The Messenger: March

Letter from the Editor

Three years ago I watched a TED Talk by a woman named Janine Shepherd called “A broken body isn’t a broken person.” An Australian cross-country skier heading for the 1986 Olympics when, on a training bike ride, she was struck by a truck and left with a broken back and neck. Her doctors did not expect her to survive and if, by some miracle, she did, she would never walk again.

Against all odds, she survived. And against even further odds, she learned to walk again.

Her story is inspiring. I’m simplifying it, but her story leads to the recognition that despite the fact her body is limited, her spirit is unstoppable, and that saved her life.

Her story brings my heart to Holy Week and the path Jesus walked during his last week. How foreign it must have seemed to the disciples that Jesus “…took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me,’” (Luke 22:19).

A broken body is a broken person, right? Maybe. But Christ turns the narrative of humanity on its head. A broken body changed the world and continues to change my life. Turning the rules upside down is something that he does throughout his ministry. John 13 tells us how Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Jesus, the King, “began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him,” (John 13:5, 16). The least became greatest, the last first, the humble lifted, and the Savior servant.

What Christ shows me on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday is that I am not my body. I do not imagine it was his dream to be crucified – can you imagine choosing that path? – but by giving up his body, Christ paved the way for a new dream, a new life, for anyone who chooses him. His broken body is not a broken person because his power does not come from his body, but from his spirit. It is a triumph for grace, mercy, and an offer of wholeness.

This bodily sacrifice allowed the promise of the gospel to be sealed. Our bodies may break, our spirits falter, but the hope of Christ remains.

Katie McRoberts, Editor-in-Chief



Easter 2016

Easter 2016
Sunday, March 27

Set Free

Carol A. Garnett

I love the cross of Jesus
On it, I’ll take a stand
He died on the cross
for you and me
So we could be set free
We are his messengers on earth
To share his forgiving ways
And be survivors of his grace
Bow down and praise his name

“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)



Why Passion Week?


And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22:39-44 ESV


Why do we refer to Jesus’ last days on earth as Passion Week? Others refer to this same time as Holy Week, but here at BelPres we have been calling it Passion Week. What is the significance of such a name, and why should it matter to anyone? When I think of this question I only think of one thing: blood.

Jesus began his ministry being baptized, a symbolism of rebirth to us, a transformation. From there he begins to teach the ways of God to the people; inside synagogues (equivalent of a church today); out on the streets; and those who did not have the common religion of the Jews. Jesus toils with the people for three years, using stories and scripture to bring the good news to all. He performs miracles, feeds the hungry, heals the lame, and even brings back the dead. All of these acts came out of his passion for all people. Jesus was on a mission to save all who accept him.

There were times when he had to move quickly, otherwise he would be imprisoned or killed. But he kept on trucking, as we would say today. He needed to complete his work in order for us all to be saved. But the troubling part is how he could do this.

Jesus knew what no one else did: his blood would pay the price that must be paid in order to save the world. He would mention to those closest to him, his disciples, that his time is coming and he would be slain (Luke 9:22). His disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about; nobody did. Yet, this weight was constantly on Jesus because he knew his time was short. Regardless of his eminent death, out his passion for our salvation, he continued doing God’s will. It was the only option, and no one could stand in his place.

At the very end before Jesus’ capture, torture, and crucifixion, he prays and pleads with God at a place called The Mount of Olives. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). He is scared: a notion not common among stories of gods. Because Jesus was fully man, he faced the same fear that we all do. Following this prayer an angel appears to Jesus to strengthen him and he prays even more earnestly. At this time, although not mentioned, one can gather that Jesus literally has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The text continues, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV). This part of the account causes me to pause and think.

Before any man lays a hand on Jesus, whips him, breaks his bones, and makes him bleed, Jesus’ blood is already being spent.

He knows what lies ahead, and this knowledge causes him immense agony, not only for his own life, but ours too. This is a crossroads. He could flee and save his own life, but at the cost of the world or he could follow through. Jesus’ sweating blood is a condition we call today Hematidrosis. It is most frequently caused by extreme fear and mental contemplation. Some instances where this condition has been seen include an individual fearing rape, facing a storm while sailing, and those condemned to execution. In the case of execution those involved knew there was no way out; death was quickly at hand. Jesus had to face this same fear and his passion for us was worth the cost.

His passion for heaven being filled with us, plus his teaching of the true character of God, plus payment by his blood equals our salvation. The passion of Christ transformed the world over two millennia ago, how is it going to transform you today?



