You Will Receive Power

Acts 1:1-11

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (verse 8)

Vv. 1-3 make it obvious that this book was also written by Luke.  In the Gospel According to Luke, he wrote about Jesus – His life, teachings and actions.  Now in his second book, Luke writes about how the Holy Spirit was given to the followers and how the followers turned into the church that continues today.

Vv. 4-5 tells of how after His death on the cross, the resurrected Jesus appeared to His followers, proving to them that He was dead, but now He is alive.  He stayed with them for forty days, teaching about how the OT prophesies about the Messiah had been fulfilled by Jesus and teaching them about the kingdom of God.  Although many of them were probably excited to go tell others of what they had learned, Jesus ordered them to not leave Jerusalem, since they needed to wait for the Holy Spirit, who was promised by God the Father.

In vv. 6-9, the followers ask Jesus when the kingdom of Israel will be restored, meaning when would Jesus drive out the Romans and sit on the throne?  Jesus basically tells them that it will happen when the Father makes it happen and they should stop focusing on that.  Instead, they need to focus on being witnesses for Him once they have received the Holy Spirit.

Then in the last two verses Jesus is lifted into heaven, and while the followers were gazing up into the sky, two angels appear and inform them that Jesus will return from heaven one day.

In vv. 12-14, we are told that the followers did what they were told – they returned to Jerusalem and waited.  While they waited for the Holy Spirit to come and give them power, they constantly devoted themselves to prayer.

In many ways, Acts is a different type of book than the other books of the New Testament. It writes about what happened for the church to begin and what the apostles did as they followed the command of Jesus to be His witnesses.  It is not necessarily a book that will give us theology that we should follow, since it depicts many firsts.  What the people experienced were first time events, which will not happen again.  We may experience similar things, but not exactly the same things.  However, there is probably plenty that we can learn from the how the apostles acted, when we encounter analogous situations.

The Holy Spirit will come in the second chapter of Acts and the followers will receive power.  In the meantime, the apostles had to wait for this, and they prayed constantly while they waited.  Today, since the Holy Spirit had already come some 2000 years ago, followers of Jesus do not have to wait for the Holy Spirit – He comes to dwell in us as soon as we accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior.

Jesus made it clear to the apostles that the reason the Holy Spirit was going to come and give them power was so that they will become Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Throughout the book of Acts, we will see examples of how the Holy Spirit’s power enabled the apostles to be witnesses for Christ.

Just like how the apostles were in constant prayer waiting for the Holy Spirit, there will be times for us that we need to be in constant prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us how to be witnesses for Jesus in our situation.  We can be confident that the Holy Spirit will empower us and help us to accomplish being witnesses for Christ.

We must be careful not to be presumptive about this.  The Holy Spirit is not here to help us to do whatever we think we should do.  He is here to help us to accomplish what we have been commanded to do.  Often, we need to wait while praying, until what the Lord wants us to do is revealed to us.  Frequently, it is not necessarily what we think are logical things to be doing.

If I put myself in the shoes of the apostles, I would be thinking about all the messiness of the situation at hand.  Jesus, my leader had returned to heaven, with the command to be His witnesses until He returns. The Jewish religious leaders and the Roman government remain formidable obstacles in spreading the gospel.  What would I do and say to convince family, friends and strangers, of what I believed about Jesus?  I probably would be wishing and hoping for the Lord to return quickly.

We probably face many of these concerns today.  That is why praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to reveal the Lord’s plan for us and to provide us with the power and love sufficient to accomplish them is vital.

There is great fear in this world today, due to things like the pandemic, civil unrest, and political unrest.  The danger of violence right around the corner is also an unnerving thought.  Because of this, there are also great opportunities for us to be witnesses for the Lord.  It will not be easy and not possible if we rely on our own wisdom, power and love.  But the promise of Jesus is still with us – that the Holy Spirit will give us the power sufficient to be witnesses for Jesus.

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our zoom worship session on January 10, 2021.)

Obituary 死亡報告

Here is an updated summary of the life of Philip Luttio, Japan missionary and father of Rev. Steve Luttio who served as our pastor for over two decades.

