Sunday, August 27, 2017


◆September 20th (Wednesday)  Bible Study & Prayer Meeting
10:30 ~ 12:00
19:30 ~ 21:00
Reading from the Gosple of John 7:10~24

◆Next Week Sunday Worship Service (September 24th)

*Joint Service (10:50~12:00)
*Church School will not be held this day.

 Sermon: "United by Christ"
                         1 Corinthians 1:10-17
                                             Pastor Tomohiro Sakai

*Friday Family Fellowship (FFF) 19:00~  
 FFF will be closed during the summber break at school. FFF will resume
October 6th (Fri.)!
 Friday Family Fellowship is an international Christian and cultural
fellowship held every Friday at our church. We enjoy sings, games and
discuss our faith. Everyone, please feel free to join!

August 27th (Sun)
                                                Matthew 7:13-14
                                      The Road that Leads to Life
   In today's passage, Jesus says to “enter through the narrow gate.” And He goes on to say “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
   How should we interpret Jesus' words?
    Can we with confidence say that “I passed the narrow gate and am walking on the path to eternal life?” With certainty, having believed in Jesus Christ, we are on the path to life. By believing in the Lord Jesus' salvation, we are under the grace of salvation.
    However, Jesus' words “Enter through the narrow gate” are more so important to already believing Christians and we need to continue hearing these words.
   In verses 13 and 14, only the words “Enter through the narrow gate” are written in imperative command form. Therefore, these words, Jesus' command to us, are the most important in today's passage.
In Luke 13, “Someone asked Him (Jesus) “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”” (Luke 13:23). In response, Jesus said “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (v 24) and adds “because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Also, He said that in verse 25 that a time will come that the owner of the house will close the doors.
However, in response to the question “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus does not address how many are going to be saved. Rather, He said “enter through the narrow gate” and “just concentrate on trusting and following God.”
Every day, we must test ourselves to see if we are daily passing through the “narrow gate that leads to life” and are walking the path.
Contrary to the narrow gate, the wide gate is the gate of temptation. The road leading to it appears much easier. When you think about it, daily life is not easy as a Christian.
There are times when we want to do something else instead of going to church on Sunday. There are times we would prioritize something that's more fun than church.
We say we don't have time to read the Bible. But we always have time to do something fun.
Also, when we read the Bible, there are often many passages that are difficult to understand, and often just the act of reading becomes a chore.
 In order to display our thanks to God, we give our offerings. Considering daily life, this is never something we can do easily. You feel some pain every time you offer up a part of your paycheck.
Still, we consciously set aside the first day of the week for God, offer this day up to God, and direct our hearts to Him. On this day, we hold church services.
We read the Bible daily, and listen to the message of God, who can only be known through the Bible.
Also, through the pain of offering our money, we display our thanks to God for supporting us in our daily lives, and learn to trust more in God that He will give us just what we need.
   Ministry in church, fellowship with other church members, and helping each other is also important.
   Entering through the narrow gate is not simply a custom. It is a constant and conscious gratitude towards God's grace and deliberately living out your faith.
   Matthew 7:7 says the following.
   "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
   Ask. Seek. Knock. All of these emphasize a deliberate action. It's saying to respond to God's grace and live out your Christian lives while thinking about the meaning and purpose of the above.
Now, when hearing the words “narrow gate,” one might think of a school or company that's difficult to get in to. In this context, “narrow gate” would mean many want to enter but only a few chosen individuals will get in.
    Does the “narrow gate” that Jesus spoke of have a limit on how many people pass? Smart people, people who work hard, those that get good grades on exams, are these the only people that will get to heaven? 
As I said earlier, we must consciously choose the path to life that God has prepared. We must choose ourselves between life and death (destruction).
It's no easy task to defeat temptations and choose the narrow gate. However, this gate is open to all, and anyone can enter.
We must leave behind our past lives of depending on ourselves and our own efforts, and make the decision to follow Jesus. If we do that, anybody can enter the gate and anybody can walk this path.
  The only requirements to pass through the gate are to believe in Jesus as your savior and to confess it. The word “only” here might be a bit wrong because being able to confess Jesus as your savior is already a great grace.
Also, regarding the meaning of “narrow,” the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the only God and savior. It tells us that the carpenter's son that was born 2000 years ago in the Judean village of Nazareth is God's son and is God Himself.
When I was still on the fence about God, I had thought that if Jesus Christ had been born in Japan, if He had been a Japanese person, it would've been easier to accept and believe in Him.
Being told that some man born 2000 years ago in a far-away country, being told to believe in a foreign religion.... it was hard to take seriously.
However, can we believe the Bible when it says that one man born long ago in a far country, who lived among humans and died, is God? That right there is the key to our faith.
Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn't say “I am one path (out of many).” Jesus is the only path to life.
    Having believed in the Bible's words through the Holy Spirit, can we make the decision to follow the Lord? That is the key.
 “Jesus Christ is the only salvation.” This can be thought of as a very “narrow” way of thinking. Don't you think it would've been better if God had given us a wider range of options?
We often think it'd be better if Jesus had transcended time and space and appeared in such a way that many more people could be convinced by their own eyes.
But as the Bible tells us, that's not how God showed himself to us. And even if God did visibly appear to us, I think we'd still be unable to believe.
At the end of Matthew 28 (28:16-17), we read that the 11 disciples (Judah is no longer present) went up onto a mountain to see the resurrected Jesus, and one verse says they worshiped him. Another verse says “But some doubted.”
Some still doubted, even with the resurrected Jesus standing right in front of them.
Even if we see God with our eyes, we may still doubt as before. Our hearts are incredibly untrusting. That's why we cannot believe in God by only trusting our eyes and senses.
In the modern age, we're told it's important to accept other people's various ways of living and thinking. This is especially true in our church, where people from many countries and regions are gathered. We must learn to respect each others' cultures and customs, ways of thinking, and native languages.
However, we must not forget that we are all united as one by the only true God Jesus Christ, as it is testified in the Bible.
God revealed Himself to us as a man, flesh and blood just like us. And God entrusted us with the mission to spread His gospel to the rest of humanity.
No matter how “narrow” this way of though may seem, let us all remember that we all confess Jesus as Lord and to live out our faith.
Chapter 7 verse 14 says “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There is no gate that leads to life besides Jesus Christ. People try to find a true meaning to life, but nobody succeeds. That is because the path and life is only found in Jesus.
   We all were unable to find the true path to life. That's because we were looking for something besides Jesus. Also, the Bible teaches us that God Himself searched us out.
   God had found us while we were wandering and searching for something else, some true purpose in life.
The parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15 speaks of this. The shepherd searches for one sheep lost out of 100 and is overjoyed when he finds it. This shepherd is our Heavenly Father.
He left the 99 sheep in the field and searched for the one until He found it. That's the kind of God we worship. We were lost but our Heavenly Father found us.
   The gate and path spoken of in today's passage are at the root of our way of life. That is because life and death are at stake.
   God makes us choose. One or the other. And there is no middle ground. There is no third path. This lack of compromise might be why the Bible's teachings are seen as pushy and narrow-minded.
    Still, let us be grateful that God grace put us on this path, that we were led to confess “Jesus is Lord” and were able to choose the path to life. And let us be reminded that this grace was not at all an easy thing to give, even for God Himself.
Whether or not you follow the crucified and resurrected Jesus means life or destruction. Jesus told us all to enter through the narrow gate. And Jesus is telling our church today to spread to others the great news that we can walk the path to life together with Jesus.
   During church service, are we really renewing our resolve to listen to Jesus Christ's voice and listen to His word? Today, let us renew our resolve to receive His word, choose true life, and live according to His word.
Jesus Christ came down to earth to open the path to life for us. A life of believing in Jesus as Lord and following Him is the one true path for us.
Jesus said few take this path, but anybody who believes can pass. The gate is open to everyone. Let us all pray that even one more person would be led to the faith, to believing in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Monday, July 24, 2017

