The Good News

Acts 10:34-48

Can non-Jewish people be saved? Today, we can say with assurance that, “anyone can be saved, through faith in Jesus Christ.”  When the events depicted in Acts 10 were being played out, this was not the case. The New Testament had not been completed yet, and the Old Testament did not give sufficient guidance to overcome traditional beliefs and expectations.  God uses two men to definitively answer this question – Cornelius and Peter. The first part of Acts 10 tells us what happened.

Acts 10:1-8 – Cornelius was a Roman military leader, part of the occupational forces in Judea. He was not a Jew, but a Gentile. We are not told how it came to be, but Cornelius was a devoted believer of the God of Israel spending much time in prayer. God tells Cornelius to send men to Peter, who is in the city of Joppa, so he sends two slaves and a devout soldier.

Acts 10:9-16 – The next day, Peter is up on the roof praying and God sends him a vision. A sheet containing all sorts of creatures which Jews were not supposed to eat comes down and Peter is commanded to kill and eat. Peter refuses, citing the Jewish laws that forbade him from eating these creatures. A voice tells Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”.  This vision happened three times.

Keeping the old dietary laws was important to Peter and other devout Jews. They were under Roman occupation, and the empire would like nothing more than to get them to assimilate into the culture. For the Jews to keep their identity as God’s people, it was important to keep these laws to differentiate themselves.

Acts 10:17-23a – While Peter was puzzled about the strange vision, the three men Cornelius had sent arrive, looking for Peter. The Holy Spirit tells Peter that He is the one who sent these men, and that Peter should go with them without hesitation.

Acts 10:23b-33 – The next day, Peter goes with the three men to Cornelius’ house. When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls to his knees and worships him. Peter stops him, telling Cornelius that he is a mortal. Peter informs Cornelius that the Jewish laws made it illegal for him to visit a Gentile, but he is doing so because God had told him to not consider the Gentiles as unclean. Cornelius asks Peter to tell them what the Lord commanded Peter to say.

Acts 10:34ff – Peter speaks to them about how Jesus is the Messiah, and that although he was crucified, dead and buried, He was raised on the third day.  Anyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name. The Gentiles then received the Holy Spirit and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

So as the head of the church, Peter now knows that salvation through Jesus Christ is now available to all people, not just the Jews. This indeed is the good news for the whole world.

It is clear from this passage that it is not Cornelius or Peter that are the main actors.  It is the Holy Spirit that is acting on them, and they are just being carried by the current that the Holy Spirit is providing. It is about repentance being available to all that are willing to turn towards God.

Repentance as presented here is not a courageous step we make toward Christ, nor is it a regretful  feeling for our sins. It is the divine gift of being able to be turned toward truth. Turning towards truth is beyond our power to accomplish. Like Cornelius, we cannot repent – turn around – on our own, so God does it for us. Repentance is more than a decision we make or some good deed we offer to God – repentance is the human response to God’s offer of Himself to us.  Repentance is an act of God’s grace.

Society today is populated with many people who are not living according to God’s will, and some of these are believers. Let us be reminded that God desires to give repentance to all people, even to those who are opposed to God.  Let us be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to witness to these people, so that they will have an opportunity to respond to God’s graceful invitation to repent and be saved.

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano at our worship service on September 12, 2021.)

The Power of Praise

Psalm 146:1-10

Two weeks ago I spoke on Psalm 84. “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” We saw that the psalmist longed for God’s presence …although he still had not arrived. He was still wandering in the Baca Valley of tears and troubles. We concluded that JCC was on a pilgrimage. That each of us were on a pilgrimage. And that our posture was to desire God more and more in our lives.

Today, the psalm we are looking at is another psalm of praise. It is one of the “final 5” songs in the Psalter…all with the theme of praise.

The outline is as follows:

Opening Doxology                                        verses 1-2

Personal praise

I will praise God with my whole self!  いのちのあるかぎり

Stanza 1                                                         verses 3-4

Don’t trust in human leaders  君主たちにたよってはならない

The fragility / temporal nature of humans  彼のもろもろの計画は滅びうせる

Stanza 2                                                         verses 5-9

Blessed / happy is the one who trusts only in God!

