We all like to have fun. For some, fun is going to a park. For others, fun is working hard. For others fun is going somewhere new. For others fun is accomplishing something great. For others it’s exercise. For others fun is a product of being with the right people. But what I call “real” fun is so much more than all of that.
In a world so focused on experiencing pleasure at any cost, an ironic thing is happening. More and more people are becoming depressed. More and more people are losing hope and unable to cope with daily life. More and more people are becoming disconnected even as the tools that we have to connect with people have become more sophisticated. The more we pursue fun and pleasure, the further away it moves. The more access we have to connect with people, the further relationally we move from them. The more information that is out there at our fingertips, the more ignorant we become. It seems to be a cruel irony.
Flip Things Around
And yet the flip side is also true. Life was never meant to be lived for just ourselves, just for our own pleasure. The proof of that is found in the lives of people who consider themselves to be truly happy. Happiness is not the product of consuming pleasure, status, experience, fame or wealth. Happiness is a product of a well-balanced life that has outward purpose and direction, not an inward one.
When we flip things around, and instead of living as a consumption magnet — seeking to consume the most amount of pleasure we can — and we become a spark that ignites potential in other people, we head down a path that brings true, real fun to life. It is a major mental shift. Instead of living for what we can get out of life and others, we can live for how we can bring to life and purpose to others. Jesus knew this, and declared “It is more blessed to give than receive.” It is in giving to others, in serving others, that we find our true purpose in life — the very reason (and there is a reason) that we’re here on earth. We’ve got to flip things around and start living for others if we’re going to discover why we’re here. And that discovery is fun in its truest form.
We all see them: images of our friends, acquaintances and celebrities enjoying new places, experiences and sharing it with the world via social media, YouTube and every other kind of media we have today. More and more society has bought into a notion that true happiness comes as a result of whoever has the most experiences, the craziest adventures, the best vacations and so forth. But that’s only half of the story — because if those images don’t gather the likes, the views and the subscriptions, well it didn’t really count then. So we compare ourselves to an endless stream of experiences and feel worse and worse about ourselves. Ironically, the secret to a truly meaningful and joyful life is not found in those rare moments that take our breath away. It’s found in the kind of everyday life we are able to build.
Don’t underestimate the potential of your normal, everyday life to be something that brings you joy, purpose, perspective and destiny. It’s far too easy to lose perspective of just how much value each and every normal day holds. What becomes normal for us will become what we are known for. The power of each day is that it’s another day to focus on things that matter and to strengthen that which is of value. But there is a real everyday battle for our time and attention. If we are not careful, we become consumers of everything that is of little value, and sabotaging our true potential.
Focusing on What Matters
In Christian culture, we talk about worshipping God. But the word “worship” has nearly lost its meaning in culture today, as if it were some antiquated word that has no place in modern society. But to put it into today’s vernacular, a word with a similar meaning to worship is “focus.” And focus is extremely relevant to our everyday, modern life. What we focus on becomes our pursuit. It becomes our desire, our obsession. We think about it, we daydream about it. And one of the greatest things for sale today is a bit of your time and attention. It’s so important that advertisers pay good money to get their message into the spotlight. They want to buy your time and attention. Focus is the combination of time and attention. Our focus determines our destiny.
Social media screams for our attention. Streaming platforms calls out for our focus. YouTube wants a little bit more of our time. The news is constantly updated with the latest so you never have to be out of the constantly changing loop. And new experiences, jobs and cities declare promises of a better future. But if our focus becomes anything other than God and his ways, we are destined for destruction. God is searching for worshippers, not because He needs worshippers to maintain His status as God, but because He knows that our destiny depends on our focus — on our worship. Let me put it this way: God is searching for those who will make Him their primary focus.
The power we have at our everyday disposal is choosing what we will consistently focus on. Will it be become the addictions of the modern-day world, or will we choose to focus on God and His Word in spite of all the other things screaming for our focus? The biggest decision we will ever make is disguised as an everyday, normal decision. Don’t let if fool you into thinking it’s less important than it really is.
Where to Go From Here
If you’ve messed up this decision before, there’s plenty of hope. Each day is full of opportunities to make the right decision, but to do that, you will need help: the help of God and the help of others. This is why the best, everyday decision I ever made was to follow God and His ways as described in the Bible. I make that decision everyday. The second most valuable decision was to become a part of the church — a local family of believers who are in this journey of meaningful, purposeful life in God together. Without either of these things, I would be an absolute mess today. With these things, I am becoming a person of purpose and destiny. God wants the same thing for you! Have you made the right decisions to line up your focus in the right direction? It’s not too late if you’re reading this.
