Tuesday, December 26, 2017

This Week's Schedule

◆Bible Studay and Prayer Meeting  1/17(Wed)
  Morning Session (10:30 ~ 12:00), Evening Session (19:30~21:00)
  We are reding from the Gospel of John and have a time of prayer.

◆Friday Family Fellowship (FFF) 19:00~   1/19(Fri)
   FFF is an international fellowship gathering for sing, doing fun games, discussion on faith by English. Everyone is welcome!
 Next Week's Schedule

◆Sunday Worship Service, January 21st
   1st Service 9:00 ~ 9:50   2nd Service 10:50 ~ 12:15
  Sermon "Through One Man" from Romans 5:12~21

◆Church School 10:00 ~10:40

December 24, 2017 Christmas Worship Service Sermon 
Matthew 1:18 25
God with Us
Merry Christmas everyone!
Today is the day we celebrate Christmas and remember how Christ was born and came into this world.
I am truly grateful that we can all gather for this Christmas service and give thanks for God the Father sending His only begotten Son to us.
And I also pray that many people will gather tonight for the candle service and celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus together.
We just saw the Christmas playChristmas Bell (original title:”Christmas Bell”. It's a story about a church with a bell that rings when somebody presents the greatest gift.
The rich and the king appeared in the play, saying I'll be the one to make the bell ring! Then they with enthusiasm presented expensive gifts such as jewels, treasures, and even the king's crown.
However, even when they presented things that were precious in human’s eyes, the church bell did not ring. In the end, the bell rang when one boy (Mark) quietly offered a silver coin and prayed.
The bell rang not because of the silver coin, but because their kindness (that they showed to the woman collapsed in the snow) and because of their genuine hearts (they offered what they had to God with humility).
When I saw the affluent people getting all confident they'll ring the bell, I feel like I saw myself in them. Why is that? It's because I felt I too would say the same thing, God, I'm doing my best, so please answer me!
Also, having watched the play, I realized the things I think I do for God are not actually for God, but rather I want to gain other people’s favor by doing deeds where people can see.
Through this play, I was once again reminded that God is pleased with the kind of humility that says I'm only doing what I must. This is all I am able to offer.
One thing we must never forget during Christmas is that the one who gave the greatest gift was God Himself. If God had appeared in that play, the one to ring the bell would've been God Himself, no doubt.
That is because God Himself gave the greatest gift to us humans. That gift is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God's greatest gift to us humans.

