Kochi Kaganoi Christian Church Pastor (Paul) Hitoshi Fukue 2012/02/19 Message
Arise, Come Along
This is a sermon preached at a Filipino Fellowship in Noichi, Kochi Pref on Feb. 19, 2012. Hope you enjoy hearing this inspirational message. Pastor Paul Fukue
Be Still, and Know that I am God!
Be Still and Know that I am God! (Psalm 46)
Pastor Paul shares his heart of faith with English speakers here in Kochi. This particular meeting is at one of the homes of Filipino friends in Tosayamada, Kochi Pref. Enjoy the message!
The Fragrance of Christ
Kochi Kaganoi Christian Church Pastor:(Paul) Hitoshi Fukue 2009/05/03 Message
When God Closes Doors
Scripture passage: Acts 16:6-10
When my wife and I first moved to Manila to teach there, we had a hard time to learn our ways around the city. Every time we went out by car, we got lost. One time we were in the heart of Manila and we were completely lost. We found ourselves in a huge open market in the evening surrounded by hundreds of people and vehicles. We couldn’t either move forward or backward. We had no idea where in the world we were. We quickly learned, derecho, kanan, kaliwa, meaning straight, right and left. But three words didn’t take us very far. We went into the twentieth gasoline station to ask the way. The road we wanted to get on was called Ortigas Avenue. I asked the man at the gasoline station desperately, “Could you tell me where is Ortigas Avenue?” The man said, “Ortigas Avenue? This is Ortigas Avenue right here!” pointing at the street we were already on. I felt something dropped from my shoulder. I almost worshipped the Lord right there.
Come to think of it, our life is a series of trying to find which way we ought to go. And we sometimes face hard decisions in life that have impact on the rest of our lives. Today I would like to look at the Scripture and learn what is the scriptural truth about life’s decision makings.
This little passage in the 16th chapter of the Book of Acts gives us a vital council as we seek God’s will for our lives. The apostle Paul and his companions are on their second mission journey in Asia Minor, modern Turkey. They have been visiting churches in different towns which they had founded on their first mission journey. They were trying to encourage the believers and strengthen them in their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul and his team were also hoping to explore new places to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ. They wanted to go deeper into the province of Asia Minor but the Scripture says, they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” This expression seemed strange to me for sometime. How could the Holy Spirit prevent them from preaching the good news of Jesus Christ? I thought God would always encourage Christians to preach the gospel under any circumstances. But as we continue to read this passage, we discover a similar expression. When Paul and his team wanted to go to another province called Bithynia, the Scripture says, “but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” Again this appeared strange to me. Why would the Spirit of Jesus not allow Christian workers to go into a new area to bring the good news of salvation? After all, did not the resurrected Jesus say to the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”? Why would the Spirit of Jesus then do something contrary to what He said to his disciples? This was a puzzle to me.
But as we continue reading this passage, we find something quite extraordinary. Not being able to go into the provinces they desired, Paul and his companions went down to the coastal town of Troas and stayed there for a while. While they were staying there, Paul saw a dream one night. In that dream a man from Macedonia was standing and begging him saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After pondering on this dream, Paul felt that it was the voice from the Lord. And they decided to get on the boat and cross the sea over to Greece where Macedonia is to preach the gospel there. Over this passage, one commentator says, “Authentic turning points in history are not many. But surely among them this Macedonian vision ranks the highest. Because of Paul’s obedience to the vision, the gospel was extended to the westward and ultimately to Europe and later the entire Western world was evangelized.” This indeed was a turning point in world history. But little did Paul know then how much impact his decision had upon the world history.
