December 13, 2014

Isaiah 49:6 He says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

It is interesting that it was such a huge deal to take the Gospel to the Gentiles in the 1st Century when Isaiah had recorded this hundreds of years before. Human beings love to make “in crowds” by excluding others. Actually, our perception of ourselves and of God’s love is zero-sum, that is, for someone to be greater and receive more of God’s blessings, someone else must be lesser and receive less. The thing is, that’s not the way it is! God and His love are infinite, and one person receiving more in no way diminishes what another person can receive. God indeed chose Abraham and his descendants through whom to express His love to mankind, but for much of their history they have thought that meant everyone else was out of luck. Pointing out the fallacy in that way of thinking just about got Paul lynched, and did put him into prison for most of the rest of his life. (Acts 21 and following) Even Christians today are too prone to get into zero-sum thinking, and that is tragic. At the very least we tend to fall into I-my-me-mine thinking, concerned only for the salvation of our immediate circle. That cuts us off from more than we can imagine, because the greatest blessings come from being conduits of God’s blessings and grace to others. Jesus was commissioned as God’s Light to the nations. We will experience Him fully only when we allow Him to shine through us to the nations. This doesn’t mean that every Christian must leave their native land, but it does mean that our hearts must be open to the whole world, available for God to use us however He sees fit.

I am obviously an American ministering in Japan, but since I was born here of missionary parents, it’s debatable whether I’m a “foreign missionary.” I naturally grew up with a clear awareness of God’s love for the whole world, but I face a major challenge in leading Japanese believers into that awareness. Japanese have an ethnic identity that is comparable, in my opinion, only to the Jews. It is a major obstacle to their accepting the Gospel in the first place, because they fear becoming Christian would make them somehow less Japanese. That is lessening with succeeding generations, but its roots are very deep and strong. Actually, it is like Jews feeling that acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah will make them less Jewish. I don’t know that anyone not of that ethnicity can really grasp the depth of that feeling. It can only be overcome by a revelation of God’s love, so that is what I am to pray and work toward. It all comes back to our thinking it is a “zero-sum” game, when God is infinite. I cannot correct anyone’s thinking, even my own, by myself, so I’ve got to depend on God.

Father, this is a perennial problem. Help me keep growing, becoming more effective as Your agent, because it’s obvious that my wisdom and strength can’t get the job done. I do pray for the salvation of the Japanese people, to whom You have assigned me. May I be an unclouded glass through which the light of Christ may shine, drawing many to You for their salvation. Thank You. Praise God!


About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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3 Responses to December 13, 2014

  1. “…they fear becoming Christian would make them somehow less Japanese.” That is a powerful observation! Currently, one of the greatest struggles here in the states is for people to understand that their membership in the family of God, the community of Believers, as greater than their ethnicity, political association or any other affiliation. I believe this is a point that may be worth highlighting in your ministry.

    This class of self-abandonment was difficult for the Jews, as you mentioned, but it was none-the-less necessary. Consider the Jewish identity before the initial exile into Babylonian captivity, their identity was found in the temple and the land. However, having lost both, during exile, they began to identify themselves solely through retaining the law and their lineage in order to maintain their sense of jewishness, and election. These two things became strong identifying traits. Then following Christ’s ministry, the law was then written on man’s hearts. This again challenged what it meant to be “jewish” opening up election further. Paul said in Romans 2 that a man is not a Jew who is one outwardly but inwardly. Wow, another slap to their customs and identity.

    My point is this: the Japanese identity may need to be a necessary personal sacrifice. It would not constitute an unusual call of the Lord. It may be a case by case issue, as some people may not view it as a struggle. However, if some struggle with it, being a new creation and included into a new family (no greek nor jew etc) may be a point worth highlighting.

    May God bless you with wisdom.

    • jgarrott says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Identity as a Christian first, before anything else, has certainly been a problem historically. Kanzo Uchimura, a justly famous Christian from the early days of Protestant missions in Japan, said, “I love two ‘J’s, Jesus and Japan, and I don’t know which I love more.” That’s a very dangerous position!

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