It’s Important to Reach the Youth in Japan!

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NOTE: This is an updated version of an article I originally wrote for the Summer 2016 edition of Japan Harvest, the magazine of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Association. I rewrote some bits and added some pictures to make this more interesting to the people who know me. If you read it please leave a comment!

YOUTH IS A (SOMETIMES NEGLECTED) WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

youthBetween the ages of about 12 and 22, people go through a unique season of life where they make important decisions which will impact the rest of their lives. Through their time in high school and university they are being formed and trained systematically. The values taught by their teachers and professors eventually become the values of the nation, as they grow into law-makers, authors, entertainers, teachers, or otherwise influencers in the community. There is no question that the youth in our campuses now are the future leaders of society. Because young people naturally tend to be less set in their ways and more open about spiritual things, the campus age is the best time to present important values.This is the time when young leaders should be considering foundations and making decisions for their future career, relationship, and most importantly their eternal purpose and relationship to the Creator.  In this age of constant online entertainment it is easier than ever for Japanese youth to float through school without ever thinking about the meaning of life. But if we want to reach Japan and see the good news spread, it is vital that we are fully engaged in presenting the gospel to the youth. Every focused and driven leader was once a young person searching for meaning and truth. And the older I get the shorter this opportune season of openness seems to last. They don’t stay young for long.

william clarkA classic example of the value of reaching young people for Christ is the work of Professor William S. Clark, who remains a national figure in Japan even to this day. He was in Sapporo for only eight months from 1876 to 1877 working at what is now Hokkaido University. But during his short time there he prayerfully poured his life into a handful of students. These young men went on to influence Japanese Christianity and Japanese society for generations to come.

Sadly though, the key demographic of campus aged youth is often conspicuously absent from our local churches in Japan today. One Japanese pastor, a mentor of mine in his 80s, shared his concern about this with me. He encouraged me not to give up on reaching out to the youth because they are the future of the church. I am convinced that he was right. When we invest in the youth we are really investing in the future of the church.

MAKING THE GOSPEL ATTRACTIVE

There is a new type of church in Japan now that focuses on young people. Many of the fastest growing churches in Japan fall into this category. They focus on creating an atmosphere which is easy for young people to enjoy. They use the same cutting-edge lighting and video that one would expect to see at a J-Pop concert. Their leaders purposefully dress and talk in ways that appeal to the sensibilities of young working professionals and university students. Before each service, youth in their teens and 20s gather expectantly and countdown the seconds until the worship music begins. They are excited about their faith and they show it in their enthusiastic praise and worship time.

In our furoshiki (wrapping cloth) culture we know that the wrapping is almost as important as the gift inside. So it’s not surprising that Japanese youth appreciate an attractively packaged worship service. We do well if we engage young people where they are; whether it is through their music, or on their campuses, or through life testimonies from their popular heroes. But engaging them with an attractive “wrapping” on the gift of the gospel is just the first step.

They may not express it out loud, they might not even be consciously aware of it, but what young people are really hungry for is a deep connection with God. So how do we get them there? An article published by a church research company in the United States a few years ago claims that those young people who have personal relationship to a pastor are twice as likely to stay in church, and that those who have a relationship with a mentor in the church are much more likely to stay. Relationships are important and even more important in Japan than they are in many other countries. Building deeper relationships with our youth is the first step in moving them to a deeper relationship with God. So our worship services should certainly be “packaged” as high-quality and attractive, but in the long run discipleship-centered relationships are the most vitally important thing in our churches. As new youth are added to our church, our primary responsibility is to build these relationships

CONNECTING THROUGH SMALL GROUPS

small groupThe best way our Every Nation churches have found to reach Japanese youth and build mentoring relationships is by using small group ministry. We have worked hard to make small groups simple and easy to lead so that young leaders can do the work of the ministry. Both outreach and discipleship can and should happen through small groups. First, young believers can pray for their classmates, friends and relatives. We encourage them to start doing this as soon as they themselves are saved. Sometimes the most enthusiastic evangelist is the one who is a brand new believer. After all, if you know what Jesus did for you then you already know enough to pray for someone else.

