The Gospel Continues to Spread

Acts 13:42-47

42As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

So, what did Paul and Barnabas speak about that the people would be excited to hear it again the next week?  Paul went through the history of the Jewish people. He takes them through how they left Egypt, spent forty years in the wilderness and then conquered the Promised Land and settled there. Paul takes them from the days when the judges ruled, and the people asking for a king.  Saul was the first king, then David.

Then John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, who is Jesus, a descendant of King David. Jesus brought the good news that through Him, what God promised to their ancestors has been fulfilled. But the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah, they had Him put to death on the cross. But God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus appeared to many people from Galilee to Jerusalem to preach the good news. By believing in Jesus, they can be set free from their sins and attain salvation that could not be attained by obeying the law of Moses.

The following week, Paul and Barnabas spoke about the same thing to an even larger crowd, but the Jews would not accept, riled up by the contradicting statements by the religious group.  So, Paul and Barnabas announce that since they rejected the word of God, they are now going to focus on the Gentiles.  When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord and many became believers.

This didn’t mean that Paul is giving up on his own people, since we will continue to see that wherever he goes, he first goes to the synagogue to share the good news.  But he knows that the preaching to the Gentiles is going to be his main mission.

It is interesting to note that even though everyone heard the exact same message, some accepted, and some rejected.  Reminds us of the parable of the sower in Mark 4. In that parable, the sower sows the seeds, and some do not grow, others grow but do not mature, others grow amidst thorns and get choked out, but some do grow and yield thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.

Jesus explains this parable to His disciples to mean that the sower’s job is to sow the seed without worrying about the results.  The sower does not control the outcome of the seeds.  One thing is sure – All the seeds might not grow to be fruitful, but if one does not sow seeds, none will grow.

It is a good reminder that only God can bring salvation. What we can do and are commanded to do, is to preach the gospel by words and deeds.  We need not be discouraged if people do not come to believe immediately. We also need to make sure that we do not take credit for the hearers coming to believe – that credit belongs to God.

It is interesting to me that Paul’s message is very simple.  It is basically that Jesus is the long-awaited savior of the world, and by believing in Him, sins are forgiven, and we are set free from our sins. In his epistles, Paul teaches about the substitutional aspect of Jesus’ death on the cross – That He took the punishment that we deserved in our stead.  That aspect of salvation is not mentioned here.

What is mentioned throughout Acts is the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead.  The resurrection is the proof that Jesus is who He said He was.  He foretold the resurrection, so if that doesn’t happen, it would make Jesus either mistaken, fraudulent, or out of touch with reality – any of which would disqualify Him as the Messiah.

Having studied theology, I have the tendency to explain every detail about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which in some cases might be too much detail.  Sometimes, all the person needs to hear is that God loves her or him and that’s why He sent His Son, Jesus to the cross, where He died and then was resurrected on the third day.  And by believing in Him, forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life can be gained.  All the other details can be explained when the person is ready for it.  Sometimes the simple message is the best.

We can also see that regardless of what the church, the government or any detractors do, God’s plan is going to move forward.  It does not need our creative help or political or social activities – just committed believers spreading the good news about Jesus Christ.

We see Paul and Barnabas doing this, at the expense of their own safety and liberty. This is what we are also called to do.  Not to work to preserve our own freedom, but to spread the gospel so that others can be freed from their sins.  Let us pray that we can do the same in this world where there is so much need for the gospel.

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship service on November 14, 2021.)

Where are the Godly?

Psalm 12

“Where are the Godly men?”  The ladies in Bible School used to use this verse as they prayed for a life partner. When David wrote this, there seemed to be a crisis of a few who followed God. All throughout the Bible, we see periods when people turned away from God. What are some characteristics of a godly person?  Using this Psalm, let’s identify some characteristics of a godly person.

  • They Know God –      The godly know and follow God.  The wicked do the opposite and do not know or follow God’s way.

There are many who say,  “I love God, but don’t believe in Jesus”.  But according to Scripture, the two are a set.  John 14:7 says, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”  Do you know Jesus?

  • They Are Faithful  –  Are we characterized by faithfulness?