Philip Luttio was born in Minneapolis, MN on May 15, 1924 to his parents, Vaino and Lempi Luttio.
フィリップ・ルティオは1924年5月15日にミネソタ州のミネアポリス市で両親、ヴェーノ とレンピのもとに生まれました。
He was baptized in September 1924 and confirmed on May 8, 1938.
フィルは1924年9月に洗礼を受け、1938年5月8日に献身礼を受けました。
Phil and his 5 siblings grew up together in a lively musical household where he took up clarinet and became a very skilled musician.
フィルと5人の兄弟姉妹は賑やかな音楽家庭で育ち、フィルはクラリネットをふき、とても音楽の才能に優れていました。
The family moved to Wayzata and joined Oak Knoll Lutheran Church in 1941. Phil personally committed his life to the Lord at a Bible camp the summer of 1942.
フィルの家族はワイゼタ市に引っ越し、オーク.ノール.ルーテル教会に1941年に入会しました。1942年の夏、バイブルキャンプで個人的に主に献身しました。
He graduated from Wayzata High School in June of 1943 and then enlisted in the army a month later.
フィルは、1943年ワイゼタ高校を卒業して、1ヶ月後に陸軍に入りました。
He was severely wounded at Iwo Jima in March of 1945, awarded the Purple Heart and was hospitalized for about a half a year in Guam and Denver.
 フィルは1945年3月に硫黄島で重症を負いました。そのとき、パープルハート賞を受賞し、その後、グアムとデンバーの病院に半年入院しました。
Surprised at his recovery, the doctor said, “You’d better ask God why he miraculously saved you.” Phil knew it was so that he could go back to Japan this time to bring Bibles instead of bullets.
そのとき、医者が彼の回復に驚き, フィルに「どうしてあなたが奇跡的に助かったのか、神様に聞いたほうがいい」と言いました。フィルは、それは日本に戻るためだとわかりました。今度の日本に行く使命は、弾丸でなく、聖書を持っていくことでした。
After discharge in October, he attended the Minneapolis LBI for two terms in the new year and transferred to Suomi College, Michigan, attending from the fall of 1946 until the spring of 1948.
10月に退院したあと、彼は2学期間、ミネアポリス LBI(ルーテル聖書学院)に出席し、その後、ミシガン州のスオミ大学に編入しました。そこで、1946年の秋から1948年の春まで勉強しました。
On June 30, 1948 he married Margaret Birkedal whom he had met at Oak Knoll Lutheran Church.
1948年6月30日、フィルはオーク.ノール教会で出会ったマーガレット.ビルケダールと結婚しました。
He then attended St Olaf College for one year, graduating in 1949. The happy couple had 4 children. Karen born in 1949, Stephen in 1951, Miriam 1954 and Mark 1958.
その後、ミネソタ州のセント.オラフ大学に1年間通い、1949年に大学を卒業しました。そのあと、4人の子供に恵まれました。1949年にカレン、1951年にスティーブン、1954年にミリアム、1958年にマークが生まれました。
Phil attended Luther Seminary in St Paul, Minnesota from September 1949 through May 1952.
そのあと、フィルは1949年9月から1952年5月まで、ミネソタ州のルター神学校に通いました。
Then Phil and Margaret sailed to Japan along with Karen and baby Steve to work as missionaries with the Lutheran church. They arrived in Yokohama on August 15, 1952, exactly 7 years after the war and 403 years after Francisco Xavier landed in Kagoshima as the first missionary to Japan.
その後、フィルとマーガレットはカレンと赤ちゃんのスティーブを連れて、宣教師としてルーテル教会で働くために日本まで航海しました。1952年8月15日横浜に到着しました。それは、第2次世界対戦の7年後のことでした。その年は、フランシスコ・ザビエルが最初の日本への宣教師として鹿児島に上陸してから403年後のことです。
Phil worked with and pastored churches mainly between Tokyo and Nagoya.
フィルは主に東京から名古屋までの各地で伝道及び牧会しました。
Tokiwadai, Itabashi Ku板橋区常盤台 Tokyo 1952-1953, Omori大田区大森 53-54, Yokosuka 横須賀 54-55, Handa 羽田 55-58, Deputation in US 米国での伝道報告58-59, Shimada 静岡県島田市59-64, Deputation in US米国伝道報告 64-65,  Tokyo 65-67. 
From 65-66 they were dormitory parents for missionary kids while Phil took Japanese classes at The international Christian University.
1965年から66年まで国際基督教大学で日本語の授業をとり、妻と一緒に宣教師の子供のための寮の寮長を務めました。
From 66-67 he served at the Tokyo University Student Center.
66-67年の間、彼は東京大学の学生センターで働きました。
They worked at Kibo Church in Nagoya from 1967-1970 and then after deputation, returned to Tokyo where Phil worked from 1971-1982 at Koishikawa Lutheran Church with Rev. Kojima and the deaf ministry.
1967年から1970年まで名古屋千種区の希望教会で奉仕し、アメリカでの伝道報告の後、東京に戻り、1971年から82年まで小嶋牧師と、小石川ルーテル教会で、聾者のための伝道に携わっていました。
Phil’s last assignment in Japan was in Toyohashi from 1982-1989.  フィルの日本での最後の任務は、1982年から1989年まで豊橋での牧会でした。
Phil’s musical and artistic talents were invaluable tools in his evangelistic ministry
フィルの音楽とアートのスキルは伝道にかかせないものでした。
Phil directed his family band and choir made up of Phil, Margaret, and the four children from the time they were young.
フィルは家族とファミリーバンドと合唱隊を作り、子どもたちも小さい頃からそのバンドに参加しました。
During their 1970-1971 deputation year, they made a professional recording and traveled about 10,000 miles around the perimeter of the United States performing at churches, colleges and even Madison Square Garden in New York.
1970年から71年の間、アメリカに戻り、ファミリーバンドのプロの録音を行い、アメリカの各地をまわり、演奏しました。それは10000マイルにも渡ります。大学や教会、また、ニューヨークのマディソンスクエアガーデンでも、演奏しました。
In 1972, they returned to Japan to do music evangelism throughout all Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu. 1972年、日本に戻り、北海道から九州まで全国各地で音楽の伝道を行いました。 
After 37 years of ministry in Japan, Phil and Margaret retired in San Pedro, CA where they lived for 31 years. 日本での37年間の奉仕の後、退職し、フィルとマーガレットはカリフォルニア州のサン.ペドロ市に移り住みました。
He continued to play clarinet with Margaret on piano and enjoyed painting and wood carving. フィルはまだクラリネットを吹き、マーガレットのピアノとともに、音楽を楽しんでいました。また、フィルは絵画や木彫りも楽しんでいました。
They also enjoyed ministering and traveling all over the world and spending lots of quality time with their children and growing grandchildren.彼らは世界中を旅行し、子供やその孫と充実した日々を送っていました。
For their last 10 years there, they received extensive care from their daughter Miriam with help from their granddaughter Kristina. この10年は次女のミリアムから手厚い看護を受けていました。ミリアムの娘、クリスティーナも手伝ってくれました。
In August of 2020 they moved to Roseville, MN to live in the home of their daughter Karen and her husband Paul, receiving care from them, their daughter Naomi, and Phil & Margaret’s son Steve.
2020年8月ミネソタのローズビルに移りました。そこで長女のカレンと、その夫ポール、彼らの長女なおみと住んでいました。そこで、彼らの世話をうけ、また、長男のスティーブも、フィルとマーガレットの面倒を見ていました。
Surrounded by the songs and sounds of his beloved family, Phil’s chariot came to carry him home on December 7, 2020, at age 96.
2020年12月7日、96歳のフィルは、愛する家族の歌声に包まれ、天国からの馬車で、天国に召されました。

