Monday, December 31, 2012

January 2013: Love by Listening

At Immanuel First, our mission is to "share God's love, comfort and hope with all." I know that I frequently encourage our congregation to actively share the message with others. However, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests an alternate way to share God's love, comfort and hope. What about showing love by listening?

"The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God's Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. ... We do God's work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is to always have to 'offer' something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either. they will always be talking even in the presence of God." (--D. Bonhoeffer)

Love by listening. What a novel thought! When you listen, you are saying to the speaker...

  • I value what you say.
  • You are important to me.
  • I care about you.

As Christians we do this because...

  • God values us.
  • We are important to God...
  • ...and God cares about us.

One last thing about listening... listening is more than just hearing and nodding you head. The goal is "communication." The goal is "relationship." There is a technique called Active Listening. It requires you to periodically repeat key points of what the speaker says. In doing so, you confirm that you have received the communication.

It is amazing to learn how many people CRAVE to be listened to. I think the same is of God. I believe there are 145,000 people within three miles of us who CRAVE to be listened to, by God. Be that witness. Be that liaison with God. Love by listening. Sharing God's love, comfort and hope... by listening. Listen to someone today! Amen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 2012: Insignificant, Unworthy, Weak... and Chosen by God!

It is very significant that the first celebration of Christ's birthday is with shepherds. They lived in the fields with their animals. They weren't respected. They had no power or prestige. Yet, for some reason, God's angel came to them first and said, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ, the Lord."

When God came down and made His announcement to shepherds, it was as if he was saying, "According to the ways of this world you are insignificant and unworthy. But you will no longer judge your importance by what the world says. For you are to be My messengers of great news. For born to you this say, is the Savior."

God has always used the insignificant and unworthy to carry his message. He does so, so that the glory of the message can be seen. Had God used a powerful emperor, people may have followed because they wanted his favor. Had God used an eloquent speaker, people may have followed because of his personal charisma. Had God used a great teacher, people may have followed because they figured he was just smarter than they were. Instead, God used the things which were small in the eyes of this world to carry His great news. When God decided to select a mother for His Son, He went past the rich and famous. He went past the powerful and noteworthy, and went to an insignificant village called Nazareth. He found a peasant girl. She did not dress in designer clothes. She did not have a sophisticated education. But God selected her to be the mother of His only begotten Son. So when the Christ came, He was not born in a fancy hospital, surrounded by the emperor's doctors. Rather, He was born in a humble stable wrapped in rags and lying in a manger. The world looked down at its nose at the manger and said, "How insignificant. How humble." And in doing so, it missed the most significant event of history.

Sometimes we may think that for God to move in our lives there must be the miraculous. Yet many times, God uses the simple and quiet things of this world. God uses people despite their weakness, despite their imperfections. In fact many times He works through them. God is able to use the weak, the insignificant, the unclean, to do great things in life.

Why does God use imperfect people? "Because He can."

But it is important for us imperfect people to realize that we are in fact weak. Why is that? The way God empowers us, the way God brings success in His Kingdom is not the way the world thinks of success. The world thinks you must focus on your strengths to be successful. "Only the strong survive." Well, in God's Kingdom, it is the exact opposite. Only the weak survive! Huh???

God uses the weak to do His will, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. We are to live in our weakness, to live in our insignificance, because that's what it means to live in faith. Regardless of the circumstances that you find yourself in, regardless of the trials you are facing, God will provide the strength to carry on. As St. Paul says, "For when I am weak, then I am strong."

As you celebrate the humble birth of our Savior, may you remember the God's power is made perfect in weakness. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 2012: Faith and Hope! Are They the Same?

Faith and Hope. Many times we speak of them separately--"saving faith", "hope of the resurrection", etc. But sometimes we speak of them almost interchangeably--"I put my faith in God." "I put my hope in God". Martin Luther asked the same question in his commentary to Galatians, chapter 5.

The question occurs to us. What difference is there between faith and hope? We find it difficult to see any difference. Faith and hope are so closely linked that they cannot be separated. Still there is a difference between them.
  • First, hope and faith differ in regard to their sources. Faith originates in the understanding, while hope rises in the will.
  • Second, hope and faith differ in regard to their functions. Faith says that what is to be done. Faith teaches, describes, directs. Hope exhorts the mind to be strong and courageous.
  • Third, they differ in regard to their objectives. Faith concentrates on the truth. Hope looks to the goodness of God.
  • Fourth, they differ in sequence. Faith is the beginning of life before tribulation (Hebrews 11). Hope comes later and is born of tribulation (Romans 5).
  • Fifth, they differ in regard to their effects. Faith is a judge. It judges errors. Hope is a soldier. It fights against tribulations, the Cross, despondency, despair, and waits for better things to come in the midst of evil.
Without hope faith cannot endure. On the other hand, hope without faith is blind rashness and arrogance because it lacks knowledge. Before anything else a Christian must have the insight of faith, so that the intellect may know its directions in the day of trouble and the heart may hope for better things. By faith we begin, by hope we continue.

