Tag Archives: good news

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


Which is harder: getting into a Japanese university or getting into the kingdom of God?

school girl looks up during an exam

Photo courtesy of OMF International

I have a friend here in Japan who is currently studying towards her university entrance exams. The pressure on her is visible. And it’s crazy.

University entrance works differently in Japan than in the UK. You do have different subjects that you study for and you have to pass exams for those in order to pass school. But to get into a university you have to take an exam specifically for that university―if you mess up on the day of that exam (or if you can’t make it for whatever reason) then that’s it, you’re not getting in.

I know that exams in any country result in pressure and stress. But seriously, Japan feels like a whole other level to the UK.

It’s no secret that the pressure to succeed in Japan can be crazy. It’s one of the reasons for the crazy suicide rate and other social problems such as hikikomori and ‘work death.’

One of the most common words in Japan is ‘ganbaru’ (頑張る) which is almost impossible to translate into English, but roughly means something like ‘do your best.’ So people who are studying for exams are encouraged to ganbaru. And you will often hear people saying ganbaranai-to “I must work hard.” The idea is that if you do mess up on that all-important occasion, then it is almost certainly because you didn’t practice/study/work hard enough in the build up to it.

Now I have nothing against people doing their best. But when you feel like you have to keep pushing yourself even when it’s crushing your body and soul . . . Then you know something’s gone wrong.

The thing is that I feel helpless in the face of this ‘ganbaranai-to’ culture.

Take my friend struggling under the pressure to do well in her exams: I can offer some sympathy and practical help, but I’m very limited since:

  1. The UK entrance system seems much more chilled out than here in Japan.
  2.  I can barely remember my high school Physics lessons (all I recall is that Mr Dugan had one of the world’s most impressive moustaches)
  3. I haven’t yet learned the Japanese necessary to discuss differentiation or thermodynamics.

And even if I could help Yukiko pass her entrance exams . . . What about the rest of Japan? I know the story about starfish on the beach, and sure it’s great to help those you can, but my heart still breaks for the millions of people in Japan broken by the pressure to ‘ganbaru’ to the bitter end.


Luckily I know a dude who is able to help. His name is Jesus.

He knows what that pressure to ‘ganbaru’ is like. He went through His whole live fighting temptation every day, and beating it, to win perfect obedience for us. And when the critical moment came, He didn’t fail. He wrestled through blood, sweat and tears and submitted Himself to betrayal, mockery, false-accusations, humiliation, torture and execution on a cross.

“It is finished”

Done. Passed. 100%

See, as far as I can tell, in Japan you don’t get a second chance. If you fail it’s because you didn’t try hard enough.

Sure you can wait till next year and try again. But the thing is that can simply amplify the pressure to succeed. What if you screw up the second time? Then what excuse do you have?

But here’s the punchline: the good news of Christianity is not that God offers us a second chance, but that He offers us His Son.

Because Jesus doesn’t just sympathise with our weakness―although He most certainly does that―He pays for (or rather He paid for) our failings at the cross.

This why Jesus is able to make promises like,

“Come to me all you who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”

To be frank, without the death and resurrection of Jesus, this would be a meaningless claim. But with Jesus being seated at the right hand of God it is a promise that is as sweet and powerful today as it was the day He first spoke it.

And I’ve seen this verse enough in Japan to know that it resounds here loud and clear.

This then is why I’m in Japan as a missionary. I genuinely believe that the only hope for the broken people in Japan is Jesus. That’s why I’m committed to being here for the long-term: so that I can introduce people to Jesus. Jesus the great high priest. Jesus the perfect filial son.