Saturday, April 21, 2012

sometimes there just aren't any words...

Second week back to work, Friday:

It was a normal week.  I felt as if progress was being made inside my heart a bit.  No major problems in my classes.  Things progressing smoothly enough.  It's payday.  I had bread from the bread shop today.

Last class of the week.  3 students. 

We learned about the difference between -ing adjectives and -ed adjectives (this is a very confusing issue in this country.  I can't even count how many times I've had people declare "I was really interesting." when they really wanted to say "I was really interested.") 

We had chapel time.  We sang "God is so good." and read Psalm 100.  Talking about being thankful and how that can change your heart.

Then it was tea time and free talking.

And that's when everything suddenly changes.  One minute you are smiling and joking around, and the next answer you hear to the standard question "How was your month?" (we hadn't seen this student in a month...) is

"It was a nightmare."

And as best she could, in the English she had, she told us about her nightmare.  She was just married last year.  And now she was the victim of domestic violence.  She told us how her husband attacked her.  She told us how she ran away.  She showed us the bruises left on her arm.  She told us about meeting with lawyers and police officers.

She remembered to correct herself when she used the -ing adjectives instead of -ed ones.

She has to borrow her sisters clothes right now because she's afraid to go back to her house.  But she remembered to bring her English textbook with her when she fled.

So quickly the atmosphere in the room changed.  Laughter and joking were subdued.  The speech one student was eagerly waiting to give was forgotten.

Only stunned silence was left as we listened to her speak.

The shock echoed deep inside me.

What do you do when you listen to things like this?  How are you supposed to react?

She was supposed to be a happy newlywed.  Now she is bruised and wondering if her husband will become a stalker.  He was supposed to be the man who loved her.  Now he is the man who frightens her.

How deep of a betrayal!

I can't even imagine.

I don't want to imagine.

What was she thinking as we were singing "God is so good"?  How did she feel when I was talking about my silly struggles of negative thinking etc?  How much was she hurting, and we didn't know at all?

But God is good.  This girl has been a student at this school for years and years.  She was the student of the girl I came to Japan with almost 8 years ago.  And God brought her to this place.  She felt safe enough to come a week after she had been beaten.  She felt safe enough to share a story that most would hide.  She felt attached enough that as she is fleeing her home, she grabs her English textbook.

I'm glad she could do that.  I'm thankful for all the years she has been learning and hearing about God.  I'm thankful for all the missionaries that have been placed in her life.

But her situation is still so unbelievably sad.  On the way home, I literally felt sick.  I was wondering if I was going to throw up at one point.  And she's not the only one.

All my petty complaints are nothing.  I grew up in a home where I knew I was loved.  Sure we fought, but I was never abused.  I was aware of a close friend that she might be verbally and physically abused by family members, but I was too young or too callous to really empathize.  I had never allowed it to impact me.  Violence on tv or in books was removed and unreal.  I knew in my head these things exist, but it never impacted me emotionally.

But this is real.  This is in your face.  This is sick-to-your-somach kind of real.

This is consequences of a broken world.

It's so unbelievably sad.

When Jesus wept for Jerusalem, didn't he also weep for her?  Wouldn't the pain of knowing every persons hurt and unfairness and sorrow be infinitely worse than a mere death by torture?  Isn't this what Jesus gave his life to overcome?

Jesus, please send your healing.  Please rescue her and hold her close to you, so she never doubts your love and goodness.

Jesus, thank you for allowing your heart to break when we break.

Thank you....

God is so good, 
God is so good
God is so good,
He's so good to me.

He answers prayer
He answers prayer
He answers prayer, 
He's so good to me.

I love him so
I love him so
I love him so
He's so good to me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lectures to myself 2 - Jealousy tamples honor

The second lesson from last week was about jealousy, satisfaction, creativity and honor.

Imagine for a moment a king in a far away country long ago.  In olden times, kings had many offspring, sometimes numbering into the hundreds.  It was a way of life.

Now imagine that there was a king with many children.  He loved his children very much.  He wanted his children to grow up and respect and honor others.  He wanted his children to grow up and be able to handle any situation.  He wanted them to become good adults.