  • Creator of everything  主は天と地と海とその中のいっさいを造った方
  • Faithful forever  とこしえまでも真実を守る
  • Upholds cause of the oppressed しいたげられる者のためにさばきを行い
  • Gives food to the hungry 飢えた者にパンを与える方
  • Sets prisoners free 捕らわれ人を解放される 
  • Gives sight to the blind  主は盲人の目をあけ
  • Lifts up those who are bowed down かがんでいる者を起こされる
  • Loves the righteous  正しい者を愛し、
  • Watches over the aliens 主は在留異国人を守る 
  • Sustains the fatherless and the widow みなしごとやもめをささえられ
  • Frustrates the ways of the wicked しかし主は悪者の道を曲げられる

Closing Doxology                                        verse 10

Corporate praise to the Lord!    ハレルヤ

It’s been quite a week in the news and in our world hasn’t it?

  • Afghanistan – continuing trauma
  • American hospital ICUs filled with COVID patients
  • Haiti earthquake and politics
  • Wild fires across the west
  • Hurricane Ida across the South and Northeast

What does it mean to “praise the Lord” in the midst of these crises?

The ancient Israelites were also often in crisis… this psalm teaches us:

Praise is often an act of discipline.

  • We do it not because our circumstances are happy or easy…. but in the face of all evidence to the contrary. In a world gone crazy… God is still worthy of our praise.
  • All human plans and efforts are temporal – it is God alone that gives us life and breath and what we need.

Praise can be a form of defiance against wordly powers.

  • Despite this mess, we will praise
  • A decision to focus on the eternal and not the temporary picture

Praise has the power to change us and our circumstances

  • Crying, complaining, and lamenting to God is cathartic and deeply meaningful. But Praising God in tough circumstances has the power to change us in ways that nothing else can!
  • Praise isn’t for God’s benefit. It’s for our benefit. We are changed. We recognize again who WE are and who GOD is.

An Example:

Paul and Silas in Philippi

Read the account of Paul and Silas in Acts 16. They were beaten multiple times, put in prison, had their hands and feet put in stocks…. but around midnight it says that they began to sing praises – the prisoners around them were listening… and at the end of this account, they are miraculously freed by an earthquake. Not only that, but the account ends with Paul sharing the gospel with the Philippian jailor and his family.

What would cause Paul and Silas to “sing praises” in prison – in the dark, at midnight, while suffering from their beatings and open sores?! What were the other prisoners thinking when they heard these songs and praises? Does something in this account resonate deep within you? Wouldn’t we all wish to live in this power that sees and recognizes a bigger picture…rather than just the reality in front of us?   May we experience the power of praise in our own lives this week.

(The above is a summary of the message shared during worship on Sept. 5, 2021)

Poetry by Jon Honeycutt

Recently Jon gave me these examples of his poetry… during a visit to his apartment. I thought you would all like to read them. Enjoy! – (this is the first part…. there are a few more poems in part 2 that I will post later….) – Pastor Tim

From God to Good, just add an “o”

To evil add a “D”, and there you go

It’s as evident as the letters are

We bear His grace, He bears our scar

The living light awaits the eye

That looks to see it shine

I seek to find that Joy designed

And that decision’s mine

I’ll follow my father, and his before him

For my life is a cup that is filled to the brim

Can you not see it coming?

