Febuary 18, 2024 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
I had the privilege of attending the Pastor’s Retreat at the end of January. I wanted to report some things that I shared at the retreat. I spoke on the topic of how to grow our conference. This is the million-dollar question that every pastor and leadership board is asking. The answer is that you and I cannot grow the church. We all want to grow the church, but we cannot. Paul wrote the following in 1 Corinthians 3:6-11, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” The hope for our church and our conference is found in God alone. We must do our part to plant and water, but God is the only one who can make our church grow.
The Great Commission states that the purpose of our church is to make disciples. Disciples are simply followers of Jesus. We must each learn how to listen to and obey Jesus. As a disciple, God has called us to accomplish specific tasks. Intellectually, this understanding is known as a calling. Emotionally, this is known as a burden. A burden is the emotional side of calling. A burden is something we feel in our hearts that we must do. I invite you to consider what is the calling/burden God has given you. I want everybody in our church to understand your calling/burden. And as a church, help support and equip each other to fulfill their calling.
Lastly, we are in a spiritual battle right now. John Piper taught in his book, "Don’t Waste Your Life,” that churches are spiritual hospitals. In peace times, when people are sick and injured, they go to the hospital and visit the doctors. But during a war, the doctors are not waiting for the safety of the hospitals. They run onto the battlefield and look for the sick and injured and administer their aid on the battlefield. Then, they bring their injured to a safe place to heal and recover. We cannot wait for people to come to us to fulfill the Great Commission. We must "Go and make disciples of all nations." We are to go to the hurting and sick and bring them to Jesus, who will heal them. These are some ways we can join Jesus in building the kingdom of God until every tribe, nation, and tongue worships Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
Febuary 11, 2024 | Chris T.
A couple of weeks ago it was really windy here in Los Angeles and it triggered in me a thought about our faith in God. The wind caused the trees to really sway to and fro and was so strong that some trees were uprooted and toppled over. There were leaves and debris blowing about. The wind had moved some of our outdoor furniture and knocked over a couple of potted plants in our backyard. I remember when I lived in Chicago, (the “Windy City”), sometimes you couldn’t walk against the wind in a straight line but if you were walking with the wind, it would blow your walk into a near run.
So that made me think of how we put our belief in and dedicate our lives to God, an entity we can’t physically see with our eyes. Even though I can’t actually see the wind, I know the wind is real because I can see it moving objects all around me plus I can feel it’s force on my body when I am standing directly in its path. I see God daily, not because I see his actual face in front of me, but like the wind, I can see Him moving others around me. I’ve witnessed a young couple move their family from a nice life in Los Angeles and go live in Cameroon because God moved them. At Mt Hermon’s Victory Circle, I’ve witnessed how young people dealing with broken homes and other failed relationships found peace and love because of the guidance that God gave them during that week at camp. I’ve seen people dealing with medical illnesses and even death have hope and joy because God’s arms were wrapped around them. I’ve seen people worshiping in song with their arms outstretched and weeping with joy because the Holy Spirit was moving in them. Even in seemingly small day to day activities, I’ve seen God influencing people. This is how I can see God.
As a Christian one of our desires should be to feel God’s hand moving us in the direction that He wants us to go. In order for that to happen, we have to be in His direct path so we can feel His force at our backs guiding our lives.
Febuary 4, 2024 | Rick C.
Our Victory in the End is Due to our Living Hope!
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” I Peter 1:3-5
I don’t know if you got a chance to watch the Lakers’ game on 1/27. This was the double overtime game against the Golden State Warriors. I happened to be in the Bay area, watching it at my friend’s house on tape delay. Since it had already been recorded (and the game had already finished), I decided to check the internet to see if the Lakers had won or lost. I mean why watch a game if the Lakers lost, right?
If you watched the game, you’ll remember that Steph Curry had a layup that sent the game into the very first OT. He also had a nice 3-pointer over Anthony Davis in the second OT for a lead. When Curry tied the game to make it go into the first OT, my Bay area friends went nuts! Then they held their breath as they started the first OT. They were so stressed watching every point that each team was trying to make.
When Curry hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left in the 2nd OT, my friends let out cheers and screams. It looked very promising for the Warriors. But LeBron James got fouled and sank two free throws to give the Lakers a well fought victory, 145-144. What a game!
As I shared how stressed my friends were, do you know how I felt? I was very calm; you can say that I was even relaxed. I was literally enjoying the game. How could I feel this way? Why wasn’t I stressed when the Lakers missed a layup or a 3-pointer? Because I knew how the game was going to end. Since I had looked up the score already and knew the outcome of the game, I could watch in a relaxed and confident state.
Brothers and sisters, I Peter 1:3-5 tells us as believers we have a living hope. The reason we can have this hope is because we know how the game of life will end. We know that in the end, life as we know it, will not end, but will be forever changed and we will be in the presence of Jesus. We can go through life confident, calm and relaxed, knowing that even though things look tough and become difficult, in the end, we know that we will be victorious.
We will receive an imperishable inheritance made possible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is what I would call true victory. Therefore, are we relaxed and confident when we look to the future? If we’re unsure about what will happen at the end, why not enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ? Thank him for the great love he has for us, and that he willingly went to the cross to deal with our sins, so we could have an eternal relationship with him. If we already know Jesus, this victorious news is something that we should share. Who will you tell?
The Lakers vs. the Warriors was a great game. It was even better because the Lakers won 145-144. I wasn’t stressed because I already knew what would happen at the end. As believers we know our ending as well. Praise be to God for giving us a living hope.
January 28, 2024 | Becky C.
Recently, I was at Ventura beach doing my devotions and looking out into the harbor. I was looking at a line of palm trees swaying in the wind and was thinking how the winds and storms don’t break or snap the trees. I was wondering why so I decided to Google it. This is what I found:
“Palm tree roots not only feed and water the palm, they act like a reinforcement system for the tree, allowing it to bend but not break, when pressed by intense winds and storms. Most impressive of all, palm tree roots grow stronger as a result of having to work harder.”
Just like our Christian faith, it all starts in the roots; we need to be firmly rooted in God. As you can see in the diagram above, the roots of palms have different stages and goes deep. We too, go through different stages in life and as long as we cling onto God and our faith, our roots will keep growing deeper and deeper through our relationship with Him as well as our ongoing relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Going through this second bout of breast cancer, I truly am grateful for my faith, friends and family to fall back on (I call it my 3 F’s). Because I am surrounded by the love and care of my support system, I was and am COVERED in prayers thus growing my roots further in Him.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built
up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” - Colossians 2:6-7 (ESV)
January 21, 2024 | Lance O.
One of my biggest personal challenges is I tend to procrastinate and do things at the last minute. This is especially true for tasks I do not enjoy or want to do. It really doesn’t matter what the task might be, and in-fact, sometimes includes things I really want to do. When I was younger and still in school, tasks I procrastinated on regularly were homework and chores I had to do around the house. As I got older, those challenging tasks included difficult work and life decisions, unwanted work assignments, and even simple things like paying monthly bills.
Of course, there is typically some sort of penalty for procrastinating. For schoolwork, the penalties were last minute, late-night or all-night study sessions and lower test scores and grades that I might have potentially achieved had I done my homework right away instead of playing or watching television. Procrastinating on chores I should do around the house as well as unwanted work assignments typically results in the need to put forth an even bigger effort that often takes hours if not days and a lot of sweat to complete. And procrastinating on work/life decisions often results in missed opportunities, less than satisfactory results, and questions of self-doubt about what might have been.
So, why do we do procrastinate? We can all likely come up with a plethora of personal reasons that lead us to procrastinate doing one thing or another. I believe the reasons why I delay and put off completing unwanted tasks personally boil down to one or more of the following: laziness, apathy, fear, ignorance, self-doubt, and selfishness. These are human characteristics we all share and most of us, especially me, continuously wrestle with. The good news is that we are not alone in our challenges with procrastination. The Bible is filled with many writings of people who have delayed or put off doing what God has told them to do such as Jonah, who after being thrown into the ocean and swallowed by a whale, realized he needed to deliver God’s message to the people of Ninevah even though he didn’t want to.
For many of us, time and the wisdom gained through learning from some of the above-mentioned experiences help us overcome our personal challenges with pro-crastination. Most of us realize that putting things off doesn’t make them go away and delaying them often makes things worse so it’s better to do whatever is required of us without hesitation. As I write this, we’re entering the 3rd week of 2024, a new year with much to look forward to as well as many things we probably don’t want to do. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26a says: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness….” Colossians 3:17 further says, “And whatever your do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Therefore, my encouragement to everyone procrastinating, putting off doing an unwanted task is to listen to your inner-voice and do whatever is needed in the name of our Lord Jesus without delay. I know, “easier said than done”, however you will experience a great deal of satisfaction completing your task and be comforted knowing God will be pleased and bless your effort. My best wishes for a happy and productive 2024 for everyone!
