Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

One and a Half!

I love charging Daddy and being pushed back by him!

Timo is one and a half today!

On the 20th of every month (he was born on March 20th) we take a picture with this rabbit (name=Usagi!) ...as he gets older and more antsy, it's harder and harder to get him to sit still with Usagi. Today it was accomplished by putting a little lego alligator on Usagi's head...

There's an alligator on your head, Usagi!  Haha! Daddy, Usagi's ribbon came off!  I shut my eyes to his nakedness!

Aaaah! He's attacking me!  No, I'm attacking him!  Get thee down, shameful naked rabbit! (Pause) Aren't I cute?

Sometimes he likes to beat up on Usagi and kick him over, anoint him, baptize him, or give him a brain-sucker. Other times he's nice to Usagi and gives him a sunny hug... but often you can see his POWER in his clenched teeth. At one point today Usagi's ribbon came off his neck and it surprised Timo, who handed him back to me with a great "what happened?" face.

I'm so tall the camera can't get my whole head! (Thinking: what shall I do to Usagi next?) I baptize thee with the stuffed platypus...

I'm so fast the camera can't catch me! If properly persuaded, I love hugging Usagi!  Naw, I love hugging everybody freely!

Some of his faces are hard to interpret... give your own captions! Fuzzy pictures capture his essence so well sometimes! Lately he enjoys charging at us -- and then when we stick out our hand (or head) to push him back, he LOVES that! Funny boy.

May God (the author of funny babies) bless you in His love!
Ramone, Yoko & Timothy

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Glorified in Christ

Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me into glory.

- Psalm 73:23-24

I grew up believing that when believers die, they "sleep" in the earth and don't know anything. I didn't know that God had made me more than "body and breath" -- that He had given birth to an undying, eternal spirit inside of me. But the Bible speaks words of comfort to us as believers, that nothing can separate us from God, not even death. And that if we believe in Jesus, even though we "die", we yet live and will never die. I grew up not knowing the Spirit and the reality of the spiritual. The unseen spiritual is more "real" than the natural that we see and understand; the spiritual is concrete and goes on even when the natural dies. Though you cannot "see" it, believing in Christ you have been given new, eternal birth, and though you may die, you will yet live and He will take you to Himself.

"I am the resurrection
and the life.
He who believes in Me
will live,
even though he dies;
and whoever lives and believes in Me
will never die."
- John 11:25-26

This is a picture of a dream that someone I know had -- someone who, like myself, grew up without being taught the eternal reality of the spirit and God's promise to take us to Himself when we die. In the dream she saw her funeral from above at a cemetary from her childhood. Looking up she felt like a little girl, and saw her angel holding her hand. Then they began soaring over long-since gone cornfields in great peace. Even though she did not believe the "theology" the dream showed, the peace was so powerful she knew it was from God, and the Lord confirmed it to her prophetically not long afterward.

Christ will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me,
to live is Christ
and to die is gain.
- Philippians 1:20-21

God speaks to us in many ways to let us know that He has ahold of us and will not let us go, even when we pass through the pains of death. Like the long-since gone cornfields reappeared in the dream, God wants us to know that He restores life to us, full and complete. When our time on earth is done, our temporary earthly "tent" is no more and we are "present with the Lord". Our body is gone and we may be physically incomplete, but we are never alone. He will never, ever let His children go. Indeed, as Paul said, "to die is gain" because we go "to be with the Lord". When Jesus returns to earth, He will bring us back with Him and He will give us new bodies, too. He told us to comfort one another with these words. Nothing, nothing can separate us from Him. Know it now, know Him now and that the promise of His word is true.

For I am convinced
that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 8:38-39

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Thoughts on the American Election

There's a lot that can be said about the current state of things and the presidential election in the United States. I don't know all of the issues' details, nor am I an expert. But overall I do find myself growing more and more morally uncomfortable with all sides.

