Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"As an Atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God."

A couple of days ago a British atheist published an article in London's The Times
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
Read the whole thing.


Friday, December 26, 2008

From a baby to 33 years

It baffles me that in less than 2 weeks I will be 33, already the same age as Jesus was when he died on the cross and rose again to usher in life eternal.  It baffles me that 3 days ago, my little boy, Taka (崇)was born - just like Jesus was about 2,000 years ago.  It baffles me that God allows us to see the greatness of His story in news ways, dare I say, everyday!   God is so worthy of a life of worship, joy and praise.  That is why we are praying that, by God's power, Taka would be able to live all of his days lifting high the Name of Jesus in all he says and does.  For that is what his name means. 

As our doctor delivered little Taka, (all 3,238 grams of him!) I was again stunned at how little, vulnerable, and weak a new baby is - and yet how precious beyond understanding!  This little baby, born just as Jesus was, cannot do a thing for himself and yet a baby like this would one day deliver the whole world from sin and death!  A baby... this is the whole reason for Christmas!!

The good news of Jesus Christ is that in weakness, by God's strength, we become strong.  By His power, we are born again, not by our own will or strength, into an amazing, eternal and an abundant life in Him.  By His strength we can also go on also to do great things for His glory.  Either that, or we can waste our one little life on worldly pursuits that do not last. 

May the power of God's story change your heart also, and your life, and lead many to praise God's great Name because of you.

This new baby story - a story of adoption - from my friend Zach, also really touched my heart.  I hope it warms yours as well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Big Shoes to Fill
Do you ever remembering doing this?  We all want to grow up to be big.  Watching Noah "secretly" go for my shoes several times now has been so fun to watch.  I pray that we also go after Jesus' shoes this Christmas.  Let us walk where he would walk and give as he would give.  Let us not be afraid to walk boldly in HIS shoes - full of a love that is BIG!  (Much bigger than these shoes.)
Great Question
"Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Hurricane Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'"  - Ben Stein

Friday, December 19, 2008

Free Modern Parables Video

Make use of these great videos for the limited time they are free to view online.  I have used one in my Sunday English class and found it to be very interesting and thought-provoking.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cultural Differences in Japan

Even after living more than 8 years in Japan, I still think some parts of Japanese culture are unusual.  Here is my "off the top of my head" top 10.

10.  It is rude to walk down the street while eating.

9.  Never blow your nose at the dinner table.

8.  Be sure to take off your slippers as you enter the bathroom and put on the bathroom slippers.  Also, there should be no slipper wearing on carpets or in traditional Japanese rooms.  Whatever you do, never forget to take off the bathroom slippers before you come out of the bathroom!  Panic will ensue!

7. It is normal to make a big deal out of other people's kids and put down your own family in the name of humility.

6.  Japanese love to listen to English songs, carols and DJs even if they don't know what the songs or words are about.  English is cool!

5.  Men should not eat many sweets - it is just not a manly thing to do.  Of course you may eat "Men's Pocky"!  (I think I've chosen to bypass this cultural cue.)

4.  Young men usually work just as much on their hair as women do.  (I know because I see them at work in public restrooms.)

Japanese Men Medium HairStyles
3.  It is okay for young men to trim their eyebrows to just the right shape.

2.  Christmas is a dating holiday, not a family holiday.  Christmas cake is a romantic way to celebrate.  KFC (Yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken) is a "traditional" favorite as well.

1.  (Though I haven't seen it for awhile)  It is okay for men to urinate outside against walls in urban places.  - Sorry to end on a crude note, but I don't know if I'll ever get used to that one!

If you live in Japan, (even if you are Japanese!) please tell me the most interesting or unusual parts of Japanese culture in your mind.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Take the Short Journey

I thought this was an interesting piece of the Christmas story:

True or False: When Herod heard about Jesus he was the only one concerned about this new king.

True? False?  ...  As you think, let me thank my mom for the question!

False, because all of Jerusalem was according to Matthew 2:3.
"When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;" 

Somehow, all of the Jerusalem had found out the news about the magi coming and that the great star was signaling the coming of the Messiah!