In small groups, discipleship happens through discussion around what the church is learning from the Bible and how to apply it personally. Because they are praying and encouraging each other to reach out, more young people get saved. As these newer ones are added the leaders have to learn how to mentor and lead them. They have to learn to minister to others.They have to learn to make disciples. Our Japanese churches have many young people, but only because at some point someone took a chance and empowered them to lead. Someone took a chance on me when I was younger and that is why I am a church planter today. Shouldn’t we be looking for the next generation of leaders too?

THE ONLY WAY TO REALLY LEARN IS TO GET IN THE GAME

pbc-bball

The first time I played in a school basketball game I ran onto the court, received a pass, and started dribbling towards the wrong hoop! Fortunately my teammates corrected me and turned me around before things got even more embarrassing. I understood the game well in theory but it was different when I was responsible for the ball in a real game. I know now that if that coach had not taken a risk on me and put me in the game, I would have never really learned how to play basketball. The only way I could learn was by getting in the game and making some mistakes.

All too often in our churches we have believers who sit through years of teaching but who have never really learned how to minister to others. We are ministers today because someone took a chance on us and gave us some responsibility when we were younger. Shouldn’t we also be prayerfully looking for young leaders to put in the game too? Even brand new players become veterans with the proper mentoring relationships. Just imagine a sports team where every single player is only one year away from retirement. The team might look great now but how is the coach going to look next season? He hasn’t spent any time building the rookies and future stars. That coach would probably lose his job!

INVESTING IN YOUNG PEOPLE IS WORTH THE COST

young-peopleWorking with future leaders takes a lot of time and energy. They can cause problems – especially the first time you try to put them in the game. Young people are naturally inexperienced and they do make mistakes. They might need to be taken out and coached for a while before they become successful team players. I have had people tell me that you can’t build with young people. Young people are irresponsible. Young people don’t make as much money as older members so we should focus on the ones who give more. Young people move away when it’s time to go to college. Or, they move away after they finish college.

Why not just focus on the more mature believers who are more stable? Because the youth are the future of the church that is why!  If we begin to reach them now, revival in Japan is not far off. If we ignore them, we are only robbing from our future. It is vital that we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to build mentoring relationships with the youth that God has entrusted to us in our own context. Will you accept the challenge of equipping and empowering this next generation for the work of the ministry? They don’t stay young for long.

No Idols

I was privileged to be asked to preach at two of the services at Victory Alabang Church when I was in Manila a couple of weeks ago. Thank you Pastor Jonathan Ramirez for inviting me. They are an amazing, discipleship centered church with 11 services every weekend and each service has about 1500 people and sometimes even more. I saw rows of people standing in the back because there were no seats left! Quite different from preaching at home in Yokosuka to a room that can’t even seat 100 comfortably.

I shared, in fear and trembling, about the second commandment – “Do not make for yourself any graven image.” Here is the podcast for posterity.

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http://victoryalabang.org/podcast/Ten_Wk2_RayMercer.mp3
Victory Alabang

at Victory Alabang

Another man’s wife?

(Proverb 5: 20-21)
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths.
 
What a great warning in my devotional reading this morning. If I want to honor my father God with my life, why would I ever be intoxicated with another man’s wife? I realized early on that every girl I meet (except Satomi) is “another man’s wife.” Why do I say that? Because after time runs its course they will either marry another man – or be “devoted to the Lord” (1 Cor 7:4) spiritually. I know that God promises to protect all his children from predators (1 Thes 4:6) like a jealous husband.
 
Lord, thank you for the reminder that the thoughts of my heart are always in full view of you. Let me learn to walk uprightly and with integrity. Help me treat younger women as sisters and older women as mothers (1 Tim 5:2) and thank you that I am still very intoxicated always with the wife of my youth. She is awesome! Remind me that other women are all “another man’s wife” even when I am watching TV, movies, socializing, and walking through parts of Tokyo in the evening (like the man walking through town in Prov 7).

