Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas rescue

Overheard this past week in the Laverman house:

Kevin: "Kaori, look at this great labelmaker I picked up for free."

Kaori: "Where'd you get it?"

Kevin: "It was just laying out on the garbage pile."

Kaori: "Garbage pile?!"

Kevin: "Someone just threw it away. I cleaned it up, put in fresh batteries, and it works fine! It even has a label cartridge in it. I wanted one like this."

Kaori: "You picked it up? In Japan, that's called STEALING."

Kevin: "From the garbage pile? To me that's called RESCUING!"

It's amazing the things that one finds disposed of in Japan. Japan's ultra-consumerism generates a lot of recyclable "garbage." Is something a little dirty, a little broken? Out to the garbage it goes! Japanese by in large don't have a repair-and-reuse mentality. A little cleaning, a little fix here or there, and a lot of money can be saved by the handy finder (it turns out I may have been "stealing").

I was broken and dirtied by sin. God had every right to throw me out onto the garbage pile. I am so glad that He chose to send his Son into this world to search, find, cleanup and re-use me. That was the ultimate RESCUE! (And I suppose in a way it was stealing...from Satan).

At Christmastime, thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming down into the garbage pile of this world to reclaim me for your own!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Small Thinking

We're back in Japan. Which explains why I keep bumping into things. After 6 weeks of being conditioned to the wide open spaces of life in America, we are back to working with the inches of urban Tokyo. My mind hasn't totally re-calibrated itself to the new spatial realities of this environment. I keep bumping into things...again...and again. Thankfully no damage has been done to people or vehicles. But heads, fingers, toes, and knees have gotten a little sore.

When we first arrived in the States in October, I suffered through the opposite syndrome. What to do with all this extra space! I could sit wide, or with legs outstretched. I could wander around large rooms and hear my echo. I could get out on either side of the car. I could always find parking. I could buy large size versions of things and find places to put them away. I COULD THINK BIG! Now I must relearn to think small. Small spaces. Turn, move, sit, park, walk about in a tight axis of centimeters.This will take a few days yet to get used to.

Perhaps the shortcut to relearning Japan spatial limitations is a trip to "Don Quixote," the big discount seller here in Japan. The store is crammed with stuff (and extremely noisy). Things are stacked precariously from floor to ceiling with only tiny aisles in between. It resembles the scene from a Dr. Seuss story. If it wasn't for my tightwad missionary nature, I wouldn't step foot in this place. As it worked out, my visit to the store today created a little extra work for the cleanup crew. I may be over jet lag, but spatial distance lag will take a few days more. And so, at least in Japan, it seems that thinking small is at least as important as thinking big.

Friday, October 29, 2010

All this, but no octopus ice cream

It hits me every time we return home. This time was not unique. Call it part of required re-entry shock. Coming back for 6 weeks of home assignment travel is landing in the land of a million choices.

The day after we arrived here in New Jersey, we needed to stock the refrigerator with some essentials for living. So, off to the supermarket. What's the big deal? The big deal is that EVERYTHING is BIG. And there are a million of them. You name it, the supermarkets here have a million different ones to choose from. But you knew that already. And I thought I did too.

I knew it was going to be tough going. I grabbed a cart, gripped the handle, and steeled myself to focus on the immediate the task. It was no use. The bakery section emitted a siren's cry to my long pie-deprived stomach. Turning the corner, I nearly wept at the selection of cereals. A whole aisle. Incredible! And the boxes could last for days. Steering hurriedly into the next aisle, I hunted for garbage bags. Again, the variety and selection nearly overwhelmed me. JUST GARBAGE BAGS! It took every bit of jet-lagged resolve I had left to not leave the aisle without something. But the ice cream finally did me in. Just a box of vanilla ice cream. A simple thing, or so I thought. There were 17 coolers of ice cream of every size, shape, variety and flavor known to man.

Aaahh...but Japan has one up on the States in this are. My local supermarket in Japan has octopus ice cream. Yes, it's true. Click the photo as proof. It would take a whole post to explain this.