Becoming

I ask myself, “Who am I becoming?”
Who do I want to become?
Am I growing? Learning? Stretching?
Risking? Trusting? Maturing?
Or am I stuck, complacent, or comfortable as I am?
Jesus, I ask you, who do you want me to become?
Am I listening to you? Talking with you?
Imitating your actions? Following your lead?
Responding to your nudges and invitations?
Am I participating with you in my process of becoming?
Lord, help me be open to change to become more like you
Jesus, transform me by your love, let your power come through
Help me believe I can become who you want me to be
That I can be healed, transformed, forgiven and set free
Jesus, help me keep my eyes fixed on you
Always keeping your kingdom goals in view
When I feel afraid and stuck in my ways
Help me want to change, empower my days
Jesus, fill me with your powerful Spirit
I want to feel you right here by my side
Nurture your abundant life in me
Please be my constant guide
So that I can courageously become
The only one you designed me to be
Bold and brave and joyfully confident
Because you live strongly in me!

© Rosalind Renshaw

Romans 12:2  

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Philippians 1:3-6

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 4: 15-16

Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.



Release for Blessing

The rains that have been so prevalent in Western Washington this season have taken the form of snow in the higher elevations, much to the delight of skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The drought of the past seasons seems but an unpleasant memory. The sight of the regal evergreens, their snow-dusted branches in vivid contrast to the clear azure sky, causes us to rejoice in the incredible beauty that is winter.  

The recent snows in the Methow Valley have been wet and heavy. As the temperatures warm during the day, the trees often release their burden of snow, sometimes onto the heads of unfortunate skiers or snowshoers below. But it doesn›t always happen this way.  On some trees, the snow continues to cling to the branches, melting somewhat and then refreezing as the temperatures drop in the evening. As this pattern reoccurs during the winter months, negative consequences result, often to the trees that seemed most lush and vigorous during the previous seasons. Encrusted with ice, then more snow, many of these trees bend under their heavy burden, sometimes almost to the ground. Other trees’ branches, when encountering normal strength winds, snap off as though they had been in a hurricane.    (more…)



Culture of Honor

Fear leads to control and control to more fear. I have been thinking a lot about how we relate to and are in community with each other. Community can be amazing and fulfilling, but sometimes can be a bit messy; at least that has been my experience. One thing that has become a reoccurring theme for me is a concept called a Culture of Honor. I first heard this phrase from a pastor named Danny Silk and there were a few things he said that stood out to me.

• Where there is no honor, everyone is afraid

• When people are afraid they want to control

• Fear creates control in relationships

• Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)

• “God is love,” (1 John 4:8)

• “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

When I heard these things, something resonated in me. Something shifted. I thought of times with my children where I had not responded well to something that they had done wrong. I started to see how my responses created an environment of fear in them, and it made them control and withhold information from me. Maybe I played a role in the atmosphere of our home. Maybe their responses to me had more to do with the culture I had created and less to do with their “stuff.” (more…)



The Power of Art to Move a Heart

In a white stone church in Cotzal, a remote village high in the hills of Guatemala, I gazed upon a work of art as powerful as any I have seen at the Vatican in Rome, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the scores of other art museums I have toured over the years of my life.

Many days now, I find myself meditating on this work of art created by Mayans to express their pain, their pain caused by oppression from people in power.  In the center, a bloody crucifix shows Jesus, his face hanging in shame and pain yet shining with compassion.  Symmetrically surrounding the pain of Christ, small brown crosses – forming an artistic pattern – bear the names of Mayans.  Under each name on each cross, the artist included the date and type of unjust suffering:  disappeared, assassinated, kidnapped, murdered, massacred. (more…)



Genesis 2.0

Easter represents many things: hope, happy endings, and new life, all of which is underscored by the fact that Easter occurs in the spring when we think of the grey of winter changing to sunshine and new plants blooming (well….most of the country thinks of spring that way, though here in Seattle we have a few more months of cold and grey). While all of these things are a part of Easter, it is not necessarily how early Christians would have thought of it. At its core Easter is about transformation. It’s about one thing becoming another. It’s about this world and all that it contains being transformed from what they are as a result of the fall to what God always intended them to be.