If you are in the Tokyo area, please come visit us at Paz Church — we would love to meet you and welcome you to our church family! If not, please find a good church wherever you live and become and active part of it. Let God change you from the inside out.
One of the best things you can do to broaden your perspective and open your eyes to the world around you is to move to another country — preferably one with a culture much different from your own. Moving to another country has a way of opening your eyes to things you never saw before. The most open-minded, interesting people I have ever met are often people who have lived in other countries and have a perspective much larger than just their own culture.
Now, I’m not talking about visiting other countries — that is certainly beneficial — but when you move to another country, you begin to put down roots there. You create a new lifestyle based upon the culture where you live — for better or for worse. Whether your experience is positive or negative will depend on how well you can adapt and what kind of roots you can develop in that new culture. How much do you adapt? How much do you hold onto your own culture? What is the balance? These are all practical, day-to-day decisions every person who lives outside their own country has to face.
What’s the Best Culture in the World?
We have decided to embrace the cultures we live in — whether in the States, in Brazil (becoming avid soccer fans) or in Japan. This doesn’t mean we lost our core identity though. Because even though we’re seen as Americans most everywhere we go, the truth is that we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. Our citizenship is ultimately with God and his people, the Church. We have a Kingdom Culture that is defined by God’s Word, the Bible, and lived out in practical, day-to-day living. We are ambassadors of this Kingdom wherever we go, and our joy is working with the Church.
What does this living look like? Well, you can start by watching some of our Life in Japan videos to see! Kingdom Culture is marked by love, joy, faith, hope and loving discipline. It puts others first. It values people over things and experiences. It is a view of life focused primarily on God and others. Ironically, when one lives this way, it is fulfilling and satisfying. One can enjoy themselves wherever they live. I am personally convinced that every culture in the world shows a little bit of our true heavenly culture. But what marks Heaven’s culture above all others is love.
A Culture of Love
Love is something not naturally found in the world itself. That’s because it comes from God and has its’ true source in him. The closest thing we have to true love is a mother’s love for her children, and yet that still falls drastically short from the God-kind of love. Love is from God, and Love is God. God’s love holds the whole universe together, and even though many people chose to ignore God, He’s there, pouring out, giving people good gifts, blessings and second chances. God’s ultimate human expression is in the person of Jesus, who is fully God and fully man. In him we can see exactly how far God was willing to go to show his love to us. He gladly gave up his rights as the Prince of Heaven to come and serve fallen humanity. Only true love would do something like that.
Love is not some distant, far off emotion that get stoked every once in a while. Love is not a guise for lust. Love is a commitment, a drive, a passion, a desire to serve. Love heals, restores, forgives, renews, believes and hopes. Love rights things that were wrong and sacrifices self for the good of others. And we were made for this kind of love — the God kind of love. We can search the whole world over, culture by culture, country by country, and never find the kind of love we are looking for until we look up to God. Then we realize it doesn’t matter where we live, God’s love can be experienced and enjoyed anywhere — wherever his Church is, there you can see a physical embodiment of his love.
Experiencing a Culture of Love
Have you experienced God’s love in this way? For most people, their first experience with God’s love is not through God directly but through one of His people who then opens the door to experience the real thing. If you have experienced God’s love, then you’ve also been called to be an ambassador of that love — to be an active part of this Culture of Love means to be actively involved in a local church. Getting actively involved in a church, whether you consider yourself Christian or not, is one of the best decisions you can make. And if you don’t have a local church home, then please consider making our church home your very own!
For a lot of people, Japan is synonymous with sushi, samurai and earthquakes. But that’s only a part of the story. The typhoons that sweep across the islands of Japan can reek just as much havoc as anything else, and recently one of the biggest typhoons in years came smack through Tokyo. The result was a city shut down in the wake. But now that the storm is over and no one was seriously hurt, we are relieved. But typhoons don’t always have a happy ending.
Happy endings don’t just happen by chance, and a happy family doesn’t just happen by chance either. Our family may seem naturally happy, but it’s the fruit of hard work and a lot of perseverance — especially with four kids! The bedrock of a happy home is a commitment between husband and wife to each other to build a strong marriage, to provide a healthy environment for their kids and to stay true to each other through the storms in life. I’ve made this commitment to Ruth and ultimately to the God who made us. Following the principles in the Bible has kept my home from falling apart, and made it a place where everyone flourishes.
Have you ever watched professional golf — PGA tour? Those guys are amazing. I had the privilege of going to a tournament when I lived in the States. I was even more impressed when I watched them in person. They seem to play golf with such ease. I was amazed. But the truth of the matter is that they are so committed and so dedicated to their sport that they have reached a level that makes it look easy. That is true mastery — when it appears easy or natural to other people. It took them years of dedication and discipline to reach that place in life.
