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Let me begin by asking a question. Is Japan a Shinto country or a Buddhist country? The answer is both. Japan is not only a country of Shintoism, but also a country of Buddhism. Interestingly enough, Shintoism and Buddhism coexist in Japan peacefully and harmoniously. When we go to the mountains, we usually can find Buddhist temples there. When we go to the forest, we usually can find Shinto shrines there, too. In particular, Shintoism is the indigenous religion of Japan. Shintoism is rooted into shamanism. Shintoism does not have a founder nor does it have sacred scriptures like the Bible. The root(s) of the Japanese way of thinking is sort of like the blending of the three belief systems, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Shamanism.
When we visit Shinto shrines, there is Chozuya, which is a large basin with special wooden dippers. Chozuya is usually located at the entrance of shrines. Right? Chozu is the customary way to clean or purify ourselves by washing our hands and rinsing our mouths with flowing water before prayer at shrines. It is kind of a ritual of purification. Have you ever done “Chozu.”
Anyway, when we come to think of shintoism, it might come across as cleanness. Maybe that’s why wherever we go in Japan, it is clean. It is neat. Walking even in the back streets of Tokyo or even in the countryside, guess what? There are no cigarette butts, no trash, no nothing. People don’t drop cigarette butts on the street.
Of course, there are some dirty areas in Tokyo like Kabukicho. Nearby Shin-Akitsu church where I used to serve as senior pastor, oftentimes I saw people throwing up after drinking. It is because there are lots of yakitoriya-san in that area. Other than that, Japan in general? A clean country.
I was wondering why Japan is one of the cleanest countries in the world. And I came to the conclusion that Shintoism has affected and is still affecting the lifestyle of Japanese people.
A couple of years ago, I went to a Korean restaurant in Shinjuku. The restaurant was super busy. When I walked into the bathroom, I was very surprised. “Wow!” The bathroom was beautifully decorated. And the bathroom was the cleanest room in the restaurant. The Korean owner of the restaurant said to me, “Japanese people look at the bathroom first. If it is not clean, they won’t come again.”
In general, we Christians love things that are clean. We Christians love things that are put in order neatly. We Christians try to keep our living environment clean and orderly. Interestingly enough, here in Japan, we have a strong habit of keeping our environment clean and orderly even if most Japanese people are non-Christians. Everyday, they take showers and take baths at home. Or they go to onsen at least once a week. I go to onsen once a week. I can’t live without taking a bath in onsen.
So, I believe that for Japanese people, all that is left is to clean their hearts. They are not able to purify their hearts with flowing water at Shinto shrines or in hot onsen baths. Their hands are clean. Their bodies are clean. But their hearts are dirty because they have never washed their hearts in their lifetime. Thankfully, there are ways to clean our hearts in the Bible. Now, I’m going to share with you about six ways in which we can purify our dirty hearts.
First of all, repentance can clean our dirty hearts.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
We humbly come before God. We open our hearts to God. We pour out our hearts before God. We admit our wrongdoings. We ask God for forgiveness. These things are what we call “repentance.” The good news is that whenever we repent, God will forgive us and make us completely clean. God even will take from us all the wrong things that we do not yet know about. If possible, we need to look back on our lives daily through devotions. We need to clean our hearts daily through repentance. So, let us confess our sins! Let us repent! In doing so, God will clean our hearts.
Secondly, the blood of Jesus can purify our dirty hearts. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
The blood of Jesus Christ on the cross paid the penalty for all our sins – past, present, and future. Even though Christians have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus in a general sense, we need a continua cleansing because we continually sin and fall short of the glory of God. So, from time to time let us sing a song like “Nothing but the blood of Jesus”!
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh! precious is the flow. That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Thirdly, the word of God can wash our dirty hearts. John 15:3 says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
The word of God is a cleansing agent. The word of God is like a refiner’s fire. The refiner’s fire melts down a metal, such as gold or silver, for purification purposes. Same thing… The word of God like a refiner’s fire purifies our hearts. Jesus continues to wash you and me through the word of God. So, let us read the Bible every day. Let us meditate on the word of God at least 2 chapters a day. Let the word of God wash our hearts.
Fourthly, the Holy Spirit can clean our dirty hearts. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the trinity. He has his own personality. The Holy Spirit is not a mere force. And yet He has the power to sanctify us. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of holiness. So, He can make us holy. The Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work helps us to live for God. As we all know, sanctification is the moment-by-moment process by which we more and more submit our hearts, minds, and bodies to following Jesus. So, let the Holy Spirit come upon us. Let Him fill our hearts with Himself. Let the Holy Spirit make us white as snow again.
Fifthly, prayer can purify our dirty hearts. 1 Timothy 4:5 says, “because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
Believe it or not, this IBF church building is more holy than Minaminagareyama(南流山) station. It is because we gather and pray together in this building. We don’t gather and pray together at the station. Brothers and sisters, when we pray at a certain place, we purify the air of the place. We can’t see it, but it is so true. That’s one of the reasons why it is far easier for us to pray at church. Of course, the Spirit of God is everywhere. He can’t be confined in a single geographical location. But at the same time, it is so true that our houses are more holy than non-Christians’ houses. We pray before meals. We pray together in our houses on a regular basis. Right? When we walk into Christian houses, we might be able to feel sort of like the purified air of the houses. Anyhow, prayer can purify people, things, and places. So, let us pray more. Let us pray more often. Let us pray harder. In particular, let us pray together more often.
Lastly, suffering can wash our dirty hearts. Isaiah 48:10 says, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
Nobody likes suffering. We hate it. If possible, we want the cup of suffering to pass. We don’t want to face it. We just want to run away from it. But as human beings, we all experience pain. And it hurts us deeply. It is so true that God allows trials and His refining fires in our lives for His own sake. And they make us purified. This kind of truth might bother us. Our Heavenly Father wants us to live holy lives while we are living on earth. So, let us face trials and God’s refining fires “by faith.”
Brothers and sisters, I hope that we would clean our dirty hearts daily through repentance, by the blood of Jesus, by the word of God, by the Holy Spirit, by prayer, and through suffering.
Let us pray.