Learning to fight

Learning to fight

A wise man once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  Oh wait, that came from Mike Tyson, didn’t it?  So, maybe not a wise man, but at least a man who knows about fighting.

Last week, we officially reached the one year mark of partner development.  And, for the first eight or nine months, things were going so smoothly, all according to the plan we drew up.  Then, we got punched in the mouth.

We knew that this was going to be difficult; we didn’t know that we were going to end up in a dog fight.  Maybe I subconsciously envisioned this stage of ministry as something like climbing a mountain–it takes a lot of work, but at least it’s a stationary object.  If you’re in good shape and exert enough effort, you should be able to conquer, right?  We’ve come to find that we’re not up against a stationary object.  The mountain fights back.  Lately, it’s been more like a boxing match, and it’s definitely not a clean one.  It’s one of those matches where someone gets an ear bit off.  And, we probably shouldn’t be as surprised as we are.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”  Ephesians 6:10-13.

I don’t want to give the Evil One and his servants more credit than they deserve.  They’ve already lost the war, and it’s only a matter of time before the battles cease altogether.  Today, however, they still fight.  And, their inevitable destruction enrages them, as they oppose the already victorious Savior.  They hate the Lord Jesus, oppose his work and would seek to bring down any who belong to him.  Yet, I am still surprised every time we face opposition, when our climb turns into a fight.

The Apostle Paul’s famous passage in Ephesians 6 fittingly begins with the command to “stand.”  This command is a change in posture from the rest of the letter.  It’s a switch from offensive to defensive.  Previously, we’re told numerous times to “walk.”  Before we were rescued by God’s grace in Christ, we walked along, following the course of the world and following the one we now know as our enemy (2:2).  Our course and gait changed when God brought us from death to life, and we’re no longer to walk in futility of mind (4:17); instead, we are to walk in good works (2:10), a manner worthy of our calling (4:1), Christ-like love (5:2) and as children of light (5:8).  We are to pay careful attention to our walk, not as unwise but as wise (5:15).

The Christian life is spent pursuing a certain manner of walking, of living in light of the great salvation ordained by God the Father, purchased by God the Son and guaranteed by God the Holy Spirit.  Paul warns us that this manner of life faces active opposition.  It is a military march, not a stroll around Lake of the Isles.  You must stay soldiered up, so you can stand firm when flaming arrows fly your way.

The arrows caught us a bit by surprise.  In recent months, we’ve faced unusual health problems (consistently getting sick every time we have a meeting to share about Japan, in addition to a bit of cancer), uncharacteristically slow progress and strong temptations to discouragement.  For the first time, it feels as though something or someone is actively setting itself against us going to Japan.  Strangely enough, I find that incredibly encouraging.  I take it as a sign that we’re headed in the right direction.

Our God is strong; therefore, we do not fear.  He has promised that his Church would prevail over the gates of hell, that the gospel would go forward to gather people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  He will be exalted among the nations and in all the earth.  He does not leave us to fight alone.  We’re learning to fight by depending on him to fight for us, to protect us, to strengthen us and to send us.  Would you pray that God would do these things for us and more?        

“Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words would be given to me in opening in my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,”  Ephesians 6:14-19. 



Surprising Growth

Surprising Growth

We recently returned from 11 days in Colorado.  We spent the first week preparing for departure at the WorldVenture headquarters (see our previous post); we spent week two at WorldVenture’s annual Renewal Conference, where we joined others from around the world who are at various points in their missionary careers–preparing to go, on home assignment, retiring, serving in the home office.  It was a sweet time of focused fellowship, prayer, worship and learning.  We feel both exhausted and refreshed.  After all, spending five nights in a hotel room with sick children is tiring.  But, there is much grace to be had when your hotel is filled with loving people who are eager to serve and encourage you in the Lord.

I (Jamison) remember a time when a friend was grilling in the rain.  Somehow, the hotdogs ended up both charred and wet–quite possibly the only way you can entirely ruin a good hotdog.  And, that’s exactly how I felt going into our trip.  Burned out and soggy.  Tired and a bit apathetic.  Yuck.  Yet, somehow the exhaustion and encouragement of the past two weeks wove themselves together to create a new sense of excitement and freshness around going to Japan.  I’ve been reminded that the Lord is at work, gathering people from all nations to himself.

