Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Mercers

Mercer-Family-2013

This year marks our 20th Christmas in Japan since we were sent out from City Bible Church in Portland, Oregon as missionaries in 1993. I led my three year-old son James, and my wife Satomi, who was six months pregnant with our daughter Alishea, back to her home town near Nagoya and we started a journey of faith.

In all these years God has been faithful to us. When we recognize our dependence on him and submit humbly to follow him wherever he leads, it opens the door to his blessings in our life. God’s will for us is always to bless us and never to harm us. When He sent his angel to a young Mary and then to young Joseph in a dream, they humbly obeyed and through that God brought the greatest blessing in history – the birth of Jesus Christ.

We are so blessed to be sent as missionaries and now to be supported by wonderful people who give sacrificially as the Holy Spirit leads them. Thank you for partnering with us as we endeavor to do our assignment in fulfilling the Great Commission by reaching Japan with the good news of Jesus Christ. 2014 will mark the 7th anniversary of Yokosuka Grace Bible Church. We believe this will be a year of blessing and growth for the church here and we pray that the blessing of God will overtake you and prosper you and yours in the coming year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Mercer family!

logo Ray Mercer Pastor, Yokosuka Grace Bible Church

http://www.yokosukachurch.com

You can give online to help our ministry here:
https://admin.everynation.org/giving/?P=010229
(Gifts are tax-deductible in the U.S.A.)

The Real Problem With Gmail’s New Default Setting For Pictures

This week Google rolled out a new feature to Gmail. Traditionally email clients, including Gmail, have always set “show images from sender automatically” off by default to protect the user from being tracked by spammers. The new Gmail client has changed this setting to on by default. Since Google now runs the largest email system in the world and their informal corporate motto is “Don’t be evil,” they can expect some scrutiny when they change how things have normally been done industry-wide. Some say that Google has found a way to protect us from being tracked and the new setting is good. But others disagree.  I have read conflicting articles about it in Wired and elsewhere on the ‘Net. Is Gmail’s new show images by default a good thing or not? Is Google “Blowing up email marketers by caching images now” or not? In fact, this new Gmail roll-out contains a little good and a little bad. Let me explain.

First, take a look at what Google has actually done under the hood of Gmail. To see what I am talking about go to your Gmail settings and look at the general options tab here:

google-mail-settings

If you click “Learn More” you will be presented with the official description of the new functionality in Gmail. Notice this part of the text

Gmail serves all images through Google’s image proxy servers and transcodes them before delivery to protect you in the following ways:

  • Senders can’t use image loading to get information like your IP address or location.
  • Senders can’t set or read cookies in your browser.
  • Gmail checks your images for known viruses or malware.

In some cases, senders may be able to know whether an individual has opened a message with unique image links. As always, Gmail scans every message for suspicious content and if Gmail considers a sender or message potentially suspicious, images won’t be displayed and you’ll be asked whether you want to see the images.

In the first section above we read that Google is protecting us from marketers having certain identifying information about our computer or our browsing habits (through IP address or cookies) and as always Gmail is great at protecting us from malware and viruses. I applaud Google for these things and I seriously love Gmail.  It is the best tool I have ever used to battle the rivers of spam that flow daily and safely communicate with the world.

Unfortunately there is another section below that. Notice these words, “In some cases, senders may be able to know whether an individual has opened a message with unique image links.”  Look, I will be honest. I don’t want people to know when I listen to messages on on my telephone answering machine. After all, I might want to use it to screen calls. For basically the same reason, I don’t think it is “a good thing” if those who send me an email know – without my consent – the exact moment when I read that mail.

After reading their official explanation it dawned on me what their real motivation could be. Google wants to be the one who decides who can track me and who cannot because they can then charge for that privilege! Just think of how much Mailchimp and others will be willing to pay so that Google doesn’t consider them “potentially suspiscious.” Yes, think about it – one of the biggest Email clients has gone to showing images by default and now Google has the power to filter which services can track mail with those images and which services cannot – through their own proxies. Whethe their motives are good or bad, the fact remains – the folks at Google have just quietly set themselves up as the gateway for email marketing for a very  large percentage of the entire market.

So for those who, like me, want to make that decision for themselves I recommend turning off “show pictures by default” and using Gmail as a useful tool under your control rather than the other way around.

