Category Archives: Christian living

Do I Love Japan? Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.

In my last post I opened the question of whether I love Japan or just lust after it. And I was surprised by the response. Not that my post went viral (or anything remotely close), but I had a fair few people message me to say that it struck a chord with them. So I’ve decided that I will unpack those points on the love/lust difference, trying to think about them in a wider sense.

So here we go,

Love for Japan

Courtesy of ku.sagi on Flickr. Original.

Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.

Why? Because our calling is love.

We are designed to be in community. We were made to cultivate and care: for each other, for this planet, for culture. We are wired so that we get most fulfillment when we give, not when we get. And the world is wired so that it flourishes most when we live from love, not lust.

Now, look there are lots of things that I really enjoy in Japan. If you’ve been around here for any length of time you’ll be able to join me in reciting the list: onsens, soup curry, snowboarding, canned coffee . . . it goes on.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying those things. In fact I think I’m meant to. But love insists that such things are to be enjoyed in a way that befits a love for God and for people. Love recognizes that good things are to be enjoyed in such a way that others enjoy them too.

Lust differs from that because lust is about me. Lust doesn’t share. Lust is selfish, greedy, and uncaring. That’s why sexual lust is so devastating. It turns people into objects–literally–and then simply uses them. Lust takes something good and twists it to meet our self-centered desires.

Love serves others, but lust serves ourselves. And the results are really ugly.

But our lusts can be insidious. We can lust in a way that looks quite respectable, even admirable, to those on the outside. Lust truly does subvert, to the point that we might not even notice it ourselves.

A lust for fame or success can be just as subversive to our calling of love.

To quote from that apparently-soon-to-be-revisited classic Zoolander,

“Do you understand that the world does not revolve around you and your do whatever it takes, ruin as many people’s lives, so long as you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied along the way, just so long so you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied and dying along the way?”

OK, once you’ve stopped quoting the rest of Zoolander let’s continue. (I should also point out using that quote doesn’t mean I agree with the definition of love from that film.)

But in all seriousness, that kind of “I’ll make it whatever it takes” attitude can very easily lead to a lustful attitude where people who get in the way of our ‘success’ become obstacles to be avoided, pushed aside, or manipulated to meet our end. In other words, they become objects to used rather than people to be loved.

And the thing is that our original intention may have been noble. We might have drawn up our agenda with people in mind. But as D.A. Carson puts it,

“People don’t set the agenda. People are the agenda!”

Lust, in whatever form it takes, distracts us from both our specific callings, whatever they might be, as well as our general calling to love God and love our neighbour. You can’t build both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self. Trust me, I’ve tried. Like, really, really tried. It doesn’t work.

Thoughts, questions, stories?

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How Beautiful are the Teeth of those who Bring Good News?

Of all the well-known verses in the Bible, this is possibly the most random one:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news!

I’ve read a few people share how they’ve been spurred on by this. After all, not many people have feet worthy of a toe-ring catalogue at the best of times. The idea that your feet would be considered beautiful when you’ve just finished a mountain trek–well, no. Knowing that your attractiveness as a messenger comes from your message and not your toenails is pretty encouraging.

Now I can’t claim that my feet are even mildly ‘beautiful,’ but recently I’ve been thinking about this passage from a different angle. That of my teeth.

You see my teeth really are not beautiful. Not even close. They are, to be honest, grim. Recently I had to visit the dentist and I become aware just how bad my teeth are. They are not even close to white. I can’t even claim they’re ‘magnolia,’ ‘cream,’ ‘classic,’ or any of those three dozen variations on ‘white’ that people paint their walls. They’re yellow. A few are border-line orange.

How beautiful are the teeth that bring good news? In my case, not at all.

Now I’ve never felt super confident about my teeth, but until recently it didn’t bother me hugely. I would happily go about smiling at most everyone I met, oblivious to the row of miniature sand castles I was putting on display.

But now . . . well, I’ve ended up becoming friends with lots of folk who really do have beautiful teeth. I feel pretty self-conscious around them. Especially when it becomes selfie time.

I’m not sure if it’s a Japan thing, or just a recent thing. I’m sure back in the UK I was able to go for dinner with people without desert being preceded by a group photo. Now it seems that waiting to cross the road is cause for a close-up.

Yup, I’ve come to dread selfies. Selfies mean the ancient ruins that are my teeth being uploaded to Facebook for all to see.

I’ve been rebuked by one of my teachers on Facebook a few times for not smiling in such photos. It’s a fair point. Recently I’ve taken to trying to smile without showing my teeth. The problem is that such smiles just make me look sarcastic and/or smug and/or constipated.

How beautiful are the teeth that bring good news? Trust me, you don’t want to know.

But here’s the kicker: smiling is really important. It shows that you’re friendly. That you’re happy to be with the people you’re with.

If you don’t smile, you end up with awkward photos, like this classic:

From Straitstimes.com (hopefully I haven’t broken copyright here)

Nope, I’m not really feeling the love there.

As I was putting these thoughts together a couple of days ago I happened upon a stand where you could have your photo taken and then stick it into a mosaic of happy smiling faces. The motto of the event was ‘Smiling is a universal language.’ Of course with these thoughts in my head I had to take part.

Smiling is a means of universal communication

Yup, a smile transcends linguistic barriers. So with my still-limited Japanese non-verbal cues such as smiling become more important still. How can I claim to be bringing good news if I frown when I tell it? And how can I claim to be living in the light of good news if I don’t ever smile? But how can I get over the fact that I don’t like my smile–that I don’t want to show my teeth?

I think the answer actually lies in the good news that I came here to share.

I was talking to a friend the other day about the idea of being real with people. Making yourself vulnerable so that others can see the grace of God working through you. Rather than pretending that you have it all together, that you are problem free.

Because I’m not problem free. Not at all. I’m a straight-up mess. My issues have issues.

I have to confess that I googled teeth whitening solutions once. It turns out that the best solution, and of course the most expensive, is to have little plates of fresh white enamel attached to the front of your teeth. The stains will remain underneath but people can’t see them. The perfect solution if you have a few hundred pound going spare.

Let me be clear. That is not a parallel for the good news I believe in. The good news of Jesus Christ is that I don’t have to hide my sins from people because Jesus has taken them all upon Himself at the cross. And yes, now I still struggle and fail to live out a life worthy of such a Saviour. But one day He will come back and make all things new. From the depths of my heart to the front of my teeth I will be made totally pure-white sparkling clean.

Which brings us right back to where we started. And the Bible verse I rephrased, which is not a question at all, but an exclamation of overwhelmed joy.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who publish peace, who bring news of happiness, who publish salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

That news of happiness breaks my desire to be affirmed and frees me to focus on serving others.  It reminds me that the good news of Jesus is news for everyone. Salvation based not on our attractiveness or attainments, but on simple acceptance of God’s grace.

That is a message worth smiling about. And so I am committing today, right now, to smile more. Even for selfies. Because my teeth aren’t anything to shout about, but the message I have to share certainly is.

How beautiful (on the mountains) are the teeth of those that bring good news!

Me and my not so beautiful teeth