The next part intrigued me even more:
"and assembling the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet'" (v.4-5)

Not only was the birth of Christ humble, as we all know, so was Christ's reception into the world in the year to two years following his birth; indeed during his entire life Jesus was never received well.  Though the scribes and the priests, yes even ALL OF JERUSALEM KNEW that the baby Messiah had been born in Bethlehem, NO ONE bothered to take the short journey with the maji to see the new king!

In their pride and comfort, and possibly in the busyness of their lives, even when the news was clear, people did not seek the Christ.

Is the situation any different today?  No wonder angels were revealed to the lowest of the low - the shepherds.  Only they could make the time to swing over!

Reflecting on this leads me to think about how easy it is to be pridefully blind and lazy amidst the wonderful.  I pray that God would lead me away from all pride and busyness and worldly contentment that could keep me from seeking, enjoying and sharing the wonder-ful Savior this Christmas.  I pray the same for you.

Here is the long-awaited (ok... at least by my mom!) 2008 Christmas poem - that I actually wrote a few days before my mom sent me the above question.

The joy of a Savior, 
I pray you taste its flavor,
so foreign to a man of pride, 
so content in the comforting tide

The angelic chords of majesty
could not be heard,
past the humble workplace
of low-class shepherds 

The barn and the stench

and yet the fragrance of love and myrrh,
God reveals his glory to men
but to the world it does not occur

That the world rushes about blind
on this holy night, 
while in that forgotten manger
all is still and bright

Saturday, December 06, 2008

 Noah is beginning to pray with us.  Of course we didn't teach him this!
He also likes to say "Jeeza" (Jesus) and "Bible".  I guess he knows what Mommy and Daddy like!
Fall comes a bit later in Japan than in Iowa.  Noah really likes jumping in the leaves though!
The emotions of eating breakfast!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmas Poem
I like writing poetry - especially at Christmas.  For some reason the mood of the season allows me to feel more reflective towards God and towards the times He has established.

Here is my Christmas poem from 2006.  As Christmas draws near, and if I can be still enough in the busyness of a new baby coming to reflect(!),  I hope to post a new poem.

Our God sent His most treasured gift
Human hands and feet - came to lift
to live, to love and to die,
to wash others feet and make them fly
Saying, "Blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news!"
Good news to all the nations
Those hands, they came to serve, and not to be served
So that in the power of His love, stones would be moved
                       - Mark, 2006

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Real Missionaries Never Make a Sacrifice

I feel I need to reemphasize something that I didn't emphasize enough in the post I made a few days ago.  Surely Christians and missionaries do "die to themselves" in this life, but not in any ultimate sense, even in this life!  Christians die to this fleeting vapor of a life in order to obtain TRUE LIFE with God, starting now and lasting forever!

Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundred-fold now in this time, house and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life."  - Mark 10:28-30.

What we give up, God will be for us - 100 times and more for us, as we follow Him.

David Livingstone, missionary to Africa, once said,

"For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa.  Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice."

Taken from Desiring God by John Piper.  You can read his chapter on missions online here, or the whole book here!  (I cannot recommend this chapter and book enough to you.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Caedmon's Call - Sacred
 Recently I was reflecting on the song below by Caedmon's Call, one of my favorite bands.  I thought about my wonderful wife and how she laborers in the fields of the abundant harvest of our family every day.  What a ministry raising a family is!  I am so thankful for the partner that God gave me to walk through ministry and life together with.

this house is a good mess
it’s the proof of life
no way would I trade jobs
but it don’t pay overtime

I’ll get to the laundry
I don’t know when
I’m saying a prayer tonight
cause tomorrow it starts again

could it be that everything is sacred?
and all this time
everything I’ve dreamed of
has been right before my eyes

the children are sleeping
but they’re running through my mind
the sun makes them happy
and the music makes them unwind

my cup runneth over
and I worry about the stain
teach me to run to You
like they run to me for every little thing


when I forget to drink from you
I can feel the banks harden
Lord, make me like a stream
to feed the garden

wake up, little sleeper
the Lord, God Almighty
made your Mama keeper
so rise and shine

rise and shine cause


Words and Music by Randall Goodgame and Andrew Osenga (c) 2007 House of Mirrors Music (ASCAP) admin. by Simpleville Music, Inc. / 2007 Mighty Molecule Music. (ASCAP) admin by Music Services