The Loveliness of Christ

The Loveliness of Christ

Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish pastor born in 1600.  We know little about his upbringing, except what can be gleaned from the letters he wrote to the people under his care.  Two things are obvious from the sweetness of his writings: he was well acquainted with suffering, and he experienced much of the Lord’s grace in the midst of suffering.

Recent trials–small ones we’ve experienced and large ones that others in our lives have faced–have brought me back to the writings of Samuel Rutherford.  The Banner of Truth Trust did us all a favor by compiling quotes from his letters into a small book called The Loveliness of Christ.  There are few things that have helped me love Jesus Christ, in the midst of various difficulties, more than this book.  And, there are few things that have given me a greater burden to speak of him to other people, especially suffering people.  I hope you read the quotes below, buy the book and find new comfort–for yourself and for others–in Jesus Christ.

“It is not a smooth and easy way, neither will your weather be fair and pleasant; but whosever saw the invisible God and the fair city, makes no reckoning of losses or crosses.  In ye must be, cost you what it will; stand not for a price, and for all that ye have, to win the castle; the rights of it are won to you: and there wanteth nothing but possession.” -page 10

“The only thing that commendeth sinners to Christ is extreme necessity and want.  Christ’s love is ready to make and provide a ransom and money for a poor body who hath lost his purse.” -page 13

“There are many heads lying in Christ’s bosom, but there is room for yours among the rest.” -page 21

“When we shall come home and enter to the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time–suffering is not worth our first night’s welcome home to heaven.” -page 19

“I am half content to have boils for my Lord Jesus’ plaisters.  Sickness hath this advantage, that it draweth our sweet Physician’s hand and his holy and soft fingers to touch our withered and leper skins; it is a blessed fever that fetcheth Christ to the bedside–I think my Lord’s ‘How doest thou with it, sick body?’ is worth all my pained nights.” -page 22

“O, pity for evermore that there should be such an one as Christ Jesus, so boundless, so bottomless, and so incomparable in infinite excellency, and sweetness, and so few to take him!  O, ye poor dry and dead souls, why will ye come hither with your toom vessels and your empty souls to this huge and fair, and deep, and sweet well of life, and fill all your toom vessels?  O, that Christ should be so large in sweetness and worth, and we so narrow, pinched, so ebb, and so void of all happiness, and yet men will not take him!  They lose their love miserably, who will not bestow it upon this lovely one.” -page 5

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A word on small churches (and small children)

A word on small churches (and small children)

Small churches.  I am becoming increasingly convinced that small gatherings of God’s faithful people are among the world’s most beautiful, yet underrated things.   Small churches are diamonds buried in sand–hard to find, but worth digging for.  How many thousands of people unknowingly walk right by them without ever realizing their worth?

Of course, not all small churches are good churches, nor are all large churches bad (our church is quite large, and we love it dearly).  But, I draw attention to faithful, God-honoring small churches, because they don’t receive the recognition they deserve.  The fact is most churches, especially among unreached peoples, are small.  I’m told the average church in Japan has around 30 members.  I’ve seen some that are smaller.

Big stands out and draws our attention.  Big things, either in size or perceived impact, get talked about.  Whether we realize it or not, we tend to ascribe greater value to things, like churches, based on size.  Just the other day, I met a pastor at a community event, and a person later commented to me, “That’s so cool you got to talk to him.  His church has over 5,000 people, you know!”

On the flip side, we tend to minimize importance when things, like churches, are small.  I’ve heard many pastors and missionaries lament, “My church only has X number of people.”  I can understand why that might be discouraging.  But, there is something praiseworthy about these small congregations that continue to meet faithfully to worship Jesus Christ, preach the word of God, encourage one another and care for those in need, even when no one else notices.  They do not do what they do to draw attention to themselves.  Though they appear unremarkable, they will receive commendation from the Lord.  He takes careful note when no one else does.

Jesus Christ to the church in Philadelphia: “I know your works.  Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.  I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8).  

