Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Chasing a Specter

While attending Japanese language school I stopped publicly journaling my thinking on this medium. Partly I felt that any time spent writing and reading in English was detracting from my language studies, but as time went on, I found it harder to articulate my thoughts, deep thoughts, in English or otherwise.

Writing... and for that matter, deep thinking, seems to be like a muscle; one that unfortunately I have let atrophy with neglect of use. I feel like a ghost, a shell of a person, like a part of myself is missing. I look back at things that I wrote years ago and catch myself thinking, who is this person, what happened to him, where did that nativity and passion go?

It might just be the reverse culture-shock talking, but as I continue to engage with my supporting churches, I am coming face to face with a specter, a version of myself captured in the memories of others that is now incongruent with who I am. It breaks my heart, because I am not the person they think they are meeting, I feel like a counterfeit.

In another way, it is bittersweet, because I really want to meet the man that so many people seem to think that I am. He seems like someone I would really enjoy being around, a much better version of me. Instead when I look in the mirror I am confronted by reality, hypocrisy, failure.

Hopefully while I'm on home assignment until the middle of next year I can rediscover that person again. I can't go back and change decisions I made... those decisions form who I am now, but sometimes we need to go backwards to go forward.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Abusus Non Tollit Usum

While studying at Wheaton College I learned a quote that has helped to clarify my vision on a lot of things, that quote in Latin is Abusus Non Tollit Usum, or as translated by Dr. Jerry Root, 'The Abuse Does Not Nullify the Proper Use.'

Recently I had the opportunity to have a long conversation with someone who had grown up in a church, but because of the generation and culture he grew up in, shunned all organized religion. As we talked, it was clear that he had a very negative view of the Church, while holding a very positive view of Jesus.

He was apparently quite challenged when I pushed back by affirming that the church was a God made organism, and not a man-made institution. The Church's charter, mission and backing all come from the Lord.

The Church, despite its trappings of buildings and leadership structures, at its very core is people--and the Church is made up of broken, sinful people, at varying stages of sanctification and maturity in the faith. It often reflects the brokeness of the people rather than the abiding Spirit of the Lord. Understanding this has helped me to have a lot of grace and and patience for the Church.

God loves the Church, Jesus died for the Church, and part of His plan for the Church is that it, like a family, have leaders--Jesus demonstrated the servant leadership he desires to see in his Church, and appointed Apostles. The Apostle Paul gave instructions for local churches to appoint elders and to maintain regular times of fellowship and instruction.

Leadership has been abused in the Church, the freedom and flexibility of the New Testament Church has often been replaced with man-made traditions and rituals; but all of these various abuses are not an adequate reason to quit the Church altogether; in fact, they are quite the opposite, they are challenges to lean in more.

Just like an individual, the Church needs to be sanctified--there are various ways that people have attempted to go about this in Church history; sometimes it has been bloody and at others it has been beautiful. But I have been challenged, that if I really want to see the Church begin reflecting the Glory and Character of God, than it has to start with me.

The Church certainly has its problems, and it is easy to point at external issues as the source of those problems; but as an sojourning community, an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church is an alien to this world. We need to recapture that alien character not by separating from the world, or putting up higher walls, but by living as sojourners ourselves, by being transformed the power of the Gospel--that can only truly happen in community with other Christians.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Christian Dysphoria

I have an identity problem. Regarding my identity, as a believer, God's Word says that I am His child. Christ's atonement gives me a a new identity as an adopted son of God. The power of sin over my life has been destroyed by Jesus' finished work on the cross. The problem is that most days I have a hard time believing this--because I just don't feel like a child of God. I continue to sin; I don't see the overcoming life that I want to have, and feel that I should have.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The Apostle Paul at his Writing Desk by Rembrandt
Recently the news has been filled with people that are confused over their identities. Rather than embracing what we feel we are, we should embrace what we really are; what God has created us to be. I was born into sin, but I was born again into righteousness through Jesus' blood shed on the cross. As a disciple of Jesus, born of the Spirit, I have a new identity even if some days it doesn't feel like it. Rather than embracing the sinful nature, I am told in the Word to cast off my sin and to run with reckless abandon towards Jesus. 

We need to embrace who we really are. As a Christian, I need to have my identity transformed by the Gospel; to daily live reckoning myself dead to sin and alive to Christ.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jesus; Eternally Begotten of the Father

Baptist traditionally are 'non-creedal;' but that does not mean that we ignore the historic creeds of the Christian faith. Rather, it means that we hold the Bible to be more authoritative than the creeds. Many Baptist churches in fact regularly recite the Apostle's Creed during Worship--I for one would love to see more of them teach on it regularly. The Apostles Creed contains, like a grain of wheat, the essence of the Christian faith, distilled. I am convinced that many Evangelical Christians would benefit from being taught to understand and use the creed to strengthen and share their faith.

A couple of days ago I had a short conversation with two Mormon missionaries outside of a train station. My heart was breaking for both them, and those that they were seeking to reach--because of the error that they were going to lead them into. My emotions got the best of me, and I pleaded with them to renounce their false prophet and turn to Jesus.

After the conversation, it was impressed on my heart again of how important it is that I be rooted deeply in prayer, the Scriptures and good doctrine. Thankfully, yesterday I was able to spend time in Hebrews, Mark and Galatians. I was even able to participate in a bible study where young Japanese believers were digging into Galatians chapter 1--super encouraging.

Today, I have been meditating upon the Nicene Creed, which I do believe is an accurate and concise statement of what the Bible teaches about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; 

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Helping Without Hurting in Japan (Part One)

Apology: By necessity of speaking to a topic as broad as the health of the Japanese Church I must unfortunately make sweeping generalities--we can all think of examples that contradict parts of the following post (and the upcoming series), but I hope you will hear me out and deeply consider whether there are deeply rooted dependencies in the Japanese Church stemming from the past and current shortcomings and failures of missionaries. 

A lot has been written in recent years about unhealthy dependencies in global missions. Usually when this topic comes up it primarily has to do with finances. Books like 'When Helping Hurts,' 'Toxic Charity,' and 'When Charity Destroys Dignity,' rightly point out that the way that affluent, mostly Western churches often seek to help the Global Church through financial charity frequently leads to more brokenness than it alleviates.

However, finances are only one way in which the Western Church and the way that it does missions actually serves to weaken the Global Church rather than strengthening it. In the late 19th century, John Livingstone Nevius, a prominent Presbyterian missionary to China identified three ways in which an indigenous church must be self determining in order to truly be considered a mature church--the church must be Self Supporting, Self Governing and Self Propagating (Evangelizing). Later, another missionary theologian, Roland Allen pointed out that to be fully mature, the indigenous church must also be Self Theologizing.

Roland Allen clearly shows in his book 'The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, And the Causes That Hinder It,' that at his time, many missionaries and missions organizations that claimed to be pursuing Self Supporting, Self Governing and Self Propagating indigenous churches were often doing so only in theory, but not in practice; 'they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' In fact, many of them were, and still are, facilitating dependencies in order to maintain power, influence--and many cases out of fear of the potential dangers associated with fully autonomous indigenous churches; namely, syncretism.

The recent interest in financial dependencies in missions and their unhealthy impact on the Global Church really only deals with a quarter of the problem--there are much deeper ways in which Western Missions continues to hamstring indigenous churches, their leaders and their health.

Why so few missionaries grapple with this... [source]
This has been a topic that I have spent my last five months in Japan dwelling on; and one of the main reasons I haven't written much,. It has been rather difficult to write about something that could easily be seen as undermining my very call to ministry here in Japan. However, that has only convicted me further of the importance of grappling with this topic.

Now some people might be wondering why this topic is relevant to Japan--Japan is a first world nation, and apart from the recent influx of finances from the Global Church to deal with the impact of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, the Japanese Church for the most part is financially independent of the Western Church. It supports its own institutions and clergy; and therefore on the surface would point to being a mature church.

However, the Japanese Church's dependencies are not quite as easy to point to as the financial dependencies in the churches of many developing nations. The unhealthy dependencies in the Japanese Church are primarily dependencies of Propagation, Theology and Methodology (Governance). 

In upcoming posts we will look at some of the dimensions of dependency within the Japanese Church.

(1) Namely, that the Japanese Church continues to maintain an unhealthy dependency on missionaries for evangelism, discipleship and church planting;

(2) the Japanese church continuously has failed to cultivate indigenous Evangelical theologies that lead to further maturity and effectiveness but are instead reliant on contextually incongruent Western theological voices (this is still an area where, because of my lack of fluency in Japanese I am not able to fully substantiate);

(3) and probably most importantly, that the Japanese church continues to be reliant on Western paradigms of church leadership and vocational ministry that hinders the maturity and growth of Christian lay people--meaning that the greatest potential catalyst for reaching the Japanese with the Gospel, the Japanese Church, is largely unequipped for the task of sharing the Gospel with their own people.

What is the role of the missionary in Japan? How does a missionary help without hurting? Probably one of the main reasons that these dependencies are so deeply ingrained within the Japanese Church is because of the effectiveness of Western missionaries (and increasingly missionaries from the Global Church). Has our short-term effectiveness resulted in long-term ineffectiveness for the average Japanese Christian? Are our evangelistic and discipleship methods reproducible by Japanese Christians? Does our reliance on English ministries, the 'Westernness' of Christianity and outreach events undermine the ability of the Japanese church to reproduce similar efforts? We will look at all of these questions and more in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Breaking the Silence

こんにちわ!ひさしぶりですね。Hello! It has been a long time.

For the past three months I have been busy studying Japanese--and while I haven't been short of topics to write about, I have been short of energy.

In two weeks I will be on winter break--and hope to write a few things between now and when class starts back up in January.

These days I have been reading the writings of a very provocative theologian by the name of Roland Allen--suffice to say, I have been thinking very deeply about the role of Western missionaries in Japan and in which ways they can either be helpful or harmful.

Stay tuned for some of these upcoming posts!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Suitable Field Vehicle

So recently I discovered that it was standard operating policy for a career missionary with my agency to have a field vehicle. Prior to this I had just assumed that I would buy a 100$ bicycle and do most of my commuting by mass transportation, by bicycle or by walking--just think of the health benefits! That is probably what I will still do, but having a vehicle will help me to travel more freely, give rides to others when I need to, and in case of emergency be able to help others without access to a vehicle.

In setting up a starting budget, we asked around to find out what I could get a quality used car for in Japan--and it wasn't all that more expensive than in the USA. However, there are additional costs. Gasoline is much more expensive in Japan, there's insurance and keeping the car licensed which is significantly more complex (and expensive) than in the USA.

However, as I thought about what kind of car I would like to get, a few things popped into my mind... thus this blog post, what would be a 'suitable field vehicle,' for a missionary in Japan.

Kei Cars

Vanilla flavored car.
These super-compact cars are the entry model for many Japanese drivers. They are economical, efficient and environmentally friendly. Considering how much narrower many streets are in Japan compared with the USA, they might actually be a good choice for me. However, if you recall how funny the 'Big Man in a Little Coat' scene was in Chris Farley's movie 'Tommy Boy?' Well that could be me in one of these tiny tiny cars. Which reminds me...


Dragon Ball graphics add to its appeal.
Bosozoku literally translated to 'reckless tribe.' It describes a distinctively Japanese youth culture that revolves around motorcycle gangs. Part of this culture is about making outrageous modifications to motorcycles--which was relatively inexpensive for young people back in the '70's and '80's. However, as these young people grew up, they began to modify cars also. Some of these cars can be quite gaudy by Western standards, but that is part of their appeal.

Recently I attended the Reaching Japanese for Christ Network Annual Conference in Kirkland WA. The main topic of this year's conference was contextualization of the Gospel for Japanese. I have been thinking a lot about contextualization for the Japanese and in thinking about a suitable field vehicle I couldn't help but wonder if in order to reach Bosozoku with the Gospel, one must become Bosozoku.


The decals add to the mystique.
The drifting subculture really began to take off in the 1990's and has become something of a worldwide phenomenon. One of the most significant ambassadors for drifting was the Japanese manga and anime 'Initial D.' The story, which started as a bit of a parody of itself is about a young man who drives a Toyota AE86 into the mountains every night to delivery Tofu for his father's business--as a result he becomes an expert at drifting, and ends up racing his stock road car against much more iconic Japanese sports cars. Because drifting is more about technique than speed, he overcomes great obstacles to beat much better cars with his humble Tofu delivery vehicle. There is only one car worth considering if one is going to embrace the drifting culture in Japan.


Don't mess with Texas!... in Tokyo.
Not all Western missionaries are known for their sensitivity to local cultures. In fact, more often than not the Western missionary is caricatured as someone out of touch with the locals (this unfortunate stereotype has its basis in reality) and lives lavishly compared with those around them.

If you can't beat them, then why not join them. Believe it or not, you can buy an H2 Hummer in Japan--this would be absolutely one of the worst vehicles to drive in Japan because of the narrow roads. But just imagine all of the Japanese that would look on with envy at the totally awesome display of American superiority
(oh wait, did the Chinese try to buy the Hummer brand?).

Honorable Mention

At the beginning of this post, I said this would be an article about cars--but many Japanese in cities get around by bicycle.

There is a style of bicycle with is ubiquitous in Japan, and that is the humble Mamachari, or Mother's Chariot. Don't let the name fool you, these are unisex utility bicycles. You'll see everyone riding Mamacharis: college students, office workers, and even mothers. Newer models can even come with electric assist built in (these can cost as much as a moped/motorcycle).

I said that they were unisex, but some of them don't give that impression--especially if they are covered with child's seats. However, that only means one has to be that much more assured of their masculinity to ride one of these bad boys (girls?).