Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hoshino Tomihiro




"Here So Close But I Didn't Know"
An Autobiography of a Very Special Painter
By Hoshino Tomihiro


Tomihiro was a 24-year-old gymnastics teacher, and he was very good at it, too. Then one warm day he had an accident that left him paraylzed from the neck down.

In his nine years in the hospital following his accident, he discovered many things. Confined to beds and chairs for the rest of his life, he found himself irritable and dependent on others. He then found Jesus through his friends and through those who cared for him.

Miraculously, he also found the paintbrush that would come to characterize the rest of his life and his story. He began painting flowers. Lying in bed, he had a lot of time to think and to notice the depth of detail in the flowers that people brought him. His insight, love of and appreciation for God's creation is really simple, beautiful and touching, just like his pictures.

You can find his flower pictures at any Christian bookstore in Japan, perhaps with one of his poems. I haven't really done justice in this review to his book or his works. His book is short and sweet. I read it in one sitting at a favorite cafe. I'm not sure how many of his books are in English, but he has told his story in several of them:

Love From the Depths
Journey of the Wind
Love From the Depths (Japanese)

A google search on his name yields good results.

Blessings in God's love to you! From Him who makes the flowers and brings life out of death, blessing out of wilting (paralysis), and resurrection in His Son.

The Gospel is in the Lord's Prayer!


Last night was one of those times when my mind & spirit clicked on and I began scribbling on paper while still laying in bed. Er, futon.

I was thinking about fasting -- something which I understand very little of -- and I started understanding the point of it from something Jesus said. But then I realized that in context He was talking about the new & old covenants in that passage. I wondered, Is old covenant fasting different than new covenant fasting? Somehow, I know it is in my spirit, but my mind can't fully explain it yet. I remembered that fasting is kind of a regular spiritual discipline (for lack of a better word), just like prayer. Then I wondered...

Is *prayer* different in the new & old covenants?

That got me thinking about the Lord's prayer, and suddenly I realized Jesus spoke the gospel in it!

Our Father

Yes, first He wanted us to identify with Him. The Gospel says that Jesus identified with us, partaking of our flesh and blood. He became human so that by partaking of His flesh & blood we might become eternal. He gave us His sonship! Right away Jesus instructs us to know His Father as our Father, too.

His will

And Jesus came to do His Father's will on earth... His will as it is already done in heaven. He came to make us truly sons of His Father by switching places with us. He took our sins, even becoming sin for us, so that we might become His righteousness and be born of & filled with His eternal Spirit of sonship.

Forgive us, as we forgive!

Okay, this is the part that really hit me. Not only that, it's also Jesus' punchline. The traditional ending "For Thine is the kingdom... Amen" is not in most of the ancient manuscripts. Jesus stops the prayer with "Deliver us from evil" and is so enamored by the "forgiveness" point that He goes on to elaborate it into a teaching of its own. (Or rather, perhaps it was the point of the prayer He was leading up to? I think so!)

"Forgive us, Father God, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Jesus is telling us to forgive those who are indebted to us. Those who have offended and trespassed against us, who are rightfully in our debt. They have sinned against us and deserve punishment, or at the very least we deserve an apology from them. But God is calling us to instead issue forth total forgiveness to everyone who offends and hurts us, everyone who takes from us, everyone who should rightfully "owe us" (or others) because of what they've done.

WHOA!! Where is this in the Law? Where is this in the entire Old Testament?

And furthermore, notice that this command is concerned with the heart!! Sometimes our forgiveness or our unforgiveness is evident and visible to others, but most of the time it is not visible. Only God truly sees. He's calling us to give attention to the condition of our hearts. More incredible still, He's saying that our own sins are forgiven as we release others from their debt of guilt to us! Eternal forgiveness is granted to us as we forgive those who do not deserve it.

In the Law of the Old Covenant (Old Testament), this is unheard of. Jesus is now essentially saying that unforgiveness is a sin. The Law is concerned with right & wrong, with dispensing justice. Forgiveness is available and good, but is not commanded, and unforgiveness is not penalized. Rather, sin is penalized. Now Jesus comes along and says that to keep forgiveness from someone who has wronged us is an impediment to receiving forgiveness for ourselves. In short, He's saying, "If you don't forgive, it affects you more than the other guy."

Justice is worried about whether the other guy deserves to be forgiven or not. Jesus is not talking about who deserves forgiveness and who does not deserve it. He is telling us to forgive all.

How can He say this?

He is telling us that only God's judgment is righteous, not ours. Our judgment is not righteous; it is flawed because we ourselves are also guilty. He is calling us not to judge each other, but instead to forgive each other.

Why? Because...

Jesus is the forgiveness of God

He can say this command because He Himself is God's offer of blanket forgiveness to us. He came to reconcile us to God by becoming our sins for us, by dying for us to offer us all forgiveness even though we have all sinned against God and against each other. We were His enemies, yet He died for us!