Looking at this passage, we learn that God not only opens doors, but He also closes doors sometimes. Jesus said, “Knock, and it will be opened.” But we need to learn that the Spirit of Jesus sometimes closed doors in our life. More concretely speaking, we sometimes encounter such circumstances in life that we cannot go on as before. External circumstances prohibit us to go on in the same way. Pressure of circumstances forces us to change the direction of our life. We need to learn that God not only opens doors but also closes the doors. This is what we find in this passage. But that is not all. Paul was thinking that it was his mission to evangelize Asia Minor all the time. He was devoting his whole attention and energy in Asia Minor. But after months of searching the will of God, he finally came to realize that what God had in mind was radically larger than what he was thinking. Paul had to expand his entire frame of mind. He realized that God wanted him to cross over to Greece, a totally new territory for his ministry. Herein we see a truth that when God closes doors, He has a special plan for us. When God closes doors upon our life, He has a definite purpose for our future. God wants to lead us to a totally new sphere of ministry, a new quality of life, a radically new beginning in our life. That is the reason for God to close doors in our life sometimes.
Just as a shepherd leads his flock of sheep by preventing them from going toward certain areas in order to guide them to a pasture to provide them fresh green grass and a spring of fresh water, the Holy Spirit was leading Paul and his companions in their mission journey. The Psalmist says in the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.” God knows what he is doing with his children. His promise in the Scripture is an eternal truth. God says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This is the plans God has for you and me. Therefore when God closes doors, He has special plans for us, plans to give you hope and a future.
As a matter of fact, the Bible is full of illustrations that testify to this truth from the beginning to the end. Think of the life of Moses in the Book of Exodus. The young Moses one day saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Moses wanted to defend the Hebrew and out of his youthful anger, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in sand. The next day he saw two Hebrews fighting. Out of his youthful indignation again Moses questioned one of them, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses got scared hearing this. He thought nobody knew about it. But soon even the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, learned about that incident and tried to kill Moses. Now Moses had no place to stay in the entire country of Egypt. He only wanted to protect and stand by Hebrews, his own people. But all the doors were closed before him and Moses had no choice but flee to outside the country in the land called Midian. All the doors were closed upon this vigorous young man Moses. He had to live hidden in the land of Midian for many years until God spoke to him to save His people from the burden of Egypt. God in fact had been preparing Moses all those years to be the leader who could lead His people out of Egypt into the promise land of Cannan. Moses had no idea of such an enormous task when he fled Egypt as a fugitive. But God had a special plan for Moses, a grand plan that affected the lives of so many people for many centuries even to this day. There was a divine purpose when God closed the doors upon Moses in Egypt. When God closes doors, He has special plans.
Let us look at another illustration in the Bible. Going back all the way to the last Book of the Bible, the Revelation, we see there again such a testimony. We are told that the writer of the Revelation is the apostle John exiled to a small island called Patmos off the coast of Asia Minor. He was persecuted and exiled to this isolated island. He was deprived of his freedom, his comfort, his fellowship, his family, his all. All the doors were closed upon him. But there on that isolated lonely island, John received the revelation of hope from the living Christ, revelation that has impacted the whole world these two thousand years and will continue to do so as long as the world exists. When all the doors were closed upon him, the most earth shaking revelation was given to him that impacted the whole world for eternity. John would have never dreamed of such a thing when he was persecuted and exiled to this island. But in all things God works for good to those who love Him, and called according to His purposes. When God closes doors, he has special plans stored for our hope and a future.
And if that is the case, we should not get discouraged or disappointed when doors seem closed upon us. We should not be short tempered and get upset nor give up just because things do not work as we wish. Rather we should be alert and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our circumstances. We should always say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” We should be sensitive to the voice of God.
Oswald Chambers, a great spiritual man of God, has this to say. “Has the voice of God come to you directly? If it has, you cannot mistake the intimate persistence with which it has spoken to you in the language you know best, not through your ears, but through your circumstances.” We are sometimes so determined to serve God in a particular way that we become deaf to what God is trying to speak to us. He may have to radically change our circumstances in order to direct us to a larger world. So let us not be discouraged when doors seem to close upon us. God has a far greater plans than you can ever dream. His plans are to give you hope and a future. So when God closes doors, He has special plans for you. So let us be sensitive to His voice.
