Sekai no Hikari: Light of the World

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Jesus in a Box

The church has a big problem.

We like to put Jesus into little boxes that fit our comfort zones.

For uber-liberals: Jesus is a socialist hippie who said all war was bad and wants us to be free to explore our sexuality.

For uber-conservatives: Jesus is a sword-carrying manly man who approves of war, and destroys all sinners, mainly of the sexually deviant variety.

For denominations: Jesus was a devout (insert name of denomination here).

For legalistic types: Jesus was perfect, and commanded us to be perfect.

For lenient types: Jesus doesn’t care if we slip up. He loves everyone.

For skeptics: Jesus was a good man, but I don’t know about all that miracle business.

…And I could go on, but you get the idea. Jesus has been, and will always will be, controversial. At least in this day and age, everyone wants Jesus on their side, but most of them don’t even know the real Jesus.

Now here’s what I think: If Jesus came today, he would have something to say to EVERYBODY.

To the uber-liberals, he would probably say something like, “I made your bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit for an express purpose, and that is not to destroy them with illicit sex and drugs. Also, I am not a hippie.”

To the uber-conservatives, maybe he would say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. And right now, you are not in the category of “merciful.” Also, quit it with the gun thing.”

To the denominations, he might say, “That church down the street has my Spirit also. I want you to be one with them, as I and the Father are one.”

Maybe he would give this advice to the legalists: “I am not about checking boxes. I want your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And to the lenient people, “Sin has great consequences, and continuing to sin cheapens my sacrifice.” And finally, to the skeptics: “I am God, and I will blow your mind.”

Actually, maybe that last one is for everybody.

Jesus is God! (And if you disagree with that, then you are going to have problems with this blog…) Can any human expect that we can fully grasp all there is to know about God? We know what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures by his Spirit. But our human desires and ambitions still get in the way of even that. And we end up not knowing the real Jesus.

The Jesus I know knows the reality of human nature. But even so, reality is too small for him, and he does crazy things, like calming storms, that show that he is the one and only truth.

The Jesus I know is probably a manly man. He was tempted in every way, so he understands desires. But he overcame the temptation, and that shows his unbelievable power.

The Jesus I know has a culture that is home to him. But he invites all, from the east and the west, to come sit at his table: the table of the one who brings unity.

The Jesus I know is perfect. He walked in accordance with God all the time. He has a perfect relationship with the Father and the Spirit. He mediates for us as the one true way.

The Jesus I know suffered. His father died when he was 12. He was poor all his life. He was an outcast – thought of as an illegitimate child. (Who would believe the virgin birth?) His pain enables him to be our healer.

The Jesus I know was courageous, and stood up to people. But also, he let himself be spat upon, and whipped, and humiliated, and killed, all out of love.

The Jesus I know never gave up, even when he died. He rose from the dead, giving us hope, and promising life.

In other words, the Jesus I know is my God, and that means he can never, ever be put in a box.

He destroys my boxes all the time. When I am hesitant to love my enemies, he shows me that just as he did, I need to be willing to forgive and forget – and suffer pain – seventy times seven times. When I am being stubborn, he shows me that as his disciple, I need to submit to authority on earth and in heaven. When I am despairing, he shows me that he is the resurrection and the life.

Knowing the real Jesus is the greatest adventure, the greatest trial, and the greatest joy. I die to myself so often, but each time, I find something better.

Will you join me?

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What on Earth is Wrong With Us?

First of all, I want to inform my readers of a slight change in this blog’s focus. Up until now, this blog has been mainly about general Christian principles and insights. However, I have decided to make it more focused on the intersection of Japan and Christianity, sort of like my post, “Dying to Apologize.” I believe I am called to Japan, and for that reason, I want to focus more on that. However, you will still see some general faith posts on this blog from time to time. With that, I will begin the story of how three Christians ended up in an auditorium full of Buddhists.

