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In the Beginning….God

Genesis 1:1-23

This beginning section of the Bible is not an eyewitness account, since humans have not been created yet. So, we can assume that God either told or showed someone about how the world was created. Whether this would have been to Adam or one of his descendants, we do not know. It must have been passed down verbally until someone decided it was a good idea to create a written record of it. Then eventually, it would have been gathered along with a collection of accounts until we get the current collection of writings that we call the Old Testament.

The first 23 verses cover the first five “days” of creation. Humans are created on the sixth “day”. The Hebrew term used for “day” could be a literal 24-hour day, or it could be figurative, meaning a “period”. Considering that the sun and the moon are not created until the fourth day, it is most likely not meant to be a 24-hour period.

Here is the order of creation:

  • Day 1 – The heavens, the earth, light, day, night
  • Day 2 – Dome to separate the water below and water above, and the dome was called “sky” (the original Hebrew used means “dome” but are also translated as “firmament” or “sky”)
  • Day 3 – Dry land appears amongst the water, vegetation
  • Day 4 – Sun, moon, stars, seasons
  • Day 5 – Sea creatures, birds
  • Day 6 – Land animals, humans

I first read Genesis after I got interested in reading the Bible for myself. I first read through the New Testament, starting with Matthew and all the way to the end of Revelations. By that time, I was sufficiently interested in the person of Jesus that I thought I’d better read through the Old Testament also. However, the one book I had some reservations about reading was Genesis – especially the first few chapters. The reason was because I was a science major at the University of Washington, and it seemed that there was some general disrespect of the sciences by the Christians and disrespect for the Christians by the scientists. I was grateful for the fact that God had brought into my life some brilliant science majors who were also faithful Christians, to show that some sort of straddling both sides might be possible.

So much of today’s society is polarized, with vocal people taking extreme views. How the world came to be is no different. On one hand, there are those who do not believe that God had a hand in this. They would say the big bang happened randomly and it was just natural forces over billions of years that got us to where we are. Then there are those who would take Genesis 1 literally and insist that God created the universe as we know it in 6 literal 24-hour days, all around 6,000 years ago or so.

There are problems with both views. Purely physical explanations still have some holes to fill to explain everything we observe, and totally ignore God’s role in physical and human history. The other side is not lacking in problems either. The days and nights happening before the sun is created is one, as well as the view of the earth where there is a physical dome over it with water below and above it. And if the moon is embedded into the dome, the space missions and probes that went to the moon and beyond should have encountered the dome.

In the early 1980s, there was a book written by a professor at Wheaton College that speculated that perhaps Genesis 1 was not dictated verbatim from God, but whoever was first to be taught the creation account was shown a high-speed vision from the surface of the earth perspective. The misty conditions would have, at the beginning, obscured details. So, one would have seen the effects of the sun and the moon in terms of day and night but would not have been able to see the actual sun, moon and the stars until the mist cleared up. If we were to buy into this premise, then things seem to generally fit what the scientific community believed about how the earth as we know it came to be. Probably a book like this would have been rejected by both sides of the argument.

It is important to keep in mind that the main reason Genesis was written was not to describe the mechanism of how God created the heavens and the earth. The main point is that God is the one who created. Just by speaking, God brought all these things in to being. The domed world was the accepted view of the ancient Middle East, and Genesis tells us who created it. A comparable message today might be, “The Big Bang, tectonic movement – God caused all of this to happen.”

We do not know exactly when Genesis was first made available to be read by the Israelites, but we speculate that it was an important book of hope and blessings at the time of the Babylonian exile. The Babylonians believed in numerous gods and goddesses, as well as believing that the stars had power over their lives.  By the fact that they were able to conquer and subjugate the Jews, they would have concluded that their gods and goddesses were superior to Yahweh, the God of the Jews.

