Cain & Abel

Genesis 4:1-16

We think of this narrative as a story about Cain and Abel, but Abel really only plays a minor role. All we know about Abel is that he is the younger brother and was a keeper of sheep. When offerings were made to God, Abel’s was accepted, while Cain’s was not. Out of jealousy Cain kills Abel. We really do not get a chance to get to know Abel. We do not get to hear Abel speak at all, except for his blood crying out from the ground.

The main story is between God and Cain.  Questions arise from this narrative for which there are no clear answers. The reasons that Abel’s offering was accepted but Cain’s offering was rejected is not given. And if we just take the narrative as given, the only people to inhabit the world should be Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. Yet, there are the people that Cain fears will kill him, and people in the land of Nod, where Cain ends up settling. We can only conjecture about the answers, but the answers are not found in the book of Genesis.

It seems obvious that Cain cares greatly about his relationship with God and is devasted and angry about his offering being rejected. He sees Abel as a rival that is getting in the way of being approved by God. God makes it clear that Cain has a choice to give into his anger or not, but Cain chooses to act out on his anger and murders his brother.

If we were to ask the “person on the street” what the story of Cain and Abel is all about, they may think that it is about a brother who commits a crime of passion and kills his brother. And when confronted with the crime, he confesses, asks for forgiveness, and mercy and protection is given by God. But this is not the case.

Even though God already knows what Cain had done, He asks Cain where Abel is – God is giving Cain a chance to admit to what he did, but Cain simply pleads ignorance. Even when confronted with his guilt and told of his punishment of banishment, Cain does not show any signs of contrition, nor does he admit his guilt, nor ask for forgiveness – He is more worried about his own safety.

Under these circumstances, we would not be surprised if God simply destroys Cain, but instead, he puts a mark on Cain that will protect him from anyone who might want to do him harm.

What are we to take away from this narrative? It certainly is not that God loves us so much that we can commit murder and we can get away with it.

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love God and to love others. If we were to reflect on which of these is harder, most of us would say the latter. If we are honest with ourselves, there are many people that we dislike, for various reasons. And even those people we like, it does not take much for us to feel anger, jealousy, or even hate at times. Sometimes we come close to acting out, and sometimes we actually do lash out. The prison system has its share of residents who went too far.

What caused Cain to kill his brother was the fact that God rejected his offering, while accepting Abel’s. There probably would not have been any murder had God rejected both offerings, or had accepted Cain’s offering. But God did reject, and that led to Cain becoming upset. God is God and He has every right to make His choices as He sees fit. And we have a choice on how we deal with our intense emotions. There are consequences when we choose to harm others. Not only are there legal implications and consequences for us, it also affects the person who is harmed, as well as those around the victim, and those around us.

God talked to Cain and tried to encourage him to do better. He also warned Cain about sin, and how it is lurking to take hold of him. Instead of working out the issue with God, Cain gave into his anger and took it out on Abel.

Yet God does not stop speaking to Cain after the murder. There are the necessary consequences – Cain’s work is going to be much harder – the ground is not going to produce rich harvests for him, and he is also banished from his home and has to go settle in the land of Nod. But there is also grace and mercy – God allows Cain to live and grants him protection. This results in Cain settling in and raising a family.

This is a reminder that even when we fail God in our relations with one another, God will not abandon us. He will continue to reach out to us.

It is also a reminder that when we feel like lashing out at someone, we should talk to God and then to listen to His response, which often comes through reading the scriptures, or through others that He will send to us.

Loving others is not an easy thing – If it were, there would not be so many instructions in the Bible regarding this topic.

Not long ago, a disturbing light was shed upon a married couple. The marriage seemed like a good one, with the couple being actively involved in ministry together. But in the privacy of their home, there was abusive behavior – both emotional and physical. When this started to become public, this negatively affected not only the marriage, but also impacted the various ministries in which the couple was involved.

We have to remind ourselves that no one is making us act out in violence, whether emotionally, physically or both. We have the choice whether to act out on our negative emotions or not. The Holy Spirit is there to help us in these situations, if we allow ourselves to be helped.

