Safety & Guidance

Psalm 32:7-8

For you are my hiding place;
    you protect me from trouble.
    You surround me with songs of victory. 

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.”

As humans, we have various needs, some are fundamental from a physiological point of view – like water, food, and air, and others are fundamental from an emotional or psychological point of view – like connectedness, love, or a sense of self-worth.

Perhaps you’ve seen Maslow’s famous chart of the “hierarchy of human needs”. Abraham Maslow was an American scholar and scientist who proposed these findings in a famous journal article in 1943… and then went on to further develop its basic concepts over subsequent years.

In simplified form, Maslow stated that humans first of all have fundamental physiological needs such as water and food. Without these, there is no survival. However, once these most basic needs are met, humans then have the margin to think about…. or reach for other needs. In this hierarchy, physiological needs are then followed by needs such as safety, love / belonging (need for community), esteem and respect from others, and so on. At the top of this hierarchy is a human need for self-actualization. Of course, worrying about self-actualization would seem absurd to the person who did not know where their next meal was coming from. Thus, the kind of graduating hierarchy….and changing motivations.

As I look at these various needs and how they’re placed in this scheme, I am reminded of words from scripture and teachings from Jesus. One that comes to mind is the portion of scripture at the end of Matthew 6 – part of the famous “sermon on the mount”.

“And why do you worry about what you will eat, or what you will drink…. or what you will wear? Look at the birds of the air…. and the flowers of the field. They don’t worry and struggle…. and yet their heavenly father knows all about their needs, and takes loving care of them. Won’t he do the same for you?”

In Jesus’ words there is the recognition that basic physiological needs are important – and will need to be met. But there is also a hint that we are not alone…. that our heavenly father is able to help us meet those needs. Jesus also points to fundamental spiritual needs as well as these physical ones.

“So seek first of all the kingdom of God (a relationship with God), and you’ll find that all of these other physical needs that you worry about will be provided for you.”

Another text that may relate to these thoughts is found in Matthew 4:4, where Jesus responds to Satan’s temptation about food – Satan’s challenge for Jesus to turn stones into bread.

“For man cannot live by bread alone… but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Jesus quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3) Here Jesus seems to be indicating that even if our bellies are full, even if we have met all of these most basic physiological needs – we still cannot survive in a truly complete way, because we are created with spiritual needs as well. So while Maslow’s research is fascinating, and worth considering, I love the way that Jesus pushed us to look at both our physical needs – as well as our spiritual needs, and to always prioritize the latter.

Which leads us to our beautiful text for this morning – these two wonderful verses in Psalm 32. In verse 7, it appears to be the psalmist addressing God: “Lord, you have been my hiding place – you’ve provided both safety… and songs of victory!” – such encouraging words! You’ll notice that the psalmist has not said that God has helped him avoid all troubles – only that when the trials came, God was always his shelter and safety in the midst of the storms.

Verse 8 then appears to be God responding to the psalmist: “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” Again, what encouraging words these are! Promises of guidance and direction. When I was younger these words seemed excellent and obvious – I was inexperienced, knew little about life, and felt a great need for wisdom from God. I somehow imagined that once I was much older, perhaps I wouldn’t need guidance as much. Yet, even now, in my 60s – I feel more than ever the desire for clarity, for direction, for God to take my hand and lead me through what lies ahead.

Today is our church’s annual meeting. Can we apply these two short verses to our experience as a church? For over 115 years the Lord has been both our hiding place… and safety – as well as our guide. Won’t he do the same for us as we move ahead and consider our tomorrows?

Lord, thank you for being our hiding place…. our safety.

Thank you for the promise to show us the best pathway for tomorrow.

(the above is a summary of the message shared during worship on February 6, 2022.)

The Gifts of the Spirit

I Corinthians 12:1-11

We live in a world where we are always encouraged and pushed to compare ourselves with others. To compare our bodies, looks, and appearances. To compare our income, our homes, our cars. To compare our skills and education. Making comparisons is not always bad – but most of us know intuitively and instinctively – that constantly comparing ourselves to others does not lead us to an accurate view or assessment of ourselves.

