Remembering who you are

Who are you? Really? Japanese? Korean? American? African? An office worker? A teacher.  A missionary? A housewife? A student?

Are you single? Married? Divorced? Widowed?

Are you a person that has got everything together? Are you a person whose life is completely messed up?

Who are you? When you look in the mirror what do you see?

We started a series a few weeks ago called Refresh. And for a lot of us, we do need a fresh start. We look at ourselves in the mirror, and for whatever reason, we don’t like what we see.

And for a lot of us, the reason is that we’ve forgotten who we really are. So who are we? Really?

That’s a question that the Jews were facing. Because of their sin, God had turned his back on them, and allowed them to be defeated by the Babylonians, and they were exiled to Babylon for 70 years. And yet, God never truly abandoned them.

We saw a couple of weeks ago, that even in the midst of their exile, God had a plan. Their 70 years in Babylon was no accident. God told them, “Settle in Babylon. Raise your families. Pray for Babylon. And in 70 years,  I will bring you back. (Jeremiah 29:4-14)

When the 70 years were over, God did bring them back. We saw in Ezra 1-6 how God used the governor Zerubbabel, and the priest Joshua to lead about 42,000 people back to Jerusalem. And though they faced a lot of opposition, they were able to rebuild their temple, and to some degree reestablish their lives.

And now as we look at Ezra 7, about 57 years have passed since the temple was rebuilt.

But there was a problem. In a lot of ways, the Jews were still a broken people. If you look at the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, you see a lot of problems the people had at that time. They questioned whether God really loved them (Malachi 1:1-5). The priests’ worship had been reduced to a show, and they taught the people to worship the same way (Malachi 1:6-2:9). And as we’ll see later, many of their marriages were a mess as were their kids. (2:10-16)

Does this sound familiar? A lot of us come to God in a broken state. But then we hear the gospel, and we discover the forgiveness and the love of God. Suddenly, we have new life and new hope.

But then life hits us in the face again. Trouble comes. Hurt comes. Pain comes. And soon, we start questioning if God really loves us. Our worship of God becomes a show. Everyone around us thinks we have it all together. But our personal lives have become a mess. And the main reason is that we have lost our identity. We have forgotten who we really are. And because of that, we need to do what the Jews did: we need to rediscover our true identity.

How did the Jews rediscover their true identity? God sent them a man named Ezra.

Ezra was a priest, and if you look at verses 1-5 of chapter 7, you see his background. He was the descendant of the first high priest of Israel, a man named Aaron. Now at the time, Ezra was living in Babylon, but apparently, he had heard of the problems that his people were having in Jerusalem. And so he asked the king, Artaxerxes, for permission to go back to Jerusalem. What was his purpose? To help his people re-establish their identity. What identity? Their identity as God’s people. Look at what the king wrote to Ezra.

You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand…And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. (7:14, 25)

In short, the king was telling Ezra, “Go and check on your people. Make sure that they are living as the people of God. Teach them the words that God has given you as to how to live.”

This was no Jewish believing king telling Ezra to do this. This was a pagan king. But that’s not all. The king also gave him gold and silver to buys animals to sacrifice to God, and he returned some of the things the Babylonians had taken from the original temple in Jerusalem when they had conquered the Jews. (7:15-18)

And so Ezra went back to Jerusalem along with about 5000 people. When they returned, they offered their sacrifices to God, and Ezra started to teach and lead the people in God’s ways. As he did, they started to remember who they were.

What is our identity? Like the Jews, we are God’s people. And when you are feeling broken like the Jews were, that’s what you need to remember. You are still God’s people. You may be broken. Your marriage a mess. Your family a mess. Your finances a mess. Your whole life a mess. But you are still God’s people. What does that mean, to be God’s people?

It means that you are a people chosen by grace.

Why in the world did God choose the Jews to be his people? It certainly wasn’t because they were better than anyone else. Their forefather Abraham had been an idol-worshiper. A liar. A coward. His son had been a liar and a coward too. His grandson had been a conman. Their descendants time and again turned their backs on God.

And yet, while not all these Jews could rightfully be called God’s people, some were. (Romans 9:6-8) And you always could tell who they were, because though they fell, though they were messed up, nevertheless, God in his grace worked in their lives, and in the end, they always turned back to God, and he gave them new life.

I don’t know about you, but there were many times in my life where I questioned whether I was a Christian or not. I first prayed to become a Christian when I was around 7 or 8, and I probably prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior a dozen times after that. Anyone here identify with that at all?

I don’t know why I was so uncertain. Probably a lot of it was that I was just not a very good Christian. My non-Christian friends would ask me, “Are you a Christian?” And I was so insecure, and afraid of their reaction that I would avoid their question. I had no boldness at all. I could also look at my life and see so many flaws and sins in my life.

But here’s what I can tell you as I look back on my life now. I can see that through all my uncertainty, God was working in my life. When I sinned, I felt guilty. I never became hardened to sin to the point that I didn’t care. I always cared. And as I look back, I can see God steering my life. I can see the people that he brought in my life to teach me his Word.  To teach me to become more like Jesus. To encourage me to get involved in ministry. To eventually bring me here to Japan.

I can tell you two things about my Christian experience. First, I have seen God work in my life. And second, I deserve none of it. God worked in my life even though I have struggled with sin. He worked in me even though there were times I ran from his plan. And he just kept drawing me near.

Even now, I am nowhere near the Christian I should be. I struggle with pride. I struggle with lust. I struggle to be the man God has called me to be. And yet, I can see that for some strange reason, God never gave up on me. And it gives me confidence that he never will.

That’s how it was with these Jews. They messed up so many times. But God continued to work in their lives. Not because they deserved it. But because of God’s grace.

How about you? Some of you may have given your lives to Jesus and been baptized. But you still question whether you truly belong to God. Let me ask you something. You may not feel like a good Christian, but can you look back on your life and see God’s grace and work in your life, drawing you to himself and leading you?

Despite the fact that you may struggle with sin, and despite the fact that you fall, do you still have a desire to please him? If so,  I would say don’t beat yourself up about your struggles. It’s not the people that struggle with sin that worry me. It’s those who don’t care. If you care about the sin in your life, I think that’s evidence that God is working in you.

And the thing to remember is, he doesn’t continue working in you because you deserve it. He works in you because he has chosen you as his child, and he loves you. And each day, whether you see it or not, he is pouring his grace on you. That’s what it means to be the people of God. So rest in that grace. You don’t need to earn God’s favor. You already have it. And he won’t stop working on you until you are completed.

The apostle Paul wrote this:

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

So as God’s people, then, how then do we live. I think we can find the answers in the passages we just read.

First ground yourself in God’s word. That’s what Ezra taught the Jews to do. But as you do, can I give you a hint as to how to ground yourself in his word? Always read it with a focus on the grace you have received. Let me give you an example,

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children. (Ephesians 5:1).

Question: What words impress you the most from that verse? For many people, it would be the words, “Follow God’s example.” In short, “I’ve got to do better to become more like God.”

But those aren’t the most important words in that passage. The most important words are, “as dearly loved children.” When you read, that’s where your initial focus needs to be. Not what you should be. But what you are. Who you are. You’re God’s beloved children. And it’s when you truly understand who you are, and the love God has for you, that’s when you start to desire to become more like him. We become like children wanting to please our daddy. We no longer fear disappointing or angering him. Instead, we love him, and want to be like him.

The second thing is to make your life a life of worship. The Jews offered sacrifices of animals. We offer a different sacrifice. Take a look at Romans 12:1.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

Let me ask you again: What words impress you the most from this passage? Again, it’s so easy to focus on the words, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” And that’s important. We are to give our lives to God. He doesn’t want a dead sacrifice. He wants someone who has offered everything to him. That’s the sacrifice that pleases him. But if you focus on those words, “Living sacrifice,” you’ve again missed an extremely important point. God has shown incredible mercy to you.

What does that mean exactly? Two things. First, you are far more sinful and flawed than you even realize. I don’t about you, but that thought scares me. Because I can see some pretty ugly sins that I struggle with now. But what do I not see? What do others see in me that I don’t? What pride? What ungraciousness? What selfishness? And more importantly, what does God see that no one else does? God is a holy God. And he sees every single sin and flaw that we have.

If you think that you’re pretty good as a Christian, that you’re not so bad, then you don’t truly comprehend God’s mercy in your life. We are far more sinful and flawed than we know.

But the second thing mercy means is that we are far more loved and welcomed by God than we could ever hope. Than we could dream. That’s the mercy of God. Do you understand God’s mercy? That’s what you need to understand first. And then from that understanding of mercy, flows a heart of true worship. A heart that is overjoyed to offer themselves as living sacrifices. But how do we ever come to understand that mercy and love that God has for us? Let’s look a little further into the story.

Take a look at chapter 9, verses 1-2.

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

What was the problem here? Probably, as Ezra taught the people God’s law, they noticed that God had told them not to intermarry with the people around them. Why? Because they were racists? No, because they were God’s people. And the main point was that they were to separate themselves from people whose practices are detestable to God. What did that mean? In those days, it primarily meant idol worship. And often times in their idol worship, the surrounding peoples would commit sexual sin and child sacrifice. And God said, “Don’t mix with people like that.”

Unfortunately, there were many that didn’t obey. In fact, from Malachi, it seems that people were actually divorcing their wives who loved God in order to marry these idol worshipers who didn’t. (Malachi 2:10-16)

What was Ezra’s response,

When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. (9:3)

As God’s people, we are to be separate from the sin that wrecks our relationship with God. We are to keep far from it. But how do you react when God reveals your sin? So many people take sin lightly. I think a lot of Christians know sexual sin is wrong, and they take it seriously. But it always amazes me when Christians can lie without blinking an eye. And they justify it by saying, “Well it was a white lie. It doesn’t really hurt anyone.” Or they have a problem with their temper. They simply can’t control it, and they say, “Well, it’s just me. I can’t help it.” When God reveals your sin, can you say that you are appalled by it. Or as the Japanese puts it, do you actually turn pale when you realize how God sees your sin?

It says something interesting in verse 4.

Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles.

Do you tremble at God’s word? Or do you take his word lightly? God said this to one of his prophets Isaiah.

These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)

When you read the Bible and God shows you your sin, do you tremble at the weight of God’s word? Or do you say, “Well, that was for the people back then. It’s doesn’t apply to me.” You will never understand mercy, you will never understand grace as long as you keep making excuses for your sin. On the contrary, your heart will start to harden to God. And the ironic thing is, many times you start thinking you’re okay, and then you start judging other people for their sins. But all the while, you shut yourself off to the mercy of God. You are more sinful and flawed than you even know. Can you say that? Do you really believe that?

Ezra did. Look at his words.

I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. (9:6)

Then he remembered God’s mercy to them.