Commenting on the verse above, George Eldon Ladd wrote, “The church in Philadelphia was one so abounding in good works that she was pleasing to the Lord.  Although the church had but little power and was small with very limited influence, its character was such that the letter has only commendation from the Lord, not censure” (A Commentary on the Revelation of John).

In contrast to other churches receiving letters in the book of Revelation, the Lord only commends and does not rebuke the church in Philadelphia.  Though they did not have power or influence, the Lord is pleased with them.  He promises that the influential people of their day will “bow down before before your feet and learn that I have loved you” (verse 9).  They didn’t have a place among the noteworthy of their age, yet Jesus promises a greater, more permanent place in his Kingdom, “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never shall he go out of it” (verse 12).

Faithfulness is not necessarily accompanied by numbers and influence in this age.  Nonetheless, it is pleasing to the Lord, and it will receive its reward in the age to come.  That’s what we’re banking on.

Japan has been called one of the hardest fields in the world by those who study missions closely.  Thousands of missionaries and Japanese ministers have labored faithfully for years without seeing much visible fruit.  While we pray for a breakthrough, we’re going forward with the knowledge that people have not yet come to faith in large numbers.  Maybe God will change that in our lifetime!  Some in Japan believe he might.  If not, we’re preparing ourselves for years of ministry in small, beautiful churches.  Small churches may not exert extensive influence or receive recognition among their neighbors, but we’re happy to devote ourselves to serving with them nonetheless, knowing the One from whom they will receive a reward.


Small children.  Below are some photos of Ezra and Violet.  We love them and so do many of you.  We’re sharing these, because we know many of you want to see them.  Disclaimer: these photos are terribly one-sided, depicting mainly happy times.  When we have photos of the temper-tantrums and dirty diapers, maybe we’ll share those as well.  It’s just much easier to capture a content, smiling child than to grab the camera and start shooting when they’re screaming uncontrollably or flinging yogurt.  We love our children, not primarily because they’re cute and smiley, but because they are our children.  God gave them to us; we are happy he did.

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God’s grace in our waiting

God’s grace in our waiting

Our son has a book called Waiting is Not Easy!  In this short story, Gerald the elephant learns an important lesson.  His friend Piggie promises a surprise, but Gerald must wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Waiting is not easy.  But, waiting is good when the thing you’re waiting for is worth it.  And, there are many good things that only come through waiting.

I (Jamison) began intentionally pursuing vocational, cross-cultural ministry in 2006.  That means I’m coming up on a decade of waiting (over one-third of my life).  I have often grown impatient and asked God in frustration, “Why is this taking so long?”  As we’ve gotten closer to going to Japan, I’ve been asking the same question in a more reflective, less demanding way.  I really want to know–What has the Lord been up to in the midst of our waiting?

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He does not always provide definitive answers to “Why?” questions.  Some things will become clear eventually, but we may never know all the things God has done during this season of waiting.  Yet, I think the Lord has graciously opened the door a crack, so that I can at least peek in and catch a glimpse of  what he’s done for us over the past decade.

Walking with a limp.  One of my favorite men, Sinclair Ferguson, preached a series on the life of Jacob in the book of Genesis.  Jacob was a proud and deceitful man.  After 14 years of hard labor in a foreign land, he returned home.  On his journey, he wrestled with the Lord and prevailed.  But, the encounter permanently changed him, “The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:31).  Jacob’s proud swagger was replaced with a limp.  But, notice the sun was shining on him as he went.  Happy is the limp upon which the Lord’s favor shines.  Happy is the jar of clay that best displays the power of God (2 Cor. 4:7).  And–I hope–happy is the man who, through many years of waiting, enters ministry in total dependence on Jesus Christ.

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Ten years ago, I really thought I had something to offer–I thought that I would succeed at whatever I did, because I was The Man.  Yikes.  Thankfully, the Lord has given me years of realizing my own ineptitude and helplessness.  Apart from him, I can do nothing (John 15:5).  That was not a fun lesson to learn.  But, there is incredible freedom and hope in coming to know it–the Lord delights to use human weakness as a setting for his divine power.