Worse, many of the Jews would have come to the same conclusion, especially as time dragged on and a whole generation of Jews who only knew life under Babylonian rule became the majority. But Genesis reminded the Jews that their God was powerful and was still in command. Their God was the one who created the heavens and the earth, even the stars that the Babylonians believed had heavy sway over their lives. The Genesis account even made the creation of the stars almost as an afterthought by God – “God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars.”

The world we live in today, probably has some resemblance to Babylon. Many people’s lives are ruled by things other than God – Money, fame, power, promise of security. The societal values do not truly reflect the values that the Bible teaches. Even within churches, we are seeing non-Christian values and elements creeping in. Sunday morning services used to be the main vessel for worshipping and evangelizing for Jesus Christ. Now often, we see things like self-improvement hints, entertainment and politics sharing time with the Gospel. It often makes us long for the return of Jesus Christ, to take us all out of this mess.

In a world like this, the message of Genesis is important. Just like it must have done for the Jews in Babylon, it can give us hope and blessings. It reminds us that God is powerful and is still with us. He created us for a purpose and saved us through the cross of Jesus so that we can do the good works He created us for. We need to be reminded that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, not just to take us from this mess, but also for this mess. We are to have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth, so that we can be guided by heaven to do work on earth.

It may seem daunting to be witnesses for Christ in this world. We can imagine the resistance we will face from our family, friends and co-workers as we tell them that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But remember that God has the power to create the universe just with his voice, and that His Holy Spirit is with us to guide and help us to do God’s work on earth.

Come, and See…

John 1:29-42

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, `A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, `The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

In our text for today, we have two main sections:

  1. Verses 29-34   John the Baptist witnesses to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He tells this to his disciples. In earlier verses he has also told this to the Jewish leaders who question him.
  2. Verses 35-42   Two of John’s disciples follow Jesus, encounter him, have a conversation with him, and then become his followers, bringing other friends along.

Jesus’ first words in the book of John are a question: “What do you want?” or “What are you looking for?” …or  “What do you seek?”

The disciples respond with a question of their own “Where are you staying?” From the context and translation it seems clear that they are asking, not where he is literally staying….but more… “Where can we find you? Where shall we go to be with you, to receive what you have to offer? Where can we be in the very presence of God?”

Jesus then answers them “Come, and see….”

The gospel of John goes on to answer what Jesus might mean by this simple statement:

  • If you want to drink water that will always quench your thirst….
  • If you want to be born again….
  • If you want bread that never perishes….
  • If you want to see the light of the world…..
  • If you want to experience the way, the truth, and the life…
  • If you want to enter into eternal life….

Then, come….and see Jesus. Abide in Jesus. If you want to know God, then come and see Jesus. Encounter Jesus for yourself!

The two disciples end up spending the day with Jesus. We don’t know what they did….or the details. But it’s obvious that it was life changing because the “Come and see” statement of Jesus now repeats itself in the lives of the disciples.

  • In verse 41, Andrew – one of the first two disciples – goes and finds his brother Simon (Peter) and says. “We’ve found the Messiah…. Come ….and see..”
  • In the passage directly after this one, Philip becomes a follower of Jesus and immediately tells his friend Nathaniel about Jesus….using the same words as Jesus…”come and see” – verse 1:46.
  • In John chapter 4 the Samaritan woman does the same thing. She encounters Jesus deeply, his identity is revealed to her, and she receives eternal life. She immediately goes and testifies about Jesus to the people of her town saying…. “come and see”.

Two statements from Jesus today:

  1. What are you seeking?  
  2. Come and see

The first question is one that each of us as individuals must continually ask ourselves and reconfirm. Are we seeking a world that can be attained through stuff, wealth, health?, etc. Or are we seeking for something deeper, something that will last longer, that is more eternal, that is more in line with the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of?

It is also a question that we must ask as a church / congregation. What are we seeking to do? Are we seeking to survive, to not close our doors, to maintain our buildings properly? What are the goals that are most important to us? Are we truly seeking to invite others to “Come and See… come and meet Jesus”?

