Trying to keep the Sabbath holy…set apart and different from the rest of the week. First of all, it was a blessing for me to help the students of our faith community lead the rest of the congregation in worship…music with my fellas and some of the students was fun! I still find great enjoyment in the leadership of music and worship. Then, had some discussions with parents in our community on what can be done to raise kids who love God. There are no secrets here – the prime reason why kids are on the track later in life for the Kingdom primarily has to do with the faithfulness and authenticity of their parents. Now…it is time for a late lunch…football…dinner with some friends and some rest…thank you Lord that you made the Sabbath for your children to enjoy! I'll do my best to honor you in it and through it!
Lord, come upon us with your Holy Spirit and give us the ability to hear what our Father is telling us to do step by step. Lord, in your earthly ministry you were never in a hurry, never rushed, and never behind. You had a rhythm of life that provided opportunities to rest in the midst of all of the demands upon you. You promised that your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Right now, Lord, the yoke is extremely heavy and rubbing our shoulders and neck unceasingly. Tune our ears and our hearts to you walking beside us in the yoke. Enable us to let you accomplish what needs to be done each hour of each day. Fill us, Holy Spirit, with the wisdom to know what to do and what not to do this week and next week. And, give us the strength, peace and guidance to accomplish what you show us to do. As we place our heads on our pillows each night, minister to us with restful and undisturbed sleep. When the alarm goes off each morning, and as we sit up and put our feet on the bedroom floor in order to start a new day, manifest your presence with us; encourage us; empower us so that we can order our day in the way that you would have us to go. Enable us to say NO to what can wait for another day or week, so that we can say YES to and do what is important and necessary. You know our schedules, and you know our tendencies to panic. Affirm us in your grace and protect our time. Thank you, Lord Jesus. We are your servants. What we ask for ourselves, we ask also for those who will be attending the three retreats next week. In your name we pray. Amen.
is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. success
comes from strength, control and respectability. a successful person
has the energy to create something, to keep control over it’s
development and make it available in large quantities. success brings
many rewards and often fame. fruits, however, come from weakness and
vulnerability. and fruits are unique. a child is conceived in
vulnerability. community is the fruit born through shared brokenness.
and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one an others
wounds. let’s remind one another that what brings us joy is not
success, but fruitfulness.”
Hey all, I know I promised you some new blog posts…since I've been back from Japan, life has been VERY VERY VERY crazy! I'll get back to posting in the next couple of days! My blog views has gone from 100 a day during my trip to 10 a day over the last couple of days! So, I know I know…get to work! I'll do it! Hold on!
Our little piece of the Kingdom pie…we live in the Treasure Valley of Idaho. God has called us and equipped us and invested in our lives through His Spirit. We are doing our best to be faithful to His calling. Here's a summary about what we are attempting to do:
It has been over six months since the faith community that I am a part of unanimously decided to support a Project to renew our identity in Jesus as well as collectively commit to exploring ways of living that will impact the Kingdom of God. In many ways, the Project isn’t anything new to the life of the church…it would be fair to say that these ways are FORGOTTEN WAYS…in other words, we need to be reminded who we are in Christ – that He has called us to GO and be disciples who disciple others. So, in an effort to provide more and more clarity, below is a list of objectives that are foundational to our Project. Clarity helps me…I hope it helps you as well!
FAITH COMMUNITY PROJECT – WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO DO
DISCIPLERS – We are Disciples Discipling Disciplers.
RELATIONSHIP BUILDERS – We are Building Relationships – through these relationships in our neighborhoods, workplaces, etc., we are able to reach people with love of Jesus.
ENGINEERS OF REDEMPTION – We are building Faith “Communities” –a Community is that which is based upon the words of Jesus, “where two or more are gathered in my name” (Matthew 18:20) – so these “communities” can pop up anywhere – these are essentially NOT communities in the strict sense of small groups…rather they are Redemptive Relationships.
SHAPERS – We are shaping “Mission-Als” and “Mission-Alices”. We are trying to teach that every follower of Jesus is ON a mission every day. We are attempting to train every person who calls FCLC his or her spiritual home.