I have recently gotten in touch with some other Christians who also feel called to Japan, and this past Sunday, we planned on meeting some Japanese students to talk to them about their faith, which is a sect of Buddhism called Soka Gakkai, as well as present our faith if possible. However, the meeting had been cancelled due to another Soka Gakkai meeting going on at the same time. We decided to go to that meeting, hoping to find them. However, when we arrived at the location of the meeting, we were greeted by a grinning, suited guy waving a Soka Gakkai flag in the direction we were supposed to go. It was unbelievably crowded, and that’s when we realized that this was a huge convention, not a small discussion meeting. We went in anyway, not knowing what to expect. Inside the building, there was a very diverse crowd, and at the registration desk (!), we were asked to write our contact information. I politely refrained, because by now I could tell that these people were extremely zealous – not like most Buddhists. After we went into the auditorium and sat down, the event began with chanting. They were chanting “Namu myoho renge kyo”, which is very important to Soka Gakkai practitioners. I, meanwhile, was praying. After the chanting ended, we found that it was a conference for youth, with multiple messages from different youth speakers, as well as a petition going around to ban nuclear weapons, a modern rendition of “Ode to Joy” (yes, you read that right), and people sharing their experiences as Buddhists.

The modern rendition of “Ode to Joy” had had the words changed. Instead of “Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee”, the lyrics were, “Joyful, Joyful, youth emerging.” I couldn’t hear most of the rest of the song, but one line that stood out was “What will you do for kosen-rufu (Soka Gakkai evangelism)?” That was extremely hard to hear, since the song is meant for worshiping and glorifying God, not inspiring youth to earn their own salvation. However, the hardest part of the event for me was this one woman’s story: she was bullied, at the age of 4, by Christians. And when she spoke the word, “Christian,” it was as if it was the most disgusting thing she had ever had to say.

Now the point of this whole story is not just to make everyone sad, although sadness is a natural reaction to it. The point is, rather, to figure out what on earth is wrong with the church.

What is the church’s problem that people would rather join a weird religion like Soka Gakkai? What is our problem, that after 400 years, Japan is still only 1% Christian? And what is our problem that we would sit back, and let our kids bully other kids for not being Christian?

Now, Soka Gakkai has a lot going for it, especially in modern times. It is inclusive, diverse, and non-judgmental, which attracts ethnic minorities, as well as your average politically correct teen. It is centralized, which means that they can organize their members very easily. It requires a high level of commitment. It promotes peace. It believes that everyone can change themselves with discipline and effort. And most importantly, the members all believe they can change the world.

My question after seeing this is, “What can the church learn from Soka Gakkai?”

To answer this, I am going to go point-by-point down the list of the things that Soka Gakkai is good at. I will address each one individually, and say how the church can learn from it.

  • Inclusivity/diversity. Soka Gakkai had many Asian, African-American, AND white members. It was pretty much an even mixture. In addition, everyone was very welcoming. Although many churches already are very welcoming, many churches are not. We must see others as image-bearers of God, rather than strange people who are not like us. The church is not an elite fan club, it is a gathering for God’s glory. We must take this to heart. In addition, we are not to judge unbelievers by biblical standards. Instead, we must share with them God’s peace and light.
  • Centralization. This may or may not be good for the church, because centralization can cause both good and bad things.
  • Commitment. The church must require a higher level of commitment from its members! We must be accountable to one another in what we do, and “one another” does not just mean “church leadership.” The body of believers must expect that everyone will do their part to advance God’s kingdom.
  • Peace. I realize that Soka Gakkai’s views on peace may be different than ours. However, we must be countercultural forces of change – agents of God’s kingdom. We must work for peace on earth.
  • Self-change. This is one thing that we cannot and will not promote. It is God that must change people, not themselves. However, we can empower believers. The Spirit will do great works through those who are willing.
  • Changing the world. The church must have a clear mission. We are meant to change the world, and we can, and we will. Putting more emphasis on that fact will make new people see the power that is in us.

When I went to the Soka Gakkai meeting, I came away sad, disheartened, and doubting. However, Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” No matter what other force in the world, whether it be a religion, a government, or an ideology, seems to be winning, we know that Jesus has overcome the world.

On a lighter note, that night, I went to visit a local Japanese church. We prayed for those in Japan, and in the United States, who are without God. The church may seem powerless sometimes, but, on the contrary, we are powerful. We must take courage, and not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in, no matter the cost. And above all, as the pastor of the church said in his sermon, we must walk always in the presence of God.

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