The second statement of Jesus is an invitation….to each of us….and to JCC as a church. Come and See! It’s an invitation to encounter Jesus deeply…..and to experience God through Jesus, and to find meaning and abundant answers to all of our longings and desires….through Jesus.

We then can invite others using the same words…..

WHAT ARE YOU SEEKING?         

COME AND SEE…..!

Proclaiming the Kingdom of God

Acts 28:23-31

The last time we were in Acts, God, as promised, preserved the lives of all on board.  While their ship sank, everyone reached the shores of Malta safely.

In this final chapter of Acts, Luke records some interesting details about how God continued to protect and use Paul. While gathering wood for the fire, a viper fastens on his hands. The natives assumed that Paul was an evil man being punished, since although he just escaped from a sinking ship, he was now bitten by a poisonous snake. They were expecting Paul to swell up and die, but as nothing happened to Paul, they started to think that Paul was a god.

Then Paul healed the father of a village leader through prayer and laying on of hands, and soon, the sick people came to Paul and were healed. By the time they were to leave the island, they were honoring Paul and they provided all the provisions they needed.

After three months in Malta, they set sail and finally reach Rome. Many believers in the area came to greet them. Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier guarding him.

Paul gathers the local Jewish leaders and explains why he is in Rome. The leaders had not heard any reports of Paul from the Jews of Jerusalem, nor heard any negative reports about him. They wanted to hear Paul’s message and set a date to meet.

On that date, many Jews of the areas showed up to Paul’s residence and Paul explained about Jesus from morning to evening. Some were convinced, while others refused to believe. As they were leaving, Paul told them that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles.

And the book of Acts ends on this:  30He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Most scholars believe that Luke wrote this book well after the Romans executed Paul. So we are left to wonder why Luke ended the story here, rather than with Paul’s death.

If we go back to the beginning of the book and reread Luke’s introduction, it becomes a little clearer. Luke reminds us that in his first book (The Gospel According to Luke), he wrote about what Jesus did and taught, as well as his crucifixion and resurrection. About how Jesus told the disciples to not leave Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit, who will empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. And finally, Luke writes about how Jesus was lifted into the sky and the angels telling them that Jesus will come back. Then Luke continues with how Judas’ replacement was chosen, and how the Holy Spirit came to them during Pentecost. The rest of the book is how the Holy Spirit worked with the church and individuals so that the gospel of how Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the Savior of the world could be spread to the ends of the earth.

So, the book is not primarily about Paul. If it were, then the account of Paul’s death would be included. But in the book of Acts, Paul is one of many faithful servants that helped to spread the gospel. The book is more about how the Holy Spirit will help the believers to live and spread the gospel in the time before the return of Jesus.

We might envy Paul that he had such concrete evidence that he was a chosen vessel – The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus; specific instructions and visions that God had given to them concerning Paul’s mission; manifestation of God’s power through Paul (healings, exorcisms, etc.); miraculous healings from being stoned, shipwrecked, snakebites; etc. But not too many of us would change places with Paul.

If we look closely at our lives, we probably can find those times that God had protected us for His purpose. 

Even if nothing comes to mind, the fact that we are saved and alive tells us that God has use for us. And even if we are not sure exactly what we are supposed to do until either death or the return of Christ happens, we know that we have been created to do good works that God has planned for us – to be witnesses to the ends of the earth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.  To Paul, the ends of the earth was Spain. We are not certain that Paul ever got there, but Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that this was his intent.

Thanks to the internet and air travel, the ends of the earth for us could be anywhere on earth. But whether it ends up being our neighborhood, city, county, state, country, continent, or the world, let us continue to be witnesses for Christ as long as we live here on earth, with the help of the Holy Spirit. That’s what we see the believers in Acts doing, and Paul is one of the best examples on how to live.

(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano with us on Sunday, January 8, 2023.)

Hope, Suffering, & Prayer

Be joyful in hope, patient in suffering, faithful in prayer… Romans 12:12

Happy New Year! As we begin 2023 this morning we look at just one verse from Romans chapter 12. It’s made up of three short phrases which encourage us toward three actions.