Let's start with the Republican party. They used fear, strong-arming, manipulation and flat-out deception in order to start the second Iraq war. Not only did they use these weapons against other countries (in bullying them into support), but they used these things against the people of the United States. And in that case it worked. Bush was re-elected. But in the world (I live in Japan), we saw things more clearly from the very beginning. I can't forget reading a report in late 2002 of how the administration was already handing out contracts to rebuild oil fields in Iraq -- long before the war even started or before the "UN security council resolutions" were done. I've only heard one Christian minister (Paul Cain) who spelled it out clearly from the pulpit -- "Our leaders are lying to us... We wanted to go to war." The result has been not only the abuse of people at home, but the abuse of people & relationships in the world. Instead of making America & the world safer, the Republican party has given the world new grounds for loathing America. The ends do not justify the means. A friend had a quote on her Facebook profile that sums up the web we are weaving: "What you convert a person WITH is what you convert them TO." This goes for everything - religion, business, politics, and "nation-building".

Out of personal disgust at the lies and lack of morality in the Republican party, I joined the Democratic party during the 2004 election and voted for John Kerry. Now the Democratic party has nominated Barack Obama. And at the beginning of his campaign, I felt a lot better. He spoke of hope. He didn't criticize very much. He seemed intelligent, able to look past popular notions -- things like "war on terror" as if terrorism were a nation that could be fought and beaten and not an ideology (or rather, a method of channeling frustration).

But as the Democratic nomination campaign began to wind down and Obama shifted his sights from Clinton to McCain, he began swinging with the trends. I also began to hear more things that sounded just like bad policies... mistaken energy/fuel sources, certain ways of dealing with trade with other nations, etc. And of course in order to win Jewish voters, he would have to declare support for Israel instead of calling it out on its bad moves.

I'm afraid that in order to win voters, Obama is compromising his radicalness. He has a real potential to be something different, something that can inspire and truly change. But in order to get in office and maintain support, I fear he's losing what inspired us in the first place. His strength is in his ability to daringly go out on a limb, call us to think more instead of wave signs, and inspire us take risks. He's got the orator's ability to actually educate his listeners instead of merely getting them to "give support". And Lord knows, after eight years of Republican/Bush-ism, the nation is in desperate need of re-education. In short, I think Obama is trying to win support and is trodding too carefully in order to get it. Nietzche (in his atheism, depression and syphillis) said that it's best to be careful when fighting a dragon that you too do not become a dragon yourself. In fighting the political machine, I think Obama might lose his "soul".

It's a difficult choice, and as the days go on, I find myself wanting to not be trapped into choosing between one side or the other. Perhaps I can only feel comfortable with praying.

Morally I could not support the Republican party. Sarah Palin was a genius pick by McCain (or his advisors) and supplies all the charisma that McCain himself sorely lacks. She's got a compelling family story and made the extremely honorable decision to bear a child even though she knew it would have down syndrome. In certain senses she seems to represent what is good about Christian America. But she also represents the most frightening blind-spot of Christian America -- its self-righteous blindness, propaganda, deception, and continual wounding of the people God gave His Son to save. Her image came crumbling down to me after I read that she said of the Iraq war, "Our national leaders are sending [soldiers] out on a task that is from God." (See this link)

As I think of the Iraq situation, even if the situation "improves" there (mind you, part of that "improvement" means they want Americans gone as soon as possible), the war was still built on lies, deception, propaganda, and at the cost of countless lives. Make no mistake, we'll be picking up the pieces of this painful mess in the future. I love the country of America and I love its people, but I can't say we've always done right in the world. Our people throught history have been suckers for "righteous causes" presented to us by the propaganda of our beloved leaders. Because we haven't had to clean up after one of our wars (or our policies, or our support of "friendly goverments" which have often been tyrants), we don't know the damage we've done abroad. Ted Rall wrote an article criticizing Obama in which he said what Christian prophets have been too blind (or too shy) to say -- that Jeremiah Wright was not completely wrong. Yes, his rhetoric was laced with anger and paranoid suspicions, but he was right that some of America's foreign-offense "chickens" are simply coming home to roost. (See this link)

Morally I have misgivings about Democrats' support of abortion. Obama and Biden called it a "religious" decision, but then I wonder, if you were three months pregnant and someone punched you in the stomach and your "fetus" died because of it, wouldn't you rightly and justly be upset? Wouldn't the person who attacked you be guilty of murdering your child? We have a great responsibility to make better social progress in helping people with alternatives to abortion. But no matter how bad we fail at that, the fact that abortion is murder does not change. (And yes, for Christianity, if one believes the Bible there is just no way at all to find any support for abortion.)

