Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A New Year in Japan

Once again it`s that time of year in Japan.  It always seems to get noticeably colder and the sun sets dimmer, leaving a sense of quiet sadness.

It is no wonder this time of year is a time where most Japanese return home to be with their families, extended families, and other relatives from their hometowns.

Oshougatsu, as it is called in Japanese, is equivalent to Christmas time in the U.S. or in other Western nations.  While the holiday has religious roots, most people celebrate it as a time to be with family and forget the bad, say goodbye to the past, and welcome the new year with family.

Like Christmas, Japanese children and young adults receive gifts for the New Years` Celebration.  However, Otoshidama, as it is called, is strictly money!  So no complaining about unwanted gifts, children get money from parents, grandparents, and other relatives.  Some children can receive $$$ hundreds of dollars and then go buy whatever they want.  Though somewhat extravagant for some families, it is quite practical seeing that the "New Year" will require clothes, school supplies, and other necessities.   However, Oshougatsu is void of the mystical excitement that revolves Christmas for children. 

I guess that is what makes Christmas so popular in Japan these days! Oh and don`t forget KFC, SEE MY OTHER POST on CHRISTMAS

So as I get ready to witness another new year begin in Japan, I am reminded that no matter the country, spending time with family warms the heart in the cold of winter.  It gets our minds thinking about the days to come, what we want to accomplish and what we want to change.  It gets us thinking about the needs of the future, and about the potential on the road that lies ahead. 

May your mind be clear and may the path you walk be made straight this coming year.

Blessings from Japan,
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas: The Real Miracle - The Life of Samuel Parkins

This Christmas many of us celebrate, for Christians it is a time when we remember the beginning of Christ`s life.  It is a time when we think of miracles, when we think of family, when we count our blessings.

For the Parkins family, this Christmas season was a journey, a struggle, a fight for life, one that will bring you to tears.  I was blessed to read and witness such a powerful Christmas story.  But I will let Dan`s blog tell the rest.

The Real Miracle

please follow along with Dan`s blog on my links. Life on the Hill

Friday, December 24, 2010

Only in Japan: Kentucky Fried Christmas!!

As I came home from work this Christmas Eve, I was once again reminded of the interesting differences between Japanese and Americans.  Christmas itself is an imported holiday for the Japanese, which means it is obviously around for commercial reasons rather than religious.  Yet I can`t help but snicker when I see dozens of people, sometimes close to a hundred lined up at a KFC on Christmas Eve!

The Japanese tradition of Christmas Eve dining is with the good ole Colonel and his bucket of greasy but tasty chicken.  When asked by Japanese, "Do you eat KFC for Christmas in America?" I look at them and smile, and say "I never have. I am sure some people might, but we usually eat something more grand than chicken, like roast ham, or turkey."  They look at me surprised, with an expression that says "well isn`t chicken and KFC from America?"

The irony of it all is to see them line up for hours just to fulfill some tradition that most probably think is American or Western in nature when in reality KFC (Kentucky Fried Christmas!) is something that happens only in Japan.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Facing our Struggles: Christmas stress?

When we think of Christmas time we fantasize of calm winter skies with hot cocoa, decor, presents, and family.  We think of a nativity scene with peaceful looks on the figures faces that tell the Christmas story.  Most of us have very vivid memories of Christmas time growing up.  Christmas experiences leave a strong impression on us don`t they?  From them we create expectations of our Christmases to come, both good and bad.  Christmas time is no doubt one of the most stressful times of the year as we scramble to meet those expectations or not disappoint them.

Reading the gospel account of Christ`s birth in the book of Luke is the typical Christian tradition.  No doubt many families will crack open the Bible and once again remember the amazing account of little baby Jesus` birth.  The problem is that this Gospel account so easily becomes cliche.  It becomes limited to a sort of story book tale, far separated from our reality, from our daily experiences.

Let`s reread this account and give it the drama, wonder, and prestige it deserves.

First of all the two aren`t even married yet.  It says in verse 5 of Luke 2, "pledged to be married".  So this engaged couple expecting a child are going on a road trip.  This road trip isn`t all that exciting because it is merely to register for the census degreed by the occupying foreign power of Rome.  It is more of a duty than a fun outing.

Now these two have both been visited by angels and told amazing things and they are no doubt wondering what is going to happen as they arrive in Bethlehem.  I mean they might be thinking, " if God sent an angel to tell us the news, I`m sure He can provide us a nice place to stay."  *wrong* Not in His will.

They could not find any place to stay...they are no doubt stressed out and finally have to settle for a stinky, smelly animal stable that probably was a cave.  After giving birth, a bunch of shepherds (not religious people by any means) suddenly stop by to see the baby...remember they aren`t married yet. (lol) Have fun explaining that one Joseph, but they might believe it, since the were visited by angels too.  What a story!!

I could continue on and so forth, but my point is that the story of Christmas itself is filled with unpredictable situations, stressful scenarios, and amazing moments.  It is far from the "ideal."  God chose rag-tag beginnings for the Messiah, and it is humbling to think about His choice to be born as a man in such a way.  It is even more comforting knowing that His birth was just as stressful, exciting, and unpredictable to those involved as our lives are sometimes.

So if you are experiencing stress this Christmas like many are, be comforted in the fact that the very first Christmas was filled with stress too.  Just remember to hold on to and cherish the wonder and amazement of God`s salvation for you and all people this Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Traditions: Great Post on encountering God this Christmas

I follow this blog and read it often, this pastor is the real deal when it comes to following Christ!

Click on the words below!

Mike Slaughter`s blog

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Connecting Life with Faith: "Emmanuel" God is with us and we are with Him

Do you ever feel lonely?  Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  Do you ever feel abandoned? All of us have felt or feel such feelings.  Our human experience exposes us to difficulties and feelings that are at times hard to handle, that is the road we travel. 

Some of us travel for many years and for some the road is cut short.  In our walk of life we all want to be understood, we all want to be acknowledged for our uniqueness and valued for it.  We do not want to walk alone.  I was reminded by a song by Journey "Ask the Lonely"

"If you`re lost in deep despair, you just ask the lonely." 

The words meaning that even if you are having the hardest time in your life, you always have those to talk to, to listen to you, to love you.  The "lonely" have it even worse than those who have difficulty because they have nobody.

The amazing aspect of the Gospel accounts is that they emphasize that we are not alone in this world.  We are not alone in the universe.  God is indeed with us and wants to be part of us, part of our jobs, our communities, our families, our homes.  The question is will you let Him in, as He knocks on your heart, as He gives opportunity after opportunity to allow Him into your daliy life and your daily thoughts.

I was recently reminded of this verse and I think it goes well with the concept of "Emmanuel" (the literal meaning "God is with us"). 

Ephesians 2:6, 7 "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus."

Looking at our lives from an eternal perspect, out of the realm of time, we are already with Him.  We are seated with Him and nothing can remove us from that place except our own will.  We are experiencing the promise of salvation as we live now, but as far as heaven is concerned, we are already with Him.  We are have nothing to lose and everything to gain by saying "YES" to Him today in every area of our life.

God is with us! and we are with Him!  So what can death do to us, or man, what hold does fear have on us if God is with us and we are indeed already with Him seated in heaven.  If God has promised us salvation  through Christ, then it is guaranteed, just as the sun will rise tomorrow, so we will also come to the point  where will be meet this eternal destiny.

In the meantime, let`s give thanks for Christ`s birth, life, and work of redemption on the cross!  Let`s face the days ahead with assurance that God is with us, and we are with Him.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Traditions: An informative and insightful post by Pastor Mike Slaughter


Click the link below to read about some of our Christmas traditions and where they came from

Mike Slaughter`s Blog

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Only in Japan: Watch out for that Monster!

If you like cuddly, terrifying, and strange mascots, Japan is the place for you.  At malls, street corners, every where you look! What do you expect from the country that gave the world Pokemon!

Any company that campaigns directly to the public has a mascot character of some kind: from cable companies, to gas companies, to water providers and waste management.  Even cities have their own mascots!

It`s an interesting approach to business and unique to Japan`s culture.  They love their mascots, but the real question is, "Can you really trust that monster with your children`s future!" LOL

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Future and Technology: Japanese Robostaff

Being in Japan, I have become used to "wierd" technology.  Annually Japan displays robots of giant proportion on the public streets, or robots who do backflips and disco dancing on television.  They even have popular robo pets. 

I think the Japanese are striving to make their popular Manga ( Japanese cartoon animation) into a reality.  The idea of replacing humans with robots has been around a long time, but it is strange to see it right before your eyes.

The photo I took is of a robot receptionist who can answer any question you have politely and eloquently or if needed call for a supervisor.  It is the next real step in robostaffing technology.  That is basically where robots handle sentinel type or information management jobs. 

So what does the future hold?  What are the pros and cons of having robots do these seemingly mundane jobs for us?

It certainly makes for interesting conversation, and Japan always surprises me with their bold pursuit of creating a robot/human society that would excite any science fiction fan.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Connecting Life with Faith: What can we do this Christmas?

A lot of us feel the need to help others, especially during the Christmas season.  There are a lot of people hurting around us or maybe in need around us, so the question is what can we do? 
I think most Christians have thoughts like these going through their minds in a time like this.  Is giving somebody some money for food good enough?  Should I share the gospel with every person I meet?  What am I called to do this Christmas?  What`s my spritual job as a follower of Christ?

I wish I knew the answers to these questions and the many more that go through my mind as I live out each day.  There is such strong tension between the urgency of sharing the gospel and understanding God`s timing for your life.  Think of how Jesus told his disciples in one instance to immediately go door to door as it were telling people about the kingdom.  Then think of the example of Moses, who tried to force the message of freedom for his people in his youth, but in his later days brought a nation out of captivity. 

There are so many unique approaches towards sharing our faith, but we should be concerned with the message our lives tell.  What good is it to preach the truth of Christ and to nullify it with our actions.  We can go shout it before the world on a mountain, but unless God is with us, we merely resound as a gong.  We can blog, tweet, post, and craft our words wisely, but without the Holy Spirit on our words we had best save our breath.  I say this knowing that God`s grace is the only way we can say or do anything for His name.

So if we are evangelists let us be bold and ever so humble, able to engage in discussion with wisdom and tact.  If we call ourselves servants of Christs let us be diligent to find a place to exercise our gifts.  The Bible talks about the gifts (graces) of God, but the hard part is finding the daily way in which to use them.  That is up to you!  Though our gifts are divinely given, our use of them is self-initiated.

I like to compare exercising spiritual giftings to prayer.

Just as with prayer, using your gifts takes faith.  Using your gifts should be simple.  It should not cause you tremendous stress, but should release joy deep inside.  Finally, the results are up to God. 

So if you are asking yourself, what can I do this Christmas?  Why not use your spiritual gifts along with your financial resources to bless people this holiday season! 
God bless you all!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Connecting Life with Faith: How we speak to God

We can all relate to the last minute prayer or closed eyes hoping a wish might come true, but what I want to discuss is the how we communicate, or speak to God.  Obviously conversation works within the frame of a relationship.  We talk to people differently based on our relationship to that person.  The tone I use with my children and my boss are completely different.  The words, diction and gestures vary from relationship to relationship.

So I might ask you readers...what kind of relationship do you have with God?  How do you view Him?  Ultimately our theology (reference of understanding God) determines the way in which we engage our Creator.

We speak to God through what we call "prayer", a personal mode of communication, most often spoken but also it can be silent.  But silent only in appearance, on the inside there is the voice of the saint praising, appealing, pleading, even weeping.

Just as children we come to Him innocently, unafraid.  But just as we enter His presence we become aware of His greatness, and that changes the way we speak to Him.  It changes our tone and we are mindful of our words, but remember that we are always His children.

Looking at the words of the New Testament, I see three main ways God is addressed in prayers.  "Lord" "Father" "Abba"

Each of these words elicits a different feeling in the way we come to God.  I think we go through phases or typically have a preference in the way we come to God in our prayers.  Some of us prefer LORD, some Father, and some love to call Him "Daddy."  He of course is all of these to us, but depending on our situation we come to Him differently.

In short,
Lord emphasizes His dominion and provision for us.  His might and majesty and glory.  His beauty and splendor and divinity.

Father emphasizes paternity, being the Creator and beginning of all things.  His care and concern for us as His children.  His plan and commitment to our salvation and sanctification as His people.

Abba, a lot like Father but focusing on our relationship as children, it emphasizes the intimate side that cares for our deepest needs.  We cry Abba when we need His affection and comfort.  His forgiveness, mercy and help.

By all means, I wish not to define these as a rule, but to more understand the way we speak to God.

So let us come to Him freely, bold, but full of reverence. Needy but ready to honor His will before our own.  Prayer is not easy but remembering it is not mere words but the entire spectrum of communication, from the bowing of the knee (Romans 14:11)to the beating of the chest(Luke 18:13), or to the tears we shed(Jeremiah 50:4), keeps it simple.  How could He turn away from us if our hearts are open to Him and we come as His precious children.
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