Tag Archives: missions in Japan

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?’

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Lessons in loving Japan from a week of painting walls (and ceilings, and doors, and stairs).

a pot of paint and a cup of tea

Last week I was in Aomori. It’s a fairly remote place on the northern part of Honshu and apparently the snowiest area on planet earth, which I can easily believe.

I was there to help a friend get his new home ready for his wife and five children to move into. For me that meant painting. Pretty much six solid days of it. And in the midst of that I learnt a few lessons about what it will look like for me to love Japan.

It was very much a labour of love. For a few reasons:

  1. I was painting everything white, and whilst I admit it makes the place brighter, I’m not a huge fan.
  2. There was an awful lot to be painted.
  3. It all needed three coats of paint.
  4. The stairs.

Oh, those stairs! It was whilst painting those stairs that I almost cracked. I mean, look at them!

A big wooden staircase

That twirly bannister . . . those battered steps . . . so . . . many . . . panels. And my friend wanted it all painted white. Essentially I was going to be painting a bunch of incredibly awkward surfaces, with a colour I wouldn’t have chosen (three times over!), for someone else to enjoy.

I’ll be honest, when I finished the first coat and stood back to look at my work, I almost cried.

Staircase half-painted and looking super ugly

A whole world of ugly, right? I really wanted to give up. Or at least work out a way to cut some corners. Was it really worth the effort it took to get into all the twists and edges and cracks? After I had finished the second coat, it looked a bit better from a distance. Maybe that was enough.

But then my friend related his daughter’s reaction from being shown the staircase over Skype,

“Oh, Daddy! It looks like a palace!”

That put pay to my tiredness. Sure, my friend had mentioned several times how much he liked the house, how much brighter it looked, yadayada. But knowing that his daughter was delighted with how it was looking: that got me working with joy.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered one of my favourite stories from the Bible: the story of when Jacob met Rachael. It’s a classic boy-meets-girl, boys-falls-in-love-with-girl, boy-promises-to-work-as-a-shepherd-for-seven-years-in-return-for-girl’s-hand-in-marriage kinda story. And then we get this beautiful verse,

‘So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.’

Seven years of hard labour, waiting all the time for the girl he loved. Not even Westley could boast that.

So as I was giving that staircase its third coat of white, I reflected on this story and how it links to the question I’ve been thinking about recently: Do I love Japan or is it just lust?

One of the points, you might remember, was that ‘Lust demands instant gratification but love waits.’

I totally agree with that, but I think we need to make sure we don’t misunderstand what ‘waits’ means here. It’s not a sitting-around-doing-nothing sort of waiting. And it’s not a go-and-do-your-own-thing sort of waiting. It’s a serve-and-actively-seek-the-good-of-the-other-person-whilst-you-wait kind of waiting. It’s the kind of waiting that Jacob did for Rachael for seven years. It’s the kind of waiting that God did for Israel for many more years. It’s the kind of waiting that a man is meant to do for his wife, or the girl he’s pursuing. And it’s the kind of waiting that I should do for Japan.

So the question is: am I willing to wait? And am I willing to labour whilst I wait? Am I willing to paint over the same spot again and again in a colour that I wouldn’t choose so that someone’s daughter will get giddy with excitement at the idea of moving into a palace?

Am I willing to love Japan when that love requires a labour of love?

You know, I think I am. Because I think it will be worth it. That’s why love labors, because the wait is worth it.

Beautiful white staircase

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?

Do I love Japan, or is it just lust?

Chase After Love

I mentioned in my last post the question of whether I genuinely love Japan or whether I simply lust after Japan. I get that’s a slightly strange statement so let me explain what I mean.

This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since a conversation I had with a Scottish friend last Summer. He’s lived in Japan for about nine years, so he’s seen a fair bit of life here.

We were hanging out in Starbucks (don’t judge me, it’s a convenient meeting spot) and on the table near us was another Westerner, chatting with a Japanese girl. My friend overheard him whilst he was waiting in line and afterwards told me that the guy had been boasting about how much he made teaching, and how he had lots of money for ‘play.’ The guy’s tone made it clear that he was talking more ‘playboy’ than ‘playmobile.’

Anywho, afterwards we were talking about that whole subject. Not so much the sex-industry in Japan, but more the fact that some people come to Japan with the sole purpose of getting what they can and then leaving when they’ve had their fill. In other words, they come to Japan driven by lust, not love.

