I recently just went back to America to meet with family, friends, supporters and investors who are partnered with us to live here in Japan. Traveling alone for two weeks meant I was able to fill my agenda and really make the most of the trip. But in that time some big things happened back home in Japan, and I was most certainly homesick!
They say “Home is where your heart it” and I couldn’t agree more. While it was so great to go back to America and meet up with everyone, I could tell that it’s not home anymore. My parents still live in the house and town where I grew up, so there is always an element of homecoming when I visit them there. But without them there, it wouldn’t be the same. And now when I talk about home, I talk about Japan. Not too long ago, it was Brazil. I can still go there too, visit Ruth’s parents and feel at home, but it’s also not home anymore. Family is what brings meaning and heart to the home.
Life is a roller-coaster ride. There are highs and lows. There’s excitement and fear. Just when you feel like you’re in control, things spiral out of control. You have a choice: give into fear or enjoy the ride. There’s something about roller-coasters that call out to us — the dizzying heights, the impressive speeds, the rush of adrenaline. They call us to overcome our fear and conquer the moment.
We recently went to what is arguably Japan’s best roller-coaster park, Fuji Q. Our final destination was Thomas Land (as in Thomas the Train) which is part of Fuji Q. Sarah’s just 6 years old, yet she amazed me, because right from arriving at Fuji Q, she declared that she wanted to go on the huge roller coaster “Fujiyama.” Fujiyama was the tallest roller coaster in the world when it opened in 1996 at 259 feet (79m) and had the biggest drop in the world at the time. I thought she didn’t really know what she was talking about, or what she was saying. So we went to Thomas Land and had a ton of fun doing all the little kids rides.
But as the day went on, she kept pointing to that one coaster in particular. Now there are several roller coasters at Fuji Q, but she persisted in saying that she wanted to ride Fujiyama. I told her a number of times that she was too young and small to go on a ride like that. But as we were looking at the map of the park, we noticed that she did indeed fulfill the height requirement. I was shocked. How was that possible? So I told her that she was big enough to go on the roller coaster. Then I tried to talk her out of it, saying how big, how fast, how scary it is. But she would not be deterred. From the moment she set eyes on it, she knew she wanted to conquer it. So we went together. Now I have ridden many roller coasters in my life, and some of the most intense ones in the world, and yet was not prepared for the intensity of that coaster.
I could barely enjoy the ride at all. I was so concerned about Sarah! But afterwards I was once again blown away as she declared that “it was amazing.” No doubt this girl will go on to conquer great things that scare other people.
Enjoying the Roller-Coaster of Life
At least with a roller coaster you know that even if you hate the ride, there’s an end to it when you get off and are free. With life, you don’t know when the ride is done and you don’t know how it will turn out. How can you enjoy the ride of life instead of living in fear of the future? Is there any assurance that in the end you’ll conquer the ride and be ready for the next thing? To know for sure, you would have to be able to see beyond life and death, beyond this physical world in which we live and see into eternity. But who of us has done that? Is it even possible?
When Jesus walked the earth over 2,000 years ago, His life pointed to the fact that He was more than just human. The healings. The miracles. The effects on nature he had. In fact one of Israel’s great teachers at the time declared:
“Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” (John 3:2b MSG)
Then Jesus responded: “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom. Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man.” (John 3:3, 11, 13 MSG)
Jesus spoke from his experience. He recognizes that no human has gone up into God’s presence to see exactly how everything works and how everything will end — except for Him who came first from Heaven — Jesus himself. His life, miracles and wonders all point to the fact that even though He was born into this world, He was not originally from this world. And He offers something that nothing or no-one in this world can offer: the assurance of a good ending. In Christian circles, we call this the assurance of salvation. It’s the knowledge that this crazy, roller-coaster ride of life has a purpose and will turn out good in the end for those who belong to God and His Kingdom. It’s the ability to face life’s great heights and dizzying drops and instead of living in fear of what comes next, embrace each part of the ride and even enjoy it. Trust me, there’s nothing in this world that can give that kind of assurance.
So if you find yourself afraid of life and where it’s headed, the answer is not within you or within the world. The answer is found in Jesus. The answer is found when you desire to know the truth about Jesus: who He is, what He said and did. When you receive Jesus and His Words make home in your heart, He makes a home in your heart and you become a part of a kingdom that can never be shaken. That assurance brings true joy, purpose and life.
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.