Questions For Fighting Sin in Community

Jared C. Wilson lists some questions that Ray Ortlund and a small group of men would work through as they sought to press the gospel into each others lives and fight sin. As Joe Thorn reminded me this morning, we need to foster a deeper culture of confession and grace within our lives. I find these questions helpful for getting together with a small huddle of men and sharing my life with them. I would encourage you to do so as well.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not like other people, especially the Pharisee who despised the publican?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
  20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

From Jared C. Wilson's The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry

For what it's worth I highly recommend Jared's book for any pastor or elder in the church.

Theology for the Teens?

For many the concept of teaching teens theology is about as ridiculous as teaching monkeys calculus. I've frequently heard youth leaders or volunteers try and convince me that the only way to keep teens interested in church and youth groups was to have a lot of silliness in games, food, and great music. From that you should input just enough Bible in a little devotional to spiritualize the entire event. In all honesty I don't believe it. Nor have I for years. About eight years ago when I was the junior high pastor at Santa Rosa Bible Church I started thinking about how I could engage teens in the study of the Bible in a way that would be challenging to them, enjoyable, and would help them understand the major teaching of the Bible. The goal was to assist them in confirming their faith, and their understanding of the faith by the time they finished eighth grade. The result of that line of thinking was this study I called Passage. Over the following years several classes of students that have grown up at SRBC have gone through this study, and the fruit of it has been so encouraging to me.

Passage itself has undergone some transformation as well. What started as a study for teens at Santa Rosa Bible Church turned into a curriculum for a larger network of churches, home school families and youth ministries. Recently I've been asked to produce a new version of Passage that updated some of the content and included some new chapters as well.

In my free time over the last few months I've been working on editing, rewriting, and producing an updated version of the material. Last night I put the finishing touches on what I call "version 3.0" and am excited about getting to release it once again for use in local churches, homes and schools. If you've used Passage before you'll find some new things in it. If you're new to the material I believe it will serve you well in training teens to know God and understand him well.

Passage is intended to be studied in a community with an adult leading or teaching the discussion for the students. I've created both a Leader's Guide and a Student Workbook to help foster discussion, interaction and learning. You can pick up Passage right from this site and have it delivered to your door.

I am praying that the Lord uses it to advance the gospel in the lives of more teens. If you use Passage or have used it in the past I'd love to hear how God has used it in your life and development of the gospel.

Check Out Passage Here

Powering Down For A Few Weeks

According to social media and "platform" experts what I'm about to do in the next two weeks is a very bad idea for growing and developing social influence and significance. That being said I don't really care what social media gurus tell me I should and shouldn't be doing to attract, grow and keep a crowd of readers. If you're tracking with me thus far I am grateful that you read and visit my site. I'm going to give you the freedom of not having to feel like you have to pay attention to anything I write or say for the next two weeks.

I'm going to unplug. Seriously. No Facebook, no blog, no Twitter, no email, no reaching into the vast crevasse that is the Internet over the next two weeks. Why? Two reasons:

  1. I am going to be speaking at a camp for high school students in Northern California next week. I'd ask, beg and plead that you would pray for me as I teach on the nature of God. Pray as well for these students that God would be pleased to reveal himself to them, draw them to himself and grant them repentance, faith and life in Him. Pray that the Holy Spirit is at work to make more disciples of Jesus. If you want to do something fun you can send me a care package.
  2. I am going to give spend some intentional and unhurried time with my wife, kids and friends on vacation for the second week. We need it, they need me, I need them, my soul needs Christ. We're going to play, sing, eat, read, nap, laugh and have a great time together.

So that's where I'll be… in fact let's just make it a straight deal. I'll see you back here and on Facebook and Twitter in August. Thanks for reading and interacting.

Jeremy

Art as Listening

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to preach from 2 Peter 3:11-18 at Journey the Way. One of the guys in my Gospel Community commented to me that he had fun drawing during my message. At first this was a bit disconcerting to me mainly because I try to teach my children to pay attention during the service. However, for Brad drawing during a sermon is paying attention. The other day he gave me the picture he drew from my message and I wanted to share it with you.  One of the things that I've learned from this is that art has a place in our worship and listening. Some of us will take copious notes during a message, some will draw a picture, some will listen intently without doing any of those things. Yet each of these has a place in helping us learn, worship and grow in Christ.