In hope, may you remain in the one true faith to life everlasting.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Oct 2012 To Celebrate Halloween or Not? That is the Question

We have a guest post on Pastor Okubo's blog, and a timely one as we approach Halloween next Wednesday. Rev. Mitchell Gowen, senior pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Aiea, Hawaii (next to Pearl Harbor), wrote the following:

Friday, August 3, 2012

August 2012: The Eighth Commandment

"Liar, liar, your pants are on fire, your nose is as long as a telephone wire."

This month we are looking at the Eighth Commandment - Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. I will b expanding this to the topic of lying in general.

Joe the Butcher had one chicken left that he wanted to sell. A man entered the store and said, "My wife sent me to buy a good size chicken for Sunday dinner. Joe said, "I have just what you need." He brought out the last chicken and said, "This one is three pounds." The man said, "It looks kinda small, do you have anything else?" Joe took the chicken into the backroom and returned with the same chicken. "This one is four pounds. But since I am closing for the day, I'll let you have it for the same price." The man replied, "Well, thank you. I'll buy both."

Why do people lie? Well, Joe lied because he wanted to sell his last chicken. People lie because they think that if they can fool another person into believing their lie, they can get what they want. People think they have to lie because deep down inside they know that they don't deserve the thing that they want. So they believe the only way to get it is to lie.

Why is that bad? Even if you can fool that person, there is someone you can never fool--God. God knows the truth. Each time you lie, you move a little farther away from God. When you lie, you kill a part of yourself. When you tell a lie, you close your mind to the truth. People who lie a lot sometimes cannot tell when they are lying. Their brain is so damaged by lying they cannot tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

Furthermore, when you lie you lose the ability to trust. A person who lies a lot starts to believe that other people lie a lot too. You lose the ability to trust others. And eventually, you may even lose the ability to trust God. Jesus tells us that the Father of Lies is the Devil. The person who tells lies is a tool of Satan, a slave of Satan.

Jesus calls us to live in truth. Truth is always better than lies. When a Christian finds themselves tempted to lie, they will tell the truth and accept the consequences. A Christian does not fear the consequences of telling the truth because he knows that God only works through the truth.

Do not be afraid to tell the truth.
You are a child of God.
This is how a child of God lives.

Trust God.
Trust that God will provide for you even though you tell the truth.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 2012: The Seventh Commandment

The seventh commandment: "Thou shall not steal."

What does this mean? Whenever we take something that does not belong to us knowing the owner does not want us to have it, that is stealing.Whenever we take something from a store or business without asking for permission, without buying it, and keep it such a way that the owner does not know about it or cannot get it back, that is stealing.

We may even think "Oh, they won't mind if I take it." They may not even care if the other person is hurt by the theft. This is bad, not only because they have broken the Seventh Commandment, but because they have purposely blinded themselves to God.

When a person steals knowingly, a part of them dies. At first when a person steals, his conscience may feel bad, but it's also fun, because you get what you want. But each time a person steaks he is making a decision to follow Satan rather than God. Each time he steals, there is a little rip in his soul. Each time he steals he does a little more damage to himself.

What eventually happens when a person continues to steal is that they lose the ability to see that it is bad. They get so used to stealing that their conscience can no longer tell that they are doing bad. And they will do it even more. Even more, they can get so used to sinning, they can't even tell they are sinning. As they move away from God they block their relationship with God. Their conscience becomes blind to God.

This is where it gets bad. As we separate from God our attitude changes. The things of God are no longer important. We forget the wonderful things which God has done for us. We forget that God is here to protect us and provide for us. And as we forget these things of God, the things of this world become more important. I start to look at what I have and I think that I do not have much. Then I want more things of this world, increasing the temptation to steal. Satan wants you to believe that having things is the only important thing in life. Satan wants you to believe that the only way to get things is to work, to fight and to steal.

But God does not want you to think that this world is all there is. You were made for eternity. You were made for greater things. God wants you to know the abundance that you live in. Because Jesus died on the cross, we have become children of God. God has promised to provide for us. God has promised to give us all we need. Anything else we just don't need. When we see that God will provide for all that we need, that God will always provide moral ways to get the things we need. When we see this there is no need to steal.

It is our attitude about life whether we think of ourselves as rich or poor, which will equip us to follow the Seventh Commandment. If you see your life as full of gifts from God, you believe you are rich and there will be no need to steal. If you are blind to the gifts of God, you will think that you are poor, and you will be tempted to steal. It is all in your attitude. God calls you to see that you are rich.