And that made me remember this post my friend wrote, based on teaching by Benjamin Nolot (one of the folk who head up Exodus Cry) on the difference between love and lust.

You should definitely read the whole post, but here’s the main points:

  • Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.
  • Lust exploits. Love protects.
  • Lust consumes. Love pursues.
  • Lust seeks instant gratification. Love waits.

When it comes to human relationships these differences are devastating. And I think the principles apply more broadly as well.  I can be tempted to view Japan with lust, rather than love. I can be tempted to join the ranks of those who come to get their fill of Japan, when I’m meant to be here to pour myself out for Japan.

And so these last few months I’ve been wondering about my motives for being in here. Do I love Japan, or is it just lust?

Because I have to be honest here: I’m no better than that guy in Starbucks. As they say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” And that’s a grace that I need to have continually pouring into my life. And a grace that I need to be continually working out in my life.

And so I think this is an important question to ask. And not just for me, but for all of us, wherever we are. Are our actions, our words, our plans driven by love for the people around us, or are we motivated by a desire to get what we can?

So in my next few posts I will go through those points, thinking through how loving Japan looks different to lusting after Japan, and hopefully also helping you think through how you can better love those around you.

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’?

IMG_0516

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.

In Japan Christmas is over, and for me so is cynicism

Poster from outside a Japanese store

As I write this, the clock is about to strike midnight. Here in Japan, Christmas day is all but over. But from my Facebook feed I can see that UK folk are just sitting down to roast dinner.  In the States… I don’t know, I guess you’re watching the Super Bowl?

Anyway, my point is that in Japan Christmas has come and gone. Here everyone is moving onwards to New Years now. And I’m moving on too. But not away from Christmas. No, I’m moving away from cynicism.

I think I’ve alluded a few times in recent posts to the grip that cynicism has had on me recently. It’s always came fairly easy to me, but in the build up to Japan it kinda took over my thinking a bit. (And by ‘a bit’ I mean ‘a lot.’) I was cynical about people’s interest in what I was going to be doing in Japan, doubting whether folk cared about me.

I allowed feelings of bitterness to come into my heart. Bitterness towards God and towards others. I guess most people couldn’t tell, but others bore the brunt of that bitterness. I was, to be truthful, kinda a jerk a lot of the time.

Shortly after I arrived in Japan I really felt God call me out on that through a number of means. One of them was a blog post entitled ‘Starting Now? The End to the Cynicism’ It’s full of quotable lines like this,

The thing is: The cynics, they can only speak of the dark, of the obvious, and this is not hard. For all it’s supposed sophistication, it’s cynicism that’s simplistic. In a fallen world, how profound is it to see the cracks?

It really challenged me, made me see how lame being cynical and critical was and made me want to indeed put an end to the cynicism in my life.

The thing is that somehow I wasn’t ready. I wanted to change, but I couldn’t see exactly how. Just how do you lay cynicism aside?

And anyway, this year has given me plenty of reasons to be cynical. The sudden death of my father and the unanswered prayers that came with that tops the list for sure. But also I’ve seen more clearly the brokenness of this world, and the depths of my own sinfulness––and how my tendency to selfishness and foolishness contributes to that brokenness. Cynicism seems more reasonable than hopefulness.

Except it’s Christmas. And this Christmas I’ve been digging deep. I’ve had to, because the general festivities haven’t felt very fun. And so this year I’ve also seen more clearly the power of the good news of Christmas to break through my cynical heart––to change me . . . to change Japan.

This advent I’ve been reading John Piper’s ‘The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.’ It ends with a Christmas sermon on that famous angelic announcement, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people on whom His favor rests.” Piper’s point is that it is the wonder of God’s plan to restore us to a place of peace with Him leads us to be peace makers with others.

‘Continually cultivate a sense of amazement that in spite of all your sins, God has forgiven you through Christ. Be amazed that you have peace with God. It’s this sense of amazement, that I, a sinner, have peace with God, that makes the heart tender, kind, and forgiving.’

So here it is now December 26th. Japan is moving on from Christmas, and I’m moving on from cynicism. Because the coming of Jesus was the advent of indestructible joy. For me, this year, the birth of Christ was the death of cynicism.

Merry Christmas!

(Yes that post was a bit messy. But come on, it’s Christmas! Or at least it was!)

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.