150 years ago today, after following the call of God to China, James Hudson Taylor founded what would eventually become the Overseas Mission Fellowship. Because he could not bear the thought that millions of people had never heard the Good News about Jesus Christ, he could no longer stay in his comfortable church in England. Someone had to go. The birth of the China Inland Mission and the tireless efforts of Hudson Taylor sparked a modern mission movement that would change history.
The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.
(J. Hudson Taylor)
A little over 28 years ago, I visited Japan for the first time. My initial reason was to see a certain individual Japanese girl who was to become my wife. The call to give my life as a full-time missionary to Japan was more gradual, but sure. About 22 years ago I moved my young family here to Japan permanently because I could no longer stay in my comfortable church in the U.S.A.
Each month, week, and day that goes by brings more conviction from the Holy Spirit that the most important thing I could ever do with my life is to obey the Great Commission and preach the Good News to those who have not understood it.
Some of my greatest living heroes are the missionaries who honor God by following in Hudson Taylor’s footsteps. They go and make disciples in nations that have not yet heard.
On this 150th anniversary of the China Inland Mission and OMF, I pray for a great harvest of souls in Japan and that many millions here will find saving grace and life in Christ. I pray that the hopeless will be lifted out of an empty existence and into a life filled with eternal purpose. I pray that many young Japanese people will hear the same whisper of the Holy Spirit that moved Hudson Taylor to go. That they will hear the same whisper of the Holy Spirit that missionaries, apostles, church-planters, and disciples have heard for over 2000 years now, to go into all the world and make disciples – in Japan, in Asia and everywhere.
“God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.”
(J. Hudson Taylor)
IT’S A WAR, BOYS
I haven’t seen the new movie Fury yet but it sounds like a great war movie. I am a World of Tanks fan and I love war games. But real war is not pretty, or fun, or exciting. There are many realistic depictions of battle and war in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, and The Hurt Locker. So we have a small idea of what war is like and its definitely not a game. Most of us grew up in a generation without the draft – and we currently have a free choice whether or not to serve in the military. But if you think this means you are not already at war right now, wherever you are, you are sadly mistaken.
You are in a battle that has been waging since the beginnings of human history. You were born into it and you have no choice in the matter. The final outcome of the war has never been in question. But there is still the matter of casualties along the way. The enemy wants to inflict as much damage as possible out of spite. If he can pull you down he will. If he can take your entire generation down, he will. It won’t change the fact that he lost the war, but his only purpose left is to steal, kill and destroy whatever he can.
The battle I an talking about is being waged quietly. It is a struggle for heart and soul. The battlefield is your mind, and the enemy is sin. This enemy is real and the battlefield is just as dangerous as any you have seen in war movies. So be warned – you are at war and your enemy is working hard to kill you. You’d better wake up and start to fight back.
THE ENEMY’S WAR-HAMMER
One of the biggest weapons that our enemy has brought to bear on this generation is pornography. Over just the last couple of generations photographs and videos showing explicit porn have become common – even normal. Porn is prevalent in movies, television and the internet. I want to talk openly about this – when I was a young teenager some of my friends and I got a hold of a magazine with nudity in it. It was a huge deal back then because we had to work so hard to see such a thing. But now, only about one generation later I find that I have to work hard to NOT see nudity – on a daily basis. Somehow, the enemy has created a minefield of porn in this generation and we are taking heavy casualties – especially among young men. Even non-religious, non-government organizations are realizing that pornography is one of the gravest dangers facing our youth today.
The battle is real, it’s intense and it is costly. But I have some good news. We can win this battle. So don’t be discouraged. Take heart. If you have been defeated by the sin of lust and addicted to pornography in the past, it is time to get free today. It really is possible. The fact is, we have some very effective weapons at our disposal – we just need to use them. I’ll try to lay out three of them right here. If you are struggling with temptation and lust, read about these three weapons slowly and – most of all – ask God for help. Once you enlist on God’s team you will always be a winner.