Even in today’s world, whether it is marriages, work, and especially God, it has become more difficult to find faithful people.  But God is faithful to us, even when we fail.   “If we are not faithful, he will still be faithful, because he cannot be false to himself” 2Tim2:13.   Are you faithful?

  • They are Truthful – This world is full of lies.  People talk with “double hearts”, full of backstabbing, and smooth talkers.  And its become harder to discern because people are so good at it. Do we speak truth?

The Bible says to speak the truth in love (Eph.4:15). “Speakinthe truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”     Are you truthful?

  • They Are Humble – opposite of the boastful.

By nature, we do not want to follow God.  We want to do our own thing. So many verses in the Bible are written regarding this.

Psalm 18:27 You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 

Psalm 25:9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. 

James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.

Are you Humble?

  • The godly are often Persecuted We don’t like to hear this.  We don’t want to believe it.  This confuses us, but over and over again, we read similar verses.

Matthew 5:10  “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

2 Timothy 3:12  Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

But in God’s eyes you are blessed.  You will have a reward in heaven worth more than the sufferings of this world.  Have you been blessed with persecution?

  • The Godly follow His Word

Lots of people use a lot of fancy words to keep people from following God. But His Word will last forever.  Not their books, not their smooth talking. Don’t be deceived or get caught up in the world’s standards.  The Bible is our foundation to determine truth.  Do you follow His Word?

  • Narrow – Where are the godly people?  There are few.

Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Salvation is narrow.  John 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  Have you entered the narrow way of Jesus?   Will you be one of the Godly people?

There will be pressure to follow the crowd.  Don’t give in.

The world needs to see and to hear a clear message from us. Let’s pray

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Rich Nakamura during our worship time on October 17, 2021)

Prayer for JCC

During the Fall of 2019, the JCC board committed to sharing in a time of prayer –  every night at 9:00 p.m.  Each in our own location, we would stop and offer a prayer for our church. The prayer we prayed together is the one found below. Two years have passed since that time…. and we would like to invite you as a part of our church to join us again in this prayer….each evening! It is a prayer for God’s blessing and guidance for our congregation. Of course, it’s easy to miss and forget…. don’t worry! If you don’t get to it on a certain evening…. just pray the next day. Or commit to praying it once a week. It’s not homework…. it’s a resource we offer in order that the Holy Spirit may tune our hearts together as we move forward in making decisions that are both filled with great potential…. as well as some anxiety.

Prayer for JCC as we consider our Future

GRATITUDE

  • God, we thank you for walking with us and leading us throughout our history.
  • Thank you for the many who have gone before us and for their faith and service. Thank you for their example of love and sacrifice.
  • Thank you that you are with us now, and that you desire to communicate with us.

CONFESSION

  • Forgive us for the times that we have not earnestly sought your will, or when we have failed to accurately hear your voice.

PETITION

  • We ask for oneness in spirit… not that we will all have the same opinion, but that we will all sense your spirit leading us.
  • When we talk together as a board, help us to truly listen and hear each other.
  • We have considered many options to date – but “doing nothing” no longer seems possible or prudent. Show us Lord the direction that we should go. Are we to stay? Are we to sell and continue in a different place? Are we to close our doors and turn our assets over to another group? Are there possibilities that we have not yet imagined? Help us to see this situation as you see it…Give us wisdom.

CLOSING

  • Finally, Lord, help each of us to place our own desires and wishes at your feet. We are each willing to give up our own opinions in order that Your will for JCC may be done. Please make clear to us what that is.
  • We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

日本人組合教会の祈り

感謝

  • 神様、私たちの歴史を通して、私たちと共に歩み、導いてくださったことに感謝します。
  • 私たちの先人たちに。先人たちの信仰と奉仕に感謝します。彼らが示した愛と自己犠牲に感謝します。
  • 今ここに共にいてくださるあなた、私たちと共に語らおうとしてくださりありがとうございます。