He is survived by his beloved wife, Margaret, his sister, Joanna Monson (Herb. Fridley, MN), his four children Karen Anderson (Paul), Stephen Luttio (Elizabeth. Blaine, MN), Miriam Varvais (Tim. Rancho Palos Verdes, CA), and Mark Luttio (Shirley. Boca Raton, FL). He also is fondly remembered by his 14 grandchildren, Andrew Anderson, Naomi Anderson, Gabriel Anderson, Erikka Shepp, Israel Anderson, Karis Alex; Rachel Wolff, Sara Johnstone, Rebecca Luttio; Kristina Varvais; Jacob Luttio, Marcia Pistotti, Isaac Luttio, Melissa Campbell; 27 great-grandchildren along with many nieces and nephews. フィルには、妻のマーガレット、妹のジョアンナ.モンソン(夫のハーブ.ミネソタ州フリドリー)、4人の子供、カレン.アンダーソン(夫のポール)、スティーブン.ルティオ(妻のエリザベス.ミネソタ州.ブレイン)、ミリアム.バルベイス(夫のティム.カリフォルニア州ランチョパロスベルデス)、およびマーク.ルティオ(妻の シャーリ.フロリダ州ボカラトン)。 彼はまた、14人の孫、アンドリュー.アンダーソン、ナオミ.アンダーソン、ガブリエル.アンダーソン、エリッカ.シェップ、イスラエル.アンダーソン、カリス.アレックス。レイチェル.ウルフ、セラ.ジョンストン、リべカ. ルティオ; クリスティーナ. バルベイス; ジェイコブ.ルティオ、マルシア. ピストティ、アイザク.ルティオ、メリサ.カンベル、 がいます。フィルは家族から大変愛され、27人のひ孫と多くの甥、姪にも恵まれました。

We are thankful for the life and legacy of this faithful, godly man. この忠実で敬虔なフィル人の人生と、私たちに残してくれたその彼の心の遺産を神様に感謝しています。
He was buried at Fort Snelling national cemetery with military honors on December 14, 2020. 彼は2020年12月14日軍の名誉式とともに、フォート.スネリング国立墓地に埋葬されました。

The Light Shines in the Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Do any of you still have your Christmas lights and decorations up? I know, it’s always an interesting question. Some folks take them down fairly quickly. Others leave them up until after the new year. Some actually do the “12 days of Christmas”, taking their decorations down on January 6, Epiphany. In Japan, we always had to take our decorations down by the Sunday after Christmas, because it was important to get the New Year decorations up.