God gave us the savior Jesus Christ as a present. Let us all grow daily in our thankfulness for this great grace.
Today, during our Christmas service, let us read Matthew 1:18 25 and listen to what the Bible has to say about the birth of Jesus, God's greatest gift to us.
Chapter 1 verse 18
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Mary and Joseph were engaged. At the time in Judah, it was the custom for the parents and marriage intermediaries to decide someone's future marriage partner from a young age.
And then, when the two reach a certain age, they would give their consent to marriage. Once they consent, the two are officially engaged. The period of engagement was one year.
This period of engagement was treated the same as actual marriage. They only didn't live together yet. Joseph and Mary were in the middle of their engagement period.
During this time, it was found out that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit. (v18) she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. This was done not simply to paint Jesus Christ's birth as miraculous and dramatic.
 She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. This means that human will, human decisions, and human effort had no bearing on the birth of the savior.
It was not through humans, but through God’s decision to “save humanity” that the savior Jesus Christ was born. This is reflected in the verse She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
In addition, while Jesus Christ was born as a human, the fact that Mary was “pregnant through the Holy Spirit” also supports the important Christian belief that “Jesus was God and was God since the creation of the Earth.”
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
It is not that “Jesus was a human at first but then became God after dying on the cross and resurrecting.”
Jesus Christ was God before He was born as the Son of Man. And Jesus remained God while He was in a human body from the time He was born and until He finally died on the cross. This truth is reflected in the phrase “She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
At any rate, the pregnancy caused problems for Joseph and Mary. The discovery of pregnancy before the two were officially married was a trial for them. According to the law, Mary may have been found guilty of adultery.
I think Joseph may have been desperately thinking “What should I do…”
The Japanese Bible says “Joseph was a righteous man” in verse 19. The English translation says “faithful to the law.” At the time, “righteousness” meant faithfully following the law.
But he wasn’t just righteous in form, but he was faithful to the essence of the law and to God’s will. The law’s essence and God’s will meant to “show others kindness and compassion.”
If he had exposed the out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the public, Mary would have been stoned.
Deuteronomy 23:1
  If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,
Joseph had the option of exposing Mary to the public and letting her be stoned to death. However, he also had the option of giving her a certificate of divorce and keeping the matter secret, thus saving Mary’s life.
To get through this difficult situation, Joseph decided “this is the only option.” That’s when the Lord’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream.
 “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (verse 20)
The Lord’s angel said “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” “To take” here means to “go from engagement to official marriage.”
 “Do not be afraid.” From the angel’s words, we know that Joseph was afraid as he made the decision. Now what did Joseph fear?
First, the fact that “She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.Who would believe something like that? Joseph himself probably did not believe that at first. We humans need courage to decide to believe someone. We also worry “what will we do if our trust is betrayed…”
However, he heard from the angel that “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This meant that “that child is an important entity loved by God, and you have the important task of being that child’s father.”
This would be a difficult and scary situation for most people. But Joseph was told by the angel that he was now to “live together with Mary and the child that was to be born.”
Another thing that Joseph probably feared was accepting Mary and the child (Jesus) inside her, “accepting strangers as his own.” In other words, he feared living together with someone else.
He feared the sudden change of going from living alone to accepting and living together with a stranger. After all, it’s difficult to live with someone whose personality and ways of thinking are different.
Marrying Mary and living together with her and the child in her would be a very big change in lifestyle. Joseph was compelled by the voice of the Lord’s angel to surrender himself, obey the voice of God and “live together with a stranger.”
The angel continued to say “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
 “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew “Yeshua.” The name means “God is salvation” or God will save.” And how will God save us? Let’s see in verse 23.
 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
 “God with us.” Our God Jesus Christ will save us by “being with us.”
God is not promising that He will solve and take away all the troubles and pains we experience in life, and not in ways that we can see directly. He does not promise to save us in the ways that we hope.
God promises to “be with us.” In such a way, God will save us. By “being with us,” He will save us.
 “Be with us” means to “always” be with us. Let’s look at the end of the book of Matthew.
Matthew 28:20
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The God Emmanuel will always be with us. He is not a god that helps us when He feels like it, or only occasionally shows His face, but He is a god that is always with us.
Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
No matter the circumstances, if God is together with us, then we will not be afraid. Because the Lord is with us, we need not fear everything that happens in life, we need not fear accepting and living together with someone. We can have peace.
I think that Joseph was afraid of living together with Mary and the new life inside her (that was conceived through the Holy Spirit). For God as well, even if it wasn’t fear, it must’ve been a difficult decision to send His only son Jesus Christ to be born on Earth and to entrust His life to humans.
God gave His only son Jesus Christ to humanity because He loved humanity intensely. God Himself had made the decision to be born as a human and then “live together” with humans.
 “To live together” is to take utmost concern for someone, to share in their pains and joys, and to spend your time on that person.
Being together with someone is actually difficult. It might be easier for us to just be alone. However, God told us to “accept others and live together with them.”
By being “with us,” God took away our fears and gave us humans salvation. Having received salvation, this Christmas season let us resolve to “accept and live together with the people that are put in our lives.
 And what does “others” practically mean for us? Who “others” refers to varies from person to person. Even if they are not close family or spouses, these “others” become involved with us in many ways and then we live together with them. This is especially true of the brothers and sisters in one church.
Today on Christmas day, let us reaffirm our decision to “live together,” to “accept and live together” with those that are put in our lives.
And let us all remember with great joy and thankfulness the birth of Jesus Christ, our God who is with us.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