January 14, 2024 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
My highlight of 2023 was going to Brazil to learn from our sister Conference. I didn't seriously think about Brazil, but God did. At Mt. Hermon, God allowed me to bump into a Brazilian family who invited me to attend their Holiness outreach event in Brazil. Surprisingly, our Conference Shepherd Council enthusiastically approved this vision trip, and I ended up in Brazil. I saw a wonderful picture of God's Church loving the community. The Brazilian believers came together from over 20 churches to meet the physical, medical, and social needs of this Japanese farming town called Assai. When God calls, nothing can stop him. Brazil taught me to be curious to see what God is doing and join him.
As we begin 2024, I am excited about what we will experience individually and as a church family. I look forward to seeing us study our Bibles and hearing a divine message from God, sharing our stories of God's faithfulness amid our challenges, and new people experiencing the love of Jesus for the first time and coming to faith. How would this happen?
Two things come to mind. First, our hope is in God and His mercy. As we study
1 Peter 2: 9-10, we realize that God chose us to give us His mercy. His mercy is not just to save us but also to bring us to glory (Romans 8:30). Our hope is in God's faithfulness to finish the good work that he started in each of us (Philippians 1:6). Secondly, we must take a step of faith to be curious and obey God's prompting to the Holy Spirit and through His Holy Word. Faith in Jesus empowers us to experience every spiritual blessing that God has chosen to give us daily (Romans 1:17, Ephesians 1:3).
Let's take the lessons we learned in 2023 and apply them to 2024. Let's slow down to listen to our Savior and Lord so that we can do what He wants us to do in 2024.
January 7,2024 | David L.
Tutoring, or the Art of Believing
For about ten years, I've worked as a math and science tutor for high schoolers. It's been a useful side hustle for me these past years of doing ministry, and I suppose the main way my biology degree has come in handy. Although I teach seasonal classes from time to time, like AP review classes in the spring or SAT/ACT classes in the summer, most of my work has been in one-on-one settings or in small groups. Some students might come in just for a semester, or even right before a test they're supposed to take (which as you might imagine is never ideal), but other students I've worked with for years.
If I had to describe what tutoring is to me, I would say that tutoring is really an exercise in faith. Often times a student comes in not believing they would ever be able to learn something—math is hard after all! Sometimes it's the parents who think that their child is bad at something, and that despair trickles down to the students. And I'm not so cynical to think that the teachers don't believe that a student can't learn what they're trying to teach, but of course it's easy to get lost in a classroom setting. So my first act of a tutor must be to believe. If no one else believes, then it falls on me to trust that this person can learn, and from there I shepherd them towards that aim.
Of course, from the perspective of individual sessions, some days are good and some days are bad. Some days are full of "aha" moments and breakthroughs in grasping some new idea or concept, and other days feel like we're no better than where we began in our comprehension. But taken together, as I look back over the year, I see tremendous growth. It feels bewildering that a student of mine who could hardly factor a quadratic equation when I first started meeting with her is now able to articulate the implications of derivatives in her AP Calc class. Another one of my students, a self-avowed "non-STEM" person, has been learning to ask the right questions about biological pathways that she sees. Sometimes it's not really even about the specific material—I'm proud of one of the guys I've been working with the past two years, who used to be ashamed of all his mistakes, now come to a point where he's more comfortable with saying "I don't know" and reflecting on work he's done before.
I'd like to think that discipleship is in some ways like tutoring. I think about Jesus' persistence with disciples who weren't always that clueful—"are you so dull?" he exclaims in Mark 7:18—and yet after three years, in the final hours of his life, he stands convinced that "whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12). Is it possible that I of faltering faith may do even greater works than Christ? I find it hard to believe—and yet it's in the faith of Christ.
As we enter into a new year, I hope that the Lord may strengthen your faith and remind you of the assurance of his salvation and sanctification for you!
December 17, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
Life is difficult. Sometimes I encounter difficult people and wonder how to be clear on my desires while not stepping on their toes. With the rising cost of living, instead of trusting in God's provisions, I fall into anxiety. The news shows how our nation is divided and innocent lives are being lost in wars. Life looks dark and bleak.
Christmas is an amazing reminder that God sees us and sent His son to establish His reign of peace and righteousness. Isaiah 9:6 announces, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” God sent Jesus for all those who experience helplessness and brokenness. God is not far off but has come to dwell amongst us and to save us from the reign of evil.
Because of Jesus, we can find wisdom to navigate through every difficulty. Because of Jesus, He will work out all things for our good. Because of Jesus, love, peace, and joy have been established. Nothing will separate us from Him. This Christmas, let us thank God for sending His Son on our behalf and let us walk confidently in His leading.
December 10, 2023 | Ann L.
The Ultimate Reunion
“…We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them …”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17
Late one afternoon, my husband held me in his arms and said, “Whatever happens, you’ll be OK.” I knew he was telling me we didn’t have much time together. This was a few days before God called him home. I have great memories of our time together as a family, camping, fishing, and taking long trips. He was the nicest and most caring person I knew and never said a bad word about anyone. We studied God’s Word and attended Bible study together. After his passing, there were times when I felt a huge void, but God’s Word sustained me and filled that emptiness. The Apostle Paul teaches us that at Jesus’ second coming, those who have gone on before will rise first and we “shall be caught up together with them.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Life is short . . . live for God today. Then, no matter when your life ends, you will have fulfilled God’s plan for you. Our life on earth is temporary and will pass away, but the God we worship and serve is eternal. He promises us a life that will never pass away. This is something we can look forward to . . . not only to be with all those who have gone before us, but to be with Jesus forever.
During a memorial service or a celebration of life, if the pastor invites anyone who wants Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, now is the time to choose the Lord. Have you?
December 3, 2023 | Sue W.
The God of all Confort
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9
This is my favorite Bible verse. When I graduated high school on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, my church family had a celebration luncheon for all the graduates. Each one received a Bible with an inscription on the inside cover. Joshua 1:9 was written in mine. When I left the island to attend college on the mainland, I depended on this verse very strongly and I feel certain that each sentence upheld me through my various experiences. There were many feelings of apprehensiveness which I encountered, especially during my first year of college - homesickness, freezing mid-west weather, etc., but the Lord always pulled me through. As I continue on with my life, this verse still stands true.
Thank you God for keeping me strong and uplifting me when I get discouraged and for always being close to me. I thank you for Joshua, who humbled himself, trusted and obeyed you. Please help us to do the same as we face our own challenges.
All of us have experienced some health, academic, business, financial, or relationship difficulties. As we look back, we can see how God was with us during those times. Is there a struggle in your life right now? Take time to reflect on previous trials in your life, how God got you through them, and what lessons you learned from them. And remember - thank Him.
November 12, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
November is stewardship month. I appreciate what Dr. R.C. Sproul taught about stewardship. I will summarize what he said in his article, “What is Biblical Stewardship?”
R.C. Sproul says, “A steward in the ancient world was a person who was given the responsibility and authority to rule over the affairs of the household.” A classic example is Joseph, a steward of Potiphar’s household. Though Joseph had the authority to run Potiphar’s household in any way he wanted, Joseph never wasted any of Potiphar’s resources. Not only was stewardship practiced in ancient times, but stewardship is rooted in creation. Genesis 1:26-28 states, Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This idea of “dominion” was not to do whatever people wanted. First, God gave people dominion to fulfill His purpose. Secondly, dominion gave people authority over God’s resources to help the world be fruitful and bring out the beauty of God’s creation. As God’s stewards, God has given us the authority to use His resources to bring life to the world, not to destroy life.
“Fundamentally, stewardship is about exercising our God-given dominion over His creation, reflecting the image of our creator God in His care, responsibility, mainte-nance, protection, and beautification of His creation.” R.C. Sproul.
As Christians, we are stewards of the resources that God has freely given us. How are you using God’s resources to bring life to the world around you? Let’s ask God if there is anything he wants us to do differently. God has given us the authority over the world, so let each learn to steward his resources for His honor and for the joy of all people.
If you would like to read his article, please go to https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/what-biblical-stewardship
October 22, 2023 | Marilyn S.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." James 1:2-3 (NIV)
I remember when we were going through the book of James was when I first decided to join the Tuesday Morning life group back in 2020, and read this verse as Greg and I were going through one of the most challenging times of our lives. I remember thinking to myself, "pure joy?!" As many of you know, these last few years have been a struggle in our physical lives, but I must say in the spiritual realm, I have been truly blessed and He has brought me joy.
In James 4:8 it says; "Come close to God, and God will come close to you." (NIV). I know that I let myself become distant from God, but God was not distant from me. He was there whenever I needed him, and especially when I needed Him most. He opened my eyes to passages in the Bible that I have read my whole life, but never understood them much until now. He introduced me to several wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ from all over North America who have prayed for Greg and me, and we continue to stay in touch. In December 2020, God brought a very special person into my life in the midst of Greg's several hospitalizations. Her name is Tammy, and her husband suffers from MS. We immediately bonded. She was not raised in a Christian home, but always believed in God. I was able to disciple her and lead her to Christ and she has been a huge blessing in my life. I know that God placed us in each other's lives on purpose. We individually have been through and continue to face many trials, but have been able to support each other in ways that might be difficult for others to relate, and we have grown in our faith as we put our trust in God. I definitely have drawn myself closer to God more than I ever have in my life. Tammy and I participate in a Bible study on Monday nights, and have attended conferences together to learn on how to be more like Jesus. God has shown and taught me so much in these past three years, and there is no turning back. Along with this new knowledge, also comes new responsibilities. Again, in the book of James it says; "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." James 1:22 (NIV). I have been feeling the nudging of the Holy Spirit to step out of my comfort zone and approach people for prayer or to tell them about Christ. I was able to pray for a couple of people when Greg was in the hospital earlier this year. The people that I prayed for were believers, and were so appreciative and felt God's love through the prayers. It wasn't easy and it still isn't. I know it's not of my own works, but God working through me and I just need to get out of my own way to be able to allow Him to do His work. Tammy and I plan to go out and do some street ministry together soon. We don't know what it will look like, or how we will do it, but we know that God will make a way for us to do it.
October 15, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
Will you take a step of faith? By faith, I am in Brazil today. In order to understand why I am in Brazil we need to understand that God first opened this door when I happened to meet a Brazilian family at Mount Hermon earlier this year.
Let me share 3 Steps from Jeremiah 29:11-13
(11) “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Step one: To believe that God has great plans for each of us. These are plans that fulfill us and make us alive because God is the one who created us. God knows exactly what is best for us because he knows us. Since God has these amazing plans for each of us, will you go and ask Him? “
(12) “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”
Step two: To believe that God wants to tell you, we just need to ask.
(13) “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Step three: To believe that God can be found if we seek him with all of our being. In other words, we can know God’s plan if we are willing to do whatever God tells us. So, are you willing to do whatever God tells you? You are just one step of faith away from knowing and living God’s dream.
October 8, 2023 | Holly G.
As many of you know, Brazil is my favorite place in the world, and a week ago Jacky and I came back from our 10-day trip to Sao Paulo and Rio. It had been almost 5 years since I had been to Brazil, and I am still struggling to find the words to express what it felt like being back.
While this trip was initially planned as just a 1-year anniversary trip, a part of me was hoping that being back in Brazil would give me clarity about what God's plan was for me when it comes to my future with Brazil. Until very recently, I had thought that my future with Brazil would look a certain way, but now I know that that's not what God has planned for me. It threw me for a loop. I know that God wants me to do ministry in Brazil/with Brazilian people, but I have no idea what that will look like.
This was weighing on me heavily throughout our trip. And while I didn't necessarily get the clarity I wanted; one thing became clear - I need to learn Portuguese. I had always been scared - and honestly, lazy - to learn Portuguese. I knew it was inevitable but I was just waiting for a God given opportunity to study Portuguese (i.e. the opportunity to study in Brazil, someone reaching out and wanting to teach me, etc.). Being in Brazil made me think: What am I waiting for? Why am I waiting? Why am I waiting for someone else to give me an opportunity when I can create one myself?
So, I started researching virtual Portuguese lessons while we were in Brazil and I signed up for lessons last week. In fact, my first lesson is the day I'm writing this!
This process of taking the initiative of learning Portuguese has really made me think about how we, as Christians, can be so complacent in life. I feel like there are so many things God has told us to do and we just keep waiting for that God given opportunity. If we know that God wants us to do something, it's important to take that first step - and to stop waiting. We can create those opportunities ourselves, and maybe God is waiting for us to make the first move after planting His idea.
October 1, 2023 | Russell O.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” - Hebrews 11:1
Hebrews 11 has been called the faith chapter because it demonstrates the power of God by giving us the confidence to believe in Him even though He cannot be visibly seen or touched.
I know this to be true, as I’ve faced many struggles with my Autism since I was very young. There were many days of frustration and confusion since I couldn’t express myself through speech. I would get mad at my parents when they pushed me too hard and take out my anger on them. My mom and I fought a lot, yet I realize now that the reason she pushed me so hard was because she had faith in me to achieve things that others could not see.
I’ve been blessed to have many people help me along this journey. My psychologist’s name is Dr. Rhodes, and he was my guardian angel who gave me an outlet to channel my thoughts so I could express my dreams and goals. My grandma was another angel in my life who had tremendous faith in me. She could see the real me and she loved me unconditionally.
It’s a challenge for me every day to control the thoughts that repeat in my mind. The verse from Hebrews 11 reinforces the belief and love that my mom and dad have for me. The “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I continue to have faith in God for he has been so good to me. I trust you all will share that same faith.
September 10, 2023 | Rick C.
Sheep without a Shepherd
As I write this “Food for Thought” article, I’m struggling with jetlag. I had a wonderful time in Japan, with the first half as ministry and the second half as family vacation.
As the Executive Director of JEMS, I have a burden and a passion for Japan. Japan is the 2nd largest unreached people group in the world. Over 150 years of Protestant Christianity has been in Japan, yet less that 1% are evangelical Christians. Right after World War II, many missionaries went to Japan to share the Gospel. Yet in the Land of the Rising Sun, Jesus as the Son of God has never taken root in that country.
During this recent trip, I remember specifically a time when I was walking back and forth from the hotel to the laundromat. As various people walked past me, or rode past me on a bicycle, I started to weep. I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness, knowing that most likely every person who was passing by me had never heard the wonderful news of the Gospel.
It broke my heart to think that no one has told them about the wonderful love and grace of God. They don’t know that there is more to life than just work. They haven’t experienced true contentment and joy. They are destined to hell for all of eternity if they do not seek Jesus and repent.
As I got to the laundromat and re-gained my composure, I took some time to pray. I prayed that God would bring about a revival in the churches of Japan. I prayed that God would send more missionaries to Japan. I prayed that God would destroy the spiritual strongholds that serve as barriers to the Gospel. I prayed that God would use me, even as a “tourist” to sprinkle God’s kindness and compassion to people I would meet.
I was reminded of this passage from Matthew 9:36 which says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I pray that we would all have the same compassion of Christ as we think about Japan. May our heart, soul and spirit be moved so that we would pray for the people of Japan and for the Japanese churches, pastors and missionaries who are there sharing the Gospel.
Join me in reaching Japan!
July 30, 2023 | Timothy C.
Something that God taught me recently was to be grateful for every door that He opens in my life. College was the best four years of my life, yet in a recent conversation with a friend about my college experience, I found myself listing more regrets than things I was grateful for. My overarching complaint was that I wish I had just committed to less things because having too much on my plate made it difficult for me to fully enjoy and give my all to each obligation I had. On top of balancing academics, relationships, church, and having a social life, I led a Japanese American cultural club, I served in my Christian fellowship, and I was the videographer for the Cal Poly Men’s Basketball Team. I’m a huge perfectionist, and despite how unrealistic it would be to perfectly execute all my responsibilities and accomplish every goal I had for each role, those were the expectations I placed on myself throughout college, leading to feelings of dissatisfaction and regret.
I did a hike later that day and it felt like God was showing me how narrow my perspective was. My circumstances may have made it difficult to make the most of my time in my different roles and communities, but God blessed me with opportunities to enter spaces and take on responsibilities that so many others never get the chance to. I may not have been the perfect leader, friend, or videographer, but I gained valuable learning experiences, I crossed paths with people I never would have otherwise met, and I was able to leave my mark through each opportunity I was given. I think God was trying to remind me that A) I’m not superhuman and I can show grace to myself even if things don’t work out the way I had hoped they would, and B) there was a reason why I was gifted each of these opportunities. As easy as it can be to regret decisions that I made and think of what could’ve been, I should take a step back and recognize the good that came out of each door opening.
Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to
prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God’s sovereignty and faithfulness gives me no reason to second guess opportunities I’ve received, allowing me to be grateful in every circumstance and appreciate the way my life unfolds.
July 23, 2023 | David L.