 Be Joyful in Hope

Can we be joyful just by trying to follow a command? Can we make ourselves hope-filled – hopeful – just by thinking about it?

No, joy and hope are a result of other things:  being told “I love you” or… “Don’t worry, it will be all right” may be statements that give us joy or hope. Family love, feeling needed, having things turn out…all of these will occasionally result in a sense of joy or hope. Here is a strong promise by God to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. Listen to these words this morning as if they were spoken directly to you.

Jeremiah 29:11

11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Seeking God’s plan for us…accepting God’s will in our lives…believing that God has wonderful plans for us….creates hope  and joy. Here’s another well known scripture about faith and hope.

Hebrews 11:1

1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

How can we seek God’s will….how can we know God’s will for our life? Whether it’s through scripture, friends, or a direct word or vision from God…. It always requires faith.

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

This is the title of a famous piece of music by J.S. Bach. In this text, Jesus, himself becomes the source of our hope and joy. So perhaps we can rejoice in hope this morning by understanding that God has plans of future and hope for us, as well as recognizing the hope and joy we have in a relationship with Jesus.

Be Patient in Suffering

This second phrase is difficult. Why would we want to be patient in the midst of suffering?  What good does it do? This well-known passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans may give us a few hints.

Romans 5:1-5

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

I don’t pretend to be able to unpack all of this for you. But the inference seems to be that God can use our sufferings and difficulties….to make us more patient, to help us grow deeper in our faith. Perhaps you’ve experienced this in your own life.

  • Our hope and our sufferings are connected.
  • Our growth is connected to suffering.
  • Therefore our joy is also connected to suffering…. or how about this passage from James?

James 1:2-4

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,

3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Here we are not only commanded to be patient….but to rejoice (!) whenever we face trials or suffering. Again, the inference is that these trials and difficulties may be used by God to mature us and complete us!

So be patient. Let God use the struggles and problems in our lives for his glory and for our growth.

Remember, God doesn’t protect us from difficulties….He sustains us in those difficulties.

Be Faithful in Prayer   

Prayer is how we most directly communicate with God. Of course, there are many different kinds of prayer. In the psalms we find examples of prayer that include complaints, thanks, laments, as well as praise.

We are also told that the spiritual weapon most feared by our enemy, Satan, is prayer. Prayer is a life-long communication and we continue to grow in this practice and skill. If we’re ever confused or wonder HOW we should pray….remember that the simplest (and often most effective) prayer is to shout the simple word “HELP!” God is always near. Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians this way:

Ephesians 6:18-20

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,

20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Let’s be a praying church this year. Find your manner and rhythm to regularly speak with God.

(the above is a summary of a few of the thoughts shared during our worship time on January 1, 2023.)

Three Christmas Invitations

John 1:9-14

John chapter 1 is filled with many images and beautiful descriptions. Today, I want to take just three of the images that appear in our short text. These images also represent three important invitations that each of us receive.

Light

In verse 9 we read that Jesus is the true light that brings light to all people. Into the darkness of our lives, comes the true light that is Christ. But we see that there is a problem. In verse 5 we read the following: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Although the true light has entered the world, those in darkness have not always been able to comprehend it, to understand it, to see its importance.

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

Jesus himself later spoke of us as salt and light. That we should shine our light. We’re not the true light, but we give witness to the light. And so this is our first invitation: Become a Light!

Shine your light. Become a light in the darkness around you. Of course, we’re not the true light. But we share the truth of Jesus, in order that people may leave their darkness and live in the light.

A Child

At Christmas we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born as a human baby. He becomes quite literally the child of God, later called the Son of God. Were people happy to welcome him? Did people welcome him as God’s child… as God’s son? We read in verses 10-11: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

But some people did recognize him, and accepted him. And do you know what happened to them? It says in verse 12 that everyone who received him, recognized him, and believed him, were allowed to become children of God. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And so this is our 2nd invitation in today’s text: Become a child of God!