There was a book called The Little Prince. A little boy is visiting the earth from another planet. He meets a man who has crash-landed his plane in the desert. One evening the boy calls the man to look out into the desert and asks the man what he sees. The man says "Sand and more sand." The boy replies, "I see something different. I see little oases filled with water to quench the thirst of visitors." For the man the desert was a place of heat, suffering and death. But for the boy it was a place to search for and find the gifts of water hidden away in the desert.

This world is not a place where we have to fight and take the things that we want. This is a place to search and find the many, many gifts which God has provided for us in our lives. Thou shall not steal? Piece of pie.
  1. God provides everything I need.
  2. So if I cannot get it God's way... I don't need it.
  3. In fact, God provides me more than everything I need.
I am rich. Praise the Lord!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

April 2012: Be a Palm Tree!

Did you know that the palm tree is not a native to California? They were imported during the time of the Spanish missions and most of the local palms were planted in preparation for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. The plants which are indigenous to Southern California are cactus and sagebrush. Southern California is actually a desert. Cactus and sagebrush are used to living in areas with very little water. Palms, on the other hand, require a continuous source of water to survive. It is only by continuous irrigation that its beauty can survive.

Spiritually, this world is like a desert. It thirsts for purpose. It thirsts for love. It thirsts for spiritual peace. It thirsts for God. The sad part is that the people of this world are blind to God. So like spiritual cactus, they have adapted themselves to living without God. But they still thirst.

Christ calls himself the source of living water. "If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7:37b-38). He is the source of all that would quench our spiritual thirst. I can think of no greater joy that knowing that the one who created me loves me. Christ has come to let you know that God loves you and he has plans for good for all who love him.

As Christians, we are like spiritual palm trees. We are not native to this spiritual desert. As children of God we are strangers in this world. Like the palm trees, we require a continuous supply of "living" water to survive. Jesus is the source of that living water. Only through a living relationship with Jesus will we continue to thrive. We maintain that relationship through continual Bible study, worship and attendance of the Lord's Supper.

Unlike the desert flora that diligently guard their meager shares of water, palms share their gifts. They act as shade. Many provide fruit for others to eat. Because it is fed by a constant source of water, the palm is capable of sharing its fruit with others. Likewise, we do not have to diligently guard our spiritual wealth because we are fed by a constant source of living water.

God has called us to share the living water which is within us. Be a palm tree. There is a world out there thirsting to hear that someone loves them. Water them with living water. Let them know the awesome news that "God loves them." Amen.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 2012: The Definition of True Faith in Christ

Happy New Year!

This month I ask a very important question. What does it mean "to believe in God"? Or as Christians, what does it mean "to believe in Christ"? The answer to this question is the very foundation of our faith. The Bible is very clear that salvation is by faith.

Surprisingly, people who say they believe in God are often the very ones who glorify Him the least. The reason is that people can mean different things when they say "I believe in God." To some, "I believe in God" means they believe He exists. Such an "I believe in God" confession is a statement of knowledge rather than an expression of faith. In the same way, we can believe that the devil or hell exists too, but that is not faith.

Put ten random people in a room, and ask them to explain what it means "to believe in God" and you will probably have ten distinct explanations. This sad state of affairs has left people without confidence regarding salvation. Many have satisfied themselves with "You believe what you want to believe, and I'll believe what I want to believe" and have accepted ambiguity as just part of the mystery of faith. Something as important as faith should not be left in ambiguity! It is not okay to "agree to disagree." Faith is too important.

So what is faith? What does it mean "to believe in God"? Faith does include cognitive knowledge. It does believe that "God exists." It also confesses that we are sinful and helpless in our sin, and that we need a savior. It believes that God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. It believes the promise that salvation is offered to all who believe.

But faith is more than just cognitive knowledge. By faith we trust in God and dare to be in a relationship with Hom. It is one thing to be able to say "I believe everything that the Bible says about God." But it is something entirely different to live as if it were true. It is an entirely different thing to live with God as the center of one's life and to live with an eternal point of view. A person who believes he is an eternal being lives this short mortal life differently than a person who believes that "this world is all there is."

A person who believes that God cares about our daily affairs, and believes Jesus' promise "that He would be with us always," celebrating with us in good times and comforting us in bad, lives life differently than a person who does not believe. A person believes that an omnipotent God loves them and has plans of good, trusts that all things will work out in the end. These are just a few of the aspects of faith.

Faith is not something which we work in ourselves, neither is it sustained by our own works. It is a gift from God brought to us by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Through the Word in Baptism, we received the faith which brings salvation. Through the Word preached and in the Lord's Supper, our faith is strengthened. God gave us the Church, the Fellowship of Saints, to encourage and strengthen one another with The Word.

May this coming New Year bring a renewal of the Word in all our lives. God bless you all in this coming New Year 2012.