Friday, September 21, 2018

My Husband Again …

I’m a hopeless translator! Well, not hopeless but definitely no good at simultaneous translation and I hate making noise in church.

So I never translate for foreign guests. However, I do often share a running written commentary with them.

So here is my husband again. Sort of…  At least as summarized by me (probably while balancing a baby on my lap.)

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“The Works of God”     -  Matthew 6:1-18 

God is always watching us.

He is everywhere – except in our dark hearts. Until we are filled with His Spirit. Then we become His temple.

Then we bring God’s healing, purifying power to the world. Our presence should be a healing, purifying light in a dark world.

What is the Kingdom of God like? The rules and principles of the Kingdom are laid out in Matthew chapters 5 – 7. But the most important requisite is:   HUMILITY

Our glory should not be in clothes … or what we do.

Don’t show off in your prayers, your fasting, your gifts.

Don’t do anything for man. Do for God.

It’s about loving God.

DON’T DO THINGS FOR THE PRAISE OF MEN.

Years ago some churches ignored the poor but built extravagant sanctuaries. Yet God wants us to care for the poor.

LOVE HIM THROUGH YOUR OBEDIENCE.

Do for God, not man.

Pray for God’s ears, not to impress man.

Keep in mind that God sees our hearts….

What is true fasting? It is to share with those who have not. Read Isaiah 58:1-14.

  • loose the chains of injustice
  • share the necessities of life
  • provide shelter for wanderers

God is preparing us for the next life and not everything can be explained in terms of this life.

Useless repetitions…  in Japan we have our equivalents of Tibetan prayer wheels. But NO! Pray from your heart!!!!

Praise Him. Put God’s interests before your own. Cast yourself on His mercy – but don’t forget God is God and you are only a (small) (wo)man. He is SO  BIG. Don’t forget to marvel that He cares for you.

These are simple things.

But we must keep them in mind.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

“The Book” That Changed Our Lives

A few days ago I pulled this out of the dish cupboard where we keep the song sheets for mealtime.

It brings back a lot of memories!

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“I’M AN OMF KID” SONG BOOK

The title began with a shirt that a colleague ordered for the all the kids…  That was followed by a long series of shirts designed by my husband at my request for field conferences.

But the impulse behind it was probably born out of all the old China Inland Mission biographies I read in my teens. In these books I saw not just individuals but families –sometimes very extended families - serving God. Siblings. Children. Grandchildren. Cousins. All sorts of family webs bound together in a common cause.

This was appealing.

I wanted to be part of it. But the CIM had undergone a great change and I didn’t recognize it at first in its new incarnation as OMF.

However, as I read the East Asia Millions month by month and attended prayer conferences and prayer meetings I began to recognize the old familiar principles.

We joined. (I found someone drawn to the same cause!)

And then we waited. And waited.

And while we waited we spent a lot of time at 1058 Avenue Road where the Toronto Office was situated.

After our baby was born we settled in North York for awhile and attended the Prayer Meeting at 1058 every Thursday night. How I loved all the “China Hands” – retirees who had served in China. These were the people I recognized! Many of them were already in their 80s but how they could pray!

And how they loved my baby!

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With Herbert Rowe after the Dedication Service

We asked one of our favorites to perform the dedication. Dear old Mr. Rowe. Such an Englishman! So very old school!

Childless himself, he challenged us with searching questions:

Believing that this child is a gift from God, and that He shall hold you accountable for him, do you solemnly confess that it is your purpose to dedicate him to the Lord and to His service?

Will you pray with him and for him, instruct him faithfully in the doctrines of the Christian religion, teach him to read the Word of God, to pray, and to lead a holy life; take him faithfully to the House of God to attend its services; and do all that in you lies to bring him to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord?

These questions pierced our souls. I pinned them in my cookbook and came back to them again and again.

I wondered how we would do that with all the separations common to missionary families at the time.

And then came “the book” that changed the course of our lives.

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“The Book”

Around this time there was an overhaul of the archives going on at 1058 and this scrapbook  – with photos of all the British and North American candidates from circa 1953 to circa 1964 – caught my attention as it hit the toss pile.

I claimed it.  And I made it my business to find out who everyone was and, more importantly, what happened to them. After all, wasn’t what happened to them likely to happen to us?

The answers were often discouraging!