 

OMF turns 150 today

J_Hudson_Taylor_1865

150 years ago today, after following the call of God to China, James Hudson Taylor founded what would eventually become the Overseas Mission Fellowship. Because he could not bear the thought that millions of people had never heard the Good News about Jesus Christ, he could no longer stay in his comfortable church in England. Someone had to go. The birth of the China Inland Mission and the tireless efforts of Hudson Taylor sparked a modern mission movement that would change history.

The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.
(J. Hudson Taylor)

A little over 28 years ago, I visited Japan for the first time. My initial reason was to see a certain individual Japanese girl who was to become my wife. The call to give my life as a full-time missionary to Japan was more gradual, but sure. About 22 years ago I moved my young family here to Japan permanently because I could no longer stay in my comfortable church in the U.S.A.

Each month, week, and day that goes by brings more conviction from the Holy Spirit that the most important thing I could ever do with my life is to obey the Great Commission and preach the Good News to those who have not understood it.

Some of my greatest living heroes are the missionaries who honor God by following in Hudson Taylor’s footsteps. They go and make disciples in nations that have not yet heard.

On this 150th anniversary of the China Inland Mission and OMF, I pray for a great harvest of souls in Japan and that many millions here will find saving grace and life in Christ. I pray that the hopeless will be lifted out of an empty existence and into a life filled with eternal purpose. I pray that many young Japanese people will hear the same whisper of the Holy Spirit that moved Hudson Taylor to go. That they will hear the same whisper of the Holy Spirit that missionaries, apostles, church-planters, and disciples have heard for over 2000 years now, to go into all the world and make disciples – in Japan, in Asia and everywhere.

“God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.”
(J. Hudson Taylor)

It’s a war, boys
(Straight talk about lust)

IT’S A WAR, BOYS

I haven’t seen the new movie Fury yet but it sounds like a great war movie. I am a World furyof Tanks fan and I love war games. But real war is not pretty, or fun, or exciting. There are many realistic depictions of battle and war in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, and The Hurt Locker. So we have a small idea of what war is like and its definitely not a game. Most of us grew up in a generation without the draft – and we currently have a free choice whether or not to serve in the military. But if you think this means you are not already at war right now, wherever you are, you are sadly mistaken.

You are in a battle that has been waging since the beginnings of human history. You were born into it and you have no choice in the matter. The final outcome of the war has never been in question. But there is still the matter of casualties along the way. The enemy wants to inflict as much damage as possible out of spite. If he can pull you down he will. If he can take your entire generation down, he will. It won’t change the fact that he lost the war, but his only purpose left is to steal, kill and destroy whatever he can.

The battle I an talking about is being waged quietly. It is a struggle for heart and soul. The battlefield is your mind, and the enemy is sin. This enemy is real and the battlefield is just as dangerous as any you have seen in war movies. So be warned – you are at war and your enemy is working hard to kill you. You’d better wake up and start to fight back.

THE ENEMY’S WAR-HAMMER

One of the biggest weapons that our enemy has brought to bear on this generation is war-hammerpornography. Over just the last couple of generations photographs and videos showing explicit porn have become common – even normal. Porn is prevalent in movies, television and the internet. I want to talk openly about this – when I was a young teenager some of my friends and I got a hold of a magazine with nudity in it. It was a huge deal back then because we had to work so hard to see such a thing. But now, only about one generation later I find that I sometimes have to work hard NOT see nudity. Somehow, the enemy has created a minefield of porn in this generation and we are taking heavy casualties – especially among young men. Even non-religious, non-government organizations are realizing that pornography is one of the gravest dangers facing our youth today.

