Posted in Evangelism, Family

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!

Posted in Family, Phil's Blog

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!

Posted in Family

Remembering My Heritage

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, Aug 8, 2015

In a few hours, I will leave for a week in Oregon, the state in which I spent the first 20-some years of my life.  I always love visits to the Northwest: The natural beauty is stunning – snow-capped mountains, white-water rivers, rugged coastline, and everywhere pine forests and lush farmland.  Some might call it ‘God’s country,’ although the ethical and moral decline in recent years would suggest otherwise.

This trip, however, is going to be a bittersweet one.  About 1950, my parents bought a three-acre plot in east Portland that had a small two-story brick house, a barn and chicken-house, and one bathroom.  Since then, with minor changes (fences, a playhouse, turning a separate garage into sleeping space), time has stood still.  The trees have all grown taller, and some have died.  The house has seen 60+ years, with 13 children and 60-some grandchildren running the halls, exploring in the back pasture, climbing trees.

Congdon Phil siblings

During its ‘prime,’ these three acres not only were home to all us children (picture at right shows all living children at my mother’s memorial service last year; from left, front row: Rebecca, Marianne, Rhoda, Ruth, and Rachel; back row: Mark, Brad, Rob, Phil, Jon, Jim).  We also raised chickens, rabbits, and other animals.  I milked a cow – by hand – every morning and night, from the time I was in seventh grade, through high school.  I fed goats, pigs, ducks, geese, and other animals I can’t remember!  Oregon’s winters are dark, cold, and wet…and I remember chores on those nights.  Summers were beautiful, and I remember playing ball with my brothers into the night, picnics in the back yard, and picking cherries off the trees in the orchard.  We occasionally slept in the hayloft in the barn, and built rafts to float on the pond at the bottom of the property.

But of all the activities and events I remember, one eclipses them all.  Virtually every night, we had family devotions.  This ‘event’ included my mother reading to us (Little House on the Prairie, Chronicles of Narnia, etc.), then reading from the Bible, then singing (we each sang a solo, or played the piano for everyone to sing together), and prayer (youngest to the oldest).  I learned that God was the most important part of my parents’ lives.  I learned to respect and obey the Bible.  My parents lived out their faith in front of us, and let us watch.  And when I walk those three acres for the last time this week, a thousand memories will echo through my mind, but one surpassing impression will remain: What God wrought on those three acres is a heritage that remains strong to this day, and will affect generations to come.  I have been blessed beyond words!

What we all learn – if we pay attention through life – that everything in this world turns to dust…but what is done for the Lord, lasts forever.  The psalmist says this (Psalm 103.14-18):

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

We spend a lot of time and money on our homes…but not-so-much on our spiritual heritage.  And yet, how we live for the Lord, and what we do for Him, will outlast all the ‘real estate’ we own!  As I visit my childhood home for the last time, I will thank God for parents who left a rich spiritual heritage for all of us fortunate enough to grow up on those three acres.