Of course, this habit of comparing ourselves to others can also become part of our church life. We compare our faith and our expression of faith with other brothers and sisters. We compare our attendance and giving levels with others. Maybe we admire the faith and service of others – while feeling small about our own contributions to the life of the church. Whether we end up feeling superior or inferior, comparing ourselves to other Jesus followers can be a problem.

In our text for today Paul is speaking to a church in Corinth that had gotten wrapped up in comparisons. They seemed to see a kind of hierarchy of gifts amongst its members. Some had the gift of service, and some wisdom. Some had more amazing gifts – like the gift of miraculous healing or speaking in tongues. Evidently there had been some fighting about “who was the greatest” and who “was the most spiritual”.  Paul, in talking about the various gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us, makes the following points:

1.  All gifts come from God

11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

There’s no need to compare or see some kind of “ordering” or “hierarchy” of gifts. They ALL come from God and are distributed by the Holy Spirit WHEN and TO WHOM the Spirit decides. There’s no need for boasting or feeling proud. A “gift” – by definition – is freely given.

2.  The gifts we receive are NOT for our own personal benefit or satisfaction, but for the good of the group – the body of Christ.

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

When “me, my, mine”  – as in rights and privileges – become more important than “our” – as in the good of the group – perhaps we have moved toward a dangerous imbalance. God gives us blessings – in order that we may bless others.

Remember the first promise in Genesis 12 to Abraham? God promises Abraham to bless him and give him children – in fact to make a great nation out of him, not because Abraham was more special or loved than others, but in order that Abraham and his descendants would become the channel – the pipeline – of that blessing to all the other nations on earth.

God intends that my gifts provide for me AND you. Your gifts provide for you AND me. We are meant to be interdependent.

3.  Our diversity – differences of gifts – is NOT a problem to be overcome, but the very DESIGN of God for us.

Although we didn’t read to the end of the chapter today, Paul goes on in verses 12 – 31 to describe the church as a body, made up of many parts. Some parts seem more important than others – but, in fact, every single part plays a unique and important role – so that NONE of them can be said to be non-essential.

18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

So it’s not a matter of “putting up with” our differences or trying to find some way to “deal with” all of our eclectic personalities and variations. Rather, it is coming to the realization that we would not be a complete and healthy body WITHOUT each variation and unique part!

A song by the the former Japanese boy band SMAP, while maybe not quite the same as scripture, nevertheless shared the same message that Paul did to the Corinthians. The song title translates as “A One-Of-A-Kind Flower in this World”. A loose translation of the Japanese goes like this:

In front of the flower shop / a variety of flowers lined up / I guess everyone has their favorites / but they’re all so beautiful / none of them wondering “whose #1?” / none of them arguing about who’s the most beautiful / each one standing tall in their bucket of water

Why is it that we humans love making comparisons? / Each one of us is different, yet we want to be #1? / It’s true, each one of us is a “one-of-a-kind” flower. / We each have a unique seed within us / Shouldn’t each of us just nurture our seed and grow into a beautiful flower?

Yes, each of us gifted by God, uniquely created, specially loved, and specially designed to bless and gift others. May this be our posture and prayer this week!

Lystra

Acts 14:8-20

A man who has been crippled from birth was listening to Paul proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Without anyone asking for the man’s healing, Paul discerns that the man had faith to be healed and heals him. We saw Peter and John do a similar act of compassionate healing in Acts 3.

The reaction of the crowd was pretty drastic. They declared that the gods had come down to them in human form.  They assumed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes.  Why did they think this? Apparently, there was an old tale about Zeus and Hermes visiting an old pious couple who lived near Lystra and offered them hospitality, even though they did not know they were entertaining gods. The gods rewarded them for their kindness.

