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LIJ Episode Lives Videos

Discovering the World’s Best Culture

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 more information on our local church: https://paz.church/japan

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LIJ Episode Lives Videos

Weathering the Storm

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.  

Golf is only easy if you’re not keeping score…

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.  

“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” painted by Rembrandt in 1633.

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.  

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LIJ Episode Lives Videos

Unsung Heroes of Everyday Life

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!”  

Dad and Mom Reutter visiting us in Japan

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.  

Click to watch our videos from Summer Break this year!

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!    

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Lives

Living a Legacy

Impressed. Inspired. Awed. Those are a few of the words to describe what I felt the first time I visited Paz in Brazil. They were not yet 30 years old, yet they had planted hundreds of churches across Brazil and were raising up new leaders and pastors left and right. Some of their churches were huge, including the Paz Church I would eventually call my home church in Santarém and have the privilege of serving as the leader of their worship ministry. It’s a church of 60,000 members in a town of about 200,000 people!

The stadium in Santarem packed for a church event

My initial connection to Paz was two-fold: first I was interested in Ruth Hrubik, the daughter of the directors of Paz. Interested, as in marriage interested. But before visiting Brazil for the first time, I had only heard stories about her family. Fantastic stories of jungles and boats, missionaries and danger, stadiums and alter calls, as well as plane wrecks and heartbreak. I knew that Ruth loved the work and the ministry, and that she wanted to serve with Paz in the future. I also knew that she had a call of missions on her life. I was open to missions, but had never dreamed of being a missionary. At that point, I knew that God had called me to the music ministry. I had completed an associates of engineering and a bachelors in music and had just started serving full-time for a church 3 hours outside of Chicago. Ministry was front and center in my life, however missions was the furthest thing from my mind.

One of Paz’s many boats made for carrying teams and supplies up and down the rivers

The second connection I had to Paz was my parents, who had just left their comfortable lives and jobs in Central Illinois to become missionaries in the Amazon Basin with Paz. The very first Christmas on the mission field they decided to fly all of us kids down to Brazil to be together for the holidays. At the same time, Ruth and I had become good friends and I was almost sure I would marry her, however there was one little hiccup: she didn’t like me! (At least romantically.)

So with my brother and sister, we boarded a plane in Peoria IL and continued to Saint Louis, Atlanta, Miami, Sao Paulo, Recife, Fortaleza, Sao Luis, Belem and finally Santarém. When we finally got to Santarém we were so ready to be off that little jet plane! Little did I know that God was setting the stage to unveil the curtain on the next act of the play he had already written for my life.

Heading out on the rivers for the very first time, many moons ago!

In one masterful swoop, in a way that couldn’t have even been imagined by the best and brightest of Hollywood script-writers, God unveiled a game-changer. For as I walked into my very first service at Paz Church in Santarém on a hot Sunday morning, the praise music began to play, people began to celebrate and dance, and I began to weep as God spoke to me, saying so clearly to my heart “This is what I have for you.” At the same time God flipped a switch in Ruth’s heart and she fell head-over-heals for me. Not joking! I had been invited into more than just a life of missions, but I was chosen by God to join a great two-fold legacy: a family legacy in church planting going back three generations and an apostolic legacy going back to the very beginning of the book of Acts!

Paz Central Church in Santarém, where God spoke to me so very clearly about my future

Years passed and God opened the way for Ruth and I to become missionaries with Paz. We said some difficult good-byes to friends and loved ones (cue the song Friends by Michael W Smith), we sold our house sight-unseen to the new buyers, and off we went to Santarém to serve. It didn’t take me long to realize that although we had moved there to serve, we were also there to learn. And so I learned all I could from a plethora of leaders, missionaries and pastors. I was incredibly blessed to be able to put into practice what we were learning in our missions outreaches on the rivers, into our cell groups and our discipleships. Eventually I had the immense honor of leading the huge worship team (nearly 300 members) at Paz Church in Santarém as we produced CDs and led worship in the 60 odd-some services across nearly 30 campuses in Santarém. It took me nearly a year just to visit all the different campuses and see our teams in action!

Ministering at conferences across Brazil came with the huge benefit of personally meeting influential pastors from around the world. I was continually inspired by their examples and continued to grow in respect and admiration for our own Paz leadership.

So it was a bittersweet time when we left Brazil for Japan. Our ministry had flourished in Brazil, but we left it all to go help the fledgling Paz Church here in Japan take off. We knew it would be a huge transition, and even still we weren’t completely prepared for all that we would pass through as we sought to see the dream become a reality in Japan. They say the first phase of any business or church plant is “difficult beginnings,” and we certainly got in on that phase! But we had a conviction in our hearts that Japan would experience a spiritual awakening like never before, and we felt God’s invitation to be a part of it.

We believe in a major move of God here in Japan

Over the years God has been faithful to answer our prayers, pleas and cries for a fresh move of God here in Japan, and by God’s grace we’ve seen the ministry begin to grow and blossom. Neighbors have come to Christ and been baptized, we’ve been able to work with some amazing people along the way, and we’ve recently seen new leaders being raised up. The same thing that happened in Brazil is happening here in Japan, and this time we’re a part of the pioneering team.