The battle is real, it’s intense and it is costly. But I have some good news. We can win this battle. So don’t be discouraged. Take heart. If you have been defeated by the sin of lust and addicted to pornography in the past, it is time to get free today. It really is possible. The fact is, we have some very effective weapons at our disposal – we just need to use them. I’ll try to lay out three of them right here. If you are struggling with temptation and lust, read about these three weapons slowly and – most of all – ask God for help. Once you enlist on God’s team you will always be a winner.

SHIELD OF FAITH

God tells us in the Bible that if we take up the shield of faith, we will be able to quench fierydartsevery fiery dart that the enemy shoots at us. So accept that God is God and the battle is ultimately his. Think about this, do you really believe that God is the one who judges and decides what is right and wrong? Do you believe that God is stronger than sin? I hope so. Faith is believing, even when you can’t see a way out. But God has promised us a way out. Not only did he promise it, he sent Jesus to prove it by living a sinless life, dying on the cross, and rising again with eternal life.

According to the Bible, there shouldn’t even be a hint of immorality in our lives. That is God’s standard and it is non-negotiable. When Jesus said the famous words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he was setting a very high standard. Real faith has to admit that God’s standard is non-negotiable. He is the judge – no matter how bad that makes us look. The first step is to admit honestly that we have a problem.

Does that mean we have lost the fight? No! Ever seen Rocky, or Cinderella Man? The best fighters take some hits – sometimes they even get knocked down. But they don’t stay down. The Bible says that  there is one big difference between those who have faith and those who don’t, “…Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.” So believe God 100% when his word says that looking at porn is sin, but also believe him 100% when he promises that you CAN walk in victory, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

THE HOLY SPIRIT

Many voices tell us today that any attempt to control your sexual urges are just old-fashioned and hold you back from true freedom and happiness. That is a lie. You were holy-spirit-filleddestined for victory over all forms of bondage, including lust. It is possible to overcome and walk in purity and freedom from bondage if you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…” The only way to overcome the lust in your own heart is to allow God to change it. You can’t change yourself but Jesus can change you. He promised that God would pour out his Holy Spirit on everyone who asks for it and receives it by faith so that we could walk in God’s power and not just our own.

BOOT CAMP

The Bible says that Jesus was tempted “in every way” but did not sin. He was tempted just like you. He experienced boredom, physical attraction, emotional attraction, etc just helmetlike you. He walked through this life without sin the way we were supposed to and then he voluntarily suffered and died to take the punishment for the bad things we did. On the third day, he rose again in the power of God to bring new life to anyone who would believe in him. If you want to believe in Jesus to save you instead of trusting yourself, just begin talking to him by faith right now – this is what the Bible calls praying. Jesus knows what you are going through and he hears you when you call out to him.

Being born again is almost like taking the red pill in the movie Matrix, except that when God opens your eyes you realize that life is more wonderful than you thought. Life is not a purposeless repeating cycle, or a random accidental evolution. Real life is full of wonder and purpose because God is awesome and he made you for a purpose. The first step in your eternal destiny is to go through the “boot camp” of this life and learn to take your orders from Him.

If you are ready to accept God’s marching orders for your life and you want to start fighting the good fight, you need to find a church that has others in it who are following Jesus. You can tell if they love Jesus if they love His words and obey them. None of us are perfect like Jesus, but when we follow him together and obey his orders we are much more powerful than on our own. I can recommend my own family of churches, Every Nation. I am encouraged every day by people from my church who are following Jesus together with me. There might be an Every Nation church near you too. But there are many other great churches. The important thing is to ask the Holy Spirit to help you find a church family and then obey his orders. Remember you are on the winning side now. Don’t give up. Someday soon we are going to have the biggest victory party ever. I hope to see you there!

If you read this far you probably realized that I am very passionate about all this stuff. I hate seeing anyone dragged down in life and not finding the true joy of knowing God’s love. I don’t deserve it, but God came and helped me when I was lost. If you want to email me about any of this, you can always reach me through my blog here. I’d be honored to pray for you and I’ll do my best to steer you right. Drop me a line.