SHIELD OF FAITH
God tells us in the Bible that if we take up the shield of faith, we will be able to quench every fiery dart that the enemy shoots at us. So accept that God is God and the battle is ultimately his. Think about this, do you really believe that God is the one who judges and decides what is right and wrong? Do you believe that God is stronger than sin? I hope so. Faith is believing, even when you can’t see a way out. But God has promised us a way out. Not only did he promise it, he sent Jesus to prove it by living a sinless life, dying on the cross, and rising again with eternal life.
According to the Bible, there shouldn’t even be a hint of immorality in our lives. That is God’s standard and it is non-negotiable. When Jesus said the famous words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he was setting a very high standard. Real faith has to admit that God’s standard is non-negotiable. He is the judge – no matter how bad that makes us look. The first step is to admit honestly that we have a problem.
Does that mean we have lost the fight? No! Ever seen Rocky, or Cinderella Man? The best fighters take some hits – sometimes they even get knocked down. But they don’t stay down. The Bible says that there is one big difference between those who have faith and those who don’t, “…Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.” So believe God 100% when his word says that looking at porn is sin, but also believe him 100% when he promises that you CAN walk in victory, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
THE HOLY SPIRIT
Many voices tell us today that any attempt to control your sexual urges are just old-fashioned and hold you back from true freedom and happiness. That is a lie. You were destined for victory over all forms of bondage, including lust. It is possible to overcome and walk in purity and freedom from bondage if you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…” The only way to overcome the lust in your own heart is to allow God to change it. You can’t change yourself but Jesus can change you. He promised that God would pour out his Holy Spirit on everyone who asks for it and receives it by faith so that we could walk in God’s power and not just our own.
The Bible says that Jesus was tempted “in every way” but did not sin. He was tempted just like you. He experienced boredom, physical attraction, emotional attraction, etc just like you. He walked through this life without sin the way we were supposed to and then he voluntarily suffered and died to take the punishment for the bad things we did. On the third day, he rose again in the power of God to bring new life to anyone who would believe in him. If you want to believe in Jesus to save you instead of trusting yourself, just begin talking to him by faith right now – this is what the Bible calls praying. Jesus knows what you are going through and he hears you when you call out to him.
Being born again is almost like taking the red pill in the movie Matrix, except that when God opens your eyes you realize that life is more wonderful than you thought. Life is not a purposeless repeating cycle, or a random accidental evolution. Real life is full of wonder and purpose because God is awesome and he made you for a purpose. The first step in your eternal destiny is to go through the “boot camp” of this life and learn to take your orders from Him.
If you are ready to accept God’s marching orders for your life and you want to start fighting the good fight, you need to find a church that has others in it who are following Jesus. You can tell if they love Jesus if they love His words and obey them. None of us are perfect like Jesus, but when we follow him together and obey his orders we are much more powerful than on our own. I can recommend my own family of churches, Every Nation. I am encouraged every day by people from my church who are following Jesus together with me. There might be an Every Nation church near you too. But there are many other great churches. The important thing is to ask the Holy Spirit to help you find a church family and then obey his orders. Remember you are on the winning side now. Don’t give up. Someday soon we are going to have the biggest victory party ever. I hope to see you there!
If you read this far you probably realized that I am very passionate about all this stuff. I hate seeing anyone dragged down in life and not finding the true joy of knowing God’s love. I don’t deserve it, but God came and helped me when I was lost. If you want to email me about any of this, you can always reach me through my blog here. I’d be honored to pray for you and I’ll do my best to steer you right. Drop me a line.
NOTE: This is an updated version of my article originally published in the Winter 2014 edition of Japan Harvest, the magazine of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Association. I am no expert, but then again most Japanese people are not Shinto experts either and this is just an attempt to understand and reach the amazing and wonderful people of Japan.