Few of us need to aspire to be better golfers, but all of us need to aspire to be better spouses, parents, children and family members. These relationships are something that everyone has (to some extent or another) and will make us or break us in life. Do you have such a commitment with the loved ones around you? Without it, you will never be able to build a home that weathers life’s typhoons — whether they’re real, emotional or psychological. The healthy home is a shelter in life’s storms, not the source of them.
There’s a story in the Bible of Jesus when he and his followers, the disciples, were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat, and there a terrible storm arose. Now I’ve been out on the Amazon River on a boat in the middle of a bad thunderstorm, and let me tell you, I was scared for my life. The waves got big and started breaking over the boat. You couldn’t see but a couple meters in front of you because of the buckets of rain coming down. You didn’t know which way you were headed or worse — what was right in front of you. One could only pray! The disciples found themselves in a similar situation, scared for their life, and there was Jesus, asleep on the boat! They woke Jesus up, and He immediately got up and He spoke to the storm — He said “Be quiet! Be still!” And it immediately became still. The disciples’ jaws dropped to the floor. Literally the Bible says “They were astonished.” No one had ever done anything like that before. You see, Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
Everyone needs peace in their life. It’s one of the main traits humans naturally seek. No one has to tell us to seek for it. It’s programmed in us by God. But true peace is not just when everything is good in life, that peace is only temporary, but true peace can look in the face of a storm and say “Be Quiet! Be Still!” and bring peace into the storm.
Do you find yourself reacting to life like the disicples: apprehensive, working hard to keep your boat above the waves in the midst of life’s storms? You can live from a place of peace, but only when Peace itself travels inside the boat of your life. Jesus is peace. His Spirit is peace. When you commit your life to Him, to follow His ways, His Spirit lives inside of you and the source of all peace begins to change the storms around you. You will find that there are always bigger storms than you can handle, but there is no storm too strong for Jesus.
We had a great summer break this year. Dad and Mom Reutter came from America to spend time together with us. We did a lot of fun things as a family, many of which we put on our YouTube channel “Life in Japan.” These videos have taken off like no other videos before them, racking up tens of thousands of views within days of posting! We have been amazed to see the response, especially here in Japan, because over 90% of our views come from Japan. My mother-in-law is big on sharing our family time with other people and recently asked us if we had been doing that. I laughed as I thought to myself, “More than ever!”
When your kids are in school most of the year, and you live a half a world away from your parents, you want to make the most of your holidays. Our summer break this year felt like squeezing a year’s worth of memories into a one-month period! Day trips to the beach, outings to the zoo, shopping in the city and escapes from the city to be in nature. All of these things are fun, and make for good memories to share with the world through the social media and YouTube. It’s what everyone does, right? We share the highlights with the world and keep the outtakes to ourselves.
But these moments seem to come in one door and immediately head out another. The Japanese talk about the transient beauty of the Sakura blossom. It is only in bloom for a moment, and then quickly blows away. The moment is breathtaking, but then soon gone. Trips are great — but when they’re over you’re left with the bill to pay and work to do. Those who enjoy drinking do so for a night, but pay for it the next day in hangovers, nausea and lost time and energy. Those who escape through gambling enjoy the rush of the game for a moment, but endure the pain of the loss from then on. Why do we sabotage ourselves in living for a moment in time, when we could be living for something that really, truly improves our life in all of the normal moments?
I am super thankful for the time I had with family this summer. We worked hard to make this happen — and it was totally worth it. These times together are important. But as summer break comes to an end, I am more thankful than ever for the under-valued hero of everyday life: good routine. Every parent who has kids at home is glad for the return of school and routine!
Healthy routines encourage growth and expand potential. The practice of healthy routines build habits that in turn become character. Character can be defined as our default state that requires no additional energy to perform. A person with a character of honesty exerts no additional will-power to be honest, just as a person with a deceptive character exerts no additional will-power to lie, but finds it a huge feat to be honest. A person whose character is ever expanding and deepening is like a garden full of all kinds of fruits and vegetables. There’s always something ripe and ready to enjoy! When we sow good character over time, we reap a good destiny.
Moments are fleeting — a welcome break from the normal. But as our normal is shaped and formed into a life-giving destiny, then we begin to live the good life. Moments are no longer what we live for. We live for building something of worth in our day-to-day lives. Ironically, once we do that, we find our lives filled with meaningful moments that, as soon as one happens, another one is on the way. It is not a fatalistic world-view, but a hope-filled one. Our life is not about a couple fleeting moments, but about building the destiny for which God made us. Building that destiny is the beauty of everyday life and routine, and it’s God’s great joy to guide us along that journey. Here’s to the unsung hero of everyday life: good routine!