Tag Archives: missionary life

Do I love Japan? Lust exploits, love protects.

So these last few weeks I’ve been thinking through the differences between lust and love and asking myself the tough question ‘Do I love Japan or is it just lust.’

Today I continue those thoughts with what I think is probably the biggest difference between the two:

Lust exploits. Love protects.

Or to quote Benjamin Nolot,

“Lust sees vulnerability as an opportunity to exploit, but love sees it as a chance to protect.”

When you think about it, this distinction is pretty much the basis for all (OK, a lot of) our books and movies. Villain sees a vulnerability that he can exploit for his advantage even if it involves taking the lives of others. Hero sees that vulnerability as an opportunity to defend those people even though it might mean laying down their life/lives.

Now I’ve only lived in Japan for about two years, but I’ve seen enough to know there are many vulnerable people here. Many ways to exploit them, but also many ways to protect them.

Now I know I said this wasn’t a post about sexual lust, but the exploitation of vulnerable women is something that has really been burning into my heart of late and Japan feels like it is full of vulnerable women being exploited when they should be being protected.

And the thing with all these points is that it is easy (or at least easier) to simply stop at the not-lusting stage. That’s what the pharisees did and Jesus hated them for it.

What I mean is it’s tempting to think that the best thing to do with all the sex on sale in Japan is to turn a blind eye. Don’t look. Protect your purity. Guard your heart.

Now I totally get the importance of guarding your heart. The Bible is clear on that:

“More than anything else guard your heart. For from it flow the well-springs of life.”

I have ignored the seriousness of that command too many times, and paid the price. Purity of heart is like low body fat: difficult to achieve, easy to lose. And it doesn’t get easier with age. The fight is, as they say, real.

But there are also plentiful commands in the Bible about protecting others, especially those who are vulnerable and those who are being exploited. I am meant to fight for both the purity of my heart and the protection of those who are hurting.

If merely avoiding sinning yourself was the highest morality possible then Jesus Christ would not have become known as ‘friend of sinners.’ But he did, and for a good reason: he was.

Jesus was willing to stand between an angry mob and a woman caught in the act of adultery. His love demanded that he did, because whilst those holding the stones were motivated by lust, seeking to exploit her vulnerability, Jesus was motivated by love, and love protects.

So I don’t think it’s enough for me, as a man, to simply avoid the parts of Japan where I know temptations to exploit women lie. Love demands that I protect those women, not just turn a blind eye.

What that looks like, I don’t know yet. Maybe something like this move by Simon Guillebaud.

Whatever the case, it is clear to me that this question, ‘Do I love Japan or is it just lust?’ isn’t just about how I feel. The answer will be determined by how I live.

Maybe the question I’ve been asking is a bit off. Maybe I shouldn’t ask, ‘Do I love Japan?’ but, ‘Will I love Japan?’

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?

Should I only write to missionaries? Are they a special category or something?

After my last blog post (on writing to missionaries) a friend messaged me with some questions about what I wrote.

By-the-by, I really appreciate it when folk do that. That’s pretty much the point of this blog: conversations that cause us (i.e. me included) to think about how we can do genuine partnerships and the like. Dialogue, not monologue. All that jazz.

They were some really good questions, and articulated well thoughts I’ve been grappling with, even as I wrote my previous post. Possibly these are thoughts you had as well. So (with permission) I’m going to post some snippets from the e-mail.

Letter writing to ‘missionaries’ is … Well… Something I’m questioning… Not because we shouldn’t write to ‘missionaries.’ Heck, of course we should… because we should actually be writing to, communicating with and encouraging each other ALL the time! Because we all partake in God’s mission….

So… I guess my question from your blog is why missionaries? Isn’t this just how we should live our lives? With Christians and non Christians? I get that it’s tough being away from home… But how is that different for you than me? Actually, maybe christians working secular jobs have less Christian support because they’re not in a missions agency? But I’ve known students who were called to uni who would have dropped out if people didn’t write, and mums on the verge of breakdown with support, and people called to business who stay because of fellowship… Are they not the same as missionaries? Or are missionaries a special category?

Like I said, good questions! The short answer is, I agree. The longer answer is below.

I actually deliberated for a while about the title of that previous post, from the more specific ‘write to the missionaries I support,’ to the slightly more general, ‘write to folk I know living overseas.’ I even considered simply, ‘write to people.’

But there’s a couple of reasons why I went with ‘write to missionaries’:

1. A missionary is what I am: it’s what I know.

(Although I’m thinking through what a ‘missionary’ is and whether it’s a title I should use: thoughts appreciated!).

I totally agree that writing to each other–using our capacity for communication to encourage, exhort, etc one another–is something that we should all be generally doing more. Those examples above show the importance of communication. I don’t question that at all. But taking upon myself the burden of reinvigorating a spirit of writing in contemporary society at large feels a bit grandiose and presumptuous.  I have neither the experience to make such a claim, nor the influence to make such a change. Well, not yet anyway!

2. Starting with a focus on ‘missionaries’ feels like a SMART goal.

You know about SMART goals, right? Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound. Like they say, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. And so I presume the way to encourage someone else to eat an elephant is likewise to start small. Hence why I chose to focus on writing to ’missionaries.’ I reckon it’s a SMART goal. Maybe I’m just a wimp, but I find goals/resolutions/etc get too imposing when they’re not specific, and then I don’t do them. My hope is that a focused resolution is more likely to get you on board.

3. I think it’s an area that gets overlooked in missionary support

Like I said, I almost titled the post, ‘write to missionaries you support.’ The reason being that, in my experience at least, it’s an area of support that gets overlooked. Finances and prayers: that’s what I think comes to most people’s minds when they think of supporting missionaries. Now, I’m supported financially by people’s generosity, and I am incredible grateful for that. I praise God for the work that is going on around the world, because people make sacrifices and give money. And I totally believe in the power and importance of prayer. I just think if folk have come that far, maybe I can convince them/you to go a bit further.

I guess I’m just not sure that everyone shares the opinion of ‘heck, of course we should write to missionaries!’ I’m not trying to judge, I’m just saying it’s not on people’s minds as a critical part of the way you support missionaries. Hence, why I’m planning on doing some posts giving ideas on how to write.

So are ‘missionaries’ a special category? No. But they are a separate category, and one I’m happy to focus on specially (I know, I’m super smooth, eh!).

Still need a new years resolution for 2015? How about ‘Write to the missionaries I know’?

Still need a new years resolution for 2015? How about ‘Write to the missionaries I know’?

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As you’re probably aware, 2015 has started. And if you’re like me, you’ve been left a little bit in its wake. Maybe you had some resolutions planned for the new year and you’re now trying to catch up on five days of not practicing the piano. Or maybe you’re still trying to think of some resolutions that are possible and worthwhile. Or possibly you gave up on the whole resolution thing a few years back.

Whatever the case, I humbly suggest something to add to your list:

‘Write to the missionaries I know.’

I’m going to be writing about this a bit more in the coming weeks/months (in fact, I have the sense that it’s going to become one of the main topics I focus my writing on this year) so stay tuned for more ideas on the who, why, how, what, etc of writing to missionary folk.

But for now here’s a few reasons (there’s certainly more than these!) why you should make ‘write to the missionaries I know’ a resolution for 2015.

  1. We really love it when we get mail that is written in a language we can read and by an actual person we know.
  2. You can do it in 20 minutes and tick it off your list. Bosh, the year is off to a great start!
  3. I’m pretty certain that are some folk who gave up on their mission who would have kept going if people had written to them.
  4. It’ll be fun. Honestly. Did you ever have a pen-friend when you were at school? Remember how cool that was? You can relive that experience! And if you missed out on writing to some kid that you didn’t really know living in a country that you knew nothing about when you were eight . . . well, then this is your chance.
  5. This way you’ll have at least one resolution that doesn’t terminate on just making your life better, which, if we’re honest, is what most resolutions are about (not that I’m opposed to enriching our own lives, but I do believe the way we most enrich our lives is by enriching the lives of others).
  6. If you write actual letters, rather than e-mail, then you get the bonus point of improving your handwriting.

So there you go, a resolution for 2015 that you can do today.

And yes, since you ask, my resolution for this year is to write to the folk that support me.

This year I’m focussing on the real meaning of Christmas (food)

There are now only nine sleeps till Christmas, and you know what that means, right? Yup, Kentucky Friend Chicken! At least in Japan it does.

A KFC Christmas Bucket

Now as a Brit this is one aspect of Japanese culture that I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to. I mean, come on . . . KFC? Seriously? That’s not what Christmas is about. Christmas is about a proper roast dinner: roast turkey, roast potatoes, pigs-in-blankets, stuffing, and of course literal pints of gravy. Followed up with some Christmas pudding with custard, and then mince pies.

But not in Japan. KFC have pulled off a move of evil marketing genius and somehow convinced the entire Japanese nation that a Family Bucket with a side of strawberry cream cake is the traditional food to eat at Christmas. I am impressed and appalled in equal measure.

So this year I’m seeking to address the issue of Christmas food in Japan.

Kinda . . .