A boat with ballast.  I think the idea of moving to a different country excites many, especially in my generation.  Pick up everything and live a completely different life–sounds kinda exciting, doesn’t it?  Retrospectively, part of my initial draw toward cross-cultural ministry came from the excitement of doing something new, fun, different, etc.  It’s an adventure!  But, adrenaline can’t sustain you for ten years (or longer), especially when you get married, have kids and start getting gray hair–it started on my beard and is now working its way up.

While I’m still excited about the adventure of missions, I’m no longer driven by it.  Adrenaline has been surpassed by conviction.  Our former pastor John Piper has a helpful illustration.  If the work of missions is a ship, the desire for God’s glory is the ballast that keeps it from flipping over in the midst of strong winds and tall waves.  A conviction that God is worthy of honor among all the peoples is a weight that gives your boat stability to press on through storms.  The only reason we’re still pursuing missions is the belief that Jesus Christ is worthy of all glory, honor, praise and adoration.  And, he is mostly unknown and un-worshipped in places like Japan.

People really matter.  Over the past several years, we have had the pleasure of meeting and growing with many precious Brothers and Sisters in Christ, many of whom are sending us, supporting us, working alongside of us.  Had we gone to Japan or somewhere else earlier, we would have never met many people we now know and love dearly.  That’s not a small thing.  We really thank God for the extra time spent with you all, and we feel supported and strengthened in ways that would have been impossible years ago.  Time with Family has been especially precious, as we’ve raised our children together.

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Similarly, had God opened the door for us to go earlier, I think I would have placed more emphasis on developing programs or “ministries,” rather than focusing on people.  This time has helped us increasingly see how much people really matter.  Programs only exist to serve people.  There is something powerful about simply knowing and loving other humans.  Though they are messy, broken and frustrating at times, they are also wonderful creatures–bestowed with greater dignity and worth than anything else in creation.  What an awesome thing to have relationships with people who image God and who will live forever!  And, what an even greater thing that God became one of us, that we can have relationships not only with one another, but with the One who made us!  The desire to see that come about in Japan has grown with my gray hair.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him (Lamentations 3:25).  

Shame, suicide and unshakeable hope

Shame, suicide and unshakeable hope

Suicide is the most common cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 19 in Japan.  Major contributing factors seem to be related to school: bullying, high stress entrance exams and intense social pressure.  That’s why September 1st, the first day of a new school semester, has the highest rates of suicide (Click Here to read a recent BBC article).  Have you ever said something like, “I would rather die than ______.”?  Many young people in Japan literally choose to die rather than go back to school.

The emphasis we place on joy is not arbitrary.  Everything that we’ve come across tells us there is a particular need for joy in Japan, a perceptible lack of happiness rooted in real hope.

The emphasis on joy is also personal.  Happiness in Jesus matters a lot to us, because I (Jamison) wouldn’t be alive without it–without Him.  I remember years of preferring death over going to school.  Though I didn’t face the same pressure as Japanese students face, I wanted the same result.

I know I’m not alone.  Most of you have fought or will fight some form of depression, either your own or the depression of someone you love.  Maybe your neighbors are not as happy as they look.  Maybe your favorite barista didn’t want to get out of bed this morning–maybe she’s not as excited to serve you coffee as you think.  Maybe you spend so much time on your smartphone, because the numbness of depression sets in when your mind isn’t sufficiently distracted.

In my experience, depression is terribly deceptive, making death (or perhaps withdrawal) seem more appealing than facing what’s in front of you.  Depression distorts desire–it puts frosting on a razor-blade and then tricks you into believing it’s actually a cake.  Don’t eat it.  Jesus is the Bread of Life; whoever goes to him shall never hunger, ever.  He reorients desire, so that you hunger for what gives life, instead of what takes it.

