Monday, December 16, 2013
As we enter into the Advent season we remember the arrival of Jesus Christ. We celebrate His first coming as a baby in Bethlehem as well as His second, as our Lord and Savior on Judgment Day. Many people fear Judgment day. It is their ignorance of what happens after death which leads them to despair. In fact, ignorance of what tomorrow or the future will bring drives them to seek security in the things of this World. But, as scripture says, the things of this world are eventually “destroyed by rust and moth.” For this reason, the things of this world bring no eternal peace. God, however, offers us eternal peace. As World War II was drawing to a close, the Allied armies ended up gathering together a great many orphans. These children had suffered privation, hunger, and grief; they had lost everything, including their hope for the future and the security of a safe tomorrow. True, these children had been gathered together and placed in camps. There they received excellent medical care and were clothed and fed. They should have thought their troubles were at an end. It was not so. In spite of all they had, these children kept worrying about tomorrow and what the future held. They were listless. They slept poorly. Finally, a psychologist suggested a solution to change their perspective. Each child, when he went to bed, was given a piece of bread. They were instructed not to eat the bread; instead, they were to hold onto it. Those pieces of bread produced wonderful results. The children went to bed knowing they were not going to starve. They knew their tomorrow was taken care of… they were secure. That knowledge, that guarantee, gave them a restful and contented sleep. [The Lutheran Hour - September 14, 2003] God has given us the bread which brings peace. That bread was His Son, Jesus. God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Because we have Jesus, we can look forward to tomorrow, to the future, even to our deaths, with the knowledge our tomorrow has been taken care of. It is this knowledge, this guarantee which brings rest today Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas! Pastor Okubo
Monday, November 4, 2013
How do we love those who are different from us? God calls us to seek the lost. The angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents and through faith is added to church. Sometimes I struggle with the “adding to the church” part. It is one thing to invite someone to worship, but it is an entirely different thing to befriend them. What about the task of befriending someone who is substantially different from us? How can I befriend a homeless person or a gang member? What about people of different cultures, people of different ages and interests in life? Consequently, if we do not share our lives, our visitors remain isolated. And eventually they leave. So, how do we share our lives with people who are very different? --------------- A friend, who was a lawyer, told me that he was an alcoholic. He shared the support and power he received from an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group that he had joined. He told me about his first experience attending an AA meeting. It was in a church basement. At the time he was unsure about the whole AA thing. As he entered the meeting place he was confronted with a room filled with “Hell’s angels” biker guys, gang members with tattoos all over their body and a couple of “normal” looking people. He felt out of place. Seeing that he had nothing in common with the group, he thought to himself “well this isn’t going to work.” But he decided he would stay for the rest of the meeting anyway. What he experienced there was powerful. As each of the men introduced themselves, they shared their struggles against alcoholism. They shared their weakness against alcohol and their need for help… help from their fellow AA brothers… help from God. Each spoke of the success they experienced as they confessed their problem and lifted it to God. As my friend listened to the other men, he slowly realized that he was not as different from them as he thought. As he heard the struggles which the other men had faced he realized that he also faced the same problems. And in hearing their stories of overcoming alcoholism, he was encouraged in his own struggle. He found that the things that he originally thought separated them were just surface things. He found that, on a deeper level, they were the same. He found a powerful link in that their failures and struggles. And more to the point, it was their solution against alcoholism which united them. ---------------- As Christians we are faced with the same problem when dealing with people different from us. When we look at others, we may think there is nothing we have in common. How can I be friends with them? But if we are willing to take a true look at ourselves we will find that the things which separate us are just surface things. If we are willing to see ourselves as we truly are, we will realize that we all face the same problems. We all struggle against the powers of the Devil, the flesh and the world. We have a powerful link in our shared failures and struggles. And more to the point, we have a more powerful link through the same solution - Jesus Christ. When you meet someone new, look beyond the differences. See them as God sees them, souls for whom Jesus Christ died, people who God loves. Amen.