I came to some conclusions:

A lot of people don’t make it.

We want to make it to the end!

The status quo for children isn’t working.

There must be another way!

And that is why in 1983 we quietly sent our son to the local elementary school. This was definitely not a status quo decision. But it is one we have never regretted.

To say there were a lot hard times would be putting it mildly. But again and again we went back to dear Mr. Rowe’s challenge. Here was something more important than excelling at sports or academics or social conformity to one’s home country.

We wanted to be joined with our children in a common cause – an eternal cause. And that became our measure… how does this decision we are weighing look in the light of eternity?

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

We have a friend who sings these words with his two small daughters every day. We didn’t sing them but we tried to live them.

Stumbling as we went. We were like an airplane - never quite on track but always honing back in on its destination. Looking at Jesus.

And 40 years later we are still here. Now a little battle worn but very, very happy.

And our children?  We gave them a heritage.

A secure fortress. A  refuge.

But best of all, they have the fountain of life.

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death.

Proverbs 14:26-27

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How to Pray “the Big Stuff”– and “the Bad Stuff”

There are some things I want my grandchildren to know.

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What do you do when your problem is SO BIG and so IMPOSSIBLE that you wonder (heretical thought!) if it is actually bigger than God?

What  do you do if you can’t hear one hopeful word calling above the din of the sea of negativity that seems to be drowning you?

What do you do if your body is positively tingling to smash your “enemy” with a mighty blow? What if you you wake up from a troubled sleep to find yourself calling down curses on his/her head?

What do you do when you realize that you really ARE bad? What do you do when you feel that no grace will reach you?

Because life is messy. Even a Christian life.

It’s hard to be really honest and stay positive.

And that’s what I like about singing/praying Psalms. I can be brutally honest, I can acknowledge all my pain and even anger and doubt…   and yet when all is said and done – when all the garbage is out in the open - there is hope in my heart.

Truly, among the gods there is none like our God!

But as we sang with the children this summer I realized how crucial understanding context and structure is to maintaining hope.

The first two verses 85A of are so encouraging.

85A 1and2

So why the reversal in verses 3 and 4?

85A 3and4

If God has already taken all His wrath from us and turned from His fierce anger, why does verse three start with a request to turn and let indignation cease to burn?

A number of years ago, I noticed a pattern in Biblical prayers. Many prayers, although not all, begin by running through a lot of history (and sometimes citing earlier Scriptures.)

Verses 1 and 2 are referring to Judah’s return from Babylon. And if you know anything of this long history, you will remember how merciful God is. You will know the answer to those gut wrenching questions in verses 3 and 4.

No, He won’t stay angry!

Yes, He will restore our joy!

He WILL show His lovingkindness.

So go ahead and shout out your anger, grief and shame. But don’t forget to go back to the beginning and REMEMBER God’s great mercy, God’s great Grace.

“Whenever you are in a low state of mind or heart, remember God’s past lovingkindnesses. Recall the record of what he has done for his people in ages long gone by, for he is the same God for ever and ever, and, therefore, what he has done in the past, he will do in the future.”

- Charles Spurgeon

These are things I want my grandchildren to know.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Testimony from My Husband

I have been the pastor of Ajigasawa Church, under the auspices of the Japan Evangelical Church Association (JECA) since April 1rst of this year.

Two years ago, when we returned to Japan in a state of great uncertainty concerning our future, this was the one outcome we did not think was possible. But with the support  and sponsorship of Pastor Iwamatsu and Hirosaki Gospel Church, I was able to return to Ajigasawa Church in this new capacity.

As we no longer have regular support from overseas, and our church is unable to support us fully, I have to divide my time between ministry and part-time jobs. This is my greatest challenge at this time.

We are thankful to all of you who support us in prayer but I have to admit there are times when I wonder how we can carry on. I find I simply must do whatever is at hand to do, and remind myself that God has promised to provide. And, He does.

Still, being only too human, I often find myself wishing that he would provide AHEAD of time- say, a nice, fat surplus that would cover several months ahead- and once I start thinking that way, why not several years ahead, or  enough for the rest of our lives, or maybe twice that much just to be on the safe side, or… Well, once you go down that path, the sky’s the limit.

What do we need? Jesus said, enough for today. Oh me of little faith- I find that hard.