If we do end up acting out and harm others, there will be consequences. However, remember that God will not abandon us, and He will continue to speak to us.

John points out in his first letter that God’s command to us is to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we should make every effort to obey this command. But when we fail, Paul reminds us in Romans that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is what we will be celebrating next month. That was the ultimate show of love to us from God the Father.

So, in response, let us love God and others.

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship on March 12, 2023.)

Giving, Praying, and Fasting

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18

Intro: Meaning / Understanding of Lent

  • A period of preparation before Easter
  • 6 weeks (40 days, count six weeks from Ash Wednesday without the Sundays (36 days), then add the days of Holy Week from Thursday until Easter Sunday for a total of 40)
  • 40 is an important number in the Bible – 40 days and nights of rain during the flood, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, 40 days of fasting for Jesus as he prepared for ministry, etc.
  • What should we be doing during these 40 days to prepare for Easter?

Popular understanding:

  • Abstinence from certain foods
  • Giving up something (Maybe a guilty pleasure like chocolate or coffee)
  • But Fasting in the Christian understanding is so much more than “giving up” something. It is a journey TOWARD a deeper relationship with God.

Fasting and abstinence in the Christian sense is:

  • An attempt (even if briefly) to live more perfectly
  • In Paradise, humans were not concerned with food and physical needs. Their life consisted of growing in Grace and in their relationship with God. Complete dependence.
  • In the Fall, there came a losing sight of complete dependence on God, and an over-concern for food and physical needs – almost to the point of suffocating our very existence.

Lent represents a chance to realign our priorities, to once again prioritize our spiritual appetite over our physical needs.

“Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (v. 1-4)

Almsgiving:  Giving to others, being generous with neighbors

  • Alms are our evidence of our love for God, expressed through our love for neighbor.
  • We can’t truly love God, without loving our neighbor.
  • On these two things: love of God and neighbor, rests the entire law!
  • As Jesus warned, we must be careful. If we are just giving alms to be seen by others, or to become famous, or so people will think well of us – we end up losing any reward.
  • The giving of alms is also a private thing and one that realigns our priorities from merely self-care – which is important – to neighbor-care, which is a commandment.
  • Almsgiving is also part of our intimate journey to God.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (v.5-6)


  • Here we see in Jesus’ words that prayer, like fasting and almsgiving, is a personal and private conversation with God.
  • It’s not to negate group or community prayer. But it’s to invite us into the secrecy of the prayer in our closet, where no one but our heavenly Father will see us.
  • We are not to pray to publicly impress people or shout about our love for God.
  • During Lent we have the chance, in private prayer, to also involve our bodies and physical nature through kneeling, prostrations, standing, pacing, dancing prayer? It may be easier to do all of these in the privacy of our own closets!
  • Prayer is also part of our intimate journey to God.

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (v. 16-18)


  • Fasting is commanded and modeled by Jesus  “when you fast…”
  • “If you love me, you will do my commandments.”
  • Not a punishment for sins, but a joy and intimate (private) achievement
  • A chance to be reminded of how dependent we are on physical needs
  • No matter how “sought after the food” …. if you ate it daily it would lose its charm….. if you skip even one meal, or experience even just a bit of hunger, the taste of simple food and plain vegetables immediately returns.
  • Fasting is part of our intimate journey to God.

One idea for this week:

Skip one lunch

  • During that 30 minutes of fasting
  • Take time to praise and pray
  • Choose one person or situation to pray for

In this simple exercise you are practicing all 3 “pillars of Lent” at once. Fasting, praying, and praying FOR someone as a gift or almsgiving.

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our worship on March 5, 2023.)

Sin and Consequences

Genesis 3:1-24

God had created an idyllic world for the man and the woman. They didn’t have to work hard for a living. All they could want to eat was readily available to them – They just had to pick them off of the trees when they felt the need. They didn’t have to work for a living or worry about death or illness. They just had to keep themselves from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Then the crafty snake appears and starts a conversation with the woman. He starts off by overstating God’s prohibition – “Did God say you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?”