Still, I am again left speechless by the land of many choices and large sizes: my country. It's just that after being gone for a while it all seems so incredible again.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Welcome to fall in Japan. A season for school undokai, that is, athletic competitions.

When I was invited to the undokai for the child of a church member, I anticipated something of a smallish scale. My experience with undokais had been 50~60 people or so gathered in a park to watch and cheer on their kids as they run relays, jump hoops, pull tug-a-war ropes, and so on. Imagine my surprise when the undokai I had been invited to involved 3000 adults and some 300 kids.

With this many involved, it's pretty hard to include everyone without injury. Yet the kids marched in formation, danced in rhythm, and did various group-oriented athletic activities that could only be possible in group-oriented Asia. The day was a great cultural study. Take a look at this short video of the kids dancing in formation to the music. You have to see it to understand.

Monday, September 27, 2010

From Gangs to God

I was moved by this article of a former member of a Japanese mafia gang, Tatsuya Shindo. From a history of drug abuse, crime, and prison time, God saved him. He's attended seminary and now begun a church here in the Tokyo area, called Friend of Sinners Christ Church. Church attendees include former gang members or the parents of current prisoners. He still sports the tattoos and cut pinky as a sign of his organized crime days, but God has redeemed him to work among Japan's worst dropouts. What a what of change God can do in the human heart.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I'd been putting it off. Although I knew it was important, taking inventory of our earthquake and disaster gear just wasn't getting done. Japan rests along the "ring of fire" in the Pacific ocean, a stretch of area that is particularly vulnerable to earthquake activity. And so having a backpack of essentials by your door to grab on the way out is, well, essential. But mild earthquakes in Tokyo have become such a rather regular part of our lives that we've let our guard down a bit. We weren't ready for an earthquake to come.

When I finally got around to assessing our earthquake readiness, I realized how unready we were. Wiping the dust off the backpack in the carport, I unzipped it to find a horror story inside. The batteries had attempted an escape, leaking acid all over the contents of the bag. To make matters worse, the acid had actually bored a hole through one of the canned items, which oozed its contents out and into the bag as well. It was not pretty (and now I know why all those stray cats were hanging around outside for awhile). The remainder of the canned food seemed intact, but the expiration date was 5 years ago. The bottled water also looked a bit suspicious. The short of it is: we weren't ready for an earthquake to come.

As I replaced and organized new gear for us, my thoughts turned toward the "parables of readiness" in Matthew 25. Five bridesmaids wisely carried extra oil. Two servants carefully used their entrusted resources. A wise and faithful servant works to the best of his or her ability to use what he has been given, and prepares himself for the Master's return and inspection. With God's help, I want to be ready in my life and work for my Master to come. How ready are you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Food "or" Thought

"Anyone seen my swimming buddy lately?" There was something about this scene that struck me as sobering, yet almost comical. When I saw what was becoming of these poor fish, I had to stop to record the moment - see this video. Seize the Day, indeed. One moment swimming carefree together with friends, and the next shishkabobbed in front of a fire.

Yes, this fried fish-on-a-stick is actually a popular treat throughout Japan. I am sure there is a sermon illustration in here about the fragility of life and uncertainty of the future. I could almost hear the fish in the tank whispering in agreement with David, "Teach us to number our days aright." Ps. 90:12

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Reason Justen's Growing Taller

I finally figured it out today. I figured out why my son is growing taller so quickly. He might not be as tall as some 14-year-olds. But he's be going through shoes and pants sizes like there's no bottom to dad's wallet. See for yourself in the photo at left. Now I know why:

Today we stepped aboard the same Tokyo-bound commuter train. Justen was on his way to a few days of summer camp. I went along to help carry all his stuff (you'd think MK's would know how to pack lighter). This wasn't just ANY Tokyo commuter train. This was the Denentoshi line by our house, voted the most crowded of all. It's already outgrown the added capacity they spent 4 years building. And we were in the thick of rush hour, on a day many were returning to work from Obon vacation time. It was a banner day for crowded trains. I have NEVER been this tightly packed in on a train before. I thought I had seen the worst until today. WOW! Having a big suitcase with me only made matters worse. And it did little to engender Christian attitudes from those squeezed in nose to nose around me.