These past few months, those of us in the Young & Adult Ministry have been studying the Psalms together. The Psalms are one of my favorite books for three reasons. First, they show us that whatever emotions we feel—happy, sad, hopeless, mad, confused, content—we can always tell them to God. It makes sense: If he knows what we already think and feel before we express them, what point is there in trying to mask them before him? Prayer may be a posture towards God, but it is never posing before him.
Second, the Psalms give us language to learn how to pray. When I was taught how to pray, one of the most powerful tools that my prayer teacher used was praying through the Psalms, using its very language to structure our prayers and express ourselves. Indeed, immersing ourselves in Scripture is a good way to learn how to pray, like a baby learning to speak not because she goes to a grammar school, but because she is immersed in a world full of words.
My final reason is more personal. Psalms are poem-prayers, and I have always found writing poetry to be a wonderful companion and tool to help me understand the world around me. Back in April, I undertook a poetry challenge where I had to write 30 poems in 30 days. It was tough trying to drum up the inspiration some days, but remembering God, what he's done in my life, and the joys and challenges of living a life of faith helped guide me towards what to write. I'd like to share a piece that I particularly enjoyed writing in that challenge. It is a meditation on life after Easter (which was around when this was written):
the day after
what do we do when all the world has wakened
and light of morning shines on new creation?
when all the hopes we thought were godforsaken
not only mended, but grew new relations?
when tombstones rolled, when barriers split in two,
when bodies transcend space and speciation,
what then was life? what more was there to do
but find time for a gathering, a stroll,
a breakfast with the usual fishing crew?
and since that final ascent on the knoll
life stretches on with promise and with pain,
of here-but-not-yet readings of the scroll,
of cups of covenant and broken grain,
of cast-off crutches, curèd convalescents,
of paintings, poems, frescoes and refrains—
the days are filled with resurrection presents,
the days are filled with resurrection presence.
July 16, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10
“For we are God’s handiwork,
Every follower of Christ is God’s workmanship. None of us are exactly alike, including my twin brother and I. God has uniquely and lovingly created each of us. You are one of a kind, God’s masterpiece, but some are still a work in progress.
Created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
God created you for a purpose. You are saved “to” do good works, not saved “by” good works. Who determines what is good or bad? Do you determine it or does the person in authority? Usually, those in authority decide what is good or bad, whether it’s the designer who made a new creation or an expert in a specific field or even the consumer who paid for a product.
Which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Who decides what good works you will do today? I will admit that I am not very smart and often do not know what good works I should do. I am so glad that God has already prepared the good works he designed for me. Doesn’t it make sense to ask God what He wants us to do with our time, money, abilities, and relationships since he created us? God often asks us to benefit others, aka love others.
So why don’t we ask God what he wants us to do? And let us faithfully obey Him. As Jesus says in Luke 16:10, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (ESV) Let us be faithful to the little things God asks us to do today. If you need help discerning God’s call for your life, then please contact me or any of our pastoral staff.
July 9, 2023 | Aya F.
Recently during worship, we sang the song, “I Will Not Be Shaken” by Vineyard. Whenever I hear this song, it reminds me of an incident in my freshman year of college. I had just gotten my first car so I could commute to school. Ever since I could drive, I would pick up my high school friends at my church (our sister church in San Diego) and take them to youth group on Saturday evenings. As I was heading to church with my three friends that day, it was raining. When I came to a curve in the freeway, I completely lost control of my car. Although I don’t know the exact sequence, somehow my car slid across the freeway, flipped over onto its hood, was hit by another car, and flipped over again, before crashing into a divider. It was like a roller coaster, and when my car finally stopped moving, I was afraid to look around, afraid I would see my friends injured. Moments later, I realized that my friends were all okay, and on my tape deck, we heard, “I will not be shaken, I will not be moved,” playing loudly. The four of us in the car all just looked at each other, amazed that we were okay. We knew at that moment that God had saved us and were overjoyed.
Is it possible to have unshakeable faith? In Acts, we studied about the disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, sharing the good news of the resurrection to thousands. Even after they are arrested and warned not to speak about Jesus, they speak boldly to the chief priest and elders, and continue to testify when they return to their people. Earlier, when Jesus had been arrested and killed, these same disciples were deeply shaken and hid in fear. It is when they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, that their faith becomes unshakeable.
When I think about my own faith, I’m not sure if my faith has stood up well to the ‘earthquakes’ of life. I have grappled with doubts and questioned many aspects of my beliefs over the years. Being a pastor’s wife, it’s sometimes difficult to find a safe place to wrestle with doubts, to be vulnerable, to admit your shame of not being able to believe certain things. Recently though, I feel that God is telling me to let go of my shame because it causes me to look only inward. In Acts 2:25-28, Peter quoted David when he spoke to the people, saying, “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope…” God reminded me that as He has delivered me from my car accident and other trials of my life, He will continue to hold on to me through every earthquake. God wants to graciously give me an unshakeable faith amid my doubts and shame. So, let’s admit our fears to God and fix our gaze on Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith, and see what God will do.
July 2, 2023 | Sun Y.
Presently in our LifeGroups at L.A. Holiness, we are going through the book of Acts. The beginning of Acts talks a lot about the Holy Spirit and His power. As believers, we all have the Holy Spirit alive living inside of us. We are able to draw on His power and wisdom anytime, bringing glory to God. When the Holy Spirit descended onto the disciplines, with the power of the Holy Spirit, miracles and healings were performed by faith in Jesus’ name. New believers were increasing in number and faith was deepening. With this promise from the Lord, why do we still have this timid approach in our faith and prayer? In Matthew 17:20-21 it says, “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” A mustard seed is only 0.1 inch in size or 2.5mm. As we approach the throne of God, do we come with that kind of faith as small as a mustard seed? I think we tend to approach the throne with a lack of boldness because of the fear of looking foolish or the emotions and disappointment that follow if what we pray for does not come to completion. Is there a lack of faith that God still performs miracles and healings? When was the last time we witnessed that?
The all powerful God, who can do anything because nothing is impossible for Him, is waiting for us to ask and desires to show His power to bless us and increase our faith in Him as He accomplishes His plans. Many times in the bible God uses ordinary people to fulfill His plans. Just as the disciples in the book of Acts tapped into the power of the Holy Spirit, as they witnessed to the Jews and Gentiles, do we dare do the same so that God can be glorified, more will be saved and faith will be deepened? When fear and worries of the world descend upon us, are we blinded and forget that we have an all powerful loving God who can do more than we ask? As the prophet Elisha said to his servant in 2 Kings 6:16-17 as they were surrounded by Aram’s army, “‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’” And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” Let’s be encouraged and pray that our eyes will be opened.
June 25, 2023 | Sachiko M.
As an Elementary School Teacher, I get to see how young children get excited to learn. As I shared in one of the Call to Worships for service, my class got super excited when we hatched chicks from eggs. The excitement level went up tenfold. They wanted to sit by them, take pictures of them, and write comic books involving them. Many students told me or wrote a note saying something like; “Ms. Miyaji, you are the best teacher because you let us have lots of pets.” (We had a bearded dragon, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, silkworms, meal worms, caterpillars that turned into butterflies, etc.) Yes, the students consider the insects we observe as pets. Having living things spurred on excitement, learning, and doing.
How can we have the same kind of excitement for the Lord as these children do for learning? Maybe we need to be more like children.
In Mathew 18:2-3, it says “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” We need to humble ourselves. We need to be dependent on God like a child depends on his/her parents. Perhaps, we can immerse ourselves in God’s creation (like my students with all the living things) or His Word. I pray that each of us will be spurred on by the Holy Spirit to be child-like on our dependence on God as we do the Lord’s work.
June 18, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16
What an amazing thought that Jesus chose me. Jesus chose each of us. Though I might not have been picked to join the winning team in kickball at school, Jesus wants you and me to be on his team. Though we may not bring much to the team, Jesus wants us to be with him and experience his goodness. Being on God’s team isn’t about us because Jesus has already won and continues to lead us in His victory.
(16) “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit.” What is this fruit? The following verse reveals this. (17) This is my command: Love each other.” The fruit we are to bear is to love one another. If I am honest with myself, I am not a loving person and very selfish. Jesus did not start loving us when we finally had our act together, “he died for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Jesus equips us to be on his team by first forgiving us so that in turn, we can forgive others. Jesus is the one who has overwhelmingly loved us so that we are free to turn our attention away from ourselves and love others. Will we go to others and share the love that God has already poured out to the world?
(16) "—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." Maybe this needs to be our simple prayer today, “Jesus help me to go and love those around me as you have already loved them.” We need to listen to Jesus in how to show His love to them. Let's thank Jesus for his love for the world and share His love with those around us.