The truth is that God was magnanimous in that He gave them approval to eat from any tree in the garden. There was only one prohibition – The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So there must have been hundreds of trees from which they can eat, and only one from which they cannot. The allowed things far outnumbered the one prohibited thing. What this did was to put the focus on the one prohibition, rather than on all of the other things that were allowed. This is akin to saying, “whatever you do, don’t think about a white elephant” – For a bit, that’s all you can picture in your mind. Likewise, when we encounter an unpleasant situation, we start to wonder why God would allow this, and start to not feel grateful for all the other good things/situations that He has given us.

Then the serpent suggests to the woman that God is preventing her from growing in knowledge, and He is keeping her from reaching her potential. So, the serpent has the woman thinking that what God had said to protect the man and the woman, was instead, something God was doing to hold them back. This is like when parents prohibit their teenaged son from drinking for his protection, but seeing his friends drinking, starts to feel that his parents are just keeping him from having fun and growing up.

She may have thought that things would be better if she had the knowledge of good and evil, just like God. Then she would be able to be a little less dependent on God. So, the woman is faced with a decision, and she goes against God’s prohibition. Not only that, she also offers the fruit to the man, and he also ate. The first thing that happens is that they both realize that they were naked, and they tried to cover up using fig leaves.

The second thing that happens is that when they hear God coming, they hide. When asked, the man admits to breaking the one prohibition. And in the end, because of their actions, the man and the woman are expelled from the garden, and an angel with a flaming sword is set as guard so that they cannot return.

Between the sinning and the expulsion, there are things in this chapter of which we should take note.

God tells the serpent that because of what he did, he will now go on his belly. Interestingly enough, in some snakes like the python, you can still see rudimentary legs – often, there are short little claw tips growing out of the belly. God also tells the serpent that the woman’s offspring will strike his head, while his offspring will strike the heel of the woman’s offspring. This seems to foretell what is going to happen with Christ – He will be hung on the cross, but He will ultimately defeat sin.

Because of what the woman did, childbearing will now be painful, and the relationship between a man and a woman will not be equal.

And for the man, now he will have to work hard all his life just to be able to eat.

Then God clothed the man and the woman with garments of skins. Apparently, the garments made from fig leaves were not sufficient, and animals had to be killed so they could be clothed. And this seems to be the start of the sacrificial system, where blood must be shed to cover sin.

So we can see the seriousness of the effects of sin – It changed the world. We may think that when we sin, it only affects us, but often, the effects of our sins radiate out into the world.

The thought that made the woman sin was to become like God. The thought of being able to make up her own mind rather than simply living the life God wanted her to live must have been very attractive. Independence or less reliance on God might seem like an attractive thing, but that is the basis of sin. We want to live our own lives and make our own decisions based on our knowledge/wisdom.

A place with a wonderful climate and all the food you can eat when you want to eat, without having to pay for it with hard earned money. Where there is health and no fear of degrading body or mind. Longing for this sort of situation has driven humanity – Better health, prolonging lifespan without degrading the quality of life. In other words, getting back to the Garden. We could put all sorts of resources and efforts toward achieving such a goal, but humanity will not get there through their own efforts. But God has already unveiled His plan on getting us to where we ought to be.

Through the work on the cross, Jesus Christ has paved our way back to the life God always wanted for us.  By accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, our sins are forgiven, we are given Christ’s righteousness, and assured of a wonderful new earth and the heavens, where we can live in an idyllic world – Much like the Garden prior to man’s sinful action.

Paul tells us in Romans 5:18 “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”  We are blessed that God didn’t simply abandon mankind, but gave us a means where we can be guided back into the presence of God.

(the above is a summary of the message that Shun Takano shared with us during our worship on February 26, 2023.)

February Nakamura Newsletter!

(This is not how Richard and Keri’s letter was formatted, but I’m hoping you can see everything clearly.)

