Update from Japan: How You Can Pray

The following article is by John Starke, found at the The Gospel Coalition website.

 

Update from Japan: How You Can Pray

With the rest of the world I have been watching footage of the devastation in Japan with my hands over my mouth. Videos and pictures have shown us the awful destruction and only make us wonder at how many lives are lost or now impoverished in ways beyond our ability to comprehend. Maybe you felt the same, but my prayers have only been groanings, hoping the Holy Spirit can give content to the needs I haven’t been able to articulate for Japan.

Two days ago, my wife rushed into my office and asked, “Do you think Keiko is alright?” Keiko Takahashi is a Japanese woman who was in our small group at church before she left less than a year ago to go work with Michael Oh at Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan. After some investigation by email and Facebook, we found out she was fine, but working tirelessly, as you can imagine. I emailed Keiko to see if she could provide information on how the disaster is affecting Christians, local churches, and missionaries. Basically, I just wanted some information to help inform our prayers.

God’s Faithful Presence

 

Keiko’s response was thick with an awareness that God is present in Japan and that his providence, however mysterious, is good. But there are efforts, dark and spiritual, sowing the seeds of disorder, confusion, and anxiety. “When this kind of massive confusion occurs, some malice spirits spread dark malicious rumors,” she writes. “Evil demagogues on the Internet stir up the dark human desire, normally hidden at the bed of the original sin.”

Thankfully, the majority of Japanese people seem to be trusting the official reports from the authorities about the nuclear plants, aftershocks, and power outages. In fact, Keiko remarks the Japanese people have submitted to the authorities with orderliness and patience. She writes:

Even in the total power outage, nobody robs shops or rapes or anything, except for those who are normally committing such crimes. . . . There are no riots where we have to line up for several hours in the train station waiting to get into a packed-full train cart. They answer to the interviewer, “Compared to those who died or survived the tsunami, this long line is nothing. We want to help them by saving our electricity consumption for them.”

Let’s be thankful to God for this unusual order during a time of such devastation. There seems to be a common grace from God to the Japanese people that, as Keiko puts it, “They know that the power of love overcomes their sense of inconvenience to the extent of suffering.” But she reminds us, “Christianity must show far beyond.” Our love and kindness, Keiko writes, must be rooted in our faith in the atoning cross of Jesus, so that our acts of mercy will give honor to the “God who created and gives unceasing mercies and comforts.”

A Far Greater Struggle

In a nation with such a small Christian minority, the pressure Keiko endures from unbelieving family members is common to Christian workers in Japan. She explains:

My unbelieving family say in “love” that I should leave Japan for the United States because I have some contacts there. They assume that our goal for life is to physically preserve ourselves. But we know that our true goal is to die to the idol of self-preservation, and to be raised into God’s preservation, which is destined to victory.

She explains that what her family “cannot understand or accept is the fact that I see and taste the happiness that is given through the atoning cross of Christ. I came to Japan to die to all my self-dignity to live for Christ who loves to rescue his enemies, who alone can make me filled with all that I could hope for and far more.”

Kieko and her co-workers hear stories of “those who were swallowed by fast, dirty waters, yet never lost hope in the deadly struggle to survive for their loved ones.” But she knows that there is a far greater struggle, an eternal one, that compels her to stay in Japan. She explains:

Yet as we pray with missionaries from John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, we vividly see that even those spectacular survivors still do not know anything about the far more dreadful struggle they must deal with at the end of their lives here on earth, which will be final.

Pray for Christians, who, like Keiko describes it, “shine by showing our full confidence in Christ.”

Devastated ‘Rengo’ Christians

 

Portions of Keiko’s email were especially heart breaking. One in particular was her report of the “Rengo” Christians. She writes:

Among those killed [were the] many churches planted by the missionaries sent by the same denomination as John Piper’s denomination, called “Rengo” in Japanese. Their church planting efforts have been predominantly focused on these east coast areas that were just swept all away!!!

According to Keiko, biblical Christianity thrived in these eastern regions that were devastated by the tsunami waves. She writes, “People in this area have been traditionally known for poverty and enduring patience due to the severe weather. [They were] well prepared for the God of all mercies and comforts (2 Cor 1).” They were “precious believers” in a country that is less than 0.2 percent Christian.