But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem. (9:8-9)

God did the same for us. When we were slaves to Satan’s kingdom, God showed us mercy and rescued us. He gave us new life and rebuilt our lives. How then, can we go back to our sin? When you sin, do you think about these things at all? Do you think about the mercy God has shown you? If that mercy doesn’t drive you to repentance, then there is something seriously wrong.

You cannot claim to be a Christian and live in unrepentant sin. Because by doing so, you are spitting on Jesus and all he did for you on the cross. You’re saying, “I don’t care what you did. I’m going to live my own way.” That kind of attitude shuts you off from the mercy of God. And if you take that attitude, all that’s left for you is judgment. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

But for the Jews, God’s word and his mercy drove them to repentance. It says in chapter 10, verse 1-2,

While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel.

Two things to note here. They acknowledged their sin and how bad they were. But in the midst of it, they remembered grace. They remembered that despite their sin, there was still hope for them if they would only repent. Still, it was a miserable day. Ezra called all the people into Jerusalem to repent. And look what it says,

And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. (10:9)

I can’t think of a more miserable scene. Sitting in the pouring rain, mourning over your sin. But as they did so, they found mercy. They found grace. They turned from their sin. It took time. It took three months to deal with their sin. And it may take time for you to completely deal with yours. It may also be painful.

For these Jews, they needed to separate from their unbelieving wives and children. Now I am not saying that if you married a non-Christian, that you need to divorce that person. Paul gives us specific instructions for that situation in I Corinthians 7. If you have questions about that, please ask me after service.

But if you are in sin, you need to divorce yourself  from that sin. Whether it is sexual sin. Whether it is selfishness. Whether it is brutal words coming out of your mouth. Whatever it may be. God doesn’t promise, though, that sin and its consequences can be dealt with in a moment. It often takes time. And again it can be painful.

But from the moment you repent, there is grace. How about you? Have you had that moment? That moment of sitting in the rain, in tears because of your sin? Or do you still take your sin lightly?

Now some of you may be feeling pretty bad right now. But if you are God’s people, don’t lose hope. You were chosen by God by grace. You were saved by grace. And by grace, God will work in your life until you become the beautiful person he created you to be. God had his chosen people in Jerusalem. And he sent Ezra the priest to help accomplish his purpose for them.

But God sent an even greater priest for us. Jesus came and died to take the punishment for our sin. And because God became a man, he understands us. He understands why we struggle so much with sin. He understands our weaknesses. And because of that, the writer of Hebrews tells us this.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Are you broken? Have you messed up your life? If you’re a Christian, remember who you are. You are God’s child. You are God’s beloved child. God has poured out his grace and mercy on you. So approach his throne with confidence. And he will make you whole again.

Small group questions:

1. Read Ezra 7:14,25. How did God use Ezra to bring lead the Jews back to Him?

2. Have you ever doubted whether you really are a Christian? If so, why? How did you become a Christian? In what ways did God lead you to that point? In what ways did he lead you after that point? If God in his grace chose you and worked in you then, what does that tell you about what he’s doing now? If you’re not a Christian, can you see ways that God is trying to bring you to himself?

3. Read Ezra 9:6-9. What did Ezra realize about the sins of the Jews? What did he understand about God’s grace toward them?

4. “You are far more sinful and flawed than you realize.” “You are far more welcomed and loved by God than you could ever imagine?” Can you say that you have really grasped these truths in your life? Why is it important to truly understand both these truths? How would it change the way you see yourself and others? How would it change the way you see God?

5. When you read Ephesians 5:1 and Romans 12:1, what words do you focus on? Why is it important to focus on who we are (God’s beloved children, and people God has shown mercy to) before we look at what we should be (imitators of God and living sacrifices)?

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God revealed

Merry Christmas everyone. I’ve said this dozens of times before, and I’ll say it again, Christmas is definitely my favorite time of year. For me, I love the decorations, I love the music, and spending time with family and friends.

But as much as I love all those things, Christmas really comes down to Jesus, doesn’t it. The whole reason we celebrate Christmas is because two thousand years ago, he came to this earth as a little baby.

And normally on nights like this, in services like this, we look at passages in the Bible which talk about the birth of Jesus. But since we’ve just seen a Christmas play that showed us how Jesus came, I’d like us to focus this message on why he came.

Some time ago, I read this story of a teenage girl in the States who was really smart. She got perfect grades in high school. She had a perfect score in the national test for students who want to attend an American university. And she had a perfect score in her entrance exam to the University of California. Because of this, a reporter came to interview her, and he asked her several questions. And they were just normal reporter questions. But then he asked her kind of a strange question: “What do you think is the meaning of life?”

Now this girl may have been pretty smart for her age, but there are probably very few people that can answer that question well.

Her answer: “I have no idea. I would like to know myself.”

There are many people in this world who are like this girl. They’re smart, successful, perhaps well off, and yet they have no clue as to who they really are, where they came from, and why they even exist.

And so they try to find meaning in their lives. They try to find it in a job, in money, in a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. But while those things may satisfy for a little while, their hearts start to feel hungry again. Dissastisfied. Empty. And they search desperately for something to fill that emptiness. Is that you?

One of the reasons Jesus came was to reveal. He came to reveal why you’re here, who you are, and who you are meant to be. But you will never discover those things, until you find out one important thing: who God is.

Some of you might be looking at me, and you’re saying, “Yeah, but Bruce, how can I know who God is? I can’t see him. I can’t hear him. I have no idea what he’s even like. How can I even know that he even exists?

Those are good questions. And they find their answer in that manger 2000 years ago. But before we can understand the manger, we need to go back even further, much further to the very beginning of time. Let’s look at John chapter 1 starting at verse 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. (1-2)

It says here that in the Beginning, before the world was created, before even time was created, the Word existed. What is John talking about, “the Word?” He’s talking about Jesus. Why does he call Jesus “the Word?”

Think about it for a minute. What do words do? They express who we are. If you were to watch me everyday, even if you never heard me speak a word, you could probably have some idea what kind of person I am. But if you never heard me speak, could you really say you knew me? Could you say for certain what is important to me? Could you say why I do things and what my motives are? Not really. You could guess, of course, but you couldn’t really say for sure.

But once you hear me speak, assuming that I speak the truth, you find out all kinds of things about me. You find out who I am and why I do the things I do. You find out how I think and what I value.

And here John describes Jesus as the Word of God. Jesus is the living expression of God himself. When we look at Jesus, we find out what kind of person God is. When we hear Jesus’ words, we hear how God thinks and what he values.

If you really think about it, that’s a pretty incredible thing to say about anyone. Can you imagine saying about anyone, “He is the pure expression of God. When you see him, you see God. When you hear him, you hear God.”

But John says it of Jesus. How can he possibly say such a outrageous thing?

For one thing, John tells us that Jesus was with God, specifically, he was with God the Father. The picture John is giving is that Jesus was face to face with the Father. They are in close personal relationship.

But not only that, John says that Jesus himself is God. He shares the same nature as his Father. And because he shares the same nature as the Father, that’s why we call him God’s Son. We’re not saying that God gave birth to a Son. They have both always existed from all eternity. But one of the reasons we call Jesus God’s Son is because they share the exact same nature.

So because Jesus is in close relationship with the Father, and he shares the same nature as the Father, he can express who God is perfectly.

John tells us more about Jesus.

He says,

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (3)

If you look at the first book of the Bible, Genesis, you see something interesting. It says that God simply spoke things into existence. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” He said, “Let there be ocean, sky, and land,” and all these things appeared. Put another way, God created everything through his Word.

But John personalizes this Word. He says that Jesus is this Word that God created the world through. The Father spoke, “Let there be light,” and Jesus created light. The Father spoke, “Let there be ocean, land, and sky,” and Jesus created ocean, land, and sky.”

And John says that not only did Jesus create everything, he is the source of all life. In verse 4, he says,

In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (4)

I asked before what is the meaning of life? How can we find it? We can only find it by going to the Source of life. If you want to know the meaning of your life, you need to go to Jesus. Because as John says, he’s the light of all mankind. He’s the one that pierces our confusion as to who we are, why we’re here, and what we’re meant to be. Apart from him, you’ll always be stumbling around, trying to find out the meaning to your life.

John then starts to tell us what Christmas is all about in verse 9.

The true light, that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

Jesus isn’t some cruel God that says, “I know what will bring you joy, but I’m not going to tell you.” He came to bring light into our lives, so that we can find true life.

In fact, throughout history, God has revealed himself to us. But there was a problem. Take a look at verse 10.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

In other words, God has not been off hiding himself on another planet. He has always been here. The problem isn’t him; it’s us. People started looking at the sun and moon, and instead of praising God who made the sun and moon, they started to worship the sun and moon. Not only that, they started making idols out of wood and stone and started to worship these things they made. God is right here, right now, but so many people can’t recognize his presence. Instead they have so many distorted ideas of what God is really like.

And if you doubt that, just ask people in your family, your friends, your coworkers, “What is God like?” and you’ll probably get all sorts of answers, if they even believe in God at all.

God created this world, and most people still can’t recognize him.

So God did something special. He specifically revealed himself to the Jews. They actually heard his voice. They saw his handwriting. They saw him do so many miraculous things among them. But look at what happened, when Jesus appeared among them.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (11)

Of all the people you would expect to recognize Jesus when he came, it was the Jews. But when he came, they didn’t recognize him either. Not only that, they outright rejected him. They put him on a cross and crucified him.

But look at what John says in verse 12.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God. (12-13)

Although there were many Jews that rejected Jesus, there were some that believed. And Jesus gave them new life. But not only did he give them new life. He gives all those who believe in him new life too. All of us here have life. We were born in this world to our fathers and mothers. But Jesus gives us a new kind of life.

A life where we know where we come from. A life where we know why we are here. A life where we know our destiny. A life that’s full and worth living. The life of a child of God. Jesus came to reveal all this to us.

And John says in verse 14,

The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (14)

In short, God became a man. This invisible God, this God we cannot see with our eyes, for a time became visible. And now through Jesus, we see God’s glory. More than that, we see his character, that he is a God who is full of grace and truth. Do you want to know what God is like? That is what he is like.

Can you imagine a God who lacked one or both of these traits?

Can you imagine a God who embraced lies and injustice? That would be terrifying. Can you imagine a God who embraced truth and justice, but had no love or mercy?  That would be terrifying too, because if you are honest with yourself, you’d admit that God would be able to find so many flaws in you. I know he finds a lot of flaws in me. And if he were not a God of grace and love, he would probably destroy you and me where we stand.

But in Jesus, we see that God is not simply a God that embraces truth and righteousness, but he’s a God of grace and love as well.

John says in verses 16-17,

Out of his fullness, we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (16-17)

Think about what that means for a minute. Out of his fullness. God wasn’t some lonely being that decided to create humans to cure his loneliness. He was already full. He was already whole. He had no needs whatsoever. But he made us so that he could share that fullness with us. He made us to share his love with us. He made us to share his grace with us. And it says here that in Jesus, we have all received grace in place of grace already given.

What does that mean?