Dear Praying Friends,    

Mail Returns

Have any letters or packages you sent to us been returned?  We have been having mailing issues, and it’s not because I wrote “Forth Worth” on previous newsletters!  Apparently, the previous owner’s name was also “Richard”, so someone at USPS assumed it was him and have been returning our mail to the senders, including bills, letters, W-2’s, and packages!  We hope this issue is resolved now, so please do not give up and try again!  We’d love to hear from Y’all.

Nathan’s Basketball Team

This has been an exciting year for Nathan and basketball.  Not only did he make the team, but worked up to the “A” team. Never would we have imagined a quality homeshool league program that has State, Regional, and National finals.  And not only for basketball, but also for football, volleyball, and track. Homeschooling is BIG in Texas!  Nathan has made great friends through this.  Coach Danny, who played pro in Europe and Japan, is a towering man who desires to disciple kids through sports.  He has taught Nathan so much. Another benefit is that the games are all over the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, so we are learning about the area as well.

Pastor’s Prayer Meeting

Several of the local Japanese pastors used to gather for prayer before Covid.  Hearing of my desire to pray with the pastors, they restarted with the 3 of us (Pastors Kunisawa, Nakao and myself). Pastor Nakao (right) used to serve at the Santa Clara Japanese Christian Church, CA where I first met him years ago.  What a wonderful surprise to see him again after all these years.  He had retired and moved to Texas, but still ministers to a small group of Japanese!  The prayer time was passionate and powerful.  PTL! (Kunisawa, Richard, Nakao)

Celebrating Mom’s 93rd Birthday

Okaasan (mom) celebrated her first birthday here in Texas, and at 93, she is still getting around.  She is living with my sister’s family, which is two minutes away from us.  She definitely is enjoying the sun.  She reminisces a lot about her childhood, and especially growing up during the war years in Japan. Very hard.


Mailing Address:

3421 Beekman Dr., Fort Worth, TX  76244


Phone:  206-499-8262


Richard & Keri – SEND International      (click on our name to direct you to support)

Thank you all for all your prayers, support, letters, encouragement, and friendship!

Salt & Light

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

For two weeks we looked together at the beatitudes, the opening of the “sermon on the mount.” Today we look at the next 3 verses, where Jesus talks about salt and light.

First, I want you to notice how Jesus states this:

You ARE the salt of the earth.

You ARE the light of the world.

He doesn’t say to act like salt or shine like light….. He states that if you are my disciples….you ARE the salt and light of the world!

What does that mean?


  • precious, important, valuable (from ancient civilizations…. until about 100 years ago!)
  • cleans, purifies, used in rituals
  • medicinal uses
  • preserves (fish and meat) – keeps them from rotting!
  • Enhances taste!

Salt, by itself, has little function or purpose….. but when it is used with other items like food or water, or as medicine – it can purify, and preserve, …..and add taste!

Jesus says that our lives….when lived in this world, in our communities….when connecting with other people…should add a zesty taste….and preserve all that is good. (in the same way that salt preserves meat and fish….and keeps it from rotting, our lives should keep society from rotting!)

But we must be careful. Too much salt can ruin a good dish, but not enough salt leaves it bland. Salt on an open wound can burn…salt, rather than inducing thirst, can sometimes exacerbate it. In our human bodies – too much salt….and we die; too little salt….and we die.  We must always be gentle and humble….careful in our flavoring.

What does Jesus mean by salt losing its taste and function? In our metaphor and example here….one way would be simply to not share it, not use it, not make it available…..keep it in a jar, in a container, in the cupboard. Salt has NO value,  NO purpose if it is not used.

We are to be adding flavor, preserving the good, and live as examples of the “tasty life” that God offers!


In our age of electric power, we often feel like we can control light. But in ancient times it was different. Half the time was light, half the time was dark. Candles and lampstands were important.

Here Jesus says “No one lights a lamp….and then covers it up with a bushel basket!” Ridiculous! The light is meant to help everyone in the household. So instead, it’s put on a stand and is able to light the whole house.

But light, like salt, doesn’t exist just for itself. It’s no good under a bushel. It fulfills its purpose when it is used, poured out. It can completely change our environment – throwing clarity and sight into places that were formerly just dark and black.