Photo1

Thanks Brad for sharing this with me and my readers. If you want to listen to my sermon you can do that here. And then maybe draw a picture and send it to me. That'd be cool.

In Pursuit of The Inner Ring

In a speech of C.S. Lewis' that I recently read he described a fundamental reality that each of us are engaged in. It is the quest of what he calls the "Inner Ring." In Lewis' address he was specifically applying this "Inner Ring" to the sphere of the workplace but the Inner Ring exists everywhere. It's the network of leaders you want to be in with. Or the group of guys that get together regularly without inviting you. It's the people who have fun, throw big parties and enjoy life together. It's the crowd of families that get together to socialize and let their kids play together, but your family is not in on it. It's that circle of authors that you're striving hard to become part of. It is any group that you see external to yourself that you feel you should be part of, and in some capacity, for whatever reason, you're not on the "in" with right now.

We're all looking on the outside at Inner Ring clubs we long to be identified with. The problem, and the driving factor in reaching these inner rings lies in the fact that they are often just beyond our grasp. They lie at the fringe of our abilities or relationships and sit a fingers width away, but are incapable of being had. Unless…

Unless we become what we are not. Lewis' speech was given to young college-aged leaders getting ready to graduate and his point was to warn them in advance of the seduction of compromise in morals, values, and responsibilities to obtain entrance into that Inner Ring. For some moving the line of our morals to achieve partnership in our desired Inner Ring Club is a step to far, but becoming what we are not. To achieve the desired end we will justify the means and shifts of our calling, character, and souls to gain that elusive platform or degree or recognition. We will become what we are not.

I bring this up to personally wrestle with my own motives and pursuits of Inner Rings. Not every Inner Ring is evil or undesirable, nor is every motive or reason for pursuing a certain Inner Ring filled with idolatry and wanton abandon to the character of Christ. But in the pursuit of my Inner Rings I am beginning to see at least a distortion in perspective. In this way I am becoming what I am not.

How do we break ourselves from the pursuit of the Inner Rings? Lewis spoke of it this way,

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your heart unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourselves all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.

I would encourage you to pick up Lewis' volume The Weight of Glory and give his essay "The Inner Ring" some time.

Six Reasons Japan is Overlooked

Six Reasons Japan is Overlooked in Global Missions

I've been thinking a little bit recently about why Japan, with having the largest city in the world and being one the most densely populated nations in the world has been overlooked in regard to Christian mission. A tweet from the Gospel Coalition International Outreach feed yesterday further affirmed my suspicion that most Americans just don't have Japan on their missional radar as a nation to be reached. So why is that? I have a list of a few reasons I believe Japan has been overlooked by American churches and mission groups. This isn't a criticism for why we have overlooked Japan in favor of other places (the whole world needs the gospel so we better go to the whole world) but I think these are some prominent reasons Japan has largely been ignored.

  1. Racism. To my grandparent's generation Japan was the enemy. They blew up and killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor and brought us into a World War. Shortly after WWII the American Mission Movement occurred sending career missionaries all over the world with the gospel. Except Japan. I think there is a link.
  2. Affluence. Japan is wealthy, technologically advanced, literate and industrious. There won't be any photo ops with starving children there. You don't have anything to take to them or fix for them other than their souls. Bummer.
  3. Thrill Factor. You won't get killed or even kicked out of Japan for sharing the gospel. At the most you might get ignored and left alone. If anything we like the thrill of the dangerous place where we can say to our churches "I can't tell you where I'm going because I might get killed." That's not to say that doing mission in dangerous places isn't needed or good. We must be in those places too. However, Japan doesn't afford that kind of reality. So, where's the fun in that?
  4. Long-Term. You probably won't make 30 converts in your first week of mission in Japan, let alone your first year. Maybe if you spend ten years there you might. But, we like our mission trip trophies ("I preached to 500 and saw 534 get saved while I was in South America for two weeks"). You won't have any merit badges of ministry in Japan unless you're there for a long, long time.
  5. Expensive. Yes, Japan is expensive. Ridiculously so. You have to raise a lot of money to go there for a long-term assignment. Housing costs a ton. It's just not cheap to do mission there. American churches can probably only send a small handful of missionaries to Japan whereas they could send a ton of money to other places and have a larger number of workers in other places. In the land of "more is better" you can see how that value works itself out.