To receive this love ("agape"), He is asking us to embrace it and live in it. To receive His agape love, He is asking us to extend it to every single person we know of. He has extended it for all of us and for each of us individually, and if we are to accept it for ourselves, we must be willing to extend the same heart (the heart of God) to others.

As John Arnott & Jack Frost put it, God is calling us to live in the place of grace, in the place of mercy, not in the place of judgment, condemnation, law & justice. He has been merciful to us in His Son, so His Son is calling us to abide in Him, to abide in His love. When we judge each other, we're stepping back into the Law, where each sin is punished, where we ourselves are condemned as lawbreakers. But as we receive His grace, His forgiveness, we extend the same agape love to others and trust that He is the only righteous judge of us all.

Jesus, the Bread of Heaven

This is the Food that God has sent to us, that He has given to us: His Son, His body broken for our sins. He is the Bread of Heaven, the true substance of God. His love means forgiveness for our sins. He is Life, and His agape love is life to us. His forgiveness means life to us. Sure, it may not seem to be "justice" to us, but it is Life, and if we will yield to His call, He will prove it to be Life in our lives. (It will however mean "death" to our desire for others to pay back their debt of offense towards us).

His will, once again

"Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven." Look at these words again in the light of His agape love, in the light of His Son who is forgiveness for every sin we have and could ever commit. God is love. God is agape. In Heaven, God's agape love, His forgiveness, is already accomplished. His will is done in Heaven. And the Son came to accomplish His will of agape -- forgiveness, reconciliation -- on earth.

"Thy agape & forgiveness, Thy heart, as seen & revealed in Thy Son, be done on earth as it already is in Heaven..."

His will is and was done in His Son. His will was accomplished. We are forgiven. Now we -- you and I -- are called to accept His agape love for us and live it out towards each other, extending His forgiveness to everyone who wrongs us, showing them the mercy He has shown us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

Could it be that this is how He is leading us out of temptation? Could it be that this is how He is delivering us from evil? First He blanket forgives our sins in His Son, and then He calls us to likewise forgive one another ("Love one another as I have loved you").

He has delivered us from the evil of our sins. He has delivered us from the evil one -- the one who accuses us -- by forgiving us our sins ("Satan" means "Accuser" in Hebrew).

Is He saying that His forgiveness of our sins also leads us out of temptation? I think so! The enemy keeps us in sin like the cycle of an addiction, by showing us our guilt and our inability to be cleansed from it, so that we eventually give up trying to be good and just accept becoming numb.

I believe Jesus shows us that the best defense against the enemy's temptations and accusations is the forgiveness He has given us. We are set free! We are forgiven! Suddenly temptation loses its power! I can't explain it! Ha!

And again I am delivered from evil -- delivered daily by the forgiveness He has given me already, that He accomplished 2,000 years ago and purposed in His heart to give to me before the beginning of this world! Oh God! I weep in Your Spirit! Thank You so much, Lord! Thank You that this is TRUTH, You are Truth, You have set us free by Your Truth! Thank You.

Perhaps this sheds new light on those extra closing words, which do appear in some (but not most) ancient manuscripts:

For Thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

The Son is the glory of the Father. He is Father's forgiveness toward us. God is love. God is agape. This is His Kingdom which no earthly kingdom can destroy or uproot. His agape love is life to us and it is eternal. By this we know we are in Him, that we love one another and obey His command to love one another. It is to His glory that we abide in His love and share the fruit of His agape love with one another.

This is fruit that abides (faith, hope and love abide forever) and does not pass away. His agape love is eternal and by touching it, eating it as our food, as our daily bread, and handing it out ot everyone we know and know of, we partake of and share eternity. God is agape and God is eternal. Agape is eternal and eternity.

In Jesus, the Amen, the Faithful one, Amen!
So it is in Your life, Lord, in Heaven,
and so be it in our lives! Amen.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ekklesia, Part II


This is part II. You can read the original Part I here.

A friend left a comment on the original post and I began to reply to it, but my reply turned into a new post! So here it all is: her comment first, then my reply afterwards. Enjoy! (And let me know what you think! Don't be shy about sharing your experiences!)

*****

Sand Being Drawn wrote:

wow Ramone! I've only known "institutional church" and have no intention to begin "Mukyokai-shugi" but I see truth in your writing.

I am the everyday audience to my husband who loves to share what God has shown him through His word. And recently, God has shown my husband something similiar. Similiar in that: Why do we respect a building because it's "Church" and not ourselves since we are the church. Christianity isn't contained and sustained in a building, but by those people who are called by His Name - "The body of Christ."

I can understand your friends concerns though, because I've seen it happen. But you and Yoko seem to know Jesus according to His Word through study and walking it out. I pray the best for both you and Yoko and thank you for sharing "Mukyokai-shugi."

