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Love

I Corinthians 13

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I コリント人への手紙 13

たとい、私が人の異言や、御使いの異言で話しても、愛がないなら、やかましいどらや、うるさいシンバルと同じです。 また、たとい私が預言の賜物を持っており、またあらゆる奥義とあらゆる知識とに通じ、また、山を動かすほどの完全な信仰を持っていても、愛がないなら、何の値うちもありません。 また、たとい私が持っている物の全部を貧しい人たちに分け与え、また私のからだを焼かれるために渡しても、愛がなければ、何の役にも立ちません。 愛は寛容であり、愛は親切です。また人をねたみません。愛は自慢せず、高慢になりません。 礼儀に反することをせず、自分の利益を求めず、怒らず、人のした悪を思わず、 不正を喜ばずに真理を喜びます。 すべてをがまんし、すべてを信じ、すべてを期待し、すべてを耐え忍びます。 愛は決して絶えることがありません。預言の賜物ならばすたれます。異言ならばやみます。知識ならばすたれます。 というのは、私たちの知っているところは一部分であり、預言することも一部分だからです。 10 完全なものが現われたら、不完全なものはすたれます。 11 私が子どもであったときには、子どもとして話し、子どもとして考え、子どもとして論じましたが、おとなになったときには、子どものことをやめました。 12 今、私たちは鏡にぼんやり映るものを見ていますが、その時には顔と顔とを合わせて見ることになります。今、私は一部分しか知りませんが、その時には、私が完全に知られているのと同じように、私も完全に知ることになります。 13 こういうわけで、いつまでも残るものは信仰と希望と愛です。その中で一番すぐれているのは愛です。

In the previous chapter, chapter 12, Paul writes about the various kinds of spiritual gifts.  There were some gifts that people deemed more important than the others, but Paul reminds the readers that all gifts are important to the body, the church. A body can only fully function when all the parts are doing their job and working together.  Just like each body part doing its part without trying to become a different body part, it is important for each member of the church to do the things that God commands them.

Going into chapter 13, Paul is leading us to the fact that there is something more important than the gifts that are mentioned in chapter 12 – love.

Language is a gift — The ability to speak/write well, the ability to speak/write well in multiple languages – But without love, it is just noise.

Prophetic powers and the ability to understand the many mysteries and having knowledge – All these are great things, but without love, they are nothing.

Having absolute faith in God – The type of faith that could move mountains – Is a wonderful thing, but it is nothing, without love.

So why is love so important that Paul teaches that it is greater than any of the other gifts?  What does Paul mean by love?  We can pretty much be certain that Paul is not talking about the intense version of “like”.  He describes what he means by love in vv. 4-7.

  • Love is patient
  • Love is kind
  • Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude
  • Love does not insist on its own way
  • It is not irritable or resentful
  • It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth
  • Love bears all things
  • Love hopes all things
  • Love endures all things

In the last section, Paul explains why love is the greatest.  Love is the only thing that will endure to eternity.  Prophesies will no longer be needed since there will be no future in eternity.  The gift of tongues will also cease since there will no longer be the need to tell others about God’s love.  Knowledge will end since all will be revealed.

In Romans 5:6-10, Paul points out that it is the nature of humans that some might be willing to die for a good person, but it would be exceedingly rare.  But God demonstrated His love for humans by dying for us while we were still sinners.

If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our savior and lord, then we must take his commands and wishes seriously.  Jesus said that if we loved Him, we would obey Him. He commanded us to love God and love others.  He commanded us to love one another in the church so that others would know that we are Christians by seeing how we love each other.

Today, we are in sad times where even Christians are feeling dislike or even hatred for one another who don’t agree with our views, whether that be which politicians we agree with, whether to wear facial masks, or many other topics that are “hot” at the moment.

It seems that in the past, we were able to, or willing to, overlook disagreements in certain things and yet treat each other with civility and respect.  Today, it seems it is easier to “take our gloves off” and pummel each other with disrespectful, demeaning, and even hateful words.

The hot topic of Jesus’ day was whether Jesus was the long-awaited messiah or not.  Was He God’s son deserving of our love and respect, or was He a phony who deserved to die for what He taught?  Jesus went ahead and died for both sides.

