Friday, November 28, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

Question to self:  Could I give to those who are in need just as much or more than to those who are in my circle of family and friends this Christmas?

(HT: Z)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Atheist Dying and Comes Back to Life
Read this amazing story here.  (By the way I checked on the legitimacy of this story, and it seems to be a true story.)
Note:  Listen to the testimony personally by going to iTunes and looking for "Christian TESOL in Japan".
Fairy Tales for Big People

Find out how the giraffe got its long neck and other evolutionary fairy tales here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dying Seeds

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am , there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him." 
                                                                      - Jesus (John 12:24)

Have you ever really tasted this verse?  I am not asking if you have ever agreed with this verse, but I am asking have ever really experienced it?

If you have ever been rejected simply because you are a Christian you have felt this verse to some degree.  If you have ever been abandoned by family members or other loved ones because you profess Christ, you have tasted it more.  Some have even so tasted this verse (and modeled themselves after Christ so much) that they have literally been slaughtered in order to honor God and not refuse Him.

Being a missionary is, in short, accepting a call to embrace this verse and taste this verse in a deeper way.  It is a call to die.  It is a call to live by dying.

Jesus promised missionaries that, "you will be hated wherever you go." (Matt. 10:22, 24:9) and that we would have need for endurance.  He didn't promise that we would be loved and accepted by men.  Peter, through the Holy Spirit said, "do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you."  - 1 Peter 4:12

But God does promise that these dying ones are the only ones who will not be alone.  Though separated from comforts and friends and family, these will not remain alone.

With this thought and these feelings in mind, I was actually very encouraged to hear of a fellow passionate missionary express his own struggles.  In some small way they encouraged me that I am not the only one who is spending his time "dying". There is a life to come that all true Christians live for today!

My friend writes:

"I cannot deny the fact that there is a part of me that longs to be here (home in the states).  The fellowship and safe net community is so wonderful.  There is so much provided here spiritually.  How safe I feel when I am here.  JAPAN is nothing like this!  I love and hate Japan.  The spiritual darkness is ever present and is like a 1000 lbs placed upon my chest.  It is hard to accomplish much with this weight on anyone.  Yet, my hope remains in the Lord.  He is the One that saves.
    However, I must be honest, I do not always believe He will save or can change hearts in Japan.  The numbers seem to great and the massive acceptance and tolerance of immorality seems as an unstoppable/out-of-control wild fire.  Yet, who is the One who parts the seas and made water come from rocks?  Yes, our GOD! 
    Oh, how I long for the joy of the Lord to be my strength everyday.  But some days are hard.  Oh how I long for spiritual food and encouragement from others.  But those times there seem like the chances of finding a precious jewel.  Yet, the Lord is ever present and my refuge and my salvation.  For whom shall I fear?  Yes, I know these facts, but it does not change how ones environment can effect you.  If you leave a piece of bread on the counter top it will over time dry out and get hard, crusty or moldy.  But, if you place it in the right environment, it will last longer."
He finishes with this statement, to which I would whole-heartedly agree: "There is NO doubt that I have been called to Japan!  I love the people and the place.  May the Lord go before me and change hearts there." 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

John Lennox on Debating Atheists

Faceoff from CPX on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Marriage and Hindered Prayers

Writing for the DGM Blog, David Mathis writes:
The apostle Peter writes,

Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

This is strange at first glance. How does caring for your wife connect to having unhindered prayers?

Here's Wayne Grudem's challenging commentary:

So concerned is God that Christian husbands live in an understanding and loving way with their wives, that he "interrupts" his relationship with them when they are not doing so. No Christian husband should presume to think that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife "in an understanding way, bestowing honour" on her. To take the time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God's will; it is serving God; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight." (1 Peter, 146)

Christian husbands shouldn't feel that time given to their wives is "time away from the real ministry." Time invested with our wives is time well spent. It's God's will—"a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight."
 Mark's note:  This post hit me square in the heart tonight.  How much more do I need to pray than simply to speak to others about Christ; and how much I need to really listen to my wife instead simply speaking to her.  God, thank you for humbling me!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bible's Buried Secrets

On Nov. 19, you can watch this very interesting looking NOVA program online here.