November 26, 2017 Sermon
“Waiting for the Lord”
Psalm 130:1-8
Tomohiro Sakai

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2  Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. 3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. 5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. 7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
Today let’s learn God’s Words from Psalm 130. This passage is also titled “A song of Ascents”. This title is also given to other Psalms (Psalm 120-134). 
It is said that “The Song of Ascents” were sung by the Israelites as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend important festivals, such as the Passover.
It is also said that these psalms were sung as the Israelites returned back to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. 
These songs are supposed to be joyful, but when we look at verse 1-2 we know that the psalmist who sang this song was in a very difficult situation.
 “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. ”
How much trouble and suffering is "out of the depths"? "Out" (bottom) here means there is no suffering that can be worse than that. It’s the worst state of despair.  
We don’t know what kind of difficult situation the psalmist was in. But since “sin” and “forgiveness” were mentioned in verse 3-4, we can assume that he was suffering from the sin that he/she committed.
However, even if we know the trouble that the psalmist was facing, we will never be able to understand it completely. The psalmist, who felt and experienced it, is the only one who understands it well.
When someone is in trouble or grief, we want to console and empathize with them. However, we can never fully understand what that person is going through.
Also, for many people the most difficult thing is not the suffering/hardship themselves, but the times when we feel nobody completely understands what we are going through or when we feel nobody stays beside us through this difficult time.
The psalmist called God, “Lord, I cry to You. Hear my voice.” This shows how the psalmist had trust and hope in God, who completely understands our worries and sufferings.
It also shows faith and peace that comes from knowing that God knows all things, even things that others don’t know.
 “The bottom of despair”. No one wants to fall into this situation. But this verse teaches that God, who we can pray to, knows everything even when we are at the bottom. 
Through the bible we know that we can pray and cry out to Jesus, our God. This is a great hope.
What a great joy to know that Jesus, who was crucified on the Cross and resurrected, is listening to our prayers. He knows us and we can pray even when we are in grief.
How can we have conviction that Jesus also listens to our prayers when we are at the bottom of despair?
It’s because Jesus himself was at the bottom of despair. When he was on the Cross He cried out with despair, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Jesus, the Son of God, experienced alienation from God the Father. He experienced the worst despair that is not comparable with anything humans have ever experienced. He was at the deepest bottom.
So even though we fall into the deepest bottom, Jesus understands our sufferings and He will always be with us.
Psalm 139:8 says,
“If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Our God is in Heaven. However, at the same time He is also present in the “depths”. Other translation uses the word “hell” instead of “depths”.
God is present in Heaven and hell. In other words, there is no place where God’s powerful hands cannot reach. His presence is everywhere.
 “It feels like heaven”. This is an expression often used when we feel happy or when things are going smoothly. But when this happens, we tend to become overconfident and arrogant, which usually causes us to forget about God’s grace.
But even during this time, of course God is with us. He will admonish us so that we don’t become haughty.
On the other hand, even when we are in so much despair that we think “there is no God”, the Bible tells us that God is present with us. No matter when and where, God is always with us. I hope we can keep standing on this faith.
Let’s read Psalm 130:2 once again:
“Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. “
 “Hear my voice”. The literal translation from Hebrew Bible for this part would be “Hear what’s inside my voice”.  
It’s a prayer that asks God to not only hear our audible voice, but also what’s inside our hearts, the feeling and groan that cannot be expressed in words.
Our God listens to our “feeble voice” and He also listens to what’s inside our voice (heart).
 Therefore, it’s okay to pray to God when we are in grief, when we can’t express our prayers in words and don’t even know how to pray,
Romans 8:26-27 says,
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
 God listens to our hearts’ cries. Even when we are in grief, the True God is known to us and we can call Him “our God” when we pray. We have joy and consolation because of this faith.
Then in verse 3 the psalmist confessed, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?”
Being at the bottom of despair, the psalmist prayed to God all the more. The psalmist also knows that we cannot hide our sins in front of God.
Because God can see through all sins, there is no need to hide anything from God. The psalmist is in this kind of honest relationship with God.
We can try to hide things from others, like our sins or things that we don’t want others to know. I think everyone has such side in them. But we cannot hide anything including our sins from God.
 “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?”
The psalmist confessed that we will never be innocent and we cannot escape judgment since God knows all sins.
After hearing this, does anyone think, “Not being able to hide anything means God is frightening!” 
No, it is not frightening. Rather, we can really be free in front of God. The reason is because we don’t need to hide anything and we can be as who we truly are in front of God.
I think many Christians have difficulties in accepting the fact that “I am a sinner”.
That’s because we tend to think of sins as the visible sins, or what’s generally regarded as “bad things”. We compare this kind of sins with others’ sins.
We think to ourselves, “comparing with this kind of sins, my sins are no big deal…”, etc. Many times we evaluate ourselves by comparing ourselves with others. 
But encountering Jesus Christ through the Word of God from the Bible enables us to earnestly face the truth about our deep sins. This also helps us understand that our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ crucifixion.
 I think acknowledging that we are sinners is difficult and painful. Knowing, admitting, and accepting our true selves are very hard.
But when we encounter Jesus Christ and understand our true selves including our sins, we will be able to give thanks to God because even though we are sinners He is still with us all the time.
Now, let’s read verse 6:
“I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
In those days, watchmen are people among the soldiers who protect a walled city at night or those, among the merchants, who stayed up at night to be on guard and protect the people from enemies or beasts’ attacks.
It's a very tough job. They always need to be alert and are always under pressure because enemies or dangerous beasts may come anytime.
When I read about this "watchmen", I was reminded of the shepherds who first knew about Jesus's birth.
Luke 2 described that the shepherds were the ones who first heard about Jesus' birth from the angel while they "were keeping watch over their flocks at night". (Luke 2:8)
They were "watchmen" who were not sleeping to guard their sheep.
During one of the tensed nights because thieves or wild animals might attack and while they were waiting for morning to come, they received the news that The Savior is born.
The same as how the watchmen wait for the morning, even in our tiredness and tensed daily lives, let us also wait for the Lord in hope, knowing that "the morning will surely come" as Jesus promised.