It is as plain as day to me

The trumpets herald drumming

For the battle come to be

As dark as it appears right now

There’s victory at the end

We can’t discern the when or how

But our brokenness will mend

The Lord is our shepherd

And we’re in his flock

On a journey well worthy

We willingly walk

Beauty for ashes I’m looking toward

My word is my sheath, my faith is my sword

Expectancy grows as I water my hope

And the doubt will depart down it’s slippery slope

I write down my dreams, then, patiently wait

But the answer will come, whether early or late

It comes down to wanting and asking for it

In the knowing which end of the candle is lit

So I ponder my chances I know will arrive

They’re as sure as the promise that love is alive

For this world, in blindness, just stumbles along

It’s ignoring what’s right and embracing what’s wrong

As apparent to me as it should be to you

Our reward will reflect what we willingly do

This may be as clear or as murky to some

But we stand in the knowing an answer will come

It is only a matter of time, take His word

Let His glory reveal what these words have inferred

The ashes we leave for the beauty we’ll find

Is the way it will be, it is heaven designed

I can give you the line but you must take the bait

And you’ll find revelation awaits at the gate

It’s as near as your next breath, it’s certain to be

And a gift to the reader, it’s God’s guarantee

Better late than never is a phrase I finally learned

And is a gift from God, as ever, even a gift I hadn’t earned

But I am thankful for His favor and the chance to know at last

That I may yet tomorrow savor while repenting of my past

I was as willful and as ignorant of all my life in store

Yet, like a child’s heart is innocent, He forgave and gave me more

And then somewhere along the way my path began to change

My ways were wasted anyway, and generally strange

By looking back I found that I was on an errant path

My thinking was unsound and I deserved the coming wrath

But providence was waiting, I thank the Lord that it was so

And it isn’t understating that at last I came to know

That He was always with me, though I seldom gave it thought

Now I see my past more clearly and another chance I got

God moves in ways of wonder, but it’s always for our best

As my “normalcy” was blunder I would have failed the coming test

So I pray you to consider where our former ways would lead

Whether glorious or bitter, like a flower taken seed

If I’d have opened up my eyes when I was young and strong

I would have known how fast time flies, and made my way along

A difference of direction and a finer end to find

And then I gave it my inspection, finally opening my mind

I know that He’d been with me, else, I wouldn’t be here now

My words are my propensity, while He provides the “how”

And what I can say is “Thank You” to the one who gave us all

It is the best that I can do while I am waiting for His call

We’ll make it through these trying days

The seething heat, the smokey haze

We have the will, we’ll find the ways

For blessings come to he who prays

And look back on these times again

We know who runs his race will win

Though now, our hopes seem rather thin

We’ll find our peace and enter in

These are but temporary times

Where the temperature absurdly climbs

Endurance bears climactic crimes

Inviting even heated rhymes

Yet cooler days will follow these

With gentle rains and soothing breeze

The weather will how’ere it please

As only he who bears it sees

So don’t lose hope, we’ll get there yet

With grace we’ll gain the wind and wet

Just wait it out and place your bet

And we will what we pray for get

We’ve seen these calms and storms before

And guaranteed, there will be more

Who knows what waits beyond that door

It’s what we were intended for

So, brace yourself, you’ll pass the test

Today’s a temporary guest

We’ll carry on and do our best

These current trials will turn to bles’t

(August, 2021, 94ºF)

God, It’s Not Fair!

Psalm 10

The recent news in Afghanistan was so difficult to listen to with all the suffering that is taking place. Life has always been full of evil as we consider drugs and human trafficking. It’s overwhelming, and often hard to relate. But through movies and other media, we can catch glimpses of this world, and we realize that the reality is much worse. Real people are suffering from real bad people.

Why God!? Where are you? These are questions that we often ask ourselves. Today’s Psalmist understands our feelings. Verse 1 ”Why do You stand far away, LORD? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” When we’re suffering, God seems so far. But God IS there. That’s why the Psalms are so important. It brings our real feelings and sufferings…and God. Look at how the wicked are described. They are: (Verse 2) Arrogant, Wicked; (3) Boastful, Greedy, Disrespectful to the LORD; (4) Haughty, with no God; (5) Successful in the world’s ways, (6) Proud; Full of cursing, deceit, and oppression; (7) Murderers; (11) Forgets God

Verses 4 and 11 talk about taking God out of a person’s thinking. Why is that so important for the wicked to do this? Without God, there is no judgement. That is also why they attack the Bible. It is God’s Word. Through it, we not only
know God, but we know His standards, His holiness, His justice, etc. Psalm 14:1 says “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have committed detestable acts; There is no one who does good.” The fool thinks they will get away with their wickedness. They are only focused on the now and forget about the future judgement. If this life was all that there is, it would be unfair. But there is an afterlife that is more real and eternal that we look forward to. That is how Christians in the past, and those who are suffering now can endure. Justice will come. Relief will become a reality. We need to start by putting God first in our lives. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

And part of growing in Christ is to put our trust in the future promises of God. In the end, we will be victorious. 1 Cor.15:57  “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

So the Psalmist continues… 12  “Arise, LORD; God, lift up Your hand. Do not forget the humble.” He hasn’t seen justice yet, but he prays for those who are suffering. He helps us to know how to pray. In the midst of hardship, he focuses on God and worships. God hears our prayers. Believe it, even though you don’t feel it. In the midst of trials, it is difficult to feel God’s love. But He is there. Justice will come. The wicked will not be able to hide. And one day, there will be a new heaven and new earth. Jesus promises, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Remember this promise.

