Identity; November 13, 2019

Isaiah 63:16 But you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us
or Israel acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name.

This verse would seem to be one of particular impact to Japanese, because they are very concerned with belonging. For over a generation the “returnees problem” has been an issue, because once a Japanese person has lived overseas for a length of time, particularly as a young person, they can have real problems feeling accepted and actually being accepted upon their return. That even becomes a legal issue at times. When I first applied for permanent residency in Japan (the equivalent of a US “green card”) I was rejected out of hand, not because I didn’t have work and income to demonstrate I was a productive member of society, but because, teaching at three different schools, my income from my visa sponsoring school was less than half of the total. The question was, “Where do you belong?” That actually is a weak translation. “What are you part of?” might be a little closer. I had to have two more years of depending on just the one school before my application was approved. The irony is that then I became free to work as much or as little as I chose, and my status at the original sponsoring school has been part-time ever since. All of that is minor compared to the issue of whether we belong to God. The thing is, whether human groups or institutions acknowledge and accept us or not, God is still our Creator, and when we find our identity in Him we are secure. We all find our identity in various ways, but the most fundamental of all is being a child of God. When we have that worked into our hearts and minds so that we live it out in our daily lives, nothing can shake us badly or for long.

As a Third Culture Kid (someone raised in a different culture from their parents, so that they synthesize a “third culture” for themselves) I have had the issue of identity / belonging all my life. I have been American but not American, Japanese but not Japanese, and at times the stress has been severe. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I understand, and take comfort in, Paul’s statement that “Our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) As a pastor in Japan, I find that a major obstacle to evangelism is people’s fear that if they become Christians they will cease to belong to their Buddhist/Shinto families, or even become less Japanese, since religious practices are ingrained in Japanese culture. I need the wisdom and anointing of the Holy Spirit to help them grasp that belonging to and being in right relationship with their Father outweighs all of that. They are at least far less likely to be legally disinherited from their families that was the case a generation or two ago, but ostracism is still a very real possibility. I am not to downplay that, but seek to help them see that their eternal status is the most important. It is glorious indeed when families get saved, so that they make the transition together. We have one family in this church that started with one person being a believer, and then another, and another, and another. I pray for many more such families, and even for whole families to believe at once, like the Philippian jailer and his household. (Acts 16:29-34) I can’t make it happen, but God can!

Father, thank You for this Word this morning. I do indeed pray for people to find their identity in Christ, to know that their heavenly citizenship is more important than any other. I pray that this church would be filled with disciples indeed, even as You desire, for Your glory. 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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