July 23, Sunday
                                                                       Matthew 6:12-15
                                                         Forgiveness ~The Lord’s Prayer (2)

 Since last week, we’ve been listening to God’s words from the “Lord’s Prayer” that Jesus taught us in the gospel of Matthew.
Jesus teaches us each one of the words of the prayer very specifically.
 In the prayer, we pray to “Our Father in Heaven”. Heavenly Father does not mean “my only Father” but the Father and God to all of us who believe in Him and have the same faith.
 Jesus taught us these prayers so that we the church, as a community of faith, can pray together as one.
  Today, let’s look at the latter half of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew.
Verse 12 says “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”.

“Debt” means a loan. If it’s a loan, then that usually means people must return the money. However, Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts”, and not “I will pay back”.
 In the same part within the gospel of Luke, it does not say “debts” but writes “sins”.
“Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4)
 As Luke clearly has written, “debts” are our “sins”. As we say earlier, in the Lord’s Prayer it also says “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
 I think Matthew is trying to make us think well about what sins really are by not using the word “sins” directly, but instead using the word “debts”.

These "sins”, are a difficult concept to understand. The Bible teaches us “all people are sinners”.

“Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.” (Romans 3:9)
 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23)

When we look at these words from the Bible, many people may go against it. And we Christians may also actually not know what “sins” really are and question it.

 We probably think things like this: “we may not be 'really' good people, but we are not 'really' bad people either. There is no way that we are sinners”.

Matthew changed the word “sins” to “debts” = “loans”, and in Matthew chapter 18, in one of the parables of Jesus, there is a story of a person who had a huge loan. It is “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” starting from Matthew 18:21.
Jesus’s disciple Peter first goes to Jesus and asks “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Peter must have understood the importance of forgiveness by learning Jesus’s teachings with him. It is not easy to tell the same person you forgive them seven times.

However, behind Peter's question “would forgiving seven times be enough?”, there is a thought “where is the bottom line in God’s teaching?”. In his question he wants to clarify if there is an actual limit we can go by.

It is an idea that by setting a visible standard for how many times we need to forgive, and by passing that number of forgiveness, we can be saved.

But the standard for forgiveness that Jesus says is different than that. To Peter’s question, Jesus answers “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-times seven”.
(New International Version says “seventy-seven times” with a reference to “or seventy times seven”)

Seven times seventy (490) is described as almost “limitless”. Forgiving limitlessly… are humans capable of doing such thing?
 Here, Jesus tells one parable. It’s about one servant who owed a lord ten thousand talents. The servant received the lord’s compassion and was forgiven the debt.
 However, then the same servant doesn't forgive his friend who owed him one hundred pence and kept the friend in jail until all the debt was paid back. Another fellow servant who saw this happen went to the lord and told him about it, and the lord was furious and put the servant in jail.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
By the way, how much do you think is one talent?

One talent worth 60 million yen with current currency. Then, 10 thousand talents is 60 million yen times 10 thousand = 6 hundred billion yen. To be honest, this is an amount of money that we can't really comprehend.
The servant says “please wait, I will pay back everything”, but this must be an amount of money that cannot be paid back. Before even thinking about paying back, it is hard to imagine how this person made such a huge debt on his own in the first place.

