Sunday, November 20, 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Reformation Day!

What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.
So we celebrate Reformation Day. This day reminds us to be thankful for our past and to the Monk turned Reformer. What’s more, this day reminds us of our duty, our obligation, to keep the light of the gospel at the center of all we do. - Stephen Nichols

Read more here. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Twelve Ordinary Men

(My message from today at church)

Let’s begin by reading our text today from Luke 6:12-15.

12In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Before we jump into this text I want to first tie it to a historical event that is recorded in the Old Testament.

One thing that is unique about the Bible is that even though it was written by over 40 authors in 3 different languages over a period of 1,500 years,

it has one consistent developing message that is more layered with connections and foreshadowing than the world’s most highly thought-out novels.

And amazingly its foundation is built firmly on fulfilled prophecy and actual events and people in history!

It becomes obvious to those who humbly seek to understand the Bible, that it could not have been authored by anyone but a sovereign God who has planned out history!

God wants us to see His goodness and reliability so that we can confidently trust Him with our lives and use our lives to help others know Him also.

Well, in the Old Testament book of Judges, chapter 6, God comes in the form of an angel to speak to a simple and ordinary man named Gideon.

Instead of calling him ordinary though, God calls him a mighty man of valor, since God Himself is with him. (show v.12)

Gideon doesn’t seem to realize that it is the LORD who is speaking, and so he replies,

“Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13)

Gideon had not seen the wonderful things his ancestors did, and he doubts God’s plan.

Maybe you have also doubted God’s ability to work positive change and salvation in the lives of your neighbors, friends, or even in your own life.

The great deeds of the Lord that we read about in the Bible seem like fairy tales to many.

Gideon had heard of the LORD’s great works in Egypt to bring the Israelites out of slavery through the Red Sea, but now he sees only oppression from the Midianites.

So God calls this ordinary man to do the extraordinary, to free Israel from the Midianites.

Gideon replies, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” (v.15)

Maybe you have felt this way when God calls you to do the seemingly impossible - To tell your family, friends and neighbors of the gospel and lead them to Christ.

Maybe you have replied this way also, “But Lord, what can I do? I am weak, I can’t speak well, I don’t even know the Bible very well.”

Later Gideon, in his weakness twice tests the Lord by laying a fleece on the ground.

He wanted to be sure that it was really God who was speaking to him.

There is no indication here or anywhere in the Bible that says it is okay to test the Lord like this.

In fact Jesus quoted the Old Testament when he said that we should not put the Lord to the test.

But God has mercy and even chooses to use this weak and sinful man for His plan!

Before Gideon goes to battle, God cuts his army from 32,000 soldiers to only 300.

The LORD explains to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ (Judges 7:2)

God was purposefully making Gideon and His army realize their great weakness so that He alone would get all of the glory when Israel was victorious.

And today also He specifically chooses to use weak people like us, so that we can see Him do amazing things too

and so that all the glory will go to where it rightly belongs: to Him alone.

In our verses today Jesus chooses his twelve disciples.

Just like when He chose Gideon (or Moses or Abraham or David for that matter) he chooses ordinary men and gives them a calling and a mission to accomplish.

And because they are weak and ordinary, God alone gets all the glory when through them the mission succeeds.

These are the twelve who would become the twelve apostles and would be sent out with Christ’s authority to preach the gospel after Jesus went back to heaven.

We do not know how many people were following Jesus at this point trying to learn from Him,

but we do know that the crowds were becoming so large it was hard for him to even move around freely.

Jesus’ ministry would last for just 3 short years, and it was roughly half way through this time when Jesus called his disciples in order to train them to carry on His ministry.

Some might imagine that if Christ had wanted His message to have maximum impact, He could have played off his popularity more effectively.

Modern wisdom would suggest he ought to have done everything to exploit his fame, tone down the controversies, and then call for even greater rallies and events.

But at about the time when the crowds were largest, Jesus preaches a message so boldly confronting to the tastes of the crowds that only the most devoted stayed on.

Among those who stayed were the Twelve, whom He personally selected to train and whom He appointed to represent Him.

You see the kingdom of God advances, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

And so these disciples were perfect because they were ordinary in every way.

Not one of them was a great scholar or speaker.

In fact they were outsiders as far as the religious establishment of Jesus’ day was concerned.

They were not outstanding in any natural talents or intellectual abilities.

On the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, lapses of faith, and bitter failure- and no one more than the leader of the group, Peter.

At least four and possibly seven were fishermen and close friends from the unimportant town of Capernaum.

Galileans were deemed low-class, rural, and uneducated people.

Matthew, as we learned two weeks ago, had been a tax collector - a thief and virtually a traitor to the Jewish nation.

Yet with all of their faults and weaknesses, as remarkably ordinary as they all were, these men carried on Jesus’ ministry by His power after He went back to heaven.

God graciously empowered and used these few ordinary men to change the world, and their influence continues even on to this day.

As the apostles preached and healed, by God’s Spirit, God did amazing things through them.