By the first century, Jewish people were not only eagerly expecting the long hoped for Messiah who would deliver them from the crushing grip of Rome, but many had also come to expect that God one day would remake this world into something new; that just as he created the world he would one day re-create the world. For first century Christians, therefore, Jesus’ resurrection meant more than hope and new life. It was the signal that God had begun to transform all things. Jesus’ resurrection was the first, but not even close to the last, example of that. Easter is not just an event in history. It is THE event in history. It is the first day of the new creation. Genesis 2.0. Just as God created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1, on Easter he begins the process again to make a new creation – to remake this earth into what he intended it to be in the beginning. (more…)



Grace and the Grave

Here in Japan, in addition to traditional Japanese holidays, many holidays from around the world are also celebrated. Ghosts and ghouls inhabit stores throughout October, and the majority of candy packaging switches to black and orange. Many celebrations even have a unique twist. On Valentine’s Day, chocolates are given only by women to men. Then, one month later on White Day, men reciprocate with chocolate to the women from whom they received a gift. (Usually labeled ‘giri choco’, or ‘obligation chocolate’.) Christmas is a mixture of Santa Claus, decorations and traditional carols, with Christmas Eve being a romantic date night for young couples and families enjoying the traditional American Christmas meal of fried chicken. (It’s a long story, just thank the ingenuity of the KFC ad department.)

Personally, we welcome these holidays, even when the celebration differs from how it is done in the US. They almost always give us a chance to share our faith with our friends. Valentine’s/White Day are chances to talk about true love and God’s design for couples. Christmas is a month-long proclamation of God’s love for us. Halloween affords opportunities to share about God’s promise to protect us from evil spirits, albeit most of the ‘spirits’ on the candy wrappers are rather cute.

But there is one holiday that continues to miss the eye of consumerism here, and that is Easter. We see little of chocolates and bunnies, baskets, and egg hunts. One reason may be that Easter isn’t a set day. Another is that in the spring, all of Japan focuses on cherry blossoms. But I think that the main reason is that Easter is connected to death, and to most Japanese, death isn’t something which is celebrated. There are memorials held for the dead, and in the year when a family member dies some holidays are forgone. Death is associated with pain, separation and uncertainty, none of which are worthy of celebration.

For us who live with Christ as our Lord and Savior, though, Easter is about hope, second chances and true life. Allow me to share how Japanese churches celebrate Easter and then the message we bring to our community.

Churches across Japan celebrate Easter in similar ways. Easter Sunday services proclaim a clear, evangelistic message of new life in Christ, and many churches will use the day to baptize new believers. Of course baptisms happen throughout the year, but believers like the spiritual significance of linking their new life with Christ’s resurrection. After the morning service, church members will share a meal together and then, in the afternoon, will travel to a cemetery that houses the church’s communal grave site for a second service.

Why at the grave site? It is here that they take time to remember and honor church members that have passed away, and celebrate the time when we will be re-united in Christ for all eternity. The grave will also be washed and have new flowers placed on it.  The grave and graveside service plays an important role in the life of Japanese Christians.

In Japan, law stipulates that everyone must be cremated upon death, and urns are placed in family graves, called ‘haka’. These graves have a small crypt underneath so that multiple urns are able to be placed inside. Almost all funerals are Buddhist, and most grave sites are maintained according to Buddhist traditions, with various rituals preformed at the grave throughout the year. Because of this, churches provide a communal grave for their members who wish that, even in death, they may continue to proclaim Christ. Most believers do not want rituals performed on their behalf. Not because they oppose the ritual itself, but because they want their relatives to have true life in Christ. They want their families to have the hope of eternal life with Christ, and their grave becomes a part of this testimony.

Easter traditions feel very much like ‘family traditions’ for churches. While Christians do not keep altars and shrines in their homes to pray to/for deceased ancestors, Easter is a time to remember our spiritual family. Caring for the church’s grave shows honor and respect to ancestors while also proclaiming Christ as Lord. While chocolates and eggs are not in the mix, remembering Christ’s resurrection and the promise of new life in him is both poignant and celebratory in the family life of the local church.

How do we personally proclaim the Easter message to our Japanese friends and neighbors in our city? We most often frame it in the message that Jesus is the God of second chances. While there is so much that we love about Japan, it is not a nation of second chances. Blow it once and you are out. There is incredible pressure on people not to bring shame on themselves or their family. Receiving forgiveness is elusive, and many times it is never bestowed. Elementary school children are sent to cram schools in order to pass entrance tests that will often decide employment and position in life. Failure at business leads to ostracization, and has been a leading cause of suicide for middle-age men in recent years. Don’t follow society’s rules perfectly and soon you are on the outs with those around you.