Understanding Shinto

NOTE: This is an updated version of my article originally published in the Winter 2014 edition of Japan Harvest, the magazine of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Association. I am no expert, but then again most Japanese people are not Shinto experts either and this is just an attempt to understand and reach the amazing and wonderful people of Japan. 

IN JAPAN, children grow up hearing ghost stories and attending festivals to honor a world of thousands of kami (spirits), which interacts freely with our own natural world. This mindset is part of everyday culture. So it’s normal for sophisticated and materialistic Japanese adults to say they have no religion, and yet buy omamori (good luck idols) for protection over their car. It’s part of the ordinary process of building to have the land blessed by a Shinto priest before construction begins. It is considered safer to do this to avoid upsetting any spirits who just might be disturbed by the use of the land. How can we effectively reach into a very modern, but obviously Shinto-influenced worldview like this, and become an effective bridge for the Gospel? One of the challenges in reaching any people is to understand them. In this article I will present an overview of Shinto’s influence on the Japan and her people. My goal is to give context to the things in Japanese culture and society that might be puzzling to someone who did not grow up in a Shinto-based culture.

Shinto purification rope

A ritual Shinto rope used to mark the boundary of a purified area

HISTORY OF SHINTO
With origins dating to 500 A.D. and earlier, matsuri (festival worship) and other Shinto practices began as ritual worship of the ujigami, or local clan deity in each area and village. They sprang from a type of shamanism unique to these medieval agricultural communities. Over the centuries ancient Shinto was influenced by and syncretized with Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and other elements from continental East Asia.[1]

Jizo (stone idols) and vending machine

Even in big cities stone idols are a common sight on Japanese roads

SHINTO IN MODERN JAPAN
Many aspects of syncretized Shinto worship practices are common in modern Japan. They are as ubiquitous as the stone idols one sees scattered throughout every town. Surprisingly, most Japanese people do not associate these things with religion at all. Engage a typical Japanese city dweller in conversation about their participation in ceremonies, and worship of idols in shrines, temples, or the family kamidana (household altar) and it will soon become clear that these are seen as essential cultural duties and not as religious. Shinto worship practices are widely seen as traditions that must be followed to honor family and country.[2]

Even “churched” Japanese are not free from the strong cultural influence of Shinto. Earlier this year a Japanese man came to my office asking for donations for a local matsuri (festival). After a brief conversation I discovered that he attends a Protestant church. I asked him why he was raising funds for the mikoshi (portable shrine for carrying a local idol) when the Bible explicitly forbids worshiping idols. His answer was that it was Japanese culture to do so. I continued to press him, explaining my hope that Japanese culture might someday be transformed so that festivals would be held to honor the true Creator God rather than idols, but he didn’t seem to grasp this idea at all. He left a bit disappointed that I would not give an offering, but undaunted in his efforts to raise money for the local matsuri.

THE FOUR AFFIRMATIONS OF SHINTO
Although Shinto has never been codified in the way that Christianity has, there are four affirmations that seem to be generally agreed upon [3] and it’s good to consider how the Bible helps us to respond to each.

Family and tradition

Tradition and family are supremely important in Shinto practice. This is often expressed through ancestor worship and even “tradition-worship”. Of course family is important to God. The Bible teaches us to honor our parents and to give importance to the family, but in Luke 14:26 Jesus clearly set honoring the Lord above all other relationships, even familial ones. I have found that the best way to approach Japanese culture regarding familial relationships is to emphasize that sincerely obeying God is the best way to honor and be a blessing to one’s family, even if it means going against Shinto traditions in some ways.