告白

  • 私たちが、真にあなたの意見を求めていなかった、もしくは正しくあなたの声に耳を傾けることができなかった、その時の私たちを許してください。

願い

  • 私たちが心を一つにして、たとえ私たち一人ひとりが同じ意見を持つことではなく、私たちを導くあなたを感じることができますように。
  • 役員会で、話し合うとき、互いの意見に耳を傾け、理解しようと努めます。
  • 私たちはこれまで多くの選択肢を検討してきましたが、今は「何もしない」ことは慎重な選択でもありませんし、それはもう可能でもありません。主よ、私たちが向かうべき方向性を示してください。私たちはここに留まるべきでしょうか?ここを売却し、他の場所で継続する方が良いでしょうか?私たちは教会を閉鎖し、資産を別の教会に引き渡すのが良いのでしょうか?または、まだ想像できていない他の選択肢があるのでしょうか?あなたが見えるように、私たちがこの状況を見えるように私たちを助けてください。解決できるように知恵を与えてください。

終わりに、、

  • 最後に、主よ。私たち一人ひとりが、私たちの願いと希望をあなたの御許に置かせてください。JCCに対し、あなたが何かを行われるために、私たちそれぞれの意見を放棄します。ですから主よ、私たちにそれが何であるかを示してください。
  • イエスキリストの御名によってお祈りします。アーメン。

Prayer for Peter

Acts 12:1-17

This was a tough time for the young church – one of their leaders, James, was executed by King Herod, and Peter was put in prison.  The church feared for Peter’s life and fervently prayed to God for him

An angel of the Lord visited Peter in prison one night and Peter’s chains fell off. The angel guided Peter out of the prison.  Although at first, Peter thought this was a vision and it wasn’t really happening, once he was outside and the angel left him, he realized that it had really happened, and that he had been freed.  Peter proceeded to Mary’s house, where many were praying for him.

Peter was knocking on the outer gate and calling out to let him in.  Rhoda came to answer and recognized Peter’s voice. She was surprised and overjoyed – so much so that instead of opening the gate, she excitedly ran into the house and announced that Peter was standing at the gate.  No one believed her, thinking that she had lost her mind, or that it wasn’t really Peter, but his angel.

Peter kept knocking, and they eventually opened the gates and were amazed that it really was Peter.  Peter explained to them what had happened, and then left.

The situation was such that kings had great power and could basically do whatever they wanted to do on a whim.  The same king who had John the Baptist beheaded because of a dance that he liked decides to go after the church.  He kills James and intends to kill Peter. Ironically, he imprisons Peter during Passover, when the Jews commemorate being freed from slavery.

Would the church now rise in protest, take up arms and try to free Peter? No, that kind of resistance was already ruled out by Jesus when His followers tried to resist Jesus’ arrest, by saying, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). The church turns to the most powerful weapon that they have – prayer. Even though at times it feels like something not so powerful, the church turns to prayer.

When the most optimistic outcome comes true, and Peter is outside of the prison and freed, the church, including Peter himself, can’t quite believe it.  This results in the rather comical scene at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where they leave Peter out where he is still in danger, to discuss if the man pounding on the outer gate is really Peter.

The fact that they were so surprised and overjoyed makes one wonder what they were praying for?  Had they already concluded that even though Peter’s release would have been the outcome they most wanted, that was most likely not going to happen? So, were they praying for courage and comfort for Peter as he faced his execution? Were they praying for guidance for the church after Peter’s execution?

If it were us, we would probably be praying for all these things.  We too, would probably be skeptical of Peter being released, even though we would wish it to be so. And we too, would have been unbelieving and overjoyed once Peter was freed.

Sometimes we just don’t know what exactly to pray for, so we pray for the best outcome, but we also pray in case the best outcome doesn’t happen.  This is the nature of prayer. We know that we are commanded to pray, and in prayer, there is power of God behind it. So, anything is possible, even the least likely optimistic outcome. It doesn’t mean the outcome will always be what we want the most, but there is hope. And we have faith that God will move according to His plans, even though for the short term, it might not be the outcome we are hoping for.  But every once in awhile, the outcome surprises and overjoys us.

Instead of praying, had the church risen up and tried to free Peter by force, the outcome would have been less than joyful.