The Summer before I started first grade, my family moved into the home where I spent the remainder of my childhood.  Though the house is now on the market, my parents still live there today.  They’ve made a lot of updates over the years, including new landscaping outside of the front door.  There used to be a concrete slab just below the front step that angled rain water away from the house and its foundation.  It’s been replaced by outdoor tile.

I can still picture the concrete slab clearly, because I studied it as a young boy, though never for more than a minute at a time.  While my parents worked their keys into front door, my eyes would wander and observe the details of our home.  Early on, I noticed a small brown spot beneath the spigot, where our iron-rich water would drip.  I looked at that brown spot thousands of times as a child.

Over the course of what must have been a decade, the brown spot on our slanted concrete slab grew.  Not only that, but the occasional dripping of water over many years was sufficient to wear away at the concrete.  A small crack grew and began forming into a mini pot-hole.  As a teenager, I came home from school on a memorable day and saw the concrete had cracked through.  The brown spot was divided in two.  Through the crack, I could see dirt.  Surprisingly, something green was already sprouting up.

At some point, the final drop fell and split the concrete.  More than a decade of dripping–perhaps millions of droplets–prepared the way.  As soon as the concrete was thrust aside, life began growing.

We’ve been told numerous times that Japan is a very difficult place for missionaries, not materially, but spiritually.  It’s an “open” country in the sense that we can go there as Christians on religious worker visas; it is a “closed” country in the sense that people do not respond to the message of the gospel.  It is highly unlikely that we will face open persecution or overt rejection; it is, however, very likely that our message will be received with unbelief or apathy.  Hardness of heart toward God, like concrete, shows itself in many forms.

Yet, last week’s conference left a growing sense that there would be a day when God, by the power of his Spirit, breaks through the hardness in Japan.  In some places of the world, God comes like a jack-hammer through the preaching of the gospel.  Concrete hearts are shattered quickly, revealing a fruitful field.  In places like Japan, it seems that God works like a slow, persistent drip.  I believe there will be a day when the final drop lands.  Concrete will crack open.  Laborers will be surprised to find a soil that yields growth, instead of the persistent hardness that has characterized Japan for decades.  God may do a new thing among the Japanese people.

That is my prayer for Japan.  Perhaps it’s already begun, and the early signs of life are already sprouting up.  Or, maybe we’ll be one of a million drops that must fall, leaving an imperceptible mark while preparing the way for others.  Would that be a waste?  Would we be better used somewhere else?  I don’t think so.  And, that’s why I left the conference encouraged.

During the past two weeks, we heard stories of men and women who faithfully poured themselves out, so that the gospel would go forward into difficult places around the world.  While some have seen more fruit than others, it is clear that none of their lives have been wasted.  They have been–and continue to be–well spent.  That is my prayer for my family, that we would be faithful to plough and plant, even if the yield appears small.  Yet, who knows, perhaps the Lord will do a surprising thing in our lifetime?  It will be worth the effort to find out.

Update from Littleton, CO

Update from Littleton, CO

On January 19, we boarded an airplane to Denver for another round of training at the WorldVenture headquarters.  We’ll be here for another week attending WorldVenture’s annual conference.  During this past week though, we completed our “Pre-Departure Training”–exciting because it means we’re getting closer to, you know, departing.

Though we still have much to do in the months ahead, we now have a much better picture of what to expect during our first term in Japan.  I’ll summarize some of the things we’ve learned in our next post.  For now, we just want to give a quick glimpse into a place that is starting to feel more and more like a second home.  This is our third trip to WorldVenture in the past twelve months.  Every time we have come, our love for this place–and its people–has grown.

Ezra in front of the WorldVenture building.
Barefeet and snow.  We were surprised by how warm it’s been here in January.
Ezra found the fire alarm that a friend pulled at the last training.  He tells the story, “The fireman came and said, ‘There’s no fire here; just a Clark.'”
Vi and Ted.  Ted is a favorite.
We were so grateful to have Papa and Nana join us on the trip.  They served us every day by watching Ezra and Violet, so that we could attend the training.  And, they took us to the Denver Children’s Museum the day before training started. We’d highly recommend taking a trip if you’re in Denver with children.  