Be blessed,
Sand Being Drawn

--
Posted by Sand Being Drawn to Fulfilled in Jesus at 6/23/2005 02:46:27 AM


*****

The reply - Ekklesia, Part II

The Spirit led into the wilderness

Hi & thanks for your comment! You know, I don't think anyone ever intends to leave institutional church, re-learn what "Church" means and then embrace a less visual understanding of it. We certainly didn't intend to go this route! Many times it feels like being in the wilderness. At the beginning of the year I asked the Lord if we would come out of the wilderness this year, and He didn't say yes or no (yes was the answer my flesh wanted), but He replied in the words of Isaiah that He would make the wilderness blossom, planting the cedar and acacia, the myrtle, etc. So basically it was a "No", haha, because He wants me to get comfortable with Him and trust Him to bring family & fellowship in His timing.

One illustration of this was with our friend Cindy, who lives in Kobe (about an hour away from here [Osaka] by train). Cindy used to come down to a church near us for renewal time once in awhile, but we still never found time to meet. Our schedules seemed to leave no opening. After meeting each other we were always blessed & longed for more time with each other. Last year (or was it the year before), Yoko and I tried to plan times to meet with Cindy and it just didn't work. But then on the fly, we un-expectedly were able to meet with her and share some precious time with Jesus together. During one of those times I suddenly understood: Spirit-led meeting. Usually we use "Spirit-led" to mean that we trust that the pastors or whoever up front is being led by the Spirit. But He re-interpreted the phrase for me one night to let me understand this: He will bring us together when He needs to. We will come together by the power of His Spirit. The "meeting" occurred because of the Lord. Not-so-ironically, that was at least a year ago and we haven't seen Cindy in a long time! We miss her but all three of us know that God still holds us together and will bring us together again soon.

Uncharted territory

I also grew up knowing only church as an institution, building, and weekly programmed meeting (or loosely programmed). This is all new to me, but as I look back into Scripture, I realize it was also all new stuff to the disciples. I once thought of a drama skit where, while waiting for Pentecost, the disciples gather together in the upper room and James starts to organize services, begin a preaching rotation ("Peter, you should be first"), organize a board to find someone responsible to start a collection (since Judas was gone), etc. While the elder disciples debate that stuff, finally little John breaks down crying and the guys ask why. "I miss Him", he says. Somehow, one after another they remember Him and fall down together, crying out for Him, because it's not about them, not about us and what we do, but it's about Him. Then the Holy Spirit comes... (^_^)

No one wants to go into the wilderness. Like all things in Christ, you need to be *led* there. The idea that God might intentionally *lead* a Christian away from an institutional church is unthinkable in the minds of most North American & British churches. Yet it's happening all over the globe. A minister named Andrew Strom has noted the trend and commented on it somewhat (sorry, I don't have a link for what he wrote). Others such as Chip Brodgen (www.watchman.net) have noted the trend as well and are focused on proclaiming the sufficiency of Christ.

The "mukyokai" still meet here in Japan somewhere. I haven't met any of them, but they're somehow descended from Uchimura and the people he used to disciple eighty years ago. I used the term similar to the first time it appeared in Uchimura's writings when he was basically shunned by the institutional churches. He wrote, "I have become 'mukyokai'." The trend existed long before Uchimura gave it a name, just like we too were led away from institutional church without ever really knowing that so many others were led in the same way.

I met a man at the Osaka Christian bookstore named David and struck up a casual conversation with him. Although I didn't go to a regular institutional church, the first thing out of my mouth was "What church do you go to?" because I didn't know anything else to say. David had that awkward moment and replied that he didn't really go to a church regularly. "Me, too" I said! Suddenly I felt all the more foolish because I realized I had no more substantial conversation starter than asking where a Christian went to church. Once that was out of the way, we talked about each other (where we came from, what we were doing in Osaka), and then talked about *Him* ... how He led us here, and what He's doing with us and in our lives. That was a lot of fun! I ended up taking David to another less-known Christian bookstore in Osaka and then we went out to dinner with my wife later. God definitely put him in my life! And again, it's been awhile since I've seen Him, but trust that the Spirit is going to hook us up in person in His timing as He has already hooked us up in the Vine.

Dependency

The most interesting thing I learned from reading the book about Uchimura was his observations of the teaching of western missionaries. He noted that they honestly believed and taught salvation would be lost if one did not have a regular church attendance. Usually it wouldn't be stated that overtly, of course, but the actions (and reactions) of western missionaries would say as much. When I read that I suddenly realized that I had grown up with the same belief -- that if someone didn't go to church regularly, they would fall away from the Lord. And indeed, when people in the West did stop going to church, they did seem to fall away from the Lord. It became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't want to generalize, but it truly seems that there is a spiritual dependence on "church" in the Western Church. Believers in countries with religious persecution, however, don't have that kind of dependence. They depend only on the Lord, and they are strengthened & encouraged when the do get chances to meet together.