June 4, 2023 | John K.
One of the more puzzling verses in scripture is found in John 8: “… But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. (7) When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ (8) Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.”
What's the significance of this? Some say that he was writing the sins of the group in the dirt. Others suggest that he was writing out the 10 commandments in the dirt. We simply don't know.
One thing that we see in these actions is the respect and dignity he gave to the woman. This was a shameful moment. She was the focus of every man's accusation and judgment, except for one man. There was one man who did not look at her in a condemning way. The woman, instead of being the center of attention, now finds that Jesus' actions have taken the focus away from her and brought the focus on to himself. She, in a way, slips into the background of this emotionally charged moment.
"Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." The words "without sin" comes from a single word in the Greek language and is found only here in the New Testament. It means to be literally without fault, without error, without sin, without guilt. Jesus holds the mirror up, not to her, but up to these so-called righteous men. These men, so volatile! Breathing threats. Holding stones. Yelling that she must be judged, are suddenly quiet as the focus moves from her to Jesus.
That's the nature of God's word. It isn't provided so that we can easily see the sins and failings of others. It is provided so that we can see our need for forgiveness, for salvation, for a savior.
What did Jesus do here? By writing in the dirt, he took the focus away from the woman and brought it to himself. Isn't that so? And that is exactly what Jesus did at Calvary.
Our sin, the dirty vile things that we would be ashamed for anyone to see or to know about and those thoughts and attitudes that would bring us disgrace and shame if it were shown on the projection screen on Sunday morning. All of that, Jesus took the focus away from that and brought our attention to Calvary.
Like writing with his finger in the dust, Jesus took the eyes of condemnation and judgment away from us. “Where are those who condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."
May 21, 2023 | Jaime N.
This past Sunday was my first Mother’s Day without my mom. The weeks leading up to that day were a struggle. I found myself missing her more often and wishing to taste her cooking. I wanted to hear her laugh and her voice calling me, “JJ!” I felt a longing to give her a hug and to tell her how much I appreciated her. But those desires were not fulfilled, at least not on this side of eternity.
I cling onto my memories of her by looking at pictures and videos, going through her belongings, and decorating my house with her baskets and other shabby chic decor. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering things about her which are some of the hardest moments of my grief journey. I wish that I had written more things down like the advice she would give me for any random question I had or taken more pictures of the everyday dishes she would make so that I could remember her more vividly. If I had known that we would only have a year living together, I think I would have paid more attention to the things she said and made more opportunities to experience things together.
The fact of the matter is that we do not know when God will call us home. If we were to live our lives knowing this, how would our lives be different? I’d like to think that we would be more gracious and understanding with one another. Things that would normally make us angry may not seem like such a big deal in the bigger picture. We would focus more on the things that truly matter. Perhaps we would be more willing to take steps of faith and make the most of our opportunities as it says in Colossians 4:5 and 6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” I hope this encourages us to be bold for Christ and be generous with the love we have been given.
May 14, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
"to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:19
Did you know we live in the year of the LORD’s favor? Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, "to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). When God sent Jesus, this was the beginning of the year of the LORD’s favor. This phrase points to "the year of Jubilee" found in Leviticus 25, where slaves were set free; all debts canceled; all property sold were returned to their original owners; and the land rested. The implication was that all the mistakes and bad decisions that turned people into slaves would be redeemed, every debt forgiven, and people restored to their original status as freed people.
Why did this year of redemption happen? Because God, the Master and Savior, lovingly decided to free his people from the dominating power of Egypt. Jesus came to redeem his people from the slavery of sin and pay the debt of our sins to make us holy and righteous. This "year of Jubilee" began when Jesus came to earth. All those who put their faith in Jesus are set free. You are no longer a slave to sin, fears, anger, and addictions. Jesus set us free from our shame and guilt. Are you living in His freedom? Are you living in His joy? Let’s ask God to fill us with His Spirit so that we can experience the depth of His favor. Let's thank God for sending His son to bring us His freedom. Let's enjoy the year of the LORD's favor.
May 7, 2023 | James T.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” -
Joshua 1:9 ESV
When I was seven years old, I lost my grandfather to cancer. I remember thinking at his funeral that the most quintessential figure in my life was gone. I lost interest attending church because he wouldn’t be around to take me anymore. For the next couple of years, I lived in fear without having a fatherly figure around.
In Joshua 1:1-9, Moses has died and God tells Joshua to cross the Jordan river with the people. “I’m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on—just as I promised Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon east to the Great River, the Euphrates River—all the Hittite country—and then west to the Great Sea. It’s all yours. All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you. In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul.”
I love this passage so much because Joshua is told to lead the people despite Moses’ presence being gone. No man is indispensable, yet God’s work goes uninterrupted. God repeatedly reminds us as He did with Joshua, to be strong and courageous for He is with us. This passage hits deeply as its allowed me to let fear go and I’ll be okay with my grandfather’s passing. I later rekindled my relationship with God in college and found others to look up to in life, but I’ll never forget my grandpa. Recently, I got hired by Delta Air Lines as an aircraft mechanic. I pursued the exact same occupation my grandfather did and made it to a major airline just as he did with American Airlines. When I checked into the hotel room for my Delta training in Atlanta, I couldn’t help but think of him. I knew he would be proud, but I knew he would be prouder for me to continue God’s work. What are some things you can think of where you may need strength or courage?
April 30, 2023 | Carol K.
Recently, my office required us to take Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI training in the effort to promote the fair treatment and full participation of all employees. This training focuses on the treatment of various groups who have historically been under-represented and subject to discrimination in the workplace.
Truthfully, I was not looking forward to taking the training, but as I was watching the video it resonated with me in many ways, particularly on the concept of “micro-aggressions.” Microaggressions happen every day and are brief and subtle comments or actions which make people feel excluded, stereotyped, or inferior, among other things. They can be verbal or nonverbal, conscious, or unconscious, but over time, can do great harm because they are often invisible and overlooked. We all have likely experienced some form of microaggressions throughout our lives. Perhaps it was the time you felt ignored in a group setting or were overlooked to join an event because you did not “fit in”, or pigeonholed and asked to perform a certain task simply because of your gender.
We can be agents of change for God’s kingdom when we see these kinds of things happening to others. One of the ways we can intervene is to become an ally and speak out on behalf of a fellow brother or sister. We can also be conscious of “group-think” or the tendency to support thoughts and opinions because they come from the majority. It’s not easy or comfortable to go against the grain, but we can either make the choice to be a bystander, or an ally for real change in His kingdom.
Small gestures like offering a smile, a handshake, or an invitation to sit at a meal together can make a huge difference in making someone feel validated and valued. Let’s be active witnesses for God and pass on the love that He has poured on us, to others.
“We love because He first loved us.” - 1 John 4:19
April 23, 2023 | Garrett N.
Growing up, Founders’ Day was just another Sunday to me. It was the time of year when I’d receive a different colored offering envelope in my church program that was collected to help retired pastors with their pension fund. It was a time of year when the chairperson would pray for current and former pastors and their families, thanking God for their commitment and many years of service to the Lord. But that was essentially it. For context, I grew up attending a sister church in the Holiness Conference and so Founders’ Day wasn’t really a big deal. It wasn’t until I started attending LA Holiness Church when I developed a fondness for Founders’ Day and a deeper appreciation for our church’s rich history.
It’s been 102 years since a small group of young Christians from Japan with a love of God met together to study the Bible and pray for the salvation of the Japanese people in Los Angeles. But what always struck me was that it took just 5 young people who devoted themselves to God’s word, prayer, and fellowship; and God grew that ministry into 16 churches spread across California, Hawaii and Arizona that are actively impacting countless lives today. Coincidentally, we will be studying the book of Acts in our next LifeGroup series where there are remarkable similarities between the early Christian church and our church conference history.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
This Sunday, April 23, 2023, we celebrate Founders’ Day, a day to remember and thank the Lord for His faithfulness to our church and the OMS Holiness Conference of North America. Founders’ Day has now become a Sunday I look forward to … not just because of the delicious and incredible variety of food that’s served at the joint potluck luncheon, but because it’s a chance to worship together with our brothers and sisters from the Japanese-speaking congregation and hear stories about our faithful followers of Jesus that started our church conference. If you are unfamiliar with our history, I encourage you to check out a more detailed history of our church at our website and watch the 5-minute video that was put together for our centennial celebration. Can’t wait to celebrate and worship with you all on Sunday at Founders’ Day!