Because here’s the thing: the thing I want most this Christmas is my dad’s Christmas dinner. See that was his meal. He did the whole thing, pretty much single-handed. And it was always insanely good. I guess maybe those years in the army helped, because the Christmas roast operation was a sight to behold and a delight for the belly.

But I won’t get to eat my dad’s Christmas roast this year. Or any year for that matter.

I was talking to a friend about this and she suggested that I use this as an opportunity to go deeper into the real meaning of Christmas. So that’s what I’m doing this year. I’m thinking through the Christmas stuff I’m missing this year, thinking through to the meaning beneath.

Starting with food. Partly because the KFC thing has weirded me out again, and partly because I’ve realized that food is one part of Christmas that I have never really thought about.

I mean, just what is the meaning of Christmas food? What does eating until you can’t move have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ? Does it?

I think it does. I just think that I’ve tended to not notice the meaning of Christmas food because Christmas has always been a really fun time for me. A fun, festive holiday season to finish off the year. In the UK that means chicken covered in gravy, in Japan it’s the colonel’s secret recipe. And if I’m honest, I’m actually a fan of both (and in Japan you can get your chicken wings with earl grey tea, which is a win in my book). So if I really tried, I probably could get through Christmas day on a high of chicken and cake.

But what about after that? What about New Year’s Day… Without my Dad. Easter…without my Dad. My Dad’s birthday… Without. My. Dad. It doesn’t matter how much fun I have this Christmas––and everything ‘fun’ will doubtless be tinged with sorrow––I still have to face 2015… Without my Dad.

No, I need something more substantial than turkey. I need something more satisfying than mince pies. I need a saviour. I need God. And the overwhelming good news of Christmas––the meaning of Christmas (and Christmas food)––is that the birth of Jesus Christ was God giving Himself for us to feed our souls on.

This then is the message I want to focus on this Christmas, when the Christmas music is stopped and KFC takes away the Colonel’s Christmas hat:

Christmas doesn’t mean we get to feed on fried chicken and strawberry cream cake. And it doesn’t mean we get to feed on roast turkey and Christmas pudding. Christmas means we get to feast on Christ.

“Whoever feeds on me will never go hungry.”

That’s Jesus: the guy who turned a snack into a feast, and water into wine. Miracles pointing to the deeper truth that He is the bread of life. If we go to Him, we never go hungry.

Never.

No. Matter. What.

Because unlike KFC in Japan, Jesus ‘the bread of life’ Christ is indeed for life, not just for Christmas.

“We need to feed our souls, too.” Why I’m super-pleased with the painting a friend send me.

The other day I got a surprise in the post. A big chunky brown envelope. When I opened it up this is what I found:

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Amazing eh? I love it. Just straight-up love it!

It was from my friend Tim in the UK. We’re actually yet to meet in person, but he’s a super-passionate, super-creative, super-generous dude. Hence the painting. I asked Tim about it and this is what he said,

“As I prayed about the painting, God gave me the images. The Lion, with His roar warring on behalf of the people, alongside the Lamb bringing redemption, and hope arising!”

That’s what the Japanese means: ‘hope.’ So appropriate in so many ways. I feel like at the moment hope is what my soul is feeding on, and this painting helps me do that. A weird phrase perhaps, so let me explain.

I recently read a short book (well technically an excerpt from an upcoming book) by Makoto Fujimura called ‘On Becoming Generative.’ In it he relates a time when his wife bought some flowers, and he got angry at her because they were living pretty close to the bread line and they couldn’t afford to buy flowers. Her response floored him, and to be honest it fairly floored me too.

“We need to feed our souls, too.”

It floored me, because it’s a truth that’s been pressing in on me over the past few months. But I haven’t been able to really pin it down. That phrase summed it all up, “We need to feed our souls, too.”

I mean I knew that it was important to keep my soul joyful. After 31 years of life I’ve picked that much up. That was the main reason for starting up this blog. I wanted to make sure I stayed in touch with folk like you. And I wanted to encourage people to stay in touch–like really in touch–with the other missionary folk they know around the world.

But the practicalities of keeping my soul well fed in this strange and wonderful country of Japan . . . I hadn’t really nailed that down.

Which is odd, because ‘feeding souls’ – well, you could say that’s what I came to Japan to do. Teaching people to feed their souls on Jesus. That is after all what Jesus calls people to do,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Now it’s not often that I forget to feed my belly (and for ‘often’ read ‘ever’). But I’m a bit of a muppet, and I can easily forget to feed my own soul. I need near-constant reminding to keep feeding on the bread of life. I need pointers . . . I need paintings.