Now, the last verse in Psalm 130 says,
“Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. “
What initially began as the psalmist' individual thing ("I can pray to God" and "my sins are forgiven") has become a call for all Israelites to "put hope in God together".
It's a call to hope in God and wait upon Him together with others. We should also pray that others will know and receive God's grace (the grace that we can pray to God and that our sins are forgiven). God's grace is not to be kept only for ourselves.
Before I became a believer I felt faith is supposed to be only personal. Therefore, to me, Christians looked like busybodies who disturb others.
I felt, “Because I respect your belief, just leave me alone.”
But now, I think, “Because I’m Christian, I want to share with others the joy and hope from having this faith. “
Sometimes it is difficult to be with people. It may be easier to keep our faith only in our hearts. But this is not what we’re supposed to do. We cannot keep the hope we have in God only to ourselves.
 If we are thankful and joyful because we are forgiven, we cannot help but share to others about the Gospel, that there is Someone who redeemed us from all sins.
Jesus Christ, the “Savior of the people” (Matthew 1:21) was born to save us. Luke 2 mentioned that a man called Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25).
When Simeon saw little Jesus, he said “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)
Simeon`s desire was the desire of all the people of Israel, and that desire was fulfilled.
I hope that anyone’s grief and prayers, also someone's salvation are shared as everyone's events. But firstly, I hope these things happen at our church since this is the purpose of a church.
 Then, we should never keep God's grace only to ourselves. Let's pray that those who need God's salvation, even one more person, may know the Gospel and come to church.
The Advent, a time of expectant waiting for Jesus Christ, begins from next week. Let us prepare for Christmas by thanking God for what He has done, counting each grace He has given to us and thanking Jesus for coming to our world.
 Let’s pray.

Monday, October 23, 2017

This Week's Schedule

◆Bible Studay & Pryer Meeting, November 22nd (Wed)
Morning Session(10:30~12:00)、Evening Session(19:30~21:00)
We are reading from the Gospel of John and pray together.

◆Friday Family Fellowship (FFF), November 24th (Fri)19:00~
 Friday Family Fellowship is a cross-denominational and international fellowship gathering. We sing a song, enjoy games and have discussions about our faith, etc. Anyone interested in church, or international exchange, everyone is welcomed to join us!

◆Next Week's Sunday Worship Service, November 26th (Sun)

   Message "Wait on the Lord"
              Psalm 130:1-8
                        Messenger: Pastor Tomohiro SAKAI
*Joint Service: 10:50~12:15

◆Church School
  Elementary/Middle School Class, High-School/Youth Class, International Youth  Class, Adult Class, Begineers Class
October 22, 2017
Matthew 11:2-6
“To be informed of the Gospel”
Jesus and John the Baptist

2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Today we read from Matthew 11: 2 to 6. In the previous chapter, Jesus chose his 12 disciples and sent them out into the world.
Jesus entrusted the spreading of the gospel to the disciples. To that end, he gave them the necessary power and sent them to various places.
Let's read the Matthew 11:1, a verse earlier today’s part.
“After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.”
We can see here that even after choosing and sending out the 12 disciples, as always, Jesus Himself continued evangelizing.
In other words, Jesus did not think “I left the work of evangelizing to my disciples. I gave them the necessary knowledge and power so I can take a break.” As before, Jesus Himself continued the work of spreading the gospel.
This is why we can steadfastly believe that Jesus, even if we can't see Him, is alive, is working, and is helping us through the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, let us always remember that Jesus is always sending us out into the world every week after church.
Now, the New Interconfessional Translation (Japanese) and NIV Bibles have “Jesus and John the Baptist” as the title for today's passage. John the Baptist had a profound influence not only on ordinary folks but on Jesus, too. After all, Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist.
In Matthew chapter 3, Jesus came from Galilee to the river Jordan and was baptized by John. At first, John said “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:14)
 (By the way, the Gospel of John was written by a different John.)
Jesus replied “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” in verse 15.
Our Jesus Christ, despite being God, shocked everyone when He humbled Himself to be baptized by a human.
Baptism represents dying to one’s old self after living apart from God (in a sinful state), being reborn into a new person together with the Lord of Resurrection, and the decision to walk together with God.
Jesus Himself showed us the gravity, as well as the joy, of humbling ourselves before God and getting baptized.
 Also, in today’s passage, the very John that baptized Jesus was arrested and thrown in prison. As is written in the later chapter 14, Herod the tetrarch had taken his brother Philip’s wife as his own.
John had drawn the ire of Herod after he boldly criticized him for that act, saying “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Later, John the Baptist met his bitter end when Herod ended up decapitating him.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
From these words, we can infer that John was in a very depressed and powerless state. It probably took all his energy to just lift his head up and talk.
 “I believe you are the savior. So why am I trapped in this cell after all the good I’ve done? Did you not come to this world to do away with unrighteousness?”
The above is probably what was going through his mind. John was courageous enough to boldly stand up against the rulers of the time and declare “evil works as evil,” but even he had moments of weakness like this.
The same goes for us. Even after believing in Jesus and becoming Christians, not everything will go as smoothly as we think. I think in some situations we even get depressed and doubt God.
We might think things like “God, do you really exist? If you do exist, then why are these things happening to me?”
Jesus once said about John “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11). However, the same John had lost his confidence and given up all hope.
It is probably something that goes without saying that we all have times when we lose trust in God.
However, John heard about the deeds of the Messiah when he was in this predicament. Even in his hopeless state, he heard about the miracles done by Jesus Christ. This is where the light peeps into the darkness.
This was a fortunate thing. Even when we feel like we are trapped in a prison, we can still hear about Christ’s great deeds. Because John was imprisoned, his disciples told him of everything Christ did.
It was very fortunate that John had disciples that would convey to him everything that Christ did. The same way, we must become messengers and convey God’s deeds to those “trapped in prison” and are in need of the Gospel.
Jesus answered John’s question thus in verses 4 ~ 6:
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Let’s focus on the word “hear” in the phrase “what you hear and see.”
Speaking of the word “hear,” I am reminded of what my pastor said before.
I asked him “What’s the most important thing for a pastor?” He took a moment to think and answered.
 “Well, all sorts of people come to church. And those people will want to talk to you about many things. You must learn to “listen/hear” everything those people say. I think that is the most important thing.”