Jesus talks about man’s sin with a parable of 10 thousand talents debt. The point here is, just like the 10 thousand talents, we “cannot imagine,” “cannot comprehend” our own sins.
 In other words, we do not understand what our sins are. I don’t even know.
We are opposed when being called sinners, because we think of the levels of “bad acts” that we can be aware by ourselves such as “crime” or “bad deed” (stealing and lying) which we possibly could commit in our daily life.
However, the sins that the Bible tells us is in a different dimension than the sins we think of, and it is more related to the fundamental human nature.
The debts that we can never understand with our own knowledge or way of thinking, and which we can never repay, that is sins.
And Jesus says these sins are “our debts”, in other words, “our sins”. Therefore, it is said sins are sins of all human beings. This is also a point that is difficult for us to comprehend.
Paul says in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”
 “one man” referred by Paul in here, is the very first human who appears in Genesis, Adam.
Genesis 2:16-17 says “16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
God was warning Adam clearly. “When you eat from it you will certainly die”. God did not say it vaguely. He did not say “it is not good to eat” nor “you may die,” but He clearly told Adam that “when you eat you will certainly die.”
Adam couldn’t keep the Lord’s word, and as a result, a gap that cannot be filled was created between the Lord God and humans. The story of Genesis tells of the relationship between God and human which was broken first by human side.
This story of Genesis might be a difficult part to comprehend as our own matter that is related to us even as Christians. Why do we need to carry the consequences of Adam’s sin? Does it mean a collective responsibility?
But the Bible tells us that this is the beginning of human’s sin and the nature of sins. The sin Adam committed was trying to be able to “judge good and bad,’ which originally only God was able to do it, however, humans have tried to become like God and try to acquire the power which only God has. Such humans’ thoughts are a sin. 
Self is in the center of oneself. Then, we start judging others with our own standards too.
If someone owes me 100 denarion (approx. one million yen) and doesn’t pay me back, I think I will be angry too. But that me who is angry, has forgotten the grace which has forgiven me of the 10 thousand talent debts, that is, my sins are forgiven by the cross of Jesus Christ.
By the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are forgiven. When we remember how much peace Jesus at the cross has given us, our debts (= sins) that is compared to 10 thousand talents can be seen.
We do not recognize our sins by ourselves. We can be aware of it only through the cross of Jesus Christ.
What is the sin that which Christianity talks of? That is to be answered only when we finally face the fact that God’s only son Jesus Christ was crucified and died for us, and the answer is to be shown to us only through Jesus’s cross.
We hope to always look at the grace of Jesus’s cross and be thankful.
The latter half of the verse 12 says “as we also have forgiven our debtors”, and the verse 14 also says “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”.
 The verse 15 says “But if you do not forgive other their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. This is very harsh.
 “Forgive” in “as we also have forgiven our debtors”, in Greek is “aphiemi” which is a verb and have another meaning of  “to release”.
 “Releasing” the people who are my debtors, I think it also means instead of being captured by anger towards a person who sinned against you, we stop being dominated by such negative emotions and leave those emotions (release it) so that our minds can also be free as well.
We can receive such power to release and forgive from God by praying to our Lord.
When Lord Jesus Christ was dying on the cross, He prayed for the people who crucified him saying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
This is a prayer we humans can never do. Even if it’s a prayer you cannot do, we can submit ourselves to the words of Jesus’s prayer.
Once again, I will read the verse 14 and 15.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive other their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”.
When we read this over and over, can we not help thinking that “there is a time when we just can’t possibly forgive”?
But if you think well, this is not a part where Jesus is trying to give us some sort of punishment or caution, but just teaching us how to pray.
This Jesus’ word does not mean you have to do this, or you try to solve a problem by yourself, but this is a word for prayer. Therefore, before giving up “I can’t do such thing”, we can first put our trust in Jesus, and pray to God just as Jesus has taught us how.
Not a rule or caution of “I have to do this”, but here is a hope and comfort that you can just rely on God and pray.
  Lastly, let’s think about “temptation” in the verse 13.
Temptation could also mean “challenge”.
If it’s a challenge, then do we have to face the challenges in our lives? Do we have to learn how to bravely, and without fear, overcome the challenges? Do we have to become strong?
But the temptation that is mentioned in here, is the power of temptation that leads to sin. It is the power of evil we cannot overcome on our own. We are told to trust in the Lord and pray “deliver us from evil that goes against God”.
Jesus knew how strong the power of temptation is that could lead us into sin. Jesus himself endured the devil’s temptation in the wilderness. (Matthew Chapter 4)
This Lord’s prayer is a prayer that Jesus himself also prayed desperately. That is why Jesus knows Heavenly Father will listen to you and this is the prayer that gives us strength. This is a prayer Jesus taught us with conviction of his own experience.
In order to confront temptations and challenges, we need God’s help, God’s words. “Temptations from bad ones” cannot be opposed easily. If it’s a kind of temptations we human can overcome on our own, then that is not the temptation the Bible talks about in the first place.
Even if you have faith, temptations cannot be avoided. However, we rely on the Lord, and Jesus says we can pray honestly “please lead us not to temptations”.
 As we pray the Lord’s prayer especially the today’s part, we become aware that we don’t hold the strength to forgive others in us but it is given by God. And we become aware of our own sins. I want to thank God for the blessing of being forgiven.
With the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us, we can always pray to God directly and honestly. By putting our full trust in the power of the words in the Lord’s Prayer, we hope to be the people who continue to pray to God throughout this week.
(Tomohiro Sakai)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

June 25(Sun) Sermon

Matthew 5:13-16

"Salt of the Earth, Light of the World"

 Do you like cooking?Personally, I don't hate cooking, but I'm also not very good at it. At most, I can cook according to the instructions in a cooking book. But I can't make anything unique by myself, besides maybe hambagu patties, curry rice and Nikujaga?