As the train lurched out of the station, I instinctively reached up to find something to hang onto. A hand reached PAST mine to the empty space on the metal rail over my head. It was Justen's hand. I was amazed. It was a day of record temperatures, and at least 98.6 in that train car with bodies crammed around us. I craned my head upward to catch even a bit of breeze coming from the ceiling air conditioning. A head craned PAST mine to do the same. It was Justen's head. I was doubly amazed.

Now I know why Justen's growing. Justen makes this commute every morning to school in Tokyo. His body seems to have adapted itself to this environment. It has to in order to survive this battle of the fittest on Tokyo trains. And all this time I thought it was all the white rice! Go figure.

Friday, August 6, 2010

English Teaching Good for Your Health!

This probably won't turn into a diet fad, but it turns out that English Teaching can actually help you lose weight. It's true. I lost 2 lbs. last week with the six Kids English classes, setup, breakdown, prep, etc during our Tokyo heatwave.

Our annual "Kids English Bee," or kids English classes, help develop some new relationships in the neighborhood. We had about 20 kids altogether. The style of English teaching that I use is hardly the traditional method here in Japan: sit with open book and fill in written exercises. The style I use involves exercises, but in the physical and aerobic sense of the word. I adapted the Genki English curriculum, adding and taking away some things. You can take a look at it here. It's very active. Lots of games. Lots of singing. Kids eat it up. It was great fun, but a challenge for this new 40-year-old to keep up with the little kids. However, I highly recommend the curriculum to anyone looking to shed a little weight.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Black (Sumo-sized) Box

Church Planting = Transporting Heavy Objects. At least it's seemed that way these last eight years. It's true: when you haven't your own church building you need to do a lot of carting things back and forth from home. The first couple years were especially backbreaking. The last six years we've had some storage at the private hall we rent. Still, you name it and I've probably moved to or from church with many grunts and groans.

The latest of the heavy objects made its way to our church location this past Friday. In an effort to upgrade our PA system at church, I purchased a rack enclosure and mounted audio components (audiophiles will know what I mean). It made sense to have it delivered to my home and fiddle with it there, but then came the problem. This cast iron thing is the size of a small refrigerator and easily weighs 500 pounds after equipment is installed. There was no way this was going to be lifted into or fit in my vehicle, even with my sumo buddies helping out. What to do?

It seemed to make the most sense to simply roll this black beast all the way from our home to the church location, a distance of about 1 1/2 miles.

I've long since lost the ambition to completely blend in with Japanese society. I realize I stand out. But I've never felt like I stood out more than this past Friday. I felt the eyes of the community on me as I noisily bumped and rolled this massive black box down the streets. Past bikers and pedestrians, past the local train station, through traffic, down the main shopping street, and in front of the police station. What a spectacle! Although no one was brave enough to ask, the common question I saw written on their faces was, "What is that foreigner doing with that huge metal black box?" Before the journey was done, I had the same question myself. I was drenched in sweat and my back begged for mercy.

Although my sore muscles need more time, my pride has at least recovered. Still, I wonder what strange heavy thing I'll be moving next week. My neighbors are asking the same.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life in Tokyo has its Ups and Downs

I have a new appreciation for Japanese engineering. Engineering that uses vertical space UP and DOWN in such dramatic ways:

On a recent trip through Tokyo I went deeper underground than I've probably ever been before. The newly completed shortcut through the heart of the city involves driving your vehicle down an extended corkscrew tunnel that winds you a dozen or so stories underground before straightening out. Only at that level could the engineers circumvent the cobweb of subway lines and underground structures that crisscross Tokyo. Entering the tunnel is like entering a future spaceport. And the ride down not unlike Space Mountain at Disneyland. I think my ears popped a few times on this "journey to the center of the earth." Wow, here is another place I want to avoid being during an earthquake. Not a good idea to run out of gas down there either.