The love the Father has for the world is a love that is hard for us to understand – Love that was willing to send his own child so that the child can be tortured and killed.  Yet, God did, and because of that, we have salvation and eternal life.

Jesus commands us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.  Is it possible for us to love like God did?  It is, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

God has the right to command us to die for others, or to send our children into certain death, but thankfully, for most of us, He has not and will not.  But He commands us to show His love to others.

So, in these polarizing times, let us love God and show love to others, even to those with whom we do not agree.  It is possible that through this, others might see a love that is different and turn towards God.

(the above is a summary of the message brought to us by Shun Takano during our zoom worship time on October 11, 2020.)

Counting Our Days…

Psalm 90 (vs. 1,2,8,9,10,12,17)

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.

Recently at two memorial services that we have held, the words from Psalm 90 were quoted and I want to take a few moments today to consider several phrases from this psalm. It’s a very appropriate word for us today…. As we consider our current situation – as individuals, as a church, as a nation.

Psalm 90 is said to be written by Moses, the man of God. It is a prayer divided roughly in 3 sections:

  • Verses 1-6  God as Creator and as our dwelling place
  • Verses 7-11  God as judge / our fragile lives under judgment
  • Verses 12-17  God as our help / Prayer for wisdom

1. God, as Creator – God as our “Dwelling Place”  (vs. 1-6)

Moses reflects on the fact that God, himself is “our dwelling place”. The people of Israel had various houses of God – the tabernacle in the wilderness, the first temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon, and the second temple that was built by Nehemiah and Ezra. But their identity as a people was NEVER in those places ultimately. It was in God, alone.

As we’ve counted days this spring and summer – days of COVID, days of separation, days of rioting and unrest, days of not being able to gather in our own church building – we, too, are being forced to re-think our identity, and the fact that our true home, our dwelling place, is not in any of these places – but in God alone.

2. Our world, under sin and judgment – a fragile existence (vs. 7-11)

Moses goes on to reflect on our fallen world, one where God’s judgment has come. Sickness and death – once NOT a part of creation, now are all around us. Our existence is, in many ways, extremely fragile. We’re compared to the grass of the field, growing up new in the morning but by evening – dried and dead!  Our age is 70 – or maybe 80 if we’re lucky – but those years pass by like a blink – and we return to dust!

As we hear and see the news of our rapidly changing environment – with its floods and fires this year; our systemic racism – so difficult to even admit, much less eradicate; our political infighting and polarization; the gap in wealth and resources which continues to grow between the “haves” and “have nots”-  all of these are part and parcel with our “fallen world” that is described here in Psalm 90. Until the Lord comes again to redeem the creation – these struggles will be part of our existence. Jesus himself said to his disciples prior to leaving them – “while you’re in this world you will have tribulations – but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

3.  A Prayer for Wisdom  (vs. 12-17)

So what are we to do with these truths? That God is our home, our dwelling place, but that we live in a broken and fallen world? Moses concludes this psalm by praying for wisdom – “teach us to number our days correctly, that we may have a heart of wisdom.” In light of your greatness God, and in light of our own fragility – teach us to know how to value and use all that you’ve given us. Help us to realize the preciousness of life and the time that you give us. In verses 13-17 Moses also asks for the following:

  • Have compassion on us.
  • Satisfy us in the morning with your love, and give us gladness!
  • Continue to show us your great deeds, and let our children see it too.
  • May your favor rest on us, and make certain the work of our hands

I always find that last phrase in the prayer amazing. The psalmist has just lamented over the brevity of human life, the apparent fragility of all life. You would think that this would lead to a sense of hopelessness in moving forward. Yet, in the end, the plea to God is to make our lives and work meaningful! Because, in fact, our lives are short – let us live them to the fullest. Let us keep the eternal nature of our life in full view.

As we continue to count our days, to count our COVID time, to count our blessings, why not consider the following as we head into a new week?

  1. Include eternity in your plans  (what is your end game?)
  2. In light of that, reorganize your present (temporal) life priorities (time, talents, treasure)
  3. Yes, life is fragile, but it is precious! Live like it.

