Category Archives: Mission

How Beautiful are the Teeth of those who Bring Good News?

Of all the well-known verses in the Bible, this is possibly the most random one:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news!

I’ve read a few people share how they’ve been spurred on by this. After all, not many people have feet worthy of a toe-ring catalogue at the best of times. The idea that your feet would be considered beautiful when you’ve just finished a mountain trek–well, no. Knowing that your attractiveness as a messenger comes from your message and not your toenails is pretty encouraging.

Now I can’t claim that my feet are even mildly ‘beautiful,’ but recently I’ve been thinking about this passage from a different angle. That of my teeth.

You see my teeth really are not beautiful. Not even close. They are, to be honest, grim. Recently I had to visit the dentist and I become aware just how bad my teeth are. They are not even close to white. I can’t even claim they’re ‘magnolia,’ ‘cream,’ ‘classic,’ or any of those three dozen variations on ‘white’ that people paint their walls. They’re yellow. A few are border-line orange.

How beautiful are the teeth that bring good news? In my case, not at all.

Now I’ve never felt super confident about my teeth, but until recently it didn’t bother me hugely. I would happily go about smiling at most everyone I met, oblivious to the row of miniature sand castles I was putting on display.

But now . . . well, I’ve ended up becoming friends with lots of folk who really do have beautiful teeth. I feel pretty self-conscious around them. Especially when it becomes selfie time.

I’m not sure if it’s a Japan thing, or just a recent thing. I’m sure back in the UK I was able to go for dinner with people without desert being preceded by a group photo. Now it seems that waiting to cross the road is cause for a close-up.

Yup, I’ve come to dread selfies. Selfies mean the ancient ruins that are my teeth being uploaded to Facebook for all to see.

I’ve been rebuked by one of my teachers on Facebook a few times for not smiling in such photos. It’s a fair point. Recently I’ve taken to trying to smile without showing my teeth. The problem is that such smiles just make me look sarcastic and/or smug and/or constipated.

How beautiful are the teeth that bring good news? Trust me, you don’t want to know.

But here’s the kicker: smiling is really important. It shows that you’re friendly. That you’re happy to be with the people you’re with.

If you don’t smile, you end up with awkward photos, like this classic:

From Straitstimes.com (hopefully I haven’t broken copyright here)

Nope, I’m not really feeling the love there.

As I was putting these thoughts together a couple of days ago I happened upon a stand where you could have your photo taken and then stick it into a mosaic of happy smiling faces. The motto of the event was ‘Smiling is a universal language.’ Of course with these thoughts in my head I had to take part.

Smiling is a means of universal communication

Yup, a smile transcends linguistic barriers. So with my still-limited Japanese non-verbal cues such as smiling become more important still. How can I claim to be bringing good news if I frown when I tell it? And how can I claim to be living in the light of good news if I don’t ever smile? But how can I get over the fact that I don’t like my smile–that I don’t want to show my teeth?

I think the answer actually lies in the good news that I came here to share.

I was talking to a friend the other day about the idea of being real with people. Making yourself vulnerable so that others can see the grace of God working through you. Rather than pretending that you have it all together, that you are problem free.

Because I’m not problem free. Not at all. I’m a straight-up mess. My issues have issues.

I have to confess that I googled teeth whitening solutions once. It turns out that the best solution, and of course the most expensive, is to have little plates of fresh white enamel attached to the front of your teeth. The stains will remain underneath but people can’t see them. The perfect solution if you have a few hundred pound going spare.

Let me be clear. That is not a parallel for the good news I believe in. The good news of Jesus Christ is that I don’t have to hide my sins from people because Jesus has taken them all upon Himself at the cross. And yes, now I still struggle and fail to live out a life worthy of such a Saviour. But one day He will come back and make all things new. From the depths of my heart to the front of my teeth I will be made totally pure-white sparkling clean.

Which brings us right back to where we started. And the Bible verse I rephrased, which is not a question at all, but an exclamation of overwhelmed joy.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who publish peace, who bring news of happiness, who publish salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

That news of happiness breaks my desire to be affirmed and frees me to focus on serving others.  It reminds me that the good news of Jesus is news for everyone. Salvation based not on our attractiveness or attainments, but on simple acceptance of God’s grace.

That is a message worth smiling about. And so I am committing today, right now, to smile more. Even for selfies. Because my teeth aren’t anything to shout about, but the message I have to share certainly is.