I think hard times may come in the near future. There is evil in the world. And there is a movement to take Christ and the Bible out of our culture. Believers must learn to stand in the truth, and trust God. 2 Tim 3:12 “Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The purpose is not to scare you, but to prepare you.

When things don’t seem fair, and the wicked seems to prosper, remember this Psalm. Know that our LORD hears our prayers. He will strengthen you, comfort you, and use you mightily in the midst of all this.

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Rich Nakamura during our worship service on August 29, 2021.)

Better Is One Day In Your Courts…

Psalm 84:1-12

Psalm 84 is similar to other “psalms of ascent” (Psalm 120-134) that were sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, as they looked forward to joining in the festival that was being celebrated there. The psalmist longs for God’s presence, for God’s temple (v. 2). But he’s not there yet…. he’s still on the way.

In verse 3 he talks about the birds – the sparrows and the swallows – finding a home in the temple, near the altar. Even the birds find safety and joy in God’s presence! Oh what a blessing it must be to dwell in the house of the Lord 24/7 every day… and be able to sing God’s praises – like those birds! (v.4)

In verses 5-7 the psalmist talks about their pilgrimage…. This journey they’re on.

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem takes them through the valley of Baca – where is this valley? Scholars seem to think the language refers to a “valley of tears”… or an alternate interpretation is “a dry and arid place”. Either way, it is a difficult leg of their journey. Even as they travel towards God, the way is often difficult. Yet, their presence causes the desert to become a place of springs…. The autumn rains come to create pools of water. Perhaps this refers to life’s struggles and difficulties in between the high points… as they proceed toward the presence of God.

And then in verse 10 – the words we sang earlier. “Better is One Day in your Courts, than 1,000 in the tents of the wicked. “ I would rather be a doorkeeper in God’s house than spend time in the presence of greed, wealth, social status, etc.

In verse 11 – God is a Sun and a Shield. This could be many sermons right here! God is our provision and warmth as well as our safety and protection.

And finally, the psalmist finishes with the statement that the one who trusts in God is truly BLESSED.

What does this psalm mean for us today?

  • On one level, it could be a picture / image of our last 15 months. We long for the fellowship of our gatherings here at JCC. We remember our weekly lunches, our times together. For months we’ve worshiped over zoom.
    • While I thank God for technology, we miss the physical fellowship and conversations.
    • We’re not fully back yet. But we long for that. We’re not really sure what our future holds yet… but we pray and long for clarity.
  • A second level or image of this psalm can refer to each of our spiritual pilgrimages. We are, throughout our lives, on a spiritual journey. We long for, and seek for God’s presence in our lives.
    • Since old testament times the temple, as a center of worship, has disappeared. We know that God was never limited to the temple, nor is He limited to our church building.
    • In the incarnation of Jesus, we are told in John’s gospel that Jesus (The Word that was from the beginning) came and has dwelled among us. Now the focal point of our worship is not a place, but a person. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
    • During the pandemic we’ve been reminded of that. Even without our building, we are able to worship because of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

When I was in preaching class in seminary our professor always encouraged us to summarize our sermon in a single sentence. The idea was that if you couldn’t do that…easily state your sermon in a single sentence – that perhaps you were trying to say too much… or, more likely, that your thoughts were not completely clear yet! Although I try – and usually fail – to write a sermon sentence, this morning I offer you a series of short sentences that describe my heart longings this morning:

JCC is on a pilgrimage.

I am on a pilgrimage.

I desire to know more of God.

I desire to be in God’s presence.

Sometimes I don’t have this desire.

God, please grow this desire in me.

Amen.

(The above is a summary of the message shared during our worship on August 22, 2021)

Unless you eat…

John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

For the past couple of weeks we have been looking at events in John chapter 6, where Jesus announces “I am the bread of life.”

Today we continue in John 6 with a somewhat difficult text – also about Jesus as the bread of life. What does Jesus mean by the graphic language – “eating my flesh…. and drinking my blood?”