Like I said, God had revealed himself to the Jews already. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God gave the Jews his law through a man named Moses. And through the law, God showed us who he is, and what kind of people he designed us to be. That was grace. He didn’t have to tell us any of that.

But when Jesus came, he gave us a grace that far surpassed that first grace. He actually dwelt among us. He showed us personally what our lives are supposed to be. And then he went to a cross and died for all the times we failed to be what God designed us to be. He died for all the times we turned our backs on God. He died for all the times that we hurt our family, our friends, and all those around us. We deserved to be punished. We were the ones who did wrong. But Jesus took our place. But how can you keep the author of life dead? You can’t. And three days later, he rose again. And now to those who believe in him, we find grace.

So through Jesus, we find out who God is. John says,

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (18)

No one has ever seen God in all his glory. But in Jesus, we see God in human flesh. He has made God known to us. And as he does so, we find who we are. Who are we? We are a people that were created for a relationship with God. God created us to pour all his love and life into us. We pulled away from him, we rejected him, and that’s why so many of us feel so empty. But to all who receive him, to those who believe in Jesus’ name, he gives the right to become children of God. And when we do, we find the life we were designed to have. We find the fullness and joy in life that comes from a relationship with God. That’s what Christmas is about. And that’s why Jesus came.

How about you? Do you know this Jesus? Do you know the life he came to bring us?




Posted in 2017, John | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Do you understand what you believe? Does it matter? (October 29, 2017)

When I was in high school or college, probably college, I remember walking home from church, and just praying, “God, if there is someone you want me to share the gospel with, let me know.”

I can’t remember what exactly I meant by that prayer. Maybe I was feeling super spiritual that day, and was ready to share my faith with anyone I met. As it turned out, just a few minutes later, I was passing by a bus stop, and a woman tried to hand something out to me: a Watchtower or Awake magazine. For those of you don’t know, those are the main magazines of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I can’t remember what I thought at that moment, but it was probably something like, “God, you can’t be serious. Her?” Anyway, I started talking with her, and one thing I figured out really fast was that I didn’t know nearly enough about my faith as a Christian as I should have. And so over the next several years of my life, I started to study it more, and I had some interesting conversations with Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons that came to my door as a result. More importantly, I started to truly understand what I believed, why I believed it and it really shaped my life.

Today, we’re looking at I Corinthians 15, and as we do, I want you to think about these two questions: First, “Do I really understand what I believe? In particular, do I really understand what I mean when I say, ‘Jesus died for me and rose again?'” And second, “Why does it matter that I do understand? What practical significance does it have in my everyday life?”

Let’s take a look at First Corinthians 15 starting at verse 1.

Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1-2)

Here Paul says, “People, I want you to remind you of this gospel that I preached to you. Why? Because this message that you received is what you have taken your stand on as Christans. It’s the very foundation of your life. More importantly, it’s the gospel that saves you if you hold on to it. And then he says, something interesting, “Unless you believed in vain.”

Those words “in vain” are very interesting, and you see it in the Japanese translation. The idea is that the person never carefully considered what the gospel message was from the beginning. They heard it and said, “Yeah, I guess I can believe that. That sounds reasonable.” But they never really thought about what it meant.

Many people who say they are Christians are like that. They say they believe the gospel. But it never seems to make a difference in their lives. It’s one thing to say you believe all these things. It’s another thing entirely to really think them through to the point that it actually changes the way you think and live.

That’s why Paul takes the time to remind the Corinthians and us about this gospel we believe. Take a look at what he says.

For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me. (3-8)

Paul says here, “When I gave you the message of the gospel, I didn’t just make this up. I received this from Jesus himself. And the very people who witnessed everything that Jesus did and taught confirmed it.” (Galatians 1:11-12; 2:2-7) What is this gospel?

First, Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins? What is sin? Sin is essentially rebelling against God. It’s saying to him, “I don’t need you. I’m not going to live your way. I’m going to live mine.” But by living that way, we hurt God, and we hurt the people around us. And if you’re honest with yourself, you can admit you’ve done that. But because we’ve done that, the Bible teaches us that we deserve death. Not just physical death. But eternal death, separated from God forever in hell.

Have you ever really thought that through? I said last month in one of our messages, that some people think God owes them something: a happy life, a happy marriage, etc. And I told you that God doesn’t owe us anything. Actually, that’s not completely true. God owes us hell. That’s what we deserve from him. Whenever you think, “I don’t deserve all the problems I’m going through!” remember, “Actually, I deserve hell. Because I have wounded God countless times, and I’ve wounded the people around me countless times as well.” When you think, “I deserve more from God!” Remember, “Yes, that’s right. I deserve hell.”

Tell me something: In your heart of hearts, do you really  believe you deserve hell? Or do you believe that you’re really not that bad? If you think that way, you don’t really understand the gospel. Because the gospel says Jesus died to take the punishment you deserve. But if you don’t believe you deserve hell, then what did Jesus die for? Nothing. But if you understand your sin, you start to truly understand God’s grace in your life: that through the cross, God gives us what we don’t deserve. Eternal life with him. A life with him that actually starts here and now. One in which, if you’ll follow him, no matter what trials or hardships you go through, you’ll find a peace and joy that only he can give. Not because you deserve it. But despite the fact that you deserve nothing but hell from him.

And all this was predicted in the Old Testament years before Jesus was even born. In Isaiah 53, the prophet Isaiah said this,

But he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on him,
and we are healed by his wounds.

We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished him
for the iniquity of us all.

…he bore the sin of many
and interceded for the rebels. (Isaiah 53:5-6, 12)

We also see a picture of Jesus in the Old Testament sacrifices. In those sacrifices, we see the picture of a perfect lamb taking the sins of the people on itself before being slaughtered. The Jews even had a special holiday called the Day of Atonement that pointed to what Jesus would do on the cross. That’s why Paul could say that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Time and again, the Old Testament Scriptures point us to Christ’s work on the cross.

Paul then says that Jesus was buried, and then rose again on the third day. Now, when we say that Jesus rose up from the dead, we don’t mean that he rose as a spirit. Sometimes people think that way, that just his spirit was raised. But Jesus was raised in his body. It was a transformed body, but it was his body that was raised, not just his spirit. And Paul says that was predicted in Scripture as well, hundreds of years before Jesus was born. So for example, David wrote this,

For you will not abandon me to Sheol (the grave); you will not allow your faithful one to see decay. (Psalm 16:10)

Jesus also pointed to the story of Jonah in the Old Testament, and said that Jonah was a picture of the resurrection as well. That just as Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days, and came out alive , so Jesus would come out from the “belly” of the earth alive, three days after he was buried there.

And Paul says, that Jesus’ resurrection was witnessed by over 500 people, most of whom the Corinthians could still interview if they wished.

So this was the message that Paul and the apostles preached. But have you really thought about what it means to you that Jesus rose from the dead? What significance does that have for your everyday life? Many of the Corinthians had never really thought that through, and because of it, it affected their understanding of the gospel, and it affected the way they lived. Take a look at verse 12.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”?

Now all the people in the Corinthian church would say that Christ was raised from the dead. But despite this, there were those in the church that scoffed at the idea that we will rise from the dead too. From what Paul says later, it seems they had a hard time imagining it. Perhaps they were saying things like, “Oh, come on. We’re going to rise from the dead? What? We’re going to rise up as skeletons? All our skin will have decayed off our bones. And that’s if our bones haven’t already been reduced to dust in the first place.”

But Paul tells them this,

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith. Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that he raised up Christ—whom he did not raise up, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Those, then, who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (13-19)

In short, Paul was saying, “People, think this through! Think about what you’re saying. You’re scoffing at the idea that we could possibly be raised from the dead. But if we can’t be raised, that means that Christ couldn’t have been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, this gospel we proclaim is in vain and so is your faith.

The word “vain” here is different from the one that Paul uses in verse 2. This “vain,” means “without essence or substance.” In other words, Paul is saying if Jesus is not raised, our preaching and your faith is totally without substance. It has no meaning at all. Why? Because of what the resurrection proved. What did it prove?

It proved that God had accepted the sacrifice Jesus had made (Romans 4:25). When God raised Jesus from the dead, he was saying, “Though you didn’t deserve it, you took the punishment of all these people’s sins. I accept that sacrifice for them. Now I will restore life to your body so that the whole world will know that I have accepted your sacrifice, and that now they have the hope of eternal life with me.”

That’s why Paul says that if Christ is not raised, we are still in our sins. If Christ is still dead, then it proves that God didn’t really accept his sacrifice, and we are still headed for hell. And all those Christians who have already died are in hell now. Here we are thinking that we’ll all be with God for all eternity, but in reality, we’re all still headed for hell if Christ is still dead. How sad is that.

Paul also told the Corinthians, “Not only that, think about what you’re saying about us, if you deny the resurrection. You’re calling us liars because we have testified to you that God did raise Jesus from the dead.”

Sometimes people in non-Christian universities, and sadly even in so-called Christian universities say exactly that. They say, “Well, Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. The apostles weren’t really telling the truth about that. But hey, it doesn’t really matter. They meant their lie for good. They wanted to give people hope. They wanted to encourage people to live better lives. It was a “pious lie.” So it’s okay that they lied.

You look at Paul’s words here and you know exactly what he’d say to that. He’d spit on those words. There was no such thing as “pious lies” for Paul and the other apostles. For them lies were lies, and they would not accept their use in any circumstance, particularly when it came to the gospel.

Paul continues,

But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at his coming, those who belong to Christ. (20-23)

Back in the Old Testament days, there was a festival called the feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14). And in it, the Israelites would present an offering of the very first grain of the harvest for that year to God. They waved it before God as an acknowledgement that it all came from him, and as they did, they looked forward to the rest of the harvest to come.

Now Paul calls Jesus the firstfruits of those who have died and will be raised to eternal life. But here, it is God who presents the risen Christ for all to see to remind us that all life comes from him. Now when we see Jesus, we look forward to the great harvest of all Christians who have died and been sowed into the earth. And on that day, God will give all who have believed in Jesus new life and new bodies. So Paul tells us that just as Adam’s sin led to death for us all, Jesus’ death and resurrection gives life to all who will believe in him. When will this happen? When he returns to this earth.

And he will return. We won’t read it today, but Paul says that at that time, all things will be put under Jesus’ feet. In other words he will reign over all things. He’ll reign over all the people of the earth. And he’ll reign over death itself. Death will be a thing of the past. And then Jesus will subject himself to the Father and God will be over all.

Quick note here, because it is a point of confusion at times. We’ve taught the Trinity here before. That there is one God, and that within the one God there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. Yet there are not three gods. The Father, Son, and Spirit, together are the one God. How that works, I don’t know. But all are equally God. And they are all to be honored equally as God. And yet, there is a difference in their roles. And one of those differences that we see is that the Son is subject to the Father.

