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.
There’s no way around it: Typhoon Hagibis was one of the most historically terrible storms in Japan’s recorded history. Torrential rain came pouring down for hours before the storm had even arrived, swelling our rivers into their floodplains before the typhoon itself made landfall. We watched the river on which we live rise to a level to which we had never seen, realizing that the worst part of the storm had not even arrived yet. How high would the river go? Would it overflow the levy across from us? Would it flood our home and neighborhood? How how would the water rise? Past our second floor? Would we be safe at home — or anywhere else, for that matter?
Growing up in Illinois, I am accustomed to powerful thunderstorms and terrible tornadoes. Those types of storms do a huge amount of damage in a localized area. But earthquakes and typhoons are very different in that they affect a much bigger area and have the potential to do much more damage. When Typhoon Hagibis finally made landfall (for it had been raining for nearly a day already), an earthquake shook the whole Tokyo region. It was as if the natural disasters of Japan got together and planned an onslaught the likes of which Japan had not yet seen.
A huge percentage of Japan was under high alert due to the size of this storm, and especially the Tama River on which we live. By the time the main part of Hagibis made landfall, the river had already swelled up into its floodplain. As Hagibis pounded us, it began to swell up to the levy that divides the floodplain from the whole city of Kawasaki. The levy was the last line of defense between the raging river and our neighborhood of tens of thousands of residents.
Then reports began to come in. The Tama River overflowed a few kilometers above us. It overflowed on the other bank of the river, right across from us. More reports came in, how it overflowed into a hospital just down from us. We prepared ourselves for the worst. We took everything of value and moved it to our second floor. The storm continued to pound us harder and harder.
Then at 9:30 PM, everything suddenly became calm. The wind died down, the rain turned to a sprinkle. I thought that maybe the eye of the storm had reached us, but to my huge relief, the radar showed that the storm had completely passed. I could see out my window that the river was right at the edge of going over the levy.
But the storms’ passing did not signify that the danger was over. Far from it. Nearly a foot of rain (25 cm) fell over the entire state at once, in some places reaching nearly a meter of rain! All that rain still had to make its way down the river. It seemed as if it would surely overflow. I stayed watching the river from our second story window, keeping an eye of the river. I was prepared for the worst, and over the 30 minutes, the waters became rapids, violently making way downstream. But the level did not rise. Another 30 minutes passed, and the raging waters continued without rising. After two hours, to my amazement, the river began to descend. After three hours it had gone down several meters — enough that I felt like I could finally go to sleep.
When I woke up at 6:00 AM and looked at the window, I was amazed. The water had retreated, The sun was out and shining and people were out and about, beholding the damage. All around us, the river had overflowed, but never enough to flood our neighborhood or our house. We were extremely grateful to God for His protection. The reports that came in from other parts of Japan were not nearly as good — so many entire cities were flooded. Dozens of people were killed, nearly all of them by issues related to flooding. One person, in a town a couple kilometers away, died as the water quickly rose in their ground-floor apartment. The cities in which we live are all built on the river’s floodplain with dikes to control the river. Hence the danger when an epic storm like this happens.
And even though we are heartbroken for the loss of a number of people and their families, we are grateful because it could have easily been much more devastating than it was. God is able to protect his children wherever they are — and in many different ways. All of our Paz team was kept safe. Our church family was safe. None of the neighborhoods in which our team lives was flooded or affected. God is good! We pray that even the places that were affected would experience the goodness of God in the days and months to come. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!
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.