Stay Low: A Spiritual Life Lesson

"Suffer the Children to Come to Me" by Carl Bloch, Frederiksborg Palace, Copenhagen (Domain)
“Suffer the Children to Come to Me” by Carl Bloch, Frederiksborg Palace, Copenhagen (Domain)

That Sunday morning was too hot and muggy for anything. But that’s summer in Japan. I and a newly-arrived co-worker had a half-mile hike to the church after a short train ride. Without a cloud in sight, the sun was merciless and exacerbated the strain of the uphill trek; we walked fast to end the baking quicker. This was my first church service since my own arrival two months earlier.

When we arrived, sweating and exhausted, we couldn’t figure out what we were seeing. We had already been met by running water and now we saw why. Everyone was outside standing around a long bamboo chute with water running through it…not the usual Sunday doings. Someone at the upper end dropped noodles in the water, and people with chopsticks—a pair of which I was quickly handed—feverishly grabbed at them to catch and eat. The summer tradition is called nagashi-somen and everyone was having fun.

I knew I was gonna like this church.

Almost immediately I met the pastor, Bo Dellming. He was a tall, jolly fellow, the very idea of the word “parson”. That day was the beginning of a meaningful pastoral relationship with Bo; I continued attending the church from then on.

Bo & Kerstin Dellming
Bo & Kerstin Dellming

Good and Faithful Servants

After accepting Christ in his early 20’s, Bo, a Swede, determined that he owed God his life and decided to attend Bible school. Upon graduating—it’s funny to hear him tell it—he discovered an ad in the local newspaper calling for people to serve God on the mission field in Japan. He knew nothing about Japan, but this soldier had found an opportunity to serve. So throwing all caution to heaven, Bo became a missionary in Japan and never looked back.

That’s been over 50 years now.

Kerstin, his wife, also Swedish, hails from a ministry family. Her parents were missionaries in China, and her father was a Bible translator there.

The Dellmings have long since mastered Japanese and have unceasingly forged ministry in the spiritually dark country. In addition to raising their own family, a few generations strong now, the Dellmings have built a devoted congregation and a charming Swedish-inspired church and parsonage complex in Fuji City, which is Takaoka Chapel/Fuji Christian Center.

Stabbed with Love

Pastor Dellming is a compassionate man and it shows in his teaching and leadership. Whenever I was with him, I saw Jesus—plain and simple. No one has emulated Christ more to me. He is certainly a soldier for Christ but the kind devils don’t expect: the ones who love the hell out of people. Don’t discount that type of warfare. It’s real, although the enlistment is small.

Pastor Dellming preaching
Pastor Dellming preaching

Pastor Dellming did something one Sunday so simple yet impressionable to me that it brought tears to my eyes, as it does this moment reflecting on it.

In Japan some churches will provide a small supper to attendants after the service; at Takaoka Chapel this was usually a curry rice dish and at other times it might be a full lunch. Moreover, it was always a pleasant time of fellowship. Thus, once the service ended, all the chairs would be moved to the sides and two long table rows would be created for all who remained to eat.

This particular Sunday there were many people at the supper and lots of children. After Pastor Dellming returned from greeting some outside the church, I recall him walking in beaming like Santa and playing with the small children. He loved them and they loved him.

He looked at me and remarked how they liked to ride on his back; and straightway this not-so-young man dropped to his knees and let the kids hop on for a trip through the open church. What humility!, I thought. I tingled with joy watching it happen and could hear Jesus rebuking the disciples—“Don’t you dare deny them from approaching me!”

Me and the Dellmings
Me and the Dellmings

You Who Would Be Great

It was one of the best things Pastor Bo gave me, a lesson on humility. No matter how high God takes you, Michael, be like a child. This from a man who would only see how much more was left for him to do for Christ.

Jesus, responding to the disciple’s griping, answered the question of greatness in the kingdom by calling a child over and declaring, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom” (Matt. 18:3-4).

In other words, be teachable. Don’t get caught up in your own hype. We are nothing; God is everything. Divest yourself of empty ambition and seek only to serve him and as fully as you can. Learn that the highest place in God will always be at the feet of Jesus.

 Pastor Dellming passed away in October 2016. His wife Kerstin survivies. 

Surefooted Faith

CC BY-NC, Mitch, Flickr
CC BY-NC, Mitch, Flickr

I grew up in the very last days of kids playing outdoors—remember that? My brother and I had terrific fun. We were rambunctious boys. We played throughout the neighborhood, up and down the street, in the front and back yards, and even on top of the house when we could get away with it. Every day we looked forward to getting out of school and playing.

We loved hanging out in a large maple tree in our backyard. We climbed that tree and out on its limbs with the ease of climbing into bed. It amazes me that we were so undaunted and never broke a bone. My grandmother’s home provided just as much fun. Her house sat right beside a shallow creek that ran beneath and perpendicular to her street through a large, dark tunnel.

Since the street was about 20 feet above the creek bed, the steep hillside and grassy adjacent lot added to our fun. Of course, that was never enough for us. We would also play on the incline directly above the tunnel, a fall from which would have landed us on the concrete streambed ten feet below. We were lucky that never happened.

The Trusting Heart of a Child

I’m sure you have similar stories. When I reflect on those times, I think about how risk-taking and trusting of ourselves we were, caution always thrown to the wind, never banking on a mishap, but always certain of the fun.

Our spiritual journey should be similar.

Jesus exhorts us to be like children at heart, although he usually refers to their humility and teachability. But a trusting and adventuresome childlike nature fittingly describes the way we should trust God, too—like a kid bounding through trees and swinging from the vines!

Say, did you unreservedly trust your parents as a child? Even if they sometimes forgot their promise or extenuating circumstances prevented it, you probably considered their word as good as done. Or maybe it was your big brother or sister’s promise that a bully would never harm you. The taunting suddenly became less fearsome.

Take God at His Word

In the army of the Lord, we march now with Christ’s victory spreading it wherever we go. But that present reality is something we will know and experience only by taking God at his word. Otherwise, we’ll live wishing to…play in the trees but too fearful of falling, killing our own joy. Yet his promises abide.

Take God at his word. Trusting him is an adventure.

I’ll end with a funny family story. Years ago we were together at our family home lounging and talking when someone heard the commode running. I asked my little niece to go and shake the toilet. We resumed chatting but then, after some minutes, wondered where she was. I found her down on her knees hugging the toilet bowl. She looked up so innocently and said, “It won’t shake.”

I get a kick out that every time! May we all like children possess trusting hearts and never second-guess God or the journey where he has us, for hesitation causes error. Instead, let us rest in the assurance that despite hard times along the way, this is far more an enjoyable adventure.