Psalms 144:15 Blessed are the people of whom this is true;
blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.
This verse really makes sense only when you understand that LORD (as the NIV renders it) is actually YHWH, the covenant name of the Creator as revealed to Moses. Most Western countries are far removed from formal polytheism, so specifying the Name of God doesn’t really click. Most Americans think they believe in the God of the Bible, whether they are particularly obedient to Him or not. Perhaps the recent resurgence of militant Islam could give people more understanding, since the militants’ concept of Allah is far removed from that of Yahweh, much less Jesus. This brings to mind the story of a friend of mine, Benjamin Berger. He was born and raised in New York City after his parents refugeed there, but all four of his grandparents were killed in the holocaust. He was in such a devoutly Jewish community that it wasn’t until university that he had his first conversation with a Gentile. As is all too common, his university experiences led him to essentially abandon religion entirely, and he graduated a confirmed secularist. After graduation, because of his language skills he got a good job in Europe, and moved there on his own. One day after coming home from work he was sitting in his apartment reading a newspaper when he had the feeling someone was in the room with him, though he lived alone. The feeling kept getting stronger and stronger, until he heard a voice that said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I am your God.” He then had an extended conversation with God, without ever seeing Him with his eyes. Later in that conversation, God told him, “By the way, my name is Jesus.” That absolutely shocked him, because he had been raised to believe that “The Christians killed your grandparents.” The story of course goes on from there, but the point is that names are important. Of course our image of Who that Name represents is also vitally important, as is clear when we realize how many Americans have a concept of God that is far removed from the Bible, but this verse is about names. David was distinguishing his God from Baal or Ashtoreth or Marduk or any of a number of other gods. It is as we realize Who it is we say we worship and then learn to worship Him alone, in spirit and in truth, that we move into all the blessing that He intends for us.
This is an acute issue for me as I minister in Japan, which is almost more pantheistic than polytheistic. With Shinto making a deity out of every impressive natural feature and Buddhism requiring the worship of everyone who has died, it is no wonder that the majority of Japanese abandon religion entirely, except as a cultural thing. I need to help them understand that Jesus is different from all the rest before I hone in on Jesus being the only one that is real, and all the rest are counterfeits. A major problem is the entrenched xenophobia of the Japanese. They often admire foreigners and even want to be like them, but they fear becoming “un-Japanese.” When they say, “I am Buddhist,” they are speaking of identity rather than personal faith. After all, how many Americans think they are Christians, but never read the Bible or pray? Cultural religion certainly shapes world view, but it’s not the same thing as faith. My challenge is in helping Japanese understand just who Jesus is, and how He is worthy of their total obedience, devotion, and love.
Father, thank You for making my task so clear. It’s evident I can’t do it on my own, but as our verse for this year says, nothing is too difficult for You. I ask You to move powerfully through me to remove the veil that covers the understanding of the Japanese so that they may see You, repent, and believe for their salvation, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!