If we are Jesus’ disciples…..we are light! Shedding clarity on what it means to live in the kingdom of God; offering brightness and sight to those that had been lost and stuck in darkness.

In other words, our lives and witness – as salt and light – make a difference to the world around us. Or at least they should. Our faith is not just a personal matter. It is to have an effect on those around us.

So the question then is….if we are not functioning as salt or light, why not?

If our lives don’t have much effect on those around us….what is blocking that?

In the case of salt….as we mentioned above, it might mean that we are withholding salt, keeping it in our container (just having it for ourselves here at church), keeping it in the cupboard.

  • Maybe we’re afraid
  • Maybe we don’t believe that our lives are powerful enough to flavor our society
  • Maybe we believe that we’re not good enough Christians to really be used by God in this way?

And we know already that we ARE light, according to Jesus. So if our light is NOT shining, it must be because we’ve covered it with a bushel. What kinds of things might be our BUSHELS?

  • Inferiority complex (comparing ourselves to another church, or another era?)
  • A church building? (keeping our good news inside our own walls?)
  • Our own history (while our history is to be honored, does it sometimes keep us from becoming something new?)

Well here’s the hopeful and challenging word today.

You are the salt of the earth!             あなたがたは、地の塩です

You are the light of the world!         あなたがたは、世界の光です

That means that you are:

Valuable, important, precious

Your lives are “tasty” and “lit-up”

Lord, help us to be tasty and lit-up this week!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during worship on February 19, 2023.)

God Bless You!

Matthew 5:1-12

Two weeks ago we looked at this passage together. I offered some questions but I also offered these four observations about this text – known as the beatitudes.

The beatitudes are, first of all, words of blessing.

  • They speak of God’s blessing and reward to people traditionally thought of as weak, poor, marginalized, and largely forgotten.
  • To all of these categories of people, the words of Jesus are powerful words of comfort.

The beatitudes are also words of description.

  • Although these are Jesus’ first words of teaching in the gospel of Matthew –  there are no guidelines, or rules, or “how to get into the kingdom” sort of tips here.
  • But there is nothing here like that. No laws, no rules, no guidelines.
  • No description of our sins, nor our need to believe or obey Christ.
  • No victorious….or triumphant language here…
  • Instead, he describes what God’s kingdom is like. And in that kingdom LOTS of people are blessed and specially loved by God.

The beatitudes are also words of invitation.

  • Don’t get me wrong…..Jesus doesn’t invite us to be poor in spirit, or to mourn, or to be meek…..
  • But he does perhaps indirectly invite us to live lives that are merciful, pure, righteous, and filled with peace-making.
  • Even if you’re not sure HOW to do those things….or to live in those ways…doesn’t it at least make you want to try? Doesn’t it create a hunger and thirst for that kind of living?

Finally, the beatitudes act as a kind of protest.

  • Although these are kind and gentle words… they DO describe a world which is upside down from the normal. That was true for Jesus’ disciples…..and it’s true in our day as well.
  • It’s a world where God specially blesses and loves LOTS of different kinds of people – especially those that are weak, or marginalized, or discouraged, or who feel powerless.
  • It is a protest against our “worldly beatitudes”: the understanding that only the rich, well-educated, healthy, and strong are truly blessed.
  • Instead, Jesus’ blessings show that real happiness and the blessing of God is available to all – and especially to those who in this present world may feel un-blessed, or unloved, or unlucky: the poor and poor in spirit, the mournful, the sick, and the weak.
  • And so these words, while gentle and loving, are a kind of natural protest against our “normal” way of thinking when it comes to blessings.

Sometimes I’ve read the beatitudes as “suggestions” for how to be. In other words, “IF I can become more pure of heart…..then maybe I’ll see God”  or “If I can more completely hunger and thirst for righteousness….then maybe God will fill me”.  Almost like “conditions for blessing”.

But again, remember, these are not rules or conditions for God blessing us. Jesus simply blesses the mourning, poverty-stricken, discouraged, and powerless. Unconditional blessing! Not earned.