I talked about Jehovah’s Witnesses before, and one thing they always say is, “Well if Jesus is subject to the Father, he is obviously not God. He must be a lesser god. He’s inferior to God.” But that’s not true. The president of the United States holds a higher position than me. So does the Prime minister of Japan. But there is no way anyone can say they are somehow therefore more human than me. That they are more “man” than me. We are all equally human. And we are all equal in human dignity. Even if sometimes we don’t think so. I gotta say, I really shake my head at my president sometimes.

Anyway, Jesus is fully God as is the Father. But what we see in verse 28 is that he willingly subjects himself to the Father, and he will do so for all eternity. So if you’re ever talking to a Jehovah’s Witness, and they tell you, “Jesus said, ‘The Father is greater than I.’ (John 14:28) How can Jesus be God?” just remember, their roles are different. Jesus willingly subjects himself to the Father, that’s true, but they are still equally God.

But anyway, death is not the end for any of us. Jesus will return, he will raise us from the dead, he will reign, and most importantly, he will judge us all. And that gives the resurrection very important meaning to how we live our lives today.

Paul says, “You know, if the dead are not raised, I’m an idiot. I put my life in danger every day for the gospel. I’ve been thrown in prison, I’ve been whipped, I’ve nearly been killed. For what? If there is no resurrection,

 Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. (32)

Isn’t that true? If there is no resurrection, if there is no judgment, then why not just live how we want? And that’s exactly where the Corinthians’ beliefs led them. Paul said,

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Come to your senses and stop sinning; for some people are ignorant about God. I say this to your shame. (33-34)

One of the reasons that some of the Corinthian Christians were sinning the way they were was because they ultimately thought it didn’t matter. That they would never be judged for it.

Many people who call themselves Christians live that way today. Oh, they may believe in the resurrection, but they’ve never thought through what it means. What does it mean?

First, it means that Jesus is more than just a king in name. He truly is king because he reigns over everything, even death. Think about Japan and the emperor. How many of you truly think we owe him our total and utter allegiance? Probably none of you. Why? Because he is an emperor only in name.

Many people today treat Jesus just like that, as a king in name only. When it comes to their everyday life, they treat him as anything but a king. That’s why when he gives them commands that they read in the Bible, they can so easily dismiss them.

Do you do that? Is Jesus merely a king in name to you, or is he truly your king? Jesus said that on judgment day there will be many people who will say, “Lord, Lord. Didn’t I do this for you and that for you?” But because to them Jesus was only king in name, Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:22) What would Jesus say to you if he were to return today?

Second, it means what we do on this earth matters. Because we will be judged. We’ll be judged for if we truly had accepted Jesus as our king. And if we have, we’ll be judged for how we served him. What did we do with the gifts and responsibilities he has given us? Did we use our time well? What were our motives behind the things we did? All these things will be judged. If we did well, Paul tells us in chapter 3 we will be rewarded. If not, we’ll be saved, but all that we ever built in life, all that we treasured, all that we labored for, will be burned to dust. What will happen to your life’s labor when Jesus judges it?

But ultimately, what the resurrection shows us is that God loves us. And that he has awesome plans for us. And above all, the love God has for you should drive all that you do. Not fear that he will be disappointed in you. Not fear that he will punish you. Christ has already taken your punishment. And our resurrection from the dead will be the final proof of that. Remember, we deserve death and hell for our sin.

But Paul now says in verse 54,

Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, death, is your victory?
Where, death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (54-57)

When sin came came into the world, death came with it. And death had a terrible sting because we saw where it was taking us. God’s law was good and perfect, but it condemned us all to hell because none of us keep it perfectly. But Jesus lived a perfect life, and then died on the cross for our sin. And by doing all this, he fulfilled all the requirements of the law for us. Now when we put our trust in him, he not only takes away our sin, he gives us his righteousness, and we stand perfect in God’s eyes. That’s the love of Christ. That’s the love of God. And because of that we can rejoice. We can sing, “Death where is your victory? You have no victory over me. I may die here on earth, but I will be raised and live with my Lord forever.” Death has no sting anymore. Death is only the doorway to hope now.

And so Paul concludes,

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (58)

God never promises us an easy life. Sometimes it’s very hard. But when you go through the hardest times, remind yourself: “God loves me. He proved that by sending Jesus to die for me. I am no longer condemned. I know I’m not condemned because God raised Jesus from the dead. And one day God will prove his love for me once and for all, by raising me from the dead, just as he raised Jesus.”

So don’t give up. Keep doing what you’re doing for the Lord, no matter what you’re going through. Because in the end, it will all be worth it. That’s the meaning of the resurrection. That’s the meaning of the gospel. Let’s meditate on that meaning everyday, until it really hits home with us. Because when it does, it will transform your life.

How about you? Do you really know the gospel? Has it really hit home with you?

Small group questions:

  1. When people go through hard times in life, they often question if God loves them. How does understanding the gospel message help us to see God’s love better? Think about what we deserve and don’t deserve from God.
  2. When you think about what you deserve and don’t deserve from God, how should it affect the way you treat people who annoy, anger, or hurt you?
  3. Read Luke 6:46. In your everyday life can you say Jesus really is your king? Or is he just a king in name? Why do you say that?
  4. For many Christians, their lives are driven by fear that God will be disappointed in them, or that he will punish them. What does the resurrection say about that way of thinking? What should drive your life? What drives your Christian life?
Posted in 2017, I Corinthians | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The “god” of Me. The God of me.

Today we’re taking a break from our series in Corinthians, and we’ll be looking at the life of a man named Jacob. And I’ve titled this message, “The ‘god’ of Me. The God of me.”

Recently, someone at Crossroad asked me, “What are you doing when you make this gesture? What does it mean?”

Well, we call them air quotes. And this gesture is really useful especially when we want to use sarcasm, or irony. For example, “He’s a really ‘nice’ guy, huh?” Which really means we don’t think he’s nice at all.”

In this case, we have the “god” of Me. Now are you really a god? Of course not. But so many people live for the “god” of Me. In other words they live their whole lives solely for themselves. They make themselves the center of the universe.

But that’s not the way we were designed to live. We were designed to look to God and say, “You are the God of me.” Or in better English, “You are my God. I live for you.”

I grew up in a Christian family, and I made the choice to become a Christian at a pretty young age. But it really took me a while to get to the point where I stopped following the “god” of Me, and started saying to Jesus, “You are the God of me.”

You see, although I said I was a Christian for many years, I was still only living for myself. And it was only when I hit my teen years, that I really started to say, “Jesus, you truly are my God. And I want to follow you.” How about you? Can you say that? Or are you still following the “god” of Me.

Now as I said, we’re going to look at the life of a man named Jacob. Usually, I like to take one main passage, and focus on that, but today we’re going to basically cover 25 chapters in one day. Which means we’ll be probably be here until 9:00 tonight. Just kidding. We’re only going to do an overview today. But I do encourage you to take the time to read this story when you go home.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a reader. I like reading. And it used to be that I would read a lot of fiction books, including books like this. This book is a monster. It’s over 900 pages. But I probably read this through in 3 or 4 days. And over the past couple of years, I’ve started to think, “Why can’t I read my Bible this way?” So often, I used to read one or two chapters of the Bible a day, and say, “Okay that’s enough.” But what I’ve found is that as I’ve read more at one time,  as I read whole books or at least whole stories at one time, I’m starting to understand my Bible better. So let’s try reading the Bible that way today.

Just to give you some background, Jacob lived around 4000 years ago. And his grandfather was a guy named Abraham, who was the father of the Jewish nation. God told Abraham, “leave your country and go to the place I will show you.” And then he made Abraham these promises:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3)

Abraham obeyed God and eventually, God gave him a son named Isaac. Isaac grew up, got married, and that’s where we pick up the story today.

Take a look at Genesis chapter 25, starting at verse 21.

Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. (Genesis 25:21-26)

Jacob got off to a very interesting start in life. He was a twin, and when he was born, he was too lazy to come out of his mother by himself, so he just grabbed his brother’s heel and took a free ride out. Of course, I’m just kidding, but it was symbolic of how Jacob lived his early life. He lived for the “god” of Me. He was someone who often took advantage of other people for his own good. In fact, his parents named him “Jacob,” which meant “he grasps the heel.” And in their language, it was often used as an idiom that meant, “deceiver.” Not the best name to have. But Jacob certainly lived up to it.

In short, Jacob was a con man. And when you read his story, what you find was that he was willing to deceive his own father and brother to get what he wanted. “Nice guy,” huh? But while his father proved to be a forgiving man, his brother was not, and Jacob was forced to flee for his life.

That’s the problem with the living for the “god” of Me. Not only do you hurt those around you, but you can make an utter mess of your life. I have seen people wreck their marriages. I’ve seen them wreck their relationships with their kids. I’ve seen them wreck their health. I’ve seen them wreck their entire futures. And probably you have too.

But you know it’s so easy to point the finger at other people. To look at their failings and blame them for their stupid choices. But how about you? For many of us, the god of Me can be a tricky thing to detect. But how often do we end up serving it?

For the past several weeks, we’ve looked at I Corinthians, and when you think about it, one of their biggest problems was that many of them were serving the god of Me. For many of them, they were constantly thinking “My position. My rights. My life.” Because of that they could badly wound other people in the church, and they either didn’t notice or they didn’t care. And the church was a total mess because of it.

How about you? How would you describe your way of thinking? Are you constantly thinking of your position? Are you constantly worried about the respect or lack of respect you get from others? Are you constantly worried about your rights? Are you constantly offended when you feel like your rights are infringed upon? Are you constantly focused on your life? Are you constantly focused on what you need and want from the people around you. That’s serving the god of Me. Is that who you’re serving?

That’s who Jacob served for a very long time. But the amazing thing is, God never gave up on him. And as Jacob headed off to his uncle’s place to flee for his life, he had his first encounter with God. One night, he stopped for a rest, and while he was sleeping, he saw a dream. He saw this huge stairway stretching down from heaven to earth. And he saw angels going up and down this stairway, probably going off to do some errands.

Sometimes people think that God is not very active in this world. But one thing that we see in the Bible is that God is active. Though we may not see him, he has his angels doing his work here on earth. And he himself is active here on earth. He reaches down to us in love, working in our lives to achieve his purposes. And here we see him reaching down to Jacob, messed up though he was. Look at what God said.

“I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (28:13-15)

Here, God gives Jacob the very same promises that he gave to Abraham. You know what’s amazing about that? Jacob deserved none of that from God. He was still a very selfish, me-centered person. But that’s what grace is about. It’s God reaching out to us when we deserve nothing from him.

What was Jacob’s response?

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (28:20-22)

Do you notice something interesting about this response? Jacob doesn’t say, “God, your grace is incredible. I can’t believe you would do this for me. So from now on, you’re my God and I will follow you.” Instead he says, “Well God, I’ll wait and see. If you really do look after me, then I will follow you.” Despite all the grace God shows him, Jacob still is following the god of Me.