Each week I read a blog called Journey with Jesus. There is always a good essay on the lectionary texts for the week. This week was especially good. The author, Debi Thomas, talks about today’s text using two stories – two pictures. And through these stories she asks us to consider “How does God feel when we eat of the good bread that he offers us?” and “How does God feel when we reject the nutrition and true food / bread that is necessary to keep us healthy and alive?” While it might seem like a strange exercise to attempt to know or understand what “God is feeling…”, these two stories may give us a hint about the meaning of Jesus’ words in today’s text.

The first image is an example of a nursing child – a healthy child being nourished on the milk of its mother.

  • This can be very natural, but it can also be difficult at first and require practice.
  • There can be emotional ups and downs…. at first the mother worries if the baby is getting enough nourishment? Later, as it becomes evident that the baby is growing and healthy, there can be a deep sense of joy and satisfaction – a very strong bond between mother and child.
  • In our family, our first two babies were adopted and so the feeding process was not breast feeding, but hot water, formula, and lots of bottles. As parents, we shared the feeding task, even taking turns at night. I’ll never forget the deep sense of feeling “left out” when our third child arrived…not by adoption but biologically. Andrea and I were now on completely different playing fields… and little Allegra had absolutely no need for me as a father in regard to her daily nourishment. While it was very different than our first two children, we were amazed at the convenience and efficiency of breast feeding!
  • There are many pictures of God as mother in the Bible – does this image help us understand the strong desire God has to nourish us… to feed us and ensure that we are healthy?

The second example that Debi Thomas uses in her blog is that of a child suffering from anorexia nervosa, and relates the fear and pain of her own experience with her 12-year old daughter.

  • Anoriexia is a frightening psychological and emotional illness.
  • The child – or sometimes adult -for various reasons (pressure, trying to conform to an unrealistic image of what is “beautiful”, etc.) refuses to eat.
  • This condition is not something that you can simply talk a child out of. It’s not a logical discussion but a true emotional and psychological illness.
  • It’s frightening for a parent, who feels that the very child they love is slipping away from them through a lack of nourishment – such a seemingly easy problem to solve – and yet extremely tricky.
  • Does this image help us understand at all how God must feel when the nourishment he offers is so totally rejected and ignored?

Could these analogies help us imagine what Jesus means in today’s text?

Unless you eat…. You will have no life.

Jesus is inviting us to a meal, to a lavish meal. To a life that is abundant.

The bread that is offered is Jesus himself.

A relationship with Jesus, a relationship with God.

Are you feeling full, and healthy these days?

Or, is it possible that you have been starving yourself?

Come…. eat….. this bread is for you!

I encourage you to click on this link and read the powerful essay by Debi Thomas, Unless You Eat…

(the above is a summary of the message shared on August 15, 2021 during our morning worship.)

The Road to Damascus

Acts 9:1-9

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

さてサウロは、なおも主の弟子たちに対する脅かしと殺害の意に燃えて、大祭司のところに行き、 ダマスコの諸会堂あての手紙を書いてくれるよう頼んだ。それは、この道の者であれば男でも女でも、見つけ次第縛り上げてエルサレムに引いて来るためであった。 ところが、道を進んで行って、ダマスコの近くまで来たとき、突然、天からの光が彼を巡り照らした。 彼は地に倒れて、「サウロ、サウロ。なぜわたしを迫害するのか。」という声を聞いた。 彼が、「主よ。あなたはどなたですか。」と言うと、お答えがあった。「わたしは、あなたが迫害しているイエスである。 立ち上がって、町にはいりなさい。そうすれば、あなたのしなければならないことが告げられるはずです。」 同行していた人たちは、声は聞こえても、だれも見えないので、ものも言えずに立っていた。 サウロは地面から立ち上がったが、目は開いていても何も見えなかった。そこで人々は彼の手を引いて、ダマスコへ連れて行った。 彼は三日の間、目が見えず、また飲み食いもしなかった。

The Jews had been granted enough political power from Rome that they could extradite those who fled Judea who had gone against Jewish laws.  Saul was on his way to Damascus to bring back Christians who had fled there so that they could be put on trial. He was determined to destroy the new Christian faith.

On the way to Damascus, Saul encounters the risen Jesus and loses his eyesight. He does as Jesus directs and enters the city and waits for someone to tell him what he is supposed to do.  For three days, he fasted.

Around that time, the Lord speaks to a believer named Ananias and directs him to go meet Saul, who was told in a vision that a man named Ananias would come and lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight.

