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The Lord Is Awesome

Psalm 8

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

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

David understood and expresses his thoughts in Psalm 8.

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

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

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

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

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

Philip

Acts 8:26-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sudden Storms

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

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

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

Here’s a quick recap of the story:

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

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

1.  Our Natural Response to Storms

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

2.  Jesus Has Power to Control Storms

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

3.  The Truth About Jesus and Storms

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Stephen

Acts 7:54-60

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

人々はこれを聞いて、はらわたが煮え返る思いで、ステパノに向かって歯ぎしりした。 しかし、聖霊に満たされていたステパノは、天を見つめ、神の栄光と、神の右に立っておられるイエスとを見て、 こう言った。「見なさい。天が開けて、人の子が神の右に立っておられるのが見えます。」 人々は大声で叫びながら、耳をおおい、いっせいにステパノに殺到した。 そして彼を町の外に追い出して、石で打ち殺した。証人たちは、自分たちの着物をサウロという青年の足もとに置いた。 こうして彼らがステパノに石を投げつけていると、ステパノは主を呼んで、こう言った。「主イエスよ。私の霊をお受けください。」 そして、ひざまずいて、大声でこう叫んだ。「主よ。この罪を彼らに負わせないでください。」こう言って、眠りについた。 使徒の働き7:54−60

In chapter 6, we are told that the Greek speaking widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.  So the twelve gathered and had the community of believers appoint seven men to deal with this problem.  It is interesting that looking at the seven men who were chosen, they all had Greek names. Probably to make sure that the concerns of the Greek speaking people were going to be properly addressed.  Stephen was one of these men who were chosen.  These men were chosen based on their good standing with the community and were full of the Spirit and wisdom.

We are also told that Stephen did great wonders and signs among the people. Some Jews tried to argue with Stephen, but they could not win against the wisdom of the Spirit that was in him.  So they brought up false charges against him and took him in front of the council.

The high priest asks Stephen whether the accusation that he is blaspheming is true, and Stephen goes into the longest speech recorded in Acts. It is a run through Israel’s history where some in the community opposed the will of God, and yet, God’s will prevailed. He concludes by telling the council that they are opposing the Holy Spirit by opposing the church of Jesus Christ.

The council is enraged by what Stephen says, but when Stephen declares that he is seeing a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God, the rage overflows and the council turns into a mob, drags Stephen out of the city and stones him to death.

The council knew of the miracles and wonders that were being performed by the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  Even though good things were being done in the name of Jesus, they could not bring themselves to believe that this Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.  Nothing in their belief system could accept a Messiah that would be executed and then come back to life.  Stephen’s vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God, if true, would mean that Jesus indeed was the Messiah.  They could either accept this or reject it.  And if they reject, then in their minds, Stephen was blaspheming and needed to be put to death.  Under Roman rule, they probably did not have the authority to execute anyone, so they turned into an angry mob.

Stephen’s last action is to pray to Jesus to receive his spirit, and then for the forgiveness of the ones who are murdering him.  Very reminiscent of how Jesus died.

Although Stephen was introduced in chapter 6, and dies in chapter 7, he ends up having impact on the young church.  The way he died, being a witness for Christ until the end, is an example to us all.  If we must die in persecution, this is the way we would aspire to – Asking the Lord for forgiveness for the ones who persecute us.

However, down deep in our hearts, we wonder if we could actually act like Stephen.  We often feel frustration and anger towards those who we “know” are in the wrong, especially about our Lord. We would probably prefer that God somehow punish them rather than forgive them.  Or at least punishe them before He forgives them.

Most of us reading this section would identify ourselves with Stephen, rather than with the mob. Yet, it is good to remember that at least some of the mob took their faith seriously.  They sincerely believed in God, as well as that Jesus was not the Messiah. To them, the only logical way to be faithful to God is to oppose these people who are preaching that Jesus is the Messiah.