Many people today take this same kind of attitude when it comes to God. They say, “God if  you do this and this and this for me, then I’ll follow you.” But that’s not really following God. It’s following yourself. How about you? Is that your attitude toward God? Do you ever carry the attitude that God owes you something? A happy life. Money. A wife. A husband. A good job. God doesn’t owe you a thing. And as long as you believe God owes you something, and you condition your following him on whether he meets your demands or not, you’re not following him. You’re following the god of Me.

Anyway, Jacob goes to his uncle’s place, pretty much with the same selfish and self-sufficient attitude he always had. But there was a problem. His uncle was even more a con man than Jacob was. And because of that, Jacob had a lot of struggles during the 20 years he was with his uncle. But because of God’s grace, Jacob prospered and became very wealthy despite all his uncle did to him.

Then God said, “Jacob, it’s time for you to go back home.” Jacob obeyed, but now Jacob had to deal with his brother Esau. And Jacob, being the schemer he was, tried to smooth things over on his own. He tried to bribe his brother by sending him all kinds of things, but the next thing he knew, his brother was coming with 400 of his men, and now Jacob was panicking. “Esau’s coming to kill me!”

And so he prayed to God for help. And it’s very interesting how he addresses God here. He says, “God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac.” (Genesis 32:9). He still doesn’t call God his God. Even so, God in his grace answered him. Not only that, God appeared to him personally. And in that meeting, Jacob finally realized, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep fighting God and living my own way. I need him. I need his blessing in my life.” And for the first time in his life, he truly surrendered to God.

And God gave him a new name. He said, “Your name is no longer ‘Jacob.’ Your name is no longer ‘deceiver.’ From now on, you are ‘Israel.’ This is the first time we ever see the name “Israel” in the Bible. It wasn’t given to a country. It was given to a man. One possible meaning of the name is, “He struggles with God.” And God said to him, “You have struggled with me, and with man. And now you have finally overcome. You’ve finally found the key to victory in life. The key is to victory is not constantly fighting me and those around you. The key to victory is surrendering to me.”

God then brought peace between Jacob and Esau, and after they had parted, Jacob built an altar and worshiped God. He called the altar, “El Elohe Israel.”

Let me ask you a quick question, how many of you want to understand your Bible better. If you really want to understand your Bible better, I’ll give you a couple of  secrets right now. The first secret is to read the footnotes in your Bible. How many of you have ever taken the time to look at the footnotes in your Bible? I know they’re really tiny, but they give you some valuable information. And if you look at your footnotes, this is what you find: El Elohe Israel means, “God, the God of Israel.”

The second secret to understanding your Bible is: read your Bible. Then read it some more. And then read it some more. And like I said before, when you read it, don’t just read one or two chapters at a time. Try reading whole books or stories at one time. And if you do, you’ll start seeing things you never saw before. For example, if you read only chapter 33 of Genesis, even if you looked at the footnotes, you’d probably miss out what Jacob was really saying here. He wasn’t saying, “God you are the God of the nation of Israel.” Israel wasn’t even a nation yet. But if you read the whole story, and you realized that God had renamed Jacob “Israel,” you’d realize that Jacob was really saying, “God, you are the God of me. You’re my God now.”

How about you? Can you truly say, “God you are the God of me?”

Your God?

What does it mean when we say, “God you’re my God?” I think it’s important to know that it starts not with what we do, but with what God does. What does he do?

First, he saves us. Just as he saved Jacob from Esau, he saves us. Like Jacob, we brought a lot of trouble on ourselves through our own bad choices. In fact, we were headed for hell because of all the bad choices we’ve made that wounded God and the people around us. But God reached down, and he sent his Son to die on a cross and take the punishment we deserved for our sin.

More than that, he gave us a new identity. He did that for Jacob. He said, “You’re no longer what you used to be. I’m making you something new. You’re no longer a deceiver. You’re the one who struggled with God, and have now overcome. In Revelation 2:17, it says that to those Christians who overcome, God will give them a new name too. You’re no longer what you used to be. You’re something new.

And because of all that, we now have a future hope. In chapter 35, God reaffirmed all his promises to Jacob. He even expanded on them, saying, “Kings will be among your descendants (35:11). It’s interesting. Like I said, one possible meaning of “Israel” is “He struggles with God.” Another possible meaning is, “Prince with God.” And we see that in this expanded promise that God gives Jacob. He promised him hope. And he promises us hope too.

So in light of all that God has done for us, what should we do? What does it mean to call God your God?

First, stop fighting him. Stop trying to do things your own way, and surrender your life to him. Recognize that more than anything else, you need him. That’s the lesson that Jacob had to learn.

Second, make him the center of your life. Worship him alone. That’s what Jacob started to do. In chapter 35, God told Jacob to go back to the place where he had first met with Jacob and to build an altar to him. Jacob went, and look what he told his family.

Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone. (35:2-3)

It was really important to Jacob that he and his family separate themselves from any kind of idol worship and to serve God alone. So Jacob and his family threw away not only their idols but certain earrings they had as well. Not because jewelry is bad, but because those earrings were probably used in idol worship.

This is an issue we face even today in Japan. It was an issue that the Corinthians faced as well.

Last week, Fumi taught from I Corinthians 10. He didn’t have the time to talk about this last week, but it seems that one of the problems that the Corinthians had was that some of them thought that it was okay to go to pagan temples and participate in their religious feasts. Their excuse was, “Hey these idols are really nothing. They’re just wood or metal statues.” But Paul told them, “You can’t do that. The idols may be just wood or metal, but behind them stand demons. And you can’t on one hand have communion with the Lord one week, and then participate with demons in these pagan feasts and rituals the next.”

That’s why I think it is wrong, for example, to offer incense at Buddhist funerals. It’s why some Christians don’t even feel comfortable going to Buddhist funerals at all. But if you do go in order to show respect to your relatives, (and I personally will do that), I think it’s important to keep that point of separation in not offering incense, using Buddhist prayer beads, chanting the sutras, or anything like that. It’s one thing to passively attend and pray for those who are there. It’s another thing entirely to actively participate with spiritual forces who hate the God you love.

That’s said, it’s a very difficult choice to make. It’s something that you would have to talk to your relatives about before the ceremony. You would have to explain why you feel the way you do in a loving way. Hopefully, they would understand. I’ve been fortunate. Both my relatives in Hawaii and my wife’s relatives in Japan have been very understanding.

But some relatives may not be so understanding, and it can be a very painful thing. But remember this: Jesus understands. Jesus understands what it means to be rejected by those he loved. His own family rejected him when he was on earth. His brothers mocked him. And the people he loved, nailed him on a cross to die. He understands, so take your pain to him. Cry out to him, “You’re my God.” And he will remind you, “You are my child.”

Finally, calling God your God means being a blessing to this world. For many years, Jacob wasn’t a blessing to the people around him. But I find a scene at the end of his life very interesting. His son Joseph became prime minister of Egypt, and was responsible for the saving of many lives during a great famine. And when Jacob came to Egypt to see his son, Joseph introduced him to the Pharaoh. Look at what happened.

Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence. (47:7-10)

Here Jacob blesses one of the the most powerful men in the world at that time, not just once, but twice. Now if you read chapter 47 in Japanese, you might see that it’s different from the English. It says “Jacob greeted Pharaoh.” But remember what I said about footnotes? If you look at your Japanese Bible, it gives another possible translation in the footnotes: “Jacob blessed Pharaoh.” And I think that’s the proper translation here, because it is the same word God used when he told Abraham and Jacob, “This world will be blessed through you.”

When we call God our God, it’s not just so that God will bless us. Rather, it’s so that we can be a blessing to those around us. How about you? When you encounter people, do you leave them touched by the hand of God?

One warning before I close today. Following God doesn’t mean that your life will always be happy happy, joy joy. Jacob’s certainly wasn’t. After his decision to make God his God, he experienced many hardships. His daughter was raped. Two of his sons committed murder. His wife died giving birth. Then his favorite son was taken from him, he thought, forever.

But even in the midst of all that, God never abandoned him. Even when God seemed silent, God was working behind the scenes for Jacob’s good. So at the end of his life, when he looked back, Jacob could say this: “God has been my shepherd all my life to this day.” (48:15). This same God is our shepherd too. So let’s trust him. Let’s follow him. And make him God in our lives.


Posted in 2017, Genesis | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cleaning house (August 6, 2017)

How many of you enjoy cleaning? I really hate doing it. There are dozens of things I can think of that I’d rather do than clean. But it’s one of those things we have to do, don’t we? If you don’t clean, pretty soon, you’ll start having uninvited guests to your house. Guests about this big (5-6 cm), have six legs, and fly.

I was also reading about some research recently that shows that dust can make you fat. So if you don’t want to gain weight, make sure that you dust your house regularly.

Anyway, as important as cleaning our homes is, it’s important to make sure that we clean our spiritual homes as well. That means our individual lives as Christians. And that means the church. You see one of the themes that we see throughout the Bible is that God dwells among us and within us.

As individual Christians, God dwells within us. God calls us his temple, his home. And if God is going to dwell within us, then that home needs to be pure. We need to live lives that are pleasing in God’s sight.

But as God’s church, we are also God’s home. When we think of church, we often think of it as a place we go on Sunday. But God looks at all Christians together, and says “This fellowship of people is my temple. I choose to dwell among them.” And so as his dwelling place, we need have lives and relationships that are pure and right in his sight.

But too often, that doesn’t happen. Our lives get stained with sin, and instead of getting it cleaned up, we just leave it there. And that not only affects us personally, but it starts to affect our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the church. We start fighting. We start gossiping. We hurt one another. Anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness start to spread. And if we don’t clean things out, it can destroy the church.

That’s the problem that the Corinthians were facing. And so we saw last week, the apostle Paul telling the Corinthian church,

Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch. (5:6-7)

Fumi taught us last week, that in the Bible, yeast is often a picture of sin. And just as a little yeast can spread throughout and affect a whole loaf of bread, a little sin can spread very quickly and affect the whole church.

And so Paul said, “Get rid of the yeast in your church. There is someone in your church that is blatantly committing sexual sin, and you’re not doing anything about it. Deal with him. Kick him out of the church, so that he might recognize his sin, repent, and be saved.”

Often times, though, we see these big sins, and think, “Well, I’m not doing that, so I’m okay. But there are other sins that if left unchecked can spread and cause great damage in your lives and in our church.

That’s what we see in chapter 6. Let’s take a look at verses 1-8.

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.

It’s really easy to look at this passage and see Paul only criticizing the issue of Christians suing one another. But the issue goes much deeper than that. It goes back to an issue we saw earlier in this letter: division in the church.

Earlier we saw that people were arguing about which leader in the church was the best. One person was saying, “I follow Paul,” another, “I follow Peter,” and another, “I follow Apollos.”

But here we see division in a much worse way. People actually deliberately cheating and hurting one another. In this case, it probably had something to do with cheating someone out of money or property. And this was Christians doing this to other Christians. It’s unthinkable!