 

 

 

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!

Watching the debt crisis from afar…

***Warning, this is my rant on the U.S. budget crisis. It is only my personal opinion*** 

My son was recently laid off for a couple of weeks during the budget crisis and I need a place to vent. Since this is my blog – I guess I can do it here. If you don’t care, don’t read it – I won’t be offended. If you disagree, that’s OK too. Leave a comment below. I will read it.

world_currency_ratesPRINCIPLES

My dad ran more than one very large business and was responsible for the bottom line – income vs expenses. His dad (my grandfather) grew up during the Great Depression, took over the family farm as a boy when his dad (my great-grandfather) passed away. Both of them have a lot of practical wisdom about money that came from experience. I know that for a fact because my dad used that practical common sense to successfully run a large national manufacturing company in the 1960s and 70s. He also had experience running two other companies (one an international company) in the 80s and 90s. One day my dad taught me a principle about money that he said he had learned from my grandfather, “You can’t spend more than you make forever.” Now that I have two adult children of my own and seen them off to college, I believe more firmly than ever that if my kids understand simple principles like this they will have less pain in their lives.

THE NUMBERS

Recently my country’s government shut down because of a crisis. Since that time I have seen some numbers floating around the internet in various forms. They are a simplification of the actual budget numbers that congress worked with in 2011 when the national debt was 14 trillion dollars. Now in 2013 we are 17 trillion dollars in debt and going the wrong way fast! These numbers are going viral because they illustrate the simple point that my grandfather taught my dad. Apparently congress has forgotten this very simple principle. Here are the numbers (the citation is below if you want to read the article from 2011).

U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
Federal budget: $3,820,000,000,000
New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
Recent [April] budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000
My U.S. Budget Crisis Rant for 2013

(Remove 8 zeros and it could represent an out of control family budget)

Annual family income: $21,700
Money the family spent: $38,200
New debt on the credit card: $16,500
Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
Budget cuts: $385

These numbers are powerful because they represent how far the U.S. government has strayed from simple budgeting principles. When I read them all I could say was, “Wow.”

BUT YOU SAY THE GOVERNMENT IS DIFFERENT…

Some articles have come out that attempt to point out the differences between the federal budget and my family budget. They basically boil down to things like this; the government can print money, the government can borrow for less interest, the government is more complicated. These are all valid point, but the principle remains the same. If we keep borrowing more than we make (and taxes are the only income of our government) something is going to break. Yes, I agree that the U.S. government can carry more debt than I can and still survive. Maybe they can even carry a much bigger *percentage* of debt, but at some point the principle is going to come into effect – “you can’t spend more than you make forever.”

WHAT I WISH OUR POLITICAL LEADERS COULD DISCUSS (WITH CIVILITY)

The other problem I see with the many articles that have been written about why the government budget is different that my family budget is that none of them talk about the actual numbers. Someone is going to have to start talking about these numbers or they are not going to get fixed. Yes, it is boring and tedious work. No, it is never exciting to trim a budget. But forget all the Liberal vs Conservative politics and don’t let yourself be taken in by hate-mongering. Fact is, we are in 17 trillion dollars of debt and we need to discuss how to reduce that before the whole country goes bankrupt. Raise taxes? Sure, but what percentage of each person’s income should go to the government? Let’s talk about that and raise taxes if necessary. Close loopholes and simplify to reduce waste and cheating? You bet! Let’s simplify the system and talk about making it fair. Cut spending? If we don’t cut spending soon I am pretty sure that reality is going to kick in. The principle that my grandfather learned in the Great Depression is true and I don’t think there is any way to print enough money or raises taxes high enough to get around it. “You can’t spend more than you make forever.”

If I’m wrong about this, no harm done. Things will be fine. If I am right things will be OK anyway. I know that God will still bless those who trust in Him. But I think we will have less pain if we remember my grandfather’s simple principle about money.

Cites from around the internet:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/11/what-if-a-typical-family-spent-like-the-federal-government-itd-be-a-very-weird-family/

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/03/19/174762184/how-the-federal-budget-is-just-like-your-family-budget-or-not

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/277873/bringing-budget-numbers-down-size-carrie-lukas

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/03/05/the-federal-budget-is-not-a-household-budget

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.

 

Where to find what you are looking for

I am a cross-cultural missionary and I work with three cultures daily; Japanese, Filipino and American. I find great joy in my role as a bringer of Christ because all men, no matter what their culture seeks, no matter what they think is important, find what they are really looking for in knowing Jesus.

Ravi Zacharias, noted Christian speaker, often mentions that in Bible times the Hebrew people pursued LIGHT, the Greeks pursued KNOWLEDGE, and the Romans pursued GLORY. He goes on to explain that true fulfillment in life is not found in mere abstractions like light, knowledge and glory, true life is found in a PERSON – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul addresses all of these in this verse: 2 Corinthians 4:6 “…the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. “ True fulfillment and life is found in THE FACE OF CHRIST. The answer to everything we are searching for is Jesus.

My Filipino friends often seek fun and friends. They will find true fun and true friendship totally fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. My Japanese friends often speak of a longing for peace, beauty, safety or honor. All these things are ultimately fulfilled in the person of Christ. You will find true peace, true safety in Jesus. My American brothers seem to be looking for freedom and liberty. There is true freedom only in Jesus.

Whatever your worldview is, whatever you are searching for, whatever you believe will give you fullness of life and contentment; you will only find the true fulfillment in the face of Jesus Christ. He created you and he alone knows what you need. He holds the universe together and he is the ultimate personification and fulfillment of all Truth (with a capital “T”).

Have you taken an honest look at Jesus? It will change everything.

My recollection of what happened on March 11th, 2011…

Featured

When the earthquake started I was on the third floor of building that our church meets in with my children, James and Alishea. As it shook my first concern was for the new speakers and lights we had just hung from the ceiling. But as the tremors continued and then intensified I began to realize that this wasn’t the typical earthquake that one becomes accustomed to in Japan. I began to think about how we would get out of the building. “Should we try to take the stairs? It’s really shaking bad!”  Then I realized that there were probably dozens of grade-school children in the day-care coop on the floor just below us. The thought came quickly, “Should we try to help them get outside too?”  But I knew there was no way to get downstairs now – the building was shaking too hard.

After the first shock began to subside, we all came down the staircase and into the street. It was still early in the afternoon and there were not many children there yet. Most were still in school. The ones who were there obediently followed the supervisor out of the building and onto the sidewalk. They had been trained for this and they knew what to do in an earthquake. Right after we got outside the ground started quaking again. I noticed that the traffic signals were all out. None of the cars were moving. We watched in amazement as the street seemed to roll like the ocean and the large traffic signs above the main highway in front of our building moved up and down on the waves. After a few more terrifying minutes it was all over. The retired men who spent each afternoon volunteering as crossing guards for the children quickly moved out into the intersection and began directing traffic like they had been planning for this type of thing their whole lives. It was amazing how smoothly they switched into emergency mode. No electricity. No signals. No problem! At that moment I was glad that we were in Japan.

Over the next several weeks and months, God used our church to help people in the same way he used those volunteers. We switched into emergency mode. We didn’t realize the full extent of what was happening for quite a long time. I later read that the initial earthquake was so big that it affect the axis of the earth and the rotation of our whole planet sped up slightly. Amazingly, the entire island of Japan moved 8 feet closer to North America. When the tsunami hit, entire towns were totally washed away. The topography change so drastically that maps of Japan had to be redone. But for us at the time, the biggest shock was the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, only about 180 miles from our church.

We really didn’t have time to think about all that. We just kept moving forward and allowing God to use us to help others. We joined forces with many other churches and individuals and switched into emergency mode almost as smoothly as the crossing guards on the first day had done. Even though there were many times when fear came and even exhaustion, we knew that God was working though us because so many doors of opportunity miraculously opened and so much provision and help flowed through our hands.

Sometime between one and two months after the earthquake I was in the shower and I finally felt the weight of it. 16,000 souls just north of us were gone and hundreds of thousand of homeless people had lost their homes, loved ones and even their future because of the radiation. That was the first time I cried after the earthquake. It would not be the last.

Change is now coming to Japan. It needs to come. But change is not without a price. Please keep praying for this nation. If you are praying for Japan please leave a comment on this site to encourage others. Also check out this song that James wrote right after the quake which we used to help raise support for the people of Tohoku.