So he decided to start giving them random gifts.  He would think long and hard about each child, and he would choose a gift for each one.  As he gave the gift, he would tell them that he wanted them to show him what they had accomplished with the gift when they were done.  He wanted to be proud of their accomplishments and to see how much they'd grown.

To one he gave a horse.  To another a puppy.  To another money.  Another received fabric.  Yet another received seeds.  Another a tree.  Another a cart full of rocks.  The gifts seemed to have no rhyme or reason, but they were all different.

Now.  Imagine you are one of the children.  You father the king has given you a gift.  But instead of something big and grand, suppose you got something like....  a pencil and paper.  The king has looked into your eyes, and with a loving face handed over a pencil and paper.  Does your heart drop?  Doesn't the king know how long you have been looking forward to getting your gift too?  How much you've envied your sister's horse?  How much you longed for a puppy of your own?  But he has given you a pencil and paper.

The disappointment is almost too much to bear.   Why?  Doesn't he love me the same as my sister?  Why does she get something wonderful like a horse and I get pencil and paper?  What kind of gift is that?  Am I not good enough for him?  Is this how he shows his love to me???

So now what do you do with this "gift?"  Do you throw it out, treating it like garbage?  Do you leave it in the corner of your room?  Do you write all your frustrations on it and then burn it?  Maybe draw a picture?  Rip it into a thousand small pieces?


You could use it to write a letter to someone who needs encouragement.  You can give it to a child who can't afford it.  You can use it to study.  You can cherish it.  You can use it to start a new business...

The possibilities on both sides are endless.

What will you do with your gift?

Will you keep it to yourself?  Will you throw it away?  Will you share it with others?

Will you be thankful for it?

Will you honor your father with it?

When you are finished, what will your father's reaction be?  Will he be proud?  Will he be honored?  Or will he feel rejected and misunderstood?  Will he feel sad?  Will he feel angry?

In our lives we are given many gifts.  We are born with things that no one else has.  Some of us have talents.  Some of us disabilities.  Some of us are born into wealth.  Some into hardship.  There are infinite possibilities for infinite people.

Yet one thing is the same.  It was all given to us by the King.  Yes.  The good was given.  Even the "bad" was either given or allowed.  Does this mean God is not good?  Does this mean He doesn't love you?


God is wise.  Life is not fair, but that is a world of human making.  God redeems us.  And gives us all gifts and situations.

And gives us the freedom to do something with what He has given us.

What are you doing with your gifts, Amber?  Are you honoring God, or are you complaining because life isn't as great as you want it to be?

Are you throwing away what God has given you, or throwing it aside because it's not what you asked for, Amber?

Are you thankful for what you have received, or are you spitting in the face of the One who loves you more deeply than you can ever understand?

I find myself hanging my head in shame for a bit, keenly aware of how I have treated the love shown to me.

My jealousy belittled the gifts I was given and the love they were given in.

Honor was trampled.

My Father's heart was hurt.

But my Father forgives.

And I hope that He is smiling a little as I learn one more lesson, and pick up my broken gifts with a new feeling of awe and wonder, and a heart that asks, "What can I do with these that will make Him happy?  What will make Him think, 'I'm glad I gave that to her?'"

Maybe one day God will point out the work of my heart with Fatherly pride as He did Jobs.

I can't think of anything better than that.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lectures to myself.

I just finished my first week back to work of the new school year.

It's hard to explain how it felt...

Spring break was exactly what I wanted for a break, a chance to calm my heart, be refreshed, and experience peace and joy.

First week of work had me experiencing all the things from the previous year all compressed together.

That's a lot to process.

Over the course of the week, I had many things to learn and experience.  It's good to know that even the teacher is still a student.  ;-)

The first point I pondered was about the meaning of fear.  You know how we are often told in the Bible, "Do not be afraid," and even more confusing "Fear the LORD your God."

As a kid I always wondered about that.  Why should I have to fear God?  Isn't He supposed to be good?  So if I love Him, why should I fear Him?