I don’t want to be simplistic or overly spiritual.  Depression and suicide are complex; they should be addressed from multiple angles.  God gave us bodies.  The condition of our bodies affects the condition of our souls.  Thus, we should not be surprised that various physical causes of depression have seemingly unspiritual remedies.  I’m told medication is necessary for some forms of depression, and I believe it.  Personally, I find that sleep, exercise and a single cup of coffee go a long way in preventing depression.

At the same time, I think the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks powerfully to the particular type of depression that wreaks havoc among Japan’s young people.  Many of the lives lost to suicide shared the common threads of shame, fear and relational brokenness.  They are ashamed about who they are or what they’ve done, feeling that they have failed in some unredeemable way.  They fear facing others who look down on them or openly ridicule/bully them.  They lack strong relational bonds and support systems.  And, they have no hope for things improving in the future.

There is hope in Jesus Christ.  I have found that the sweetest, most powerful remedy for my depression is knowing that, in Christ, the almighty God is 100% for me, not against me.  I know of nothing else that can so comprehensively remove the sting of shame, fear and relational brokenness.   The Lord’s undeserved and sovereign favor has delivered me from many dark nights.

I have heard a pastor say that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter of the greatest letter in the greatest Book ever written.  I am inclined to agree, especially for the depressed and hopeless.  Here are a few brief thoughts:

Shame: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” -Romans 8:1.  In Christ, you are free from shame.  God does not condemn you for who you are or what you’ve done.  Instead, he gave up his Son to be shamefully treated, beaten and murdered in your place.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” -Romans 8:32.  There is no greater act that God could have done to make a way for you to come to him without guilt or shame.  Yes, you have done shameful things.  No, you don’t need to be ashamed any longer, if you go to God through Jesus.   

Fear:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” -Romans 8:28.  Is there any promise in Scripture more universally applicable for the people of God?  All. Things. Similarly, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” -Romans 8:38-39.  Nothing.  In all of creation.  The Lord has bound himself to the Believer in love.  As long as God’s word is true, you need not fear.  All must work for your good, bullies and entrance exams included.

Relationship:  “…You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”  The average “salaryman” in Japan spends 17 minutes/day with his children.  But, there is a Father in heaven who never leaves, nor forsakes his children.  He takes us to himself, calls us his own and is eternally with us.  Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows who is well-acquainted with grief, is also well acquainted with you in your sorrows, by His Spirit.  He knows how to comfort and counsel.  He is a Brother and a Friend who will carry you through.

Hope: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” -Romans 8:18.  A day is coming when God will glorify all those whom he has already justified in Christ.  Things will not be the way they are forever.  All that is wrong will One Day be made right, including your depression.  You always have hope.

Almost ten years ago, Jesus provided me with hope that sustained my life, even when I didn’t want it to be sustained.  And, we believe He can do the same in Japan.  We are excited the team we are joining, Christ Bible Institute (CBI), is starting a Christian counseling ministry.  Read more about it by Clicking Here.  We believe this ministry has the potential to “help bring real, personal, healing of Jesus to hurting Japanese.”  Pray for the CBI team as they launch this important ministry.  And, please pray for the joy of Japan in Christ.

Recent activities (in photos)

Recent activities (in photos)

Here are some pictures of what we’ve been up to lately.  It’s been a good summer!


In the neighborhood…

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Violet is finally big enough to ride in the Burley.  She loves it.

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Ezra started riding a “big-boy” bike.IMG_0241

A favorite activity in our neighborhood–climbing big things and then jumping off of them.

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Another favorite activity–yard-work.


Ezra’s first Twins game!

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Ezra made it through the top of the 1st inning before he started asking, “Is it time to go home?”  With help from a couple trips to the concession stands, we managed to make it through the fifth inning.


  Violet turned one year old in August!  IMG_0144

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Birthday ice cream.

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Birthday party!

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First bite of the birthday cake.

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A note to children

A note to children

Parents, this is written primarily for your children; please share with them.  Others, you are welcome to read, as well.

You have heard that we’re going to Japan, right?  And, you probably know that we’re going there, so that we can tell people about Jesus.  Maybe you have even been praying for us.  If so, thank you so much.  It means a lot to us.