IN JAPAN, children grow up hearing ghost stories and attending festivals to honor a world of thousands of kami (spirits), which interacts freely with our own natural world. This mindset is part of everyday culture. So it’s normal for sophisticated and materialistic Japanese adults to say they have no religion, and yet buy omamori (good luck idols) for protection over their car. It’s part of the ordinary process of building to have the land blessed by a Shinto priest before construction begins. It is considered safer to do this to avoid upsetting any spirits who just might be disturbed by the use of the land. How can we effectively reach into a very modern, but obviously Shinto-influenced worldview like this, and become an effective bridge for the Gospel? One of the challenges in reaching any people is to understand them. In this article I will present an overview of Shinto’s influence on the Japan and her people. My goal is to give context to the things in Japanese culture and society that might be puzzling to someone who did not grow up in a Shinto-based culture.
HISTORY OF SHINTO
With origins dating to 500 A.D. and earlier, matsuri (festival worship) and other Shinto practices began as ritual worship of the ujigami, or local clan deity in each area and village. They sprang from a type of shamanism unique to these medieval agricultural communities. Over the centuries ancient Shinto was influenced by and syncretized with Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and other elements from continental East Asia.
SHINTO IN MODERN JAPAN
Many aspects of syncretized Shinto worship practices are common in modern Japan. They are as ubiquitous as the stone idols one sees scattered throughout every town. Surprisingly, most Japanese people do not associate these things with religion at all. Engage a typical Japanese city dweller in conversation about their participation in ceremonies, and worship of idols in shrines, temples, or the family kamidana (household altar) and it will soon become clear that these are seen as essential cultural duties and not as religious. Shinto worship practices are widely seen as traditions that must be followed to honor family and country.
Even “churched” Japanese are not free from the strong cultural influence of Shinto. Earlier this year a Japanese man came to my office asking for donations for a local matsuri (festival). After a brief conversation I discovered that he attends a Protestant church. I asked him why he was raising funds for the mikoshi (portable shrine for carrying a local idol) when the Bible explicitly forbids worshiping idols. His answer was that it was Japanese culture to do so. I continued to press him, explaining my hope that Japanese culture might someday be transformed so that festivals would be held to honor the true Creator God rather than idols, but he didn’t seem to grasp this idea at all. He left a bit disappointed that I would not give an offering, but undaunted in his efforts to raise money for the local matsuri.
THE FOUR AFFIRMATIONS OF SHINTO
Although Shinto has never been codified in the way that Christianity has, there are four affirmations that seem to be generally agreed upon  and it’s good to consider how the Bible helps us to respond to each.
Family and tradition
Tradition and family are supremely important in Shinto practice. This is often expressed through ancestor worship and even “tradition-worship”. Of course family is important to God. The Bible teaches us to honor our parents and to give importance to the family, but in Luke 14:26 Jesus clearly set honoring the Lord above all other relationships, even familial ones. I have found that the best way to approach Japanese culture regarding familial relationships is to emphasize that sincerely obeying God is the best way to honor and be a blessing to one’s family, even if it means going against Shinto traditions in some ways.
Another affirmation of Shinto is matsuri to honor local deities or ancestral spirits. Almost every shrine in Japan has its own matsuri, originally held to influence things like the harvest or the local fishing. Christians believe all humans were created to worship and enjoy their creator and the beauty of dance, art, music, ceremony and ritual should all be purposed to honor and thank the true God and true source of blessings. As missionaries and ambassadors of our faith we need to identify and affirm the beauty and harmony in Japanese traditions that can serve to honor God, and at the same time clearly explain why animistic and pantheistic practices are contrary to God’s will. Our human artistic expression echoes the ultimate beauty in Christ, which is what the Japanese heart is really searching for.
Love of nature
Shrine festival worship ties in with the third affirmation of Shinto, which is a love of nature. Scripture tells us that all of creation bears witness to the sovereign power of the Creator. But the Shinto affirmation of nature elevates nature to the point that each unusual rock or tree is given the status of a minor deity. Hence the Japanese saying, there are over eight million gods (yaoyorozu no kami).
Because this spiritual error is deeply ingrained in the Japanese worldview, gospel teachers must clearly preach the words of Christ, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Without a clear understanding of this Japanese people may believe that Jesus Christ is another one of many gods, but miss that he is the one and only Creator God. Jesus came to affirm the true intended order of the creation by revealing Himself at the pinnacle. If other good things, such as family or nature are elevate above Jesus Christ, they become idols. In essence, the good becomes the enemy of the best. This truth about the ultimate authority of Christ will resound with the strong desire in the Japanese heart for harmony and proper order, if they can only see it. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 NASB).
The final affirmation of Shinto is physical cleanliness. Taking baths, washing the hands, and rinsing out the mouth are all encouraged because of Shinto’s emphasis on ritual purity. In the past, believers practiced misogi, ritual bathing in a river near the shrine. In recent years it is more common to merely to wash hands and rinse out the mouth in a washbasin provided within the shrine grounds. Because Jesus came to make us truly clean, there are many ways we can use this affirmation as a “redemptive analogy” for the Gospel. Imagine the impact of a sermon that contrasted ritual Shinto washing in water with Ephesians 5:26 (“washing with water through the word” NASB), or 1 Corinthians 6:11b (“you were washed… in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” NASB).
Water baptism is a big step in a new Japanese believer’s life. Although in some ways it appears similar to Shinto ritual purification rites, the Bible is clear that it represents more than just “washing” but rather a symbolic death and resurrection. Of course baptism also means a public confession of identity as a Christian and to many new believers this is a weighty decision. Because rituals are important in Japanese culture; water baptism strongly brings home the reality of a believer’s commitment to follow Jesus as Lord.
Taking the time to understand and prayerfully consider some of the influences of Shinto on Japanese culture can be very beneficial to a Christian who would like to share the Gospel in Japan. This article originally came from a paper I wrote called The Theology of Shinto. If you are interested, you can read the original paper at:
If you have read this far, would you take a moment and pray for Japan? I have focused on Shinto in this article but that is just one aspect of this amazing nation. I have lived in Japan for more than 20 years but I still learn things about the culture every day. I would love to hear your thoughts about Japan in the comments section below.
 Dr. David K. Clark, Shinto, A religion profile from International Students, Inc., (Colorado Springs, CO: ISI, 2004), [book on-line] available at http://www.isionline.org/pdfs/Shinto%202004.pdf, Internet, accessed November, 2013.
 For example notice the following paragraph in the “About” section of The International Shinto Foundation official website – “Those involved in establishing the Foundation shared the belief that without study that takes account of Shinto a true understanding of the Japanese people and Japanese culture will remain inaccessible.”, [website] available at http://www.internationalshinto.org/, Internet, accessed November, 2013.
 The definitions of the “Four Affirmations” are a generalization but can generally be observed in Shinto practices and literature. See The Japan Reference, [database on-line] available at http://www.jref.com/glossary/shinto_traditions.shtml, Internet, accessed November, 2013. Also see the website for the book Religion for Dummies, Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002, [website] available at http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/four-affirmations-of-shinto.html, Internet, accessed November, 2013.
Are you struggling to quit drugs, alcohol, tobacco. porn, video games, anything that masters you and enslaves you? Freedom comes from Jesus and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
I just saw some good advice from a former drug user who is now a Christian on how he quit. “People who have struggled quitting over the years have asked me how did I do it. I always say the same things, first Jesus said that when I pray I am to pray, ‘Lead me not into temptation.’ The second is like it. I ran from it like the plague! I avoided it and places where it can be found at all cost.” If you are struggling with addiction, please remember those words of wisdom.
Another weapon besides prayer is the Word of God. Jesus himself showed us how to have victory over temptations – even those that come directly from the devil. Speak the Word of God. I remember when I quit smoking about 30 years ago and this verse came to me when I “needed” a smoke – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9)
If you want to keep your way pure, then meditate on the Word of God until it is in your heart. Here are some more verses to start learning if you need some weapons against the devil.
1 John 1:7-9 (memorize vs 9)
1 Corinthians 10:13
If you are at the end of your rope and you’ve never met this Jesus that I always mention in my posts, then please consider talking to Him right now. That is what prayer is really supposed to be, you talking to your Father God who loves you and wants to help you right now. I did this 32 years ago today and I will never regret it!
Where are the young men in Yokosuka, Japan at 8:30am on a Sunday morning? Lined up waiting to spend their money on pachinko… But a couple of blocks away we had a great worship service at Yokosuka Grace Bible Church. This afternoon about 10 new members were added to the church. It is more rewarding than a big pachinko payout or winning the lottery to see lives changed and people following Jesus. These are the true riches!
I am most privileged to be married to a girl from the Aichi prefecture of Japan. Her great uncle started a well-known tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant in Nagoya. He was one of the first to serve this type of food in a Japanese style. He sliced the cutlets and served them up to be eaten with chopsticks. His restaurant specialized in making a great bacon salad with the leftover parts of the pork. And they also used Nagoya’s famous miso to make a sauce for the tonkatsu and served miso tonkatsu or miso-katsu, as it is known now. The restaurant became so successful that several of the employees moved on and started their own shops based on the same menu and style of food. Of course, each branch had their differences and reflected the personality of the individual owners, but they all had the same basic menu and most of them even used the same name.
In Japan, when a new restaurant starts with he cooperation of the existing establishment it is called norenwake – literally a “dividing of the noren”. The noren is the traditional Japanese fabric curtain which is hung in front of the entrance way of the restaurant. It usually has the name and logo of the establishment printed on it. When sending a former employee out to start his own shop, the owner will often make him a new noren to hang in front that shows the same name as the old place so he can build on the brand loyalty for the shop. He will also give him a portion of the restaurant’s sauce to use as starter for a new batch. My wife’s uncle repeated this process several times and through his leadership and guidance many new shops sprung up around the city of Nagoya. When I lived in Nagoya about 20 years ago, I got a chance to eat at one of these norenwake restaurants. The original restaurant that my wife’s uncle had built was long out of business by this time. But I still remember how good my first plate of Nagoya misokatsu was.
Our church in Yokosuka was planted this way and I believe that in the future we will also have the privilege of sending our own “chefs” out to start their own norenwake churches. We are a part of a spiritual family in Japan that has a shared mission and calling. We have the same name, the same basic “recipe” and the same “sauce” for what we serve to the people in our community who need to be fed. In fact the Holy Spirit has been sending out church planters since the first century with the same name and the same mission. Each nation and church has their own cultural distinctive and flavors. But our job is to offer that same “menu” to new believers in Japan so that, even though the churches listed in the New Testament have long since closed their doors, anyone who seeks for truth in Japan can come and “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8; 1 Peter 2:2-3) at our norenwake church.
I am a cross-cultural missionary and I work with three cultures daily; Japanese, Filipino and American. I find great joy in my role as a bringer of Christ because all men, no matter what their culture seeks, no matter what they think is important, find what they are really looking for in knowing Jesus.
Ravi Zacharias, noted Christian speaker, often mentions that in Bible times the Hebrew people pursued LIGHT, the Greeks pursued KNOWLEDGE, and the Romans pursued GLORY. He goes on to explain that true fulfillment in life is not found in mere abstractions like light, knowledge and glory, true life is found in a PERSON – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul addresses all of these in this verse: 2 Corinthians 4:6 “…the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. “ True fulfillment and life is found in THE FACE OF CHRIST. The answer to everything we are searching for is Jesus.
My Filipino friends often seek fun and friends. They will find true fun and true friendship totally fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. My Japanese friends often speak of a longing for peace, beauty, safety or honor. All these things are ultimately fulfilled in the person of Christ. You will find true peace, true safety in Jesus. My American brothers seem to be looking for freedom and liberty. There is true freedom only in Jesus.
Whatever your worldview is, whatever you are searching for, whatever you believe will give you fullness of life and contentment; you will only find the true fulfillment in the face of Jesus Christ. He created you and he alone knows what you need. He holds the universe together and he is the ultimate personification and fulfillment of all Truth (with a capital “T”).
Have you taken an honest look at Jesus? It will change everything.