(the above is a summary of the message given during our worship time on Sunday, October 4th)

Celebrating 2 Birthdays

We decided to celebrate Randy’s birthday in eastern Washington.  Keri’s handicapped brother has been going down in health and we all felt the burden to see him.  But there was Covid, and there was smoke from the fires.  Can we make this work?  Is it the right time?  We decided to go for it.  Randy started crying with joy the moment he saw us.  And we had a wonderful reunion.

Little did we know that God wanted to us to have another birthday party while there.  We stayed at the local Comfort Inn.  Our son Nathan talked about swimming since the time we left.  We arrived at 10 pm, and found that the pool was open until 11.  “Can we swim?”  After 6 hours of driving, I said . . . “yes”.  And we had a blast.  It was just the two of us.  The next day, after the birthday festivities, we arrived at the Inn at 10pm.  “Can we swim?”  I was so tired, but it was our last night.  Again, the pool was empty until about 10:30 when a lady came and went in to the hot tub. We both wanted the hot tub before going to bed, so we asked if we could join.

We made small talk, but it was evident that she was hurting inside.  She made a comment about coming to the Inn to get away from her problems.  I asked if I could pray for her.  Surprised, she replied “yes”.  I explained that Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weak, weary and heavy laden.  Gentle am I, humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your soul.”  He was speaking to her now and I prayed.  She began to cry.  After praying, she asked “Why is life so hard?”.  I explained that God allows these things so that we would come closer to Him.  She continued to share her burdens and I shared the Gospel.  She listened and seemed to respond to each point.  She understood that we are sinners in need of a Savior.  I introduced Jesus to her and explained how much she is loved.  “Would you like to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”  She said “yes”.  As she prayed, she thanked God for loving her and taking her burden.  She confessed that Jesus died for her sins and was forgiven.  After her prayer, we continued to talk.  She said she felt her burden lifted.  I asked her if she knew of a church near her home.  She didn’t.  I felt led to ask if she wanted to be baptized.  Surprisingly, she said “yes”.  Nathan and I baptized her there in the hot tub.  She was full of joy.

As Nathan and I went back to the room, we debriefed as to what took place.  Nathan was excited to tell me that he had the same thoughts of talking, baptism and giving her my business card.  Even before I said a word, Nathan was having the same thoughts.  The Holy Spirit was confirming His leading and we rejoiced together.  We experienced a spiritual birthday in that pool.  What tremendous joy we experienced together.  So unexpected,  So wonderful.

2 Timothy 4:1-2 says, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 

May God use each one of you to bring a blessing to others.

Richard

(This account was part of a message shared by Richard Nakamura during our JCC Zoom Worship time on Sunday, September 27th.)

Old and New Things

Mark 2:21-22 / マルコ2:21−22

21“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 
22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

 21 だれも、真新しい布切れで古い着物の継ぎをするようなことはしません。そんなことをすれば、新しい継ぎ切れは古い着物を引き裂き、破れはもっとひどくなります。 22 また、だれも新しいぶどう酒を古い皮袋に入れるようなことはしません。そんなことをすれば、ぶどう酒は皮袋を張り裂き、ぶどう酒も皮袋もだめになってしまいます。新しいぶどう酒は新しい皮袋に入れるのです。

What changes have we seen/experienced over the past 12 months — personally, for the country, for the church?  If we were to go back even further, let’s say 5 years, would we have guessed what we would be going through in 2020?  What will it be like in 2025?  We probably can all agree that our predictive abilities aren’t exactly acute.

Jesus is actually talking about living in times of change, and we might glean some important concepts for living in an ever-changing world and still being good witnesses for God’s love.

In v.21, Jesus talks about what happens when you patch an old coat with a piece of new coat. Since the patch is unshrunk, it will start to shrink over time, and will start to pull on the old material. Since the old coat is not as strong as the new and will not shrink anymore, the new patch will pull until the tear gets even worse. He is talking about how to preserve the old.

In v. 22, Jesus talks about what happens if you pour new wine into old wineskin.  As the new wine ferments, it will emit gases and put pressure on the wineskin from the inside.  The old wineskin would have lost some elasticity over time, since it has already been stretched, so it will eventually burst and both the wine and the wineskin would be lost.  Jesus is talking about the need for new things to be used.