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Love is Action Here is a wonderful illustration about Love from “Dad, The Family coach” by Dave Simmons. I took Helen (eight years old) and Brandon (five years old) to the Cloverleaf Mall. As we drove up, we spotted a big sign - "Petting Zoo." The kids jumped up in a rush and asked, "Daddy, Daddy. Can we go? Please. Please. Can we go?" "Sure," I said, flipping them both a quarter before walking into Sears. They bolted away, and I felt free to take my time looking for a scroll saw. A petting zoo consists of a portable fence erected in the mall with about six inches of sawdust and a hundred little furry baby animals of all kinds. Kids pay their money and stay in the enclosure enraptured with the squirmy little critters while their moms and dads shop. A few minutes later, I turned around and saw Helen walking along behind me. I was shocked to see she preferred the hardware department to the petting zoo. Recognizing my error, I bent down and asked her what was wrong. She looked up at me with those giant limpid brown eyes and said sadly, "Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter." Then she said the most beautiful thing I ever heard. She repeated the family motto. The family motto is in "Love is Action!" She had given Brandon her quarter, and no one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen. She had watched both my wife and I say "Love is Action!" for years around the house. She had heard and seen "Love is Action," and now she had incorporated it into her little lifestyle. It had become part of her. What do you think I did? Well, not what you might think. As soon as I finished my errands, I took Helen to the petting zoo. We stood by the fence and watched Brandon go crazy petting and feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched Brandon. I had fifty cents burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted so badly to give her the joy of going into the petting zoo. But I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it. Because she knew the whole family motto. It's not just "Love is Action.!" It's "Love is SACRIFICIAL Action!" Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. When you love, benefits accrue to another's account. Love is for the other, not for myself. Love gives; it doesn't grab. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon and wanted to follow through with her lesson. She knew she had to taste the sacrifice. She wanted to experience that total family motto. Love is sacrificial action. [Dave Simmons, Dad, The Family Coach, Victor Books, 1991, pp. 123-124.] True Love… Deep Love… is sacrificial. When we love others sacrificially, we get a taste of Godly love. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. [John 15:13 ] The greatest act of love ever shown was when God sent his only Son to die for our sins, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God bless you, Pastor
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Church growth I once planted grass in my backyard. I plowed the ground. I fertilized it. I seeded it. I watered it. Then I waited. And waited. Ever day I would go in the back to see if anything had grown. First day - nothing. Second day - nothing. “Why did it take so long?” Finally, a week later, I saw the first sprouts. Hallelujah! I was so happy. One of the things I had to learn was that I could not make the lawn grow. It was God who made the grass grow. Having said that, however, there was much I could do to inhibit growth. If I did not fertilize or water it, it would not grow. Any number of things could inhibit its growth. My job was to do things which fostered its growth. The same goes for a church. Only God can make us grow, but it is good for us to make sure that we are doing everything we can to foster that growth. It is good for us to stop doing things which might inhibit growth. So what are the things which foster growth? What are the things which inhibit growth. The Institute for Natural Church development studied 1000 different churches. They examined the quality of the life within the church as well as numerical growth. What was amazing was that out of all the characteristics of churches they studied, only eight characteristics differentiated growing and declining churches. 1. Empowering leadership – People encouraged to discover their gifts and empowered to use them. Ministry done by the group rather than a few. 2. Gift-oriented ministry – People serve where their gifts are. 3. Passionate spirituality – Members practice their faith in their daily lives with joy and enthusiasm. 4. Functional structures – The purpose of church is to serve the people rather than people serving the church. 5. Inspiring worship service – Traditional or contemporary worship made no difference. Rather the key question was “Was it inspiring?” 6. Holistic small groups – People supporting one another to be disciples, to live out our faith in all aspects of their daily lives. 7. Need-oriented evangelism - Focus was on the needs and questions that non-Christians ask rather than pressuring them to “be more like us.” 8. Loving relationships – People do not want us to talk about love, they want to experience how Christian love really works. The weakest level attained, limited the growth of the church. Amazingly enough they found that churches which were above-average in all eight grew, independent of location or environment. Wow! Great thoughts to ponder about our own church as we seek to grow both in quality and number. God bless you, Pastor Okubo
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Pastors page August What to say to a grieving person. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say to a grieving friend after the loss of a loved one. Sometimes the fear of not knowing what to say keeps us silent. Here are some excerpts from two articles from Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com Senior Editor: “10 Things Never to Say to a Grieving Person” and “10 Helpful Things to Say to a Grieving Person” 10 Things Never to Say to a Grieving Person 1. "Stop crying; you're only making it worse." Expressing emotions, even strongly, is a natural, normal, and healthy reaction to death. 2. "You should let your emotions out or you'll feel worse later." It's also normal for some people to not cry." 3. "At least he's not suffering any more." Whatever the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person is still suffering. 4."You must be strong." (Or "God never gives us more than we can handle.") Such statements imply that it's wrong to feel bereft, which is a perfectly natural response. 5."God must have wanted her." God does want us all. God does not want the separation of death. It, and the pain it brings, is a consequence of sin. 6."Don't dwell on it." It's normal and natural to talk about the person who died. 7. "I know exactly how you feel." Even if you've experienced a similar loss, you didn't have the same relationship to the person who died. 8. "At least he was old enough to live a full life." How old would old "enough" be? 9. "You're lucky. At least [you have money, you're young and attractive, he didn't commit suicide, etc.]." Loss is always horrible. 10."It's been [six months, one year, etc.]; it's time to move on." People never stop grieving for a lost loved one. Affixing a deadline to mourning is insensitive. 10 Helpful Things to Say to a Grieving Person 1. "I'm so sorry for your loss." It's short, sweet, heartfelt, and always welcomed. 2. "Please know that I'm here for you." It never hurts to remind someone in pain of your friendship, no matter how close you are. 3. "You're in my thoughts and prayers." Even people who aren't religious are unlikely to be offended if they know you're sincere. 4. "Remember you can call me at any hour." Be specific: "You know I'm always up till midnight." Or, "It's never too early in the morning to call." 5. "She was such a wonderful person." Don't worry that you'll make the bereaved person think about the loved one by bringing up positive reminisces; you can rest assured he or she is always in mind already. 6. "I don't know what to say." Admitting you're tongue-tied about offering condolences is better than falling back on a platitude. 7. "I can't imagine what you're going through." Candor when you give condolence beats comparing the death with your own stories of loss. 8. "Would you like to talk about it? I'm listening." Provide a gentle opening for the person to share turbulent emotions, if desired. 9. "How are you feeling -- really?" A more pointed invitation to unload may be welcomed by some; just don't press. 10. "I've brought you a meal to eat or freeze; it's in disposable containers so you don't have to return anything." Better than asking, "How can I help?" is to step in with concrete help: bringing a meal, a quart of milk, a carton of eggs picked up when you do your own grocery shopping; or showing up to mow the lawn. What God says to a grieving person. Above all, share the Gospel. We are not sharing our comfort but God’s. For the open ear, Jesus’ Words can bring tremendous comfort and hope - 13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words. [1Th 4:13]
Monday, July 1, 2013
Pastors Page The freedom of religion was very important to the early leaders of our country. They recognized that the confidence we had amid the trials of this world came from God. For this reason they were willing to proclaim that God was Lord over all. Yet, they also knew the danger of a government forcing people to acknowledge God. In fact, one of the reasons Lutherans came to America was to escape this type of religious persecution. The Prussian Government in old Germany, in order to establish peace, unity and harmony within the Church, established state religions. They made it law to worship a certain way. The problem is that religion is a matter of faith and confession. You cannot force people into unity by passing laws. True Peace, unity and harmony, come from faith in Christ. So after the United States was formed, one of the first things the Founding Fathers did was to add to the Constitution a law forbidding the making of a state church. All churches were to be independent of the government. All were to be allowed to worship God freely! Each person was free to acknowledge God’s Lordship in his own way. That was the original intent of separation of church and state. Unfortunately, some people wish to corrupt the meaning of this by saying there must be no mention of God by the government. People have gone so far as to ask the Supreme court to have the words “under God” in the American Pledge of Allegiance removed. This is a terrible corruption of the original intent of the separation of church and state. We were given the freedom to worship God, not to deny Him. In a desire to respect individual freedom, we are sacrificing our relationship with God. Individual freedom is important. But we must have priorities! For the Christian, these words, “under God,” have a very powerful meaning. It is not only a statement of God’s Lordship. To be “under God” is to also be under God’s love and protection. Like chicks under the wings of a mother hen who protects them from a storm, we are hidden under God’s protecting arm. That is what it means to be “under God.” This Fourth of July we celebrate the freedoms we have as Americans and the people who guard them. But we also remember the source of freedom – Jesus Christ.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