I always feel a bit sad when the lights come down. I love the Christmas lights and decorations in the early morning and night hours. Somehow, it feels so plain and dull after we return to more “normal” lighting.

During Advent one of the themes we looked at was “light and darkness”. That theme shows up in today’s text as well. And I’m reminded that the true Christmas light, and the shining of that light, is not just a seasonal thing, like our decorations, but a way of life… a way of living.

Our text in John chapter 1 today is a much loved and familiar text. Hundreds of sermons and themes have flowed from these beautiful words of the apostle John, often referred to as the “prologue” to the gospel. Verse 14 sums up the whole Christmas story – that God became human, choosing to live among us. Immanuel – God with us – incarnation!

But today… I just want to focus on two portions:

Verse 5 “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

Light is stronger than darkness. Just like love is stronger than hate, and life is stronger than death. Yet, we often don’t feel that way do we?

We often feel like the world is filled with darkness or at the very least, that we are walking in partial darkness, unable to see; that our own light is so small that it doesn’t make much of a difference. But John tells us that this true light is Christ. And that Christ could not be conquered by darkness. This word brings much hope!

Verse 6-8 “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all people might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”

These verses are describing John the Baptist but may just as well be describing our role. We are to be witnesses to the light. We sing the song “This Little Light of Mine” – and it’s a great song. But we must remember that we ourselves are not the light. The light we have is NOT our own, just a reflection of Jesus Christ. We point to the light. We trust that our lives become a reflection of the true light so that others will know about Jesus and God.

So here we are:

  • Light is more powerful than darkness
  • We, like John, are to be witnesses to that light

If that’s our role how can we prepare as we enter this new year?

According to our text… the true light has arrived. It is here. We don’t need to look for it. We simply need to open up the shutters and doors of our lives and allow the light in. To reflect the true light we must first face the true light and welcome the true light into our lives.

Are there any places in your life or heart that are not open to God? That perhaps are still dark? Places that you have not allowed God to enter? Places that you still are hanging on to?  Today, first of all let us receive Christ again, the true light. The result of that is clearly state in verse 12:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And then, is it possible that we would be able to live in the light of Christ, to reflect Christ’s presence and work in our own lives?  So many around us have needs. So much darkness. No, of course, we can’t fix all of that…. But the light which we’ve been given could shine and bring life to others. Do we truly believe this?

As you take down the Christmas lights and decorations in your home, remember – we need not stop shining. The true Christmas light, Jesus Christ, is meant to shine all year.

(The above is a summary of the message shared on January 3, 2021 as part of our zoom worship time.)

Happy New Year 2021!

As the last day of this year comes to a close…. I’m thinking of how to send a wish of blessing and encouragement to you. Here are a few statements loosely connected to “new year wishes” that I find encouraging and inspiring.

Some healthy advice from the good doctor:

“Congratulations! Today is your day.

You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

– Dr. Seuss

A word of caution as we enter 2021?

“Good resolutions are simply checks that people draw on a bank where they have no account.” 

– Oscar Wilde

Is it possible to be both this year?!

“An optimist stays up till midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.”

– Bill Vaughn

Sound advice as we set our goals for 2021!

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals; adjust the action steps.”

 – Confucius

Perhaps the best word going forward…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    Do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    And he will show you which path to take.

– Proverbs 3:5-6

Wishing the very best to all of you

in 2021!

Watching and Waiting….a Proclamation!

For the past several weeks we have focused on our advent theme: “Watching and Waiting”. On Advent 1 we looked at the theme of “Watching and Waiting…in Desperation” as we heard the words of the prophet in Isaiah 64. For Advent 2, we considered the theme of “Watching and Waiting…in Preparation” as we looked at the message of John the Baptist. We especially considered the context of “wilderness” and looked at the biblical understanding of wilderneness – yes, a truly wild place, but a place where God meets his people and people meet God in a new way. For Advent 3, we looked at the theme of “Watching and Waiting – in Jubilation” and considered the advent theme of JOY; the text of the choir of angels announcing the birth of a savior to the shepherds at night. We were challenged to consider where such joy really comes from… and how to re-experience it this Christmas. Finally, today, we look at the theme of “Watching and Waiting… a Proclamation” and hope to gain some understanding through the proclamation that was made to Mary by the angel Gabriel. Is there any part of this proclamation that could be heard again by us today and applied to our own lives?

First, let’s take a look at the main points of Gabriel’s proclamation to Mary:

  • Don’t be afraid, you have found favor with God! The Lord is with you!
  • You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You will name him Jesus.
  • He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
  • The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. You will become pregnant, not by human biology but by a miracle of the Holy Spirit.
  • Even Elizabeth, your relative, who was said to be barren is in her 6th month of pregnancy.
  • Nothing is impossible for God.

As a final response to all of this Mary makes a proclamation of her own to Gabriel:

  • “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

There is so much that could be said about this text – so many possible sermons! But this morning I want to take just three of the statements, three of the “proclamations” and claim them as our own.

THE 1ST PROCLAMATION FROM GABRIEL

1.     (V. 30)  “Do not be afraid (put your name here) for you have found favor with God.”

None of us are Mary – and our situations are completely different from hers. But God’s word to us at Christmas is the same. “Don’t be afraid. I love you. I have found favor with you.” Put your own name in there and hear God’s word to you. This is not the only text where God expresses his deep love and favor toward his children. In Isaiah 43:4 God speaks to the people of Israel – and to us – with these words:

“You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.” Isaiah 43:4

Mary’s acceptance of the angel’s proclamation of love, favor, and grace to her by God is amazing, considering the amount of personal difficulty and strain that such a proclamation would surely bring to her. Yet, she rejoiced. How do you feel about God’s great love and favor toward you today…. when you put your own name in that proclamation?

A 2ND PROCLAMATION FROM GABRIEL

2.   (v. 37)  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

  • No, none of us are expecting to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Maybe Gabriel’s words to Mary seem like a bit of a stretch to us.
  • But, what are the areas in your life where you are struggling with faith.? Are you experiencing other kinds of difficulty and struggles that seem like there are no easy solutions? No way out?
  • I challenge you to consider this word of Gabriel and how it might relate to your own life and situation.

THE PROCLAMATION FROM MARY

3. (v. 38)  “Here I am. I am a servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

In her response to the angel – and to God – Mary displays a heart of submission. This may have been more difficult than hearing of God’s favor – or the fact that God is all-powerful. She needed at this point to place her entire life and future back in God’s hands and plans. Are we able to do the same?

Could these three proclamations change our lives today?

  1. Don’t be afraid. God loves you!
  2. Nothing is impossible for God. 
  3. Here I am. Let it be to me according to your word.  My life is yours!

Take these proclamations – these truths with you this week. Like Mary, ponder them in your hearts.

Dear Lord, thank you for the favor and love that you have shown me. Thank you that you are with me, even now, in this strange season of 2020. Thank you that no problem or anxiety I have is too great for you to deal with. Thank you that nothing is impossible for you! Today, I once again offer my life, my family, my plans, my entire future into your safekeeping. Amen.

Good News of Great Joy!

Luke 2:8-11

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 
9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.   10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

さて、この土地に、羊飼いたちが、野宿で夜番をしながら羊の群れを見守っていた。 すると、主の使いが彼らのところに来て、主の栄光が回りを照らしたので、彼らはひどく恐れた。 10 御使いは彼らに言った。「恐れることはありません。今、私はこの民全体のためのすばらしい喜びを知らせに来たのです。 11 きょうダビデの町で、あなたがたのために、救い主がお生まれになりました。この方こそ主キリストです。

The traditional themes for the four Sundays of Advent are – faithfulness; hope; joy; and love.  Today happens to be the 3rd Sunday of Advent, which means that I am to cover the topic of joy.

I first thought this was a bit ironic, since in these strange times, I was not having too much problem being faithful, hopeful or feeling the importance of love, but being joyful was not a frequent state in which I found myself.

From my perspective, as one who has been saved by God through the work of His Son on the cross, and having accepted Jesus Christ as my savior and lord, the only path I see for myself is to be faithful.  The Lord has revealed new ways to serve Him through the pandemic, using tools such as Zoom and YouTube, taking advantage of the wider reach we have compared to face-to-face. 

Seeing people come to know Christ, as well as seeing people growing spiritually through these media, it is easy for me to feel hopeful, even in these times. Plus, in difficult times, when so many things are out of our hands, the only thing we can really hang our hopes on is the Lord.

There are so much strife and obvious hate in our society now, it is also obvious that if we are going to make any impact for the Lord, it must be by love and not hate.  We must be able to manifest God’s love to others, regardless of how we feel.  We must act in love and in unity.

Now we go back to joy.  I think that in these times of pandemic and restrictions that we are under, many things that would normally give us joy have been suspended for now.  Getting together with our families who are not part of our household; dining out; going to the movies; meeting together for Sunday morning church services; going on a trip on an airplane.

At the same time, joy can often be very temporary.  The joy of a promotion into a new job can quickly dampen when you realize how much added responsibility and pressure there is and that you do not know what you are doing.  The joy of getting a new guitar can fade when you realize that although you can produce different kinds of sound, it does not improve your playing.  The joy of getting a larger, higher resolution TV wows you at the beginning, but soon that becomes the norm and no longer a source of joy.  The joy of getting a new car can fade over time as you get used to having it and the dents and the scratches start to accumulate.

