Rambling Notes from Japan
Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.
When it Comes to Christmas, Japan "Takes the Cake"
The Blue Light has Come?
The blue light has come? Big deal. The TRUE LIGHT has already come! It's Christ that truly "holds great promise to increase the quality of life for billions of people." Yet the arrival of our Savior was met with so little fanfare. No national awards. No invitation to the palace. No photo opps. No fan letters. No glitzy festivities. The only special invited guests were a stable of animals and some outcast shepherds.
And so it is up to us today, the people of the cross, to CELEBRATE the gift of Light. Just think! The Light of the World has dawned...for you! The illumining work of his Spirit flooded your darkened mind. God rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and made you a citizen of the kingdom of light. Your gloomy tomorrows were swept away by brilliant hope. There's no more need for groping along the dark alleys of life; now divine guidance lights your way. And the ominous shadow of death has been driven off by glorious resurrection hope. The dawn of TRUE LIGHT in our world and your life is cause for great celebration. So enjoy your Christmas!
There's a tinge of irony in Japan becoming a Nobel laureate for illumination. One also wonders why, in this spiritually dark country, the people are increasingly enraptured by massive seasonal light displays. Can it be that the Japanese are searching and fumbling through the darkness for a TRUE LIGHT that the Spirit whispers to them about? Already in the dark corners of Kawasaki, Japan, that True Light has dawned. In 2014, darkness fell just a little bit more in our corner of the world as people responded by faith in Christ to God's call on their heart. Together with you, we push back the darkness inch by inch. We proclaim the "Light of the World" with all the strength and capacity God gives. We claim the promise of Isaiah 51:4 that "nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."
Blue LEDs? They might change something somewhere perhaps. But the TRUE LIGHT of the world? He'll change everything for sure! Let's celebrate Him. Let's share him. Merry Christmas!
Christmas is all about KFC
The roots of this craze go back four decades. On a Christmas day in the early 1970's, foreigners in Japan flooded the newly-opened KFCs, gobbling up the colonel's best recipe. It was a poor substitute for the visions of golden-brown turkeys that danced in their heads, but it was the only crispy bird to be had around. A shrewd KFC manager watching the foreigner stampede saw yen signs. In 1974, the company presented its first Christmas meal: chicken and wine for $10. It sold well in spite of being costly for its time.
Today, a family bucket will set you back $40. Still, the Christmas fried chicken fad has taken root in a big way in Japan. A quarter million buckets (or boxes) of chicken will be sold on Christmas day alone. A savvy marketing blitz helps. Weeks ahead of time, a flurry of coupons fill mailboxes of urban homes. TV ads feature Japanese children in Santa hats (and with KFC barrels in hand) dancing about to catchy jingles. Even the revered statue of the colonel in front of KFC stores gets dressed up in a Santa suit (somehow it fits his mystique). Stores take orders four weeks in advance. Long lines form early on Christmas eve to pick up the crispy parcels. KFC has become the go-to meal at Christmastime.
became a born-again Christian late in life. He knew the focus of the celebration was Christ. We do, too. Right?
I've missed a few Christmases in America. Christmas 2013 is our first in 10 years. And I've come to a conclusion after spending Christmas in Japan for awhile and now being home on furlough. I don't know whether it's really true that "Nobody does chicken like KFC." But it's definitely true that "Nobody does Christmas like America." The music and concerts, the lights and decorations, the get-togethers and endless food, the TV specials and store sales...the celebration runs the gamut from dreamy and reflective, to bustling and hectic, to grand and breathtaking. We know how to do Christmas! But we also know how to lose our focus in the whole celebration.
It turns out that Christmas really is all about KFC. That is, Keeping the Focus on Christ. Time with family and friends, twinkling decorations, tasty food, thoughtful gifts are all wonderful trimmings. But we lose out on the main course if we miss worshipping the One whose birthday celebration it really is.
Let the things of Christmas amplify and not distract your worship of Him. KFC. Keep the Focus on Christ. And that's what will really make Christmas "so good!" (KFC pun intended)
P.S. — Anyone want some Japanese KFC coupons?
Why I Was Born
So that you would know how to be stripped of yourself.
I was born poor,
so that you would consider me your only treasure.
I was born in a stable
So that you would learn how to sanctify every environment.
I was born weak, Jesus says
So that you would have no fear of me.
I was born for love
So that you would never doubt my love.
I was born in the night
So that you may believe that I am able to enlighten every reality.
I was born a human, Jesus says,
So that you would never be embarrassed to be yourself.
I was born human
So that you would be able to be divine.
I was born persecuted
So that you would be able to accept difficulties.
I was born in simplicity
so that you would stop being complicated.
I was born in your life, Jesus says,
In order to bring all into my Father’s house!
- written by Lambert Noben
And Heaven and Nature Sing!
Many interested in singing gospel music come to understand Christianity through our gospel workshops at church on Sunday afternoons. These always include a Bible time, in addition to the rehearsal and singing techniques taught. This outreach definitely hits the cognitive and affective dimensions of man: while they learn with their head about the true Gospel message, their heart is being powerfully stirred as they sing.
But you have to listen to understand. So listen to the group in this video above sing, "He has done marvelous things! Praise the Lord!"
Joy to the World
It was right there on our mall store window. For most Japanese passers by, it was meaningless decorative lettering. But in a world where the sacred and secular rarely meet, the presence of these words spun me in my steps. What's more, this is Japan! You won't find talk or sight of the Lord Jesus ANYWHERE at Christmas time. My unofficial poll numbers show a 99% ignorance level concerning Christmas day. If pressed, Japanese kids will adamantly insist that December 25th is the day that Santa was born (or died).
But then I spotted it. On another sign immediately below "the Lord is come" on a rack of winter clothing styles was posted "New Arrival" (see yellow arrow above; click to enlarge). The juxtaposition of these signs made me grin. "This storefront could start another cult," I laughed. But after reflecting a moment, I decided to take the words as a bit of prophetic hope for Japan. Some 2000 years this side of the first arrival of Christ, the Spirit of Christ does come again and again to Japan, convicting this nation of sin, righteousness and judgement. And every heart that opens to him from stylish Tokyo to 311-struck Tohoku experiences a brand "new arrival" from the Ancient of Days. We missionaries dream of the day Jesus will be the new style in Japan.
Our prayer this Christmas is that many Japanese will experience the "new arrival" of Christ into their hearts and lives! Please pray along with us and for us.
Several years ago Halloween began to become more popular in Japan. While I have mixed feelings about this holiday coming to Japan, it brings a flavor of home to see pumpkins and fall decor in stores. But I have to draw the line at the new greeting this year printed on Halloween goods and decorations everywhere: "Merry Halloween." I hope it is a one-year anomaly coming from some confused supplier somewhere in Asia, but I have the feeling it's going to become a fixed part of the local vocab.
I can see where this mixed up holiday trend is going in Japan. So someday when a Japanese wishes you a "Happy Christmas" in a card with a picture of a Mickey Mouse cake on it, you will know where it started.
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!
Like Angel Voices
Our concert on Sunday featured handbells and gospel music, with a Christmas message from Kaori and I (bilingual), and Christmas carols sandwiched between. Rather than fussing with tickets and money, we simply made the concert a charity event with all giving going toward Wheelchairs of Hope.
Altogether nearly 100 people filled the tiny rental hall. This is quite a gathering for a church in Japan! We prayed and planned through the many details needed to see the event go smoothly. There were a few glitches, but God was honored and glorified. Many unbelievers heard the Gospel message explained as simply as I could, and given an invitation to respond.
Thank you, Lord Jesus! Your next birthday celebration at Denen Grace is coming up this Sunday, 20th.
Could Bach bring Revival to Japan?
On the night of Jesus’ birth, an angel appeared to shepherds. Why shepherds? Perhaps they fit with the humble circumstances of His birth; perhaps God wanted to point back to King David, who began as a shepherd; or perhaps He wanted to point forward, to the arrival of the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. In any case, the shepherds responded to the angel as others had, with both awe and terror. “Do not be afraid,” the angel told them, then he proclaimed “good news of great joy”—the gospel—“that will be for all the people”—universal in scope. “Today in the town of David”—prophecy fulfillment alert!— “a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”—the Messiah, the Anointed One (vv. 10—12).