Festivals

Another affirmation of Shinto is matsuri to honor local deities or ancestral spirits. Almost every shrine in Japan has its own matsuri, originally held to influence things like the harvest or the local fishing. Christians believe all humans were created to worship and enjoy their creator and the beauty of dance, art, music, ceremony and ritual should all be purposed to honor and thank the true God and true source of blessings. As missionaries and ambassadors of our faith we need to identify and affirm the beauty and harmony in Japanese traditions that can serve to honor God, and at the same time clearly explain why animistic and pantheistic practices are contrary to God’s will. Our human artistic expression echoes the ultimate beauty in Christ, which is what the Japanese heart is really searching for.

Love of nature

Shrine festival worship ties in with the third affirmation of Shinto, which is a love of nature. Scripture tells us that all of creation bears witness to the sovereign power of the Creator. But the Shinto affirmation of nature elevates nature to the point that each unusual rock or tree is given the status of a minor deity. Hence the Japanese saying, there are over eight million gods (yaoyorozu no kami).

Because this spiritual error is deeply ingrained in the Japanese worldview, gospel teachers must clearly preach the words of Christ, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Without a clear understanding of this Japanese people may believe that Jesus Christ is another one of many gods, but miss that he is the one and only Creator God. Jesus came to affirm the true intended order of the creation by revealing Himself at the pinnacle. If other good things, such as family or nature are elevate above Jesus Christ, they become idols. In essence, the good becomes the enemy of the best. This truth about the ultimate authority of Christ will resound with the strong desire in the Japanese heart for harmony and proper order, if they can only see it. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 NASB).

Physical cleanliness

Shinto purification

Cold water purification at a Shinto shrine

The final affirmation of Shinto is physical cleanliness. Taking baths, washing the hands, and rinsing out the mouth are all encouraged because of Shinto’s emphasis on ritual purity. In the past, believers practiced misogi, ritual bathing in a river near the shrine. In recent years it is more common to merely to wash hands and rinse out the mouth in a washbasin provided within the shrine grounds. Because Jesus came to make us truly clean, there are many ways we can use this affirmation as a “redemptive analogy” for the Gospel. Imagine the impact of a sermon that contrasted ritual Shinto washing in water with Ephesians 5:26 (“washing with water through the word” NASB), or 1 Corinthians 6:11b (“you were washed… in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” NASB).

Water baptism is a big step in a new Japanese believer’s life. Although in some ways it appears similar to Shinto ritual purification rites, the Bible is clear that it represents more than just “washing” but rather a symbolic death and resurrection. Of course baptism also means a public confession of identity as a Christian and to many new believers this is a weighty decision. Because rituals are important in Japanese culture; water baptism strongly brings home the reality of a believer’s commitment to follow Jesus as Lord.

Taking the time to understand and prayerfully consider some of the influences of Shinto on Japanese culture can be very beneficial to a Christian who would like to share the Gospel in Japan. This article originally came from a paper I wrote called The Theology of Shinto. If you are interested, you can read the original paper at:
http://www.raymercer.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/Theology-of-Shinto.pdf.

If you have read this far, would you take a moment and pray for Japan? I have focused on Shinto in this article but that is just one aspect of this amazing nation. I have lived in Japan for more than 20 years but I still learn things about the culture every day. I would love to hear your thoughts about Japan in the comments section below.


[1] Dr. David K. Clark, Shinto, A religion profile from International Students, Inc., (Colorado Springs, CO: ISI, 2004), [book on-line] available at http://www.isionline.org/pdfs/Shinto%202004.pdf, Internet, accessed November, 2013.

[2] For example notice the following paragraph in the “About” section of The International Shinto Foundation official website – “Those involved in establishing the Foundation shared the belief that without study that takes account of Shinto a true understanding of the Japanese people and Japanese culture will remain inaccessible.”, [website] available at http://www.internationalshinto.org/, Internet, accessed November, 2013.

[3] The definitions of the “Four Affirmations” are a generalization but can generally be observed in Shinto practices and literature. See The Japan Reference, [database on-line] available at http://www.jref.com/glossary/shinto_traditions.shtml, Internet, accessed November, 2013. Also see the website for the book Religion for Dummies, Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002, [website] available at http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/four-affirmations-of-shinto.html, Internet, accessed November, 2013.