She asks, without doubting God’s goodness or perfect wisdom, “Why does God do this?” Along with rebuilding churches and ministering to mourning communities, Christians in Japan will be faced with similar questions. Pray for wisdom and clarity.

How Can American Christians Help?

 

Keiko is clear that it’s not yet the time for material and human resource help. There is simply too much “traffic confusion and congestion due to the scheduled power outage in downtown Tokyo and because of the shattered roads in the areas hit.” But there are “460, 000 survivors who lost everything in a few minutes, including their loved ones, and are impoverished in every possible sense.” So as we wait and pray, let’s pray that when the time comes to help, the means will be ready and effective.

The deep need in Japan from American Christians is prayer. Keiko writes, “Please pray and encourage us to fight a good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith until the Lord makes us home with him.” She is keenly aware that there will be temptations on every side in this fight for faithfulness. She reminds us, “I cannot choose to die to my flesh at all by myself, but only by the Spirit and by the power of his divine grace and his perfect righteousness. That is why prayer counts so much.”

The challenge for Christian workers is the significant biblical illiteracy in Japan. “Most Japanese people,” Keiko explains, “have never heard of the true meaning of God’s grace given through the cross of his Son.” So especially now, when some are offering false hope or claiming apocalyptical doom, many “cannot tell the Spirit from the spirits of evil cults, which are out to be the wolves in sheep skins. So we should not just send Bibles and tracts to the survivors at refugee shelters.”

The temptation, then, is for Christian to labor in their own strength. But let’s pray that they believe and act on what Keiko articulates so clearly:

We sow and water but God is the one who actually brings them to growth, not to death. . . . We shine by showing them our full confidence in Christ, not on our character or our wisdom or even our faith, etc., but in our conviction that there is no sin that he cannot atone for his own pleasure. We must reflect such miraculous generosity of God solely by the living Spirit.

That is why our and your prayer counts so significantly. It makes so much theological sense to pray and express our dependency on him who sanctifies us and saves the lost beyond our imagination.

Pray for the suffering and the mourning. Pray for local church communities to be faithful lights of the gospel. Pray that the hope of God’s grace in Christ will rest upon many hearts in Japan over the coming months.

John Starke is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can follow him on Twitter.

 
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Japan: After Empathy and Aid, People Want Answers

The following article is by John Piper, found here.

by John Piper | March 17, 2011 Category:

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Priorities

First things first.

When Christians see suffering they feel empathy. We too have bodies (Hebrews 13:3). Therefore, love commands, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Then comes aid. We want to help relieve human suffering—all of it, especially eternal suffering:

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

And that includes enemies:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27);

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink (Romans 12:20).

But sooner or later people want more than empathy and aid—they want answers.

Proclamation and Power

When love has wept and worked, it must have something to say about God. It doesn’t need to have all the answers. Only God does. But it has the Bible, and the Bible is not silent on this matter.

No earthquakes in the Bible are attributed to Satan. Many are attributed to God.1 This is because God is Lord of heaven and earth:

He commands even winds and water, and they obey him (Luke 8:25);

He sends forth His command to the earth. . . . He gives snow like wool; He scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold? . . . He makes his wind blow and the waters flow (Psalm 147:15-18);

He looks on the earth and it trembles . . . touches the mountains and they smoke! (Psalm 104:32);

[He] shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble (Job 9:6).

Earthquakes are ultimately from God. Nature does not have a will of its own. And God owes Satan no freedom. What havoc demons wreak, they wreak with God’s permission. And God has reasons for what he permits. His permissions are purposes. That’s the point of Job 1-2 and Luke 22:31-32.

Purpose

God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose:

He is wise and brings disaster (Isaiah 31:2);

The Lord is good (Psalm 100:5);

All his works are right and his ways are just (Daniel 4:37).

Therefore, God has a good and all-wise purpose for the heart-rending calamity in Japan on March 11, 2011 that appears to have cost tens of thousands of lives.

Indeed, he has hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age:

How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33);

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Yet there are possible purposes revealed in the Bible that we may pray will come to pass:

  1. The end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation (see above) are meant as calls to repentance—to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
  2. The end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as “the beginning of the birth pangs.” That is, they are a wake-up call to this world that God’s kingdom will soon be born. So be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ.
  3. God’s unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to his own will and owes us nothing. He has a right both to children (2 Samuel 12:15) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to their true owner rather than defraud him till it is too late.
  4. The power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Most of the world does not fear the Lord and therefore lacks saving wisdom. The thunder-clap summons to fear God is a mercy to those who live.
  5. When the earth shakes under our feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? Answer: God.

Pray

And let us pray that in this catastrophe the Lord fulfills two other purposes:

  1. That Christians repent of worldliness. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
  2. That Christians in Japan and around the world would step forward with extraordinary, sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father’s judgment. The suffering and death of Jesus Christ for the sin of the world is the one place where empathy, aid, and answers meet. He invites everyone to come for all three.

O how fragile this life is. The world, and all its life-sustaining processes seem so sure and solid. They are not. One thing is sure and solid:

Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

1 2 Samuel 22:8; Isaiah 13:13; 24:18-20; 29:6; Psalm 60:2; Nahum 1:5-6; Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13-14; 16:18

(This post is adapted from what I wrote August 18, 1999, in response to the earthquake in Turkey that cost 17,000 lives.)

Topic: Natural Disasters  

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN) and the founder of Desiring God.

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Contextualization of the Gospel in Japan

This is a presentation given my a former missionary to Japan. In his early days as a missionary, he said he wasn’t sure what he was doing or what he should be doing. Then he learned that it doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. He talks about how he tried all kinds of methods of evangelism. It wasn’t the method that was so important, but just from being out there, connections were made by God’s providence.

Why is it difficult to communicate the gospel in Japan? Here are three reasons from the presentation:

1. The meaning of God (kami) The word “kami”, the word for God, can mean many different things…it can be a beautiful rock, sunset, lake, anything that stimulates a feeling of harmony with the natural world. It is something that is visible and impersonable. There is no concept in Japanese culture of a personal, invisible God who made the world, knows, and loves, and to whom the world is accountable. Thus, when one begins to speak about God’s love, it is decoded as the beautiful serenity of the natural world. It makes no sense at first. So, we have to begin with Genesis, teaching the story of God’s creation and the story of Israel- the narrative of the story of redemption. We can tell the stories of people and God interacting with them, and the story of Jesus Christ.

Also, the understanding of religion is often thought of to be something to get benefits in this life. For example, it is something to help pass your entrance examinations. People might think God is simply a means to get what we want and be successful and happy- it is a prosperity theology. Although God blesses us in many different ways, but basically there is a misunderstanding. The fact is that we are made by God and for God and for His purposes. We worship Him because of who He is, not because of what He gives to us. The book of Job addresses this, which this missionary often preached from. The book of Job is the defeat of prosperity religion.

2. The Meaning of Sin (Tsumi): Tsumi, the word for sin, means breaking the norms or expectations of your family, or company, or community, or society at large. It is the same word used for “crime.” There is no personal God to whom we are accountable- there is no vertical aspect, just a horizontal aspect with others around us, breaking of societial relationships. If we say to someone that we that God loves you and sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins to bring you forgiveness, it can be decoded as us telling them that they are a criminal, who committed some act against their family. We want to communicate that you are a sinner, not a criminal.

There is an emphasis on social conformity, and also the external, such as rituals for the blessing of new buildings. That has to be replaced with an emphasis on the heart, the conscience, rather than the external. The interior life needs cleansing. All of us failed to lived up to even our own standards, whatever those might be (and I would add, most importantly, that we have fallen short of God’s standards). Christ has come not to give external purity but heart cleansing. This is a message that resonates, because people may not understand the concept of sin but they recognize that something is wrong with their lives. So we want to teach it patiently, humbly, and with love (and in their own language, if at all possible).

3. The Meaning of Grace (Megumi): Megumi means favors offered and received. I do something good for you, and now the obligation is on you to repay. There isn’t a concept of undeserved favor with no expectation of anything in return. Helpful passages in communicating grace are the parables of Jesus, especially the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. These kind of stories can communicate grace.

When we encounter the terms such as kami, tsumi, and megumi, there are two approaches a missionary can take. He can either invent new terms (some missionaries have tried to do this but it has caused confusion), or he can take the available terms and reinvest them and redefine with new meaning- that is what most missionaries do.

It is emphasize that learning the language is very important.

I would also add that these are some good lessons here for all people, not only Japanese.

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