Fear pervades much of Japan. Fear of unacceptance and fear of harm drive many actions. Why do we classify this as fear? Why don’t we see it as a desire to honor others and do the right thing? Because there is little mercy, grace and compassion when rules are not followed. There are few second chances. For the junior high boy that goes through a period of rebellion and slacks off on his studies, he has missed his chance to test into a good high school, which limits his college choices, which limits his career options. And if he isn’t working for the ‘right’ company, well, he must have been a slacker back in school. It never ends…

But good news! Christ has broken the cycle! He takes the dead and dying and gives them new life. 2 Corinthians 5:19 states, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Hebrews 8:12 quotes the Old Testament saying, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” What an amazing God! Not only does he not count our sins against us, he forgets them. No labels pulled out to remind us of our past failures, no old scores left to be settled. And regarding all those societal rules that need to be relentlessly followed, Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This is an amazing promise to people weighted down with oppression.

To many of our Japanese friends, the Easter story itself at first seems like the ultimate failure. God sends his son to save the world and the son ends up executed and in a grave. As our friends read all the great promises in the Scripture, they often end up saying, “Well, look where it got him! If it didn’t work for this Jesus, why should I believe it is going to help me?”

“Good question. We’re not quite at the end of the story.”

Then we share about the resurrection. (Most of our friends don’t have an issue with supernatural events, as most Japanese people believe in a supernatural world.) What appeared to be hopeless suddenly becomes hopeful. Defeat transforms to triumph and what we thought was the end for us becomes a second chance to live again. And this is ‘Good News’ to the people of Japan. This is the message that people are longing to hear. Even while they strive to be ‘good Japanese,’ here is mercy, for when they make a mistake; grace, for protection from evil; and compassion on their weary hearts.

Year by year, we proclaim this message at Easter. We proclaim this message at Christmas. We proclaim this message daily to our friends and community. Most still struggle to accept it. That’s okay, we’ll keep proclaiming for as long as Christ has us here in Japan. We proclaim it not only to the Japanese people, but to ourselves as well. We love the hope that is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is what frees us to fully serve and love Jesus here in Japan.



Behind the Scenes with Heather Carlson

Hand gestures are all around us. They’re similar to our tongues in that they can do—good and bad. But thankfully, this is about a woman who is full of the really good, life-giving gestures. Meet Heather Carlson. She is gifted in creating hand gestures that glorify God. Join me and follow her story to see how she’s volunteering and making a positive difference.

Since Heather grew up in a Christian home that was filled with music, it was natural that she introduced her own children to music. One day, Heather’s sister-in-law sent her a DVD with a new kind of children’s Christian music by an artist named Jana Alayra. She played the DVD for her 15-month-old little girl and was amazed at her immediate desire to participate! It was as though the Holy Spirit was pulling the little tyke in and speaking to her. You see, what makes this format successful is the combination of the lyrics, motions, and how they’re set to the beat of the music. Not only is it compelling, it promotes retention.

Heather was eager to share this at BelPres’ Children’s worship where she occasionally leads. The results have been amazing: the kids love it! Heather has also been invited to take some old favorites, and add hand motions for interest and fun. They are a hit! She continues to apply her spiritual gift at Vacation Bible Adventure and at Preschool Sunday School programs, bringing something fresh and new to the worship experience for kids.

Heather also branches into other activities that help others. In addition to parenting three kids, she undertakes the yearbook project at her kids’ elementary school. She hosts Mothers In Prayer, a group of praying moms for their kids’ school. Lisa Phelps, Director, Early Childhood Ministries, says, “Heather also prays for Family Life Ministries and all BelPres families and children. We consider her a vital leader and partner in our work.” She’s active in Bible Study Fellowship and is a team teacher with her husband, Mike Carlson, for the second graders at BelPres.

I asked Heather if she had anything she wanted to relay to all of you. Her response was, “My greatest joy is to see children glorifying God uninhibited, with their whole being!”

Heather, we sincerely appreciate your brilliance in introducing our children to Jesus through jingles, old hymns, and motions that embed themselves into young minds! “God has gifted Heather with an ability to share the JOY of worshipping God.  Parents often tell me that their children know every word and hand motion for worship songs…families, homes and cars are filled with singing and praise because of Heather’s teaching and example,” Lisa enthuses.

Thank you a thousand times over!

You shared one of your favorites with me and I can’t get it out of my head.

“Jump, jump, jump into the light, light, light,
Run, run, runaway from what’s not right!”

I’ll carry that song with me and practice the hand gestures as I sing along.