LIJ Episode Lives Update

Our Future Plans

We need to plan to live. The better the planning, the better the living can be. Without good plans, the best intentions fail. But plans are a funny thing. We can only plan as well as our ability to see ahead. If you’re driving a car and see a sharp curve ahead, you know to pump the brakes, slow down, and prepare to turn safely. The problem comes when you don’t see the sharp turn and you’re barreling down the road full speed ahead.

We plan the way we want to live,
but only GOD makes us able to live it.

Proverbs 16:9 The Message

I love this verse from the Bible — full of wisdom! Our own ability to plan will only take us so far. When it comes down to it, we’re at the mercy of God to be able to live out our plans — we’re at the mercy of God to be able to live at all! So what does that mean for planning?

Every year our Paz Team — the team behind our church, our coffee shop and many other noble endeavors — takes a couple days out of our busy lives to prayerfully look down the road and anticipate the curves ahead. It’s best to plan ahead as much as possible. Last year we made some great plans for this year, almost all of which were obliterated by Corona and 2020! But something truly phenomenal happened — the goals we had for reaching more people and expanding the ministry moved forward by a huge rate anyway! It shows God’s hand at work in the midst of all the turmoil of 2020.

Planning Ahead

In light of 2020, how can any of us be so bold as to plan ahead? I think planning ahead this year looks very different than it did last year at this time. There are things we consider now that we’re even a discussion a year ago. We’ve seen how important it is to stay connected to people, even if we can’t meet them physically. We’ve seen the strain and the stress this year has put on families, homes, emotional health and the general well-being of people everywhere. And we’ve realized we can’t take anything for granted.

This year has refined our values and our purpose. It has put in perspective things that really matter — the “non-negotiables” of life. We can no longer plan ahead without a larger perspective. Living in different countries and cultures will certainly open up your perspective, but the greatest perspective we can have is a heavenly one — the very perspective God has.

In the Bible we read the story of God and his creation. We see how it all came to be, how man messed it up so badly, and how God is bringing it all back together. We realize that the stories of our lives are not individual story lines that criss-cross, but they’re a part of a much bigger story that God has been writing since the very beginning. God invites us into His story, and as we receive His invitation, our future is made secure and our path defined.

My recent message from Paz Church — God Has a Story for Your Life

Now the question remains — have I let God into my story to change it, to rewrite it as He sees fit? Have I truly put every part of my life before God, surrendered to Him? The result will be a complete transformation of our lives as we are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. I move from fighting to control the story line of my life to letting God fight my battles as I rest in Him and follow His lead. This is what the Christian life is all about, and I love it! There’s no other life for me.

LIJ Episode Videos

Chiba Beach

Normally, our summer break is filled with lots of fun little day trips capped off with some sort of big summertime excursion. However this year is not normal. Two weeks is hardly enough time to have a normal summer break, and with all the concerns and restrictions in place, we had nearly completely discounted the idea of a decent summer excursion this year.

But when we mentioned how much we enjoyed camping, our friends Yoshi and Takako sprung into action, finding a decent camping place close to a beach in Chiba. They know and love the Chiba area for their family vacations, and thought we would enjoy it as well. Yes, it would be hot, but we would be close by a great beach to cool down. Yoshi was excited to do his Japanese BBQ (an amazing feat, especially camping). So we blocked off a couple of days and headed across Tokyo bay to nearby Chiba for some fun in the sun with family and friends. Now we have some great memories to share!

On Making Friends

Forging good friendships is something that takes intention and work. Recently one of our subscribers contacted me asking how he could make friends. For some, friendships seem to come naturally, but for a majority of people, it’s something elusive and scary. But it doesn’t have to be scary. Here are some practical ways to make friends.

The easiest place to start in making friends is to find something you have in common. When you meet someone new, ask questions until you find something in common. The more things you share in common, the stronger your connection to the other person will be.

Recently one of our viewers reached out to me, a fellow missionary here in Japan. As we chatted, we shared so much in common it was almost scary! We could talk hours on end if time permitted. This created a strong connection right off the the bat.

So what do you do if you’re trying to make friends but don’t have much in common? In that case, or any case really, you can look for ways in which you can serve other people. Maybe you can cook them something, write them a song, or just offer a listening ear. Maybe you have a skill that can be useful to someone or something that will be of service or you can help them in some small way. Even a person who is not looking for a friend will welcome someone who blessed their life.

I have a good friend named Brent back in the States. I met Brent over 20 years ago when I began my first job out of college. Brent and I are very different people, from different generations, backgrounds and upbringings. But Brent was a song-writer and was looking for someone to help him produce his songs. I was a music producer and could meet that need. But I had some needs of my own — I was fresh out of college and had no idea how to work on my own home. Home repair was not in my bag of tricks or talents. Brent often helped me, offering his services as a handyman while I produced his songs for him. It kicked off a great friendship that remains to this day, even though I am too far away to produce his songs and he is too far away to help me with my home repair issues. (How I wish I had Brent here in Japan!)

These things will help you make friends. But the biggest thing that helps in making friends is a genuine interest in other people, and that’s not something that comes natural to us as humans because as our biggest interest is ourselves. Yes, even when we “like” somebody, we usually like them because of the feelings that they give us.

However there is a way to cultivate a genuine interest and care for other people, and that’s by making friends with God. Now this is an extremely foreign concept to many people, and some even scoff at the notion. But friendship with God is a very real thing — I know because I enjoy my own friendship with God! God blesses everyone, but especially those who are His friends. And not everyone is God’s friend. To be God’s friend, you have to believe He’s real and you have to believe that He wants to be your friend even more than you want to be His. You don’t believe me? All you have to do is look at the life of God in Jesus Christ to see the great extent God went to, crossing heaven, earth and hell to become friends with us.

Knowing the love of God in Jesus Christ opens up our hearts to not only receive his love, but to cultivate it in our own hearts, changing the way we feel, think and act towards other people. We can genuinely care for others because God genuinely cares for us, and we can do this even when other people treat us poorly. If they knew God like we did, they wouldn’t act the way that they act! God’s interest in us is not based on performance — it’s not based on anything He can get out of us. It’s based on relationship — through Jesus Christ we too are sons and daughters of God.

A newborn child does nothing to earn the love of his parents. He or she has it simply because they are a child. As they grow up in that love, they learn skills, develop hobbies and interests and turn into fully functioning adults of potential as well. But the parents’ main joy in their child is not based on their accomplishments, but on the relationship they have with their child. The accomplishments are icing on the cake of good relationships.

Good relationships and friendships are very possible. I believe the very best place to learn how to have healthy relationships is in a local church, where you will learn how to have a relationship with God and also learn how to develop healthy relationships with others. It’s a great starting point for developing healthy relationships.

LIJ Episode Lives Videos

Living in the Garden of Eden

All of you who follow us and watch us, you’re a special part of our extended online family. We’re glad to bring you joy as we continue to enjoy the relationships God gave us to nurture with Him and with each other. These relationships give a solid base for difficult times, and without them I would not be the person that I am — and we wouldn’t be the family that we are!

These relationships do not happen naturally — in fact for any good relationship to work well, there has to be loving commitment to each other. The closer you get to people, the more you see all their faults. The better they can see your faults too! This is where true love comes in. The feelings of love for others often fade over time, but a strong commitment to love one another can strengthen relationship ties even in the seasons when the feelings are not there. The fruit of healthy relationships is a joy for everyone — and it makes for great videos too!

The 3 Stages of Healthy Relationships

Recently I officiated a small ceremony to celebrate 30 years of marriage of good friends of our Side and Jaquie. They asked me to lead a ceremony and share a word about marriage so that they could invite their close friends and family and renew their wedding vows. I shared about the 3 stages of a healthy relationship, of which they exhibited.

Relationships (especially marriages) go through three major life-phases. There’s the Honeymoon phase — the one everyone loves and often thinks is the best phase (but there’s a better one). Everything’s new and the relationship is fun and personal. Everyday is like walking on sunshine and even if everything’s wrong in the world, you’re doing alright. You’re always thinking of the other person, meeting their needs and being considerate of them. Passion is hot. We all feel like we’d like to stay here, especially when we see the next phase.

The next phase is what I call the Desert of Normality where all the passionate feelings you had for each other cool off as years and years of everyday life wears you down. Throw kids into the mix and you often reach a point where you’re not even sure if you “love” the person anymore. Yes — this is normal, and actually an essential phase for building a true loving relationship that goes deeper than feelings.