In August we were on vacation with family in cabins located 6 hours (by car) south of here. I was doing some carpentry on the side, and the days were busy. On August 7, I noticed my memo book, which I usually carry in my shirt pocket, was missing.

That was serious. It contained important information I had noted nowhere else, and ID related stuff I didn’t want falling into the wrong hands. We searched and asked for help and prayer and prayed that it would be kept intact, and safe. Here was a test of God’s willingness and ability to care for me.

Why should I doubt either of the above? God has protected and provided for me all my life. Why do I find it so hard to trust?

On the other hand, why didn’t God bring the memo book back into my hands promptly? Why make me wait?

Eighteen days passed. I was due to return to Ajigasawa in a few hours, and still no memo book. Doggedly I told myself that God would answer, one way or another. But, part of me was complaining, “God, why make me wait? What’s the point?”

I was dumping some food scraps in the compost heap at the foot of the hill as I prepared to leave. I reached down to grab a handful of grass clippings to cover it, and reached over farther than usual. I pulled out a handful, and the missing memo book popped out of the pile right under my nose.

I couldn’t have been more surprised if it had been a leprechaun.

Although the cover was molded a bit this was easily wiped clean, and days of rain had not harmed it otherwise.

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Why make me wait 18 days? Why bring it forth from such an unexpected place in such a dramatic way?

Because anything short of that my doubting heart would just count as coincidence, rather than what it was- a loving demonstration of My Father’s care and provision for me- the champion doubter.

I was deeply moved, and very excited. I want all of you to hear this testimony, and it’s sequel. The Enemy of our souls was right there a few days later, whispering to my all-to-human heart, “It was , after all, just a coincidence.”

He never gives up. God had to make me wait, and surprise me greatly, to give my doubting heart a demonstration so outlandish that I can resist that voice of doubt, and draw on the lesson learned in the days to come.

God does see us. He knows us. He knows our needs and burdens. And, He has promised to provide.

And He does.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God,

and his righteousness;

and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow:

for the morrow shall take thought

for the things of itself.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Matthew 6:33,34

Friday, September 07, 2018

Building a Godly Heritage

Nine childish voices rang out loudly,

“O LORD, unto Your land You showed

Your favor graciously bestowed;

The captive Judah You set free,

Restored his wealth and liberty.”   85A

It did my heart good – it reminded me that God has done this for me, too. He has bestowed His gracious favor and set me free.

I hung this psalm on our cabin wall in the summer of 2016 when we felt so frightened and trapped by circumstances that were far, far beyond our control.

It was still on the wall when we sat down to our first meal with the combined Elliot households this summer. In the chaos of that first dinner together I wanted a hymn quick. So that’s what we sang.

For a few days I cast around for another hymn – one a little more “child friendly.”  But the children caught on fast! And there was something appealing about the little boys belting it out for all they were worth. So we kept on singing Psalm 85A.

I thought of all the hymns I loved as a child without really understanding until much, much later.. and I decided I would just count it as building a heritage.

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Building a godly heritage…   I thought of this again as Uncle #5 set us to memorizing Psalm 103:1-6.

My father began so many of his prayers with those beautiful words,

“Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”

- Psalms 103:1-2 KJV

As a small child I wasn’t very clear on the nature of blessings and benefits…  but I could hear the reflective awe in my father’s voice. I think I can still hear it.

And those words have helped and strengthened me again and again over the years.

In fact, early this year my husband and I began praying from this psalm every night – because its an antidote to all that ails me. And there is a lot that ails me.

Building a godly heritage.

Psalm 103

This picture of Daniel is part of our family heritage, too.

In our early days in Ajigasawa, we had men. Young men, too. But such men! I wanted Josephs and Daniels. But we had Thomas and Peter and Judas.

I sent for a poster of Daniel in the lions’ den and hung it at the front of “the church” (a room in our house at the time.) It didn’t seem to exercise the desired effect on those men and they drifted off. But the Elliot children went on looking at that poster for the next 30 years. It seeped down deep into their souls and gave them backbone.

I think it gave me backbone, too. Pictures are powerful.

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I hope this picture is seeping into our grandchildren’s souls now along with their memories of summer in the cabin at Takayama. Because…

Life is messy. And life is sometimes rather frightening.

I hope the verses we recited and the  hymns we sang this summer will come back to them when they need courage and grace to go on.