So in these two verses, Jesus is saying that as we go through changes, we need to preserve some old things, while incorporating new things.  This was certainly the case as Jesus proved himself to be the messiah, but not quite in the way Israel was expecting/anticipating. So as the church started, they slowly started to realize the things they needed to keep from the Jewish religion, as well as what new things to incorporate.

So what about for us, going through this time of drastic changes?  What old things need to be preserved, and what new things need to be incorporated?

I would suggest that there are three foundations that must be preserved at all cost:

  1. The Bible as the foundation of God’s truth
  2. Prayer and the Holy Spirit’s guidance as the foundation for all plans and activities for the church
  3. The Gospel as the foundation of our message to the world

All other things need to be open to changing as the Holy Spirit leads – not based on people’s preferences.

During this pandemic, churches have discovered new tools to do ministry.  Although many people would still prefer to meet in person, most churches have been able to carry on, using tools like Zoom and YouTube.  The heart of a worship service is still there, along with Bible studies, committee meetings, etc.

Churches are also discovering things that widen their scope – Like people from outside the local area now being able to join in on services, Bible studies and meetings.  And to some, there is also the convenience of not having to get in the car to “attend”, saving on commute time, fuel, etc.

As the pandemic eases off in the future, churches will need to decide what do to.  Go back to the old ways?  Keep doing it the way things are being done during the pandemic?  Somehow combine the best of both?  This is the new wine into new wineskin portion.

It would be good to apply those foundations mentioned above on an individual basis as well as a body of Christ.  Looking at what gets posted these days on social media, it would be good if the Christians can incorporate some Biblical principles as we post comments that don’t bear good witness for the Lord. After all, we are to be lights and salt, even within social media.

Here are some principles to keep in mind:

  • As the spiritual descendants of Abraham, we are to carry on the promise given to him about being a blessing, and not a curse,  to the world (Genesis 12:1-3)
  • We were created to do God’s good works (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Jesus died on the cross so that He would be our Lord (Romans 14:9)
  • We are supposed to be known for our love (John 13:35)
  • We are supposed to be preview of God’s Kingdom (Colossians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24)
  • We are supposed to love our enemies (Matthew 5:45)
  • However we treat the people we like the least, that’s how we are treating Jesus (Matthew 25:45)

Jesus summed up all of God’s laws and commandments into one two-part command – Love God and love others.  Luke 21 also has Jesus telling us that this current age is the last one before the end times, and that we are supposed to spend our time testifying about God’s love.

So going forth, let’s ask ourselves these questions before we act, speak, post comments, or respond to others:

  • Does this testify about God’s love?
  • Does this show love to others?
  • Would we act/talk/write this way if Jesus were listening/reading?

By doing this, then we have a chance of preserving what the Lord wants us to preserve and to incorporate new things He wants us to adapt.

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano on September 13, 2020 during our JCC zoom worship time.)

Healthy Relationships

Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus envisions a church with problems and friction. This is because in scripture, the church is referred to as a “body” and as a “family”. Physical bodies get sick – and real families occasionally have problems. When they occur, how should they be solved? In our text for today, Jesus gives practical teaching regarding this issue of healthy relationships within the family of God. It follows a step by step order, beginning with an individual conversation and concluding with a community decision.

Individual conversation

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

  • Take a risk to reach out to an offending sister or brother with honest communication – rather than harbor negative thoughts or gossip about the situation with others.
  • Keep it private – no need for public shaming or embarrassment
  • In many cases – this will result in success, and the relationship is healed.

A conversation with 2-3 witnesses present

16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 

  • Again, this is basically a private conversation
  • Based on old testament teaching – Deut. 19:15
  • Here, the emphasis is to protect and seek the truth with the help of a third party (2-3 witnesses) in order to avoid a “he said, she said” scenario.
  • Sometimes the original accuser will turn out to be in the wrong. Witnesses may actually help the accused.
  • Again, this will often result in understanding and a reconciled relationship.

A Community conversation

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

What did it mean for Jesus to say “treat them like pagans and tax collectors?” We often see this as a command to reject them, or cut them off totally from fellowship. But all we have to do is remember how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors and we’ll get the idea. He ate with Zaccheus, even visiting in his home. He healed the sick family members of several Gentiles. In other words, treat them as outside the family, but love them as Jesus loved Gentiles and tax collectors…seeking their reconciliation with the group even while sending them out. They are not being separated because they have sinned but because they refuse to admit their sin which the body has observed.