Somehow, when it is "required" in countries where there is freedom of religion, the spiritual dependence kicks in. I suppose it's like the Law in that sense. When church is an unwritten Law, those who fall short of the Law find only condemnation (from those who go to church and from themselves), and so they really do fall away because they believe they are sinning and believe God condemns them. Yet in persecuted places, the Church can meet together freely -- not because they *have* to (in order to stay right with God), but because they *want* to from their hearts.

It's like giving offering under coercion -- God wants us to give freely from our hearts, not because we think we'll be cursed if we don't or blessed if we do (which is the reason so many offerings are made at Shinto & Buddhist shrines & temples here). He wants us to give just as He gave -- freely, because we desire to bless the receiver, not because we ourselves want to receive. In the same way, "fear" (of falling away, etc.) is not a motivation from God when it comes to assembly.

The favorite proof-text for reigning in dissenters has been in Hebrews, "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together", however it's not given as a command ("Or else!") but given to those who were feeling pressure from Jewish traditions to doubt the reality of Jesus' Messiah-ship and the New Covenant (which is the theme of the book of Hebrews). The next sentence makes clear the purpose of the injunction to meet together: "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, but rather encourage one another...". The purpose of coming together was truly to encourage one another, to bless each other, to love each other with His love, to carry each others' burdens. And yes, to be a place where you could lay down your burdens without fear of stalling the program or being embarrassed in front of the congregation.

Somehow when we've read that text, we thought it meant "Don't forsake going to church", but we forgot that Christ's meaning of 'gathering' is "two or three together in My name". Very often we've used the text to reign in those who seemed to be wandering away from weekly church attendance, and totally missed the punchline -- the purpose of the text -- which is that people need *encouragement*, not a law! If we give them a law of attendance, they may feel compelled to attend, but inside they may be hurting and have no one to help them. Worse still, they may fall away while yet remaining in the pew.

As I look at the persecuted Church (in the past and in the present), I believe we can see that they don't have the complusion to meet together. When Christians are tortured and thrown into prision (and denied the opportunity to go to "church"), they don't fall away simply because Christ becomes their everything. When they do meet together, they don't do so because it's a requirement, but they come to encourage one another. Just like Hebrews said we need to.

Therefore...

The thing to do, then, is of course not to tear down every church building and tell people that they must leave and meet in their homes, etc. That's not it at all. The thing to do is to simply preach the all-sufficiency of Christ, and trust that it's His hold on us that saves us (instead of our hold on Him -- see John 10). And I believe we need to be honest with people by telling them that, no, it's not a requirement. We shouldn't continue the cycle of dependency by telling people that if they don't come, they will fall away. Let them come because they have found encouragement, not because of fear. It's like Christ vs. the things of the world: people will cling to Christ simply because He is the Real Thing, not because of all the preaching about how evil the world is. When they meet Him, they will be fulfilled deeper than any of the shallow things they used to pursue could ever do for them. The same freedom should be given for meeting together.

There is a fear, however, in embracing this understanding: What will happen if we tell people they don't have to come? Will some churches close? Will some ministries disappear? If we hold back from speaking the truth because we want to keep God's work open and going, then we don't realize that we're trying to power God's work by fear & coercion instead of by the Spirit. He will truly provide where His Spirit leads and where there is freedom for Him to move on peoples' hearts. He was able to do all that He did in the early Church without using fear & coercion (making "church" into unwritten law). The early Church -- as well as the faith of the reformers & the faith of the persecuted throughout all centuries -- survived in spite of not having "church" as a requirement. They survived simply because they believed Christ is sufficient, and He truly was sufficient for them.

Is He sufficient for us? Can He be trusted to hold us together?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

First art pics


I thought I'd put up some of the recent pictures I've posted on our art page. They're actually not new at all, but newly scanned. I call them the "first pics" because they're the first ones I got from God and did for Him. Blessings in Him!


----- On His Path ------------ Let it rain ---------------- Delight! -------


- Climb Every Mtn. ----- Come with Me ----------- Rei-hai --------


-Prophetic ministry ---------- Rest ------------------- The Rain -------

Monday, June 13, 2005

A prophet is...


A prophet is neither a super-person, nor a person with super powers, nor a super holy person, nor a person nearer to 'perfect' than you or I.

A prophet is a normal person who is called to testify to what he or she sees clearly: simply that our God who loves us is the only Super One.



Friday, June 10, 2005

Ekklesia


Part One of Two.

Introduction

For some time Yoko and I have not been part of a traditional church. We've been with God and He's been wonderful. Life with Him has been growth and peace. Yet when I meet other Christians here in Osaka (or chat by email with Christians in England or elsewhere), they ask what church we go to. I say we're not part of one, and they immediately invite us to their church. This is the turning point...

If I respond honestly, I will say that we're not looking for one, and that I'll ask the Lord and pray if and when we should go visit. I am thankful for their love and invitation, and would truly hope to know them better and become spiritual family to them. But often I rarely or never hear from them again. Especially damaging is if I try to explain what "church" means to us. After that it's as if there will be an unspoken barrier between my new friend and I.