When the church is confronted with injustice or persecution, what is our response? There is a lot of pressure today of taking political action or physical demonstration. We’ve seen a lot of this in the past few years, even with some from the pulpit encouraging such action. We have witnessed members of Christ’s church involved in these activities.

There might come a time where the church is called upon to take such actions, but that is not the solution Luke writes about in his two books – “The Gospel According to Luke” and “Acts.”  The solution Luke writes about for the church facing problems is prayer.

Even if we don’t quite know what to pray for, the church should pray. Even if the world tells us that “prayer is not enough”, and we may even feel that is the case, Luke tells us to pray.

So how is your prayer life, as individuals and as a church?

(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our worship time on October 10, 2021.)

Psalm 11

Have you ever been in a situation where you want to run away?  Where everything seems hopeless and the future looks bleak? Many people today feel like fleeing and actually move out.

King David was in one of those tough situations in this Psalm. People around him understood the dangers surrounding David.  Their advice?  “Run away!  You’ll be killed.  Fear for your life! There’s no hope in sticking around!  Everything you’ve built is torn down. Run!”

But, David questions their advice.  His first words in response are,

”In the Lord I take refuge.”  In those words, you can see David’s faith.  Those words are also proclaiming that the Lord is:

  1. Protector
  2. Provider
  3. Comfort 
  4. Strength
  5. Father, God

David then goes on to explain WHY he will trust in the LORD.

  • The Lord is Sovereign/Rules
  • The Lord sees everything
  • The Lord tests the hearts of men
  • The Lord will bring about justice in the end
  • The Lord is Righteous

These are more than enough reasons to put our trust in Him.  We need to overcome our fears with faith.  Let us:

 “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and do not lean on our own understanding; in all our ways submit to him, and he will make our paths straight.”

AMEN!

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Richard Nakamura during our worship on September 26, 2021.)

Poetry – Part II

About a month ago we posted some poetry written by Jon Honeycutt, one of our faithful members. Here are a few more examples of his work – part 2 – that we want to share with you.

The Good Book

The more that I read it

The more it makes sense

And the more understanding

The more recompence

For the more I am given

The more I can give

The more it’s reflected

In the love that I live

I’m a solit’ry star in an unending sky

Looking ’round without hope but an inquiring eye

Surely others are hidden, yet still to be found

Is my faith not enough, Is my prayer unsound?

There is always the chance of a meeting to be

While away from the fact of this reality

Possibilities countless, though not for us all

Have I come from such good graces but have nowhere to fall?

An Enemy

Let him harden his hate

In his heart, If he wishes

For the Lord knows our thoughts

Whether peaceful or viscious

He can blame me for anything

Real or not….

But he never will steal

The joy that I’ve got

Let me know that you love me

While I can still hear you

Let me share in your friendship

While I am still near you

And I’ll take that remembrance

To heaven with me

Let me know that you care for me

Before I am gone

We so often regret our lack of embrace

Give me something of love

That I might carry on

That reminds me of somebody’s

Volunt’ry grace

Let me know what I mean to you

While I am here

I would rather it more

Than memorial praise

Your thoughtful expression

Is welcome and dear

For the sun goeth down

Yet its influence stays

(July 2008 – but even more applicable today….)

Africatown Community Home @ Keiro

(Letter to our congregation from Mary Flowers….)

Please share information about the Africatown Community Home at Keiro with members of the Japanese Congregational Church. There will be a series of virtual meetings that will provide neighbors an opportunity to engage in a 3 part series to co-design a successful project and to answer questions about the project. The 3 part series will be offered virtually for COVID-safety and an open house will be held Oct. 14th at the Keiro Building. COVID safety practices will be followed. Thank you for any assistance you can provide to share this information. Please contact me if you would like a PDF version of the information in this section.

Mary Flowers
Sr. Grants & Contracts Specialist
Homeless Strategy and Investments Division
City of Seattle, Human Services Department
Email: mary,flowers@seattle.gov

—————————————————–

Africatown Community Land Trust & City of Seattle
Opening Community Home for
Unsheltered Community Members

Keiro Building 1607 Yesler Way, Seattle 98122
Anticipated Opening – Mid October 2021

Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) is partnering with the City of Seattle to address the system-wide challenge of unsheltered community members. ACLT’s program design is focused on the cultural, social, and emotional strengths and practices of African American people. Guests of the program will be welcomed into an environment offering opportunities to participate in moving into the vision for a thriving, healthy and just neighborhood and community.