Whenever one asks for advice or when something must be dealt with in the church, before giving advice or taking action, one must listen and hear what the other party has to say.
From Pastor Ikeda’s words I also understood that one must first see and make sense of the circumstances. More than anything, it is important for us always to have an attitude trying to listen to the Words of God, that is the Bible.
 “5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
What should we make of these words?
Those who can’t see, can’t walk, can’t hear, and those with serious skin illnesses are healed. The dead rise again and the gospel is preached to the poor. These words were written in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament.
A few historical notes about when Isaiah wrote his book. Around that time, Babylon conquered Judah, signaling the start of the “Babylonian Captivity” for the Jews. Later, the Jews were subsequently released from captivity.
These words mean much more than just bodily healing, such as being able to see, hear or walk again. At their core, they mean to be released from the state of being captivated by something and to gain true freedom.
Let’s look at Isaiah 61:1.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 “…what you hear and see…” (Matt. 11:4), that is to say, those who have heard the good news (the Gospel) have been freed from that which has held them captive and have become truly free.
Jesus is saying “Those that have heard the gospel have been truly freed. This is the work of God. Go tell John these things.”
 Also, let’s focus on the fact that the “hear” and “see” in “…what you hear and see…” are in present tense.
We proclaim “what is happening right now.” Jesus said to proclaim not what has already happened, or what will happen, but what we are witnessing right now with our own eyes and ears.
This is because we are living in the present. Reflecting on the past and applying it to the present is important. Considering the future and drawing up goals and a vision is also important.
However, we do not live in the past or future. We live in the present. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that we proclaim is really “happening here and now,” because God is working among us as we speak.
What’s happening in the church nowadays? Every week during service, or during fellowship, what is going on? Are we hearing the word of God and being truly liberated?
We hear the word of God in church. We hear the word of God in Sunday school, when we read the Bible aloud, when we sing hymns, and when we listen to sermons. But, are we renewing our resolve to respond to and live according to what we hear in the “present?” Is our spirit being renewed through the Gospel?
It is my earnest prayer and wish that I preach and ensure the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in this church.
Church is a place where the weak can receive the Word and gain the strength to rise up. It is also a place where we fellow believers can, through our faith, exhort and support each other when we are down.
And when this is actually happening in the church is when we can tell others about it. Hearing the Word and seeing God’s deeds is also connected to telling others about it (aka evangelism).
Finally let’s consider verse 6, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” The word “stumble” is “skandarizo” in Greek, and it also means to “reject faith,” “depart from faith,” and “to commit sin.”
This word is also used in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:21.
Matthew 13:20~21
20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away (skandarizo).
This is a parable about people who happily receive God’s word but then fall away from the faith when trials come. Can we honestly tell ourselves “I’m not like that and I will never stumble?”
When Jesus was arrested, all of his disciples scattered. Jesus’ first disciple, Peter, also ran away, even though he said “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)
Peter said “I don’t know that man” when asked about Jesus. (The fact that Jesus was not the savior that he imagined in his mind was also a factor.)
 “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Today, Jesus is telling us all “There are times when you stumble. Still, I will never abandon you. Because of your weakness, I hung on the cross.”
No matter how hard things are, no matter how much we might ask “God, do you really exist,” God is always with us and our doubts won’t change that.
 We still lose to fear and anxiety, no matter how much we say “I will never fall away from you.” Jesus said “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
This means “There’s no need to depend on your own strength. Accept that you are weak and will stumble when tried, and depend on the Lord your God.”
Let us see with our spiritual eyes and listen with our spiritual ears and see whether or not the Gospel’s liberation is occurring in our church. And let us keep praying that it will always occur in this church.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Pastor Tomoriro SAKAI Inauguration & Laying on of Hands Ceremony

On October 8th (Sun) from 16:00~ We will have the above ceremony.
Pastor Sakai has been the pastor of BIBC since this April. The ceremony
will be an occasion for us to have many brothers and sisters from our
neighboring churches and have time of blessing and prayer together!

(*The Ceremony has been celebrated under God's grace with many attendees
from many other churches. We thank you all and Our God!)

Monday, September 25, 2017

September 24, 2017
Sermon @ BIBC
1 Corinthians 1:10~17
”Be United in Christ”

The church’s Family Camp began yesterday, and even after this service ends, the camp’s activities will continue until past 3pm today. Several members also stayed in the church last night. Through this camp, I hope that our bonds of faith and fellowship will deepen and grow.
The theme of our church this year is “We grow together in God.” And the source of that theme comes from the Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 3: 7.
"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
A while ago, we were growing mini tomatoes in my house. (we first bought it because the children were going to grow them, but gradually I started to water them every day.) On hot summer days, if you forgot to water the tomatoes even for a short period of time, the leaves would immediately begin to wither and wilt.
Then, as I watered the tomatoes, I was able to see the stems and leaves begin to grow firmly again, regaining their power. I realized how giving water is absolutely essential to grow plants and crops.
Before, I heard a teacher from a prep school say the following statement on television. This particular teacher was very famous. He was a reputable English teacher and whenever a student took his class, the student’s grade would go up and they would often get into their school of choice. This is what the teacher said:
 “What I am doing is merely acting in a supporting role. If my students’ grades go up while taking my class, 80% of reason that happens is the students’ own power and effort. All I do is teach the students the tricks of how to study on their own. I am nothing more than a simple supporter.”
Undoubtedly, no matter how good a coach or a teacher is, even if they can motivate others, in order for a person to raise their grades or acquire new skills, it must be done by each individual’s own effort, by studying and practicing with their own strength.
In other words, "whether or not a person can grow, depends on that person themselves." This is the general idea of the world. I think that this can be considered a highly individualistic way of thinking. Deciding how to live and grow is each individual’s choice.
However, in the Bible it says this; "So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
A planter is necessary, a person who pours water is necessary, and an individual’s own effort to try and grow is also necessary. However, it is “only God, who makes things grow.” This is the point which Christians must always firmly remember.
If we know and understand this, even if something goes wrong, we won’t try to cut ourselves down, or on the other hand, even if we succeed in something, we won’t become too self-confident and arrogant. We can become free from such an attitude, because we know that no matter what, God is control, not us.
And then, we thought that it is important to "grow together" as it says in 1 Corinthians chapter 3. The growth of Christians is not something personal. In the church, it is not important that only I myself grow, or that only a few people grow, but that we “all grow together.” Today I would like us to think about why we must grow “together.”
Furthermore, our theme this year, “We grow together in God,” is based on our church’s 10 year theme from 2013 to 2022: “Make disciples of all nations.” (This is also the theme of our Family Camp)
"Make disciples of all nations" is a verse from what is called the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28: 19-20.
 While I was meditating the Bible verses to prepare for today's message, it was revealed anew that this year's theme "We grow together in God," and our long-term 10 year theme and the subject of this year’s Family Camp, “Make disciples of all nations,” are connected closely with a teaching from God. I would like to share that with you today as well.
Well, looking at the today's verse from 1 Corinthians, you can clearly see there was a problem occurring in the Corinthian church at that time.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.
In the Corinthian Church, it seems that a "falling out" occurred among the members. The people of the church made different groups, each saying the following: “I follow Paul”; “I follow Apollos”; “I follow Cephas”; or, “I follow Christ.” And each group thought that their own group or their group’s teacher was the best.
Paul says, "that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought" (verse 10). What does this mean?
 Does this mean that everyone always has to have the same opinion about everything? When deciding something, must everyone have the same opinion, so that different opinions and ideas do not come out?
Among the Protestant churches, we are called a Baptist church. The Baptist church has various features and one of them is its democratic church management. The important thing within democratic church management is that the opinions of each believer are heard equally. Even if there are only a few opinions, it is important to listen to each one carefully.
Furthermore, we think that it is very important to pray, discuss and decide things together. (It is important to pray. If we do not pray first, no matter how democratically we discuss something, we will not be a church.) We explore the will of God through the process of prayer and discussion.
So, when we discuss and decide something, it is not a bad thing to have different opinions, rather it is a good thing. Therefore, even if it takes time to reach an agreement, we value the process of consensus building.
Paul is says the same thing 1 Corinthians 11:19, as well.
“No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”
In Greek the word "dokimeh" is used. It means “those who have been carefully selected,” which is translated as “which of you have God’s approval” in English.
So Paul says that it is necessary to have differences in opinions, and even have disputes among one another, in order to clearly reveal the will of God and his careful selection. However, it is important to know the etiquette that, it goes without saying, we have to have mutual respect for each other.
However, while it is good in itself to have various opinions, the believers of the Corinthian Church committed a critical mistake.
For each group saying “I follow Paul”; “I follow Apollos”; “I follow Cephas”; “I follow Christ,” they were all losing sight of whom they were joining or who the head of their church really was. (According to Paul’s writing, even those who said they were following “Christ,” did not see, or were not looking at, Jesus Christ correctly.)
As a church, we are not tied or joined to an excellent leader or a teacher who is human. Neither are we joined to Paul, Apollos or Cephas (Peter).
The Bible says that there is nothing that binds us together other than Christ. And that Christ is the one who was crucified on the cross.
Jesus Christ, who was crucified, loves us without limit and forgave our sins. We are saved by His grace, and we are bound by His grace.
That is why we the church are to "be perfectly united in mind and thought." It is by Christ.
I will read 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
If you are a Christian who is bound together with the church, your faith will not grow alone by itself, because we are one body, bound by Christ.
Initially we used the word "individualism," but nowadays, as individualist ideas have highly developed, people tend to not interfere with each other, so you may think that you want people to leave you alone as well.
But Christians cannot be like that. We cannot be in relationships where “each person keeps a mutually moderate distance from one another, relationships that are noncommittal and vague.”
This is because we are a part of one body, whose head is Jesus Christ. It is impossible for only one part of the same body to grow independently from the other parts.
Certainly, interfering and infringing on the freedom and independence of others is not acceptable, but the gathering of Christians is "to unite our hearts together and bond with one another." I want us to remember that, without mutually growing together, acting alone, no one can truly develop and grow.
 “19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
"All the nations" meant any ethnic group that passed the Jewish people in those days. Now, at our church, BIBC, people from many countries are attending our worship service. It is absolutely wonderful.
I hope that our church can be a church where numerous people can come, not only people from overseas, but also people from Japan, especially those living in this area. Because "make disciples of all the nations" means that "the gospel must be told to everyone."
 We Christians live on a day to day basis. Always keeping that in mind, at the end of the worship service each week I pray using these words in the benediction, “we are sent out to return to our daily lives this new week.”
Even if you do not take the Bible and go on missionary trips far away overseas, if we are connected to the church, cherish every worship service, and are pleased with the fellowship we have with our brothers and sisters in the church, wont that joy appear naturally in the way we live outside of the church as well?
That way of living in itself is evangelism. By listening to the words of God together in our church, and treating each other as part of the same body bound by Jesus Christ, our mutual faith will be strengthened. To be sent out into our daily lives from the church and to practice obeying Jesus in our lives, that is evangelism.
Finally, I would like to finish today’s message by reading one more verse from the Bible.
1 Corinthians 1:17
 “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
 "For Christ did not send me to baptize," says Paul. This means that baptism is not the ultimate goal for believers.
In the Baptist church, people are not saved by the ritual of baptism itself. Instead, baptism is an act of response out of one’s faith by which those, who have believed that Jesus Christ is the Savior through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, proclaim their decision to follow Him and to serve God as a member of the church.
Therefore, each one of us who are baptized is required to continuously grow as a disciple of the Lord.
Paul also says “but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
As a pastor I pray that I can speak the word of God properly, and I stand here to preach with as much pray and preparation as possible for each sermon I give. And even if you are not a pastor, I think every Christian will evangelize in their own words to convey the gospel to others.
However, no matter how much power a sermon has, that power does not come from the masterful use of the human language, the technique or way of speaking, or the personality of the person who is talking.
The power to lead a person to believe in Jesus Christ, and to obey the words of the Bible, is the strength of the Word itself and the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, without ever giving up, let us prove the gospel with hope. Let us continue to prove to the world how much the words of the Bible strengthen us, how comforting Jesus Christ's love is, and how each of us in the church are bound together with one another.
We can surely believe that the work of evangelism from our church, bound by Christ, is heavily used by God and that the gospel will be able to spread more and more.
Through this family camp, I hope that we can strengthen each other's bonds and rediscover the meaning and joy of being together. (Tomohiro SAKAI)