There is a lot to like about Japan–great food, beautiful mountains and ocean, interesting cities, fun places to visit, kind people, and safe neighborhoods.  But, there are a couple things we love that Japan doesn’t have.

First, most people in Japan don’t know Jesus yet.  That makes us sad, because we think Jesus is the best.  If you know him, you know the best person in the entire universe!  Never forget that.  Many don’t know him.

Second, Japan doesn’t have you or your family.  Japan is far away.  We’re going to be there a long time.  Maybe the rest of our lives.  Sure, we’ll come back to visit, but we’re going to miss you.  We won’t be at many of your birthday or Christmas parties.  We won’t be able to play at the park with you most summers or go sledding with you most winters.  We might not be there to give you a hug when you’re sad or high-five when you’re happy.

There’s something we want to share with you.  Even though we’ll be on the other side of the world, we can still be friends.  In fact, we can actually be better than friends.  How is that possible?  Here is what the Bible says:

“You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.  For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.  Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 6b-8).

The Bible says that we can be fellow workers.  That’s exciting!  We can be like two farmers working the same field or two soldiers fighting in the war or two teammates playing the same game–just on opposite sides of the world.

We are going to Japan “for the sake of the name.”  That means, we are going, so that when Japanese people hear the name “Jesus,” they would say something like, “Jesus! He’s my Savior, my Lord, my King, my best Friend, my God and so much more!”  We don’t want him to be a stranger in Japan any longer; we want Jesus’ name to be spoken often from many happy lips.

Do you want the same thing?  If so, you can work alongside us.  And, you don’t have to come to Japan to do it (though maybe someday God will lead you to join us in Japan…we would like that).  If you help send and support us, the Bible says you are a “fellow worker for the truth.”  Our ministry is your ministry.  We just have different roles.

William Carey was a famous missionary who lived about 200 years ago.  He went to India.  A friend of his said something like, “India is a gold mine that seems as deep as the center of the earth; who will go down into it?” William Carey responded, “I will go down, but remember that you must hold the rope.”

The same could be said about Japan.  And, you hold the rope for us when you and your family remember us, support us financially, pray for us, ask how we are doing, encourage us with your words or tell others about our ministry.  By God’s design, we can’t go down into the deep gold mine without you.  Keep holding the rope.  Do it for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.

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A lesson in history

A lesson in history

Think about potential objections to Jesus Christ.  Why do people reject him?

In the few intentional conversations I’ve had with Japanese people about Jesus, I have only heard one objection.  Something like, “I can’t believe; I’m Japanese.”

Now I’m sure there are other reasons people in Japan reject Jesus.  There are certainly deeper issues beneath the surface of this objection.  To date, it is the only one I have heard verbally expressed from the lips of a Japanese person.  It is almost as if being a Christian and being Japanese are popularly viewed as mutually exclusive.  Not only that, but the two are so obviously incompatible that if a person mentions his or her Japanese identity, the hearer should then respond: “Oh, I see.  Now that you mention it, being Japanese does make it impossible for you to believe in Jesus and be saved.”  Game over.  Case closed.  You cannot pass. The door is shut.

Except it’s not.  That a Japanese nationality or ethnicity is a hindrance to faith in Christ is a misconception based on misunderstandings about both the Christian faith and Japanese history.  I think people use it as an excuse to not engage further with Jesus Christ.  That’s nothing new.  People of all cultures look for easy-outs when it comes to dealing with Jesus.  But, national and/or ethnic identity is an invalid excuse.  Here is a demonstrable fact: In the history of the world, there has never been a religion more globally encompassing and culturally adaptable than Christianity.  It’s not even close.  There is no ethnic, national or cultural identity that precludes someone from faith in Christ.

The Christian faith entered Japan over 200 hundred years before the United States of America even existed.  It is true that Christianity’s influence has been comparatively greater and more visible in the U.S., but it’s presence dates back longer in Japan–to the mid 1500’s.  I once heard a secular historian state that the church in Japan was larger in 1590 than it was in 1950.  Then, there were an estimated 300,000 Japanese Christians.  That means there were more Christians in Japan than there were Europeans in the “New World” at that time.  Obviously, something changed.  Here’s a little background info.