When I finished seminary education in the U.S., my wife and I returned to Japan. I had hoped that some church would take me in as an associate pastor so that I could learn how to evangelize in Japan. I communicated with district superintendent and expressed my desire to serve in some church in Japan. I was ready to go anywhere in Japan if some church called us. We waited patiently at my parents home for several months. But there was no response and no church accepted us. I was getting rather restless having no church to serve. My relatives began to say, “Doesn’t the Bible say, if a man will not work, he shall not eat?” I began to feel uncomfortable staying at my parents home. Then one day I became sick and was taken to a hospital by an ambulance. I got paralyzed and me feet and hands were as cold as ice. It was unbearably painful. I could not move my body at all. I felt like I was in hell. In my agony I cried to God, “Am I going to die now? Why did you save me and prepare me to preach the gospel in seminary for such a long time? Did you bring me home only to die?”
The next day my paralysis was softened but it took me months to recover for the illness. Doctors could not tell me what was really the cause of my illness. I had no strength to get up and do something. All I could was to read books. I happened to read a small book written by a Japanese pastor who pioneered a church in Kyoto. I got absorbed in reading this book. And one night as I was reading the Bible, one passage from the Book of Hagai caught my special attention. Hagai 1:7,8 said, “This is what the Lord Almighty says; ‘Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord.” God spoke to me through this scripture, “Build the house of the Lord here in your hometown.” I pondered on the thought for several days and weeks. But the thought of building the house of the Lord in my hometown grew larger and larger in my mind and heart. Until finally I concluded that God spoke to me to pioneer a church in my hometown right here in Kochi City and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. And strangely from around that time I began to regain strength to get up and move. From then on my wife and I began our pioneer work among our families and friends and neighbors. Years later, I realized that God had to close down in order for me to learn that God wanted to evangelize my hometown and save my own people. All the time I was thinking to serve the Lord in some other place than my hometown. In order to radically change my plans, God closed all the doors until I finally learned what God wanted me to do.
Friends, our God is a God of love and hope. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not become short tempered when things don’t work as you desire. Do not get disappointed when doors seem to close upon you. But just remember, when God closes doors on you, He has special plans for you. So be alert and sensitive to the voice of God through circumstances. And say always, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, your name is called ‘Wonder.’ What you do with our life is full of wonder. May we learn to be so sensitive to your leading that we can hear you voice saying, “This is the way: walk in it.” May we learn to say, “Speak, Lord,” every day, every moment of our lives. This we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
The crossing of the Jordan River was the first step of faith for the young new leader, Joshua, the priests and the whole people of Israel. If they fail in this endeavor, their many years of hardship in the wilderness becomes futile, their hopes for entering the promise land will be shattered. This was something they had to do, something they could not avoid to make their life meaningful.
But they also knew that they were facing a formidable obstacle. The Jordan River was at flood stage all during harvest time. The water is deep and runs fast. There are many small children, and many elderly people. Not everyone could swim. It is possible that most people never experienced swimming in their entire life, for they had been journeying through wilderness for years and years. What if people were drowned while crossing the river?
In the face of this impending risk, Joshua in his deep communion with God hears the Word of God in his soul. “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.” (v. 7). Given the heavenly courage and faith, Joshua encouraged the people by saying that “the living God is among you.” And he orders the priests who carried the ark of the covenant to go ahead of the people.
The task the priests were given was to “go and stand in the river.” They were not told to go and try to swim across the river first and see if they can make it or not. The priests were told to go and stand in the middle of the river which was at flood stage. What an irrational, nonsensical, unreasonable task they were given!