Then the skies exploded in praise! The watching hosts of heaven could hold back no longer, appearing suddenly in a blaze of light and belting out, “Gloria in excelsis deo” (Latin), or “Glory to God in the highest”
--from Today in the Word (Moody Bible Institute)
I remember the many times we had missionary guests for Sunday dinner! (They had a foreign aftertaste). And of course, I remember needing to sleep on the sofa many Saturday nights because the Sunday missionary guest needed my bedroom. In some ways, I think I sacrificed for missions long before I ever became a missionary. Looking back, I realize now through my mother’s work, that God was really planting seeds in my heart for a future in Japan.
My mother continued “Don’t forget to sign the Christmas cards, everyone. We’ll be sending those with a small gift to all our missionaries.” Missionary Christmas...as a child in the pew, I often wondered why we did this in September. I knew that missionaries were an odd sort, and I supposed that perhaps they didn’t even know the world celebrates on December 25. Some time later I learned that the postal system in those countries could take a few months. “Missionary Christmas” slowly made sense.
These days, I am the recipient of those cards and gifts from supporting churches. But “Missionary Christmas” has taken on a very different meaning. There’s no greater job than being involved in a spiritual work in human lives. As a missionary, I’ve come to see God in new and more meaningful ways through the eyes of Japanese people. “Missionary Christmas” is the feeling that overwhelms me when I see one make a spiritual decision: to place their faith in Christ, to be baptized, to worship Him fervently, to serve Him joyfully.
I feel like a parent watching a child opening an incredible present as I see a Japanese understanding God’s love, worshipping him, or taking communion for the first time. Although I wasn’t the one receiving, I am a part of the joy of the person who has. And it’s Christmas all over again, any time of year.
Missionary service is hard work. Church planting is harder. But among the challenges, I know that God has great things He is waiting to surprise me with. I can’t wait to unwrap these gifts and find out what they might be. Serving the people I love, this is my wonderful gift from God, my “Missionary Christmas.” My next Christmas may be tomorrow. How about yours?!
Jesus Buried in Japan?!
After escaping the Romans, so the legend goes, He fled across Siberia to Japan. He settled near the northern end of Honshu, married a local woman and fathered three daughters before dying peacefully at the age of 106!
“I don’t exactly think it’s true,” Mr. Sawaguchi, a farmer in the area said. “But I don’t exactly think it’s false either.” His old house has a symbol resembling the Star of David carved into its wooden rain shutters!
A peculiar local belief is that making a sign of the cross on a baby’s forehead will prevent illness.
Source: Yomiuri Newspaper, 1999-07-05
We know that there are many counterfeit Christs in the world! How fantastic it is to be liberated to know the real Christ.
For we did not follow
cunningly devised fables
when we made known to you the power
and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
(2 Peter 1:16).
Christmas @ Denen 2007
This past Sunday was our Christmas Service outreach at Denen for which we have spent some time planning. We rented a hall that holds 140 in the faith that God would fill it. Then the invitations, flyers, and emails went out to encourage our friends, acquaintances, and the surrounding neighborhood to come and be part of the day's events. It quite a contrast for a Christmas service; handbells and gospel! We also mixed in some special music by a guest soloist, and several carols. Kevin gave an evangelistic message on the meaning of Christmas according to the Bible.
Merry Christmas 2007! Meanwhile downstairs we ran a separate Kids Christmas Party with Christmas songs, games, a Max Lucado kids video, popcorn, hot chocolate and more. We really stretched our staffing resources as a tiny church.
My faith wavers between two fears when we do an event of this scale. 1) What if no one shows up? What if we've done all the planning, opened the doors, and no one walks in? (We have some of these days). I could personally get over the discouragement quickly enough, but I would feel badly for many others who have done so much to preparing and praying for the day. 2) Or, what if everyone shows up? What if among those who received the one of the 1500 flyers, many invited family, or classmates, or neighbors. After all, it is advertised as a free concert. What if 2500 or more people show up and we have no possible way to accommodate them, turn them away upset, and the reputation of our church plant in the community suffers as a result?
As it turns out, God worked things out for us just right. We had 110 adults, and 19 kids. This is about 4 times the amount of number of people that attend our Sunday Services. They all went away having heard the Gospel message, and given Christian literature to read with the church information on it. We also fed them all cake, and coffee or tea.
We appreciate many of you who were praying us through this day as a church. Now, please remain in prayer as we followup on some of these individuals in the coming days. Merry Christmas!