But that’s what happens in the church sometimes. Oh you may not cheat other people, but you hurt them in other ways. You lie to them. You talk behind their backs. Or you say or do things that hurt them.

And the problem is that many times, we never deal with these issues. Instead, when people hurt us, we hold the hurt within us. Or even worse, we start gossiping. We start badmouthing people to others in the church, and we start making cracks within the church. They may start small, but eventually, they become bigger and bigger, and can even threaten to destroy the church.

But do you know what’s even worse than backbiting within the church. It’s taking our “dirty laundry” outside of the church. That’s what the Corinthians were doing. They were taking their Christian brothers and sisters to court, and suing them before non-Christian judges.

And Paul gets really upset with this. He says, “What? There’s no one wise enough among you to settle these matters that you have to air your dirty laundry before non-Christians?”

Now remember: the Corinthians were people that prided themselves in their wisdom. Yet by suing one another, they showed a complete inability to handle something that they should have been able to handle easily.

Paul tells them, “Look, we are going to judge this world someday. When Jesus returns, we are going to be put in a place of authority. We’re even going to judge angels. And you can’t even settle these petty little disputes?”

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well, this has nothing to do with me. I’m not suing anyone.” That may be true, but how are you dealing with your dirty laundry in the church? When people hurt you or wrong you, do you do what Jesus commands us to do?  What did he command us to do?

1. First, confront the person face to face. Talk to them about what they did to hurt you.

2. And if they don’t listen, bring another Christian or two, to talk with that person.

3. And if they still don’t listen, bring it before the church.

Now this doesn’t mean that you interrupt the church service and tell everyone, “Hey Hide really hurt me. Do something about him.” But it means bring it before the leaders of the church. Hopefully, they can resolve the situation, or at the very least, they can bring discipline upon the person who did wrong.  (Matthew 18:15-17)

That’s what Jesus commands. Do you do so? Or do you just complain to other people in the church? Even worse, are you airing your dirty laundry to your non-Christian family and friends?

Think about this: If we are airing our dirty laundry to our non-Christian family and friends, what are they going to think? Do you think this is going to attract them to Christ? Do you think this is going to make them want to become Christians? No way. But how often do you do that?

Let’s get very practical: Is there someone that you have a problem with in this church? And if so, have you followed the steps that Jesus has laid out for us? If we are going to clean house in the church, we need to follow the steps Jesus has laid out for us. And if we don’t, we can cause great damage to God’s church. We defile this place that God calls his dwelling place.

That’s what the Corinthians were doing. And Paul tells the victims, “Look, if there is no one wise enough in the church to deal with the problem, it’s better to just let yourself be wronged. Leave the situation in God’s hands. But instead, you fight fire with fire. You get hurt, so you hurt others back (8). And you do this to people who are supposed to be your brothers and sisters.

Then Paul tells both sides, both the wrongdoers and the victims in verses 9-11.

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (9-11)

In other words, “Don’t kid yourself. You call yourself Christians, but you commit sexual sin? You set up idols in your life? Paul was probably talking about literal idols here, but do you set up money, your job, your love life, or other things as idols in your life? Are they more important to you than God?

Paul continues, “You say you’re a Christian, but you commit adultery? You commit homosexual acts? You steal? You are always greedy for more money or more things? You get drunk? You slander other people? You cheat other people? Don’t kid yourself. You cannot do these things, you cannot live this way, and claim to be a Christian. These kinds of people will not inherit God’s kingdom.

Now is he saying that true Christians will never sin? No. We all sin. Paul himself admitted that (Romans 7:14-20). But as I’ve said before, there is a big difference between someone struggling with sin, and someone who simply does not care what God has said and just lives how he or she wants to. A true Christian repents. A true Christian flees from sin. Why? Because of what Jesus did for us. What did he do?

He washed us from our sins with the blood he shed on the cross for us. He took the punishment that we deserved for our sins on himself. He then sanctified us: he set us apart for himself as his beautiful bride, and made us pure and clean of our sins. And then he justified us. He says to us, “I no longer judge you guilty for your sin. I consider you righteous in my sight.” And because of what he’s done, every true Christian responds in love and seeks to please him. And if love is not your response, if you’re not seeking to please God in your life, but are still only seeking to please yourself, then you need to ask yourself, “Am I really a Christian?” Because if you think God will accept you even though you don’t care about what he thinks and are indulging yourself in your sin, you’re only fooling yourself.

Now those are hard words. They’re difficult to accept. and quite frankly, the Corinthians had trouble with them as well. Look at what they said.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.” (12)

Now this appears much clearer in the English translation, but it seems that Paul is talking about a slogan that the Corinthians had. And so the English translation puts the slogan in quotation marks, and adds the words “You say.” So the words, “I have the right to do anything,” are probably not Paul’s opinion, but the Corinthian’s argument.

They were saying, “I’m a Christian so now I’m free from God’s law. That’s what you told us Paul. So that means I can do whatever I want to now.” But Paul says, “You may be free from having to keep all of the laws God gave the Jews, but that doesn’t mean every action you take is beneficial. There are many things that can hurt you or hurt others. And there are certain things that can start controlling you if you don’t watch out.”

A lot of times we take the first step in choosing to sin. But once we start, we find that we are no longer in control. Rather, our sins start to control us. For example, many guys start out choosing to look at pornography. But then they find that they cannot stop.

And that’s true about any sin, whether it’s something as small as overeating or as big as sleeping with another person’s husband or wife. If you constantly give in to sin, it will control you. And there is only one person who is supposed to be Lord in your life, and that’s Jesus. We see this in the next couple of verses. Take a look first at verse 13.

You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” (13a)

This was another slogan the Corinthians apparently had. And essentially, they were saying, “But we were made this way. We were made to eat food, so why not eat. Food is just a temporal pleasure. When we die God’s getting rid of food and we won’t have stomachs in heaven, right? Why not just enjoy it while we can?”

But they didn’t just use this slogan when talking about food. It was also their view on sex, and it’s a very prevalent view today. What is that view? “We are sexual creatures. We were made this way. So why not fulfill our sexual needs anyway that we want to and enjoy sex while we can?”

What is Paul’s answer?

The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. (13b-14)

What is Paul saying? He’s saying what we said before. Our body is the dwelling place of God. We were made to be his dwelling place. And God has a higher destiny in mind for this body he has given us. Someday, God will raise us from the dead, just like he did with Jesus and he will make our bodies into something glorious. That’s our destiny. And if that is the destiny for this body God has given us, how can we then defile it with sexual sin?

Paul then says this:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (15-17)

We’ve talked before about each of us who are Christians are part of Christ’s physical body here on earth. When we speak words of encouragement to others, we act as his mouth. When we help someone in need, we act as his hands. Paul then gives us a very ugly picture. He says, “Shall we take members of Christ (you and me) and join them to a prostitute?”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t even want to think of Jesus being joined to a prostitute. But when we engage in sexual sin, that’s exactly what we’re doing. If you are a Christian, Christ’s Spirit is living within you and you are a part of his body. Are you then, as a member of Christ’s body, going to join yourself in sexual sin to another.

You see sexual sin is different from any other sin in that it joins you to the person that you have sex with. That’s why as bad as breaking up with a person can be, it’s even worse when you’ve had a sexual relationship with them. When you had sex with them, you were joined to them not only physically, but emotionally. It’s also why sexual crime like rape is as awful as it is. It is deeply, deeply personal.

And so Paul says,

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (18)

Now those of you who are bilingual may have noticed a difference in the Japanese and English translations. The Japanese says, “All sins are outside the body.” The English says, “All other sins are outside the body.” Why is that? Well, the truth is, the Japanese is more accurate here. Paul never wrote the word “other.” So why did the English translators put it there? Many people here think that Paul is comparing sexual sin to other sins. That’s very possible. Like I said, sexual sin is different from other sins. But if that’s what Paul meant, than we need the word “other” there to make his point clear. But I hold to a second possibility. I think the Corinthians had another slogan they often used. I think they were saying, “All sins are outside the body.” Put another way, they were saying, “Hey, sin doesn’t really affect you. If you sleep with another person you’re not married to, it won’t have any real lasting effects, so just do it.”

But Paul says, “No, when you sin sexually, you sin against your own body. Your body wasn’t meant to be joined sexually to just anyone. It was meant to be joined to one man or one woman in marriage. Sex between husband and wife is a beautiful thing before God. But sex outside of marriage defiles the body that God gave to you.”

He then concludes:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (19-20)

And so we come back to what we said at the beginning. We were meant to be the dwelling place of God. Our very bodies are meant to be his dwelling place. He sanctified us for himself. Jesus purified us of our sin, and set us apart for himself as his bride. We belong to him now. He paid a horrible price on the cross so that we might be his.

So often people say, “It’s my body. It’s my life. I can do with it as I wish.” But those words have no room at all in the mouth of a Christian. You are not your own. You belong to him. So honor God with your body.

How about you? When you look at your house, what do you see? When you look at this church, are you helping to keep it clean. Are you keeping it clean by keeping your relationships right? Are you keeping it clean by following the commands of our Lord when you’re having issues with others in the church? Or are you holding on to bitterness? Are you gossiping to your other church friends. Even worse, are you airing your dirty laundry to your non-Christian family and friends?

Are you keeping this church clean by treating other brothers and sisters right? Or are you hurting them by your words or actions?

And as you look at your life, what do you see? Do you think your body is something that God is happy to dwell in? Is he happy with what you let into you eyes, ears, and mouth. Is he happy with what comes out of your mouth? Is he happy with what you do with your body that he’s dwelling in?

This has been kind of a heavy message. But I want to leave you with this word of hope.

In I John 1:9, it says this,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

You may have messed up your life. You may have messed up your relationships in this church. But if you will repent, God is faithful, he is righteous, he’ll forgive, and he will cleanse you. He’ll make you that beautiful bride of Christ he made you to be. He’ll make you that pure and holy dwelling place that you were meant to be.

Let’s take some time in silence before God. And think: “Are my relationships in this church right? Is my personal life right before God. And if it’s not, talk to God about it. Confess your sin, and ask him what to do.