   I've thought things like “I wish I could cook various dishes,” and “I'd be a more attractive man if I could cook.” Multiple times, I've decided “I want to learn to cook” and put in the effort, but I just am not good enough to make many dishes by myself.

The reason I'm talking about cooking is because “salt of the Earth” is mentioned in today's passage and salt is used in cooking.

     Salt is indispensable for cooking.

Truth is, twice already I've mistaken salt and sugar when cooking by myself.

I was making Tamago-don rice and something else when I put in salt instead of sugar, and the result was super salty. Then I realized just how strong salt is.

  I also learned, on the other hand, that just a pinch of salt will make the ingredients taste better and change the flavor. Or rather, bring out its true flavor.

   Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” during His “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chapter 5.

In chapter 5, verses 1 to 12, Jesus said “Blessed are those...” multiple times to the crowds gathered and his nearby disciples.

 “Poor in spirit” (v3), “those who mourn” (v4) and so on. Though one might not think of these kinds of people as happy, Jesus called them so. “Those are the happy ones!”

Among those listening to Jesus, there were likely people who had difficult lives or were going through a tough time. And Jesus' words comforted and gave energy to people like this. 

 Jesus had fellowship with and walked together with the weak, and people known as sinners, such as prostitutes, tax collectors, and the ill. (At the time, those with heavy illnesses were also called “sinners” because sin was considered to be the cause of their illness.)

   I think it very likely that many of these people to whom Jesus was speaking had never felt valued by anyone.

 “Do I have any value? No, I'm absolutely worthless” is what these people were always thinking.

And Jesus said and declared to these people, from chapter 5 verse 1, “You are all blessed!” To these people that can hardly be thought of as happy, Jesus said “You are all happy people!”

Also, Jesus said in today's passage “You are the salt of the earth.”

 “Salt of the earth.” This is the best compliment one can give someone. When evaluating someone, it is said that there is no stronger phrase. The Romans used to say “there is nothing so useful as the sun and salt.”

  Also, in verse 14, Jesus asserts that “You are the light of the world.” This is another kind of ultimate compliment.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus called Himself the “light of the world.”

John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So, Jesus is the actual “light of the world.” However, this means that Jesus gave His own glory, this “light of the world,” to us humans.

  This “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” Jesus speaks of here can also mean “one irreplaceable salt” and “one irreplaceable light.” This is because “salt” and “light” both have attached to them a definite article, which are used in the Greek and English (in English, “the”).

   The definite article here can be interpreted as “the only one.”

  Jesus values each and every one of us as irreplaceable, as indispensable in this world, as the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”

   “You are the salt of the earth” (v13) and “You are the light of the world” (v14) are both in present tense.

   Jesus didn't say “you will become the salt of the earth” or “you will become the light of the world.” He distinctly said “you ARE the salt of the earth” and “you ARE the light of the world.”

   And it's not in imperative form, like in “BE the salt of the earth” and “BE the light of the world.” Jesus said “you already are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

Because Jesus values us as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” we can be confident of our value as individuals. And we base this on the words of Jesus Christ.

   But some of us may doubt and think “Do I really have that much value? I don't even have any skills. And I don't have much faith...”

   However, the size of one's faith doesn't matter.

With just a small pinch of salt, food tastes much better. We, the salt of the earth, are the same.

Even a small pinch of salt, though it's small and unnoticeable, has big effects as seasoning in food.  The same way, the world gets its flavor through the presence of even the smallest number of Christians,

   Now, let's read the rest of verse 13.

 “...but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

These are some harsh words.

   What does it mean for salt to lose its saltiness?

Salt's true worth is found in cooking and when you put it in food. By itself, salt's usefulness is squandered.

We are like “salt.” We do not show our true worth when we are by ourselves.

We Christians, as well as the church, are to live by fellowship, fellowship with those around us and the rest of society. Otherwise, salt will be worthless.

Jesus' harsh words are significant in two ways. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, we find our true worth. But the receivers of this grace are also given a big responsibility.

   As I've said in many sermons before, the Jews then would say “We are the people of Israel” and “We are Abraham's descendants,” thinking with a privileged mindset that these were conditions of salvation.

   We as well have peace of mind knowing that we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ, and this passage is imploring us to earnestly test ourselves to see if we are really living by Jesus' words.

    Let's read verse 14. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

   We cannot shut in our faith within ourselves or within this church. Like a village on the top of a mountain, faith is not something that can be hidden.

   Two Sundays ago, as well as last service, the front entrance was open the whole time.

   Actually, before the first service started, I wanted to let in a breeze, so I left the door open. And it was left opened until the second service ended.

   While I was preaching from the pulpit, I saw the door kept open. And I thought it'd be a good thing if people who walk outside would take a short peek at what's going on inside.

    Actual physical doors aside, whether or not the church itself is open to the outside world is extremely important.

     The doors of this church, Beppu International Baptist Church, are always open to the public. People from many different backgrounds and cultures gather here, and our diversity is a joyous thing. I would hope our church doors always stay open to the public.

Also, as Christians, we should always open our hearts up to the world. Let us value fellowship with each other, and value, teach, and exhort each other.

    On our church steeple, there is a stained-glass and the window in the shape of a cross, which lights up at night. It's really beautiful.

If we live according to Jesus' teachings, if we live in peace knowing Jesus' love, even our own lives will be like that cross, shining at night.