I mention these things, again not to downplay the other places in the world where missionaries are going and are sent. I am glad they do that. But for the American church there is a value of "Bang for the Buck, Get A Ton of Convert Trophies, Thrill-Seeking" Mission. Japan won't give you any of that. It won't even give you poverty to take a picture of and say "I can fix that!"

If anything mission in Japan looks more like what William Carey had to endure going to India for the first time. A rejected, long-term, low-fruit, costly-life. This is so counter-intuitive to American discipleship that I believe it is one of the main reasons Japan has not seen a large amount of missionaries sent to work there. All you can do is take the gospel and be there for a very long time. Maybe the American church needs mission to Japan to teach us about discipleship more than Japan needs American missionaries.

There is one more reason Japan has been overlooked in regard to Christian mission. Calling. Maybe it hasn't been the right time. Yet, I think today we're on the cusp of that calling being worked out. Today the Lord is raising up and calling men and women everywhere to go to Japan with the gospel for the glory of Jesus. Today is the day of salvation. So for us today we can go to Japan, labor there for the long-haul and see the name and fame of Jesus gloriously spread in the Land of the Rising Sun. Christians, let's put Japan on our radar as a place to pray, support and send people for the duration of their lives, for the sake of the gospel.

Summer Reading: The Ascension

Reading on The Ascension

One of the networks that I'm connected with in ministry (and very happy to be a part of) is the Porterbrook Network. Based out of Sheffield, England the Porterbrook Network was formed in 2007 to provide training for everyday Christians in theological, relational and missional development. I have the privilege of leading the local Learning Site in Wichita known as Porterbrook Kansas. The essence of Porterbrook is to develop gospel-centered Christians who live on mission in community within the contexts they live. As a church-based theological training center we are passionate about training everyday Christians for missional engagement and leadership in the church. As the Porterbrook Network has developed over the last few years access several exciting relationships have been developed and are in formation currently. As one of my friends in Sheffield recently told me, "Porterbrook is having a moment."

Part of that moment is the development of a publishing relationship with Christian Focus publishers and a series of books with the WESTPorterbrook imprint. The first book in this series is from Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow entitled The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God. Although I don't have a full-scale review for you of this book right now, I have enjoyed reading it so far and thinking about the implications of the Ascension for everyday life. To put it simply, the Ascension magnifies the glory of Christ and the impact of His ministry to me today.

Let me recommend that you pick up this book and add it to your summer reading list. It's a good read for a day at the beach, lake, or just wherever you might get an hour or so to rest, think and grow in your knowledge of Christ. You can pick up The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God from Westminster Bookstore for eight bucks. That's a pretty good deal for some solid and sound theological resources!

A Database of Great Quotes

Quotations For Preachers

One of the things that was recommended to me in my preaching courses throughout college was to compile some sort of database of quotes, stories, and illustrations so that as I worked on sermons I could easily access some helpful material to further illustrate the ideas I was gleaning from Scripture. One of my assignments from those courses was to index a few "mock" illustrations to get me on my way. After graduating college I completely dismissed this recommendation. In fact the few volumes of sermon illustration and such that I had in my library were completely ignored. Cataloging quotes to pull up at moments noticed seemed neither helpful nor a wise use of my pastoral time. If anything, I wanted my illustrations and stories to be real world, real-time not catalogs of quotes from a bygone era that made me look smart.

However, things change. I'm now into my 13th year of full-time ministry and while I don't heavily rely on a catalog of quotes I do recognize a need to have something to help me broaden my illustrative database and give me quick access to thoughts that will help me be a better communicator. The problem is, however, that I haven't compiled that database.

That's where the 1500 Quotations for Preachers series from Logos Bible Software comes to the rescue. Recently I was give the five volume set to review and examine in my Logos library and I have to tell you, I'm very pleased. The five volumes contain 300 quotes each from the writing of the most noted Christian leaders from the particular era their volume encompasses. The quotations come with a graphic of the key sentence in the quotation (for longer quotes) that can be put into any presentation software the user would desire. The graphics look great, but it's the quotations and their arrangement which make these volumes really worth the price.