So, the crowd misinterpreted the healing act as Paul and Barnabas’ power being manifested, instead of power coming from Jesus Christ. They assumed that Paul and Barnabas were gods and offered hospitality to them and were even preparing to make a sacrifice to them.

Paul and Barnabas must have been horrified. They were here to proclaim the truth about Jesus Christ, to wean these people from their beliefs in gods and goddesses, but instead, they were being worshipped as gods.  So, they quickly explained that they were mortals and that they were there to preach to them about Jesus Christ.  They were able to stop the crowd from offering sacrifice to them.

Things quickly turn for the worse when Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds.  They incited the crowd to turn on Paul, so they stoned him and dragged his body out of the city, thinking that Paul was dead. Luke does not tell us how Paul was able to recover so quickly that he was able to continue the journey with Barnabas, but we can assume that there was some miraculous healing involved.

We see in this passage that Paul and Barnabas continue to witness for Jesus Christ as being the Messiah, and through the power that comes from the Holy Spirit, continue to miraculously heal people, much like Jesus did and like Peter and John did.

We live in a different time in that the canon of the Christian scriptures is complete, and we have available to us the basis of God’s salvation story. We have the Bible which testifies to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the savior of the world. We are not called to travel like Jesus, Peter, John, Paul or Barnabas, showing God’s powers through performing miracles.  Instead, we are to witness to the world around us through our learnings from the Bible, by what we say, what we do, and how we act.

So, does what Paul and Barnabas experienced have application to our lives today?  Can we learn how to be better witnesses for Christ by looking at this passage?

How the crowd reacted to the miraculous healing was understandable, considering the belief system and culture of that time and place. Inexplicable things seemed to happen randomly in peoples’ lives, and they were attributed to the doings of the numerous gods and goddesses they thought existed. So, when they witnessed this seemingly impossible healing of this man who was crippled from birth, they concluded that these two men had superhuman powers, and therefore, they must be gods. They certainly did not want to offend these two gods, so they were willing to honor them and offer sacrifice to them.

Paul and Barnabas knew that they did not possess any supernatural powers. They knew that the healing power came not from them, but from God. They were aware that they were trying to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and that was the source of the power to perform miracles.

They must have been rather horrified that the people were attributing the healing to Zeus and Hermes, and that they were being mistaken for these pagan gods.  They were trying to be witnesses for Jesus Christ, but instead, people thought they were in the presence of Zeus and Hermes.  So, they did their best to explain the truth to them.

In situations like this, there is always temptation to have people believe positive things about you and let them treat you accordingly. It is not a bad feeling to be respected or revered and be given things that you may otherwise not get – Presents, banquets, honors, even wealth.

What is our attitude when we successfully complete a ministry entrusted to us from the Lord as individuals or as a church? Are we filled with a sense of accomplishment that is beyond just “we have completed the task assigned to us with the help of the Holy Spirit”?

A wise teacher taught me long ago that as soon as we look back at a completed task with satisfaction or pride, we are taking the credit that God should be getting.  We should always look ahead and not back at completed tasks/projects.

A good reminder of this can be found in Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 17:7-10 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Let us keep in mind that all good things come from God, and He should get the credit, even when people want to give us the credit. Let us be reminded that we are the servants of the Lord.

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during worship on January 9, 2022.)

Hope in Crisis – Mary’s Predicament, Mary’s Blessing

Luke 1:39-45

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

39 そのころ、マリヤは立って、山地にあるユダの町に急いだ。 40 そしてザカリヤの家に行って、エリサベツにあいさつした。 41 エリサベツがマリヤのあいさつを聞いたとき、子が胎内でおどり、エリサベツは聖霊に満たされた。 42 そして大声をあげて言った。「あなたは女の中の祝福された方。あなたの胎の実も祝福されています。 43 私の主の母が私のところに来られるとは、何ということでしょう。 44 ほんとうに、あなたのあいさつの声が私の耳にはいったとき、私の胎内で子どもが喜んでおどりました。 45 主によって語られたことは必ず実現すると信じきった人は、何と幸いなことでしょう。」

Mary, now pregnant, as the angel Gabriel told her she would be, visits her cousin, Elizabeth, in an unnamed town in the hills of Judea.  Elizabeth is old and Mary is young, but they now have things in common. Both are miraculously pregnant with sons who are special.  Elizabeth’s son will close out an era and pave the way for a new one, while Mary’s son will usher in the new era.