Ananias knows who Saul is – The #1 enemy of Christians, who has been hunting believers under the authority of the chief priests.  Ananias is a bit concerned and wants to make sure that this is what Jesus wants him to do.  When the Lord makes it clear that this is His will, Ananias obediently goes to seek out the most dangerous man known to the believers.

Acts 9:17-19 tells us what happened next:

17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

17 そこでアナニヤは出かけて行って、その家にはいり、サウロの上に手をおいてこう言った。「兄弟サウロ。あなたが来る途中でおあらわれになった主イエスが、私を遣わされました。あなたが再び見えるようになり、聖霊に満たされるためです。」 18 するとただちに、サウロの目からうろこのような物が落ちて、目が見えるようになった。彼は立ち上がって、バプテスマを受け、 19 食事をして元気づいた。

This is one of the pivotal moments of Christian history. Saul comes to be known as Paul, and he ends up contributing to the knowledge of our faith and authored thirteen of the books of the New Testament, as well as becoming a successful evangelist who spread the gospel throughout the region. Also, Saul’s conversion meant that not only did the church gain an evangelist, but it also lost a formidable enemy.

There are two men in this narrative, and at first glance, they seem to be at opposite ends.  Ananias is a devout Christian who is willing to risk everything to serve Jesus.  Saul is a devout Jew who will do anything to destroy Christianity.

However, when we look a little deeper, we see similarities between the two.  Both are serious about dedicating their lives to doing God’s will.  Both believe that they are serving God by what they are doing.

The only difference is that Ananias believes that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God who needs to be obeyed, while Saul believes that Jesus is a blasphemer who deserved his crucifixion and His misguided followers need to be stopped.

When Jesus overpowered Saul on the road to Damascus and convinced Saul that Jesus indeed is from God and is the Messiah, Saul turns his direction 180 degrees.  He now realized that by persecuting the church, he was persecuting the Messiah, and instead of serving God, he was interfering with God.

Saul’s realization of his great error and the grief he caused the Lord as well as the believers must have weighed heavily on him.  A few decades later, we find him referring to himself as “chief of all sinners” and still talked about how he had helped to kill Stephen. Still, the Lord’s willingness to use him as His vessel and representative humbled him and deepened his love for the Lord.

Ananias played a pivotal role here, further convincing Saul that the one he met was indeed Jesus of Nazareth, the Chosen One of God.  Before going to see Saul, Ananias probably still had some fear about Saul.  What if Saul decided to go back to his old ways once he regained his sight?  But Ananias was willing to trust and obey the Lord, and because of that, Saul’s conversion becomes a reality.

In today’s world we find ourselves inundated with peoples’ beliefs, and sometimes we find people believing exactly the opposite of what we believe. If it happens to be a topic that we are passionate about, then it can become a point of contention, even to the point where it negatively affects our relationships.

What we believe in probably comes from many factors – What we were taught, what we have observed, what we have read/heard, what we have experienced. Or sometimes we just inherit what we believe from someone else or sometimes from superstitious or faulty thought processes.

Whatever our belief system, which ones are important enough for us to act upon, even if there are some risks or costs involved?

In Ananias’ case, he was willing to risk going to see the #1 enemy of his faith, because he believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and the Messiah, and that he considered Jesus his Lord.

In Saul’s case, he believed in God, the creator of heaven and earth, and that anything that went against God needed to be destroyed.  He also believed that Jesus was not the Messiah.  But once he realized Jesus was the Messiah, and even though Jesus let him know that he was going to suffer much for His sake, Saul dedicates his life in spreading the message that Jesus is the Messiah and the savior of the world.

These two men took their faith in Jesus as the most important thing in their lives.  They were willing to act in obedience when and where they were directed.

For Saul, it was understandable that he mistakenly rejected Jesus as Messiah since God’s revelations were not complete yet.  The New Testament had not been written yet.  What Paul had available to him led him to believe that anyone who would die simply could not be the Messiah.  He was sincere in his beliefs, but he was wrong.

Today, the canon of the scripture has been complete.  If we pay attention to the scriptures, it will not be too difficult to avoid being led into false beliefs.  The danger will come if we ignore what is written in the Bible and instead rely on 2nd and 3rd hand information written by others or faulty opinions expressed on social media.  There is no guarantee that someone is right just because they have a large following or lots of “likes”.  So, it is important that we regularly read the Bible and use it as our reference.  Any proclamation being presented as a revelation from God must be bumped up against the scriptures.