The flipside to this dramatic DOWN is the up, Up, UP of the Sky Tree. This will be a radio tower and observatory some 2080feet tall upon completion sometime in 2012. We recently saw a scale model. Even at 1/25th of the actual size, it soared above us. For comparison's sake, you can see it next to the Empire State Building in the photo above. My list of places not to be in an earthquake keeps growing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Our God, Eager to Save

Tomohisa had reached a coveted status in Japan’s vertically-ordered society: medical doctor. Along with the status came wealth, which he used to buy the affection of women…and lots of booze. His selfishness blinded him to the hurt he was causing his family. His drinking and infidelity broke his wife’s heart and alienated his daughter. Eventually it took a toll on his body as well. He developed terminal liver cancer.

For the daughter, Takako, it was a long journey from pain and resentment to grace and forgiveness. Healing began when she found her Savior, Jesus Christ, and was filled by the power of his Spirit. My joy was baptizing Takako and seeing her grow in her new faith. She was faithfully by his side when her father became bedridden in the final stages of the cancer. “My only desire now is for his salvation,” she told me. We prayed and asked God to break down the spiritual resistance in his heart. I wondered to myself, however, whether there was enough time. Tomohisa’s prognosis was not good: a few weeks at best. God would have to be pretty eager to save.

The following week a meeting in Tokyo brought me close to his hospital. I considered a visit, but hesitated. Takako told me that Tomohisa didn’t want to see any Christian pastors. “What good could my foreigner presence and stumbling about in Japanese do but frustrate him more?” I reasoned. “Besides, if the family wanted me there they’d have called.” So, I shoved into the subway train and headed home. Three stations later I felt strongly shoved out. God was doing the pushing, but I couldn’t understand why.

Stepping out onto platform, I wondered what to do next. The answer seemed to come: “Find a place to make a call.” I wandered near the subway station exit, climbing the exit stairs to ground level where I could get a good signal. I scrolled through my address book. Wouldn’t you know it! I didn’t have Takako’s number. For me that was as good a reason as any to get back on the train home. That’s when the phone in my hand rang.

“Pastor Kevin?” It was the son-in-law. “My wife and I are here at the hospital. Tomohisa’s situation is bad. He’s crying for help. I don’t know what to do. I’m not a priest. I’m not even a Christian. I don’t know anything about the Bible. Can you come?” “Of course,” I replied. “I’m not far away now. I can be there soon.” Hanging up, I was stunned at the timing of the call.

But now it dawned on me how unprepared I was. I had no Bible with me, not even a pocket NT or portion of Psalms. What could I share with him? Of all the times for a missionary to be without this critical gear, why now? That’s when I heard it.

Hymns! The wonderful sound was flooding out from a newsstand just up the street from me. This didn’t fit into the local scene. We have hamburgers and hiphop on the streets of Tokyo, but not hymns! Walking up, I was dumbfounded to see a cross and the logo for the Salvation Army. A uniformed woman greeted me, “We only have a few things in English. Are you interested in some Christian material?” “Actually, I’m a missionary. I need a Japanese Bible for a hospital call,” I answered. Smiling, she said,“I just knew you were a missionary. I could tell by your smell.” (NOTE: I’ve been told American missionaries do smell different. But I have to assume she meant it in the ‘spiritual fragrance’ sense.) “Go to the second floor of the building behind us. The man up there will have a Bible for you,” she said. I went. Sure enough, he did.

At this point if God had revealed to me that the woman and man were angels and the newsstand only existed in a spiritual dimension, I would have found the idea quite reasonable. As I reboarded the train for the hospital, I was filled with awe at how God had been leading my steps.