Today, even within the church, there are divisions about many things – Politicians, politics, how best to combat things like the pandemic, hunger, homelessness, access to healthcare, etc.  Sometimes we just cannot understand how people with opinions/beliefs that are different than ours believe what they do.  Yet, we probably should acknowledge that there are sincere Christians on both sides, and although they might have opposite views, they are not the enemy.  And even if they are the enemy, we need to remember that the Lord’s command to us concerning our enemies is to not persecute or punish them, but to love them.

If I were in Stephen’s position, knowing that I was going to be killed, my reaction might be anything else but praying for their forgiveness.  But in my heart, I know Stephen did what the Lord would want him to do.  In fact, Stephen did what Jesus did in a similar situation.

That apparently is what Luke is teaching us through this passage.  The key characteristic with which Luke describes Stephen is that he was full of the Spirit. The same Spirit that Stephen was filled with came to fill us when we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and if we let Him, the Holy Spirit will fill us with His love when we most need it.

(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our zoom worship time on June 13, 2021.)

July 4th Worship

(This is a message to our neighbors – it will be handed out as a flyer)

Hello Neighbor!

We are JCC (Japanese Congregational Church) and we’re your neighbor on the corner of Main St. and 17th Ave. S.

Like many of you, we have had to postpone our regular gatherings and get-togethers with friends and family over much of this past year because of the COVID pandemic. But on Sunday, July 4th, we will once again begin our in-person worship times.

On that day, we want to have a special time of remembering those in our community who have experienced loss as a result of this pandemic – whether that’s loss of life, loss of employment, loss of a home, or other difficulties during this past year. We won’t be doing anything fancy – just remembering these friends by saying their names, lighting a candle, and praying for them.

We’re inviting you to join us in this special service. You can participate in any of the following ways:

  • Write to us, or send us an email with the name of the person that you want remembered. If possible, share with us the loss that was experienced.
  • If it’s easier, you can call us with the same information.
  • Or, come and join us at 10:00 a.m. on July 4th. We anticipate concluding our time of “worshiping and remembering” by 11:00 a.m. The service will include some simple music, a short meditation, and a time of prayer. (facemasks will be required)

Finally, even if you can’t join us on July 4th, please come and visit us any Sunday, at 10:00 a.m. If you prefer to connect with us online, we offer a zoom link that can be used to join in  worship from your own home. (Meeting ID: 299 607 7841 – call me with any questions)

We look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for being a good neighbor!

Your friends at JCC

Tim Johnson / Pastor       (360) 503-9196

Email:                                    tgj0528@gmail.com

Website:                               japanesecongregationalchurch.org

(Some of you may not be part of any faith family, or maybe a different church family. If so, please know that this is not meant as a solicitation, but simply a warm welcome if you wish to participate on July 4th.)

Where Is Our Focus?

Most of you know my wife Andrea works for a local hospice organization. While she’s not free to talk with me about the specifics of her clients, I know that her work involves people of all ages. Though more rare, some are young children – facing sickness and death. Some are middle-aged, facing a death and end far sooner than they had imagined. And of course, many are very old – a more acceptable timeline, yes – but nevertheless struggling with how to conclude their lives.

What are the priorities for one who is weakening and coming to the end of their days?  How does one get their affairs in order? How should pain be managed? On each hospice team is a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, and someone like Andrea – a spiritual counselor or chaplain. As a team they attempt to choose the proper client need on which to focus on any given day.

What should one focus on? 

At our wedding we received a card from good friends that said “May you become rich in all things that money cannot buy.” We immediately appreciated that card, it’s message, and have often thought about those words over the past decades that we’ve been married.

Here too, we recognize that the issue is one of priorities. What should a young newly-wed couple focus on? What should be most important for them?

In our text for today Paul speaks of these same priorities and talks about the need to focus. In verse 18 we read “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Why does Paul write like this?

First, in verse 16 he gives this reasoning:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Here Paul uses an easy to understand example of the human body. Just as the human body wears down, weakens, and moves toward death, it’s amazing to realize that there is also an inner portion, an eternal, unseen portion that is renewed, resurrected, and continues into eternity…

Andrea has shared with me some amazing examples of people who, seemingly trapped within bodies that no longer function well, nevertheless display amazing spirits of joy and even growth. Often times even as the visible and physical body shuts down, the invisible spirit opens up in new ways, sometimes resulting in reconciliation, forgiveness, and renewed relationships with family. Perhaps some of you know of examples like this – where an individual who is suffering from dementia suddenly “comes alive” or becomes surprisingly clear when they hear a familiar hymn sung or scripture read.

In verse 17 Paul continues:

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Paul says that our troubles and the many trials we have – those things that COULD discourage us and cause us to lose heart – have meaning and function – they prepare us for eternal glory.

Whether it’s hospice patients,  or newly-wed couples, or discouraged Christians… Paul seems to be saying that the thing to focus on (invisible and eternal) – is our relationships. Our relationship with God, which will affect our relationships with others, and with ourself. In verse 14 Paul says:

“Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”

Paul has written throughout this chapter of the power of the gospel, the power of God in the midst of weakness. Here, too, his confidence is not that “everything will be OK”, or that if he tries hard enough, he’ll succeed. No, his confidence is in God – the one who raised Jesus from the dead, who will also raise us.

Whatever we build ourselves, whatever we try to control ourselves, whatever we can see, is subject to decay, aging, weakening, and death. But we need not be discouraged and lose heart…. Why? Because there is an eternal glory, an eternal goal that we have that will NOT end or simply decay. That’s eternal life, the power of God in Jesus and also in us. Our lives, even the struggles, have meaning and are connected to eternity as long as we focus on the right place.

Here are two examples of what it might mean to move our focus from the temporary to the eternal:

  1. A child receiving gifts at Christmas focuses on those toys, the things he receives and can play with, and can see. This is normal and exciting for a child. Later, however, that child becomes an adult and begins to focus on what gifts he would like to give others. The initial joy as a child is with the temporary and visible. The later focus and joy as an adult is with the invisible (bringing joy to others, the relationships which are expressing love, etc.).
  2. JCC – Paul’s description of the human body could also refer to us as a congregation. JCC (the outward and temporary) is weakening, diminishing, aging – whether we consider our buildings or our members. We could focus on that and lose heart. Or we can choose to focus on the inner side of our congregation. The relationship side. The continuing relationship and leading of God over these 120 years. The love-based relationships we share with each other. The new things that God has YET to do with us.

Jesus taught in a different place, in different words, a similar truth:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume. (the visible and temporary) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. (the invisible and eternal)

Seek first of all the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (the invisible and eternal) and all these things (the visible and temporary needs) will be provided for you!

What do we choose to focus on this week?

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our zoom worship time on June 6, 2021.)

Vindication Comes From The Lord

Psalm 7

It is amazing how such a small tongue can cause so much heart ache.  God warns us against slander such as in  Psalm 101:5  “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”

Or, 1 Peter 2:1  “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

In Psalm 7, it seems like David was being slandered, accused of wrongdoing by a guy named Cush, a Benjamite.  Cush, along with others, did not want David to be king. We see hints of this in 1 Samuel 24:9, He said to Saul, ‘Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’?”  David was not bent on harming King Saul.  David literally had 2 chances to kill King Saul, but he did not.  The slander and lies were not based on fact.

So what does David do?  He cries out to the Lord, “Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.”  Being slandered hurts.  On these charges, David knows he is innocent. 

These days, people are accusing others of being racist.  When we judge people based on skin color, without knowing a person’s heart or motive, we are slandering. I know feelings run high, but we need to be careful.  And as Christians, we are to stop it.  Instead,  we can help each other.  Encourage each other to speak the truth in love.

Why do people slander others? Pride.  By tearing down others, we feel on top.  This is wrong.

But what do we do?  We do what David does.  David appeals to the righteous God…

“Arise, Lord, in your anger;   rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.  “ Let the Lord judge the peoples. Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,  according to my integrity, O Most High.  Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure— you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts.”

Can we trust God to vindicate us?  He is our shield.  “My shield is God Most High,  who saves the upright in heart.”  Often times, we struggle with His timing.  We want things to happen faster than it does.  But God is at work.  His timing is perfect.  And there are times we won’t see the final result.  It doesn’t mean He isn’t true to His Word.  So trust in the Lord.  That is why David ends with,

“I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;  I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.” (verse 17)

Instead of slandering, let’s pray, give thanks, trust, and Praise the Lord.

(the above is a summary of the message shared by Richard Nakamura during our zoom worship time on May 23, 2021)

Some Thoughts On Adoption

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, for those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit of Adoption that you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:12-17

Our text for today includes the word “adoption” at least in most English versions. Paul even refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Adoption”. What does he mean…and what can we draw from this analogy? Many of you have experienced the adoption of a child in your own families. Our family, too, has experienced adoption. We are a “mixed” family of both adopted and biological children. So when Paul uses the word adoption, my ears perk up and I am interested in the way in which he describes our relationship with God using this word.

Three of our four children have come to us through adoption. Those of you who are also adoptive parents will immediately recognize the brief conversations below:

  • On one occasion I was playing with my two adopted sons (both Japanese by birth) in a park in Seattle when another parent, seeing that I was caucasian, assumed correctly that I was an adoptive parent. “Are they brothers?” she asked about the boys. After a slight hesitation I answered, “Well, they are now.” She continued, “But, you know, are they real brothers?” to which I answered “Yes, they are now real brothers.” She had a slightly perturbed look on her face… and I felt slightly defensive inside. Both of us knew what she meant – are they connected biologically? – did they have the same parents?, etc. She didn’t mean to offend, and I didn’t mean to feel defensive. It’s just a common occurance in these kinds of conversations.
  • On other occasions people, having heard of our adoptive children, might ask “And do you also have children of your own?” Again, the same uncomfortable pause, but we would generally answer, “these ARE our own children…” Sometimes our answers would vary, depending on whether our children were in earshot of the conversation or not.
  • In more extreme cases, the “do you have children of your own?” question might even be phrased as “yes, but do you have real children?” (This often happened during a conversation in Japanese, where the word “honto” – 本当 -literally means “real”).
  • On one comical occasion I even had a check-out gal at the supermarket in Japan ask me “whose children are you watching today?” as if I was shopping while babysitting for some neighborhood family. I can’t remember exactly how I answered but after years of these questions, one tends to get tired of educating the world one person at a time – so I most likely just smiled and admitted that they were some neighborhood children I was looking after.

In all of these cases the real issue revolves around how one defines a family, or prioritizes various things. Are DNA and our biological connection more important and deeper than other familial relationships, such as adoption?

As we proceeded with our international adoptions through the Japanese family court in our prefecture, we became aware of one important fact. In Japan, there are two distinct types of adoption. One is called “ordinary or common adoption” (futsuu yoshi-engumi), and the other is called “special adoption” (tokubetsu yoshi-engumi) In Japanese culture it’s not unusual for couples who can’t have children of their own to simply adopt a nephew or niece – an “extra” child of one of their relatives. It’s usually a boy and this child would come to carry on the family name and take over the family business, etc. This kind of ordinary adoption is quite simple to do – requiring merely a change on the citizenship register of all involved. It can also be quite easily undone if things don’t work out as smoothly as one wished. With a “special adoption”, it is a completely different process. In this case, the child cuts ALL ties with the original family, including any right of inheritance, and actually joins a new family, becoming a “real” child with all the rights of inheritance – an actual heir. Of course, we realized that this is the only kind of adoption that we have in our American system and so we were required to follow through with a “special” or “tokubetsu” adoption.