   Some may wonder if they have that kind of light in them.

They do have it. The reason being that this light comes not from us, but from Jesus.

   2 Corinthians 4: 6

   For God, who said,“Let light shine out of darkness,”has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God gave us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.

God's light is within us already. By this light we come to know God, by this light we know how to live our daily lives and what paths to take.

And finally, today's last verse, Matthew 5:16.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

By seeing our good works, people would give glory not to us, but to our Father in heaven.

The goal of our lives is to show the glory of God.

The light in us shines not for our sake, but for the sake of God.

   So, what are these “good works?” Are these morally or ethically good works?

   I think these “good works” are more than just external actions for people to praise.  But rather, I think this refers to a Christian's heart as they live in happiness, believing in Jesus and obeying His word.

   Currently during our Wednesday prayer meetings, we are studying the Gospel of John from the beginning. All are welcome to come to the Wednesday Bible study and prayer meeting, if you have the time. Studying the bible together and praying together strengthens our bond of faith.

     Studying from the beginning of John, one will notice just how influential John the Baptist was. Jesus Himself was baptized by John. Jesus in the flesh may even have taken many of John's teachings.

However, it becomes very clear that the glory is not his own, but that he is returning it to Jesus.

In John 3:30, it says “He must become greater; I must become less."

   In our hearts, Jesus increases, and the “self” decreases. Thus, we become free from selfish thinking, from always thinking “me, me, me.”

    We become able to gladly serve God and others.

The Bible tells us that only by rejoicing in the glory of God can we live most peacefully and most like a human being.

   All of today's message is directed at “you.” “This “you” refers to the “you” who is listening to this word today, everyone gathered here today. In other words, our church.

   The Beppu International Baptist Church is the salt of the earth, is the light of the world.

    Let us connect with this church where Jesus Christ is the head. And let us be more confident in the fact that Jesus sees value in us.

   Our church, the salt of the earth and the light of the world, can greatly influence this world. We can change the world. Think this is an exaggeration? It is not.

When we believe in God, are in a close relationship with Jesus Christ, and joyfully take up our responsibility as the salt of the earth and light of the world, we change the world.

For example, if even one person comes to the faith as a result of our works, that alone means we changed the world.

    Therefore, this should give us all confidence and joy.

This week, let's have confidence in the fact that Jesus called us the “salt of the earth, light of the world.” Let us hold on to the light of hope as we each go our own directions.

Also, let us walk in prayer so that our daily deeds would bring glory to the Lord.(Tomohiro SAKAI)


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

                                                          Genesis 1:15
 [The Light of God that Shines in Darkness]


In the beginning, God "created" the heavens and the earth.

If this passage is told to a child as it is, like for instance to an elementary school lower grader, what situation would that child probably visualize from those words?  


Whether it's a child or even a grown-up, if that person is unfamiliar of bible story, wouldn't it be possible for that person to understand the word "souzou (創造)creation" with the other meaning of "souzou" in Japanese?

God "souzou(想像:imagined)" heavens and earth.

Actually, this is not my own idea. It's what I've heard from a Jewish rabbi named Jonathan Magonet. Professor Magonet yearly comes to Japan as a visiting professor of Seinan Gakuin University's Dept. of Theology, and gives lecture and discourse about the Old Testament to the students of the Theological Dept.  

By the way, Professor Magonet seems to have also appeared with Richard Gere in the movie entitled [King David]I haven't seen that movie yet but he said that he just had a quick appearance as the liturgist role in David's wedding ceremony that was played by Richard Gere. And he said that in that movie, he also played the role as an adviser about knowledge of the bible.Professor Magonet was born in a British Jewish family, he recognizes himself as " a British", however, from the age of 20 he re-studied Hebrew, officially got the eligibility of a Jewish Rabbi and also worked as the Principal of the Jewish School of Theology called Leo Baeck College in London.   

The professor also learns Japanese and he knows that the Japanese word "souzou"has its meaning both as "creation" and "imagination". And he said that if the first part of Genesis is read as [God imagined the heavens and the earth], that will have another interesting meaning.

 Certainly, it is an interesting "imagination" however, God did not just "imagine" this world. The God, Jesus Christ made this world. God "created" the world. The Hebrew verb [bala] that means [to create] is a verb that is used solely for God. It is not used when human makes something.The bible conveys even from this matter that the creation of the world is a work that is merely done by God. We human beings can make something out of an already existing matter.

However, it is only God who can create something from nothing, gives life to them and makes them live. It is only God who can create this world from naught. The world was made by God. Such faith is defined in Genesis 1:1, the opening words of the bible.

And I think that the passage [In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth] may also be words that ask us the fundamental of way of life as a person, "What do you believe and live?" It is a call on whether we can live or not by accepting the fact that this world was made by God, believing that we living beings depend on God for the foundation of life to live.

There is also a way of life wherein how the world began doesn't matter at all. There may also be one that says, I don't believe God or in the first place I don't think of something that I don't understand since I surely don't understand no matter how much I think of it.Or the life that says [this world is just like a dream after all, wouldn't it be well to live with even just a little pleasure?] The way of life that doesn't seriously consider the beginning of the world or the purpose of life, not even to that momentary extent. 

It is not that sort of living but it's recognizing the Creator who made this world and our life, and that Creator should have made this world and even us with a purpose. And it is the first line of Genesis that urges us to decide whether we can live or not in believing that matter.

It's already a conclusion from the very beginning, however, the bible calls "Remember your Creator", God created this world and our life, know that Creator that you may live.

It is found in Ecclesiastes 12:1[So remember your Creator while you are still young]

Even so, Genesis chap. 1 is a story of wonder. Non-Christians probably think highly strange that Christians believe such an unscientific matter.

Why do they understand such a thing when they haven't even seen it? Right, no one had ever seen the beginning of this world. Even the writer of Genesis was not present and had not seen the condition that God made the world in this manner. However, the writer of Genesis [probably was not alone. Genesis is a story that was gradually completed not by one person but was conveyed through many believers for long years.]

Through the eye of faith that was given them (saw), they wrote the creation of the world they've understood. The absolute thing for the believer, though unseen, is that this world was made by God. What we Christians should do, though the story of this creation is difficult to confirm with scientific evidence, the fact that we are made to live in faith that "the world was made by God", and that we live knowing who that God is, is to demonstrate through our own way of life that man is made to live as a true human being.   

 In verse 2 is written [the earth was formless and empty. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water]The earth was in chaos, formless and empty. Isn't there a time when we think that the world around us, and our own heart as well is formless as this, uncertain, purposeless and in vain? This is a condition without God. Also, these are words that express how we feel about the world if we don't accept God.

We are uncertain because of no foundation. There is no confidence where we stand. We are empty for being purposeless for all things. When I lived not knowing Jesus Christ, I was unsure of what was the foundation that was supporting me and I believe that I had an uncertain way of life. Or rather, probably I wasn't even aware that I was uncertain. I think I was trying to lean on something else consciously or unconsciously. That is, my own capability, experience, the plan or dream for the future that I 've planned by myself, money? Or my own self? Such things I guess.

 There is someone in the bible who was completely changed of his former way of life for Christ's sake. He has completely renounced before God's wondrous being the things he possessed that are considered good by human being.

That is Paul.

Philippians 3: 56

[I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as keeping the Jewish Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee, and I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault.]

 He was Paul who as a believer of Judaism, was perfect at birth, rearing, knowledge and education, and even in zealousness. Even Paul who was supposed to be a complete [winner] as considered in the modern age, writes in the following verse 7 [But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake.] Paul could have thought that no matter how earnestly he studied the Law and observed it, he cannot gain true peace through them.

I think that he didn't feel something that would serve as a firm foundation for him. However, he encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ and it is said that in the end perhaps he became a martyr in Rome. But though he had many tribulations for the sake of Jesus Christ, he has lived a sure and happy life. 

The Light of God penetrates amidst a situation without God, a condition where there is no foundation and purpose. In verse 3 [Then God commanded, "Let there be light! And light appeared]  There was light amidst darkness through God's word. Even in an eerie condition called abyss, when illuminated with the light that was made by God, its figure is vividly revealed.The word of God that gave light in the darkness illumines a great light even within the darkness of our heart as well. 

Even in a condition of not knowing what lies ahead in darkness, light penetrates within through God's word.It is said that this Genesis was written during the Babylon exile period. It's the period when the Israelites were held captive as exiles by the powerful nation Babylon.Amid living as exiles in a foreign country that was distant away from their home country, the Jews lived severely and hopeless.

However, even within such a difficult circumstance, they've heard the voice of God that said "let there be light!" They heard that voice through their ear of faith. God uttered a word amidst darkness. How do we at present hear this God's powerful utterance that is filled with love? At this present age, God's word and His light is given to us through Jesus Christ.

 If we receive Jesus Christ who is God's Word and Light, the darkness within our heart or even conditions that we think are dark around us can never rule over us no matter how deep darkness  is. This is what the bible says. The gospel of John in the New Testament begins with [In the beginning was the Word] This passage [In the beginning was the Word] and God's word [Let there be Light] indicate one similar truth.

Jesus Christ, the God had existed since the beginning of the world, and by His word this world was created, the truth that it began. 

Genesis 1: 45

[God was pleased with what He saw. Then He separated the light from the darkness, and He named the light "Day" and the darkness "Night" Evening passed and morning came, that was the first day] The day of our true life begins from the day that the Light was shone through God's word. That is what [the first day] means.

Today is Sunday. The first day of the week. With each one's burden last week on his shoulder, there may also be someone who is downhearted at this time of worship service. However, by worshipping God and receiving His word, we are renewed of the thought to live amid the Light that God saw and said "Good". The Light that God considered "Good" is poured upon us. The Light, that is the Word.

The writer of Psalms says [Thy Word is the light unto my path] (Psalms 119:105)

 The Word of the bible shines upon darkness and lights up our onward path.   

It is found in today's last verse 5 [and He named the light "Day" and the darkness "Night" Evening passed and morning came, that was the first day] In Jewish time, the first day begins from sundown. Like for instance, Christmas Eve means Christmas evening. Because it is considered that at the point in time of Dec. 24's sundown, December 25 already begins. Evening passed and morning came. That was the first day. God has predestined the order of one day in this manner. Does everyone like the evening time? What time do you like best within the day?

It might be different depending on season but after the day's work, it's the time of relief. The time to go back home. We still might have work even at night but isn't it that the time between day and night is a time of momentary rest?
And man rests at night. Night is a time for us to rest and sleep. Such an order of living time was predestined by God.

Does the book of Genesis convey that God's work of creation was completed in 6 days? No.It is written on the first part of Genesis chap.2 [And so the whole universe was completed. By the seventh day God finished what He had been doing and stopped working] The [whole universe was completed] including the 7th day that God has rested. Even us human beings, it's not just being active for it is necessary for us to hold our work, rest and feel relaxed. That is also a part of our purpose to live.

 I believe that there is someone who is real busy and has no time for himself, also one who has no time to spare within the whole week of living. Even so, I would like us to firmly keep in mind that the Lord has made even our time to live, and that we can always rest in the Lord's bosom.  