What about things pertaining to our faith?  Did you feel great joy when you found out that the God of the universe loves you and sent His Son to die for you?  But did that excitement somewhat fade into the background as it became the norm?  What about the sense of joy that should be there when you get to worship God with other believers on Sunday mornings?  Did that also start to feel routine or even a little like a chore you must do?

Let us get back to this morning’s text.  The angel tells us that he is bringing us good news of great joy for all the people.  That includes us.  What is this news that is supposed to bring us great joy?  It is, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord”.

The Jews have been waiting for 400 years to hear from God again, since Malachi.  Now not only the silence is broken, with it comes the great news that the Messiah has been born that day.  The one who will reign forever as king of Israel and will come to rule the world.

This would not be such a joyous thing for the non-Jews, but the angel tells us that this good news is for all the people, and not just the Jews.  God is going to make salvation and the cleansing of sins available to all the people, including us.

This is great news – a joy worthy news.  If salvation and eternal life is assured to us, then the big worry about what is going to happen to me after I die goes away.  Then I can start living life boldly for the Lord.  Also, this is available to all our loved ones, so they too can be assured of salvation and eternal life.

Again, the funny thing about joy is that once you possess something that gives you joy, you get used to it and it becomes the norm.  Now things that are worth much less than salvation and eternal life start to take some joy away.  Things like not being able to dine out or get together with friends and family for Christmas, etc.  In our heads and in our heart, we know we should be feeling great joy and appreciation that the Savior was born over 2000 years ago.  But sometimes it is hard to feel the joy.

How can we remedy this?  Because if non-believers keep running into non-joyous Christians, they are going to conclude that whatever Christ offers must not be much, since it is not bringing joy to these people.

We should focus on all the good things God has given us and appreciate them.  We should realize in our heads that the angel was right, and that we should be joyful for what happened that day in Bethlehem, and we should try to change our attitude to be more joyful, at least when we are around others.  We can choose how to act and how to respond – we can do it with the help of the Holy Spirit.  We as Christians can choose to act like joyful Christians, or not.  It is surprising how our outlook can turn positive if we let the Holy Spirit turn it in a positive direction.

Once we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we should be doing Kingdom work in appreciation for what God has freely given us.  Part of this work is to be previews of the Kingdom.  I am certain that eternity with the Lord and all His believers is going to be a joyful place.  Let’s let the not-yet Christians see that through us.

(The above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano, during our Sunday morning worship zoom session on December 13th)

Well Done…Faithful Servant!

Recently we received the following obituary and summary of the life of Philip Luttio, missionary and pastor – and father to Pastor Steve Luttio who served as our pastor here at the Japanese Congregational Church for over two decades. Please take a moment to read this inspiring summary and to take encouragement from the life of this humble servant. Our prayers are with Pastor Steve and Betty…

A Summary  of Philip Luttio’s Life

Philip Ray Luttio was born at the New Asbury Hospital in Minneapolis, MN on May 15, 1924 to his parents, Vaino and Lempi Luttio.  He was baptized in September 1924 and confirmed on May 8, 1938.  Phil and his 5 siblings grew up together in a lively musical household where he took up clarinet and became a very skilled musician. They lived on Penn Avenue and then later moved to Wayzata, MN.  The family joined Oak Knoll Lutheran Church in 1941.  Phil personally committed his life to the Lord at a summer camp the summer of 1942.  He graduated from Wayzata High School in June of 1943 and then enlisted in the army a month later.  He was severely wounded at Iwo Jima in March of 1945, awarded the Purple Heart, and was hospitalized for about a half year in Guam and Denver.  After discharge in October, he attended the Minneapolis LBI for two terms in the new year and transferred to Suomi College, attending from the fall of 1946 until the spring of 1948.  On June 30, 1948 he married Margaret Birkedal whom he had met at Oak Knoll Lutheran Church.  He then attended St Olaf College for one year, graduating in 1949.  The happy couple had 4 children, Karen born in 1949, Stephen born in 1951, Miriam born in 1954 and Mark born in 1958.

Phil attended Luther Seminary in St Paul, MN from September 1949 through May 1952.  Then Phil and Margaret sailed to Japan along with Karen and baby Steve in August 1952 to work as missionaries with the Lutheran church.  Phil worked with and pastored churches mainly between Tokyo and Nagoya: Tokiwadai,Tokyo 52-53, Omori 53-54, Yokosuka 54-55, Handa 55-58, Shimada 59-64, MN furlough 64-65, Tokyo 65-67 (65-66 they were dorm parents for missionary kids while Phil took Japanese classes at ICU and 66-67 was spent at the Todai Student Center at Tokyo University).  They worked in Nagoya from 1967-1970 and then returned to Tokyo where Phil worked from 1971-1982 with Rev. Kojima at a church where half of the members were deaf.  Phil’s last assignment in Japan was in Toyohashi from 1982-1989. 