The peace of the Lord be with you. He is Risen! Alleluia. What a wonderful “noise” to hear the voices of young and old ringing out in praise of Jesus Christ. As we closed the financial books for last year we pretty much broke even (this is good). But there were some months which were “nail-biters” in terms of being able to pay our bills. But God provides and the donations of some generous people brought us through. Analysis of income and expense showed that in November and surrounding months we had a large deficit. The Church Council has directed us to implement programs to proactively deal with this. The first order of business is a call to stewardship. The financial care of the church is everyone’s responsibility. Everything on Earth belongs to God [Ps 24]. All that we have is a gift from God [Ecc 5:19]. We are free from the law of tithe, but God has commanded us to continue to give to His work (not only that but to give cheerfully). [2Cor 9:6-8] 6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Therefore I would like to encourage everyone to prayerfully consider their commitment to God’s work. As God has blessed you please consider the financial support of the ministries at Immanuel First. We support a thriving Vietnamese church plant as part of our mission to share the Word of God with the world. We have a wonderful sanctuary and fellowship hall in which we celebrate the word of God and share in fellowship with one another. God has blessed us greatly. In order to plan our budget better we are asking consideration for three things: 1. Yearly pledges - This will allow us to plan a budget for the year better. We will be having a stewardship Sunday where we are asking people to let us know their commitment. 2. Regular offerings - Sometimes we may forget our offerings especially when we leave on vacations, etc. (it happens!). Please try to keep a regular offering so our income doesn’t oscillate so much. 3. We are also asking for people to consider raising their offerings, as God has blessed you. The command to tithe (one’s offering to God, is one of the few commands which come with a promise of blessing. (Mal 3:10) “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Please do not give if it is a burden (other than a burden gladly borne for the glory of God.) God loves a cheerful giver. Thank you for your consideration. Our finance and stewardship board works hard to keep the ministry of God at Immanuel First going. Being able to stabilize our finances would be a tremendous help. God bless you, Pastor Okubo
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Was God ever born? A young person once asked me “When was God born?” This was a curious question until I realized what he was asking. His question was like the question “If God created everything, who created God?” By itself, it is merely a intellectual point of debate. But I believe there is another reason why people ask this question. If there was a point in time when God was born… if there was a point in time when God was created, then there was a time when there was no God. And if there was a time in the PAST when there was no God, it implies that there could be a time in the FUTURE when there is no God. Yikes! What a scary thought. Praise be to God, He didn’t leave us in ignorance about this. Scripture repeatedly answers that question. God always has been and always will be. He is eternal. God was the creator of the universe. He was the creator of time and space itself. But nothing created God. God exists outside of time and space. He steps into time and space, periodically, to interact with this world, His creation, but he is outside of time. What does that mean? Interestingly enough science has come to the same conclusion. The Big Bang theory states that there was a beginning to time and space. While there is disagreement on how long ago it happened, it is amazing that we both agree there is a point in time where there is no “before.” At this point, not only was there “no physical objects in the vacuum of space,” but there was no “vacuum of space” either. Therefore God, the creator of the universe, exists outside of time and space. (Weird. It gives me a headache to contemplate this too long.) However, despite that fact that scripture tells us that God is eternal, it also says, paradoxically, “God was born.” Not only was God born but there was a time when He died. 2000 year ago God entered time and space as a man, Jesus Christ. As in the words of the Apostle’s creed - He was born of the virgin Mary and was made man. At a little town called Bethlehem, God has experienced birth. And it is precisely because God was born, that we have been born again as His children. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. [Gal 4:4] Because of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, we have been offered eternal life. This is precisely what we celebrated at Easter. God is eternal and is the master of space and time. But God also entered time and space, as Jesus, to be with us because He loved us. Praise God! He is risen! Alleluia.
Monday, April 1, 2013
He is Risen!! The words “He is Risen” still rings in my ears from our Easter worship. What a wonderful celebration it was. During the Easter season (Easter until Pentecost) it is customary to greet one another with the words “He is Risen!” and to respond with “He is risen, indeed!” It is important to remember that “He is risen” is more than just a common-place greeting. “He is risen” speaks of a miracle. A man who was physically dead rose again to life. Two millennia ago, Jesus Christ was crucified and then was brought back to life by God. This is what we celebrated on Easter. “He is risen” is a miracle! However, while we may be aware that “He is risen” was a miracle 2000 years ago, we may be unaware that it speaks of a miracle which affects us today! It is easy to miss the miraculous when they have become common-place. When doctors revive a man who has died, people acclaim the miracles of science. Yet every day, a baby is born. A creature that had no existence 9 months previous, appears. Is it not a greater miracle “to create from nothing” than for something which was once alive “to live again?” Because we see things over and over, we tend to forget that they are miracles too. We can miss the present-day miracles of God because they are common-place. “He is risen” was a miracle 2000 years ago, but “He is Risen” is a miracle for us today as well. “He is Risen” means that Jesus Christ is here with us today, rejoicing with us in times of good, comforting us in times of bad, protecting us in times of trouble. “He is risen” also means that when we die, death is not the end. It means that the quality of our life here on Earth is not the most important thing to worry about, but rather life after death. God has promised a wonderful place in heaven for us. God has promised us a wonderful reunion in Heaven with our brother and sisters in Christ. “He is Risen” is more than just a greeting. It is a promise fulfilled. “He is Risen,” a miracle today, yesterday and always. He is Risen, Indeed! Pastor Okubo
Friday, March 1, 2013
Pastors Page Mar 2013 Why is Christianity unique? By faith we are Christians. Our faith gives us an understanding of the world from the creator’s point of view. It gives us a standard of right and wrong. It gives us comfort during times of trouble. It gives us a purpose in life. It gives us a shield against the fear of death. It gives us hope for the future, not only on Earth, but in eternity as well. We believe that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. Now many people balk at the last proposition – “Jesus Christ alone? That’s not right. Each religion thinks they are the right ones. Christianity is simply one of many.” However, there is an insidious hidden agenda with this type of thinking. If there is nothing unique about Christianity, then I am not held accountable to any one absolute truth. If there is nothing unique about Christianity then “what I believe about God” is just as good as “what you believe about God.” If there is nothing unique about Christianity, then I am safe to believe whatever I want to believe about God. Or more to the point, I can make up whatever I want to believe about God. That is the hidden agenda. I frequently hear people say “I can’t believe in a loving God who sends people to Hell… so I don’t believe in Hell. Unfortunately, as loving as it sounds, what is really happening is that they are changing “what the Bible says” into something that makes them more comfortable. There is a problem with that. It is a sin to try to make God in our image. It is a sin to try to make God into what we would like Him to be. That’s why people try to say - “Christianity is not unique.” They want to believe “what they want to believe” and disregard the rest. However, Christianity IS unique. What makes Christianity unique? “Death.” All religions talk about “what happens after death.” All leaders of religions have had to deal with death. But Christianity is unique. Only one person has experienced death, AND come back to tell us what its like. Only one has experienced death, and has said He is preparing a place for us. Only one has experienced death and triumphed over death. Only one person came back for death to save us. That one person is Jesus Christ. That is the awesome message of the Gospel. That is what we celebrate on Easter. That is the joy of the Easter Gospel for it says “God loves you” and wishes to share eternal joy with you. That is what makes Christianity unique in all the world. That is why Jesus is the only way.
Friday, February 1, 2013
Confession and Absolution We will soon be entering the season of Lent. Lent is a time for us to ponder our sins, the sins which separate us from God. Lent is a time for us to confess our sins before God, and receive the forgiveness which heals our broken relationship. The confession of sins is a crucial part of faith. Confessing your sins is simply agreeing with God that you are sinful and need a savior. But confessing our sins is hard. It is hard because we must come to grips with the facts that: we are unworthy before God. we do not deserve His love. we do not deserve to go to Heaven. These are scary thoughts. Yet, it is unconfessed sins which bind us with guilt. It is the unconfessed sin which we go to great lengths to hide. It is the unconfessed sin which festers like a cancer. However, we are able to confess our sins because a miracle has been worked within us. The Holy Spirit has come to open our eyes, that we will be able to see ourselves as God sees us - sinful and in need of a savior, yet simultaneously, as His beloved and forgiven children. Only because of that promise of forgiveness, will we have the courage to confess our sins. Only by confession can we be freed from the bondage to sin. Kinds of Confession of Sins Private Confession. That is confession to a pastor where he exercises the office of keys and pronounces absolution, the forgiveness of sins. Confession to God alone. This type of confession is practiced throughout one's life. Confession before another Christian. Christians can confess their sins to one another. It is the responsibility and privilege of the other Christian to grant forgiveness in Christ’s name. Martin Luther encouraged Christians to confess their sins so that they will hear the Lord's absolving Word from the lips of another human being. God has given us a great gift in the Confession and Absolution of sin. For this reason it is an integral part of our worship service. Because of Jesus, God has forgiven your sins and cleansed you from all unrighteousness. God bless you. Pastor