Sunday, November 26, 2017


◆Bible Studay & Pryer Meeting, December 20th (Wed)
Morning Session(10:30~12:00)、Evening Session(19:30~21:00)
We are reading from the Gospel of John and pray together.

◆Next Week's Sunday Worship Service, December 24th (Sun)
   *Christmas Service 10:50 ~ 12:30
   Message "God with us"
              Matthew 1:18 - 25
                        Messenger: Pastor Tomohiro SAKAI

◆Candle Service, December 24th
   18:00 ~ 19:00

   Let's spend the evening of Christmas at church together rejoicing our Lord Jesus Christ!

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)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

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)