The fact that the elderly Elizabeth is pregnant is significant to Mary, since the angel Gabriel had used Elizabeth’s impossible pregnancy as a sign that what he was telling Mary was true.  This was the sign that Mary’s child, Jesus, “. . . will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

When Mary enters the house and greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s son leaps in her womb. The Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth and reveals to her that her son leaped in joy in reaction to the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth now knows that Mary is carrying the messiah and declares that Mary is blessed since she believed what Gabriel had told her.

What hopes did Mary have before the visitation from Gabriel that turned her life in a whole different direction?  Probably not too different than most young women of that time and place.

Nazareth was a small town of 120 to 400 people, a quiet farming community on a hill, far away from any major trading routes.  Many would be related to each other.

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. These things were usually arranged by the respective families, so Mary probably didn’t have a choice in this.  Even if she had, in such a small community, the choices would be very limited. So she probably hoped that Joseph would be a kind and dependable husband, devoted to God. She probably hoped for a good number of children and they would have a quiet happy life and grow old together.

As soon as Mary realized that she would become miraculously pregnant, she was in a predicament. Would Joseph believe her – that she had not been unfaithful? And even if he did believe her, what would Joseph decide to do with the fact that she was carrying a child that was not his? Beyond the relationship with Joseph, how was she supposed to deal with the fact that she was carrying the hopes of Israel in her womb?  She had no experience being a mother, but she was going to be the mother of the messiah.

God intervened on her behalf with Joseph, and he accepts Mary as his wife.  He apparently died before Jesus started His ministry. Considering that Jesus was known in Nazareth as a carpenter, and sons usually start getting ready to pick up their father’s trade around the age of 20, Joseph probably died when Jesus was in his 20s. We also know that Mary and Joseph had other sons and daughters.

Mary’s predicaments would continue, especially once Jesus started His ministry. He would become famous as a healer and preacher, but others, especially from Nazareth would start to consider Him crazy. And the religious leaders would start to think of Jesus as a dangerous heretic. Mary would experience the arrest, trial and a very public execution of her special son.  On the surface, her life was not what we would consider “blessed”.

Looking at her life, we realize that she sincerely meant what she said to Gabriel on that fateful day – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  No matter what happened, she knew she had a role to play in the Kingdom of God. There was something larger than just her life or circumstances that was playing out, and she had a role to play.

Even though Protestants do not put much emphasis on Mary, it is easy to see that she is the picture of a good servant of God. And she was blessed to play the role she was given. Over two thousand years later, the world knows who Mary is and her likeness is put up all over the world come Christmas time. More importantly, by her faithfulness, the Messiah came and offered salvation to all who would believe.

What about us? With the start of the pandemic in 2020, did some of our hopes go up in smoke? With the political and social strife that is part of our lives, did some relationships with friends and acquaintances change for the worse? In this era of misinformation, is it harder and harder to determine what is truth? Does it feel like we are living in a world full of predicaments?

Then let Mary remind us of some important things. Jesus is the Son of God and the savior of the world. Anyone who accepts Him as Lord and Savior will be given forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, and a vocation of serving Him. Through us, the world is supposed to be blessed. Our eternity is set, for the good, but there are many who still are headed for destruction. We have a role to play, just like Mary had a role to play.  Our attitude should be the same as hers, when it feels like our hopes are in a crisis – Here am I, the servant of the Lord – Command me.

(the above is a summary of the message shared in worship by Shun Takano on December 12, 2021.)

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….)