A family with a huge legacy: my first Huber Family Reunion in 2004

So you can imagine our joy to have recently hosted here in Japan the leadership summit for the very same pastors, leaders and missionaries who have inspired us so much and have literally changed Brazil for eternity. Our joy overflowed as this same group of pastors and leaders laid their hands on us and prayed over us, ordaining us as pastors of Paz Church. It was a moment I’ll never forget. We were passed a great legacy from those who came before us.

Dad and Mom Hrubik led the ordination
We’re in that great big pile there – Hallelujah!

Looking back I can clearly see how God has paved the way for the next generation to continue the legacy that was started even before Paz had begun. A legacy that had been handed down from generation to generation, from nation to nation, until the whole world knows of the saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.

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Lives

令和 Reiwa, The New Japanese Era

Here in Japan we have just entered “Golden Week,” a spring-time holiday stretch typically 5 days long. However this year is different than all others. This “Golden Week” is a 10-day holiday stretch celebrating the ascension of the new emperor to the Chrysanthemum throne. It is a big deal. For the first time in two hundred years, the current emperor is abdicating his throne for his son to take over (it usually only happens upon the death of the emperor). And with each transition to a new emperor, a new era name comes along with it. Here in Japan they date their years according to the year of the emperor’s reign. For example, I was born in Showa 53 (the 53rd year of the Showa reign). Through a complicated process, they carefully pick the name of the new era that will correspond with the new emperor’s rule. And each name has a meaning. Past eras include “Meiji” (enlightened rule) from 1868 to 1912, “Showa” (enlightened harmony) from 1926. 

So, how important is this name? Well, Japan’s emperor is a figure-head ruler not unlike the queen of England, but the importance of the era name cannot be overlooked. Names set a tone and an expectation. Names carry weight. A good name is worth gold — but a bad name?

A crowd watching the televised announcement on a giant screen next to Shinjuku Station ©Christopher Corneschi

Before I tell you the meaning of the new Japanese era, I must share something else that God put on my heart earlier this year. In February at Paz Church I shared a message “Flowers in the Desert.”  Flowers only bloom in the desert in special circumstances — after a rare long-awaited rain.  But they are especially spectacular and can be compared to nothing else in the world. People flock to the desert to see them in bloom!   The harsh conditions of the desert create an environment where this is possible. Without those conditions, this rare event would not be so special and unique. A great example is the Atacama Desert in South America.

In our own life story, flowers have a very special significance. They serve as bookmarks of our own desert experience. A flower bloomed on the day we lost our firstborn daughter — and from one stem it bloomed into two separate flowers.  It was a symbol of hope for us in what would be the darkest time in our lives. We called it our “hope flower” and it was a sign of things to come.  By a miracle, when the doctors said Ruth would not be able to conceive again, she conceived, and with twins! But the miracle did not stop there, for on the day that Ruth was to have the twins, another flower bloomed in our yard — a double flower of incredible significance.  A sign that we had passed through the desert, we had weathered the winter and now would enjoy the spring. You see, God speaks through nature, and in this case flowers.

Just as those flowers were hope for us in the desert, so Japan has its own flowers of hope, the plum blossoms. They are not as famous as Japan’s cherry-blossoms, but a month before the cherry-blossoms even open, the plum blossoms bloom. They bloom in the midst of winter, flowers in the desert of winter, with the promise that spring is near.  

I shared that the Church in Japan is like plum blossoms that blossom in the midst of a winter of fear, depression, exhaustion, hopelessness and apathy.  When the world around us is dark and wintery, filled with fear, God’s people blossom with joy, faith, love and purpose.  This will trigger a blossoming of the Japanese people in God’s love, and His plans and purposes will work out beautifully for the good. Beauty from ashes. Love from fear. Faith from doubt. God will take all the years tough years and turn them into something so beautiful that the whole world takes note. Just as God said to His exiled people, He says to his people in Japan today:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Little did I know that this message was about to be broadcast throughout the whole country in a very different way.

Yoshihide Suga, announcing new imperial era, “Reiwa”, to reporters.

All of Japan was tuned in to see the announcement of the new era name. And when it was revealed early in April, it was not the expected choice. It was out of left field. Truly God’s Spirit was speaking. Japan’s new era beginning May 1st was revealed as 令和 “Reiwa” and was taken from some of the earliest Japanese literature.  It refers to the plum blossoms, which are the first to bloom after a long winter. Look at what Japan’s very own Prime Minister said about the choice. 

“Like the flowers of the plum tree blooming proudly in spring after the cold winter, we wish the Japanese people to bloom like individual flowers with the (promise of the) future. With such a wish for Japan, we decided upon ‘Reiwa.'”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Plum Blossom ©663highland

In my amazement I listened to the meaning of the Reiwa Era. Each character has it’s own meaning, which when put together mean “harmony” and “peace.”  Do you know how you can translate the new era into Portuguese?  Paz. Yes, as in Paz Church or Paz Coffee Shop. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. This is the era of Paz in Japan.  It’s the era of the Church in Japan.  It’s the era of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, to reign in the hearts of the Japanese people.  And as the Church blossoms in Japan, so will the Japanese people. The very leaders of Japan have declared it.

The new name sets the tone of things to come. The leadership of Japan may not have been aware of it, but it opens the doors for the Church to be bold in the love of Jesus and to see families blossom and grow. It’s time for the Church in Japan to get off the sidelines of society and make a difference in day-to-day life. Welcome 令和 Reiwa! Welcome Peace. Welcome to the Prince of Peace, Jesus!