Phil’s musical and artistic talents were invaluable tools in his evangelistic ministry.  Phil directed his family band and choir made up of Phil, Margaret, and the four children from the time they were young. During their 1970-1971 furlough year, they made a professional recording and traveled about 10,000 miles around the perimeter of the United States performing at churches, colleges and even Madison Square Garden.  They returned to Japan to do music evangelism throughout all Japan as well.

Upon retirement, after 37 years of ministry in Japan, Phil and Margaret settled in San Pedro, CA where they lived for 31 years.  He continued to play clarinet with Margaret on piano and enjoyed painting and wood carving. They also enjoyed ministering and traveling all over the world and spending lots of quality time with their children and growing grandchildren.  For their last 10 years there, they received extensive care from their daughter Miriam with help from their granddaughter Kristina.  In August of 2020 they moved to Roseville, MN to live in the home of their daughter Karen and her husband Paul, receiving care from them, their daughter Naomi, and Phil’s son Steve.  Surrounded by the songs and sounds of his beloved family, Phil’s chariot came to carry him home on December 7, 2020, at age 96.  He is survived by his beloved wife, Margaret, his sister, Joanna Monson, his four children Karen Anderson (Paul), Stephen Luttio (Elizabeth. Blaine, MN), Miriam Varvais (Tim. Rancho Palos Verdes, CA) , and Mark Luttio (Shirley. Boca Raton, FL).  He also is fondly remembered by his 14 grandchildren* and 27 great grandchildren along with many nieces and nephews. 

We are thankful for the life and legacy of this faithful, godly man.

Memorial gifts can be given to the Christian ministry of your choice.

*Andrew Anderson, Naomi Anderson, Gabriel Anderson, Erikka Shepp, Israel Anderson, Karis Alex; Rachel Wolff, Sara Johnstone, Rebecca Luttio; Kristina Varvais; Jacob Luttio, Marcia Pistotti, Isaac Luttio, Melissa Campbell.

Watching and Waiting…in Preparation

Mark 1:1-8

For today, the second Sunday in the Advent season, we continue our theme of “watching and waiting…”. We began our Advent season last week with “watching and waiting… in desperation” and today we turn to “watching and waiting… in preparation.”

What, exactly, should we be doing to prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ? Of course, at Christmas, we not only celebrate the historic birth of a Savior, but the present re-birth of that Lordship in our lives today, as well as the future coming of the King.

Our texts, both Old Testament (Isaiah 40:1-11) and New Testament (Mark 1:1-8) bring images of the wilderness… and a voice of a prophet crying out for all to prepare. “A voice of one crying in the wilderness – ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!'”. The prophet here is John the Baptist, a rough wilderness survivor, clothed in a garment woven from camel’s hair, with a leather belt, and living off of locusts and wild honey. He is shown as a forerunner. He is proclaiming the imminent arrival of one far greater than himself. The arrival of this Messiah demands preparation – and that involves heart preparation. He is calling people out to the desert in order to be baptized in water as a symbol of one’s confession of sin.

While there are many different possible angles to focus on in this brief text, I wish to look together at the image of “wilderness” in order to give us a hint as to our own necessary advent preparation.

Biblical wilderness

  • In scripture the wilderness is quite literally a “wild” place – maybe not the kind of wilderness that we sometimes imagine (a beautiful national park where one can enjoy camping and hiking?)
  • It is a brutal, difficult environment where survival itself is almost impossible.
  • In scripture, the wilderness is usually NOT a place one would choose to go.
  • In the Bible, either you end up there because of your own sin and mistakes.. or you’re led there in order to receive training of some kind. Examples abound… the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years; Jesus fasting and praying for 40 days prior to his public ministry.
  • Yet, in scripture the wilderness is also where God meets people. Where people meet God. God leads the Israelites through Moses in the wilderness. Jesus prays and fasts, and in the end experiences tempting and victory in the wilderness. Jesus’ baptism concludes with the Holy Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove. God meets and saves Hagar (and Ishmael) in the wilderness when they were all but lost.

Why is this important for us?

  1. The wilderness exposes our complete helplessness and powerlessness. Without help from outside – we perish.
  2. The wilderness forces us to focus…and return to basics; away from the city and all of its busy-ness, conveniences, and distractions. In this brutal environment we have a better chance of becoming quiet and focused – of considering our own lives. Pride and arrogance give way to humility and openness.  John the Baptist called people out from Jerusalem and they came out to the desert – where he baptized them; a water baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
  3. Biblically, the wilderness represents a place where we meet God. Helplessness, focus, humility, and repentance; all leading to a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. From adversity…comes comfort and spiritual awakening.