Weapons against addiction

AddictionsAre you struggling to quit drugs, alcohol, tobacco. porn, video games, anything that masters you and enslaves you? Freedom comes from Jesus and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I just saw some good advice from a former drug user who is now a Christian on how he quit. “People who have struggled quitting over the years have asked me how did I do it. I always say the same things, first Jesus said that when I pray I am to pray, ‘Lead me not into temptation.’ The second is like it. I ran from it like the plague! I avoided it and places where it can be found at all cost.” If you are struggling with addiction, please remember those words of wisdom.

Another weapon besides prayer is the Word of God. Jesus himself showed us how to have victory over temptations – even those that come directly from the devil. Speak the Word of God. I remember when I quit smoking about 30 years ago and this verse came to me when I “needed” a smoke – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9)

If you want to keep your way pure, then meditate on the Word of God until it is in your heart. Here are some more verses to start learning if you need some weapons against the devil.
1 John 1:7-9 (memorize vs 9)
1 Corinthians 10:13
Psalm 119:9

If you are at the end of your rope and you’ve never met this Jesus that I always mention in my posts, then please consider talking to Him right now. That is what prayer is really supposed to be, you talking to your Father God who loves you and wants to help you right now. I did this 32 years ago today and I will never regret it!

Where your treasure is your heart will be also…

yokosuka-pachinkoWhere are the young men in Yokosuka, Japan at 8:30am on a Sunday morning? Lined up waiting to spend their money on pachinko… But a couple of blocks away we had a great worship service at Yokosuka Grace Bible Church. This afternoon about 10 new members were added to the church. It is more rewarding than a big pachinko payout or winning the lottery to see lives changed and people following Jesus. These are the true riches!

Norenwake church planting

I am most privileged to be married to a girl from the Aichi prefecture of Japan. Her great uncle started a well-known tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant in Nagoya. He was one of the first to serve this type of food in a Japanese style. He sliced the cutlets and served them up to be eaten with chopsticks. His restaurant specialized in making a great bacon salad with the leftover parts of the pork. And they also used Nagoya’s famous miso to make a sauce for the tonkatsu and served miso tonkatsu or miso-katsu, as it is known now. The restaurant became so successful that several of the employees moved on and started their own shops based on the same menu and style of food. Of course, each branch had their differences and reflected the personality of the individual owners, but they all had the same basic menu and most of them even used the same name.

In Japan, when a new restaurant starts with he cooperation of the existing establishment it is called norenwake – literally a “dividing of the noren”. The noren is the traditional Japanese fabric curtain which is hung in front of the entrance way of the restaurant. It usually has the name and logo of the establishment printed on it. When sending a former employee out to start his own shop, the owner will often make him a new noren to hang in front that shows the same name as the old place so he can build on the brand loyalty for the shop. He will also give him a portion of the restaurant’s sauce to use as starter for a new batch. My wife’s uncle repeated this process several times and through his leadership and guidance many new shops sprung up around the city of Nagoya. When I lived in Nagoya about 20 years ago, I got a chance to eat at one of these norenwake restaurants. The original restaurant that my wife’s uncle had built was long out of business by this time. But I still remember how good my first plate of Nagoya misokatsu was.

Our church in Yokosuka was planted this way and I believe that in the future we will also have the privilege of sending our own “chefs” out to start their own norenwake churches. We are a part of a spiritual family in Japan that has a shared mission and calling. We have the same name, the same basic “recipe” and the same “sauce” for what we serve to the people in our community who need to be fed. In fact the Holy Spirit has been sending out church planters since the first century with the same name and the same mission. Each nation and church has their own cultural distinctive and flavors. But our job is to offer that same “menu” to new believers in Japan so that, even though the churches listed in the New Testament have long since closed their doors, anyone who seeks for truth in Japan can come and “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8; 1 Peter 2:2-3) at our norenwake church.