TRAINERS – We are attempting to train every person who calls FCLC their spiritual home. We are attempting to create a movement of people in our congregation who think and act in faithful ways in regards to lifestyle and mission
EQUIPPERS – We are intentionally Training and Equipping – Ephesians 4:12 (“equipping the saints for the work of service”). We are also attempting to re-shape the mission of the Nurture Groups (2010) and influence the vision of discipleship for student ministry.
PIONEERS – We are a Pilot project of the LC-MS and the Northwest District of the LC-MS as they attempt to try new ministry ‘styles’ and paradigms to reach out to the people of the 21st century. We are also building cooperative partnerships and learning environments in with others in the Treasure Valley and the Pacific Northwest (through the Northwest District).
INSPIRERS – We are deliberately committing to living a lifestyle of intentional discipleship and faithfulness that is inspirational to other followers of Jesus as well as models of Jesus for people to witness.
Good evening all…I'm making my last post for the Japan trip…I'll be sleeping tonight and then waking up in the morning and getting on the train to get to the airport. Of course, I'll be doing that alone so MY adventure continues because I have to take two trains and have a transfer at one of the busiest train stations in the world. So, I have a few hours by train to get to the airport and then the LONG trip home. Interesting – I leave Japan on Monday @ 4:30pm and get home to Boise @ 8pm on Monday…crazy to figure that out! Bring it on jet lag!
Today, a casual walk to the worship experience that began @ 10:30am at the assembly's building in Miyota. Mike and I walked by an old Buddhist shrine – has to be over 200 years old…it is still weird to see these shrines throughout the country…there were offerings left at small altars around the shrine…money, bottles of Sake, small statuettes of gods. It reminds you that the predominant culture here in Japan in Buddhist…and that less than 1% are followers of Jesus…living their "mission-al and alice's" lifestyle among people who need to see the truth of God and experience the life of the Kingdom.
Big on the personal side of life was a powerful email from my wife – I have had much time to meditate and contemplate what God is doing in our lives…and with word inspired by the Holy Spirit, Vicky wrote:
This is what God gave me this morning…..As you have said before, you're a change agent for God and His Word! I believe and God has told me He has wired you up THIS WAY and wants you to be who He made you as His Pastor….ministering and speaking, and teaching what He whats you to. You need only be faithful in LISTENING, PRAYING and using the knowledge and gifts He's given you! As we've talked about….you can't measure the Holy Spirit! God is pleased with you and HE REMAINS IN CONTROL! We are here (in Boise…."for such a time as this"!
To say the least, that word was a sweet refreshment from the Lord. After that, the Worship experience began…I decided that I would share a scripture from Galatians 6 (“reap what you sow”) and pray in the midst of the gathering…even though people didn't understand English, we were all on the same page…remember, this worship service goes an hour – then they take a 5 minute break – then there is a testimony time that goes 1 1/2 hours, ending with a song THEN lunch together…a full day of fellowship in the Lord.
The message was based on Psalms 56 and 62 – we were challenged to trust in God during hard times (mm, how appropriate) – there were over 30 sections of scripture today during the worship experience – these people know the bible because they read it together. That was a good lesson to be reminded of…
Tonight was my "farewell" meal of Shabu Shabu…oh my…Shabu Shabu is Shabu-licious. Here's a picture. I have to say thanks to the Lord, to the Schmeckpepers, my new Japanese friends, Mikey Schmeckpeper and especially my wife for the encouragement to take this journey…it has been as much of a personal spiritual retreat as it has been a powerful time of learning, listening and growing.
Thanks for following on the blog…keep coming back…more thoughts, teaching, reflections and challenges to come!
Today was a relaxing day in Japan…in fact, I had the guest house all to myself for much of the morning. The head cold has still had me in its grips…the Japanese cold medicine that Shingi gave me is NOT tasting any better but I'm feeling a bit better as I write this late on Saturday night.
More and more Japanese people are taking weekends off (from what I've been told). This is a pretty industrious nation…people work hard and it shows. But today, cold temperatures, snow and a sense of "relaxation" in the air inspired most of us to take it easy.