Again, this is not primarily a text on church discipline, as it has often been misunderstood. It is a description of body life and healthy relationships. When there is sickness (sin) in one body part, the whole body suffers. We are not just a collection of individuals – as our churches so often appear. We are a REAL family (the body of Christ) and therefore for the sake of the entire body, we need to take healthy relationships seriously.

The importance of being connected – of being a “body”

19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

  • It’s in our connectedness – our life together – where Jesus promises to be present with us.

As I’ve reflected on this short text during the past few days it seems to me that there are really four key elements described here that allow us to follow Jesus’ advice. The first comes from the beginning of chapter 18. The final three all come from today’s verses.

  • Humility and powerlessness of a child  (Verse 1-4) What would it look like if all of our conversations began from a place of mutual humility?
  • Honest communication   (Verse 15)  Take a risk! It’s scary to confront someone with an uncomfortable conversation – but worth it!
  • Community (Verse 16 )  This kind of healthy relationship can only happen within a committed community.
  • The power of Jesus in their midst. (Verse 20) A promise to all who claim the name of Jesus – that we are not left to manage this alone!

The Goal?  Healthy relationships resulting from repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation!

Could this advice and direction from our Lord be more timely and crucial than it is today? In an age of social media where truth appears to be anything we wish it to be – these crucial guidelines and practical teachings on honest communication could be life-saving. May God grant us the wisdom and grace to put them into practice!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our JCC Zoom Worship time on September 6, 2020)

Divine Things, and Human Things

Matthew 16:21-28 / マタイ16:21−28

In today’s text, Jesus begins to speak clearly about his final days. Until now, he has taught, ministered, healed, and announced the presence of the kingdom of heaven. Now he speaks about his coming death and suffering in Jerusalem.

It must have been a shock to the disciples who had experienced all of his successes, miracles, and gathering of the crowds. The disciples were looking forward to more victory, possibly even a political victory of Israel regaining control over her captor, Rome. Jesus, was, after all – the Messiah! Peter’s words to Jesus make good sense and I would probably have said the same thing if I were there. “Lord, this can’t be!”

Jesus’ response seems harsh – the words are said to Peter but actually directed at Satan. “Get behind me Satan!” It’s clear that what Peter has said – in other words staying safe, riding the popularity wave, continuing to thrive – rather than to die on a cross, were a REAL temptation for Jesus. It would have been much easier to avoid a criminal death.  Jesus clearly labels the easy route of safety and self-preservation as “human things” or “things of men”.

“You do not have in mind the things of God (divine things), but merely human things.” あなたは神のことを思わないで、人のことを思っている。」

Perhaps those human things could include the following: safety, staying alive, political overthrow, success, comfort, or even fame. Jesus then goes on to describe “divine things” or “the things of God”

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” いのちを救おうと思う者はそれを失い、わたしのためにいのちを失う者は、それを見いだすのです。

In this case divine things included a cross, suffering, death, salvation for all, as well as care and love for all.

Maybe verse 25 could be re-worded as follows?

Anyone who tries to control their own life, thinking that they can, or attempts to find completion and fulfillment outside of God (through success, riches, health, wealth, etc.) will end up losing their life. While those that admit from the beginning that their life is not their own, that it is a gift from God to be stewarded wisely, that commit that life to God…. they will actually discover the true meaning of life.

The question I’ve had all week comes from verse 24. “What does it mean to deny myself, and take up my cross?” Is life to be ascetic and miserable? Are we to distance ourselves from any joy, bounty, and satisfaction in good gifts? That can’t possibly be what Jesus is talking about here.

Yet, is there a temptation to think about “human things” rather than about “things of God – divine things”. When our own joy and fulfillment, our own peaceful and just and free existence is ALL we seek, is it possible that we do not yet have the eyes and heart of God?  Jesus gave up his own personal safety and comfort for the greater good of all people – for the salvation of the world. Are there ways in which we also are challenged to participate in this salvation for all?  To care about the justice and freedom, and equality, and bountiful life for all people, not just ourselves?