And God’s Spirit also inspired them, as well as the former killer of Christians, Paul, to record for us the entire New Testament!

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Many Christians become discouraged and disheartened when their spiritual life and witness suffer because of sin and failure.

We sometimes think we are worthless in God’s kingdom and God could never use people like us.

And left to our own strength, that would be true!

But just like Gideon and the disciples, weak people are just the kind of people God loves to use - and really that includes all of us!

The sooner we realize our inability without Him, the sooner we can look to His strength and His Spirit to help us and be empowered to do greater things for His glory.

If you are a Christian, He wants to use your life to reveal His greatness too!

According to Isaiah 61:3, the prophesied result of Jesus’ ministry would be this:

“that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.”

And when God is most glorified, we are most satisfied in Him.

Our text for today started off with these words: “In these days(Luke 6:12)

It refers back to the accounts we have already looked at when there was escalating tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of Judaism.

The religious leaders opposed Jesus for forgiving the sins of the paralytic man.

They opposed Him for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners.

Last week we saw that they opposed Him again when He permitted His disciples to pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath, and then when he healed on another Sabbath.

The conflict had reached a high point in Luke 6:11.

But they (the scribes and Pharisees) were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:11)

They were already furiously hatching plans to put Jesus to death.

It is at this precise point that Luke interjects that Jesus chose His disciples.

With only 18 months or so left before he would die, Jesus’ plan was to choose His apostles who would receive His personal training and be sent out as His ambassadors.

Today also, judging from history and the Bible, we are not assured that peace will continue forever for Christians in this nation.

So let’s train ourselves by growing close to Christ and His Word so that if the church ever has to stop meeting publically

or if the missionaries have to leave the country, the church will not stop growing!

We are all called to become Jesus’ ambassadors, sent out with His power and message like the disciples were!

To make sure Jesus did what the Father wanted Him to do, He spent the night in prayer.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” (v. 12)

We have seen before that Jesus often got away to spend time with His Father, even when He was so busy with ministering to the needs of those around Him.

He found it necessary to remain close to His Father, and perhaps especially now, as He needed to make such an important choice about the future.

But, I believe that part of the reason He did this was to be an example to us who are also in need of guidance from our Father God.

We need to have His heart and His mind also, and this can only be obtained by spending a good amount of time with God in prayer over His Word.

“And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (v. 13-16)

In chapter 5 we already saw the calling of Simon, whom Jesus called Peter, or Rock, as well as the brothers James and John, his co-workers and friends in the fishing business.

Two weeks ago we saw the calling of Levi, or Matthew, as he was called.

But from a great crowd of many of these called ones, Jesus now calls those who will now become closest to Him and be named the Twelve apostles.

Peter, James and John formed the circle that was closest to Jesus and would be asked to accompany Jesus more and become the leaders.

Peter had a leader-like temperament, but like all the others he had both strengths and weaknesses.

Though he was clearly the leader of the twelve, he was far from perfect.

Even after being anointed by the Holy Spirit and even after performing miracles in Jesus’ Name and preaching great sermons that led thousands to Christ,

even then, the apostle Paul had to rebuke Peter for his error.

Even the best Christians will many times need to repent for their mistakes and sins.

I believe Jesus called Simon - the Rock, because Peter needed encouragement that he could be a strong leader if he lived in and trusted Christ’s power and not his own.

Eleven of the apostles are great encouragements to us because they exemplify how common, weak people like us can be used by God to do uncommon, remarkable things.

But the last apostle listed here, Judas, serves as a warning to us about the danger of living for our own sinful desires rather than living for Jesus and His kingdom.

What is amazing about the Twelve is that the choosing of the traitor Judas was part of a divinely guided process - Jesus knew what he would become.

Judas began just like the others began, but he never truly laid hold of Christ by faith as his Lord, and so he was never transformed like the rest.

While the rest were increasing in faith as sons of God, he was becoming more and more focused on money, power, and the things of this world.

It is significant that when Jesus predicted one of them would betray Him, no one pointed the finger of suspicion at Judas (Matthew 26:22-23).

He was so expert in his hypocrisy that no one seemed to distrust him.

He was so trusted he even kept the money bag for the whole group, and no suspected that he was in fact stealing from it. (show John 12:6)

But Jesus had known his heart from the beginning and still chose him. (show John 6:64-65)

The paradox of how divine sovereignty and human choice work together can be seen in Judas’ calling, but it is actually the same with the other apostles too.

They had all chosen Jesus, and yet He had chosen them first (show John 15:16).

In John 13:18, Jesus cites Psalm 41:9 and says, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”

And in Matthew 26:24, Jesus says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Through many verses in the New Testament and by the linking prophecies of the O.T we can see that it was always God’s plan to use Judas the traitor,

and yet it was Judas himself who committed the sins that led him to betray his Master to the religious leaders for just thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus’ plan was to go to the cross, and Judas’ sin was used by God to put Him there.

God has a plan that cannot be thwarted, so let us take care that we do not serve the plan of God like Judas did.