Like Ananias, could the Lord prompt us some day to go visit someone who we know to be adamantly against Christianity?  It could happen.  Would we be willing to be obedient to follow through?  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can, which could lead to that person’s conversion.  The great thing about a detractor turning to Christ is that like in Paul’s case, not only do we gain a friend, but we also eliminate an enemy.

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano at our worship service on August 8, 2021.)

The Lord Is Awesome

Psalm 8

I used to brag about the beauty of Seattle/Washington when I was in Japan.  I would say, “Seattle summers are the best.  You need to visit – not too hot or not too cold,  not humid and with very little rain!”  Have you noticed what we have here?  Have you gone camping or taken a hike recently?  When you see the beautiful green nature all around, do you remember the Lord?  In Japan, whenever you arrive at a particularly beautiful spot, you will often find a shrine.  People know in their hearts that there is a god that is responsible for this.

These days, everything is explained through evolution.  In other words, all of nature happened by chance and time. No need to worship if that is the case.  But through the Bible, we discover that there is a purpose, a plan, and design in nature which points to a designer/creator.  There is order, variety, complexity and beauty which points to the real Creator God.  We know this in our hearts.  And it should cause us to worship.

David understood and expresses his thoughts in Psalm 8.

Lord, our Lord,  How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
You who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!”

With that awesome authority, given to us by God, we are to rule the earth (v.3-8).  But we have not ruled well.  With crime, violence, and hatred, many things seem to be a mess.  And creation has been affected by it as well.  Why?  The answer is found in Romans 1 –  We have forgotten to honor God and to give Him thanks.  We’ve become selfish and prideful and have done our own things in our own ways without God.  The Bible says we have become fools and we see its fruit.

What are we to do?  Like children, simply believe, trust and come back to Jesus.  The world may mock you because of this, but Jesus will be with you. And God says in 1 Cor. 1:27,  “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong… so that no human may boast before God.”

Next time you go on your walk, remember David’s example of praising our God.  He ends the Psalm by saying, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth!”  Amen!

(the above is a summary of the message shared by Richard Nakamura during our zoom worship time on June 27th.)

Philip

Acts 8:26-40

The Philip that is the main character in this passage is not the Philip who is one of the Twelve.  This Philip is one of the seven Greek speaking Christians that were chosen, along with Stephen, to make sure that the Greek speaking widows were fairly treated in the daily distribution of food in Acts 6.  We can see that this is so, since Acts 8:1 tells us that “all except the apostle were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.”

Sometimes when we read about what Jesus or the Twelve or Paul did, we think that these were not ordinary people.  But in Acts, we see people other than just the Twelve or Paul doing great works of God and spreading the gospel.

After preaching in Samaria successfully, an angel of the Lord tells Philip to head south on a wilderness road.  On the road, he encounters an Ethiopian court official in charge of the treasury. We do not know the Ethiopian’s backstory, but he is a worshiper of the God of the Jews, having gone to Jerusalem to worship and now was headed back home.  He is reading the book of Isaiah.

The Holy Spirit prompts Philip to join these travelers, and as Philip joins in, he hears the Ethiopian reading Isaiah out loud.  Philip starts a conversation by asking whether the Ethiopian understands what he is reading.  The Ethiopian admits that he does not understand, but obviously is interested in learning, so invites Philip to sit beside him as they travel.

The passage the Ethiopian happens to be reading is a section that points to Jesus as the coming Messiah. Philip uses the passage to proclaim the good news about Jesus, the Ethiopian readily accepts the good news, and coming upon some water, he insists on stopping the chariot so that he can be baptized by Philip.

The Spirit of the Lord immediately transports Philip to Azotus and he continues to proclaim the good news to all the towns until he reaches Caesarea.