How can this help us?

  • Many of us feel that we have been wandering in a kind of wasteland – a wilderness for the past 10 months.
  • 10 months of pandemic have left many without work, without hope, without health. 2020 has been a year of pandemic racism as well as COVID. We are politically divided as a country and we don’t seem to know which direction we are heading.
  • For some the result is anxiety – for others – depression.
  • The list of difficulties and stresses goes on and on…

But is it possible during Advent 2020 – that we could embrace this wilderness that we are experiencing? I don’t mean to be happy about all that’s gone on – but I do mean to more fully accept it as our present journey, one that is vitally important for our own lives and hearts. We certainly did not choose all the outcomes of this year. We didn’t ask for this wilderness. But can we at least recognize the following?

  • We, too, sense our own helplessness and powerlessness. And that’s a good thing. Without help from someone – we too will perish. Of course we seek a vaccine, and perhaps even financial assistance from the government. But we also seek a Savior – a messiah.
  • These difficult times cause us to focus on what is truly important – to consider some heart preparation, some repentance – to take a hard look at ourselves. We can get rid of arrogance and pride, and seek a more humble heart. John’s message to repent and be baptized is still valid.
  • And finally, can we truly expect to meet God in a new way in this wilderness? God has not left us. The Holy Spirit is still leading us. What new things can we expect? Will there be light at the end of this tunnel?

And so we watch and wait in preparation:

  • We prepare by embracing the wilderness we are experiencing
  • We prepare by humbling our hearts and confessing our sins
  • We prepare by expecting a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

COME, LORD JESUS!

(the above is a summary of our message shared during our zoom worship session on December 6, 2020.)

Watching and Waiting…in Desperation

Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

Today begins Advent. It is a time of preparation – preparation for celebrating the birth of a Savior. But it’s not usually (at least in the Bible) a time of peaceful and quiet preparation. It involves desperation…. and waiting….and darkness…..and more waiting.

Have you ever felt desperate? I mean, ….. really desperate? have you ever felt the stress of your own helplessness while waiting for some result or report? Have you ever paced the halls of a hospital during a surgery…. waiting for a report of the outcome from a doctor? Have you ever wondered how you’ll be able to pay your bills this month?

Our text today in Isaiah 64:1-9 is a prayer – a lament in which the prophet cries out to God in frustration and desperation. Here is a brief summary of that prayer and cry for help:

Come Down and Do Something! (verses 1-4)

The prophet cries out – “Please come down and DO something! Make your name known among all people. You’ve worked miraculously on our behalf many times in the past! Please do it again NOW. You’ve promised to do this on behalf of those who wait for you.”

We Need Forgiveness and Healing (verses 5-7)

The prophet’s prayer changes as he considers the peoples’ complicity in their desperate situation. “You’ve taught us the right path to walk – but we haven’t been able to follow that road. You were angry with us when we sinned. Even when we try to be good and righteousness – it all just adds up to filthy rags. No one calls on you anymore for help or guidance. We can see that we are part of the problem. We are complicit in the present state of affairs.”

Look Upon Us. We’re Watching and Waiting for You (verses 8-9)

The prayer concludes with a reminder and final plea: “Yet, You are our Father! We’re the clay and You’re the potter. Mold us anew into what you would have us be! Don’t forget us. Remember that we are your people – your loved children!”

So we’re waiting in the dark…in desperation. Maybe we can’t sleep. Maybe our child is sick. For you, what is the darkness you feel at this season? Loneliness? A broken relationship? A depression that you can’t make go away? A financial crisis? A virus that has disrupted our entire society? A nation that is completely polarized politically?

Perhaps we could try the posture of Isaiah today:

  • Pray earnestly, asking God to Come Down and Do Something!
  • Realize that we, too, are part of the problem. We have sinned. We don’t deserve God’s salvation. We need healing and forgiveness.
  • Remind God that we are His. Look upon us. We’re waiting for you.

As we sit in darkness, and maybe even experience desperation… we know that the light is coming. The light of the world that will turn our darkness and desperation into new light and hope. “Lord, help us to believe that you will work on our behalf…”

A Time to Give Thanks…

As I write this brief greeting to all of you, my JCC family, we are finishing an unusual day of Thanksgiving. We were fortunate enough to have our children from Seattle join us today for a fun thanksgiving dinner outside on the deck, along with a slight drizzle of rain half-way through our meal. While our table and food were a bit dampened, our spirits were not.

We wish to all of our JCC family a happy Thanksgiving, even as we know that this pandemic has brought much worry, anxiety, and hardship for many. I offer this brief sentence that I read in a devotional this morning for your consideration:

An attitude of

CONTENTMENT

turns everything into a

Gift!

May we be reminded this Thanksgiving of the great gift of eternal life through Jesus, our Lord!

Pastor Tim