How are we supposed to become children? Become like the infant Jesus? Are we supposed to return to our mother’s womb and be born as children again? No. Remember Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. Jesus tells him – being born again, becoming a child of God – is not a physical but a spiritual reality. By accepting Jesus as the true light, and believing in his name, we become children of God.

Incarnation

This is a difficult word. It means that God, who is a spirit, takes on the physical body of we humans. Jesus is born as a human baby. In verse 14 we read: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,  who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

God became flesh and lived among us. Another famous paraphrase puts it like this: “God moved into our neighborhood.”

God became human so that he could communicate most effectively to us about his love, about the need for salvation, about eternal life which he offers to all people.

Jesus taught his disciples: “Do as I do, wash each others’ feet as I have washed your feet, spend time with those who are rejected by others, feed the hungry, heal the sick, sit with the dying, visit those in prison, give water to the thirsty.” In short, come along side of people, join their world, take on their problems, listen well to those around you. Just as Jesus came into OUR world and our neighborhood, we are commanded to go into the neighborhoods and “worlds” of our friends and neighbors. Join them where THEY are.

This is our 3rd Invitation: Practice Incarnation! It’s a bit more abstract than the first two invitations, but it basically means that we need to live as Jesus lived. Live our lives in such a way – as good neighbors – that we will have the opportunity to share the love of God and the good news of the gospel with those who we meet and interact with.

As a church, how do we practice living incarnationally?

  • It means getting to know our neighbors
  • It means getting involved in their lives, in their struggles
  • It means communicating the love of God and the good news of salvation in language that they can understand.

So let’s joyfully accept these three invitations this Christmas:

Become a light – witnessing to the truth and light of Christ

Become a child of God – accepting Jesus, believing in his name

Practice Incarnation – join “the world” of those around us

The Song of Simeon

Luke 2:28-32

Joseph and Mary are starting out their lives as parents by being obedient to all the Jewish requirements.  Eight days after his birth, their son is circumcised and named Jesus, the name given by the angel Gabriel.

Leviticus 12 required that the mother go through a purification rite, requiring two offerings – A lamb and either a pigeon or a turtledove. In hardship cases where the couple could not afford a lamb, then two birds were acceptable. Apparently, Joseph and Mary could not afford a lamb.

According to Numbers 18:15-17 the firstborn humans were supposed to be redeemed from God for five shekels of silver. The firstborn cow, sheep and goats (considered holy) were not to be redeemed but sacrificed. The firstborn of unclean animals, as well as humans, were to be redeemed. It is interesting that Luke does not mention the redemption of Jesus. Perhaps there is a message here that Jesus was not an ordinary human and that he was the lamb of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of humanity.

There was a man named Simeon, who was righteous and devout and advanced in age. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Guided by the Holy Spirit, Simeon entered the temple as Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there. Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms and praised God with a song.

Simeon had been hoping that the Messiah would appear during his lifetime. Even though Simeon would not be able to see the works of the Messiah, he was more than content to now go to his death. The Messiah was the hope for God’s rule to be established. Not only was this going to be glorious for Israel, but God was also going to reveal the Messiah to the rest of the world so that they too could see God’s salvation.

It is interesting that v. 33 tells us that the parents were amazed at what was being said about Jesus. They surely would have already concluded that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, so they wouldn’t be amazed by that. Were they amazed that Jesus was going to be the salvation, not only for Israel, but also for the Gentiles? This may have been the case, since Gabriel, in his announcement to Mary had said, “He 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.” Although the fact that the salvation of the whole world would include Gentiles was hinted at in the Old Testament, the focus of the Jews was understandably focused on the salvation of Israel.

Simeon then blessed them and then told Mary that her child is going to be the cause of the falling and the rising of people. Coming in to contact with the Messiah is going to force a choice to either accept Jesus as Lord and Savior or not, and this will either result in a falling or a rising of each person.

