Fall is a beautiful time of year in Japan. In America, the late November holiday of Thanksgiving stops most people from decorating for the holidays too early. But no such holiday holds back the Japanese from decorating for the holidays. As soon as Halloween passes, it’s decorating time. For me, growing up in Illinois, December meant bare trees and freezing temperatures. It’s a stark contrast to Tokyo where the trees still hold their leaves late into December while holiday decorations are lit up.
Making our Japanese fall even more special this year was a night-time viewing of the fall foliage at the Japanese gardens in Showa Kinen park. This expansive park is awesome, offering all kinds of actives for the family. For a short time each fall they strategically place lights to highlight the beautiful fall colors and invite the public to come in and see it. It is truly breath-taking, as our latest video shows.
We are grateful for being able to live here in Japan, and we personally enjoy mixing the best of American, Brazilian and Japanese cultures together. Each culture has so much to offer, and we still have so much to learn, but we love bridging the gap!
Of all the seasons, fall is perhaps my favorite. The weather gets cooler. The pumpkin lattes come out. The leaves change colors and time marches towards the end of the year. It also happens to be prime birthday season for the Reutter family and we celebrate three birthdays within a week (mine and the twins)!
This year we celebrated with a BBQ that our good friend Yoshi hosted. Yoshi makes some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had. He’s a great friend to have! My birthday coincided with a Japanese holiday this year, which meant that many of our friends from our family group were off of work and able to get together. In Tokyo, where people are so busy, spending time together is extremely special. It’s these connections to other people that help you thrive as a person. When people are an active part of a healthy family, whether a physical family or a church family, everybody wins. This is an important part of a truly blessed life, wherever you live.
So without further ado, here is the latest installment of Life in Japan. Enjoy!
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.