The family was waiting for me at the hospital when I arrived. Tomohisa was doubled up on the bed in obvious discomfort. His estranged wife was seated beside him. The doctor had just come to administer pain medication. I sat near him and softly sang a verse of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” then opened the Bible and read from Psalm 23 and John 14. “Do you want me to read more?” I asked. He nodded. “Tomohisa, God wants to forgive your sin and has made a way for you to be with Him forever. Listen.” I read from John 3, ending at verse 17. “Do you believe these things?” He nodded again. In his pain, he was almost beyond verbal expression. “Why don’t we pray together and ask God’s forgiveness in Jesus,” I suggested. He surprised me by stretching out his hand to mine, bringing it to himself. As I prayed he moved his lips along with me. When I ended with “Amen” his face relaxed. He sighed softly and drifted off to sleep. The medication had eased his pain, but God had eased his soul. He may have been a respected doctor, an alcoholic, a womanizer, but now he was a child of God.

Tomohisa never fully regained consciousness after that afternoon, four days later passing into eternity, and into the arms of our Lord. I helped with the funeral arrangements, speaking at the wake and funeral. Done in a Christian way (not Buddhist tradition), it was the powerful testimony to the family and relatives. God received much glory for his work of salvation.

I left the Bible I read to Tomohisa in the hands of his wife. She is reading it now. I’ve no doubt that she, too, will soon find the grace in Christ that he experienced in the last moments of life. Why? Because God is moving heaven and earth to accomplish his salvation plan. Trains, missionaries, cell phones, newsstands and people might all be but small parts of it. Let’s not forget that salvation is his business. God IS very eager to save!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Welcoming Home the Harvest

“If you really want to reach Japanese for Christ, you shouldn’t live in Japan.” Early on in our preparation for missionary service, I was told this rather shocking statement by a Japanese pastor in Chicago. I understood that he wasn’t trying to discourage me from mission service as much as he was trying to encourage me to open eyes for the Japanese mission field locally. There is a greater harvest work that God is doing in Japanese lives abroad that goes largely unnoticed.

In this postwar generation, God has mercifully blessed Japan with great economic wealth. This wealth has empowered many Japanese to be able to work, study, travel, or live overseas. And with advances in technology, communication and transportation, never before in Japan’s history have SO MANY been able to experience life firsthand outside their country. In North America alone, nearly 500,000 Japanese live temporarily. Every year nearly 300,000 move away or return to Japan. In my heart, I wonder why God chooses to enable and move so many Japanese overseas? I have come to believe it is his plan for the harvest of Japan for this generation! God knows that Japanese are less inclined to welcome the gospel message while in their own country. There are many cultural, social, historical and spiritual reasons for this. But when a Japanese goes abroad, they are away from many of those reasons. Living outside Japan, they are able to reflect on their life in Japan more clearly. Many come to the conclusion that there is something more out there, more to life. They come across the strong religious faith of foreigners who befriend them. They are welcomed into a church that cares for them. And many embrace this faith and receive Christ as Savior. In fact, JCFN, an organization in Japan that works with returnees, states that a Japanese is 30 times more likely to accept Christ overseas, than while in Japan. A great harvest of Japanese is occurring overseas! But how well are we welcoming this harvest back home? This is a critical issue for the church in Japan in this era of globalization.

In February and March I had an opportunity to see both sides of the issue. In February I attended the annual Reaching Japanese for Christ (RJC) conference in Seattle. Here, 150 people, organizations and missionaries that work with Japanese in North America, gathered. Many see frequent decisions for Christ and work hard to prepare these new believers for life and faith back to Japan. In March I attended the All Nations Conference in Saitama. Here, many organizations and churches that welcome home returnees, and many returnees gathered, more than 500 altogether. The common reports I heard at these conferences was this: unfortunately, not all returnees feel welcomed or understood by the Japanese church. Many churches don’t know how to accept these slightly different Japanese new believers. Many new returnee believers, in the middle of re-entry shock and adjustment, don’t know how to blend themselves into an unfamiliar Japanese church culture. The result is that many returnees feel rejected, become discouraged, and turn away from the church. A great harvest is lost!