This stairway is lined with the hand-prints of WorldVenture kids around the world.  We like to play on the stairs and find the hand-prints of children we know.  
Ezra learned how to use the keypad to enter the building.  Here he is showing our friend Jim how to do it.   
Across the street from WorldVenture is a park with a great view of the mountains.
Violet and Momma enjoying the nice weather and a view of the mountains.  Look at that baby bump grow!


Come, Lord Jesus!

Come, Lord Jesus!

My favorite Christmas hymn this year has been Come Thou Long Expected Jesus  by Charles Wesley.  Word on the street (Wikipedia) is that Wesley wrote the song in light of two things: Haggai 2:7 and the injustice (perhaps either slavery or the plight of orphans) he witnessed over 250 years ago.

Haggai 2:7 says, “And I will shake the nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of Hosts.”  

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear Desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Now, when you think of your favorite Christmas verses, Haggai 2:7 probably doesn’t come to mind.  In fact, I’d be impressed if anything brought the book of Haggai to your mind.  Most of us don’t know how to pronounce it or where to find it in the Bible , much less what the book has to say about the coming of Jesus Christ.  And, if you are like me, you probably asked, “How in the world did Charles Wesley go from Haggai 2:7 to Come Thou Long Expected Jesus? ”  While we don’t have access to Wesley’s thought life, we do have access to the same Book that shaped it.  Here are my somewhat-informed guesses on his thoughts, on why Haggai 2:7 is a Christmas verse.  I hope it helps you sing, “Come, Lord Jesus!” with a greater sense of sweetness and urgency.

Background.  The book of Haggai is a set of oracles from to the remnant of Judah, recently returned from exile.  The people were sent back to Jerusalem charged with rebuilding the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed.  It was not a small task.  The original temple was built during the height of Israel’s peace and prosperity.  It took seven years, thousands of skilled laborers and vast amounts of gold, precious stones and massive cedars.  Those who knew the temple in its previous glory undoubtedly knew that they could never replicate it (2:3).  So, they focused on building their own houses instead (1:4).  The Lord made it clear he was not well pleased with their priorities (1:6-11).  Amazingly, the people actually repent, obey the command to rebuild and set themselves to work (1:12).  In response, the Lord reaffirms his presence, declaring in repetition, “I am with you” (1:13 and 2:4-5).

In this context, the Lord of Hosts rattles off a string of promises to the remnant of his people.  Rowdy Christmas promises, methinks.

Promise 1: “I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land” (verse 6).

Biblical authors used “shaking” language to recall or foretell cosmic, divine action.  It’s what the Lord did when he delivered his people out of Egypt (Psalm 77:18) and King David out of his trouble (2 Samuel 22:8 and Psalm 18:7); it’s the judgement God proclaimed on the nations that oppressed his people (Isaiah 13:13, 14:16, 23:11 and 24:19, Joel 2:10 and 3:6, Habakkuk 3:6).  Using theophany language, God is promising to do something significant on behalf of his people.  We’re talking about a cosmic event, one that alters the landscape of the world and of history.

Promise 2: “And I will shake the nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in” (verse 7a).

This is  not the shaking of a violent man, so filled with anger that he forgets himself.  The Lord does not shake willy-nilly.  He has an aim in his cosmic intervention, namely that the treasures of the nations would come to the temple.  Picture the Lord taking the world in his two hands and giving it a good rattling.  As the kingdoms of the earth crumble, the Lord so tilts the planet’s axis that the nations flow to the temple, filling it with their wealth and restoring it to glory.

Promise 3: “and I will fill this house with glory” (verse 7b).

The post-exilic community set their hands to rebuilding, knowing the promises God had made concerning his temple.  Israel’s rebellion against the Lord drove his glory from the temple (Ezekiel 10), but a day was coming when he would return (Ezekiel 40-48).  On that day,  the beauty and majesty of the temple shall be restored (Isaiah 54:11-14, 60:5-7), and God will undo the destruction wrought through Israel’s unfaithfulness.  He will bring his wayward people back to himself (Isaiah 60:4).  But, he’s going to do more. He’s going to break the stubborn hearts of the nations and bring them to  his throne and to his presence, as well (Jeremiah 3:17, Isaiah 60:1-7).

Promise 4: “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former” (verse 9a).

Though the rubble once known as a temple appeared as nothing in the eyes of those who knew its former glory (Ezra 3:12-13, Haggai 2:3), things were going to change.  The people would know the Lord has acted when the temple is not only rebuilt, but when it’s glory is greater than ever before.  He would turn their weeping into joy.