I had plenty of time to spend in prayer today. Had a couple of conversations over the phone with my wife and a friend which led me to a day of seeking the Lord concerning the coming days and weeks ahead. As I've shared before, there is no reason to doubt how God has led our steps…from the beginning of our journey into the LC-MS, our growing relationship with our spiritual community (Friendship Celebration), and the initiation of the Project, the Lord has been a God of action guiding our steps through a miraculous set of circumstances to bring about His will. Then, a trip to Japan which really was a gift to me in actually seeing with my own eyes the realities of what it takes to live a life as a missionary in a strange land…I have shared with many of you often that that is the mindset that is missing in much of the expressions of American Christianity and faith. If only we could catch the fact that our identity as followers of Jesus is wrapped up in this idea of being on a mission in a strange land. We've grown too comfortable, too apathetic and too at ease with our faith – it doesn't light a fire within our souls…it doesn't feel like revolutionary "good news" any longer…it is rather too familiar and thus almost irrelevant.
I don't see that here in Japan…is this the place to emulate? No! May it never be! We have been given a specific context and sphere for our lives and ministries by the Lord Himself…He's given US the mission field that we inhabit. We are not to try to copy but rather listen, see and respond faithfully within our context to bring and live the good news of the Kingdom. I don't think I'll ever forget what I've seen and heard here…and how it made all my reading, thoughts, conversations, writings, etc. make sense by seeing it lived in actual lives…yes, we have a treasure in clay jars…but it is a precious treasure that transforms our hearts and lives…that transformation prepares us and equips us for the special tasks that each of us have at hand…that being an emissary for Jesus in our time and place and in our relationships.
Besides that, nothing much – we had pot-stickers tonight and some other food that wasn't scary. Merlyn ate something that only one other of our Japanese hosts ate…it was pink, had floating pieces of squid in it and looked like chum! But he and Kazako (our hostess) ate it on their white rice while the rest of us protected ourselves from any sort of oral or other sensory intrusion.
Tomorrow is worship again and the gathering of the "brothers and sisters" at the building here in Miyota. I asked Shingi if I could share a scripture, thoughts and prayers tomorrow…he said he would be delighted if I felt so inspired to do so.
So, without any further delay, I"m going to take another packet of that medicine and hit the bed. More tomorrow as the journey continues. Thank you so much for keeping this trip and my participation with this fellowship in prayer…in light of the tragedy in Haiti and the other concerns that pass our lives which call us to prayer, I'm honored that you would pray for me. I remember you in prayer as well!
Today has been a “sick” day…came down with a bad cold last night…I haven’t been sleeping well. Many reasons: new bed, noises in the house…mind and heart racing!
Here are a few more things I’ve been doing today:
- Sumo wrestling – we are in the middle of one of the big tournaments in Japan…it is shown everyday on TV…yep, kinda interesting and fun to see what Sumo is really all about! They are rock stars in Japan…they all have their “gig”…their own style, reputation, etc.
- Talk with Shingi – Shingi is the leader of much of what happens in the Miyota fellowship – we talked about many things that I’ll be highlighting below in some reflections.
- I spent a lot of time reading today – Vicky gave me a Kindle for Christmas – all I can say it is the BEST thing to have when you are on the road – if you love to read, you can carry a whole slew of books on the Kindle without breaking your back carrying heavy luggage laddened with books – I have The Voice New Testament on the Kindle as well as the ESV Study Bible. In addition, I have subscribed to a couple of blogs that get updated daily…I have also completed Dan Brown’s Book, The Lost Symbol (skip it…it does give some interesting perspectives on Freemasonry but the author “preaches” his own worldview in a shameless way in the last number of chapters…that ticked me off)…now I’m reading Steven Coonts book, The Disciple – political thriller about Iran launching nukes at Israel.
- We ate Sukiyaki tonight – of course, this isn’t American Sukiyaki…it was delicious…I didn’t like the fresh egg part…so I skipped it! Besides that, we had some Japanese “bananas”…which are essentially Twinkies with banana creme in the middle…for many of you, you know that I have been a recovering Twinkie-holic…this may have been my moment to fall off the wagon…of course, the banana filling is MUCH better than they mysterious creme filling of Twinkies! Right!