Our church plant, Denen Grace Chapel, is 8 years old this spring. We began with 6 individuals that had the shared the experience of living abroad, and then return to Japan. Over the years God has sent us others that have been saved or lived abroad. This past January, we called a Japanese pastor. Kondo Izumi sensei and his wife, Mikiko, also have an experience of living and serving abroad many years, and then returning to Japan recently. Together with them, we have a vision as missionaries, and as a church to intentionally tap into this great harvest work of God in the lives of his precious Japanese. We want to be a receiving church that understands thoroughly the issues returnees face, how we can welcome, and grow them up in their new faith. How about yourself? Let’s pray that we can be churches and people that better welcome home the harvest.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Flowers for you, Cake for me

This cake in the photo has a story. So do the flowers. They were brought together in an "installation celebration" for Pastor Kondo and his wife, Mikiko.

In a special service this past Sunday together with other area pastors and missionaries, we officially recognized their leadership of Denen Grace Chapel. This is cause for celebration. Notice the cake is in front of me. The flowers are in front of Pastor Kondo. Hey, we both have our way of celebrating! I'm sure you wouldn't believe me if I said that it was made of tofu.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Confessions of a Conference Disliker

I'm not much of a conference-goer. I'd much rather be doing, than discussing the doing. Sit and listen has never completely fit my learning style. I'm greedy about how and where I invest time and energy...who isn't?

But when we determined we needed to be in the States briefly, and when American Airlines graciously allowed me to book multi-city award travel, I jumped at the chance to fly to Seattle for a few days to be among co-laborers reaching Japanese for Christ. What a great time the "Reaching Japanese for Christ" conference was!

The worship, messages, testimonies, seminars and, yes, even the food and weather, were all great. The ideas and resources I gleaned were very helpful. But what made the conference particularly fulfilling for me was the opportunity outside of our ministry and country of service context to be among people who completely understood my calling, passion, and challenges in Japan. Our times in the States rarely have this dimension to it. Thank you, RJC2010 staff, for making this conference such a worthy investment of time. It was an empowering and satisfying oasis from which to return to life and ministry here in Japan.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chicago Forecast: Snowy with a Chance of Re-entry Shock

Snow and re-entry shock were two surprises waiting for us back in Chicago upon our arrival.

We scooted into Chicago on Monday just ahead of the big snowfall on Tuesday. Okay, just a couple inches or so. But coming from comparatively warm Tokyo, it's been awhile since we saw this kind of snow! Justen enjoyed sledding with a home church member -- what a rare and wonderful treat for him!

Re-entry shock is something we always struggle with when out of the States for a long period of time like this. We've written about this experience here and here and here on this blog. In essence, the values, dreams, ideals of our host culture of Japan become the ingrained norm for us. We become surprised by how far apart they are from folks in our own homeland. Although we want to find belonging and yearn to identify ourselves completely with our home culture, we have been changed significantly in ways while we were gone.

And people, places and things have also changed significantly. Absorbing the many changes all at once is quite overwhelming. It all brings about a sense of alienation, confusion, and frustration. The strongest feeling is that I have simply missed out on being a part of the journey and lives of friends and if I've been asleep while they've all moved on. This is part of the missionary complexities that we are learning to deal with as best as possible for our mental health.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Here Comes the Real Winter

We had a record snowfall here in Kawasaki last week -- the most in two years. A whole 2cm fell here around us. That's right, 2cm. Students everywhere in Kawasaki continue to be disappointed by another year without a snow day. Still, Justen found enough snow to make this 4inch snowman.

So, we've been blessed up until now. But here comes the real taste of winter. Tomorrow we head to Narita airport and board a plane for Chicago. The forecast there calls for snow, cold, wind...the real winter. And we get to spend two whole weeks in this glorious winter wonderland of Schererville, Indiana.