So what does all of this have to do with today’s text? What does Paul say that the Spirit of Adoption does for us? The Spirit of Adoption….

1.  Brings us INTO a new relationship with God (verse 15)

  • We are adopted as sons and daughters ( a “special” adoption!)
  • Now, we can refer to God not just as our creator, but as our Abba / Father!

2.  ASSURES us of that relationship (verse 16)

  • Adopted children often seek assurance of their status and situation. Here it says that the Holy Spirit provides that confidence that we need and assures us of our standing!
  • The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children!

3.  COMPLETES that relationship  (verse 17)

  •  If we are true children, then we are heirs
  •  If we are heirs, then we are co-heirs with Christ
  •  What is it that we are inheriting?  Suffering and glory!

A discussion of our inheritance being both suffering and glory… would be another entire sermon! But back to adoption – if we are adopted, and become REAL brothers and sisters, and share the SAME Abba / Father – we are no longer able to view brothers and sisters of other nationalities, ethnicities, political divides… as somehow OTHER – not connected to us. We are all a NEW family, a real family, a tokubetsu adoption! And if we extend that circle to include not just other Jesus-followers, but all humanity – the implications become profound. How many of our present wars and struggles would become impossible if people truly understood that with the same heavenly father, we are all siblings?

(the above is a summary of the message shared on May 30, 2021 during our zoom worship session.)

Jesus Prays for His Disciples…and Us!

John 17:6-19

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Today’s text is just a portion of the prayer that Jesus prays for his disciples. The context? Thursday, the evening before his crucifixion. He is gathered in the upper room for the passover meal – the last supper he has with his followers. He has washed their feet. He has indicated that Judas would betray him. He has spoken of the fact that Peter will deny him. He has taught them about the Holy Spirit and confirmed that he would be leaving them. He is troubled by all of this… yet, in his sadness and turmoil, he pauses – to pray – for the disciples that he loves.

What did Jesus pray for his disciples?

First, Jesus seems to express a thanksgiving for the disciples  – a sense of gratitude and deep love. “they have obeyed your word”, “they accepted my words”, and “they believed that you sent me” are all phrases we find in verses 6-8.

Secondly, in verse 11, Jesus prays for their protection. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…” While he has been with them, Jesus himself has protected them and watched over them. Now that he would be returning to the Father, he is concerned for their safety. He knows that once he is gone, things will be exceedingly difficult for them.

And lastly, he clarifies the protection for which he is asking. In verse 15 we find these words: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” In other words, NOT that the disciples would be saved FROM the world – or difficulties and trials that will come – but that they would be protected while remaining IN the world – protected from the evil one.

How do you think the disciples felt as they heard Jesus’ prayer for them? When someone expresses love for you, appreciation, and concern for your safety – particularly in prayer – does it not have a strong power to encourage and strengthen you? We’re not sure what went through the disciples’ minds. We know that they all failed Jesus later that same night. But it becomes clear that Jesus, through is prayer, is expressing deep love for them. They must have recalled this evening and Jesus’ prayer on their behalf many times in their post-resurrection ministry.

Has someone prayed for you in this way? Can you think of a time when you know that you were being prayed for? As missionaries in Japan, we had access to a prayer calendar that was made up of the families and faces of all the missionary staff serving around the world with our denominational organization. We would use the small booklet during family devotions to remember missionary colleagues serving in other places – and would often be the recipients of prayer from all around the world as “our day” came around in the calendar. It was not uncommon to occasionally experience a day in our ministry when so many things “fell into place” or when “we felt a special power and protection from God” – only to discover later that yes, it HAD been our day in the calendar. We were merely experiencing the reality of special prayer support!

Although it is not part of the text for today a quick look at verses 20-21 makes it clear that Jesus was not only praying for his disciples…. but also for us, who would later become his disciples.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21

Jesus prays for all people (us included!) who would believe and become his disciples through the ongoing ministry of the church – started by these first disciples and carried on over the centuries like a vast connected chain of activity. We too were being prayed for that night! Jesus prayed for our protection and for our unity.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is even NOW, alive, and interceding (praying on our behalf) for us constantly. What an amazing thought…. and encouragement.