April 16, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
You are Only One Obedience Away From Experiencing Jesus Today
On Easter, we learned that Jesus was true to his words. Jesus foretold that he would suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, be killed, and rise again on the third day. Jesus was not only fully human but also fully God. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, receiving the fullness of God’s wrath for us so that we could receive the fullness of His righteousness and receive his blessing. Easter reminds us of our Lord and Savior's love.
We also learned that Jesus meets us in unexpected ways when we obey him. John 8:31-32 says, To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When we obey Jesus (hold to his teaching), we will personally experi-ence Jesus (we will know the truth), who is the truth. Mary obeyed the angel to tell the disciples that Jesus rose from the dead and she met Jesus unexpectedly. Likewise, when the disciples obeyed the angel to go to Galilee, they also met Jesus. When we think about this, we are all one obedience away from personally experiencing Jesus firsthand. Will you stop to listen to what Jesus may be asking you to do today? God invites us to experience more of our resurrected Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
April 9, 2023 | Donna M.
Every year on Easter Sunday I have always done the same thing. I go to church early for the fabulous Easter Breakfast, stay for the Easter worship service while we praise the Lord. After church I would go to a family gathering and eat a lot of food - scarfing it down! It's always a festive day but I always get so lost in the thrill of the day's activities, that the main reason gets lost. Jesus is the reason for this Easter season - it ain’t just for Christmas anymore!
Baby Jesus was born on Christmas Day. When he became a man, he was later crucified on that cross for us on Good Friday, and rose on the 3rd day on Sunday! This was God's only Son sent to save us from our sins. and to give us eternal life through His resurrection! What a price to pay for our terrible sins!
Won't you take some time to thank our Lord Jesus for all that he has done for us? Make Him a part of your gatherings with family and friends. He loves us so much. I think sometimes we forget that His love for us is so amazing! Remember Him and thank Him as you celebrate this Easter holiday and throughout the year. Pray as you continue to remember Him as you grow in your relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have a blessed Easter as we remember Him!
April 2, 2023 | Hilary E.
Is There a Cure for a Slow Heart?
How many times in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John does Jesus call people out for not having faith? It’s a frequent occurrence in the Gospels, and Jesus did it a lot post-resurrection, including in the last chapter of Luke (chapter 24). Having faith and believing should be easy, right? But, since we are only human, it is a constant struggle to hold onto that faith and keep believing in what we do not see.
I have a hard time remembering sermons, but every once in a while I will recall a blip here or there from specific sermons. One such sermon is from when we were walking through Luke at LA Holiness Church, and I clearly remember Seigo’s sermon from Luke 24 — when the two men are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday. So, here I am now in Hawai’i and I will be preaching for the first time in a few years on April 16th, the first Sunday after Easter this year. As I was praying, asking God for what I should speak about, He kept reminding me of Luke 24. Today I want to specifically address Luke 24:25-27, where Jesus says to the men walking to Emmaus, “… ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe (the original Greek uses the phrase “Slow of Heart”) all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?‘ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (NIV) There is an article from *OpenTheBible.org, I found back in 2016 called “From Slow of Heart to Burning Hearts” by Kristin Wetherell. In it, Kristin talks about going through dry and lonely spells in our faith and gives three steps to combat such times in our lives: Believe in the Gospel; Wait on Jesus; and Remember God’s Faithfulness.
While living in Kansas, I was under a 5-year dry spell, and I often felt forgotten — that I was people’s second choice. Just like how the two men in Luke had high hopes when Jesus entered Jerusalem so triumphantly just a week prior — believing that Jesus had come to fulfill every prophecy — I had high hopes for ministry when I left Seminary and Los Angeles. But I kept feeling like whatever efforts I had put forward to follow God’s calling were thwarted by an unseen force. I became “slow of heart” and “foolish.” I became stuck, unable to see Christ walking with me during much of that time, just wallowing in unbelief.
With my Dad having lost his pastoral position at the church in Kansas, everyone in my family was forced to make some painful choices. Jonathan went back to school in Chicago, my parents entered into early retirement, and my choices eventually led to quitting my job at the newspaper and moving to Hawai’i. In this giant and risky move, I’ve had to heavily lean on my faith. My prayer has changed from “Help me” to, “Turn my unbelief into belief” (Mark 9:23-24, Jesus heals a possessed boy). Even here in Luke along the road to Emmaus, these two men are struggling to believe. With everything going on in life, each of us will have seasons in life where it is extremely hard to believe.
To change our slow hearts, we need to believe in the Gospel and in the promises of God. Isn’t it ironic that the answer to unbelief is believing? We just need to turn to the Bible, read its words and we will know. We will know God’s faithfulness, the suffering of Christ and the help we have in the Holy Spirit. Since moving to Hawai’i, I’m learning to believe again. I know that once my slow heart has turned into a burning one, I will break bread with Jesus and know that He has been with me this entire time. That is my prayer for you: May your unbelief be turned into belief; May you know that you are not alone in whatever season you are in; and May your hearts burn for Christ.
March 26, 2023 | Lillian S.
“‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him’ (I Corinthians 2:9). What does this verse mean to you? How might a day lived with the awareness of eternal life change the way you act and think throughout that day?”
This reflection question at the end of the first chapter of a recently purchased book had the phrase “awareness of eternal life” that caught my attention. These days we’re aware of so many things but eternal life may not be one of them. These other things shape our thoughts, perspectives, and even actions. Likewise, as Christians, what we focus on and what we put our minds to affects the way we think and live.
I remember a professor at Tokyo Biblical Seminary asking his students what they would focus on when they became pastors. Students gave great answers, but one response was memorable to me. A single mother and former elementary school teacher studying to become a pastor replied, “Heaven, I’m looking to heaven!”
Students were surprised.
Everyone knew that her simple but profound answer encompassed gratitude for God’s grace, a life with eyes fixed on Christ Jesus and devoted to keeping a relationship with him, and a life lived out one day at a time guided by the Holy Spirit. Of course, you don’t need to be a minister to have that answer. It’s merely a result of having been saved by the blood of Jesus and receiving his love. Paul writes to the Colossians (3:1), “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven…” (NLT).
The author of this book says, “Think of heaven more as relationship with God than a place.” He also says, “That’s what we are called to, faith that transcends the world of space and time and an ever-deepening trust in the God of eternal things.”
A day lived with the awareness of eternal life in today’s context is waiting to see what God has prepared for those who love him. We can trust him daily through the intense moments and the mundane things of life, and he will reveal more of his nature to us.
What an adventure that is! “Heaven, I’m looking to heaven!”
David C. Long, The Quest for Holiness: From Casual Conviction To Courageous Faith (Franklin, Tennessee: Seedbed Publishing, 2020)
March 19, 2023 | Dale O.
I used to teach ESL in Japan, however I returned to the US in 2012 to take care of my elderly mom. At the time, she was in her mid-eighties and still quite independent. She went to the gym everyday to exercise and socialize, served at her church (our sister church in OC) with the nichigo, did daily gardening, went grocery shopping, took classes, regularly read scripture/informational books, did house cleaning, and made home-cooked meals for me.
My caregiving duties were limited to filing mom's tax returns, vacuuming, hiring contractors for home repair projects, and perhaps washing/drying dishes (I can cook, but my Issei mom's domain was always the kitchen). In the past 3 years as mom has become frail and has declined cognitively, my caregiving duties have increased to the point where I am doing a lot of the things that mom did before, as well as making sure she eats properly and takes her medications.
While it is sad to see mom's physical and mental decline, I am grateful that I can help make her golden years as comfortable and pain-free as possible. And despite the mental/physical fatigue that comes with caregiving, I am grateful that I can provide the care and support for her that she has provided me with throughout my life.
Here, I am reminded of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Though caregiving for mom has its challenges, I am humbled that this experience has helped me develop a greater sense of compassion, patience, and resourcefulness. I am also truly thankful that as God has called me into service to care for mom, He has also provided me with an example on how to age well through mom's own life. As I reflect on mom's habits of serving others and keeping busy through daily activities, I can see how such purposeful things have helped to keep her healthy through most of her eighties. I am inspired to follow her lead and live in a similar manner.
March 12, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” - Romans 1:16
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because there is nothing evil about what God has done. God sent His son, Jesus, the perfect one, through His death and resurrection, justice for all the wickedness we committed. For those who believe in Jesus are made right with God. What God did for us is completely good.
