DEAR FAMILY AND FRIENDS,
When I was growing up, one of my favorite shows to watch was Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Charlie Brown asked a very important question: “What is the true meaning of Christmas?” As Charlie Brown learned, it was not found in the commercialized metal tinsel-covered Christmas tree, the gifts under the tree, or lights. I can still see Linus with his blanked wrapped around his head looking like a shepherd saying, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
I share the same concern that Charlie Brown had, that with all the gift giving, decorations, Christmas shopping and card sending that we not forget this true meaning of Christmas. Jesus is called a Savior. Do we really need a Savior? Can’t we just save ourselves? I used to think so, but I am convinced I wouldn’t stand a chance without THE Savior, Jesus.
I had an experience last Spring that shed even greater light on this. It was something which I hope I never have to experience again, even though I felt it was an excellent learning experience. In February 1995 I served on a jury in a first degree murder trial in Chicago. The future of this seventeen year old defendant laid in our hands – either he would be set free, or he would serve his time in prison. We studied every minute detail as best as we could. Each of us felt the obligation to do our very best as a jury. Witness after witness took the stand and was interrogated. It really is a lot of work trying to remember and weigh all the evidence. The defendant didn’t say one word during the entire trial – I so much wanted to hear his side. As we came into the courtroom for the last time, I remember the eerie silence, which was broken by the judge saying, “Have you reached your verdict?”
“Yes, your Honor,” said our spokesman.
“What is your verdict?” inquired the judge.
“We, the jury, find Mr. _____ guilty of murder in the first degree…”
Immediately, there was some yelling and shuffling. My eyes were focused on the defendant. I will never forget his eyes and his whole countenance fall as the verdict was read. He was then led away alone with his head still hanging low. No one was there to comfort him. Through the whole trial we were instructed to not stick any emotion on the defendant, but to just weigh the evidence. When I heard the verdict, suddenly my heart went out to him. It was such a sad experience and left this empty feeling in me for quite a while. I’m not sure how long a term he is serving, as the judge determines that.
In the earthly courts there is penalty for doing wrong. God also has the same standard, although the stakes are much higher – eternal life or eternal suffering. I would hate to think of trying to go to court and also be my own attorney. Each of us will stand before the judgment seat of God. God says in Philippians 2:10-11: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Through Job’s life, we can get a glimpse of as to what it might look like if we faced God alone (Job 38:3-4): “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, if you understand.” If I stood alone before God, my response would be like Job (Job 40:3-5): “Then Job answered the Lord: ‘I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.”
In 1984, I found out that I would not have to face God alone, like the young defendant, but I could have a defender, Jesus, my Savior. This was news to me! You see, I was hot on the trail of success, according to the world’s standards. I was one year shy of graduation, when I would get my doctorate of medicine. Would all my hard work, sacrifice, and often loneliness be all worth it? My future looked bright, but is having the world’s riches, prestige, and success going to bring true happiness? The closer I got, the more convinced I became that this was not true. I felt cheated and for what? The Bible says, “for what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Luke 9:25). I needed something solid to base my life on. I found my answer. It was in Jesus. I really do need a Savior because I can’t do it myself. In 1984 I chose Jesus to be my Savior, to be my defender when I stand before God Almighty.
1 Peter 2:24 says, “Jesus Himself bore my sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
There is still punishment for sin (just like the defendant had to pay the penalty for his sin). Jesus paid the penalty when He bore my sins in His body as He died on the cross. I guess if there was any other way to pay the penalty then Jesus died in vain. Jesus did not die in vain, but for you and me that we could have eternal life with Him.
Christmas is a celebration of God’s great love for us, “that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Let us rejoice as the angels and shepherds before us and share the GOOD NEWS that “there has been born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Now for something a bit lighter… my Dad always wanted to make a Japanese rock garden. In fact, we’d often be driving and he’d pull off to the side of the road and say, “Look! There’s a great rock for a rock garden!” He had often talked about building a Japanese rock garden and even a fish pond in our backyard. “Should we take it home?” he’d say. I’d look at the rock. It often was huge. “Nah, that’s too big,” or “Not today,” I would reply, and we’d drive on. My Dad died young at the age of 53. I bet if he was here today there’d be a nice Japanese rock garden with a fish pond in the backyard.