We offer a worship service on Sunday, and start a new week from this worship service. And from this worship service, we are used to each one's place of living. And the week's living ends up, we go back to church again next week to worship God.That is not merely a repetition and meaningless. Even if we see it as a repetition of a similar thing and seems to be an invariable way of life, the living wherein we are made to live with God's word, worship service centered life turns out to be a meaningful way of life of sturdy foundation.

Lastly, let me read Genesis 1:31.

[God looked at everything He had made, and He was very pleased].

God looked at everything He had made as "extremely good". And we live in that world. As we acknowledge God who had made this world, let us again spend each day of this week within the order that God has made remembering His will and love. Though it seems to be a chaotic world, though we are driven to anxiety of not knowing what lies ahead, I would like us to live entrusting to the supreme power and profound love of God that created this world and had shone Light in the darkness.  (Tomohiro SAKAI)

Monday, January 30, 2017

My Intractable Disease Is a Blessing For Me

On Jan.29 2017, we invited Brother Hiroki Yasuda who was born with an incurable disease called “Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy”.  His message was so poweful that we decided to share his massege on our homepage.

“My Intractable Disease Is a Blessing For Me”
Bible Text: John 15:15-16
Brother Hiroki Yasuda

My name is Hiroki Yasuda. I was born with an incurable disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. This disease is caused by a genetic abnormality and it gradually degenerates the body’s muscles. As the muscles deteriorate, we start losing our ability to move, breathe, and eat.
Right now, I am unable to breathe on my own, and so I am living with a ventilator (artificial breathing machine) 24/7. Because I can only move my thumbs, I cannot eat, use the toilet, change my clothes or do anything self-related on my own, so, in due time, I will be a bedridden person.

Right now I am 25 years old. I was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 4, and at that time was told that I would live until 20 years old. However, I was brought up without knowing that I had an incurable sickness.
When I was young, I could not run or climb the stairs unless I grasped the railings firmly, but I just supposed that I did not have good motor nerves. I continued to think so even when, at age 9, I became wheelchair bound. When I became an adult and asked my parents why they had not told me that I had an incurable disease, they answered, “We couldn’t bring ourselves to believe that you would die at 20 years old…”

And my parents were Christians so since I was born I attended church. When I was 13, I professed my belief in God through the Resolution of Confession of Faith. On spring of my 18th year, when I was keenly studying for the universities’ entrance exams, I started to understand the reality of incurable diseases. Neither I nor my doctor knew that the disease was getting worse, and in one year I was hospitalized 5 times.   

I would have visceral pains all day, vomiting would not stop, my breathing was heavy, and I had severe headaches, which made it hard to sleep. Everyday my consciousness would become disoriented, and I would spend my days wondering rather I was really going to die. In the meantime, I was still working hard for the entrance exams, but with the headaches and difficult breathing, I was forgetting quickly what I had studied, and since the exam scores were gradually getting lower, it was painful to see my efforts going to waste. 

In this way, as I was suffering, I continued praying that God would help me. After 1 year of continuous suffering, I was able to learn about a hospital in Shikoku, thanks to God’s guidance and my mom’s efforts, where there were doctors that were really good. In that hospital, the ventilator was introduced to me, and I was saved from the dying state that I was in. As I look back, I think God rescued me, because I was really in danger of life.

However, in order to live with a ventilator, you are required to get medical examinations every month for the doctor to manage the situation. At the local hospital that I was admitted to in Fukuoka for the examinations, I received the doctor’s statement of life expectancy: “You will soon become bedridden; even if you undergo life-prolonging treatments, you will pass away at 35”. It was a heart-tearing statement. At that moment, I understood the reality of incurable diseases.  

Afterwards, I was able to get into a university; however, because of my bad physical condition, I had to drop out after only half a year. After that, every day was about looking after myself. Because I had received a life-expectancy declaration, and my body had to use a ventilator and was in intense pain, my life was now spent in bed. But this brought a lot of stress and my feelings became very dark.  

As I was praying my everyday prayer, I started to cry out to God my true emotions. Why did I turn out to be someone who has this incurable illness that kills you at 35?! I don’t want to suffer to then die! God, I am asking you, please cure me from this incurable sickness, there is no meaning in living in this painful condition! Does my life consist only of waiting for death?! I continued to exclaim these things in prayer.  

At this time, I could not understand the purpose for living and I was in despair. Why can’t I become healthy? Will I die at 35? With this sickness I can’t work, I can’t get married, God, with this sickness I can’t do anything.

I would soon not be able to move, and the disease would bring a painful death; from now on how should I go on living? If I do not use the ventilator, life cannot go on, so I might die tomorrow. I was living everyday dominated by great anxiety.

It was important for me to know the meaning of life. But even though I continued praying, I did not understand the purpose for living, thus I suffered. Even so, I always read the Bible and prayed, I did not quit attending the church service every Sunday; but it was painful because it was the day I would feel the silence of God.

At this time, I read a book by an Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, called “Man’s Search for Meaning”, from which I learned something:

Suffering without meaning is despair; if you cannot find meaning in suffering, you will become desperate; if you do find meaning in suffering, you will become hopeful. I learned that we should not simply be unhappy because of sufferings; on the contrary, by finding meaning in our sufferings, we transform our lives into hope.

So I began to believe that, no matter how painful life is, if I can find meaning in life, without losing hope, I can live. After that, I was convinced that God would give me the meaning for living, and so I kept waiting for God to speak.