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:25.

As we head into this week, walking as disciples of Jesus, let’s be encouraged by these facts:

Jesus is living (He is risen!) and praying for us

Jesus prays for our protection

Jesus prays for our unity – oneness

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our zoom worship session on May 16, 2021.)

They Rejoiced As They Left…

Acts 5:27-42

27When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites,£ consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 
38So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him, 
40and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. 42And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. 

In vv. 12-16, we learn that the apostles were healing many people miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Earlier in Acts, we saw that the healing of one man caused Peter and John to be arrested and brought before the religious leaders.  They were released after being warned to not speak about Jesus anymore and threatened.  We would expect the religious leaders to act stronger now that many were being healed.

The apostles were arrested and thrown into prison overnight.  But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and released them, and they kept preaching.

They were gathered again in front of the religious leaders and were reminded that they were warned about preaching about Jesus.  The apostles would not back down, and they wanted to kill them, but a respected teacher, Gamaliel, reasoned with them that they should leave them alone, since if they were not part of God’s plans, they would fade away on their own, but if they were part of God’s plans, then opposing them would mean opposing God.

So they had the apostles flogged, warned them again, and released them.  This flogging was not a light punishment.  They would use leather whips with many tails, tipped with lead, which were designed to dig into the skin and rip as they came out.  It was considered so dangerous that they were not allowed to receive 40 lashes, so most stopped at 39.  After such lashings, their backs would be made raw and the scars and the pain would last for a while.

The apostles’ reaction to being mistreated for witnessing for Jesus is not something we would have expected.  Instead of being enraged by the mistreatment, or frightened for their lives if they persisted, they left rejoicing.  Rejoicing because God had considered them worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus.

In many countries, including the United States, religious freedom is protected by law.  It does not mean that we are absolutely free from harm when practicing our faith, since there is always a potential of harm coming from individuals or groups who do not like what we practice or preach.  But it would be a rare event where the governing body would arrest and physically abuse us for our faith.  If persecution did occur, our reactions probably would not be the reaction that the apostles had in this section.

How is it that the apostles were able to accept persecution because of their faith in Jesus?  Jesus had taught them that they will be persecuted for their faith in Him.  In Luke 6:22-23, he said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven”.  人の子の為に、人々があなたがたをにくむとき、また、あなたがたをじょめいし、はずかしめ、あなたがたの名をあしざまにけなすとき、あなたがたはさいわいです。その日には、喜びなさい。おどりあがって喜びなさい。天ではあなたがたのむくいは大きいからです。

Jesus had prepared His followers to expect persecution – that it was going to be a normal part of their lives if they choose to follow Him.  Back then, the only way to avoid persecution was to not be a witness for Christ.  But that was not going to be an option for a true believer, who has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a witness.

Things are a bit different and easier today in the United States.  We are not likely to be arrested and whipped by the authorities for telling others about Jesus.  But if that time ever comes, would we be ready to be joyful about it?  With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is possible.

True joy will come from serving the Lord, regardless of whether there are any positives for us.  It is a bit different than happiness, which usually comes from external circumstances. 

We probably should be glad that we live in a time and place where when we act in faith, we are not going to be arrested, imprisoned and tortured.  However, we should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in how we can be witnesses for Jesus.  Is it helping someone in need with time or money?  Is it witnessing to unbelieving family members, or a co-worker, or a neighbor?

It might be something we do not want to do or even dread doing.  It might be something that is costly to us or even bring us persecution.  But as long as we are serving the Lord, it may not bring us happiness, but it can bring us true joy.

After all, the same Holy Spirit that enabled the flogged apostles to leave rejoicing is with us today. 

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our zoom worship time on May 9th.)