Japan in the 1400-1500’s was led by local warlords or “daimyo” who owned much of the land and set up their own laws and local armies.  Cities and villages were responsible for defending themselves–one of the roles of the samurai.  At the time, Japan was sort of like a petri dish for civil conflict, piracy and strife.  Eventually, these things made the journey across the Sea of Japan, straining relationships with China and Korea.    

This is when Francis Xavier and the Jesuits arrived on the scene, introducing the Christian faith to Japan.  Some may take issue with the form of Christianity they introduced, Christianity began sinking its roots into Japanese soil nonetheless.  And, it really seemed to flourish for a season.  Many were drawn by the honor and practical application of Christianity.

Then, in the late 1500’s a daimyo named Hideyoshi began rising to power, conquering and/or uniting warring clans.  At first, he enacted policies to stop the spread of Christianity.  But, his stance softened, and policies were only loosely enforced.  Many of the early Christians were daimyo or samurai with significant influence; some became Hideyoshi’s generals.

Hideyoshi ordered an invasion of Korea with the aim of eventually taking down the Ming dynasty in China and establishing Japan as the greatest power in East Asia.  The Japanese army quickly defeated the Koreans until the Chinese army intervened, bringing the attempted invasion to a standstill.  Instead of retreating back to Japan, Hideyoshi ordered a second offensive.  However, it soon became clear that they could not defeat China and Korea.  So, Hideyoshi began turning on the Christians again.  He crucified 26 Christians (20 of whom were Japanese), including three children.

Hideyoshi died in 1598, and there was a great civil battle in 1600.   Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged victorious, kicking off what would become known as the Tokugawa Shogunate, lasting until 1868.  Still fresh off a defeat in Korea/China, Japan largely soured on everything international.  Thus, the Tokugawa period is famously marked by isolation.  With a few exceptions, Japan largely cut off interaction with other nations.

Internally, the Tokugawa clan viewed Christianity as a threat to their own power.  It was not expelled because of its foreignness; rather,  Tokugawa did not want other clans in Japan uniting against his.   They rightly saw that Christianity had the potential to bring enemy clans together with a strength and unity that would rival their own.  They did not want competing allegiances.  So, Tokugawa immediately enacted laws against Christianity.  In the 1630’s, his successor followed suit and enacted stricter laws.  The Shimabara Rebellion in 1637-1638 was a last attempt to push back against these laws and others, but it failed.  Over 125,000 troops came in, defeated the rebels and executed those involved.

Christianity was officially outlawed.  Those who refused to recant were tortured and killed.  Japan withdrew further into isolation, ensuring that foreign Christians would not enter the country again for over 200 years.  Although a small underground church remained, the rapid spread of Christianity in Japan came to an end.

Here is why I think this matters: Christianity can and even has flourished in Japan.  It was uprooted, primarily because it was viewed as a threat, not because it was culturally incompatible.  But, Christianity is a threat (and asset) to every culture.  Japan isn’t unique in that way.

I have heard some lament how hard it is for a Japanese person to come to faith in Christ.  Some missiologists call it the difficult mission field in the world in terms of seeing people turn to Jesus.  Difficult, yes, but not impossible.  The Japanese don’t have genetic immunities to Christ.  That can be proven from both history and the Scriptures.

I don’t know why God has directed the history of Japan the way that he has.  I don’t know why so many Christians were martyred on Japanese soil, nor do I understand why so few believe today.  But, I trust that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  I have great hope that Lord who guides history could again do what He did almost 500 years ago.  He could do far more.

We desire to see Japanese people come to faith in Christ, because we think that will bring them joy like they’ve never experienced before.  “In his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasure forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  We want to see a gospel movement spread throughout the country–and beyond.  We pray for a day when it’s clear someone can be Japanese and a follower of Jesus Christ.