So on one side we have people (Democrats) that support the murder of unborn children. On the other side we have people (Republicans) who support manipulation, deception, and the sending of adults to the other side of the world to be killed in order to gain oil fields and richer trade. Support one party, people are murdered in the womb. Support the other and the nation remains deceived, the world rightly offended, and cycles of violence and retribution are strengthened instead of resolved. Should people die in the womb or abroad? What a choice!

At the beginning of June I wrote these thoughts to a friend:

I was reading an article called "Obama goes against McCain after historic win over Clinton" by Stephen Collinson (AFP) and was struck by a sentence. I'll share my rambling with you about it because somehow I think you'll understand:

"On November 4, voters must pick between Obama, 46, a freshman senator and charismatic mixed-race standard-bearer of a new political generation, and McCain, 71, a wounded Vietnam war hero asking for one final call to service."

This sentence strikes me... it really does say it all, almost. I think (and pray) Obama may be able to see with the eyes of an outsider, the eyes of someone who has been abroad and heard the voice of the poor and disenfranchised. I think he has seen the good and the great of America, but he as also seen some of the wounds, the pains, the things that the patriots are unable to see, and often unwilling to see for fear of feeling like they were betraying their beloved.

McCain is a "wounded" Vietnam vet -- all of America (particularly the vets) were wounded by that war, a war waged sadly because of mistaken ideas, waged for a mistaken choice of sides, and plowed through for the sake of "endurance" rather than admitting the obvious and humbly correcting the error at the cost of personal image and pride. McCain is this America, calling for "one final call to service", believing in the establishment, believing patriotically, but sadly blinded to the very thing that wounded him. Not the Vietcong or North Vietnamese, but the politcial establishment that sent him there (I weep in the Spirit as I write this, Oh Lord!!!!), which he is unable to fully recognize, as are many patriotic Americans with him.

As an aside, I'll share with you something else. I disagree with "abortion" and it's the one big sticking-point I have with Obama and most Democrats (I registered as a Democrat [having previously proudly "declined to join a political party"] before the 2004 election out of outrage/protest about the second Iraq war). During a prayer time when I felt like Obama would be the next president, I took the issue of abortion before Jesus and felt Him tell me to pray about it, to pray that Obama has a change of heart about it, that he sees and understands what it means to You, Lord, what they mean to You, Lord.

I pray that his heart will change in office, and that America will go with him (Obama), and with Him (Jesus). I don't want to say it will happen or even think that way, but I want to pray it, you know? I want to pray for it. For him. For the change. Reading in a Bible I picked up recently, I was met with some encouragement under the story of Nebuchadnezzar in a note that said, "The king's change of heart is encouragement to intercede 'for kings and all who are in authority' (1 Ti 2:2)." I would love to pray for Christians to raise up in intercession for his change of heart rather than writing him off as the antichrist.

For now I still hope that Obama wins. I am having trouble bringing myself to go through the trouble of sending away for the absentee ballot to vote for him, though, particularly as he seems to lose his "soul" day by day. And I could only support McCain-Palin if they had the courage to do the only moral thing, which is also the most pride-swalling thing of all: to admit to the world that America was wrong in the way it began the Iraq war and bullied nations, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and ask for international help to stabilize the country. I don't think either side is prepared to do that. I think if Obama finds his soul, he could lead America into better educated thinking and perhaps get close to this, to what needs to be done and is most moral of all. But to do so would be very politically risky -- perhaps political suicide.

As I thought about the election the other night and my growing doubts about Obama (mind you, I want to believe him), in my heart I chose to put America into God's hands. I need to recognize that my home country is not my ultimate home. My citizenship is not here. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't try to change things and help in the best ways possible---or even die trying, as did the prophet Martin Luther King Jr. But with the current situation, suddenly I see no good options that I can be comfortable with. My responsibility is to pray and follow His leading.