ACLT will provide a safe and respectful space for people to stabilize, access health, recreation, education, employment, and housing resources and participate in co-creating a community hub that promotes brilliance and creativity. Guests will be involved in an ongoing process with community to grow in understanding and respect for the history of the Central Area community, including the Keiro facility and Japanese culture, the experience of Indigenous Duwamish people and the ways in which other groups came to subsequently occupy this community.

About Community Home at Keiro
• 24-hour operation • Good Neighbor practices
• Case Management • Cultural & Behavioral Health Services
• Male identifying adults • Access to Employment Opportunities
• Housing Navigation • Social and Recreational Activities
• 24-hour on-site security • Public Health Partnership

The Community Home at Keiro will be located in the Keiro Building, a facility created in 1986 by the Japanese community for the care of Japanese elders. The building was sold to developers in 2019 who planned to build market-rate housing on the site. ACLT’s intention is for the property is to ensure that groups who experienced racial redlining and displacement have opportunity to remain or return to the community.

Through mutual adherence to the City of Seattle’s Community Good Neighbor expectations, ACLT will provide program operation in a safe and respectful manner and will develop a process for community engagement and communication to address neighborhood concerns effectively.

ACLT and the City of Seattle are eager to engage with community to provide more detail, address questions, solicit ideas and suggestions and build relationship. ACLT has scheduled a three-part virtual meeting series. An in-person Open House is scheduled October 14th. CDC guidelines will be followed, including requiring masks, safe distancing, and other Public Health recommended practices.

We invite community members to join us in codesigning our strategy for success in a three-part series (encouraged to attend all sessions):

Introduction: Thursday, September 16, 2021 6-8 PM

Considerations: Thursday, September 23, 2021 6-8 PM

Tactics and Solutions: Thursday, September 30, 2021 6-8 PM

Open House Thursday, October 14, 2021, at Community Home at Keiro
1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

To Register: https://bit.ly/3E5j7B5
QUESTIONS? CONTACT:
Kevin Mundt-City of Seattle, Human Services Department
homelessness@seattle.gov

Letter from the UCC / Neighbors in Need Offering

Dear Japanese Congregational Church UCC,

Wow! What an intense year we have each had to endure. I pray you and your loved ones are finding ways to face the many unique challenges forced upon us due to the pandemic.Truthfully, much has changed in the world since the Neighbors in Need Special Mission Offering of 2019. Justice issues – from women’s rights to racial bias to income gaps – continue to be laid bare, making the Neighbors in Need Special Mission Offering, on October 3, 2021, even more critical.The United Church of Christ’s history is rooted in supporting justice work. Through virtual settings, we continue to bring programs and services to our communities in need of assistance. We are presenting weekly webinars that inform and uplift on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. In July, we even held our first-ever special edition General Synod 33, where nearly 3,000 members participated. I am confident in stating that “a good time was had by all!”

This year’s campaign will place a spotlight on “the unhoused aka homelessness.” As a group, they have already faced much. With many Americans losing income due to the coronavirus, this vulnerable community will likely grow.Therefore, we invite your congregation to renew its commitment to Neighbors in Need on Sunday, October 3. Please take a moment to learn more about some of the wonderful programs funded by Neighbors in Need Grants on the NIN online webpage. Importantly, all of this year’s resource materials are downloadable at www.ucc.org/nin. Due to the resurgence of the virus’ variant, many churches are returning to worshipping online. Therefore, we have again chosen to not mail any of this years’ materials. However, we will gladly mail you a Neighbors in Need poster and/or envelopes per your request. To place an order for a poster or envelopes, email store@ucc.org or go to www.uccresources.com.

In service with deep gratitude,
image
Rev. Dr. Bentley de Bardelaben-Phillips,Executive Associate, Justice and Local Church Ministries

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)