But it was an order from God through Joshua. They had to trust him and trust God. Here is the test of faith. When God presses something in our hearts, there arise often thoughts that fight against it. How could I do it? I am not capable of doing that. What if I fail? Where is the assurance that I can make it? Those questions come and go in our hearts. I think at every stage of our Christian life, we face this kind of test of faith. Maybe I can say, our life is a series of test of faith. But you and I know also what happened when those priests who carried the ark of the covenant reached the Jordan river. When they took the step of faith and when their feet touched the edge of the water, something immensely wonderful happened. The water from upstream stopped flowing. This is something that Joshua promised would happen. But it did not happen until those priests touched the edge of the water with their feet. It took them a step of faith.
When you take that step of faith, you begin to discover that the living God is working in your life. We learn a great spiritual truth from the faith of these priests. But we can learn something even greater from what they did after their initial step of faith.
The Scripture says, in verse 17, “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.”
What did the priests do? They stood firm in the middle of the river while the people crossed the Jordan on dry ground. Joshua was told by the Lord to tell the priests who carried the ark of the covenant to “go and stand in the river.” This the priest did. But if you look at this verse carefully, it says they ‘stood firm’ in the middle of the Jordan. They did not simply stand there, but they stood firmly carrying the ark while the people crossed the river Jordan.
Herein I see the most important task of priests, namely Christian ministers like you and me. I don’t think those priests were simply standing there and watching people go by. The fact that the Scripture says, ‘they stood firm’ in the middle of the river conveys to us a clear purpose. Let us picture them in our minds for a while. Let us imagine under what kind of situation those priests were placed. They had this ark of the covenant on their shoulders so that everyone crossing the river would see it clearly. The ark of the covenant was a symbol of the presence of the living God. Those priests vividly assured the people that the living God was among them. What an encouragement that must have been to those people crossing the river. No one knows when the water might begin to flow again and wash them away. What happens if the river is flooded again while people are crossing? What a tragedy it might bring? Those thoughts must have crossed the minds of the people as well as the priests. No one knows and no one can tell what might happen. It was in that kind of situation those priests were standing in the middle of the river. But one thing was clear to everyone. The presence of the living God was among them. And the task of the priests was to make sure that every one could know that truth. And in order to do so, those priests stood firm in the middle of the Jordan river. They stood firm against the fear, anxiety, worries of the risk involved.
Friends, our utmost task as Christian ministers is to make sure that our people know and hear and see that the presence of the living God is among us, to make sure that the living God cares and watches over them as they cross the Jordan river of life. If our people know for certain that the living God is among them, helping, empowering, guiding, accompanying, and comforting them, they can endure life’s trials, and hardships. And in order to fulfill that task, it is our first calling to stand firm in our faith in the living God.
What does it mean to stand firm in the middle of the river? It means to stay calm in the middle of crises. It means to stay constant in the ebb and flow of life. It means to keep peace of mind in good season and out of season. Standing firm in the middle of the river means that we are not tossed around by our external circumstances. What we need to strive for as Christian workers is to develop a character of constancy. A character that stays constant regardless of what goes on about you. I’m not talking about an insensitive or indifferent character. I’m talking about a constant character that is not easily troubled by what happens about us. I’m talking about a constant character that is not easily carried away by happy events. I’m talking about a constant character that endures in hardship and stays humble in seeming success.
And in our walk with Christ, what God gives us is the grace to develop such character. Surely we are human and earthen vessels. So we have emotions and feelings. We feel sometimes hurt and we become moody. We get upset and discouraged sometimes. But God gives us grace to grow to be more constant in our walks of life as we continue to remain in Christ. It is a grace given character. Continue to cling to Christ under any circumstances.
Once in my pastorate, there was a critical time. Our church was experiencing a kind of revival when quite a few young people got saved and church was full of vigor. People began to sing praises from their hearts and meetings were filled with people. Several young people were being called to ministry.
However, in the middle of this exciting situation, troubles began to creep in. One of the leaders of the youth group began to be critical of the church, the people and its pastor who is me. His heart became cold and eventually left church. He was influential upon other young people, so they also followed him. This incident left me a deep scar in my heart. I was upset, sad, and miserable. I felt as if al those years of work crumbled in front of my eyes. I felt I was a failure. I struggled to preach on Sundays. Somehow power was gone from me. Deep disappointment set in. For weeks and months it continued to trouble me.