God did not intend this phase as your final destination as a married couple, but unfortunately way too many people bail out on their spouse at this particular phase, before they can even make it to the best phase. They think somethings wrong with them, with their spouse, or perhaps they married wrong. They look for fulfillment in other places (food, work, pleasure, other relationships). Anyway you cut it, eventually they think that the best phase of marriage is gone and the only way to reclaim it is to strike up something with someone new and get back to that honeymoon stage. Unfortunately this is only ever a huge step backwards and will still lead you to this second stage with the new person you married.

Research shows it takes 10-15 years for a married couple to start thinking collectively, as a couple, instead of as individuals. If you stick out the difficult phase, learning how to make your relationship work and learning how to prioritize one another even with all of life’s challenges, you eventually arrive at the 3rd phase I like to call The Garden of Eden.

The Garden of Eden was the perfect place God made when He created mankind and there was no sin, sickness, curse or sin in the world. While it is impossible to escape all of the negative aspects of this current world, we can enjoy marriage as God intended it — to be so well unified as “one” that we have a little piece of heaven in our homes. Many couples married more than 30, 40 even 50 years say that their marriages have more passion, fulfillment, purpose and fun than ever before. This is possible because they have become one.

Ruth and I are moving into this 3rd phase, and it is really wonderful. There are still plenty of moments in that 2nd phase that we have to work out, but dealing with those things properly is what sets you up for a win in the 3rd phase. You can ignore the 2nd phase altogether, but that will only leave you with a passionless and stagnate marriage, or worse yet end in divorce.

No one enters marriage thinking it will end in divorce. Everyone would like to stay at the Honeymoon stage, but that’s not possible either. But the good news is that when we do marriage God’s way, we have a promise that the end will be even better than the beginning, and that’s something to celebrate.

If your marriage fell apart, my heart goes out to you. If your marriage is stuck and you think you might not survive, know that God is for you and wants to help you throw it. God is a God of second chances, Jesus proved that as He died on the cross on our behalf, so that we could have the ultimate 2nd chance. And although you may not be able to fix past, God can give you a better future when your life is in His hands, directed by his Holy Spirit and Word (the Bible). There is always hope with God.

LIJ Episode Lives Videos

Not Your Normal Summer

I’ve always loved summer — especially summer break. It was time off school for playing, vacation and time with friends and family. This year summer vacation is very different, it is not your normal summer. It takes extra work and effort to do the same things we did just a year ago.

So how do we stay focused and positive through all of this? First of all, we are not always perfect. We have our bad days. We have our upset and irritated days. Sometimes by sure willpower you can force yourself to be positive. But the longer you have to force yourself to be positive, the sooner it will be before something snaps, and all that pent up frustration comes out. Look out when that happens!

To be truly happy, there has to be source of joy and peace inside that isn’t dependent on outside circumstances that ebb and flow. I have heard of more marriages breaking up than ever before, because the circumstances of 2020 have pushed people to their breaking points and past them! This is not what God wants for you or your family! How do you stay encouraged during this time? Read this verse and then listen to this video for our secret on how we do it.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible: Letter of Romans 15:13
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The Bible tells us how easy it is to have hope

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My prayer for you is that you can also enjoy this beautiful fountain of hope, joy and peace that is only found in Jesus Christ. We need it for 2020. Our families need it. Our countries need it.

LIJ Episode Lives Videos

Behind the Scenes of LIJ

Time for something completely different — a look behind the scenes of how we produce Life in Japan! I’ve always been a huge fan of technology (A.K.A. nerd). In this episode some of that leeks out as I talk about how everything from cameras to computers come together for each episode of Life in Japan.

If you’ve ever made a video, then you have an idea of the amount of time, energy and focus that is required to actually make one. Dedication and passion are required to keep consistently producing and it’s a discipline that few can truly appreciate. Even though I’ve been producing movies and music for years, I have learned so much in the last two years due to the amount that I have been producing.

While there are certainly days I feel like I’m crazy for all this, I feel so richly rewarded to know that we are being a blessing for everyone who’s watching on YouTube, listening to our music and coming to Paz Coffee Shop and Paz Church. And our whole point of living in Japan is to bring the love of Jesus in all kinds of ways and styles. Thank you for watching and being a part of this journey of our Life in Japan!