Out of curiosity I looked up fear in my handy dandy electronic dictionary (a must for living in Japan!).  It was kind of lacking, so I decided to look it up on the internet instead.  Here is what I found:

1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid. foreboding, apprehension, consternation, dismay, dread, terror, fright, panic, horror, trepidation, qualm. courage, security, calm, intrepidity.
2. a specific instance of or propensity for such a feeling: an abnormal fear of heights. phobia, aversion; bĂȘte noire, bogy, bogey, bugbear. liking, fondness, penchant, predilection.
3. concern or anxiety; solicitude: a fear for someone's safety.
4. reverential awe, especially toward God: the fear of God. awe, respect, reverence, veneration.
5. something that causes feelings of dread or apprehension; something a person is afraid of: Cancer is a common fear.

verb (used with object)
7. to regard with fear; be afraid of. apprehend, dread.
8. to have reverential awe of. revere, venerate, honor.
9. to consider or anticipate (something unpleasant) with a feeling of dread or alarm: It's about to snow again, I fear.
10. Archaic . to experience fear in (oneself): I fear me he will ne'er forgive us.
verb (used without object)
11. to have fear; be afraid: I'll go with you, so do not fear!
12. to feel apprehensive or uneasy (usually followed by for ): In this time of economic instability, I fear for my children's future.

13. for fear of / that, in order to prevent or avoid the risk of: She is afraid to say anything for fear of the consequences.
14. put the fear of God in / into, to cause to be greatly afraid.
“What we, following the Scriptures, call the fear of God, is not terror or dread, but an awe that holds God in reverence.”
—Martin Luther, The communion of the Christian with God: Described on the basis of Luther's statements, by Wilhelm Herrmann, transl. by J. Sandys Stanyon, revised by R. W. Stewart (1906)
 (It even came with citations!  cool!)

I had been told before that it does mean honor, but even though I know this, it still didn't always make sense.

But thing I was thinking this week...

I'm not really someone who fears many things.  Sure I get a scare when I'm in a dangerous situation.  I mean, I react if there was a near miss with a car.  I'm not a big fan of cockroaches and I have a nagging fear of being single forever.  But a lot of the things that other people are afraid of, I'm not.  Well, physical things.  More than the fear of being single forever is possibly my fear of intimacy.  Fear of relationships.  Fear of not being good enough.  Fear of failure.  These kinds of fears I have in spades.  And they haunt me.  Oh how they haunt me.

And somewhere in the midst of thinking about my fears, I realized something...  When you fear something, you give it power over you.  You have given it the power to change, shape and sometimes even define your life.  The more you fear something, the more power it has over you.  This seems to me to be the conjoined twin of idolatry.  Fear gives power.

Actually, when you think about it, it's not so much of a surprise.  I mean look how often it shows up in the epic stories.  The hero must always battle fear before he/she can prevail.

So fear is the second cousin of idolatry.  This could be a good reason why God kept telling us not to do it.

But as I was thinking about it more, it dawned on me...  Fear is not just an emotion that we have to battle with:  it's at the core of our sin!

If, when we fear something, we give it power over us, we have not honored God.  In fact, we are not trusting God.  Remember: fear means that we are anticipating something bad.  So we give power to something else, because we doubt that God a) is strong enough to save us, b) is good enough to save us or c) cares enough to save us.

We don't trust God.

So we fear.

Isn't this the first sin?  Eve doubts God's goodness.  She thinks that God might be holding out on her.  When confronted with doubt, Eve gives fear power, and in her fear that God was keeping something from her, she took it herself.  Her sin was not eating the fruit that God told her not to (yes the action is also sin, but I'm talking about the heart of things.)  Her sin was not trusting God.

And this is the legacy left to us.

Our world has been invaded by fear.

When I fear that I will never get married, I accuse God of holding out on me.  I don't trust His love for me and His words that everything is for my good.  I accept that "my good" does not always equal my happiness.  I am not trusting God with my life.

When I fear to love people, when I fear that they will hurt me, I am not trusting God to validate me, to comfort me and that His love will sustain me.  I have given others the power over my happiness and sense of worth.

When I fear I will fail, I am not trusting that God can redeem all things and work through them for my good and the good of others.  I have given myself the power over my destiny and the responsibility.  I no longer look to God as my King and ruler, but as a judge on the sidelines with the power to raise or lower my score according to my performance.

When I fear pain, I allow it to rule me.

When I fear loneliness, I allow my actions to be dictated.

When I fear taking chances, I demonstrate that I do not trust God with my future.