We’ve seen demonstrations this week over another shooting of yet another black man by police in Wisconsin – Jacob Blake. Some of those demonstrations were violent and destructive, some were peaceful. Many sports figures, athletes, and entire leagues got involved. It would be easy to sit this one out…. to stay comfortable, to justify the way things are with any number of arguments. Yet, is it possible that part of what Jesus might be referring to when he says “deny yourself” may be the giving up of some of our personal freedoms and liberties – in order that we might take on a larger civic duty and responsibility for all citizens, regardless  of color?

I don’t think there’s any one time in our lives when we answer this question of  “what does denying myself mean?”. I believe the fact that we are expected to wrestle with this verse in an ongoing way is important. I suggest the following thoughts as a prayer outline in attempting to live our lives according to “divine things.”

  • God, my life is from you. I willingly give it back.  I commit it to you today.
  • All that I have – family, possessions, and abilities –  are from you.
  • Show me today, how to enjoy ALL that you’ve given me, as well as how to  live sacrificially and generously – loving my neighbor as myself.
  • Let my values be divine and eternal – not merely human and temporal.

May God show each of us how to both celebrate and enjoy the gifts of life, as well as how to give our lives away with abandon – and without fear – for the sake of others.

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our JCC Zoom Worship Time on August 30, 2020.)

Fighting the Battle

exorcistEphesians 6:10-20

The Exorcist, the 1973 horror movie, was by far the scariest movie I had ever seen as a young teenager. But what REALLY scared me was afterward when my brother said, “Did you know, there really is a devil?” I argued that it couldn’t be true. Satan was a made-up character much like a werewolf, or Frankenstein, or so I thought. I could watch it and get my thrills, but I “knew” in the back of my mind it couldn’t be real. And so I pushed back and told him I didn’t believe it… I couldn’t sleep for weeks, terrified.

According to the Bible, it’s true. The devil, along with demons (fallen angels) are real. We are in a spiritual battle. But we don’t have to be afraid. Why? Because the Bible says Jesus has already won. We know the end game. And God has equipped us to defeat him daily, even now.

The Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

10終わりに言います。主にあって、その大能の力によって強められなさい。11悪魔の策略に対して 立ち向かうことが できるために、神のすべての 武具を身に着けなさい。12私たちの格闘は 血肉に対するものではなく、 主権、力、この暗やみの 世界の 支配者たち、また、天にいるもろもろの悪霊に 対するものです。13ですから、邪悪な日に 際して 対抗できるように、また、いっさいを成し遂げて、堅く立つことができるように、神のすべての 武具を とりなさい。

God has provided special Armor to resist the devil.

  • Belt of Truth  真理の帯   Jesus is truth
  • Breastplate of Righteousness 正義の胸当て    
  • Sandals of the Gospel of Peace 平和の福音の備えーはきもの
  • Shield of Faith 信仰の大盾
  • Helmet of Salvation 救いのかぶと
  • Sword of the Spirit – Word 御霊の与える剣 ー御言葉
  • Prayer 祈り

Satan will try to distract us and have us fight one another. The real enemy, the devil, is lying, deceiving, instigating, and promoting fear and hate. The “fruits” of his labor can be seen by his fingerprints: “Steal, Kill, and Destroy” (John 10). Look around us and we see looting, rioting, and destruction. We do not need to live in fear or hate. In appropriating the armor that God provided us, we will be able to discern the truth, extinguish the lies and accusations, and stand firm in Jesus and the promises of God. Let us love one another, filled with grace and truth. Let us share the Gospel so that people can be reconciled to God through Jesus. Let us forgive one another. In the end, Jesus wins. He is our only hope and solution in the midst of all this chaos and darkness. Therefore, Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.   To God be the glory!

(the above is a summary of the message shared by Richard Nakamura during our JCC Zoom Worship time on August 23, 2020).

A Tough Text…

Matthew 15:21-28

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

 This has always been a problem text for believers. The disciples of Jesus are rude, racist, and impatient. Worse still, Jesus himself seems cold and unkind to put it mildly.