God wants to bless us MORE than we even want to be blessed! Do you believe that??

Do we see God as a stern, condition-filled blessing-giver? Or do we continue to see ourselves as undeserving of this blessing and love? Do you believe that God just loves you unconditionally…..and wants to bless you? This is crucial to understand.

What encouragement can you take today….just knowing that true blessing and happiness come NOT from power, education, and wealth….. but from a right relationship with God?

I wasn’t sure today what God most wanted me to share through these beatitudes.

It seems like God would want us all to feel deeply blessed….and to bless others freely.

Our society has become very tribal, very polarized, very “us against them”. Jesus said that “they will know you are my disciples by how you love each other.” We sing “they will know we are Christians by our love.” Is that true today? What would happen if we refused to join the “us against them” game? If we refused to withhold blessings and service to anyone?

What would happen if we decided to bless others and serve others regardless of who they are?

This quote from the theologian Rachel Held Evans gives us reason to take stock of our present situation:

“I’ve been watching people with golden crosses around their necks and on their lapels shout at the TV about how serving gay and lesbian people is a violation of their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” And I can’t help but laugh at the sad irony of it. Two-thousand years ago, Jesus hung from that cross, looked out on the people who put him there and said, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus served sinners all the way to the cross. The truth is, evangelical Christians have already “lost” the culture wars. And it’s not because the “other side” won or because evangelicals have failed to protect our own religious liberties. Evangelicals lost the culture wars the moment they committed to fighting them, the moment they decided to stop washing feet and start waging war. And I fear that we’ve lost not only the culture wars, but also our Christian identity, when the “right to refuse” service has become a more sincerely-held and widely-known Christian belief than the impulse to give it.”

We might simply replace the word “service” in the above quote with “blessing”. What would happen if we truly understood our blessings from God…..and offered blessing and service to everyone freely??

God loves you unconditionally!

God wants to bless you….unconditionally!

You can’t live perfectly – you can’t earn God’s blessing!

He just loves you and wants to bless you.

  1. Close your eyes…..think of one way (great or small) that God has blessed you this week.
  2. With your eyes closed…..think of one way that you can bless someone else today. (a comment, a compliment, a helping hand, a financial gift?)
  3. Think of a person that you have difficulty with…..can you offer a prayer of blessing on them….right now?
  4. Are you convinced that God loves you just as you are? Yes, God will help us grow….and wishes for our continuing maturity…..and yes, often our growth will come through sorrow and pain. But the question remains….do you really believe that God loves you just as you are? Right now?

Hear the words of the benediction:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

(the above was part 2 of the sermon on the Beatitudes, shared on Sunday, February 12, 2023.)

Man and Woman

Genesis 2:15-25

15The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” 18Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

After God created the heavens and the earth, and all the plants and creatures, He created the garden of Eden with every tree that is good for food. Included were two special trees – the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Then he placed the man in it to till it and keep it. God than gave permission to the man to eat the fruit of any of the trees. But God also gave prohibition to the man against eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the warning that if he did, he would die.

Then God declared that it was not good for the man to be alone, and that he needed a partner. Every animal and bird were brought before the man so that he could name them. The man named all the animals and birds, but none was appropriate to be the man’s partner. So, God made an additional creation, the woman, to be the man’s partner.

The man, the woman and the forbidden fruit will come together to greatly change the world and the relationship between God and man, but that story is for the next time. In the meanwhile, there are some observations and learnings that we can glean from this chapter.

What we tend to remember in the narrative about Adam and Eve is the prohibition that God gave to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But it is important to remember that God also gave two other things before he gave the prohibition – Vocation and permission. The vocation that God gave to man was to work and take care of the garden. The permission was to freely eat of every tree of the garden. Vocation, permission and prohibition is what God gives to us also.