- I have come to “love” Japanese Sake – mmmm, good. Pour a small glass, all say, “Kumpai” (basically cheers), and enjoy! It is cold NOT hot. Hot Sake is bad Sake (that’s what I’ve been told). The best Sake is cold! Now I know why!
A few thoughts after my conversation with Shingi:
- In their Assembly (or fellowship; remember I'm using Assembly or Community or Fellowship as my translation of the word, "ekklesia", which in many translations of the bible is "church") there isn’t a big emphasis or teaching on spiritual gifts. We started to talk about it when I asked him what he felt were his gifts – after a moment or two of silence, Shingi basically said, “we don’t need to coax people into action”…that was a very curious answer – people serve and share their lives naturally after they come to Jesus…in many settings of Christianity, we have to “convince” people of their need to serve by talking gifts, etc. Not that they don’t teach on spiritual gifts it is just that they assume that one a follower of Jesus is filled with the Spirit, the Spirit will lead them into an arena of serving the Body…everybody is assumed to be serving as the Spirit leads. Shingi is right – many times, we have to come up with “gimmicks” to convince people of their need to “get off the bench” and be a player in the Kingdom…spiritual gifts teaching can become a gimmick. Think on that one!
- Their fellowship doesn’t talk about “growth” of their fellowship…they talk about sharing their lives and faith with others – that way growth happens. In other words, it isn’t growth for the sake of growth…it is growth that comes as a result of every follower of Jesus living their lives “on a mission”. Good way to look at it! It might not look on the surface to be something profound, but it is!
- Shingi said, “Robin, the Gospel and the Bible is still good news in Japan”. At first, I didn't really know how to take that…but then I thought, "well, that sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it?" You see, the point is this – we have become so acclimated or so accustomed to the Gospel/Bible being around that it appears to be “old” news…it doesn’t hit us or impact us as “new every morning”. We are addicted to the “new”…new presentations, programs, etc…the Gospel doesn’t impact us as the good news that it powerfully is!
- Mr. Beck, the missionary I told you about a couple of days ago, said, “the people have to do it (the life of a follower of Jesus) by themselves”…in other words, the individual follower MUST take responsibility for their faithfulness and fruitfulness. Mr. Beck confessed, before he “got” that, he tried to take too much responsibility for the health of the fellowship – it was only when he gave up the responsibility of doing everything for the fellowship that people started taking responsibility for their own growth and the community’s life together in the Lord. I hope you can see the implications of that for us!
- Growth has to be important and vital to everyone…in other words, it isn’t the leader’s responsibility (or Pastor’s responsibility) for people to develop into fully devoted followers of Jesus! Unfortunately, we have set up addictive, codependent systems in many of our churches where the people “depend” upon the church, the church’s structure, programs, and leaders for their development/maturity. Once that happens, a codependent system is enabled that actually detracts from people taking responsibility for themselves and their community’s faithfulness. A good word to the wise!
- Shingi also made an astute comment – “you Americans are into entertainment, aren’t you? You always desire something new. We are holding on to our culture and finding meaning in the flow of living a normal life…family, friends, fellowship…not the latest and greatest…it demonstrates our consumeristic culture.
- One more thing – communication. There is a great communication system in this huge fellowship without having a specified system…people communicate naturally because they are passionate about their brothers and sisters in Jesus. I was wondering, ”what prevents us at our congregations from making everyone part of the prayer circles and chains?“ It should be a given in our congregations…if you are a part of a fellowship of followers, you are ”in“ the circle of communication whether you request to be or not! I’m going to ponder that for a while too!
That’s it for today…I told Shingi that I wanted to come back to Japan…for no other reason than to keep my heart and my mind focused on the right things…it reminds me of why I went to the monastery and certain teaching conferences in the past…there were issues that I needed to be reminded of…I needed to keep my vision fresh! So, I told him, ”I’m coming back whether you want me or not“. I offered to do some teaching next time…but that’s not the point. To see a vision for living and Kingdom experience ”lived out“…to see a missional understanding of life incarnated does good for my soul…it keeps me motivated and hope-filled! We all have to remember, Christendom "convinced" us that we need not live a missionary lifestyle…but times have changed. We need a mission mentality more now than ever before! It is way past time to discover what people on a foreign mission have known for quite sometime – we are living in a time where we are missionaries in our own land. If only we all had that mentality and passion!