  • One traditional interpretation is that Jesus was simply testing her. He didn’t really mean those cruel things that he said to the Canaanite woman. He was drawing the disciples, crowd, and woman along to a teaching moment.
  • Another view is that Jesus – as fully God and sinless, was also fully human and part of his environment, context, and history – and therefore displaying blindspots similar to all Jewish men and rabbis that may have lived in that period. His meeting and conversation with the Canaanite woman change Jesus, allowing him to grow in his own understanding of his mission and role – not just as minister to the lost sheep of Israel but indeed to all people. He is challenged by this outsider, woman, and gentile – to go deeper with his own words about “clean” and “unclean” which he had spoken to the Pharisees and crowd earlier in chapter 15 while still in the Jewish territory of Galilee.

In considering this last interpretation I was reminded of the often-used phrase “white privilege” and its implications. While it’s not a sin to be one who has white skin (who can choose that?), it may be a sin to continue to deny, defend, or ignore the obvious implications of often being at a great advantage to one whose skin is of color. In the same way, can we see Jesus as representing a male of his historic context – while still “growing in his faith and obedience”? (see Hebrews 5:7-10)

My intent is not to attempt to solve this issue. Regardless of which way you understand Jesus in his deity and humanity, or choose to deal with this difficult conversation he had with the Canaanite woman, I think it’s clear that certain things can be learned from this text:

  • Jesus and the disciples had crossed over from Galilee (Jewish territory) into Tyre and Sidon (Gentile territory). They were NOT in their usual element. They were outside their comfort zones.
  • The gospel that made sense in Israel (vs. 1-20) now had to make sense in Syria. Jesus had just taught that one didn’t become unclean from not following Jewish rules – but from what comes out of the mouth and heart. Was the Canaanite woman “unclean”, a nuisance, unimportant, because she wasn’t Jewish? Is she really a dog just because she was born in Tyre??
  • When we look at the book of Acts we see the early church growing as it crosses cultural barriers – Hellenistic vs. Hebrew widows (chapter 6), Philip and the Ethiopian (chapter 8), Peter and Cornelius (chapter 10), Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles (throughout)… Could this be the real pattern and context for kingdom growth?
  • Is it possible that we, too, change when we interact with people who are NOT like us – different language, a different religion, different culture. The gospel tends to flow and strengthen when these boundaries between “us and them” begin to disappear. Either the gospel is good for all of us, or it’s not much good for any of us. Can we really trust the power of the gospel to save all? Are we able to change and adjust our own understanding in order for this to happen?
  • When Jesus was confronted by this foreign woman – he evidently changed, praising her faith, and healing her daughter. Should we not do the same?

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our JCC Zoom Worship session on Sunday, August 16th…)

God’ Love

Jonah 4:1-11 / ヨナ4:1−11

The last time we visited Jonah, he had been thrown overboard during a terrible storm and the Lord saved him by sending a large fish to swallow him. Chapters 2 and 3 tell us that Jonah was spat back out on a beach, and sometime later, God called out to Jonah again, to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s message. Apparently, Jonah had learned his lesson, so this time, he goes to Nineveh

We’re not told what message God wanted Jonah to proclaim, but once in Nineveh, all Jonah said was, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Kind of a strange message, since there was nothing about repentance or how they could avoid the disaster. It’s possible that since Jonah hated the Ninevites, he wanted to minimize the chance of them repenting and being spared.

However, to Jonah’s extreme displeasure, the people of Nineveh heard the message, repented of their ways, and reached out to God, asking for mercy. From the king, all the way to even the livestock, all wore sackcloth and fasted. The people prayed, even though they knew that it might have been too late for God to spare them. Even worse, from Jonah’s perspective, God saw all this and decided to spare them.

So in chapter 4, we find Jonah pouring out his anger to God. Jonah said that he knew that if he preached in Nineveh, they might repent and that God would not destroy them, and that’s the reason why he went in the opposite direction when God commanded him the first time to go to Nineveh.   Jonah can’t comprehend that God might spare the wicked people who are outside of His love and the Law, to endanger the future of God’s chosen people, Israel. Jonah is so angry and confused that he asks God to kill him, but God spares him.

Jonah then goes out of the city to wait to see what would happen when the forty days were past, probably hoping against hope that the people will revert back to their wicked ways and get destroyed after all.

God causes a plant to grow and give shade to Jonah, and Jonah loves it – The plant made him very happy. But then God sends a worm and hot east wind that kills the plant, and once again, Jonah is angry enough to die. At this stage, Jonah cares more about the life of a plant than the lives of 120,000 people.