Lord, help me write this in a way that glorifies You and helps everyone we know and love see You and believe in Your power and unity, just as You're teaching us to trust in Your unity, provision and in You alone.

Kanzo Uchimura

I recently read a book about a Japanese Christian man named Kanzo Uchimura, who lived over 80 years ago. He had become frustrated with western missionaries in Japan because of sectarianism and a peculiar but strong belief that if people didn't belong to an institutional church, they would lose their faith. If one were to suggest that trust in Christ alone was sufficient to keep a new believer's faith going, that person would soon be shunned by western missionaries, church authorities, and by zealous members of the institutional churches. They would see that person as a heretic, leading Christians astray (the logic being that if people weren't going to church, they would soon lose their faith, be deceived, or apostasize). Uchimura experienced this shunning, but discovered you can hold onto Christ (and even have your faith strengthened) even if you're not part of an institutional church! He continued serving Christ in Japan, and coined the term "Mukyokai-shugi" (the non-church church) for those who served Christ outside of western-style institutional churches. People who are Mukyokai-shugi still meet together today in homes, rented halls, or wherever, sharing Christ and not instilling the fear that if they don't attend somewhere they'll fall away from God.

In modern times, the problems faced by Uchimura (and countless others through the ages) have not gone away, nor have the fears of institutional church leaders & missionaries when they encounter someone with similar beliefs. Yoko and I have experienced some of these hurtful reactions from well-meaning but fearful Christians (ranging anywhere from warnings about being a "Lone Ranger Christian" to prooftexting to prove that "You have to be connected", meaning you must have "membership" somewhere "under a pastor"). So now I wish to write this so all my friends, family, and any new person I meet can read what we've come to understand from walking with the Lord and studying His words.

I might add that we have believed these things for several years, and not because I recently read a book about Uchimura. Thousands upon thousands of Christians are learning these same things and are being called out of institutions to walk with Christ wherever He may lead. Many are also being sent into institutional churches. These are all the Church, whether inside or outside of institutional churches. So what is the "church" anyhow?

Ekklesia

The Greek word for "church" is ekklesia, and perhaps the best one-word equivalent is "assembly", but the full meaning of ekklesia is "the called out ones". I will re-arrange the traditional order of the meaning to "the ones called out" for purposes of explaining what we've learned.

What is "church"?

We can learn a lot about it simply by looking at the meaning, "the ones called out". I would like to share some observations based on each of the four English words used to literally translate the word ekklesia.

"THE ones called out"

There is only one group. One vast, unified group. This is it & all there is. Yes, we see many groups today called "church", but in God's eyes, there is only one. He sees only one bride! One bride, not many! How do we reconcile what we see with what should be? We don't need to. All we need to do is trust in what He sees instead of what we see.

Simply put, the unified Church is invisible. Sometimes we will see a manifestation of the Church locally, but we aren't to trust in the manifestation; we are to trust in the truer invisible, spiritual reality. It's like love. Sometimes you give your spouse flowers. That's a manifestation of your love. Yet if there are no flowers to be seen, the love is still there, and is much deeper than the physical expressions.

In the same way, when people come together to share and worship God, the Church may be visible for a time. But when they are apart or do not meet together, they are still THE Church in God's eyes. They do not cease being the Church to Him, and neither should they in our eyes of faith. The unity that is invisible is stronger than the unity that is visible.

"The ONES called out"

Ones, not buildings. This should be obvious. "Church" is neither a building, nor a worship service, nor a program. Another name for the Church is "the body of Christ". A body is living, so Church is living. Sadly it has been made into a list or an institution particularly in western civilization. Our buildings may be beautiful, but they are not the Bride which will go to heaven to be united forever with her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Rituals, services, programs & traditions are likewise not the Church. To say we're "having church" would be like saying we're "having American", because Church is an identity; it's who you are.

The second thing that should be noted is that "ones" is plural. You are not alone! God has given you family! He has called individuals and so individuals make up His Church, His Body. He loves each one of us individually first. But He has also let us know that we are not alone. Even if in our surroundings we cannot find others who understand or who know Jesus, He says we are not alone. We are still the Church, and we are still connected by a bond stronger than any visible organizational unity.

"The ones CALLED out"

Simply put, each one of us must be called! What does this mean? It means that there is Someone who does the calling -- the Holy Spirit. Christ said, "I will build my Church". He has made Himself responsible for building His Church and for holding us all together in Himself.

He is the One who assembles us together and sets us in spiritual families. It is no use searching for spiritual family by our own desires and cravings. God knows what is best for us and will lead us. Perhaps He will lead you into a group of friends to share, pray, and carry each others' burdens. But maybe He will lead you somewhere where you do not know anyone. Maybe you will not be able to find any for quite some time, either. In the Bible, the Spirit often led the faithful into the wilderness. Know that when God leads you there, He is leading you to spend time with Him Himself and grow deeper in intimacy with Him. One of the reasons He often removes us from comfortable churches is because we have been leaning on them instead of on Him. Hence in Song of Songs, "Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her Lover?"