In the past I have found NOVA to be pretty anti-Bible, so I was glad to hear from my dad that this program was very good.  I encourage you to watch.

UPDATE:  After watching the preview video, I noticed a few false statements.  One, David was the founder of the nation of Israel?  A new idea?  God had a wife?  Hmm...  I guess we'll have to suspend judgment for now.
If You Love Jesus this will Move You

(HT: Z)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Daddy Time

With Maki trying to stay off her feet a lot lately, I have had the opportunity to spend some good time with Noah every day after work at a few local parks.  He is a precious gift from God to say the least.  Today we were riding in the car together and I heard from the backseat, "BICKLE!".  I turned to see a bicycle coming along the side of us.

Noah also loves to point at whatever he knows to tell us what it is.  Whenever he sees a baby or hears a baby he makes a sign for baby.  Recently (since we don't know when Maki will have to go to the hospital), we have been slowly starting to set up for Christmas.  One thing we have out already is a manger scene.  Noah simply loves it!  Even though it is far too high on the shelf to see, he knows exactly where it is and often points for me to lift him up to see it.  He will start to cry unless he spends at least 4-5 minutes there.  Of course his favorite is the baby Jesus.  He always wants to pick up the figurine and look at it.  Okay, maybe that is enough for now!  (I could go on and on!)
Is Christianity a Religion?

(Part 2 - Scroll down for part 1)

There is no religious ritual, ceremony or good thing you can do to make yourself acceptable in God’s eyes in any way because God simply has no need of anything man can do.

God says, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” (Psalm 50:10-11)

God is not impressed with any of our religious rituals or ceremonies as if people could control Him by their work.

Acts 17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

The amazing thing is that though God has no need of our religion, He pours out His love on us and helps us and saves us for free, so that we can enjoy Him.

All of true Christianity is about God’s love and His work for you and not about you and or any of your religious efforts for Him, and thus Christianity excludes all pride over others.

But this is not to say that Christians are now perfect and have no pride.

In fact, we should not be surprised to find some nonbelievers who are outwardly nicer, kinder, wiser and even more humble than we are.

Why?  Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their superior moral performance, wisdom or virtue, but because of Christ’s work alone on their behalf.

A big-time sinner changed by God’s work may for a while look a little less polished than a person who has built up long-term habits of outward shows of kindness to others.

Jesus shocked the disciplined religious leaders of his day when he said to them, “I tell you the truth, the (lying and stealing) tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”  (Matthew 21:31)

God is in the business of saving and changing weak and immoral people because He wants all the glory for our salvation.  He alone is God.

Rom. 8:28 is one of my favorite verses.  We are going to look at this passage of Scripture today, so I invite you to open your Bible to Romans 8. 

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

You might look at that verse and says, “See Mark, after all you do need to do something to have God work all things for your good – you have to love Him.”

You see, Christianity IS a religion.

Order and context is very important here, so let’s keep reading.

“all things work together for good... for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Before anyone chooses to love God, God has already chosen to love that person personally and powerfully and has called them to Himself and into His plan and purpose. 

1 John 4:19 says, “We love because God first loved us.”  Without His love in our hearts, we have no real love to truly love him with, because He IS love!

All of our love will be self-centered or idolatry unless God is first living in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of His work is love.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Christians, though far from perfect, love God and love people because they know and have tasted God’s love deep in their hearts.

The next verse says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Some people look at this verse and say, “See, first God foreknew that we would love him and choose him.”

That is why He chooses and predestines certain people to love and to save.  You see, in the end it is really up to us and if we are good enough or not.

We need to look at this verse closely because it is very important.

Who or what does God foreknow in this verse?

Several times we see clearly in the Bible that God clearly knows the future and all future events.  But what is the foreknowing here in this verse about?

This verse says “those he foreknew”.  God here foreknows His people, not just their choices.

The word “foreknew” here in Greek means more than just knowing facts about someone.  God foreknows His people – meaning God foreloves His people, before they have done or chosen anything to merit His love.

He loves His people before they are even born.

As Psalm 139 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

People will not and cannot come to follow God unless God first works in their hearts and draws them to Himself.

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day.”  (John 6:44)  and again in 6:64-65, “’Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’  For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’”

Well, how about after the Father draws you by His love and you become a Christian?  Is it then up to you and your religious efforts to stay a Christian?

Someone might say, “Sure to become a Christian may not be religious, but to stay one you need to be very religious!”

You have to go to church every week, you have to give money to poor people, you have to do good things and love God all the time or else He will leave you and send you to hell, right?

That sounds more religious than most religions.

Wrong.  Christians need the gospel of God’s free and powerful grace just as much as we did before we became Christians!

God hates man-centered religion that boasts of man-centered effort and ability.

He hates it just like a doctor would hate it if a patient does not trust him enough to just receive the right medicine given, but tries hopelessly to make his own medicine.

A sick person needs merely to rest in the doctor’s care and let the doctor work to bring healing and wholeness.

As God, the Great Physician, heals our hearts and works on our behalf, we also begin to love God and desire to follow Him.

This is the evidence of the great doctor’s work and of healing, not of superior effort or ability to heal oneself.

Let’s keep reading:  “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

This great linking of words means that from before our birth to the point we are glorified in heaven, all of our success is a work of God or else it is not Christianity.

God justifies you, or declares you not guilty by faith in Jesus, but that faith itself is a work of God.  (Ephesians 2:8-9) And so we kneel and praise God for His unbelievable mercy and grace to save forever such wretches as us!  (Eph. 1)

As Chris said in his message, God imputes his righteousness to us, so as Jer. 23:6 and 33:16 say, “The LORD is our righteousness.”

God does call us to obey him, but that obedience will not happen unless God first works in us to give us His righteousness and then works in us so that we enjoy doing things according to His good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:13)

Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Though far from attaining perfection, a true Christian is powerfully worked on by God’s great scalpel, the Holy Spirit and has been given a new heart transplant in Christ as well as His imputed righteousness.

And one day we will be completely set free from evil and set free into God’s loving presence forever.

v. 31 says, “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”  If God saved you, who can be more powerful than God to unsave you?

v. 35 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?"

Do you see what the apostle Paul is saying here?

If God has really called you and loved you and put his seal on you as a Christian bound for glory, there is nothing that will be able to stop you from following Christ.

There is no temptation or hardship that could do it.  There is no demon in hell that is strong enough to do it, not even death can do it.

He goes on in v. 37-39, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers (Satan), nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, (evil spirits) nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Christians are the kind of people that have been so transformed that they can face death with peace (as v. 36 indicates) because God is guarding them for eternal life.

Steve Rohrer, whom most of you know, was once out camping with his then five-year-old daughter Julia.

As they entered their tent to sleep, the wind began to pick up and Julia was quite frightened.

“Daddy,” she said, “what if the wind blows our tent into the lake?  We could drown!”

Steve looked back and said, “Don’t worry, Julia.  I am much heavier than this tent.  It is not going anywhere.”

Julia was soon fast asleep.

There is no greater peace on the planet than to know that your eternity in heaven is secure and you yourself are secure because of God’s work and not because of your own work.

Christians, He is in your tent.

Are you sick of religion?

Are you sick of rituals and ceremonies based on fear or superstition?

Are you tired of having to give a lot of work and time and money that you don’t want to give?

Are you sick of religion that lifts up the pride of men over others?

Religions, even “Christian” religions have led to wars and problems the world over.

The answer is not atheism with its moral subjectivism and utter hopelessness for this life and the next.

The answer is coming back into a love relationship with God, your Creator, for free through Jesus Christ.

This and this faith alone has the power to humble us and inspire us towards great love in all the world.

God and not religion, is our only hope.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is Christianity a Religion?