Once, after explaining to someone how one can gain salvation, the person thanked me for explaining what the Bible teaches, but he wished that I had not done so. He explained that he now understood that he had a decision to make but was not ready to make that decision. I had to remind him that in this case, not making a decision meant that he was making a decision. If he was not accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, it was no different than rejecting Jesus.

This made me stop and think about if I had done the right thing for this person. Should I have tried to figure out if the person was ready to make a decision before delving into the gospel? Was I blowing the chance for this person to be saved by choosing the wrong time to present the gospel? But the Holy Spirit quickly reminded me that my job was to present the gospel when the opportunity presents itself and trust the Holy Spirit for the rest. We want to be guided by the Holy Spirit as to the timing and what words to use, but the rest is up to God. As Jesus explained the parable of the sower, it is our job to sow the seeds and it is God that does the rest. We may be saddened by the results, or be joyful by the results, but the results are up to God.

Simeon rejoiced that he had seen the Messiah – the savior of the Jews as well as the Gentiles. Even though he would die before the Messiah begins His salvation work, Simeon rejoiced. We did not get to see the birth and works of the Messiah, but through the Bible, we are told. Not only about His birth and life and death and resurrection, but how He brought salvation to the world. Not only that, He has chosen us to carry on telling the world about Him. And in this, we should also rejoice.

Christmas is only a week away. As we gather with family and friends, and as the Holy Spirit gives us encounters with strangers, let us be filled with joy in the Lord, and let that joy lead us to declaring that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our Sunday worship on December 18, 2022.)

Newsletter from Rich Nakamura

My apologies for posting this a few weeks late. Pastor Rich sent it to us at Thanksgiving time. Even though late, I thought you would all enjoy seeing it and making note of address and contact info. Let’s keep Rich, Keri, and their extended family in our prayers. – Tim

Happy Thanksgiving Dear Friends,                                           November 2022

This picture of us up above – “Heading West” (to Japan) was taken almost 33 years ago (our first newsletter).  It took that long to finally arrive in Texas!  But we made it and we are so thankful!  In fact, there are many nice things like lower gas prices ($2.90), warm weather, great BBQ, and such.  But having family nearby has to be at the top of the list to be grateful for.  Right away, we had a trusted community with the Hees (Richard’s sister’s family) along with our Japanese mother and Keri’s dad.

One of the challenges is to find a local church that would fit the needs of the whole family.  We had to consider we have elderly parents, and teenagers.  It needed to be Bible centered, Christ-focused, and family-oriented.  This took us on a journey of discovering where God would have us settle.  We discovered how music also plays a huge role in deciding as a family.  It seems like we may have found a place at Countryside Bible Church.  We found our spirits refreshed and souls fed.  We are thankful.

Another blessing has been for our son Nathan, who is going to a home-school Coop, along with his cousin.  They have a couple classes together and they mutually help each other and fight to see who gets the better grade.  So thankful.  Nathan’s basketball coach’s family also goes to the same Coop.  Not only does he coach well, but his goal is to help shape boys into being godly young men.  So much is learned through sports.  We are thankful for such a godly example.

Kayla will start her new job at a nearby Mercantile (like something out of Little House on the Prairie) soon.  Her proactive visits to the church youth groups have resulted in growing friendships.  We thank God for His blessings!

Praise God for the Toyota contacts!  A sister in Christ, introduced me to the leader of the Toyota Christian Fellowship.  Our first face to face meeting was cancelled, but rescheduled.  And through another friend, I was introduced to another Christian at the company, and plan on meeting  him soon as well.  It seems God is leading and guiding through this process step by step.   So thankful to see God at work.

Takarada-sensei came out of retirement to pastor the Japanese Baptist Church of North Texas which he started many decades ago.  To do this, he travels  back and forth from Japan twice a month.  Amazing.  His teaching was solid, a man full of passion and strength.  My mom was also blessed to hear his sermon in Japanese and sing in Japanese.  So Thankful.