Now I live in Japan. I have this nation before me, these people. America is becoming more "foreign" to me. It's actually a good thing to finally be able to begin looking at America as a nation, not as The Nation. America is still very short-sighted, looking only at her own shores and herself as the center of the world. I'm learning to see differently. Still getting my education.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Be Prepared to Stand

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

- Psalm 27:2-3

Recently I read a book entitled, "The Two Empires of Japan", which describes the history of the clash between Christianity and Japan religion. The author specifically focuses on the sixty years prior to World War II, when through successive compromises, the church in Japan bent to the government's pressure.

By the end of the war churches had been joined into a single, national "united" church, and had followed the nation in bowing down at Shinto shrines, putting "god shelves" in their homes, worshiping the emperor, reporting their organizational decisions to the sun goddess (Amaterasu) at Ise Shrine, altered their hymns and creeds to eliminate phrases that would suggest Christ was above the emperor, and more.

Evangelized Unprepared to Stand

The author summarized some of the reasons the church was able to "compromise with apostasy" to such an incredible degree by looking at how Christianity was taught and spread in the years leading up to the government's pressure:

There was a common, erroneous appeal to accept Christianity for its superior fruits in a better civilization for Japan, rather than the preaching of the whole counsel of God. Further, the mistaken policy was also all too common of refraining from preaching the claims of Christ forthrightly over against those of the ancestral idolatry, the falsely optimistic view being held that the latter would fall off later since the people seemed to be so ready to accept Christianity. Finally, there was the failure adequately to take into account that the persistent demands for "independence" and "non-denominationalism" were all too frequently motivated primarily from a desire to adapt Christianity to the requirements of the Japanese nationalistic spirit.

Wanting to accomodate the people and not offend them, many missionaries (and later Japanese leaders who'd learned from them) sought to spread the Gospel this way, unaware of a strong cultic spirit underneath and what was being orchestrated beneath the surface in their day. But attempting to approach evangelization in this way had the effect of raising up Christians who were not prepared to withstand pressure to compromise, and finally who were not even able to consider that enduring persecution for Christ's sake was the witness God was calling them to.

More than ever, as I read the book, I was impressed that God is calling us to a life of martyrdom -- whether it ever means physically being persecuted or not, He is calling us to "martyrdom" every day. There are times that we will be afraid of how "faith" will look. There are times that we are afraid speaking of Him will be "offensive". There are times when we worry that speaking His truth will make someone less "open" to the truth, and so we think maybe perhaps if we hold back on the truth, that the person will come to it eventually...

But what happened to Christianity in Japan in the years running up to WWII screams in a haunting lesson of painful contrast, and I hear the Spirit crying out,

"No! No! Learn NOW, be prepared to stand NOW! Don't be afraid of following Me NOW. You don't know what's coming tomorrow or in the coming years. Stand for Me NOW!"

He's calling us to "die" (be martyrs) to our embarassment about Him, to "die" to our desire to please people and not look strange. He's calling us to be martyrs in this way. If we don't do it today, then we will not be able to stand when more difficult times come upon us.

He's calling us today to stand for Him, His truth and His love. If we shy from these today, we may not realize that we are weakening not only our own foundation, but the foundation of those we evangelize to. We know that as much as we love people we are ministering to, that God loves them even more than we do. Telling them His whole truth is not a "risk" to His gospel nor to His love. Telling them who He really is, and that other things are simply not Him, not the real thing, telling them this is not going to jeapordize "what could've been".

In light of what happened in Japanese history, we owe it to our 'spiritual children' (those we minister to and raise up in Him) to give them the whole Lamb. We owe it to them to not hold back because we fear offending them. God didn't hold back from putting some "difficult" things in the Bible because He knew that somewhere in our lives we would need these things. He is God, and we can't fully understand Him, but we trust that He is love. We need to give Him that same trust and respect when we present Him to people whom we love and whom we want to be saved.