Then one Saturday afternoon, I was driving my car to go to a sushi shop to get some lunch. As I was driving, that incident still bothered me and I was feeling miserable. I knew I shouldn’t feel that way and I should forget it, because “you can’t cry over a spilt milk” as they say. But it continued to bother me. And I came to a sushi shop and opened the door of my car and got out and closed the car door behind me. Then a still small and yet clear voice spoke to me.
“Have I not chosen you?”
“Have I not called you as my minister?”
It was the Lord. I got inside the store and ordered what I wanted. As I waited, looking out of the window of the store, the presence of the Lord was with me. The Lord comforted me, and reassured me of His calling and His strength. Then I knew that I had overcome the misery. Every time I go to a sushi shop, I remember this.
Friends, there are good season and out of season in our ministry and life. But stand firm by the grace of the living God. Stay constant in joy and sorrow. Strive for a character which does not easily vacillate by external circumstances. God gives grace to grow to be calm even in the storms of life.
Those priests stood firm in the middle of the Jordan river while all the people passed by until the whole nation had completed crossing on dry ground. Those priests stood between the water up the stream and the people crossing the river. They had the ark of the covenant on their shoulders. They knew the dangerous situation they were in. Those priests are human beings and probably wished they could cross the river with the people and escape from the dangerous situation as soon as possible. But they stood firm in the middle of the river. No doubt they were tired of carrying the ark for a long, long time. But they stood firm. Their feet must have become stiff. But they stood firm. Why? Because the ark of the covenant was the hope of the people. Because the ark of the covenant symbolized the presence of the living God. Because it gave people courage and strength to go on.
Friends, our task is to care for the souls of men and women. Our task is to give hope, courage and strength to our people. Our task is to oversee the life’s journey of our people. In their time of joy and in their time of sorrow, in their time of success and in their time of failure, a Christian minister is there constantly praying and uplifting Christ, who is the hope of the world. As our people cross the river of life, we stand firm in our faith in Christ and give forth the assurance that the presence of the living God is among them.
Dr. Jerald Johnson, one of our General Superintendent Emeriti in the Church of the Nazarene, shared a story of his experience in a war torn country of Lebanon. That country suffered a tragedy of war for some time and when the war ended, Dr. Johnson decided to visit the country to find out how the Christians were doing in the aftermath of the war.
He went to Lebanon and found one Lebanese pastor who survived the war. Together they walked through piles and piles of rubbish trying to find Christians there. The scenes of the aftermath of war broke the heart of Dr. Johnson. Everything he saw seemed helpless. After hours of walking through the devastated city, the Lebanese pastor said to Dr. Johnson that he wanted to show him something.
And when they came to a certain spot, the pastor pointed at something and said, “Look!” Dr. Johnson looked up and saw a church building severely damaged by bombs. The pastor said again. “Look! Look higher!” Dr. Johnson looked up where the pastor was pointing and there he saw on top of the bomb torn church was a cross still standing. “A cross still stands!” exclaimed Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson, who had been feeling depressed and hopeless by the tragedy of war, began to see a ray of hope, seeing the cross still stood there. The cross of Jesus Christ has stood firmly in times of war and in times of peace for these two thousand years. The cross still stands. And God is calling us today to stand firm in your faith in the living God of Jesus Christ our Lord. God is calling us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in good season and out of season. God is calling us to preach the cross of Jesus Christ, the hope for the world under any circumstances.
Let us pray:
You have called us to tend your flock. You entrust your people in our hands. Help us, O Lord, not to vacillate or easily be tossed around but rather develop a character that is constant and calm in our walk with Thee in good season and out of season. And may we become instruments of your hope and love as our people cross the Jordan river of life.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.