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.