He knows who He has called and who He has not called. Not all who profess to be Christians are His Church. This is a difficult thing to say! But many of us are walking by sight instead of by faith. Many of us belong to church in the flesh but not Church in the Spirit! Oh God! My spirit weeps with Your Spirit! God, turn us to what is Real! Lead us to see from Your point of view and Yours alone, Lord! Tear us away from our confidence in the flesh and in our sight!

The definition of the Church is that we are and must be those who are called by God. It is no use considering ourselves "Church" if we do not know Him who called us! He is the Caller, and Church is built upon Him and around Him. He is what it's all about! He is the center! Church is not the good news -- Jesus Christ is! It's not about us and never will be: it's about Him.

"The ones called OUT"

We are called on a journey. Being called by Him means leaving something. Sometimes it will be "the world", other times it may be institutions (even churches), and still other times it may be a group of people. Just like God will call you personally, what you leave will be different because you are different than I am and you live in different circumstances.

But we are not called "out" just to be left outside. More than this, we are called TO something... and that something is Jesus Himself. We are called out of all that is not Christ, and we are called into Him Himself -- intimate personal union with Him. As He leads, He may call us to one another, but our primary calling is to Him.

To the Unchurched

As I was putting together these thoughts, I realized that I would need to explain "Church" differently to someone who had no knowledge of institutionalized churches.

My wife's sister is such a person. She has recently begun believing and knowing Jesus Christ Himself, and it's been wonderful to behold how He is working! One day she began to berate herself for messing up at work, but suddenly the Lord stopped her and told her she wasn't stupid. She came to Yoko and told her, "Yoko, He's not just in church! He's with us every day!" Prior to knowing Him, she had only a faint image of Christians going to church once every weekend. She was shocked to discover that Christ is living and is with us all day, every day! That's Jesus, and that's what Christianity is about!

If I had to explain "Church" to her, I would probably pull out the Bible and explain with some verses. I would also remind her of times we had shared and prayed together, and how He had given her peace in her heart at those times. I might say something like this:

"Church -- it's us! It's us who know Jesus and live because of Him. He's given us Family. He's given us each other. Somehow, we're all connected. We can't always see it, but when we come together and pray, we really know it, don't we! But even when we're not together, we're still connected in Him.

"He sent me here to Japan and away from my Church (my prayer group in Riverside). I missed them so much! I missed the times of prayer and worship we had together, the times when we waited for Him to speak, when we laid hands on each other and cried with each other. But He told me to come and I knew He was here with me. I miss them, but we're still connected in Him, you know? Sometimes He has me pray for them, or He has them pray for me.

"The Church is all who believe, all who love Him. All people who believe in Him and love Him, no matter where they are, they are our Family. In Osaka, in Tokyo, in Africa, China or Europe. It doesn't matter where you are. You're still the Church. I remember talking with my friend in Riverside about something I had learned about Jesus, and suddenly she interrupted me saying she knew! We both suddenly were crying in happiness and smiles. We knew the same Person. We both knew Jesus, and we knew that the other person knew Jesus, so we couldn't say anything! He makes us speechless sometimes!

"Never forget that He has given you Family. He loves you and will watch out for you wherever you are and wherever you go. You're never alone. You're surrounded! Surrounded by Him and surrounded by Family who love you. Sometimes -- well, many times -- it will seem like you don't have Family. But trust Him, because you know that's not true. It may be a long time before you meet your Family, or you may meet them soon.

"You know Yoko and I are your Family, too! We're blessed to know you and to share with you. Jesus is the Strong One and He holds us together. Don't worry if we have to go. We'll spend this time we have sharing and getting closer together.

"Sometime He may send us to a traditional church, where people will meet together how they know best. Yoko and I used to go to those places, but He called us to Himself in such ways that we know we'll never be content with anything less than Him and Family. We didn't always find Family there. Those places need our prayers and love, though, too. If you meet someone from a traditional church, be glad because they are your brother or sister. But don't fear if they tell you that you have to 'go to church' every week. Remember what Jesus' Spirit has said: you ARE the Church, you ARE His body. All the fullness of God is in Jesus, and you and I have all fullness in Jesus. You are not incomplete.

"Remember how you have found Jesus -- or rather how He found you. You've learned of His love for you and for everyone, and You've learned that what is invisible is stronger than what is visible. Trust in His Spirit to keep you safe and to continue to teach you. He is your Teacher, and He is my Teacher, too! Sometimes I worry that I don't learn, but a Christian man a hundred years ago [Andrew Murray] pointed out that my inability to learn is not as strong as His skill as a Teacher. With such a Teacher, I can't help but learn! He is faithful."