Promise 5: “And in this place I will give peace” (verse 9b).

You likely know that the Hebrew word for peace (“shalom”) means much more than a mere absence of conflict.  Rather, it refers to a time of flourishing, when everything is as it should be.  Peace, quite simply, is the thing that we (and all of creation) long for.  Note that peace is promised in the temple, the dwelling place of the Lord.

Taken together, these promises would have given a great sense of expectation.  God was going to act in an awesome, earth-shaking way.  After years under the Lord’s discipline, the people would finally experience his favor again.  The temple would be rebuilt, with glory exceeding the former.  The nations would offer their wealth and allegiance to the One true God.  A day of peace and wholeness was on the horizon.  And so, they built and waited.

And waited.  Some Jews are still waiting.  Their expectations have yet to be met.  The second temple never reached its promised glory before it crumbled again.  The nations triumphed over Jerusalem, instead of bowing to it.  Things did not go as they should have gone.

But, God’s promises did not fail.  There was, in fact, a cosmic intervention.  A Savior was born in Bethlehem.  The nations brought forth their wealth and bowed down: gold and frankincense and myrrh (Read Isaiah 60:6, then Matthew 2:1-12).  They called his name Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), and, through him, God’s presence dwelt among us with a glory exceeding any building fashioned by human hands (John 1:14).  He is the Temple that was torn down and rebuilt in three days (John 2:19-21).  His death shook the earth (Matthew 27:51) and brought the nations to God (Ephesians 2:11-13).  And, in this Prince, God has given Peace (Isaiah 9:6, Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:14-22).  Do you see it?  The long-awaited promises were fulfilled in the long-expected Jesus.

He is coming back.  Like God’s people of old, we wait for the day when God will shake the heavens and the earth again (Luke 21:26, Hebrews 12:26-28).  We wait for a greater Temple, the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, to whom the nations will bow and bring treasure (Revelation 21:22-27).  We wait for a day of peace, when we have freedom from our fears, when the battle with sin will be over, when cancer and chronic pain are no more, when children are no longer murdered, when justice is done to terrorists, when death itself is thrown away, when those of every tribe, tongue, people and nation gather before God’s throne, when we will see the glory of Jesus Christ with unclouded vision, and the Lord sits with rule unquestioned and unchallenged rule.

Charles Wesley was onto something, not on something.  “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus!” is a fitting Christmas exclamation, because it not only celebrates the coming of Christ as a baby, but the second coming of Christ as a triumphant and ruling King.  It takes the sense of longing that Israel felt 2,500 years ago and puts it on our lips, as we await the completion of what was long ago promised.  They waited for a King to set things right; we know the King’s name and wait for him to finish the work he started when he came as a baby.

Come, Lord Jesus.  You are our Strength and Consolation.  You are the Hope of all the earth, the Desire of every nation.  You are the Joy of every longing heart.  Set us free!  Release us from our fears and sins.  You are long expected.  Come!

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

Last night, Ezra and I walked to the mechanic to pick up our car.  While I talked with the receptionist and paid the bill, Ezra watched quietly as the mechanic pulled the car out of the garage.  He had his “I want to say something look,” where he tilts his head down, slants his eyes up and then swings his face back and forth.  Ezra is a boy’s boy.  He loves everything that involves tools, machines and hard work.  I assumed that he wanted to talk to the mechanic about worker-guy stuff, something like: “I have my own toolbox” or “I can fix the car for you” or maybe even “Do you have a snowblower?”

Ezra remained quiet, eating a piece of high-fructose corn syrup disguised as delicious candy.  Then, as soon as he had one foot out the door, he darted back inside to tell the mechanic his mind, “Tomorrow is my Mom’s birthday.”  The mechanic smiled and gave him another tasty, toxic treat.  At that moment, I realized how momentous Kathryne’s birthday truly is–it’s importance surpasses even worker-guy stuff.

With that, I would like to invite you all to join me in celebrating Kathryne’s birthday.  Go ahead and buy yourself some cake and ice cream on behalf of this woman.  More than other years, I am aware of how precious Kathryne’s life is.  And, I feel zealous to show her honor, like Gimli after meeting Galadriel.  Unfortunately, Kathryne doesn’t read Lord of the Rings, so compliments like that go unappreciated.