Small group questions:

  1. Read I Corinthians 6:1-8 and Matthew 18:15-17. Have you ever had a problem with someone in this church? What did you do to resolve it? Do you think you did things the right way? Why or why not?
  2. A lot of people think, “I know I’m sinning, but that’s okay. God will forgive me.” Read I Corinthians 6:9-11. According to Paul, why is this way of thinking wrong?
  3. Read I Corinthians 6:19-20. A lot of people think, “It’s my body. It’s my life. I can live how I want to.” Have you ever felt this way? According to Paul, why is this way of thinking wrong for Christians?
  4. What sins are you struggling with now? Do you have any relationships in this church that are bad right now? Pray for each other about these things.
Posted in 2017, New Testament | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment







実はそのことが、私たちと神様との関係にも影響を及ぼしています。特にクリスチャンにとってはそうなんです。だって、私たちは神のことをなんて呼びますか? “Father” お父さん、ですよね。













そこで彼らに言われた、「祈るときには、こう言いなさい、『父よ』 (2a)


ネヘミヤという人もこんな感じで祈りました。ああ、天の神、【主】。大いなる、恐るべき神」(ネヘミヤ 1:5)



でもここでイエス様がこのシンプルな言葉 父よ、という言葉に込めておられるのは、同時に「immanent」そばにおられるお方だということです。つまり神様は私たちとともにおられて、私たちの人生の深く関わろうとしておられるということです。実際、私たちは神様無しでは生きていけません。トライしてみてもいいでしょう。でも最終的には神様無しではめちゃくちゃです。



時代劇のことをちょっと考えてみましょう。私が一番好きなのは「暴れん坊将軍」です。みんなは暴れん坊将軍知ってますか?ハワイでも、土曜日の夜は放送されていて、毎週見てました。毎回、途中までは将軍は自分が将軍であることは隠しています。でもクライマックスになると、悪者に対峙して、こう言います。「奉行よ、余の顔を、お前の主人の顔を見忘れたのか?」 悪者は、「な、何だと?」と訝しむ。でもよーく顔を見て、気づく。「う、上様!」 そして慌てて、へへ〜って地面にひれ伏す。(1分後には、やけくそになって、「ええい上様がこの様なところにおられるはずはない、切れい、切ってしまえい!」って飛びかかってくるんだけどね)。でも最初の瞬間は、相手が将軍だとわかって、腰を抜かすほど、完全に恐れおののくんです。そして実は、私たちの多くがそういうふうに神様を見ています。

真実は、確かに、神様はその様に、恐れ讃えられるべきお方です。私は正直にこう思います。私たちが、いつか神様と「face to face」で向きあうとき、誰もその場に立っていることはできないと思う。でもこうも思います。神様はきっと私たちを抱き上げて、微笑んでこう言って下さる。「よく来たね、私の子よ。お前がここにいて嬉しいよ」って。


もちろん、問題は、私たちの多くが、この世界での自分の父親と、そんな関係を持てていないということです。だから想像することが難しい。最初に話しましたけど、私と同じようにお父さんの事が怖い人もいると思います。 お父さんの顔を知らない人もいると思います。お父さんはいても、自分のことを全然気にかけてくれなかったかもしれない。だから、神様のことをお父さんて呼んでいいんだよ、って言われても、全然いいイメージが持てない。


1. 私たちを愛し、大切に思ってくれている。 第一ヨハネ3:1.

私たちが神の子どもと呼ばれるために、‐‐事実、いま私たちは神の子どもです‐‐御父はどんなにすばら しい愛を与えてくださったことでしょう。

2. 私たちのそばにいつもいてくれる。


3. 私たちを気にかけ、訓練してくれる。



4. 私たちに必要なものを与えてくれる。



「 私たちの日ごとの糧を毎日お与えください」(ルカ11:3)


5. 私たちの最善を願っておられる。イエス様は言われます。


他にも、もっともっと挙げることができます。でも、覚えておいてほしいことは、あなたの持っているお父さんというものに対するイメージがどうであって、 あなたのお父さんがどんな欠点もしくは良いところがあったとしても、それは、天におられる私たちの本当のお父さんの、ぼやけたイメージに過ぎないんです。あなたが、たとえどれだけ、この地上でのお父さんに傷つけられたとしても、神は、本当のお父さんは、良いお方です。だから神さまに近づきましょう。神様をお父さんと呼ぶことを躊躇わなくていいんです。










神様は王国を建設しておられます。そして神はあなたにもその働きに加わるようにと言っておられます。それは、あなたの周りの人に、あなたが神の愛でタッチすることです。以前のメッセージでも言いました。私たちはこの地上での、イエス様の、体です。こういう人がいます。「なんで神様はもっとこの世界をなんとかしてくれないの? 食べるものがない人たちに、神様が与えればいいじゃない! 傷ついてる人たちを神様が助けてくれたらいいじゃない? 」こういう風に言ってしまうことありませんか。問題はなんですか。問題は神様じゃない。それは、 あなたの、私のやることなんです。私たちはキリストの体です。あなたが、変化をもたらしなさいとを神様は命じられているんです。

ミニストリー、っていうと、私たちは、教会で何らかの奉仕をすることを想像しますよね。サンデースクールの先生とか、カフェチームとかウェルカムチームとか。もちろんそれらもミニストリーです。でもそれはミニストリーに関わるということの、小さなパートでしかない。こういう人もいるでしょう、「いや、私は残念だけど教会であれこれする時間はないの。」それはいいんです。考えてください。でも神様はあなたに、あなた自身の周りの人を助け導くために、何かをするように言われていませんか。あなたの家族に、友達に、会社の同僚に?あなたは神様の手であり、足であり、口であり、目であり、耳です。. 神様は、あなたに周りの人たちの人生に変化をもたらす役割を与えておられます。福音を伝えること。必要を満たすために、神様の愛を届けてあげること、その真実に気づいた時、私たちは本当に神様の働きに加わることになります。

他には、どうやって神様のこと讃えますか? 私たちは神のようになりたい、近づきたいと願います。一つ大事な、大きなことは、私たちは神様が許してくれたように、私たちも人を許すということを学ぶ必要があります。4節をみてください。



それがあなたの求めるものですか?神様の目には、許すことはオプションではないんです。誰かを許さない心を抱えたまま、神様の恵みを憐れみを期待することはできません。どうしてできない? 神様があなたのことをどれだけ許してくれたか考えてみてください。




今すごく強い言い方になりましたけど、注意して言葉を選びました。キーワードは「willfully」 あえて、です。許そうとするけど、そのことに葛藤を覚えて苦しむ人と、あえて、「私は許すことを拒みます」っていう人は、違いますよね。











でもさっきも言ったように、それが本当に難しいって人がいると思います。地でのお父さんにたくさん傷つけられきて、その傷があまりに痛むから。それがあなたの神様のイメージを歪めてしまった。同じように、そんな虐待を受けた経験を持つある男性が歌った歌を聞きました。彼は子どもの時お父さんから虐待を受けていていて、 危うく殺されかけたことすらありました。彼は思い出の一つを書きました。







1. あなたとのお父さんとの関係はどうだった?ことばでどう表現する?良い(良かった)悪い(悪かった)?それはどうして?
2. 私たちの本当のお父さんの性質(私たちを愛し、そばにいて、訓練し、必要なものをあたえ、最善を願っている)を考えるとき、どれがいちばんあなたの胸を打つ?それはどうして?
3. あなたはどんなやり方で、神の国の働きに参加できる?あなたの前には誰が置かれている?あなたはどうやって、その人(たち)にとっての神様の手、足、口、目、耳になれる?思いついたことを神の国のために実行できるように、お互いに祈ろう。
4. 天のお父さんのように~できるようになりたいと思うことを挙げてみよう。それは難しいこと?どうして?神様のようになれるように、お互いに祈ろう。
5. 特別な質問 父親である皆さんへ。:あなたはどんなふうに、天のお父さんのようになりたいと願っている?そのためにお互いに祈ろう。

Posted in 2017, Luke | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Relating to our Father (June 18, 2017)

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I didn’t relate to my father very well. There were several reasons for that. One was I was scared to death of him for most of my childhood. He had a pretty quick temper in those days, and so I often felt like I was walking on eggshells when I was around him.

He eventually mellowed out quite a bit, but he still wasn’t the most affectionate father in the world. Even though he was a second generation Japanese, he was very much the stereotypical Japanese father. He didn’t say much. Didn’t really show much physical affection. It always seemed kind of awkward to give him hugs even when our relationship was much better.

As I talked to him over the years, I found out why he was that way. His parents, particularly his mom never showed that kind of affection to him. So for him, he was never quite sure how to show love to us kids.

It was something I always hoped would be different in my relationship with my daughter. I want her to be happy when she sees me, and  I want her to know that I love her. And so far, I think I’ve been pretty successful. Of course, the big question is what will happen when she becomes a teenager. But for now, things are cool.

Unfortunately, for a lot of people, they don’t have very good relationships with their dads. For many people in the United States, they don’t even know their dad because their parents got divorced. Even in Japan, there can be a distance between a father and his kids because of work. So often companies send the fathers away from their families and they can be away from each other for years.

And one of the results of all this is that it affects our relationship with God. That’s particularly true of Christians because of what we call him. What do we call him? “Father.”

So today on Father’s day, I want to talk about that a bit. What do we mean when we call God “Father?” And how are we to relate to him as our Father?

Let’s take a look at Luke chapter 11.

We’re looking at the life of Jesus today. And one thing his disciples noticed after being around him for a while was that he always praying. Early in the morning he would go off to pray by himself. And in the evening, after all the crowds had left, he would go off again to pray. And there seemed to be something different in how he related to God. And his disciples wanted to know what it was. That’s where we pick up the story today.

Look at verse 1.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

The John that this disciple mentions is John the Baptist, who prepared the people of Israel for Jesus’ appearance. And we know for certain that two of Jesus’ disciples were followers of John before they met Jesus (John 1:35-41). One of them was Andrew. We’re not sure of the second one, but it’s possible it was John. So most probably it was one of these two that asked Jesus this question. “Jesus, John taught us how to pray, but we really want to know: how do you pray?” Put another way. “Please Jesus, teach us how to relate to God.”

Let me ask you something. Do you have that hunger in your heart? Do you really want to know how to relate to God? Or are you satisfied keeping him at a distance? Too many people in the church today are satisfied keeping God at arm’s length. It’s like they’re saying, “I’m glad to know God, but I don’t want to get too close to him. That’s for the professionals. It’s okay for people like Fumi or Daniel or Bruce to get close to God. But me? No thank you. I’m fine as things are.”

E. Why do people feel that way? Sometimes people are afraid of becoming a fanatic. “It’s okay to be a little religious, but I don’t want to get too religious. If I get too close to God, he might ask me to do something weird! He might ask me to leave Japan and be a missionary.”

Other people are afraid of God. They read the Bible and think, “You know God seems a bit quick-tempered. Maybe it’s best to keep my distance from him.

But here’s what I want you to understand, and I’ve said this before. God is the source of life. He is the one who created you. He knows how he designed you and how you were meant to live. More than that, he loves you, and wants your very best. So you don’t lose by drawing close to him. Instead you find life. So if you want life, draw near to the source of life. If you want love, draw near to the source of love. Anything else will ultimately leave you empty.

Jesus’s disciples wanted life. And so they said, “Jesus, we see how intimate you are with God. Please teach us how to be intimate with him too. Teach us how to relate to him.”

Let’s look at Jesus’ answer.

He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father…” (2a)

You know that word, “Father,” is a very simple word. But it has a lot of depth. Especially when you think of how the Jews often prayed. If you look at the prayer of prophet Daniel, for example, he started by praying, “Lord, the great and awesome God.” (Daniel 9:4).”