How beautiful (on the mountains) are the teeth of those that bring good news!

Me and my not so beautiful teeth

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Running through the pain: on (half)marathons and missions

never again  . . . until next time

In my last post I shared some thoughts that I came up with whilst running a half-marathon a couple of weeks back. Well two hours is a long time and I had more thoughts than I could fit into a single post, so I decided to write another one. But this is not about mourning, it’s about missions.

Specifically, keeping on with a mission when you feel like you want to quit.

But I should explain what I mean by ‘missions,’ right? I think about it in three different categories. Let me illustrate from my own life.

In a sense I think of this blog as a mission. Or maybe it’s more like weekly mini-missions. I’ve set myself the task of writing one post a week. I also have a few other writing projects coming and going. These kind of missions have clearly defined parameters: e.g. write a certain amount by a certain date and try to make it not suck.

Then there’s Japanese. I have been for years and the end still seems nowhere in sight. Learning Japanese is definitely not a sprint. But you know what, it’s not really a marathon either. It’s a mission. Some days I feel like Frodo, trudging onwards, knowing every step takes me further into unknown territory where the only certainty is that something will try to kill me. These kind of missions have an end goal, but it’s harder to define and there’s no real deadline: you finish when you reach the level you’re after.

Then there’s my main mission that the others are a part of.  When/if I ever reach fluency in Japanese there will be no great eagles to fly me back to the happy comfort of the shire. Nope, mastering the language is just a smaller part of my main mission: making followers of Jesus in Japan. These kind of missions are life-long. They’re the ‘this is going to be my legacy’ type missions.

So that’s what I mean by ‘missions’ and here’s the thing they have in common with marathons:

Pain.

Not just that they both involve pain. But that you have to run through the pain.

See when you run a marathon, eventually it’ll start to hurt. And once the pain starts, it doesn’t tend to go away. Sometimes it shifts through different parts of your body, but whenever I’ve run a marathon the second half has been a continual battle with pain or some kind.

And with that comes the desire to quit. “If I just stop then the pain will too.” That thought pesters you like a spoilt, and yet sensible-sounding, child. Why keep running, when all it causes you is pain? Why not just quit the race and enjoy some comfort? Stop and the pain will stop.

Except it’s not true. The pain will remain.

OK it will go away, but it will be replaced . . . By a different kind of pain.

The pain of giving up. The pain of knowing that you could have kept going. That you could have done better. The target you were aiming for will remain. And all the training . . . Well that will have been for nothing.

No, the only way to really get rid of the pain is to keep on running. Run through to the finish line, and then the pain will stop (well stairs will hurt for the next couple of days, but after that it’ll stop).

In that way marathons are like missions. You can’t avoid the pain, you have to run through it. Running through the pain is the only way to make it stop. And it’s the only way to make it worth while.

There’s been a few times when I’ve been writing posts and I’ve got fed up with them and felt like throwing them aside. It feels like a waste of time and energy. Even now I’m sat at my laptop trying to bring thoughts together, feeling like I’m attempting to nail jelly to the wall, and wanting to give up. But if I stop now, I’ll have wasted the time I’ve spent getting this far. The only way to make that effort meaningless is to stay on thrashing out a stream of rubbish and sifting through it until I find some words that might make someone’s soul that little bit stronger.

The same is true of my Japanese study. I feel like giving up a dozen times most months. But giving up now would be like dropping out of a marathon at the twenty-mile mark (at least I hope I’m that far). So I keep on studying, some days feeling like my brain is actually melting, but knowing that every painful step is one step closer to the finish line . . . knowing that the way to make the pain worthwhile is to run through it.

And, above all, knowing the smaller missions––whether they be writing assignments, language study, building projects, or just regularly spending time with folk who need a friend ––they are all part of the bigger mission. They are each chapters of the book that God is writing in my life. 

Sometimes the pain involved in these mini-mission feels too much, like how can it be worth going through this much trouble for something so small? But then I remember that running through the pain takes me a step towards completing the bigger mission. The pain is worth it, because people are worth it. That’s my main mission: making followers of Jesus in Japan. Jesus endured the cross to bring me to know Him. He ran through that pain for me, so I can run through my pain to bring others to know Him.

OK as I finish there’s something I need to confess . . . I wrote this post for one person. You know who you are. You probably already worked out this was aimed at you. Anywho, keep running. Jesus runs with you. You will get there. The pain will be worth it . . . And it will stop! (^_^)