The Picture

As I reeled at the painful lesson of Japanese history, I got this picture in the Spirit of being surrounded and standing for Christ and for Love. The imagery comes from a Zhang Yimou film entitled, "To Live", which tells the story of one Chinese family going through the many major social upheavals in Chinese history. At one point in the film, during the Chinese civil war, a father (who owns a puppet troupe) is snatched away from his job by the Nationalist Army and put in their ranks to fight against the Communists. He makes friends with another man like himself who is not caught up in the "cause" of the Nationalists, nor in the cause of the Communists.

After one cold night while on retreat, he and his friend wake up to find that the rest of the company of soldiers has fled on without them, leaving only the dead behind. As they forage among the dead bodies for warmer clothing and food, they suddenly realize the Communist Army is coming and they try to run away. The camera pulls back to a wide-shot as the great numbers of Communist soldiers surround the two surrendering Nationalist soldiers.

They are not executed or treated badly, but are rather taken into the Communist Army and are now on that "side". The father entertains the other Communist soldiers by putting on puppet shows for them. When the war ends (with the Communists victorious), the father goes home to his family with a certificate of how he helped the Communist Army during the "revolution".

The nation is unified, and people work hard under great hope that things will get better and better. But the Communist system is totalitarian, and one by one the family goes through personal heartaches and observes control, paranoia, and all the painful fruits of authoritarian rule in this system that was supposed to bring them a continually improving life.

Perhaps the title of the film, "To Live", speaks of the lesson I believe God is calling us to understand, "to live" -- so that we may truly live in Him. In Jesus' words:

"Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

- Matthew 10:39

Discerning and Our Call to Stand

In the same way, during Japan's march to WWII, it seemed as if things were getting "better and better" progress-wise in the nation. Social improvements were being made and many other apparent "fruits" of great progress. The future seemed to hold great promise. Christian writers such as William Axling wrote glowing reports and books of how rapidly Christianity was being embraced by the Japanese (I have one of his books from 1923, and it is eerie to hold).

A generation of Japanese Christian children were raised by Christian parents and missionaries who did not want to confront certain items in the nationalistic spirit -- a pride in the nation's "uniqueness", a clinging to Shinto, emperor-devotion, and "cultural" habits like praying to dead ancestors, etc. Because of this the spiritual 'children' were raised not seeing any great problem with compromising the gospel.

Like the two men being surrounded by the army in To Live, these Japanese Christians soon found the church being "surrounded" by government and societal pressure to compromise, to change sides. Because they were not raised knowing their foundation well, they easily compromised. Like the two men in To Live, these spiritual children did not completely understand the "cause" of their "army" and their "side". It was no big issue then for them to switch sides when pressure came and when surrounded.

I believe God is calling us to learn from history so that we do not repeat it. Both in Japan, in America, in our churches, and everywhere and anywhere. We need to not be ashamed of the Gospel. We need to not be ashamed to say that the Gospel is real and something else is simply false -- not the real, living God. We also need not be ashamed of our failures in history, but understand that in Him we find redemption. We need not fear proclaiming what we did in the past was simply wrong, so that today we may learn from it. We needn't fear holding up His whole truth, even if it makes our history look bad -- if we "decrease" in the eyes of others, He may still increase! We have nothing to fear in looking bad. If the Light shows our darkness, let's let the Light shine clearly so that all people can see Him!

This is a picture of that, of us standing, bruised and dirty, surrounded and "outnumbered", but holding the banner of Christ and His love. He calls us to stand for both -- for who He is, and for His love for all people. We need to remember both. If we lose our agape calling, we will end up attacking the very people Christ has died for to save. If we compromise the truth of who He is, our testimony of "love" will be corrupted and will ultimately lead us to enlist in the ranks of the attacking army (we'll end up helping the other side). We must trust that God is love, and stand firm with Him, not compromising on Him, nor compromising on His love for our enemies.

Lord, help us learn from the past! Give us eyes to see clearly and strength to stand, Lord, in Jesus' name, amen.

Bless you in Jesus!