Since we live in a world after the prohibition was broken, we cannot go back into the garden and work it and take care of it. So, what is the vocation that God has given to us in today’s world? In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes, “1For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” And what is this good works? It is to be witnesses to those near and far that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

As for permission or the freedom that Christ gives us, Romans 6 tells us that when we were slaves of sin, we could not pursue righteousness, which is the right relationship with God. But now that we have been freed from sin, through the works of Christ on the cross, we are now free to pursue righteousness. Before being saved, all we could do was sin. But now that we have been saved, we can choose not to sin and free to do the good works that God prepared for us.

As for the prohibition, Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. He goes on to explain in Ephesians 4:31-32, “31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,   32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 

As for a helper for man, God decided not to play that role, so a different helper was needed. Of course God can and will help, but the day-to-day role of a partner/helper was going to be another creature – a created one. They went through all of the birds and animals, but none were appropriate for the role. So, another human was created. This is a good indicator that God planned man to not to be living through life solo, but in community with other humans. The partner, the wife or husband, that God has given to us, as well as our brothers and sisters in the faith – The church family – are the day-to-day helper/partner that God had intended from the beginning.

According to Genesis 2:9, there were two special trees that God planted in the garden – The tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The prohibition was that man was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But we know from Genesis 3 that the reason Adam and Eve were ousted from the garden was so that they would not eat from the tree of life, now that they had eaten from the prohibited tree.

Why did God put these trees in the garden? If they were not put there, man could have stayed in the garden, since there would have been no prohibition that man would have been tempted to break. The text does not give a reason. However, it is clear that God has the right to do with His creation as He sees fit.

However, we can get an idea of the plans of God by how things are today. We are in the age between Jesus returning to heaven and Jesus coming back to earth again. The letter to the Romans makes it clear that once we are freed from the bondage of sin, we now have the choice of sinning or not. Before, we had no choice but to sin, but now we have been given the freedom not to sin. From this, we can surmise that God desires people who choose to fellowship with Him. People who will accept the vocation given to them, not because they have no choice, but because they have that choice.

But history proved that no human who has the freedom to sin or not to sin, could stay free of sin. So God sent Jesus, who was able to stay sin-free until the end, to go to the cross and take the punishment that we deserve. The proof of this was that Jesus was resurrected. Because of this, by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can reestablish the right relationship with God, and are given eternal life.

We need to keep in mind that God designed it so that we are the helpers/partners to each other. We should be willing to partner with our wife, our husband, our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the work that God created us to do. So let us not find reasons not the help each other, but find reasons to partner with one another.

Let us not give in to the temptation to shirk our responsibilities from God and just pursue whatever pleases us. Let us support one another to spread the word that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship on February 5, 2023.)

Do We Hunger for Righteousness?

Matthew 5:1-12

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Our text for today is the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount – referred to as the “Beatitudes”. I’ve used a question as the title for today’s message. “Do we really hunger and thirst for righteousness?” or more personally –  “Do I really seek for righteousness?”  This is what I’ve been pondering for the past couple of days. It of course comes from Jesus’ words in verse 6 where he says “Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness….for they shall be filled.” Let me just say that I won’t attempt to completely answer that question today. I will be preaching on this text for two Sundays. But allow me to share some initial thoughts that may get us started.

Remember, these are the first words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. It’s the first time he’s opened his mouth. We’re told that his disciples came to him….but so far in Matthew….he’s only chosen 4 of them – Peter, Andrew, James and John. It appears that there is also a crowd that has gathered around and are listening.

  • How should we understand the words of Jesus?
  • What did you feel when you heard them read this morning? Did you have a sense of joy?…..of sadness? Maybe of some confusion?  Any cynicism? Be honest….
  • We are not really told how his disciples felt either…..but we can be fairly certain that the kingdom being described….was not like the one they lived in either.
  • To be more clear, the world Jesus decribes here is pretty much upside down, completely reversed from the world and societies that we’ve come to know…. where the rich get richer, the strong get stronger, and poverty is often just a generational disease that keeps getting handed down….
  • How are we to understand the beatitudes?

The beatitudes ARE words of blessing.