Most sermon illustration books focus on arranging by topic and then have some sort of Scripture index in the back, if at all. The Logos version of the 1500 Quotations series however organizes each quote with a set of topics (frequently more than one) and Scripture texts. This makes it very easy to search for quotes by the passage that you are studying.

For instance, I'm preaching from 2 Peter 3:11-18 here in a couple of weeks and I was able to open my "Cited By" tool, enter the passage I am preaching from and found that there are nineteen possible quotes linked to that passage. For someone who is digging for a gold nugget of a quote this is a great resource to have on hand. The Logos ability to search, cut and save these quotes make it all the better. On a whole I am really happy with this series and it's five volumes. The era's that it covers are:

  • Preachers from the Early Church
  • Preachers from the Medieval Church
  • Preachers from the Reformation
  • Preachers from the Puritans
  • Preachers from the Modern Church

A Few Things Could Be Improved

Overall it is a great resource I'm happy to have in my library and have already made quick and good use of it. There are just a few things I wish were there that would make it perfect.

  1. Fix the Topic and Sermon Starter Guide. The product page advertises that this feature works with these volumes, but I can't get it to and some of the forum writing indicates it's not been finished for that yet. That's a bummer, but not the end of the day for me. I use the "Cited By" search more than I do those two guides in particular.
  2. Link The Resources to Original Sources. I'd be really happy if I could click a link from say, John Calvin, and it open up the specific resource of his in Logos to the page in which he is being quoted. I hate taking quotes out of context, and while I'm going to give the editors the benefit of the doubt on this one, I would like to double check and make sure that's the case and so that I could properly footnote the quote from it's primary source. Plus, I like to read around what the author is saying because I enjoy learning and will often find a few more good quotes. This feature would push this whole set over the line from "great" to "crazy great" for me.
  3. Include Some Living Guys. This has to do specifically with the final volume, the Modern Preachers, which is claimed goes from 1650 forward. I understand that is a super wide scope, but I think it would be a better volume if it was limited to preachers from 1650-1900. Perhaps they are developing a 300 Quotations from Postmodern Preachers volume so this is a minor oversight, but I didn't even see C.S. Lewis in the Modern volume.
  4. Broaden the Market. The resource itself is identified as being for pastors. But anybody who likes to read, communicate, write, etc. would be serviced well by these quotations. I enjoyed reading through these volumes just for the sake of finding things that I didn't know a particular person said. Logos might be limited the appeal of these resources by specifically marketing them towards pastors. Everybody can enjoy and use these volumes.

As a whole I would heartily recommend this resource to pastors and teachers. It will really help you quickly access some great quotes and material for your sermons. I'm grateful for the work that Elliot Ritzem and others put into crafting the database I always wanted but never made for myself. I have pushed this series to the top of my priority list for "Cited By" searches and plan on using it regularly. If you preach or teach the Scripture it's worth your time to have this sort of resource working as a research assistant for you.

bacon

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

Francis Bacon

UPDATED: I just received an email from the good people at Logos that the one feature I really wanted to see (#2 on the list above) is actually something that 1500 Quotations does. If you hover over the authors name and then click the hyperlinked page number, it takes you right to the primary resource where the author made the selected quote. This has moved this resource for me into the "crazy great" category. You'd be crazy not to get this great resource!!

 

FTC Disclosure: Logos Bible Software has provided me with a copy of 1500 Quotations for Preachers for purposes of providing a review. I received1500 Quotations for Preachers at no charge to me and I am under no obligation to return the product but can keep it for my own personal use.

Jet Set Japan: ReTrain Rendezvous

Two Years Later: The Fruit of ReTrain

Almost two years ago to the day I sat in a small class room at the Ballard campus of Mars Hill Church in Seattle with the nine men that made up the "Global Massive" cohort. Our assignment at that meeting was to spend twenty minutes presenting a final project that encapsulated our year at ReTrain. I can't say that I remember well all of the presentations given, but there was one in particular that I do remember and served as a bit of a catalyst for me ending up for ten days in Japan. That presentation belonged to Steve Sakanashi.