Strangely enough, I'm looking forward to the change of pace with the weather. So much green year round just doesn't feel natural to one born and bred in suburban Chicago. I feel a sense of shame (very infrequently, mind you) from enjoying such a balmy mission field. One day back in the frosty temperatures might change my opinion, but for now I look forward to embracing the real winter again! Chicago here we come.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a common sight in Japan. Point cards.

In an effort to keep customers loyal, it seems that every business in Japan -- from the largest chain department store, to the smallest ma and pa variety store...everything -- has their own unique point card. Spend a hundred yen, get 1 point. Collect 5000 points, get a coupon for a few yen off your next purchase. Just make sure you use your points within a certain period of time, and for certain items only, etc. This is the way it goes. And Japanese people seem to be almost fanatical about the concept. The first question you are asked by the cashier is "Do you have a --- card today?" and "Would you like to make one?"

I realize the point card system is popular in the States as well, but the Japanese have truly mastered it. For myself personally, it seems more fuss than it is worth: managing all those point systems for such a meager return. It seems smarter to simply shop at a discount store from the beginning. I guess I just "don't get the point" as a foreigner.

However I do have a few point cards (okay, only one) for places I visit frequently. When making a recent purchase, I was quite excitedly about finally cashing my hard-earned points in to cover the cost. I hadn't frequented the store in a while, but now was finally the moment. When the cashier announced the price of my sale, I confidently flipped out my point card:

"Please use my points." I said proudly, expecting him to be amazed at my diligence.
He looked at the card oddly and then said, "I'm sorry. But this card is no longer used by our store."

My heart sank. All my carefully saved points took wings in an instant. I would have laughed had I not been so amazed. How could they do this to me after carrying that card around so long in my wallet, using it at every opportunity?

"We do have a new point-getter machine. Every shopper can use their store card to get up to 100 points any time they visit." the clerk said, trying console me in my obvious shock.

This was small comfort. But I followed him to the point-getter machine for a demonstration. He inserted my new store point card for me. We waited. How many comfort points would I be awarded? The answer came. As if sticking out its tongue at me, the machine spit the card back out. Printed on it was a big, fat zero.

I guess foreigners just don't get the point.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Big 4-0

A few weeks back as the year started out, I preached at Denen on the topic of change and 2 Corinthians 5:17. And the biggest change for me occurred a few days later on January 18. I officially joined the “40's club.”

I used to think that 40 year-olds were wise and seasoned in life. But when I look at myself I realize that assumption was misguided. I’d love to say that after 40 years of wanderings I’m finally ready to enter the promised land. But the truth is that after 40 years I still have a way to go toward spiritual maturity. Weaknesses I see in me haven’t gone away. I’ve made progress, but not as dramatically or as quickly as I’d like. It would be easy to get discouraged, give up and say, “Well, that’s how I’ll always be.” But the Bible holds out a different option. God is always doing something new. So change is always possible. Not because of me, but because of Him.

I'm grateful for a Savior that loves me as I am, and yet moves me toward growth. I'm also grateful for church family that makes the journey fun. As I gave the announcements this past Sunday, the lights suddenly went out. A lighted cake (yep, 40 candles) was wheeled into the room. And the congregation broke into a strain of "Happy Birthday," Japanese style. I suspected something was in the works by the suspicious grins on their faces earlier. Thank you, Lord, for 40 years with you. Thanks for giving Christian friends and family to journey together with.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Year, New Venture

Here we go! Pastor Kondo and his wife, Mikiko, were officially commissioned in our Sunday worship service. We will have a more formal installation service in March, but this is the start of their ministry with us as a church.

When we started the church we could not have imagined what God would have in store for us these past seven years. Through all the victories and letdowns, the blessings and challenges, we have trusted that God would provide national leadership for the church. And He did. And what a great couple this is to work with in 2010. We look forward to putting hands together in ministry. Take a look at his background and vision. Also, pray for this financial need.

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19