Keri’s dad recommended “Wounded Tiger” for me to read. Absolutely riveting.  The book weaves the stories of Fuchida, the leader of the Pearl Harbor attack, Jake DeShazer, a Doolittle Raider who bombed Tokyo, and a missionary family.  How can enemies become friends? Only by the power of Christ and the Gospel.  December 7th, the anniversary of that dreadful attack at Pearl Harbor is coming up.  What a wonderful opportunity to share this message of love and reconciliation. 

We are GRATEFUL for all of YOU, who have loved, prayed, encouraged and supported us all these years. THANK YOU!!!

New Address:  3421 Beekman Dr., Forth Worth, TX  76244

New EmailRknakamura@send.org With Thanksgiving,   Richard & Keri – SEND International

The Song of Zechariah

Luke 1:67-79 

Our theme for this Advent Season has been “The Songs of Christmas” ….and by that we don’t mean another version of “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” being piped in over the loud speaker at the mall, but instead…. songs which are sung by important characters in the birth story of Jesus in the opening of Luke’s gospel.

Last week Shun spoke about “the Song of Mary” – sung by her after she had heard from the angel Gabriel that she would bear a child, the long awaited Messiah. This week we look at another song of praise found in Luke 1. This time it is the song of Zechariah, a priest, and the father of John the Baptist.

In Luke chapter one we have the miraculous foretelling and birth of two babies: first – John, who we later come to know as John the Baptist, and secondly, Jesus – born to Mary and Joseph. In each case the angel Gabriel announces the miracle of birth. To Elizabeth, miraculous because she is too old to have children. To Mary, because she is still a virgin. We are also told that Elizabeth and Mary are relatives….although we are not sure exactly how.

Zechariah is a priest and one day when he is chosen to perform special duties in the temple, Gabriel comes to him, announcing that he and Elizabeth would have a child, and that they should name him John. This child would be a great prophet and would turn many in Israel back toward God. Zechariah is shocked and asks “How will I know this is true? We’re too old to have children.” Then he is told that he will be unable to speak until the child is born. Everyone he works with…and all the neighbors are surprised at this turn of events. When the baby is born and they are naming John, Zechariah is suddenly able to speak again and he sings the song that we are studying today in verses 68-79. I’ve outlined below what Zechariah emphasizes in his beautiful song.

Zechariah’s SONG

God’s FAITHFULNESS

  • God is now acting….. He has come and has redeemed his people.
  • This was promised from long ago. (through prophets)
  • This is part of God fulfilling his promise to Abraham.
  • God is active – both formerly……and NOW!

God’s SALVATION

  • He has provided salvation through the line of David
  • It is a salvation based on the forgiveness of sins (and therefore begins with repentance of those sins)
  • It will shine like light in the darkness
  • John will act as a prophet and forerunner….
  • It is a salvation available to ALL

God’s PEACE

  • While God’s promise was for “salvation”, God’s method would be “peace”. “To guide our feet into the path of peace….”  this is the last phrase of Zechariah’s song.
  • Luke mentions “peace” more than any other gospel.
  • Zechariah’s statement about the “way of peace” in the beginning of Luke is framed by Jesus’ statement near the end of Luke:  “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36)
  • God’s path, God’s way….is the way of peace. Pax Romana, was the name for the Roman Empire – it claimed to be a rule of peace….but in actuality any peace that existed was maintained by a brutal military force. It was also responsible for the execution of both John and Jesus. God’s way of peace would be completely different.

Can we take these beautiful words in Zechariah’s song and apply them to ourselves – and to our church today?

  • God is active and faithful in our lives…..in JCC!  Today!
  • God’s way is salvation. That is to be our work as well. Salvation through the forgiveness of sins…. the sharing of that message of light to the darkness around us must be the focus of all of our work!
  • God’s way is the path of peace. Not by might, force, power, but by the work of God’s spirit.