*****

I'll write more later, maybe with some verses I've found. Until then, won't you join me in reading Isaiah 62 and crying out for His Church? Ask for His heart and join me in crying out as He leads you, for His people and those who want to be His to have all obstacles removed and to find our identity in Him alone and in the name He has given us!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire




I've been wanting to write about this for awhile. Around this last weekend I drew these pictures that had been in my heart for a couple weeks about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. On Monday, a good friend told me that another good friend we've been praying for was baptized by the Holy Spirit over the weekend! God is so awesome!

When I say, "Baptism of the Holy Spirit", what comes to mind first? Perhaps its whatever experiences you've had with Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians, or perhaps it's only what you've heard others say about them. Maybe you grew up with the idea, like me, that the Holy Spirit is simply your "conscience".

Whatever you've heard and you haven't heard, you need to know that God is real. Yes, He is beyond science. He is supernatural. This is the God we serve, and He is a reality. He is totally "other". He exists outside of you and me and He is the only real objectivity. And He wants to give Himself to you, to pour Himself into you!



The promise of the Spirit is all over the Old Testament. Isaiah 44:1-4, Ezekiel 11:19-20 & 36:25-29, Joel 2:28-29, and Zechariah 12:10. It's the meaning behind Jeremiah 31:33-34. The Jews knew these scriptures and looked forward to the promise, and so they were not mystified when John the Baptist cried out about Jesus:

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come One who is more powerful than I... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12)

Why is the baptism of the Spirit such a point of contention? Maybe it's because many older Pentecostals have made it an issue of salvation and believe it must be accompanied by speaking in tongues. For myself, it was difficult also because I hadn't had that kind of real-meeting-God experience in my life, and was afraid of feeling deficient.

But in offering the Spirit, God isn't meaning to say, "You aren't a real Christian" or be demeaning. He simply loves us so much He wants to pour Himself into us and let us know that He's poured Himself into us!

And there is a difficult pill to swallow for many of us: Pentecostals and Charismatics have known that God wants to pour His Spirit into us, and they've received it. It doesn't make them any more perfect or better than us (goodness, there is only One who is right, and that is Christ! He is "The Lord Our Righteousness" - see Jer.23 & 33). But it's hard to admit we've been missing something.

Yet the Holy Spirit has been with us, and if we've believed Christ, then we have been born of the Spirit. Some of us have thought the Spirit was only our conscience, and have to some degree missed out on the different intimate ways He'd love to share with us. No matter, He's waiting to hug you now.

(Oh, the Spirit is so much more than your conscience! People had consciences before the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, you know!)

Tongues have been a sticky point. Don't worry about that. Sometimes He bursts out of your mouth in tongues when He pours Himself into you, sometimes He doesn't. He didn't do that for Charles Finney. The baptisms of the Spirit in the Bible tended to be accompanied by tongues, but I don't believe it's a rule for identification, primarily because God is not giving His Spirit so we can include or exclude one another from fellowship or identify who is saved and who isn't. The Spirit is not given so we will judge one another, but because we have released each other from judgment and chosen to live in Christ's agape love!

In fact, as I've walked with Christ and grown in the Spirit, I've learned that there is no set of rules to how He can baptize you in the Spirit and how He can't. As soon as we think it has to happen a certain way, He is sure to thwart us and do it another way (like He did by baptizing the Gentiles in His Spirit before they'd even had a chance to profess belief in Christ and receive water baptism from Peter).

What I believe I've learned is that it's intensely personal. There is a depth of meaning to the filling of the Holy Spirit and I can't hope to explain it all. Why? Because the Spirit is God! Can I explain the depths of God? Ha!!! Of course not! What I can tell you is what it's meant to me -- what He, the Holy Spirit, has meant to me, done for me, and taught me:

Many Christians will talk about the Spirit as if it's all about the power He gives and the gifts He gives. But He is so much more. He has a personality, and He is simply God Himself pouring Himself into you. If the idea of God pouring Himself into you doesn't thrill you, I don't know what will!!



When I heard the Gospel in late 2000 (yes, in 2000!) and learned of the gift of the Holy Spirit, I wanted to be filled. Mainly because hey, it was cool and I wanted that gift, that power, that reality. But you know what? He told me I needed to repent to someone and forgive them. He showed me how I had felt rejected by someone, and in turn rejected that person. I needed to repent and choose to forgive. In short, God was calling me to obey His commandments: "Love one another as I have loved you." While we were still His enemies, He loved us and died for us so we could have His righteousness and be with God forever.

Someone once told me that unforgiveness is the biggest block to the Holy Spirit. I've found it true in my own life! How often I've been stressed or upset, and how often I've felt so right and unjustly wounded by another! And in those times I've wanted God's peace and deliverance, but He seemed to take His sweet time, and I then began to feel rejected by Him... "Not You, too, God! Don't You care?" And as time went on and I waited in His presence, that difficult word came: "Can you let go? Can you choose to forgive and let go of the right to be angry and get back?" As I chose to forgive, His peace flooded my heart, and I was no longer wounded, but healed and restored.

