Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Those We've Lost in 2013

Every TV news show seems to have run a "those we've lost in 2013" tribute in the last few days. It's sad, and yet fun to remember these people. From Marcia Wallace (Bob Newhart Show and The Simpsons) to Maggie Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, Roger Ebert, Peter O'Toole, Tom Clancy, Paul Walker and James Gandolfino to Helen Thomas and Prince Friso (the Dutch royalty in the prime of his life), the world has lost many people who have impacted this world in many ways through politics, the way we see the world, or the way we enjoy the world. It strikes me once again that EVERYONE DIES, regardless of our place in life, regardless of our age, regardless of our wealth or lack thereof, and regardless of whether we may be "ready" for that death. ARE YOU READY? Do you have the peace of knowing that when you die you will find yourself in the arms of a loving heavenly Father? If you do, then have no fear. The best is yet to come -- BY FAR the best! If you do not have this peace, there's just one thing you can do: stop trying so hard to merit a good afterlife; you'll never succeed. Let go of that struggle and surrender to the loving mercy of your heavenly Father. BELIEVE that Jesus Christ took the punishment your sins deserve and TRUST that He offers you eternal life only because He loves you, not because of how good or bad you may be. To one of the criminals who was executed with Jesus and believed and trusted in Him while on the cross, Jesus said to him, "Today, you will be with Me in paradise." That's hope that does not disappoint!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Naughty or Nice? The Gospel According to Santa Claus

You better watch out,
You better not cry.
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He's making a list,
He's checking it twice.
He's gonna find out
Who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He sees when you are sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been good or bad
So be good for goodness sake!

Have you ever stopped to think about those lyrics? We teach our children about some old man who is always watching them, even in their own beds. And while we say he's a jolly old man, he's watching their every move and judging them to be good or bad. If, after checking his list twice, he deems them worthy, he will bring them Christmas presents. Strikes me as more creepy and legalistic than jolly.

Maybe I'm too critical of Santa. It's a harmless story, right? But have you ever considered how much Santa sounds like God? He sees everything and everyone. Like God, he's apparently omniscient and omnipresent! Many people conceive of God as a kind, bearded grandfather -- just like Santa. Is it so bad that God and Santa are so similar? Well, considering our natural tendency to believe we must be a certain level of good to go to heaven, our Santa legend reinforces this fallacy in complete contradiction to the gospel.

Although only 0.2% of Japanese people are Christians and Christmas is not an official holiday, Japan loves all things American including Christmas. Stores are decked out and Christmas carols are playing (many of them Christian). And just like in America, Santa has a central role.

Santa Claus suits Japanese culture very well in this grace-less society where people really do keep a mental list of their friends', family members' and colleagues' offenses, and they don't forgive. The Japanese are plagued by broken relationships all around them -- all those people who have been naughty. But in Santa Claus, all they see is a jolly old man with a big smile and a legal ledger in his pocket with all their "naughties and nices." What do you see? In which gospel are you trusting? What message are you sharing?

Starting the Final Push
Raising support has been a slow process. Although my long-term missionary budget is higher than it was as a short-term missionary, I am ahead of my percentage compared to four years ago. Most missionaries find that the final one-third of their support comes in the most quickly. That was true for me four years ago as God brought about a significant number of gifts and pledges at the end of 2009 that brought me to the two-thirds mark and allowed by to depart for Japan in April 2010. I'm hoping and praying that He will do the same this year. You can help me reach that goal in one of several ways:

  • RECOMMEND ME:  Speak with your pastor or missions committee and recommend me and the ministry of Genesis International College for a speaking engagement or missions conference. Help me get the word out about the exciting vision God has given GIC to reach young adults in Japan with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Show them the five-minute video about GIC (available on the GIC website). Give them my phone number (601-317-9379) and email (brentkooi@gmail.com). Then tell me the name of the person I should contact so I can personally introduce myself and the ministry of GIC. By they way, your church doesn't have to be Presbyterian! I've spoken at all kinds of churches and have partners from many denominations.
  • END OF YEAR GIVING:  Please consider giving a one-time gift before December 31 that will help push me over the two-thirds mark. Some of you may only be able to give a small gift but you think your gift will be insignificant. But big or small, every gift helps.
  • BECOME A PARTNER:  One-time gifts get me to Japan, but monthly pledges sustain me in the ministry for the long haul. Pray about becoming a ministry partner.
  • PRAY:  I list this last, but it really is the most important. God is the one who moves hearts and provides all good things. Pray that God will move in the hearts of many people to partner with me through prayer and finances. Pray for me  as I labor and wait upon God for His provision. Pray whether God may be calling you to be a gospel partner through regular prayer and/or monthly giving.
How to Give:
Send your gifts to Mission to the World at the address below. Be sure to include "Brent Kooi - 14009" in the memo line so your contribution will be properly credited.
      Mission to the World Donations
      P.O. Box 116284
      Atlanta, GA  30368-6284

To arrange for monthly partnership, contact me for more information. Or, if you would like to remain anonymous, contact Jennifer Miller at 678-823-0004 or jennifer.miller@mtw.org.

Japanese Christmas Traditions
Japan always puts a unique twist on things borrowed from overseas. So how is Christmas celebrated in Japan?

Romance: Christmas is a major date night for young couples. Popular destinations include Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios (Osaka), or perhaps a nice sushi dinner and a movie.

Gifts: Parents buys gifts for their children, and dating couples buy gifts for each other.

Family Dinner: Some years ago, Kentucky Fried Chicken pulled off a brilliant marketing campaign in which it convinced all of Japan that Americans celebrate Christmas with KFC fried chicken. Imagine reserving your KFC family meal to-go weeks in advance; that's what many people do in Japan every Christmas! My students were shocked to learn that KFCs in America are closed on Christmas day.

Christmas Cake: Never heard of "Christmas cake"? Well, you can hardly enjoy your KFC Christmas dinner without a Christmas cake! Decorated with fresh strawberries, Christmas cakes are a staple in Japanese Christmas observations. My students were also very surprised to know that Americans do not celebrate with such cakes.

Praise & Prayer
Praise God for the opportunity I have to spend Christmas with my parents in south Texas. Please pray for good roads and safe travel and for a good time with them.

Pray that many churches will open their doors to me for mission conferences, Sunday School, etc. and that God will use these opportunities to provide the needed ministry partners.

Pray for Genesis College as we continue to recruit faculty and various team members. Also pray for us as we work toward opening our doors, which do not yet exist! We hope to begin English classes in the Fall of 2014, but that is not certain as only our GIC president and his family are currently living in Osaka. Pray that I will soon be able to join them.

Thank You!
I want to thank so many friends and family from all over the world who are partnering with me through prayer and giving. I could not do this without your support. You are vital to this ministry!

I hope and pray that you have a blessed Christmas in which you experience the hope and joy found only in relationship with Jesus Christ.