An Ethiopian hears the good news, accepts it and is baptized.  We can only guess how many people the Ethiopian told about this mysterious encounter with Philip and the good news about Jesus Christ.  None of this would have happened if everything had not fallen into time and place:

  • Had Philip ignored his calling, delayed his departure, or taken a different route, the encounter would not have happened
  • Had the Ethiopian not been worshipping in Jerusalem and not been going home on this road at this particular time, the encounter would not have happened
  • Just at the right time, the Holy Spirit tells Philip to approach the chariot
  • The Ethiopian just happened to be reading the scriptures, and the particular passage about the sacrifice of the Messiah
  • Not only was the Ethiopian reading the passage, but was reading it out loud, so Philip was able to use it as an opening to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • There just happened to be some water when the Ethiopian had accepted the Gospel and was willing to commit his life to Christ

Of course, this was not a series of coincidences.  Luke makes it clear that the whole thing was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.  Due to Philip’s willingness to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he is able to respond immediately and do exactly as he is told.

We also see that after Philip is transported to Azotus, he apparently did not get detailed instructions from the Holy Spirit, but he knew to continue his travels and proclaim the good news to all the towns he passed through.

So how can we emulate Philip?  We can first devote ourselves to proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ.  Even without specific instructions from the Holy Spirit, we should be ready to share God’s love with others.  We should diligently be doing the Kingdom work that has been delegated to us – Preaching, teaching, sharing, feeding, visiting, fellowshipping, preparing for Sunday morning services, board meetings, etc.

We also should be willing to act on specific things that the Holy Spirit brings to us.  Often, these things can be time and/or location sensitive, so we need to go where we are guided to, at the time we are guided to go, and then proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to whomever and however we are prompted to do so.

Luke, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, did not write Acts to just preserve history or to entertain us.  It is written so that we can see ordinary people doing extraordinary things through their faith and obedience to the Lord, so that we too, might carry on the Kingdom work until either the Lord comes back, or we leave this earth.

(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our worship service on July 11th.)

Sudden Storms

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35-41

This short account ends with the words: “Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him.” The question of “who Jesus is…” or by extension “who God is” is a central piece of this account. Earlier in Mark, Jesus is shown as the one who has power over the demons, over the spirit world. In this account, it becomes clear to the disciples that Jesus also has power over all of nature.

So WHO, REALLY, is this Jesus? How we answer that question will have an impact on how we think about… and deal with – the inevitable “sudden storms” or difficult seasons that will arise in our lives. Will we respond with fear and anxiety… or react out of a sense of faith and trust in God?

Here’s a quick recap of the story:

  • It’s the end of a long day of teaching (Jesus actually teaching from a boat because of the crowds)
  • When evening comes they head for the other shore (along with some other boats)
  • Suddenly a storm arises, the boat is almost swamped by waves
  • The disciples (experienced fishermen) are afraid for their lives
  • Complaint / accusation toward Jesus: “Don’t you care?!”
  • Jesus calms the storm with words “Quiet! Be Still!”
  • He then asks the disciples “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
  • They are terrified – “Who is this? Even the winds and waves obey him!”

The sense of fear and awe at the end are a result of them realizing that Jesus is no ordinary person…. He is in control of the storm. Here are a few points to consider:

1.  Our Natural Response to Storms

  • Don’t you care??  Why me?
  • God, have you forgotten me?
  • How is this possible? God, you’re supposed to keep me safe!
  • We didn’t sign up for this…
  • These complaints / accusations are also common in OT. You’re in good company!

2.  Jesus Has Power to Control Storms

  • Quiet! Be Still!
  • He is the Creator
  • Offers the disciples a chance to consider:
    • Why are you so afraid?
    • Have you no faith yet? (Do you not yet realize yet who I am?)

3.  The Truth About Jesus and Storms

  • Storms (life’s difficulties) WILL come.
  • They are NOT an anomaly – or a mistake….
  • God has NEVER promised a storm-less life
  • At no point – storm or calm – was Jesus absent from the disciples. He was with them in the boat. (It’s just that at first, that fact didn’t seem to make a big difference in their mood! They were still terrified!)
  • He promises peace – and His presence – in the storm.

Conclusion:

  • When we realize WHO Jesus is / WHO God is… it changes how we perceive storms.  Perhaps this is a life-long journey… but Jesus is inviting us to a life of faith, trust, and yes…. sleep – in the midst of our turbulence.
  • Jesus promises to be with us, to stay with us, to walk with us
  • Psalm 23:4  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”    
  • Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

Which will we choose? Faith and trust…. or fear and anxiety?

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our zoom worship session on June 20, 2021.)