Then, 10 months after the doctor’s life-expectancy pronouncement, the following Bible verse spoke to my heart:  

Ezekiel 2:8

“But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”

Through this Word, I was able to start believing that, by always reading the Bible, which is the Word of God, and always praying to God, He will speak to my heart, He will change my heart, and He will save me from despair.

Then, a year and a half after the doctor had given me my life expectancy, my heart was changed through the following Bible verse:

John 15:15-16

“Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-- fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
I wish I had not been born with an incurable disease, but I felt that I was appointed by God and chosen to be born with this sickness. God created a sick me, I was appointed by God to live a life of infirmity, and so from the time I was born I have been challenging this life of sickness.

Through the previous Bible verses, I was able to accept myself as a person with an incurable disease. Before that, I was the foundation of my life. I was aiming to be a healthy person that could live by himself, a self with no weaknesses, a self that would be successful in society.

Therefore, this self that was incurable and sick was a useless human being. I myself had decided on my own value: a self that cannot do anything has no meaning for living. Thus, it was painful all the time.    

But, through the previous Bible words, I was able to really feel God’s love: God created me with an inborn intractable disease; I was born out of God's desire; I am also a work of God; my sickly self is not God’s failed work.

If I myself decided on my own value, it resulted only in bitterness. But, even when in the middle of hardships, through the Word of God, you embrace yourself, and are able to accept yourself as you are, you can feel the love that God is pouring on you, through the Bible and through prayer, and so the joy of living springs up, no matter what kind of life you are given.

My sick self-thought that I did not have anything, that I could not do anything. However, I was made aware of a different truth. I was made aware that God has given me also a life of importance. And not only life; the greatest gift God has given us is Jesus Christ’s love. Christ’s love, that caused Him to sacrifice His own life on a cross to rescue us sinful people, is the greatest gift.  

God’s only son, Jesus Christ, died for us on the cross, in order to save us from the sufferings of sin and death. Then, conquering death, He was resurrected on the third day.
esus, not dying for His own sin, was buried in a grave and raised to life on the third day, so that people who believe might be saved from the sting of sin and death. We are forgiven of our sins, and when we die we inherit eternal life with God.   

God does not think that we are small and insignificant. I understood that, to God, our existence is so important and He loves us to such an extent that He sent His only son, Jesus Christ, most important being of all, to die on the cross, to save us from the sufferings of sin and death. 

Despite us being sinners, we are forgiven by Jesus’ precious blood and drawn into the fullness of God' s love. This love of Jesus is given unconditionally to those who believe in Him, not according to their abilities and actions.

When I began to understand Jesus’ love anew, I prayed to God like this: “This sick and incurable me is nothing. I cannot do anything. I have nothing to offer to you but this life, God. I offer my life to you, Lord.”  

I thought that this sick me had nothing and could do nothing. But I learned that, since Jesus’ love was given unconditionally, to live for God and to offer our lives to God is also unconditional.

Even though you feel you do not have anything in yourself and cannot do anything by yourself, when you decide to surrender your life gladly to God, He will give you a mission only you can do, and will provide all the necessary things to do it.  

Since I decided to offer my life to God, I began to feel the mission of living as an incurable Christian, "to convey God through a life of incurable disease, and to convey the faith and hope that is developed through it."

From then on, my life changed little by little. First of all, with God's guidance, I was liberated from bedridden living after my disease was treated at the world's top hospitals. Then, thanks to God 's mysterious guidance, many churches in various places have been inviting me to their worship service and giving me opportunities to witness for God. I am truly thankful.

Right now I think that, human beings’ meaning for living is not to be decided by themselves or by others, but God who lives in us decides. Even I, with an incurable illness, have a meaning in life, because God has given me a mission. I have joy in living.
Looking back now, I think that all my frustrations, the trials of having this intractable illness, and the near-death experiences, were all God 's plan. I believe that God gifted me this incurable disease, so that I could believe in Jesus, be born again as a child of God, and fulfill my God-given mission. So, for me, this illness is a trial of grace. I have a purpose for living because I have this incurable disease.

In this way, even though I have this incurable illness, I was able to find a meaning for living. But, I was able to do so because of the hope of resurrection that Jesus gives. 

I was living in days of despair, and could not understand the purpose of life. But as I read the Bible and prayed, God revived me.

John 11:25-26 says,

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’”

Jesus is the one who was resurrected above the power of death. He was the one victorious over the power of death. Therefore, those who believe in the restoration that Jesus gives, no matter how much they are despairing in life, can have courage even in despair because God will surely provide restoration. Even if you are in despair, it’s okay. Because God will surely give you restoration.
Even if I die young, I will be able to live for eternity with God in Heaven, restored in a glorious body, so it's okay. Eternity of fellowship with God is the greatest joy for man.

No matter what trials come my way, from the time I believed in Jesus, my revival had already begun. My body is getting weaker and weaker as I start to face death, but I am also beginning to revive to eternal life. As children of God, we can be born to eternal life.

Since I have a mission to live as an incurable Christian, I will continue to share about the awesomeness of believing in God. I do not know how much can be done in this short remaining life expectancy of 9 years. However, I pray that God can use it according to His desire until the day I am called to heaven.
Lastly, I will read Mizuno Genzo’s Christian poem. Mizuno Genzo had severe cerebral palsy, and due to this, he was not able to move his arms and legs and could not speak. However, being able to move his eyes, he would compose many poems of faith through blinking.

I will close by reading Mizuno Genzo’s poem “If There Were No Sufferings”.

“If I had not suffered, I would not have known God’s love

If many brothers and sisters had not suffered, God’s love would not have been shared

If the Lord Jesus had not suffered, God’s love would not have been made visible”