My Greatest Difficulty Living in LA

Note: I wrote this article last week for my home church’s newsletter. Apologies for all the LA references if you don’t live in LA.

Celtics fans aside, who doesn’t love LA?

As I sit in my Tokyo apartment with three layers on and shoveled snow on our balcony, my smartphone says you’ll be hitting 82 degrees this week. Brrr. I can just see those palm trees shivering.

Oh LA, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Taco trucks and Tepeyac, Fosselman’s and Philippe’s, Pieology and Porto’s. And of course, my beloved church family. (Reverse the order of importance.)

But all food off the table, my biggest problem under those purple skies (at least that’s how they looked in La La Land,) was this: living in LA, I struggled to live for beyond…LA.

Yes, God had called me there: land of my work, family, church, and friends. But when I opened my Bible, I read of a kingdom that extended far beyond the San Gabriel Mountains, to “all nations.” (Matt. 24:14) A kingdom that I was called to “seek first.” (Matt. 6:33)

An inspiring idea indeed. But with work, study, laundry, cleaning, and cooking (not so much), the daily grind seemed more pressing than discipling the nations. Poverty in Africa took a backseat to paying my bills. Child trafficking in Thailand was less urgent than beating traffic on the 10.

Perhaps I was living for God’s kingdom locally. But as I sang each Christmas, “He comes to make His blessings known, far as the curse is found,” I would wonder: is my scope of the kingdom as big as His?

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Sad to say, moving as a missionary didn’t help. I now do ministry in the world’s largest metropolis. But rarely do my thoughts venture beyond Tokyo’s borders.

Why? Because my problem isn’t about cities. It’s about kingdoms.

It’s my “shrinking the kingdom of God down to the size of [my] little kingdom treasures.”[1] It’s my reducing God’s global purposes to the smallness of my week’s to-do list. It’s my heart, prone to “seek first my kingdom.”

Thankfully, Christ doesn’t just convict us of our “kingdom shrinking”; He died to set us free from it. As Paul writes, “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor. 5:14)

A Tale of Twohey’s

Okay, I get it. God is calling and forming us to live for His global kingdom. But I’m already so busy, balancing so many plates that if I add any more, they’ll all come crashing down.

I hear you. Let’s put the plates down for a moment and try putting something on them instead; like a Twohey’s bittersweet hot fudge sundae.

Twohey’s ice cream is wonderful. But nobody goes there to order a scoop of vanilla ice cream. They go for the bittersweet hot fudge. And anyone blessed to sink a silver spoon into this gooey goodness atop a creamy mound of vanilla, knows one thing: it isn’t something you just “add on top” of ice cream; it transforms it. Mere ice cream becomes an immortalized classic, 75 years strong. It rescues a decent dessert to fulfill its divine destiny.

In the same way, living for God’s global kingdom doesn’t just add things to your schedule; it transforms it.

Signing up for prayer updates from our church’s missionaries doesn’t just add another email to your overflowing inbox. It transforms your inbox to be more than just about…your emails.

Inviting a foreign exchange student for dinner with your family doesn’t just add another appointment to your crammed schedule. It transforms your family’s vision to be more than just about…your family.

And giving towards kingdom work overseas doesn’t just add another expense to your already tight budget. It transforms your budget to be more than just…your budget.

God’s global purposes don’t need us. The blood of Christ has already “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) His work will continue with or without you and me.

Rather, we need God’s global purposes. They’re His grace to rescue us from living for just…us. They’re His means of forming Christ in us, growing us in His global love. They’re His invitation to witness Christ’s power, as “all authority in heaven and earth has been given” to Him. (Matt. 28:18) They’re the hot fudge to our vanilla ice cream lives.

And there’s nothing bittersweet about that.

 

[1] A Quest for More, Paul Tripp, p.81.

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5 Comments

  • FM a.k.a. Auntie says:

    hey, FS – inspired and exhorted by reading this. yes! “witness Christ’s power”.

  • Aimee says:

    wow this is SO good Ian!!!

  • ar says:

    Your perspective sharpens my blurred vision of “all nations”, the almighty lists, and seeing the eternal side of life in LA.
    Did you know Twoheys is moving!

  • Amy says:

    Thanks for sharing this perspective, Ian! I’m challenged to think beyond my pressing daily-grind life. You described it so well.

  • Marissa Doi says:

    Hi Ian! Thank you for sharing about how to think and live more “kingdom minded” as opposed to thinking only about our local community! I can identify with you in so many ways now that I have lived in Itoigawa, Niigata for 6 months. I am thinking of visiting your church in Toyosu next weekend (Feb. 11th) and hope I can say hi!

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