When I fear, my heart builds up walls to lock myself up behind.

Fear is a prison.

So I guess the lesson I learned was:  Fear gives power to the object of fear.  It is almost the same as idolatry.  So the only thing I should fear, should be God.  God should be the sole object of my fear because fear is a form of respect or acknowledgement.

So now, for me, I can see that my fear is my sin.  Giving up fear frees me to love and live life in true freedom.  Perhaps this is the "life to the full" that Jesus promised, that has ever eluded me.  I have held too much fear in my heart to allow life in.

So for now, I would like to calm my heart and mind, and stop expecting or giving power to the bad things and bad possibilities in life.  If I trust God, mountains can be moved.  God is more powerful than all these things.  And God loves me.  So me cowering in fear is just stupid and stubborn.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Power of Jesus to Transform our Hearts

 Let's return to the place we left off, in a world without Jesus and the sorrow and confusion and desolation of the disciples (and others who loved Jesus.)

It's been Friday night, and all of Saturday.  Now it's Sunday.  How soon does the numbness wear off I wonder?  Are they able to eat yet?  Are they arguing about what to do next?  Go back to their respective homes?  Forget these past 3 years?  Have they started looking forward to a life without Jesus?

I'm sure their hearts are still heavy, still seeped in the deep sorrow of loss.

And then there is a loud commotion outside their locked room.

A hysterical woman. 

She's claiming to have seen Jesus!  That he's alive!  Your heart soars for a second and you can hardly hear anything over the beating of your own heart.  Can it be true???  But wait.  You watched him die.  Your heart plummets.  Be careful, your heart warns you.  Don't get your hopes up.  You agree, you have already been crushed once.  Someone please take that woman away.  Doesn't she know how much it hurts???


Something inside won't be still.  Something deep in your heart has been brought to life by this idea.  Jesus... Alive...  Is it possible????  He did raise people from the dead....  He did say he was the son of God....  Maybe......

The pounding of your heart nearly drowns out everything else.

You have lost all "common sense."  And suddenly you are running out the door, the chance that it is true is just too much to take.

You run with all your might, not caring at the people who are staring at you.  You run until your lungs start to burn and your muscles feel like they will turn to water.  Now you regret not eating anything for the past day.  But you find the strength somewhere and keep pushing forward.

And finally you see it!  The place were Jesus was entombed.  And it's open, just as the woman said.  And a man in shining clothing...  Jesus is no where to be found!  It's true!

But where is Jesus???  Why can't I see him?  Why didn't he wait for me?  But he is alive.

You wait to catch your breath, and return back to the room to tell the others.  It's true.  Jesus was not in the tomb.  But where is he?  What does it all mean?  Who cares?  Jesus is alive!!!

Suddenly your heart is alive as well.  In that short time, everything is different.  Jesus has transformed your heart again.  You have known true sorrow and loss.  And now you have known true joy and restoration.

Then it comes.  You are in the room, talking of nothing else but Jesus, when suddenly he appears!  It's like a dream.  The door was locked, and suddenly he is there!  Before you know it, tears are on your face.  He's alive!  He's alive!  He really is alive!  All you want to do is run and cling to him and never let go.

Jesus is alive!!!

This Easter, in the routine of the holiday, in the dressing up, and hunting of eggs and the eating and the stress...


It's not just about celebrating externally.  This Jesus has the power to transform our hearts, and give us true Joy.  Try opening your heart to let the emotions and the experience of Jesus in.

And pray for those who are still living in the darkness.  Pray for Japan, that the people here may one day also experience the joy of a living Jesus who appears behind the locked doors of their hearts.  I pray that Japan may one day be a country full of empty tombs!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Life without Jesus...

 I'm not much of a holiday person since becoming older.  So it's hard for me to get all worked up for holidays like some of the people I know.  But sometimes...  I think about them.

This year is the first time in a while I have been off for Holy Week and Good Friday.

It doesn't really feel like Holy Week or anything, so it's hard to get into the spirit of things.

But today I had some time to myself that allowed me to meditate a bit on Good Friday.
 I was thinking, have you ever put yourself in the disciples' shoes?  Imagine for a second what it must have been like...