Steve is a fourth-generation Japanese-American. From the first day I met him at ReTrain in August of 2010 he was talking about his passion and the need that Japan has for the gospel. His aim was to do whatever he could, however God led and called him, to reach the nation of Japan as a church-planter. So in that small little room at Mars Hill Church as Steve shared his vision and plan to plant a church and make disciples in Japan I wrote down one note to myself in my notebook, "Steve is going to be the William Carey of Japan."

What I didn't expect in the two years between that presentation and today was that I would get caught up in the momentum of the Holy Spirit to reach Japan. I always figured I'd run into my ReTrain brethren at different Acts 29 Network functions or in Seattle whenever I had the chance to get there. I never figured my next rendezvous with Steve would happen on the soil of the country he was so passionate to reach.

Since that presentation Steve will tell you that a lot has changed. He is now married to a lovely lady and is expecting their first child. His vision has been sharpened and his skill as an entrepreneurial leader has magnified.

Today Steve is leveraging the few commodities that Japanese students eagerly desire to have from American's to place them in contact with faithful Christians. As a business leader Steve has developed a model of "faithful presence" that puts the Japanese in contact with American's to learn English and to give Steve and his team a relationship that is long-term and sustainable with these Japanese college students. He is leading entrepreneurial workshops for Japanese business leaders and venture capitalists.

Steve has launched the Megumi Iniative which includes Sekai Creator an entreprenurail training course for Japanese business leaders and Eigo Partner. On Wednesday Steve met up with our team in Tokyo to cast vision for us about his ministry. That conversation reminded me a whole lot of the vision casting Steve did two years earlier to his whole cohort at Retrain.

Honestly, I don't think I would have ended up in Japan this time if Steve hadn't been the first to call out the need of Japan to me. Sure I knew that Japan was out there, but I didn't have any sense of what it's spiritual condition or need was. Steve identified those needs to me. Now my adventure in Japan has come full circle with the vision Steve set forth two years ago. He has moved forward in accomplishing what God has called him to and he has helped me see a place that needs the gospel so deeply and is so unreached that I won't stop ringing the bell for mission work in Japan until that nation is reached.

I would like to ask you too to put your life and resources into the gospel-work being done in Japan. One of the ways you can do that is by supporting guys like Steve and others financially and with your time. You can support Steve financially by following this link. You can support his work with Eigo Partner by enlisting to be an English conversational partner.

I'm thankful for friends like Steve, thankful for his vision for Japan, and thankful that God allowed our lives in intersect two years ago in Seattle and then once again Wednesday in Tokyo.

Eight Years of a Great Thing

I'm in Japan today, which is a bummer. The bummer isn't because I don't like Japan. The bummer is because I'm not with my wife.

Today, eight years ago, Stephanie and I were married. I couldn't tell you then what our marriage would mature into. I had no idea of the surprises, both good and hard that God providentially had in front of us. I had very little concept of how selfish and sinful I was towards others until I was married. I had no idea of how much grace and love could be shown to a fellow human until Steph showed it to me in our marriage. I had no idea of how much I need a companion, helper, and more than anything a best friend.

In some ways it is a little appropriate that we aren't able to be together today. It's a Divine reminder to me that God has created me for another. Without her I'm the dude that burns freezer pizza. I'm the guy that can't balance his checkbook. I'm the guy that doesn't know how to thoughtfully consider others (her) better than myself. I still don't know that one well, but I am trying to grow there.

Without Stephanie I don't have the foggiest idea of what it means to sacrificially love someone and to lay down my life for her sake. Again, I don't always practice those aspects of the gospel well, but without her I wouldn't have as good of a clue about them as I do now. So, in being apart from her today I'm reminded of how much the Lord has given me her. Second only to Christ, who is himself the greatest and best gift, Stephanie has been God's "great thing" for me.

I am thankful today for her, I wish I could be with her in Japan today but I am eager to be reunited with her at home. I am eager for what God has in store for us not only in this next year, but also for the next eight years and as long as Christ will give us life and breath here.

I love you Stephanie with all my heart!

First World Resources for First World Problems

One of the observations that I've been able to make while here in Japan is the complete lack of need for anything, except the gospel. Japan, like so many parts of the West doesn't have a need for the physical resources that developing countries do. You can drink the tap water, WiFi and cellular service are abundant. Japan has one of the lowest unemployment rates of anywhere in the world. We've heard several times that the average Japanese family has somewhere close to forty thousand dollars in savings alone. While not every person in Japan is affluent and rich, the physical needs of the country and not as noticeable as they are in other places.