  • They speak of God’s blessing and reward to people traditionally thought of as weak, poor, marginalized, and largely forgotten.
  • To all of these categories of people, the words of Jesus are powerful words of comfort.
  • When I first heard these words as a child, I knew that it described a very different world than the one I lived in….but I also had a deep sense of “rightness” and “comfort” about Jesus’ words.
  • So if you felt joy or peace today when you heard these words, that’s totally appropriate.

The beatitudes are also words of description.

  • Remember these are Jesus’ first words. Don’t you think he would offer to his newly chosen disciples some guidelines, or rules, or “how to get into the kingdom” sort of tips?
  • But there is nothing here like that. No laws, no rules, no guidelines.
  • No description of our sins, nor our need to believe or obey Christ.
  • No victorious….or triumphant language here…
  • Instead, he describes what God’s kingdom is like.
  • He doesn’t give them instant answers….but they must have been curious!
  • So if you felt some confusion, or even cynicism earlier when you heard the text this morning, I think that’s pretty appropriate too.

The beatitudes are also words of invitation.

  • Don’t get me wrong…..Jesus doesn’t invite us to be poor in spirit, or to mourn, or to be meek…..
  • But he does invite us to live lives that are merciful, pure, righteous, and filled with peace-making.
  • Even if you’re not sure HOW to do those things….or to live in those ways…doesn’t it at least make you want to try? Doesn’t it create a hunger and thirst for that kind of living?
  • So if you felt a bit restless, or a hunger or longing….when you heard these words this morning, that’s appropriate.

Finally, the beatitudes are words of protest.

  • You didn’t hear them that way?
  • Does any of the gospel message sound like a protest to you?
  • Jesus was probably not crucified because he blessed people. He was not crucified because he described people (although some of his descriptions of the Jewish leaders sure made them mad), he wasn’t crucified because he invited people to live holy lives. It’s pretty clear that he was crucified because his gospel was a total threat to the powers that be. Speaking truth and standing up for the marginalized and poor, spending time with “the enemy”, with “them”, with “sinners” – this could rock the boat and tip it over. In short, he was killed because his message represented a strong protest…
  • Jesus himself says in verse 11-12 – my paraphrase – “Oh, and by the way….if you live lives that are merciful, and pure, and righteous, and filled with peace-making…and you stand up for those that are weak, poor in spirit, and have no voice….. get ready…. because they’re going to hate you!”

Back to the original question. Do I really hunger and thirst after righteousness? Given that the beatitudes can be understood in these various ways….I offer these further thoughts.

  • Maybe I’ve become accustomed to blessing people, or describing the kingdom of God, or inviting people to live fuller lives…. But I may be hesitant to protest the lack of justice and righteousness around me.
  • I naturally avoid conflict, arguments, I’ll do anything not to directly rock the boat. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a strong opinion. It’s just that I hate solving conflicts so directly. I was raised in Japan, after all, the “land of consensus”.
  • And so at the end of this week, I’m thinking that sometimes my lack of hunger and thirst for righteousness is because I’m not willing to protest enough. Maybe my gospel is too timid and tame.
  • In fact, when was the last time I was persecuted for speaking the gospel?

I’m reminded of this famous account:

When the renowned theologian St. Thomas Aquinas visited the Vatican in the Thirteenth Century AD, Pope Innocent IV invited him to view the breathtaking treasures that had been amassed by the Church. With great pride, the pope told him, “No longer can the Church say, ‘Silver and gold have we none’!” To this, St. Thomas Aquinas answered, “Holy Father, that is very true indeed. But neither can we say to the poor and afflicted, ‘But what I DO have I give you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Rise up and walk!’”

This, too, seems to be a case where the “protest” part of the gospel had been lost. The Church, by the 13th century, had become financially and politically strong, accepted in society. It was no longer persecuted or marginalized….. but it also had lost it’s deep connection to Jesus and to the power of the Kingdom of God.

How about Christians in our present time? Do we comfortably fit in? Does our faith in any way serve as a protest to unrighteousness around us? Is persecution rare? Are we deeply connected to Jesus and gospel power?

More next week!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during worship on January 29, 2023.)

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.

(The above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship on January 22, 2023.)