First you run across this man who completely changes your life.  He's amazing.  He says things you have never heard before.  He does things that should be impossible.  And he draws you to him with a force you don't understand.  He inspires you.  This is a man you would leave your job for.  Heck, you'll take an "extended vacation" from even your family just for the chance to travel with him.  He's that amazing.

Since living in Japan, I've learned what it means to be a fan.  A real fan.  I had students who would travel all over the country to go to every single concert of the band they liked.  They spend insane amounts of money, time and energy on whatever it is they are a fan of.

At one time I would have thought they were crazy.  But I'm learning more and more what this looks like.  After all, I follow my own little band now.  And they have invaded my life, and changed it.  If they suddenly weren't here anymore, I can only imagine how empty my life would become.

And so I look at my own small obsession, and think about "What would happen if you were that obsessed with Jesus?"  And I think...  "I would probably look a lot like the disciples."

They followed Jesus for 3 years.  (This was back when "following" someone involved more than just a click on the internet.  "Following" someone meant action and consequences.) They ate with him, traveled with him, listened to him, lived with him...

That's devotion.

They threw in everything to be with Jesus.  This man was their hope, their purpose, their "Messiah."

And then he died.

I've never had someone close to my heart die.  Perhaps I don't allow enough people close to my heart.  So I can't really understand this fully.  The best I can do is imagine what that must have been like....

Jesus.  The man I left my home for. The man I've been following.  I believed him.  He said he was the son of God.  He was supposed to save us.  He was supposed to change the world.  So...  Why?  Why did this happen?  I can't believe he is gone...  I can't believe this happened.  Why???  Why???  What do I do now?  Where do I go?  How can it just end like this?  It's all over...  I don't know what to do anymore.....

At some point, I'm sure your mind just shuts down.  You can't eat.  You can't sleep.  You can't think.  You are too stunned even for tears to flow.  The muscles in your body can't seem to hold you upright anymore.

Everything is gone.

Just like that.

One minute we are celebrating the passover.  We were laughing and having a good time.

Now we are in the same room...  lifeless.  hopeless.  Jesus-less....

I can't claim to love Jesus with the same love that the disciples must have had.  I can't claim to understand what it must have been like to know him in person.  And I can't even begin to understand what it was like to loose Jesus, to watch him die, to spend a day without him here in this world.

But even with my limited imagination...  I can feel the hollowness.  The emptiness.  The fear.  The feeling of abandonment.

From the hour of Jesus' death, to the morning of his resurrection, how did the disciples live without Jesus???

I doubt they did.  They locked themselves and their hearts in the upper room, too shell shocked to do anything else.  A loss that great, you can even begin to rationalize it yet.

So empty...

As I was thinking about all this, I thought about those I love, the people I know, and the country I love, all who don't know Jesus.  They live their lives everyday without Jesus.

I can't understand it at all.  Just imagining a life without Jesus paralyzes me.  It's too much of a shock.  I'm not strong enough to go through this world without Jesus.

And my heart breaks for those who do.  Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world.  Is it any wonder?  They work long hours under obligation, and their free hours are spend sleeping, eating, and chasing after anything that might fill their empty hearts: shopping, drinking, hobbies or even their favorite "celebrity."  But they are tired.  And they are numb to the emptiness inside of them.  If they stop for even a minute, the hollowness might consume them.

Japan is stuck in the twilight after Good Friday.  In a world without Jesus.

If my heart breaks this much when looking at the people here, how much more must Jesus' heart break for them?

The disciples suffered Friday night and Saturday with no Jesus.  But Sunday morning brought unbelievable news and joy.  Jesus was alive!  The impossible had happened!  Their joy must have been in proportion to their sorrow.  What a roller coaster of emotions they must have had!  The shock of loosing Jesus must have been enormous.  The joy of getting him back must have been indescribable. 

So I thank Jesus that he came back, and that I have never known a world without him in it.

And I pray that those I love will one day experience a Life With Jesus that will fill their hearts and heal their souls.

(If you are wondering about the pictures, they are of a building in Fukushima City that was damaged in the Earthquake {I'm assuming}.  I visited some friends who live in Fukushima last week.  The pictures seemed to capture the emptiness of life without Jesus, the brokenness of life without hope, the sadness of structure with no life.)