The irony is that people will shame those who believe in the goodness of God. People can ridicule and abuse those who believe in Jesus as their LORD and Savior. Why would people shame those who trust in such a loving God? I believe as Romans 1:21 explains, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Instead of seeing the goodness of God, their minds have become darkened and unable to understand the truth. Jesus also states in John 3:20 that, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”
I appreciate what David shared this past Sunday. That we need to pray that the eyes of those who don’t know God will open to see the kindness of God. God is good to everyone. Many are just spiritually blind. James 5:16 states that, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Those who believe in Jesus as their personal LORD and Savior are righteous. Therefore, the prayers of every Christian are powerful and effective. The question is what will you pray for? Will you pray that your friends, loved ones, and enemies will see the truth of God and no longer be blind? Will you pray that we will see the beauty of the gospel? How He continues to reveal his power for the salvation of everyone who believes? Will you pray that we will not be ashamed of the gospel? Will you pray? I pray you do.
March 5, 2023 | Chris T.
This past week we started the latest sessions of LifeGroups. We typically read the passage for the upcoming Sunday’s message. By that Sunday we have thoroughly digested and meditated on that scripture and have had time listen to what the Holy Spirit has to tell us personally. It’s rewarding to hear things we may have already taken to heart but also to learn what more God had to reveal to us. With that in mind, I’m going to share some highlights brought up by members of the LifeGroup I attended this past week on Romans 1:17-32.
God’s Wrath. In our collective experiences, we often don’t hear messages preached about God’s Wrath. We hear messages preaching on God’s love and the gospel, but not often the “fire and brimstone” type emphasizing God’s wrath against godlessness and wickedness. In this passage, even though the people knew who God was, they suppressed the truth by their wickedness and “exchanged the truth about God for a lie”. So then in vs 26, “God gave them over to their sinful desires of their hearts, their shameful lusts and their depraved minds.” God yielded and gave them the right to choose. The people then descended further into evil and sinned in every possible way. They left God and verse 32 tells us “that those who do such things deserve death”, so God left them as part of His wrath. It was brought up this makes us appreciate and glorify God so much more for His righteousness, love and the grace He extends to us!
The prevalence of sin in our society today. This passage discusses many of the depravities that are common place even in our society today. There are many people today who can say they are wise and know who God is, but by their actions they act as fools. They have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” by putting their desires first and as a result, evil and chaos is so prevalent today. As followers of Christ, it is important for us to stay obedient and often to “speak into the chaos” with the truth of God’s word. This might be difficult as it may result in ridicule, but we were reminded not to be ashamed of the gospel for it brings salvation.
These are just a couple of the points of our discussion in LifeGroups. I’m sure the Holy Spirit has given Pastor Rick different ideas to share with the congregation on Sunday and also each LifeGroup had different areas of emphasis and interpretations in their meetings this past week. That is what makes the Word of God so rich. It speaks to us so differently and it is rewarding to be in a small group where we can hear and discuss each other’s understandings. This is part of the joy of attending a LifeGroup! So, if you haven’t done so, join one this week.
February 26, 2023 | David L.
"No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'" - Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting Amos 5:24 in his "I Have a Dream" speech
This past month, I had the opportunity to visit Atlanta with a bunch of my friends. Besides eating a lot of fried chicken (which Atlanta is famous for), trying out over forty different Coca-Cola products from around the world, and utterly failing at kicking field goals at the College Football Hall of Fame, perhaps the most meaningful place we went to was the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a museum dedicated to the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the modern fight for human rights on all fronts. Atlanta, after all, was the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as an important mobilization hub for the Civil Rights Movement.
As I wandered among the different exhibits and presentations, I was struck by how important the Christian faith was to that movement. Dr. King, of course, was a reverend at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his writings are permeated with the influence of the long-suffering Christ who sides with the oppressed. One particular exhibition was all about the March on Washington, and as I read his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, this particular line caught my eye: "I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive." (emphasis mine)
It is really this point that challenges me most as a fledgling pastor, that there are times where I may have to challenge others to suffer, and suffer creatively—both in the sense of suffering in unprecedented ways, and in ways that create a new redemptive reality. It flies against the face of our self-protective instinct and our unwillingness to pursue promises that might not be seen in our own lifetime. How do we grow the faith to live a life of creative suffering?
At the same time, I wrestled with the irony that the segregationists and white supremacists would have firmly called themselves Christians. The young men who poured coffee and mustard on the heads of those doing sit-ins, the police chief named Theophilus ("loved by God") who sicced dogs and ordered fire hoses on protestors, the jeerers who heaped their rage on children in integrating schools, the Klansmen who bombed black churches—they saw segregation as a way of life that God sanctioned, even intended for humanity. Only seeing such a way of life as sacred could have enabled them to be such creative inflictors of suffering. To such a people, unearned "suffering"—really the loss of power and privilege—had no redemption behind it.
It is my hope that the discipleship our church has to offer will teach us to bear and to heal suffering rather than inflict it, to seek out and reach out to sufferers rather than keep them suppressed, and to react in ways that stop systemic cycles of hatred and enmity rather than perpetuate them!
February 19, 2023 | Brian L.
"Who is the GOAT?"
As his fade away jumper swished through the net and the game was paused to recognize this monumental personal achievement, everyone at Staples Center (I can’t get used to calling it Crypto.com Arena) and the world had to acknowledge that Lebron James is finally the greatest scorer in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s previous record was held for almost 40 years, and Lebron’s record may and probably will hold for all time from an earthly perspective. Because of this great achievement, some would argue that King James is the NBA’s GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).
On occasions, Jesus’ disciples argued over which one of them was the greatest. Even the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked Jesus to permit her sons to sit on the right and left of His throne in His kingdom which angered the other disciples. How did Jesus define who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He alluded to this answer in several of His parables and teachings. Jesus said, “. . .whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:26b-27). “So the last will be first, and first will be last.”
I don’t know how the hierarchy of heaven will work, and in all fairness, I will be happy just to have an entrance pass. I don’t believe there will be jealousy or animosity among the righteous who dwell in God’s kingdom. All I know is this: how we live today impacts how Jesus will treat us eternally. Being the least means to clothe ourselves in humility and live in a manner that is contradictory to our human nature. Are we willing to treat and love others and think highly of them more than ourselves? Are we willing to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs? Are we willing to follow in the footsteps of Christ who made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant?
We serve God and others not because we are jockeying for position in the kingdom of God, but because we genuinely cannot thank God enough for His mercy and grace. Our hearts cannot fully express our gratitude and love to God, but we can try through our acts of worship and service all motivated and fueled by love. One opportunity to express love to God and to others is to prayerfully consider joining this year’s Baja Team that will spend the week of Memorial Day to build a home for a deserving family in Mexico. No skill criteria or qualification is needed; just a willing heart that is eager to serve God and serve others is required. Maybe it is no coincidence that the word for low in Spanish is “baja”.
February 12, 2023 | Pr. Michael Furuyama
“Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes” - Proverbs 27:20 (NIV). Just as death is never satisfied and is always hungry for more to con- sume, the bible teaches that eyes are never satisfied. This is so true, especially in our day and age, where many look to YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Netflix, or whatever app you use to see the spectacular or watch an intriguing story. We long to connect with something greater than ourselves or escape the pressures or pain we carry inside. The problem is that our eyes are never satisfied; therefore, we watch one more episode or video and still feel discontent.
Who wants to find satisfaction in life? I know I do. Our theme verse for this year is, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” - Psalms 37:4. Delight means to be deeply satisfied. God is inviting us to find satisfaction, not from something made in this world, but to find satisfaction that is out of this world. Our hunger isn’t truly physical like what we see or eat, but our hunger is more spiritual in nature, so we need something spiritual. The good news is that God offers himself to us. God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” - Exodus 34:6-7. Will you take time today and satisfy your spiritual hunger? Deuteronomy 8:3 explains a purpose for hunger; “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” Perhaps the point of our hunger for social media is our true longing for God.
February 5, 2023 | Mary & Ken T.
In the 1930s and 1940s, my parents had a grocery store in Los Angeles on 12th Street and Union Ave. In the early 1940s, I attended a Japanese Catholic School. The school bus picked me up and brought me home each day. Since I was born on Christmas day, and named “Mary,” I was often selected to present flowers to her statute. When I was in Jr. High, I was asked to take classes in preparation for baptism and I was unsure and made the decision to attend a Christian church with my jr. high friends in Lil’ Tokyo.
My Sunday School teacher was Mr. Fukui (the mortuary owner) and our youth leader was Miss Fukui (his sister) and when we went on outings, we rode in the hearse and sat on the railings that held the coffin. We loved the people’s reaction of the places we went (horseback riding, roller skating, movies, etc) when the hearse drove up to the locations and we all piled out from the back.
Years later, my parents (John Masao and Kiyoko Nakano – Nichigo) started attending LA Holiness through an invitation of a friend. Kenny, Lisa and Lance and I decided to join them so that we could be at the same church. The first person I met was Mrs. Michi M.. I joined her in child care in the basement and played the piano for the children’s church. I remember Alric Oishi was the biggest “infant” I had ever seen!