So often, in the West we then assume that since this country has plenty in terms of material possessions that there is then no spiritual need. However, the lack of physical need, to me anyways, makes the spiritual need all the more pressing and abundant. They have come to the climax of the book of Ecclesiastes. They have everything but all of it apart from Christ is meaningless.

I have no beef to pick with churches that support and send and work with missionaries in developing countries. These are essential and needed. The gospel is for the whole world, especially the poor, orphaned and broken. However, as I have come to see, there is enough bandwidth for First World churches to reach First World countries. In fact, the burden of responsibility in my book is on countries like the United States to direct their resources in both people and finances towards these places that are so hard to reach.

Japan is expensive to live in. We stood in a small three bedroom apartment in Tokyo that cost $3600 a month to rent. The apartment was less than one thousand square feet. For a church in the middle Africa to send financial support and means to Japan just wouldn't work or be remotely enough. Yes that can be multiplied by the power of the Lord, but it seems to me that the provision Christ has given in the church is for wealthy nations to reach the most expensive, financially difficult place to reach. Christ has raised up First World churches for his glory, and he has gifted First World churches with financial resources to supply the mission to the First World countries like Japan. So let's do it.

As I met with Michael Oh, the CEO of the Lausanne Movement, today he made it abundantly clear that now is the time to financially resource the mission of God in Japan. Now is the time to put all our chips in and see the Lord of the Harvest go to work in bringing people from death to life. So let's do it. Let's be obedient to the call of God and give what we have for the sake of the gospel among the largest unreached people group in the world.

Jet Set Japan: The Church in Miyota

Every time I have the opportunity to visit another country and happen to be there over a Sunday I try and meet with the gathered body of believers from that area. I've been with the church in South America, Mexico, China, India, and now Japan.

Our vision trip today allowed us to meet with the believers that make up Shinshu Community Church in Miyota, Japan. We didn't see a large, mega-church full of programs, paid staff and nice facilities. We saw a small (think less than 30) church of believers learning to grow as gospel-centered and gospel-fluent people for the sake of their city and region. The church is led by an American missionary and a Japanese man that he has trained to be the pastor of the church. Their vision is to be a church that grows and replicates itself in making disciples and planting church within the region. What I love so much about this vision is that it is a vision to be the faithful, fruitful people of God in the midst of a region that deeply needs the gospel.

It was beautiful to join with them in praising Christ, to see them humble themselves to the Word and to engage in community with one another. The church, although small, is working to see the gospel impact every area of their lives and culture. I was so encouraged to meet with like-minded leaders who are working towards gospel-centrality in their churches and cities whether they are in the largest of cities or the smaller less populated regions of Japan.

Jet Set Japan: Shinto and Saku

It's late here on Saturday evening in Japan (yes I'm still living in the future) but I wanted to share a brief reflection about today. In both Tokyo and Saku we visited local sites of worship associated with the Japanese amalgamation of Bhuddism and Shintoism. I'll have to address what these two interwoven religions believe another time, but the practice of worship and the presence of the spirits is very real.

In visiting these places today I observed people sincerely worshipping what they believed to be gods. However these "gods" as I have posted before are merely the demonic enemies of Christ. Yet because of our fallenness and our rebellion against God we choose to substitute worship of the Creator to worship a created thing. We ascribe power to another being that is really due only to God alone. So being religious happens. We're all religious in one way or another and it is a reflection of our bent natures and broken condition.

So today I saw elements of worship at the temples and shrines. Incense was burned to obtain a blessing. Water was poured to purify oneself. Prayers were made to the specific deity that fit whatever your need was. Offerings were given to support the priests and "ministry" of the shrine. Crowds were gathered to chant and sing the religious songs appropriate to the local religion. These places were filled with worship and religion.

For the Japanese however they would not tell you that they are "religious" people. The practice of Bhuddism and Shintoism are so deeply ingrained into their societal culture that they would not consider it religious but rather part of what it means to be Japanese. Like a fish in water so a Japanese person must worship at the shrines and temples. They must celebrate the dragon that gave birth to their village and pay homage to their ancestors lest they bring shame to their family and earn a lower spot in the afterlife. They might say or believe they are religious, but it is very much part of their everyday normal life. Even students pay to buy prayer cards to ask the gods for enablement to pass their exams well. Religion is found in everything.

As we continue to explore Japan and its need for the gospel as well as see where the Holy Spirit is at work today brought into focus the depth of need spiritually that the Japanese people have. The spiritual darkness of this land is great, and the obstacles that stand in the way of the gospel in their culture are great too. But the cross and resurrection of Christ are far greater and compelling realities and are worth us laying down our lives in a long obedience for the love of God and the people of Japan.

Jet Set Japan: Tokyo Hustle

Welcome to another brief report from Japan and my daily experiences. The short version is that we spent the greater portion of the day traveling to and investigating a particular area of Tokyo. To say that we experience the whole of this city of 34 million people or that we even grazed the surface would be far from the truth. Reality settled us in a smaller portion of the city center and learned about church planting from Seima Aoyagi as he is planting in the Tokyo region of Toyosu. As we traveled from Chiba to meet Seima we encountered the most efficient and arguably busiest public transportation system in the world. Spending an hour in Tokyo station itself was a hustle of millions of people each day. The labyrinth of tunnels from one line to another would bring one who doesn't know the layout or language to their knees. It was incredible.

A few stats stood out for me from my interaction and discussion today.

  • Tokyo is a city of over 34 million people.
  • There is probably two tenths of a percent (.2) of Protestant Evangelical Christians in Japan.
  • In terms of Tokyo that means for every 500 people there might be one Christian.
  • Conversely in the US it is estimated that for every five people one is a Christian.
  • If my church reflected the ratio of Christians to non-Christians in Japan the church would have to double in size before we'd have one Christian.

Those kinds of numbers and ratios blow me away here in Japan. I see the largest pagan city in the world and feel the same concern for this city as God did for Ninevah in Jonah 4. "Should I not pity that great city?" I think about the task here and the deep need for the gospel that this culture has and I'm compelled to pray that the Lord would send forth laborers into this field. The gospel is desperately needed.

Jet Set Japan: Chiba City

As I woke up this morning at about 5am Japan time two things settled into my mind. First, it was still "yesterday" in the US. I am living in the future. Second, I'm in for a whirlwind of meeting people, learning as much as I can about Japan and the need for the gospel here. Today didn't disappoint.

I won't share everything that there is to share about my day except that I met some exceptional people and the Lord grew my heart for this nation even more today. The enduring theme for the day the entire day was simply "A Long Obedience". That's what it takes to plant a church in Japan. Results won't be quick in coming (one leader here shared that it was four years of ministry in this country before he saw one conversion) but faithful men who will work at gospel ministry for the long term is desperately needed here. I plan on reflecting on this theme of a long obedience more later, especially as I am reading Eugene Peterson's book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction while I'm here but today in Japan has challenged me to see that gospel ministry must have this as an enduring quality or it won't be lasting, regardless of where I am.

I am grateful for the work here and am eager for tomorrow to enter into Tokyo and see the city itself in full swing. Just like yesterday here are a few of the sites from today for you to enjoy.

Jet Set Japan: Pre-Flight Checklist

Tomorrow morning the majority of our team from Journey the Way and Karis Community Church depart for Japan. While there we will be visiting several different cities, meeting numerous leaders and seeking to discern the Lord's calling and will for us as individuals and churches. The central mission for our team is to gain a sense of the movement of the Holy Spirit for planting churches and partnering with pastors and leaders already on the ground in Japan. As we depart here are a few ways you can pray for me and the team while we are away:

  • Pray for discernment, wisdom and spiritual understanding of the needs of Japan while we are there.
  • Pray for clarity in conversations and meetings with leaders in Japan.
  • Pray for mercy in our travel, health and engagement of the Japanese culture.
  • Pray for unity on our team.
  • Pray for a movement to grow of churches planting churches in one of the least reached countries of the world.
  • Pray for my family that is remaining behind in the U.S. while away.

Thanks for your prayers. I'll be posting frequent updates here while away but if you want to follow more of the action be sure to check out the Karis Japan page as well.