(This is the first section of a message I will give at church tomorrow.)

Increasingly in this modern secular world many people are beginning to hate religion.

It is not just some weird or cult-like religions that people hate, but for many, all religions are clumped into one category as being equally bad.

A common feeling in Japan is that religion in general is dangerous.

One popular book in America, in a string of best-selling anti-religion books is called, “God is not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything”  (Christopher Hitchens)

The word “religion” conjures up various ideas for various people.

You may be surprised to hear this, but today I want to make it clear that in the most common use of the word today, Christianity is not a religion and that the Bible teaches that in fact religion does poison everything.

I said that to a non-Christian friend one time and he looked at me as if my head had just fallen off.  Christianity is NOT a religion?

What exactly do I mean by “religion”?  Well let me make some distinctions first.

Some would define religion as having a worldview that requires faith in something unseen.

In this sense of the word religion, all people, even atheists have a religion, in that everyone in the world has a worldview that puts faith in things we have never seen with our own eyes. 

For example, scientists cannot empirically test things that happened in the past and yet there are millions of people who blindly believe that life came from non-life as if it were a fact.

Tim Keller says it like this:

"Some believe that this material world is all there is, that we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you.  Notice that though this is not an explicit, "organized" religion, it does contains a master narrative, a faith statement about life and its meaning, along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things... It is an implicit religion."

If religion equals faith in the unseen, then everyone is religious because everyone lives by faith in things not yet fully proven or seen.

Because of this fact, atheism has even been given legal religious rights in America, just as Christianity and Islam have.

In some sense then, we are all religious, whether we admit it or not.

However, the kind of religion that I want to talk about today is the kind of religion we usually think of when we think of religion.

It is the religion that requires one to use much effort and discipline in order to please or appease a God or gods or in order to be safe and reach a better spiritual state.

This kind of religion offers salvation or betterment of one’s life in some way through one’s own moral and/or spiritual effort or work.

In Islam the task is to accomplish the five pillars of faith in order to be accepted by Allah.

In Buddhism the task is to lose all desire, live rightly and to reach enlightenment.

In Shinto the task is to appease the kami by rituals and veneration.

In Catholicism, it is the task of keeping all the sacraments like going to Mass, baptism and confession to a priest and choosing that which would win God’s saving pleasure.

Religion that requires work and ritual lifts individual pride upon success and naturally leads followers to look down on others who do not follow as well as they do.

From this pride comes a host of evils, including hating and even killing those that are not as good or as disciplined as you are.

It also causes the truly sincere and earnest believer to despair or live in fear when he sees that he is not able to do all that is required of him.

In this most straightforward sense then the faith of the Bible - Christianity, is emphatically not a religion.

Christianity has nothing to do with the work or striving or any ability in man.  It has everything to do with admitting weakness and receiving God’s work as a free gift.

The Bible shows that we are all morally corrupt deep in our hearts – even Christians - and that only God is truly good and pure. (Romans 3:1, 7:18)

There is no room for religious pride and for the hating and killing and wars that come from religion in true Christianity because the faith of the Bible shows that everyone in all of the world is the same – we are all sinners, helplessly in need of God’s kindness and grace.

And because God is a God of love and mercy, true Christians, who have been humbled and changed by God’s love, desire to love others also.

Rather than emphasizing the efforts and abilities of man, the Bible rather centers on what God has already accomplished for us by becoming a man in Jesus Christ.

In Christ’s death and resurrection God cancels our sin debt and imputes His righteousness to our account as a free gift of grace.

Titus 3:4-7 says, “...when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

We can say then that Christianity is simply a relationship with a wonderfully kind God and is emphatically not a religion.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fear of God or Fear of Atheists?
Some recent ponderings about religion in Japan and America:
In Japan many people fear God/gods and hate religion.  In America many people do not fear God/gods and hate religion.  In Japan most people think that people who really believe in God/gods are weird and untrustworthy.  In America most people think that people who don't really believe in God are weird or untrustworthy (see below).  In Japan, religion is best when it is only culturally expressed and not believed seriously.  In America, religion is best when it is taken to heart and not just a cultural repetition.  In America people don't trust atheist politicians (see below).  In Japan people don't trust religious politicians.