Because life is also beautiful.

BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL,

AND ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME…

BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL,

AND FORGET NOT ALL HIS BENEFITS.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Different worlds

I went to the bath again recently….  this time one that overlooks the ocean. It was probably a very bad idea since I’m still not over whatever nasty bug hit us last week.

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But it is a beautiful bath overlooking the ocean in a most amazing hotel. Very different from the bath house near my daughter’s apartment in Nagoya!

Now that was old school. The kind where the attendant can look into the change room if he wants to… Yes, he! There was a man on duty when I arrived. Of course, he or she seldom looks. And I think I was actually more disturbed by the fact that the doorway to the change room had not only no door but no curtain. And there was an unobstructed view through the change room of the bath beyond.

At least there was no door between the men and women’s bath! That used to be par for the course – it was ostensibly for the cleaning ladies but children liked to go back and forth from one side to the other. One was always in danger of seeing and being seen (by people one knew!)

I felt, well, uncomfortable. And it sent me back 37 years to that time when pregnant with our third child I found myself unable to reach our own bathtub. I just couldn’t maneuver that baby bump past the washing machine which shared the drain with the bath! So in desperation I headed for the local bath house telling myself that if my tall blonde colleague could do it, so could I.

Still, it was… challenging for a rather young (early 20s) and rather modest New Englander.

Modest…  what was modest? 

I don’t think I knew any more….

No American would have blinked an eye at my mother in her back garden with rather short shorts and a halter top and bare feet. But I suspected it would probably shock our language school teachers. I didn’t show them the photo.  Sleeveless was still taboo in Japan. So were North American necklines. And for that matter, so were red dresses.

It seemed there were so many places we had to be careful not to offend.

And yet there were so many other things that offended my own sense of modesty…  a perfect stranger snatching the covering from my carefully concealed breast in the midst of a very crowded thoroughfare with the excuse “Your baby is going to suffocate!”

There was so much underwear… It was obvious everywhere. It hung in racks over our heads while we entertained. On hot nights men stripped down to their underwear to lounge – or walk the streets! On long ferry rides even prim and proper ladies might strip to their underwear and sit around (in mixed company) eating and drinking with their friends.

And there was the lack of underwear…   when my husband went calling he would, as often as not, be met by an old women clad only in an undershirt (no bra) and often zipping up her pants as she came to the door.  (Young women also went without that item of clothing – they were just less obvious about it.)

Sometimes it was hard to identify on just how many levels a thing jarred.. for instance, when the ramen delivery man cheerfully greeted me as he peed on the street!

And the strange dichotomies when my worlds collided.

Toilets…   I’m pretty sure that toilet conversations were  common in North America. I had never thought twice about talking through the toilet door to close friends and female family members. My 4 daughters, however, all informed me that this was just plain gross.

They also complained loud and long about the the space under the door in public toilets in North America. The doors in Japan go to floor. Always.

And yet the child who complained the loudest about that space under the toilet door was very proud of her junior high class for their mature attitude toward changing their clothes together – boys and girls – in the classroom. Whaat?! 

You can’t talk to your mother through the toilet door but it doesn’t bother you to change your clothes with the boys!

There’s more. While in high school this same child greeted a colleague of ours who unwittingly walked in on her in the bath with perfect equanimity. I learned about it from his Asian wife who thought it was terribly funny.

And me? Well, I was left wondering why the 12 inch space at the bottom of the toilet in the girls room is a problem…

Such a different world.

Such different standards.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Why You Don’t Need a Vision for Your Church

“Vision….  Remember when mission was all about vision statements? For all I know it still is…  But your church doesn’t need a vision – it already has one! Remember? ‘Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart.’”

And then we turned to Ephesians 4:1-17 where I was particularly struck by Paul’s words:  “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  These words, as my husband reminded us, are God’s vision for our church.

HUMBLE.

GENTLE.

PATIENT.

BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.

I thought of similar words in Micah 6:8… 

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Just, kind, humble, godly….  Does that describe us?

Lots to think about tonight.

Pastor Iwamatsu and his wife came down and joined us for the teatime afterward and I thought about it again. Just and humble integrity over pizzazz. Kindness over all…

I have always loved the camaraderie of an Sunday evening service and I love the Sunday PM English Service at Hirosaki Gospel Church!