Day Six has been a full day…recreational day but still packed with observations to pass on to you.
First of all, I’ve been reading my bible more extensively than usual…that’s not a comment meant to be anything but informational…I’m not trying to brag or spiritually posture myself in any way…with that said, I came across another word from the New Testament that can be translated in a manner that is faithful to the text as well as more “powerful” as well as prophetic in its challenge to a new way of living for us who are followers of Jesus…instead of translating “disciple”, the translation that I have been reading (The Voice) is suggesting that it can be translated as “emissary” (a person sent out on a special mission, sent out ones)….mmmm, interesting huh? We’ve been this path before - for example, instead of translating the word, “ekklesia” to church, we are seeing that a more faithful translation would be “assembly or gathering or even community”. Now, instead of using the word “disciple” when translating the word, “mathetes” (which is the greek word, meaning learner and student), contextually it might be best to say “emissary”. True, the English word “disciple” basically means “follower.” The Greek noun “mathetes”, however, comes from the verb “manthano”, which means “to learn.” Thus, a mathetes is primarily a learner, though being a follower is certainly included in its meaning…Yet the provocative part of this is that In Jewish life there was no such thing as a mathetes without a didaskalos (Greek, “teacher”)—the person the disciple learned from. And if Jesus is teaching His followers to be “apostolos” (sent out ones) it might be best to call them “learned emissaries” of the One that they follow. Think on that for a while!
Anyway, back to today in Miyota, Japan – a few observations:
1 – Slippers – people wear them everywhere. When you enter a home, you take off your shoe and put on slippers. When you enter a bathroom, sometimes even a public restroom, you take off your slippers to put on another pair of slippers that are purely for bathroom use. Lastly, when you are wearing your slippers through the house, once you walk on a carpet, you take off your slippers and wear ONLY your socks while your slippers stay at the door to the room with the carpet. Ah, this makes so much sense to my OCD heart!
2 – The Mall – Yep, that’s where I spent a few hours today. First of all, we are in a small city…far away from the touristy things that people do in Japan…no other “anglo” in the mall today…nobody spoke english…and I mean nobody. The mall is essentially “open”…there are a few stores but most of the stores are on the perimeter of bigger stores. I don’t know if it makes sense to you…maybe you would have to see it to get a sense of the place. Had lunch at McDonalds…why? Well, because NOBODY was at McDonalds at lunch…some of the people at the McDonalds counter who were working saw me, smiled and waved…maybe they saw an American and automatically felt like I belong at McDonalds…anyway, appeaser that I am, I went to McDonalds to make the staff happy…double cheeseburger and fries…regretted it later because I ran into the food court that had yummy looking Japanese food.
3 – Prayer Meeting tonight – weekly, the assembly of Christ-followers in Miyota have a prayer meeting…a couple of songs, a scripturally based testimony by one of the brethren and then some prayer time. I shared quite a bit about what I’ve picked up about the Haiti situation including the missionary couple that we support through our home church, Friendship Celebration. We prayed for the people of Haiti and the close to 500,000 that are suspected dead. It was fascinating to pray tonight with people and understand – they don’t understand me and I don’t understand them…but we are bound together in a common heart and spirit. That was cool…there is a “take home” lesson there someplace…instead of me preaching tonight, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
I don't know what to expect for tomorrow…didn't know what to expect from today either – so we'll see what the Lord has in store!
4 – Oh by the way, I mentioned a couple of days ago – the Japanese cars…I'm actually starting to get used to the fact that the Japanese love their cars and they have small enough vehicles that are inexpensive enough for people to drive them and park them anywhere. Our "hosts", Mr. Hirusan and Kazuko, have a Suzuki "van" that is kinda cool…small but PLENTY of interior room for five…plus small and light – probably great on gas…I know these types of cars wouldn't "make it" in the USA but they are fun nonetheless…here are few pics: