Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Glory of the Impossible
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Several times people have asked me, "Why did you go to Japan when America itself has so many problems?" And, "Why leave America when your family is there?"

Samuel Zwemer writes, "Most of the Apostles died outside of Palestine, though human logic would have forbidden them to leave the country until it had been Christianized." Maybe some argued with them, "The need in Jerusalem is so profound, our responsibilities to people of our own blood so obvious that we must live up to the principle that charity begins at home. After we have won the people in Jerusalem, of Judea and of the Holy Land in general, then it will be time enough to go abroad."

God had other plans.

Through the persecution at Jerusalem, God literally pushed his people out, just as he had at Babel. God's plan to fill the earth with His glory was not going to happen with human strategy and engineering. The glory of the impossible awaited. It was the bigness of this task and its difficulty - truly a task that only God alone could accomplish - that thrilled the early church to take Christ's commission seriously and to make disciples of ALL nations.

Shusaku Endo wrote the famous Japanese novel, "Chimoku" or Silence. I read this book a year after arriving in Japan. I am glad that I didn't read it before that! Truth be told, "Silence" is a great and captivating book, but it is not for the new missionary. Endo paints a vivid picture of the days when the Jesuit priests first came with the message of Christ. After a few decades of wide acceptance the days of Christianity were literally put to death. Every means of torture were leveled at the Christians to get them to recant. Simple death-sentences were only adding fuel to the fire of the Christians. Methods to cause recanting included upside-down crucifixions on the beach as the tide came in, people being hung upside down and slowly bled to death by cuts in their forehead, etc. Many gave in and recanted under the excruciating pain and temptation. Some withstood even to the end, but eventually, over the course of 300 years, Japan was thoroughly "cleansed" of the Christian problem. Endo ends his book with an image of a swamp. He describes Japan as being that swamp in which the tree of Christianity can never grow.

Yes, this is a depressing book for a new missionary, especially if that person believes this half-truth of a thesis! Yes, Japan is a spiritual swamp which has consumed missionaries and spit them out ruthlessly even after its borders were opened 150 years ago. Yes, Japan has never been over 1% Christian - probably never over .5% since. But what does God say?

"Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'" - Isaiah 46:8-10

Adoniram Judson was the first American overseas missionary. His testimony is a greatly inspiring one (you can read or listen to it here.)

After leaving for Burma (Myanmar) his first two children died in infancy and then his wife died. Six months later his third son, age 2, also died. Many would have understandably given up and gone home. Not Judson. He stayed on for 38 years until he died at the age of 61 in Burma. When Judson was lying loaded with chains in a Burmese dungeon at one point, a fellow prisoner asked with a sneer about the prospect for the conversion of the heathen. Judson calmly answered, "The prospects are as bright as are the promises of God."

Judson eventually saw God break through. He was remarried and had other children. And by faith in the promises of God, God mercifully allowed him to see some amazing fruit. Hundreds were saved from eternal destruction in hell and God showed Himself MIGHTY to save. It is the glory of trusting the "impossible". In 2003 Patrick Johnstone estimated that in Myanmar the Baptist Convention (from which Judson came) to be 3,700 congregations with 617,781 members and 1,900,000 affiliates- this is due largely to the fruit of this dead seed who trusted in a God who can do the impossible.

May we, like Martin Luther also say, "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body, they may kill. God's truth abides still. His kingdom is forever!" or as Hebrews 13:13 says, "Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek a city that is to come."

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