Rennie Mau came to LAH Church as a seminary intern and Rev. Akira Kuroda asked Kenny and I to work together with Rennie and his wife Linda to form a children’s choir. This was the beginning of “LA Holiness Children’s Choir.” Rennie was a magician! We started with weekend and overnight music camps and produced musicals (“Joseph”) with background props and costumes made by parents. The parents also made each member’s singing uniforms. We presented musicals and concerts at our sister churches.
WLA Holiness members joined us in 1992, led by Bonnie and Paul N. and later, a few members from our South Bay church joined us as well. Soon we were having presentations at our SoCal and NorCal Holiness Churches, and special presentations which included the JEMS Christmas Program at the Japan American Theater in Lil’ Tokyo; the “Love to Nippon” Japan Earthquake Memorial Event at LAPD Civic Auditorium, and the Japanese Consulate General Izuru Shimura’s residence in 2013. The Lil’ Folks choir began in 2012 for younger children which prepared them for the LA Holiness Youth Choir (LAHYC).
The choir traveled to Japan five times (2012 included SoBay, West Covina and WLA), Brazil three times (2008-2013), once to Las Vegas Holiness (2009) and once to Ghana, Africa Orphanage (2014). Each trip was usually for 3 weeks. We translated songs in Japanese and Portuguese and most of the choreography was created by Bonnie N.. Scheduling the required shots and physicals, obtaining visas and passports and taking care of all the equipment and belongings was a major task.
The choir members raised funds for all the activities and mission trips through monthly newspaper and aluminum can drives, yard sales, car washes and coffee hours; and also, “Servants for the Day” projects which included yard work, tree trimming and preparing empty houses for sale.
Through the rehearsals, weekend camps and mission trips, it definitely felt like we were a real family. During the mission trips, the choir members were divided into a group of five members and a leader was selected from each group. The group leaders took attendance of their group each time we assembled or entered the bus or train. We took additional choir parents to assist us with cooking meals, washing clothes and taking care of any mild illnesses incurred by a choir member.
Thanks goes to Lance, Nathan and Val O. and Ruth T. for all they contributed. The memories are priceless and always warms our hearts when we look at past pictures and remember the friendships and lifetime memories God created for all of us. We were more than abundantly blessed.
January 29, 2023 | Shirley Y.
After many years, we finally had our Family Camp last year in November, and I was so happy and excited to have the opportunity to get together as a church family and have fun. As we were planning this event, I was asked if I could be in charge of crafts on Saturday during free time, and I agreed. Since I have been making the cards for our Dash of Love Program, I thought this would be something I could have others create as well. During our craft time at family camp, we all had a wonderful time of crafting and fellowship, but in the back of my mind, I was a bit sad. Many of our senior members did not attend our family camp, and I was hoping to share this time with them. I just thought, maybe next year.
Then in a message, Pastor Michael mentioned the importance of having fellowship with one another. I felt that this was God speaking to me about having a fellowship time with our seniors and retirees to show how much they are loved. As a result, I decided to have a Craft Day with these special individuals. With Sue being gracious enough to open up her home to host this event, we had our Craft Day early in December. I invited a few of our seniors and retirees, and we were able to have a gathering of five crafters, Sue, Ann, Yumi, Val, and Janet. My plan was to have everyone make two Christmas cards and two chocolate crafts that could be given as gifts. They were also provided the opportunity to make birthday, thank you or sympathy cards. I enjoyed watching everyone’s creativity emerge and the pride they had after their projects were completed.
The time of fellowship that we spent together was filled with laughter and sharing various stories of the past. We have known each other for a number of decades, and we ended up talking about old times. It is amazing how God brought us all together, regardless of the age differences, and we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. Age did not make a difference. I felt God’s love through everyone that attended, and everyone seemed to truly enjoy themselves.
We plan to have about three or four Craft Days this year. I pray that this will not only be a time of laughter, but it will be a time to lift each other up during times of struggling. Then we can use this opportunity to pray for each other and show the love of Christ through our actions.
”Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 2:1-5
January 22, 2023 | Emma T.
This year, Winter Vision 2023 was cancelled the day before we were supposed to leave for camp. Due the huge storm hitting California, streets were blocked by trees and a power outage hit the camp grounds we were supposed to be attending. I had taken on a new role this year as NorCal Dean of Women, recruiting cabin leaders, training them on cabin leading, and helping run camp. I was extremely excited for camp to not only be in person for the first time in ~3 years, but also to serve in a new capacity and see what the Lord had in store for me. It was really disappointing to have camp cancelled because I was so excited and had expectations that it would happen in person this year. I felt frustrated that all the work was for nothing.
On Wednesday, before I found out camp was cancelled, I was preparing some encouragement for the cabin leaders. I ended up spending time reading Hebrews 6:10 “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.” Initially, I thought about how this can encourage cabin leaders if they felt discouraged if they didn’t see spiritual growth in the time they spent with their kids or their cabins were not going as expected in general. However, looking back, God was already preparing my heart with spiritual truths to reconcile the disappoint that came with camp being cancelled. He reminded me that God sees the efforts we put into furthering His kingdom, whether or not others see it or it leads to anything on this earth. He wants us to continue to love Him and love and help His people no matter what the reward on earth is, because He will surely not forget our work when we are rewarded with being reunited with God in heaven.
January 8, 2023 | Rick C.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful time celebrating the birth of Jesus and then ushering in 2023. As I get older, I’m starting to feel a bit ambivalent towards the start of a new year, mainly because it only reminds me of my mortality. Lol. So this got me thinking about a few things as I prepared to start the new year.
I took some time this past Christmas Eve to thank God for various things that happened in my life. In May of last year, I found out that I had polyps in my stomach. I was grateful for the church praying for me, and thankfully the biopsy came back benign.
This past August, I had major surgery for the first time in my life when I had a compound fracture and broke both bones in my forearm. Thankfully, there was an excellent orthopedic surgeon at the Mammoth hospital who inserted two plates and 11 screws to patch me right back up. I was thankful it happened at Mammoth (a ski resort with patients who break their bones, even though I did it while fishing), and so grateful for Kathy who took care of me as I waited in the ER for my surgery that day.
In November, I was finally able to go back to Japan for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Being in Japan was so life-giving and renewed my passion as to why I work at JEMS. The most memorable and enjoyable moments spent in Japan were just being able to see the missionaries and friends that I hadn’t seen in a while.
As I reflected back on these things on Christmas Eve, I came away with these few thoughts that will influence how I will live in 2023. I will turn 60 in August (YIKES!), so it reminds me of the brevity of life. I’ve also come to realize that I have a lot of junk in my life, well actually in my house. I decided I really need to think about how I spend my money since once I die, one, I can’t take it with me, and two, someone has to get rid of it.
These two realities made me realize that time is a precious commodity, especially when you know it’s winding down. But given that reality, spending time with people by using my finances will drive my spending habits into 2023. It only reinforced what I knew was important to Jesus, which was “love God,” since our time here on earth is short and when we die, we will spend eternity with Him. But also, “love others/ neighbors,” since enjoying and impacting others with the love of Christ has the potential to make an eternal impact.
As we start 2023, what are your priorities? Why do you have them? Will those priorities impact eternity? May we live our lives with eternity in mind.
January 1, 2023 | Stanny O.
Then he (the criminal) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” -
This is one of my all-time favorite Bible passages. In my heart of hearts, I’m a procrastinator. I have to work very hard to fight against this tendency. But what I love about this passage is this: even at the very last second as Jesus was DYING, in agonizing pain from all his wounds and injuries, sleep deprived, hungry, thirsty and carrying the sins of all humankind on his shoulders, He had such compassion on that criminal that He forgave him even in His dying breathes and told him he would join Him in heaven!
What does this tell us about God? It tells me that God is compassionate, merciful and forgiving, since He is the very One who sent Jesus that we might all be given eternal life with Him. This also tells me that if we repent, even at the last second before we take our last breath, God is willing to invite us into His heavenly home! This man knew he was a sinner, yet I know he’s in heaven! That fact is so amazing to me.
Talk about the 11th hour, the just in the nick of time, the fourth and goal and the buzzer beater? These two simple verses tell me God is willing to take me back, no matter what, even if it’s at the last second! But that criminal had one thing we may not get; he had a few hours before he knew he was going to die. We may not get that luxury.
Take this time to pray and repent to God. It doesn’t mater if you’ve turned away from God for years or even 10 minutes. Ask for forgiveness and return back to Him.