Another man named Nehemiah prayed in a similar way, “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God.” (Nehemiah 1:5)

One king named Hezekiah was very flowery in his prayer. “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” (Isaiah 37:16)

Is there anything wrong with praying that way? Absolutely not. Sometimes it’s good to pray that way because it reminds us how great God is. In our last Builder’s room session, we learned the word “transcendent” in describing God. That means God is so much greater than anything or anyone else in this world. Nothing or no one can compare to him because he is the creator and we are not.

But what Jesus teaches us here in this simple word, “Father,” is that God is also “immanent.” That means that God is close to us, and wants very much to be a part of our lives. In fact, we can’t live without him. We can try, of course. But if we do, in the end, our lives blow up.

But think about that word, “Father” for a minute. Jesus could have used the word, “God.” Or “Lord.” Or “Master.” And all of those words would be appropriate because he is all those things to us. But at the same time, they also put a feeling of distance between us and God. He is God; we are the creature. He is Lord and Master. We are his servants. But Jesus chooses to use a family word. “Father.” What does that mean for us?

It means that we can draw near to him without fear, because he loves us as his children. But not all people see God that way.

Think about the samurai shows for a moment. One of my favorites growing up was Abarenbo Shogun. Does anyone still know that show? I used to watch it every Saturday night in Hawaii. And throughout the show, the Shogun would hide his identity, but at the climax of the show, he would tell the bad guy, “Don’t you recognize your master?” And the bad guy would answer, “Huh? What?” And then suddenly he would recognize the Shogun’s face, and fall on his face before his master.” Of course a few minutes later he would be trying to kill the Shogun, but in those first few moments, he would be in utter fear and awe of the Shogun. And that’s how many see God.

The truth is God deserves to be honored that way. And I honestly think that when we finally meet him face to face, every single one of us will fall on our face before him. But I also think, that he will lift us up, smile, and say, “Welcome my child. I’m glad you’re here.”

That’s the kind of relationship he desires with us.

Of course, the problem for many of us is that we don’t have that kind of relationship with our own earthly fathers, and so we have a hard time imagining that. Some of us feared our fathers like I did. Some of us had fathers that were just never there for us. Some of us had fathers that just never seemed to care. And so when we hear that we can call God “Father,” all the wrong images come to our minds.

I remember reading one famous Japanese author saying that Japanese people’s images of fathers are often so bad, it’s better to compare God to our mother, because we have a much better image of them in Japan. But as much as mothers are precious too, that’s not the answer to repairing our view of God. Rather, we need to change our image of what a father is. What is the image of a true Father?

1. He loves us and treasures us. Look at I John 3:1.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

2. He is always there for us.

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. (Psalm 27:10)

3. He cares enough to discipline us.

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. (Hebrews 12:5-6)

A lot of people have trouble with this one. The reason is that when their fathers disciplined them, it was often done in anger and not in love. Often times, it was done much too harshly. But that’s not how God disciplines us. When he disciplines us, he does it for our good. It’s his desire that we grow and become the people we were meant to be. (Hebrews 12:5-12)

4. He provides for us.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)

That’s why Jesus tells us we can pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.” (Luke 11:3)

It’s not selfish to pray for our needs. It’s showing our dependence on our Father. It’s showing that we trust him. And it’s showing us that we know one other thing about our Father.

5. He looks out for our best. Jesus says,

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

I could go on and on. But I want you to remember, whatever your image of your father may be, whatever flaws or good points he may have, he is only a blurry image of what our Father in heaven is really like. And no matter how much you’ve been hurt or let down by your earthly father, God is a good Father. So draw near to him. Don’t be afraid to call him Father.

Take a look at the second part of Jesus’ prayer.

Hallowed be your name. (2b)

What does that mean? What are we praying here? We’re praying that God’s name would be honored. But how does that happen? When people see us. When people see us, they should see God in us, and that should give them a desire to honor him. But that won’t happen unless we honor God ourselves. So the question is, “Do you honor him? Do you honor him not only with your words, but with your lives?”

Because if we, God’s children, fail to honor our Father, how can we ever expect the world around us to do so?

How do we honor our Father? I think we get some hints in this prayer. Jesus says,

“Your kingdom come. (2c)

Do you know that God is building a kingdom? He is. This world started out as a kingdom of three. God was the king and Adam and Eve, the first humans, were his people. And then they walked away from God and ever since then, people have been trying to establish their own lives, their own kingdoms apart from him. And we’ve seen the result of that haven’t we? War. People hurting other people. Not just in battle, but in families, in friendships, in relationships.

But God is building an entirely new kingdom. And you are a part of it if you are God’s child. If you have put your faith in Jesus to forgive your sins, you are part of his kingdom. And now as part of his kingdom, God asks you to join in your Father’s work.

Back in the old days, sons always used to follow in their father’s footsteps. If their father was a fisherman, they would become a fisherman. If their father was a carpenter, they would be a carpenter. It was only natural.

Well, God is a kingdom builder. And he asks you to join with him in building his kingdom. And that means touching the people around us with his love. I’ve said this before: We are the physical body of Jesus Christ here on earth. Sometimes people wonder, “Why doesn’t God do more in this world? Why doesn’t he feed the hungry? Why doesn’t he help all those who are hurting?” Do you know what the problem is? It’s not him. It’s us. We are his body. We are the ones he is calling to make a difference.

So often, we think of ministry as a serving in the church, as teaching Sunday school, as helping with the coffee ministry, or joining the welcome ministry. But while those are ministry too, they are only a small part of what it means to be involved in ministry. You might think, “I don’t have the time to do all that stuff in the church.”

That’s okay. But what has God called you to do to minister to the people around you? To your family? To your friends? To your coworkers? To the people at church. You are God’s hands, feet, mouth, eyes, and ears to them. And he calls you to make a difference in their lives. To touch them with the gospel. To reach out with God’s hand of love to help meet their needs. And when we see that truth, that’s when we truly begin to join in with his work.

How else do we honor our Father? We desire to become like him. And one big way we do that is we learn to forgive as he forgives. Look at verse 4.

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. (4a)

Have you ever thought what you’re praying when you pray this prayer? Let’s put it this way. “Lord, Kazue really hurt me. Now I know you said I should forgive her, but there is no way I am going to forgive her for what she has done. So Lord, please, please, in the same way that I am pouring out unforgiveness and anger on her, please pour out your unforgiveness and wrath upon me.”

Is that seriously what you want? You see, in God’s eyes, forgiveness is not an option. You cannot hold on to unforgiveness in your life and expect God’s grace and mercy in yours. Why not? Because of how much God has forgiven you.

To withhold forgiveness from others means that you truly don’t understand God’s forgiveness in your life. It’s to downplay your own sin and to say, “My sin wasn’t so bad; that’s why God could forgive me.”

Do you want to know how bad your sin was? Your sin was bad enough to separate you from God for all eternity in hell. Your sin was so bad, that it cost Jesus his life on the cross to pay for your sin. How then can you say, “My sin wasn’t so bad?”

So if you willfully refuse to forgive the people who have hurt you, I think it’s fair to say you are taking your own sin far too lightly. No Christian who has a strong sense of just how bad their sin is, and how much God has forgiven them can willfully withhold forgiveness from another.

Now those are strong words, but I choose them very carefully. The key word is “willfully.” You see there’s a difference between someone who is struggling to forgive, and the person who willfully says, “I refuse to forgive.”

The person who willfully refuses to forgive essentially is saying, “God I don’t care what you have said. I will not forgive.” Do you know what we call that kind of attitude? It’s called “rebellion.” And they are not the words of a true child of God.

But there are people who cry out to God and say, “Father, I know you want me to forgive. But right now I just can’t. The hurt is too deep. I can’t let it go. I don’t know how. But I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to live this way. Help me.”

That’s the cry of a child of God, wanting to be like their Father. And if that’s your prayer, I believe God will answer. It may take years. It may take counseling. It’ll definitely take prayer.

You see, sometimes, it’s very easy to forgive if the wound is not so deep. But other times, it can be very difficult. And only by God’s transforming power in your life will you be able to forgive.

But if you pray and ask for his help, God will answer. Because your Father desires that you become like him.

It’s also the reason he’ll answer the last part of this prayer as well.

And lead us not into temptation. (4b)

Put another way, “Lord I don’t want any part of evil. So keep me from anything that would lead me to fall. Keep me from anything that would cause me to dishonor your name. Father, I love you and want to be like you.

That’s how we are to relate to God. Honoring him as our Father. Desiring to join in with his work. And longing to become more like him.

But again, for some of you that may be difficult. Your own experiences with your earthly father were too hurtful. And they have stained your view of what God is like. I heard a song once by a guy who had that kind of experience. He had been abused and nearly killed by his father when he was very young. And he wrote about one of the memories he had.

One time, after his parents got divorced, he heard a car outside his house, and he rushed downstairs because he thought it was his father’s car. You see, despite all his father had done, there was a part of him that still wanted his father to come back, to stop drinking and doing drugs, and to be a normal father. But when he got downstairs and looked outside, it wasn’t his father’s car he had heard. It was a neighbor’s car. And as he looked over at the chair where his father used to sit, he felt very, very lonely.

Years later, he remembered that time and he wrote this.

My father’s chair sat in an empty room
My father’s chair
Covered with sheets of gloom
My father’s chair, through all the years
And all the tears I cried in vain
For no one was there
In my father’s chair.

Then he started to think about himself as a father, and what he wanted his children to say about him. It’s what I hope my daughter will say about me someday.

“My father’s chair sits in a loving room
My father’s chair, no matter what I do
My father’s chair, through all the years
And all the tears, I need not fear
Love’s always there in my father’s chair.”

And then, as soon as he wrote that, he realized something. His father was not the alcoholic, abusive father that he had grown up with. Instead, his father, his real father was his Father in heaven, and God had not abandoned him or left his chair for one second. And so he wrote this:

Sometimes at night, I dream of a throne
Of my loving God calling me home
And as I appear, he rises and smiles
Reaches with love to welcome his child
Never to cry, never to fear
In his arms; safe and secure

My Father’s chair sits in a royal room
My Father’s chair
Holds glory beyond the tomb
My Father’s chair, my God is there
And I am his eternal heir
Someday I’ll share my Father’s chair.

That’s what our Father is like. Let’s pray.

Discussion questions:

  1. How would you describe your relationship with your father? Is/Was it good or not? Why?
  2. When you think of the different ways God is our Father (he loves us, he’s always there for us, he disciplines us, he provides our needs, he looks out for our best), which one strikes you the most? Why?
  3. Think of one way you can join in God’s kingdom work. Who is in your life? How can you be God’s hand, mouth, etc in their lives? Pray for each other that you can join in God’s work that way.
  4. What is one way you want to be more like your Father in heaven? Is it hard to be that way? Why or why not? Pray for each other that you can be more like him.
  5. Special question for fathers: How do you want to be more like your heavenly Father to your kids? Pray for each other about this.
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