 "In the United States, there is widespread disapproval of atheists. As a result, there has only been one openly non-theistic member of Congress in history; Pete Stark. According to, 52 percent of Americans claim they would not vote for a well-qualified atheist for president.[14] More recently a 2007 Gallup poll produced nearly identical results.[15] A 2006 study at the University of Minnesotasociologists Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerties and Douglas Hartmann conducted a survey of American public opinion on attitudes towards different groups. Forty percent of respondents characterized atheists as a group that "does not at all agree with my vision of American society", putting atheists well ahead of every other group, with the next highest being Muslims (26 percent) and homosexualsAfrican-Americans (27 percent). [16][17] Joe Foley, co-chairman for Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, commented on the results, "I know atheists aren't studied that much as a sociological group, but I guess atheists are one of the last groups remaining that it's still socially acceptable to hate."[18] Nevertheless, atheists are legally protected from discrimination in the United States. They have been among the strongest advocates of the legal separation of church and state. showed atheists to be the most distrusted minority among Americans. In the study, (23 percent). When participants were asked whether they agreed with the statement, "I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group," atheists again led minorities, with 48 percent disapproval, followed by Muslims (34 percent)."  - Wikipedia (read more here)
I Want to Play Football Again

More often in the past, but even now at 32(!), especially during the fall, I have had dreams of strapping on the helmet and playing football again.  There weren't too many things more fun than laying on a smashing tackle and celebrating with your teammates.  Apparently this referee had the same kind of dream!

For those of you who study Japanese (or want to start studying Japanese!), I found this site to be very useful.  Also, to aid in understanding Japanese e-mails or webpages, I use Jim Breen's site quite often.  All you have to do is copy and paste in the Japanese text and accurate readings & definitions come out to help you.  This may not be the the best for people with only a beginner's knowledge of Japanese however.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Noah Mozarembrandt

These days Noah can be found turning on the piano and composing his own "music".  He will sign when he wants the CD player on - which is usually!  Today I found him erecting his own color castle (see picture).  Is this boy still 16 months?  Okay, to be honest, usually he is destroying castles instead of making them...  He is a boy! 
Please pray for our baby

I write to ask you to pray for all of us here.

Maki was told two weeks ago by the doctor that her body was preparing too early to have the baby.  Since then she has been trying to stay off of her feet as much as possible.  Two days ago we went to the doctor again and he said that the water is now coming down farther yet.  The due date is not until Dec. 17.  Based on the current size of the baby, there could be physical problems if the baby was to be born within the next 3 weeks.

Please pray that Maki would be able to stay off her feet, that I would be help her during this time and that God would keep the baby from being born until we are in a safe period.  Of course these are our requests, but more than anything we pray that God would prepare us for the baby that He wants us to have.  We don't believe God ever makes mistakes and there is definitely a good reason for why this problem has come about.  We cannot see that, however, so we ask that you pray for us!

I'll let you know as soon as I can as things progress!  Thanks for standing with us.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Piper on Missions and our Finances

 John Piper writes:
"Contrary to what the Prosperity Gospel teaches, wealth is not usually a blessing. It is usually a curse. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Wealth is a mortal danger for those who have it. It does not make us generous and humble. It makes us buy more stuff, and it numbs our conscience because we have to blind ourselves to our inconsistencies with the Calvary road.
Paul said to the prosperity preachers of his day, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The Problem: We Have So Much Money

No, it isn’t for lack of money that there are 1,568 peoples (people groups) with no missionaries. It’s because we have so much. The comforts of the West have made us soft and cautious and fearful and indulgent and self-protecting, instead of tough and risk-taking and bold and self-controlled and self-sacrificing."

Let me ask you - if you had more money, would you be likely to give a greater percentage of your income?

Watch, listen or read the whole message.