Kathryne–you gracefully endured much at age 28, facing down cancer for a second time, while raising two children and growing a third.  On top of that, you devoted yourself to preparing our family to move to the other side of the world, willingly sacrificing the rare hours of free time that young mothers normally enjoy on occasion.  This is likely the last birthday you will have in Minnesota before we depart to raise a family in an unfamiliar place, learning to function in a new language, culture and geography.

We thank God for the sacrifices you have made, the love that you have patiently shown and the woman that you have become over the past year.  May the Lord show you unique grace on your birthday and in the year ahead.  And, may you not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you will reap, if you do not give up.  Happy birthday!




On November 9th, Kathryne had surgery to remove a large tumor on one of her ovaries.  Since then, we’ve been in recovery mode, leaning heavily on the support of friends and family, especially our parents.  We have been very well cared for.  Thank you to everyone who has visited, called/texted, emailed and offered to bring meals!  We are happy to share that Kathryne is doing really well, and it’s likely she will not need any further treatment.

And, we’re even happier to share that Jesus Christ knows how to comfort us in all our various circumstances.  To misquote our previous post on Samuel Rutherford, “Cancer hath this advantage, that it draweth our sweet Physician’s hand; it is a blessed surgery that fetcheth Christ to the bedside.”  True.  I would simply add that Christ often comes to our bedside through the presence and words of his people.  You have been an extension of the Lord’s care for our family over the past few weeks.


Fresh out of surgery.


Violet was happy to visit Momma in the hospital.


Violet was also happy to eat Momma’s fancy fruit.


A little over a week after the surgery, Kathryne helped Ezra make his birthday cake.


It was a Thunder Cake from the book with the same name.


We read Thunder Cake, while we ate Thunder Cake.


Ezra got a tool box with real “worker-guy” tools.


Tradition–The Birthday Donut.



The Loveliness of Christ

The Loveliness of Christ

Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish pastor born in 1600.  We know little about his upbringing, except what can be gleaned from the letters he wrote to the people under his care.  Two things are obvious from the sweetness of his writings: he was well acquainted with suffering, and he experienced much of the Lord’s grace in the midst of suffering.

Recent trials–small ones we’ve experienced and large ones that others in our lives have faced–have brought me back to the writings of Samuel Rutherford.  The Banner of Truth Trust did us all a favor by compiling quotes from his letters into a small book called The Loveliness of Christ.  There are few things that have helped me love Jesus Christ, in the midst of various difficulties, more than this book.  And, there are few things that have given me a greater burden to speak of him to other people, especially suffering people.  I hope you read the quotes below, buy the book and find new comfort–for yourself and for others–in Jesus Christ.

“It is not a smooth and easy way, neither will your weather be fair and pleasant; but whosever saw the invisible God and the fair city, makes no reckoning of losses or crosses.  In ye must be, cost you what it will; stand not for a price, and for all that ye have, to win the castle; the rights of it are won to you: and there wanteth nothing but possession.” -page 10

“The only thing that commendeth sinners to Christ is extreme necessity and want.  Christ’s love is ready to make and provide a ransom and money for a poor body who hath lost his purse.” -page 13

“There are many heads lying in Christ’s bosom, but there is room for yours among the rest.” -page 21

“When we shall come home and enter to the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time–suffering is not worth our first night’s welcome home to heaven.” -page 19

“I am half content to have boils for my Lord Jesus’ plaisters.  Sickness hath this advantage, that it draweth our sweet Physician’s hand and his holy and soft fingers to touch our withered and leper skins; it is a blessed fever that fetcheth Christ to the bedside–I think my Lord’s ‘How doest thou with it, sick body?’ is worth all my pained nights.” -page 22

“O, pity for evermore that there should be such an one as Christ Jesus, so boundless, so bottomless, and so incomparable in infinite excellency, and sweetness, and so few to take him!  O, ye poor dry and dead souls, why will ye come hither with your toom vessels and your empty souls to this huge and fair, and deep, and sweet well of life, and fill all your toom vessels?  O, that Christ should be so large in sweetness and worth, and we so narrow, pinched, so ebb, and so void of all happiness, and yet men will not take him!  They lose their love miserably, who will not bestow it upon this lovely one.” -page 5