Well, I think I caught that same bug. I read a few articles and got a book and even picked out my first shrub – a Japanese sculpted Black Pine. It’s been a slow project because I’m making the pond totally child-safe. The nursery man told me that he’d save it for me and to let him know when I got the pond in place. He told me the process of transplanting: first digging up the tree, which involved cutting some of the roots, then wrapping up the roots, and finally placing the tree in a new hole. That so much reminded me of the process of moving our family from Chicago to Port Orchard. “Digging up the roots” reminded me of the severing of our Chicago ties, the hardest being leaving our good friends, neighbors, Lori’s parents, and my patients for the past seven years. Other things that reminded me of how much I hate moving was packing and unpacking, looking for and finding a house, working through some fairly different expectations, working on some remodeling and adjusting to my new job. The saving factor has been finding a church that we call “home.” Through many prayers, we feel God has led us to a church called Grace Bible Church. The children love it and Lori and I really appreciate the Sunday School class and the Sunday messages. It is a very friendly church also. In fact, a group of men and their trucks from the church moved all our belongings from our apartment to our home all in 1 ½ hours. It was incredible. The more amazing fact was that earlier that morning they moved someone else.
Lori has done incredibly well with the move. I’m sure it has been hardest on her, since she was born and raised in Chicago. She at times is very lonely. It’s hard for her to give up her old friends and make new friends. We’ve been praying that she’d regularly be able to meet with ladies at church for fellowship and Bible study. Through all the hardships, Lori still told me recently that she is glad for the move and she feels that this is where God wants us to be. She also willingly stays home with the children. That truly is a sacrifice. She does an incredible job, meeting all the needs of three children and even homeschooling Amy and Jonathan. Since Stefanie’s attention span is so short, she is hard to work with, although she does good in songs and exercises.
Amy (4 ½) is finishing up her second quarter of swimming lessons. She, like me, hates to put her face in the water. Progress is slow, but this does not concern Amy. During the last lesson, she was more interested in organizing the kickboards by shapes and colors, and she spent most of her lesson doing just that. I always thought that swimming lessons were to learn to swim, but maybe we forgot to tell that to Amy! Oh well, she is having fun and I guess that is what counts.
Jonathan (2 ½) is our junk-food-junky and our couch potato! Hs is always asking us if he could watch a video and as you drive he’ll point and name off every fast food place in town. “There’s McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Taco Bell, Burger King, Hi-Joy Bowl…” He’d make a great tour director!
Stefanie (1 ½) also loves to eat. Everyone says that we have well-behaved children. Well, we have a secret weapon – food! If you feed them, they’re quiet, but you better not run out! One day we were at one of our favorite places for breakfast. We were all busy looking over our menu trying to decide what to get. The place was very quiet at that time when Stefanie let out this death-curdling scream, “Yaaaah, Yaaaah!” I quickly tried to shhh her and cover her mouth just as she was about to let out another yell. She was pointing to the menu – then I found out the reason for her scream. On the menu was a picture of a little birdie. Stefanie loves to yell at any bird to scare them away. She’d have a hey day in Chicago, especially with all those pigeons. Over here she is kept plenty busy scaring seagulls and blackbirds. Never a dull moment and never a quiet moment at the Tanakas! We love them all. Children truly are a blessing from God.
Rich (36): How am I doing? I am doing quite well also. I miss my friends, my in-laws, and my patients in Chicago. Being back in the Pacific Northwest really has been like a homecoming for me. I guess I forgot about the beauty of this area. I feel so much at home hiking among the tall trees, walking along the beach, marveling at the beauty of the mountains, and seeing Mount Rainier just catches my breath. Work has been a big adjustment, but I really enjoy it. My nurse is great and we’re getting to know all of my new patients. At my church I am excited to be part of a newly formed men’s group. Many of us went to the Promise Keepers conference in the Kingdome. There is a time of sharing, prayer, Bible study, becoming friends with other men so we can support, encourage, and challenge each other.
Christmas is my favorite holiday. It can easily get too busy, forcing us to lose our focus. Like Charlie Brown, this Christmas season lets each of us evaluate if we have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas: “For unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Ps: “Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land” (Proverbs 25:25). Please write. We’d love to hear from you. Please let us know if you would like to continue to receive our Christmas letters.
RICH (FOR LORI, AMY, JONATHAN, AND STEFANIE)
ONE OF MY FAVORITE SHOWS TO WATCH WAS CHARLIE BROWN'S CHRISTMAS
I SERVED ON A JURY IN A FIRST DEGREE MURDER TRIAL IN CHICAGO
IT LEFT THIS EMPTY FEELING IN ME FOR QUITE A WHILE
HOW CAN I REPLY TO YOU? I PUT MY HAND OVER MY MOUTH
I REALLY DO NEED A SAVIOR BECAUSE I CAN'T DO IT MYSELF
JESUS DID NOT DIE IN VAIN, BUT FOR YOU AND ME
LOOK! THERE'S A GREAT ROCK FOR A ROCK GARDEN!
WE FEEL GOD HAS LED US TO A CHURCH CALLED GRACE BIBLE CHURCH
SHE, LIKE ME, HATES TO PUT HER FACE IN THE WATER
OUR JUNK-FOOD-JUNKY AND OUR COUCH POTATO
STEFANIE LOVES TO YELL AT ANY BIRD TO SCARE THEM AWAY
CHRISTMAS IS MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY