the individual pressures on the need to work long and hard, the familial pressures on honoring the family name and legacy, and the societal pressure to conform and not step out of line; as each of these mounts it is far easier to say “no” to an invitation to explore Christianity than it is to say “yes”.   But God is not deterred.   And oftentimes one by one, he builds his church.
  2. Gospel workers, missionaries and nationals, need our prayers and encouragement.   It follows that with the work being hard and slow, that we really do need to do all we can to come alongside these brothers and sisters in the Lord with encouragement.  In an era where we like our success to be instant and we judge the validity of a work by numbers, Japanese workers need to take a long view and realize that it might be years before an individual makes a commitment to Christ.  Add to that the expense of ministering in Japan (particularly a place like Tokyo) and the challenges that come with adjusting to a foreign culture (for missionaries, particularly newer ones) and we have ample opportunity to partner.
  3. Tragedy begets energy.  I was struck by the impact that the earthquake and ensuing tsunami of 2011 had on the Japanese church.  In many ways it delayed ministry plans, put church plants in other parts of the country on hold and generally threw a pall over society.   But it also united the believers, churches have sprung up in the wake of relief efforts, and the name of Christ has grown in Japan as a result of this tragedy.   It was a reminder to me of God answering our prayers in his own way and time!

Monday, November 9, 2015


Here are some first looks at Tokyo ...

View from Congdon's 37th floor apartment.

Japanese is a very old and religious culture ... Here are a couple of Shinto/Buddhist shrines.

This one is indoor with large tree

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Delayed -- (a Saturday post)

Off to Tokyo!  All was ready.  The van loaded for the trip into Chicago.   Arrival at O’Hare.  Hug the kids, the wife.  Head into the terminal.  Only to discover that my plans would be (at least temporarily) terminated.

You know that feeling in your stomach when you realize that you have made a colossal blunder?  That was my feeling as I scanned my passport at check-in only to discover that it had expired in July! Some of you will wonder at this, because you know that I checked it before leaving.   All I can say is that I thought the 5 was a 6.   And in the world of passport travel there is a big difference between July of 2015 and July of 2016.  What to do?  Let me give you the short version, and then a couple of observations.   Short version: Through the suggestion of an United Airlines representative, I headed downtown to the federal building.   There I waltzed in, got an application, and had my picture taken.  I then talked to a representative of the US passport agency who could not have been more understanding or accommodating.  I was told to return at 3 pm and a new 10 year passport would be waiting for me.   And … it was.   So here I am 24 hours later than expected ready to board the plane for Tokyo.

Observation #1:   In his heart man makes his plans, but the Lord directs his steps.  (Prov. 16:9)   I have no idea why things transpired the way they did, misreading the passport, etc … But as Zoe reflected on our tense, yet unresolved trip back into Chicago headed to the federal building, “God must not have wanted you on that airplane”.  I believe she was right.  Lisa and the girls had planned the day and overnight in Chicago, I got to join them.   What a gift.   I contacted organizers in Tokyo, told them of the situation, and all is well. So why is this happening? I could jump on the plane today strike up a life long friendship and see the Lord’s hand at work.  I could get on and have something bad happen.  We would trust that it was the Lord’s plan.  I may never know why humanly speaking.  It may have just been that my family needed the day together in Chicago.   Whatever the case, the Lord is directing our steps.

Observation #2:  Human kindness is much appreciated.   I had really messed up. I was hurting, ashamed, fearful of how things would work out.  In the midst of this I received a string of kindness.   The United agent, my wife and kids, the folks with the government at the passport agency, the concierge at our hotel as we prepared for one extra person in the room; all were over the top kind, gracious even.   It made a huge difference in my day.  There were some pretty low points that would have been exacerbated by anything less than kindness.  But kindness offered buoyed my spirit and turned clouds to sunshine.  As I head to Tokyo, much of my preaching and teaching will be centered around preaching and teaching the gospel of grace.  I trust that my understanding of it will be strengthened having experienced the unmerited grace of folks throughout Friday.

And so I get ready to board, again.   Humbled, but strengthened in knowing that God holds all things in his hands, and that grace abounds. 

Friday, October 30, 2015


As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.   (Psalm 125:2 ESV)

They say, “context is king”.  In this case “they” are right.   The experience of being surrounded totally depends on context.  For instance, neither being surrounded by gorillas in Rwanda, nor adrift in the Pacific Ocean surrounded by sharks holds a lot of appeal.  For that matter, take a rain check on being surrounded by pirates, zombies, doubts, naysayers, and curmudgeon’s.    

So what makes the list of positive things to be surrounded by?   How about: chocolate, friends and family, those speaking the truth in love.   How about the LORD himself!   That is indeed the promise of Psalm 125:  

"the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore”.  

We celebrate this truth this weekend as we look back, settle into, and anticipate the reality of the promise that we have been given - the LORD surrounds his people.  Personally, you may have thought yourself isolated, tucked away in some secluded corner of the universe, but in reality you are surrounded by the LORD.  You may have believed that Christ Church has chugged along self-sufficiently for 50 years, hidden in the woods on Breton, but all along she has been surrounded but the LORD.   And you may believe that the very fabric of the universe is outside of the LORD’s presence, when in fact he surrounds the entirety of all that is.

So take comfort.   Come celebrate with us.  This evening (Friday) coffee house at 7 pm.  And then again worship on Sunday.  — One time only, 10 am.  ---

Rejoice. Stand amazed. Take confidence.   The LORD surrounds his people. 

Grace and Peace

Pastor Andrew

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thinking Through Our Love for Our Animals

Recently we had to say goodbye to our faithful, furry friend Opal.   She had a bladder full of stones and was clearly uncomfortable.  Sure we could have done surgery but $1400 didn't seem like a good idea for a 14 year old dog who also was the proud owner of an undiagnosed tumor, an increasingly obvious limp and other maladies that probably wouldn't be fixed with bladder surgery.

So amid tears, we said goodbye to a faithful friend, one whose very presence will be missed.

Saying goodbye did make me think about animals and how they are viewed Scripturally.  I did some thinking on this a while back when our neighbor lost a dog, and then had a "bunny event" in her garage.   Our neighbor was not a believer, so I tried to sensitively take her love of animals and put it in a Biblical context.   You can tell me whether I was successful or not.

I wanted to write and say how sorry I was that that poor rabbit got tangled up in the way that he did.  It was really hard/sad to see a little creature in such pain.  I know your love for animals, from Augie down to this little rabbit, and I thought that you might appreciate this reflection.

You see I was reflecting on why it is that we as humans love animals so much.  And it may surprise you but the Bible actually has a lot to say about the treatment of animals.  One such text is Proverbs 12:10:
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,
but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

I suspect that it would probably surprise many people, both Christians and those who do not call themselves Christians, that the Bible talks about the treatment of animals as a characteristic of the righteous.  Why is that singled out?

My guess is that this is characteristic of the righteous for a couple of reasons.  One is that God is the author of all life, and how can we who love God easily disdain his creatures.  Secondly, the righteous show this characteristic because it is characteristic of God himself. 

One example of this is the book of Jonah.  As God shares his concern for the unrighteous city Nineveh with his prophet Jonah, one of the things that concerns God is the fact that there are many cattle in this wicked city.

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"  (Jonah 4:11)

The point of this seems to be that your love your animals is a picture of righteousness, even a picture of God himself. 

I also want to suggest that in looking at God’s love for animals we also see through to the answer for our pain.  Jesus highlights again God’s love for animals in Matthew 6:26

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

But that is not the end of the verse.  The verse actually ends this way:

Are you not of more value than they? 

Jesus here tells us an important thing.  He indeed affirms God’s great love for even the smallest of animals but … he also reminds us that God’s love for people is even greater.  I don’t think it is an accident that over and over in the Scriptures people are referred to as sheep and God the great shepherd.  As one of his sheep I find great comfort in the fact that God is watching over me as a shepherd; comfort for this life and the next. 

I just wanted to share these things with you to encourage you, both in your own love for God’s creatures, as well as to share with you that higher love that all human loves point to.  Part of my motivation for writing this is an off handed comment you made after Augie died when I referenced a time coming when there will be no more tears (Rev. 21:4), you said, “I wish I could believe that.”  On the basis of what I have outlined above I want to suggest that you can believe it, because it is true.  Your love for your pets is a picture of God’s love for his people. 

I am glad to have you for a neighbor, and I sincerely hope that this has not offended you in any way.  And while I know that we may be moving shortly, I did want to share these things with you in hopes that you may be encouraged to seek the rest that the Great Shepherd offers, if you haven’t already.

You know that I am always open to talk. 

God bless,