God’s lesson for Jonah is clear – if Jonah cares about a plant that he didn’t even plant, how could God not care for human lives (and animals) who were going to perish, if they kept going the way they were going?

For us Christians, it’s easy to think that as we mature in our faith and become more obedient to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, that God is more pleased with us. And when we see people who openly are defiant towards God, and learn about their wickedness and depravity, we can’t help but think that God is really displeased with them. From these kinds of thoughts, it’s a short hop to believe that God loves those who love him and hates those who hate Him. And in turn, we find ourselves loving those who love God and hating those who hate God.

That’s where Jonah was – he hated the people of Nineveh because he considered them enemies of God. Jonah wanted to see them destroyed, and even felt more sympathy towards a plant than he did towards the Ninevites. But through this experience, God made it clear to Jonah that although He hated the people’s sins, he loved the people – He was ready to destroy them if He had to, but more than that, He cared about them and wanted the best for them.

This world has turned into a very “us versus them” place. I see people being “unfriended” over differences in which politicians they love or hate, whether to wear masks or not, whether sports teams and military bases should be renamed or not, etc.

Most likely, we too have strong feelings about some or all of these things, and we equally have strong emotions about people who we agree with or disagree with on these matters. But before we “unfriend” them, or say/write unkind things about them, we should realize that God loves them. In fact, that person or organization that you consider as the #1 enemy of God – God actually loves them just as much as He loves us. God didn’t send His only begotten Son to the cross just for those people who were going to love God back. It is also clear from our Lord’s teachings that even towards the people we hate, God expects us to treat them with love – “Love your enemies”.

I am confident that after these things happened, Jonah became a better prophet of God, understanding that even the people he hates, God loves. In today’s environment, it is also important for us to learn this lesson, so that we can be more effective Kingdom workers.

 

An Invitation to the Miraculous

Matthew 14:13-21 / マタイ14:13−21

Our text for this morning is the well-known story of Jesus miraculously feeding the 5,000. It’s the only miracle account that appears in all 4 gospels.

As our reading begins, Herod has just killed John the Baptist and Jesus has just heard this tragic news. He retreats to a quiet place… but the crowds follow him and find him. Jesus looks on the crowds and seeing their great need – he feels compassion for them – and spends the day healing many of them. As evening approaches the disciples come to Jesus and say “the people are hungry, it’s late, send them home so they can buy something to eat.”  Jesus says to them “there’s no need to send them home. You give them something.” The disciples reply that “we have only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.” Jesus then says: “bring them to me.” He then tells the people to sit down, looks toward heaven, gives thanks, breaks the bread, and distributes the food to the disciples who then give it to the people. All eat and are filled – with 12 baskets left over.

What interests me the most today is the unusual position in which Jesus seems to put the disciples. They are afforded an opportunity to participate in a great miracle – as well as seemingly put in a place of great difficulty. While Jesus could have fed the crowds without their help, he chooses to involve them – “You give them something.” For the disciples, the situation seems hopeless. Too many people, no food, no resources of their own. Yet Jesus invites them to bring the small items that they DO have – 5 loaves and 2 fish. In the end, it is of course the power of God that brings about the miracle of bounty – food for everyone! Yet, it requires risk and faith on the part of the disciples to bring (redistribute) the limited resources that they do possess.

Isn’t this what happens to us everyday?  We see the world’s needs all around us – in our community, city, state, nation, and world – and we tend to feel hopeless in the face of it all. The problems are too large. How can we make a difference at all?

And yet, Jesus invites us every day to bring the small items that we have – our money, our time, our abilities, our commitment to prayer, etc. – to offer them to him. It’s God’s job to multiply and bless the offerings – but it’s our job to bring our small resources to God – and believe that it matters.

Jesus invites us daily to participate in the miracle of God’s provision for others.

But it’s scary and risky. Will there be enough for us? Will WE be OK if we sacrificially give? Can we count on Jesus to supply the needs of our neighbors…. as well as ourselves? This account in Matthew not only seems to encourage a resounding “YES” to that question but even indicates that it may be the ONLY way that the crowds’ needs will be met. What items do YOU have to redistribute today? What are the loaves and fish that you wish to offer the Master?

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our JCC ZOOM worship session on August 2, 2020.)