Paintings that speak of redemption. Paintings that stir my heart to hope afresh. Paintings that show that ancient promise: ‘Immanuel,’ God with us.

Yes, I need paintings. Because I need to feed my soul, too.

So, basically what I’m trying to say is, thanks for the painting Tim. I love it!

Running through the pain: on (half)marathons and missions

never again  . . . until next time

In my last post I shared some thoughts that I came up with whilst running a half-marathon a couple of weeks back. Well two hours is a long time and I had more thoughts than I could fit into a single post, so I decided to write another one. But this is not about mourning, it’s about missions.

Specifically, keeping on with a mission when you feel like you want to quit.

But I should explain what I mean by ‘missions,’ right? I think about it in three different categories. Let me illustrate from my own life.

In a sense I think of this blog as a mission. Or maybe it’s more like weekly mini-missions. I’ve set myself the task of writing one post a week. I also have a few other writing projects coming and going. These kind of missions have clearly defined parameters: e.g. write a certain amount by a certain date and try to make it not suck.

Then there’s Japanese. I have been for years and the end still seems nowhere in sight. Learning Japanese is definitely not a sprint. But you know what, it’s not really a marathon either. It’s a mission. Some days I feel like Frodo, trudging onwards, knowing every step takes me further into unknown territory where the only certainty is that something will try to kill me. These kind of missions have an end goal, but it’s harder to define and there’s no real deadline: you finish when you reach the level you’re after.

Then there’s my main mission that the others are a part of.  When/if I ever reach fluency in Japanese there will be no great eagles to fly me back to the happy comfort of the shire. Nope, mastering the language is just a smaller part of my main mission: making followers of Jesus in Japan. These kind of missions are life-long. They’re the ‘this is going to be my legacy’ type missions.

So that’s what I mean by ‘missions’ and here’s the thing they have in common with marathons:

Pain.

Not just that they both involve pain. But that you have to run through the pain.

See when you run a marathon, eventually it’ll start to hurt. And once the pain starts, it doesn’t tend to go away. Sometimes it shifts through different parts of your body, but whenever I’ve run a marathon the second half has been a continual battle with pain or some kind.

And with that comes the desire to quit. “If I just stop then the pain will too.” That thought pesters you like a spoilt, and yet sensible-sounding, child. Why keep running, when all it causes you is pain? Why not just quit the race and enjoy some comfort? Stop and the pain will stop.

Except it’s not true. The pain will remain.

OK it will go away, but it will be replaced . . . By a different kind of pain.

The pain of giving up. The pain of knowing that you could have kept going. That you could have done better. The target you were aiming for will remain. And all the training . . . Well that will have been for nothing.

No, the only way to really get rid of the pain is to keep on running. Run through to the finish line, and then the pain will stop (well stairs will hurt for the next couple of days, but after that it’ll stop).

In that way marathons are like missions. You can’t avoid the pain, you have to run through it. Running through the pain is the only way to make it stop. And it’s the only way to make it worth while.

There’s been a few times when I’ve been writing posts and I’ve got fed up with them and felt like throwing them aside. It feels like a waste of time and energy. Even now I’m sat at my laptop trying to bring thoughts together, feeling like I’m attempting to nail jelly to the wall, and wanting to give up. But if I stop now, I’ll have wasted the time I’ve spent getting this far. The only way to make that effort meaningless is to stay on thrashing out a stream of rubbish and sifting through it until I find some words that might make someone’s soul that little bit stronger.

The same is true of my Japanese study. I feel like giving up a dozen times most months. But giving up now would be like dropping out of a marathon at the twenty-mile mark (at least I hope I’m that far). So I keep on studying, some days feeling like my brain is actually melting, but knowing that every painful step is one step closer to the finish line . . . knowing that the way to make the pain worthwhile is to run through it.

And, above all, knowing the smaller missions––whether they be writing assignments, language study, building projects, or just regularly spending time with folk who need a friend ––they are all part of the bigger mission. They are each chapters of the book that God is writing in my life. 

Sometimes the pain involved in these mini-mission feels too much, like how can it be worth going through this much trouble for something so small? But then I remember that running through the pain takes me a step towards completing the bigger mission. The pain is worth it, because people are worth it. That’s my main mission: making followers of Jesus in Japan. Jesus endured the cross to bring me to know Him. He ran through that pain for me, so I can run through my pain to bring others to know Him.

OK as I finish there’s something I need to confess . . . I wrote this post for one person. You know who you are. You probably already worked out this was aimed at you. Anywho, keep running. Jesus runs with you. You will get there. The pain will be worth it . . . And it will stop! (^_^)