On October 27, 2001, I was baptized by the Holy Spirit. By that time, the desperation for it was gone, though. I had accepted Him more and more by faith, and believed that whether or not I felt Him, He was living inside of me because of what His Son had done for me. I was at a conference at the Mott Auditorium, hosted by Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California. I was overwhelmed by His love. We were crying out for our neighbors, for the nations, for those who didn't know Him, for laborers to go forth into the harvest. And He flooded me with His Spirit. A lady near me received a word for me: "You have your Father's eyes". She told me of His love for me (Song of Songs 8:6). I remember smelling the sweet smell of the fire... it was all around. A day later, back at university in Riverside, God suddenly brought the smell back to me and filled me with His joy. Just so I wouldn't forget!



There is so much more! Recently I've struggled with some temptations and it's been difficult. Sometimes it seems like your heart hasn't changed at all, you know? But in those times He reminds me that I need to keep my eyes on Him, not on myself. The more I stare at myself, the darker it will seem. But looking at Him, He is light! And then He told me that His fire was in me! He had baptized me! Yes, I had professed my baptism long ago. I had repented and confessed Him. But He had answered and baptized me -- His sovereign act! Just like He said over His Son with His Spirit, "You are My beloved Son, I'm well pleased with you," He reminded me that His Spirit in me said the same thing: "Ramone, you are My beloved son, I'm well pleased in you!"

He reminded me that He had put a new heart in me, that His Spirit lives in me. And that He is *winnowing* me! He is sifting me! His fire of love is unquenchable! He is separating the chaff (the outer hard part of the grain) from the wheat within! Those rotten things of me are chaff, not the real me within which He has created anew! He's sifting the old things, and His fire is unquenchable! In those times when everything is dark, He had me remember that He'd baptized me with His Spirit and His fire is more powerful than my chaff! He is sovereign and powerful, even in me! Praise You, God! I love You!

Lord, open our hearts to freely ask You to pour Your Spirit into us! I know You want to fill us with Yourself more than we want to be filled! You want to testify of Your Son's finished work by Your Spirit and show us what You've freely given us! You've promised to manifest Yourself to us (John 14:15-27) and give us a peace that is not of this earth! Overcome our belief, our pride, our judgment, our unforgiveness, and anything that stands in the way of You making Your home inside us! Call Your people to be struck by the radicalness of what You've promised and what You've enabled by Your Son's death! Lord, we receive You! Pour Yourself into us Jesus, again and again! Amen.

Monday, June 06, 2005

In America




Yoko and I were set to watch another movie which we'd been wanting to rent for awhile, when she spotted "In America" and suddenly we knew we should get that instead. I had read Roger Ebert's review of "In America" awhile ago, but I couldn't remember any plot details, only that he liked it.

It's just as well that I couldn't remember any plot details, because the movie is not about the plot. It is about a struggling Irish family that moves to America and into your heart.

It is art, but art from the heart and with a heart. It isn't your regular Hollywood tear-jerker, but is filmed in a way you wouldn't expect. Thank God! Because the effect is much, much more natural and tender. It's beautiful in its ordinary-ness.

I don't think I have words to describe how I was affected. I looked at Yoko after the movie and I saw clearly -- I love her and I love life. I wanted to let her know, to hold her, and to live.

Thank You, God, for her, for life, and for passing this movie our way last night. It was wonderful to share it together.

"In America"
2003 - Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah & Emma Bolger, and Djimon Hounsou
Written by Jim, Naomi, and Kirsten Sheridan
Directed by Jim Sheridan
PG-13

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Qurans Vs. People


Why is there so much fuss about the mishandling of Qurans by American soldiers right now? Yes, they were stepped on, but aren't the prisoners being stepping on more obvious and more grievious? Isn't it more disturbing that the prisoners are not charged with crimes, are interrogated and are indefinitely imprisoned? (They're imprisoned until the "war on terror" ends -- which will not have a visible end, just like the "war on crime" and the "war on drugs" campaigns which came before. Terrorism is not a country, it's an idea -- an idea that is as old as war itself).

My God! Isn't it obvious we're looking for excuses to keep them pent-up and treat them as less-than-human? Isn't it obvious that we're not interested in allowing them to have the same rights our forefathers deemed God had given to every human?

God! I feel Your heart on this! Put an end to our righteousness and help us weep for what we've done to our enemies! Help us love Your Son by loving the ones He died for instead of despising, torturing, and keeping them caged as long as our lack of agape and inability to see them as human endures!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

We miss Tottori!




We want to go back to Cookie Circus! We had such a wonderful time there in November!

Send us back, Lord? Please? (^_^) You're good either way! Thanks. Oh, P.S.: We'd like to go to Shirahama Adventure World, too! Could You make some lion babies and hook us up?