Let us seek the Lord in our weaknesses and sins, and use the opportunities we have to humbly come before Him by faith and learn from Him.

As we humble ourselves under Him, we will be changed into bold witnesses of Him to others, not because we were so wise and good, but because our Lord is.

As we grow with God, I encourage each of us to take younger believers under our wings, just like Jesus did, and train them up in the faith.

We can all be in the process of learning from others and training others around us, but we need to pray for this, like Jesus did, and then make a plan!

So I want to encourage you this week to take time, like Jesus did, to pray and seek God about how you can invest more deeply into the lives of those around you too.

Who does God want you to learn from? Who does God want you to invest in?

For some of you, like the disciples, you need to take the next step of trusting God and forget about yourself and your weaknesses and step out for His glory.

Maybe that means receiving training so you can preach or give your testimony at church, or maybe it means preparing yourself to talk with your neighbors about Christ.

I want to close with a Bible verse that has encouraged me, as a weak, ordinary Christian, to step out also and come to a new country as a missionary.

To move to a new country and learn a new language and become a missionary was a big step for an ordinary man like me, but I am trusting a BIG God!

Preaching the gospel and sharing our faith with others is not about how great we are, it is about how great God is!

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Let’s pray.

We also want people to recognize your presence in our lives, and be changed, dear Jesus.

Transform us and give us your vision as we spend time with you, Lord.

Help us to humbly follow you and be equipped like the eleven were, to be your ambassadors.

Help us realize that the all-surpassing power we need to share the good news with those around us is not from ourselves but it is from you. (2 Cor. 4:7)

We are like clay pots, but the treasure is inside of us, the treasure is You.

Help us and equip us to be your disciples so that we can help others who need you also.

Help us to step out in faith for the sake of your glory in this world.

In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

2 Timothy 2:2 Vision

Here is a video I shared this summer with many people. It is great to see how God is raising up and sending out leaders who are equipped to change Japan and the world for Christ! I had the privilege of building into Alex and Nozumu for a few years during their college days. It was a great blessing to go speak at Nozomu's church plant last year too!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Great Commission or the Great Suggestion?

by Dr. Daniel Wallace

"There’s a myth foisted on the Christian public about the meaning of the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20). It goes something like this: “In the Greek, the word translated ‘Go’ is really a participle and it literally means, ‘as you are going.’ But the words ‘make disciples’ are an imperative in Greek. That’s the only imperative in these two verses. Therefore, the Great Commission is not a command to go; rather, it is a command to make disciples as you are going, or make disciples along the way.” The exposition based on this understanding of the Greek text then attempts to salve the consciences of the congregation, permitting them to do nothing about the lost if it at all means going out of their way. There are two major problems with this treatment of Matt 28.19-20."

Read this rest here.

Here is another great article on the same issue by Greek expert Bill Mounce.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Humbling Man to See God

(My message from this Sunday over Luke 3:1-14)

True to form, Luke opens chapter 3 with more close attention to historical detail and accuracy.

Luke wants his readers to see that the truth about Jesus is verifiable and utterly consistent.

Though the names listed here were as famous as Obama and Abe-san at the time,

they would have been forgotten long ago if not for a poor, simple preacher who lived in the wilderness at the time named John.

Perhaps this helps us to remember two principles about life:

One: that God has a sense of humor, and two: that God loves to put down the pride of man and lift up the humble.

We have already met Zechariah, John's father, who was humbled by blindness and eventually praised God as he saw God's goodness.

And now we jump ahead about 30 years to the beginning of John's ministry in the wilderness.

From chapter 1, we know that John was related to Mary and Jesus.

But John became more than just a relative to Jesus, he became the prophesied one who would prepare the way of the promised Savior.

But it wasn't because John was so great; it was because God had chosen that His Word would go out through this simple man even before he was born. (
show v.2)

And this Word from God comes directly through him to us today also, so let us pray that we will receive it just as it is, the very Word of God given to us by direct inspiration.

Dear Lord, please humble us under your Word, by your Holy Spirit's power today,

so that we can look up and see You in all of your great love, mercy, and holiness,

and receive You today and live with you daily as our wonderful Lord and Savior.

It's in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
v.3 says, And he (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Here we find the first lengthy OT quotation in Luke.

And this quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 should not be seen as just one isolated quotation to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist.

Rather, this fulfilled prophecy is significant to complete the foundation of the entire Old Testament and paves the way for all nations to see our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

This good news of salvation in Christ was not just for Israel, it was for all flesh, for all nations.

If you are going to prepare the foundation for a good house or a road, the first thing you need to do is to level the way and make it flat, smooth, and straight. (show picture)

Before Jesus came announcing salvation to the world, John was sent to prepare the way by announcing the utter neediness of man to the entire world.

Jesus, and Jesus alone has dealt with the problem of our rebellion against our Creator.

But the way all people will be prepared to
see salvation when it comes is first through seeing our own rebellion, and then seeing our need to turn to God for help and salvation.

This turning is called “repentance” in the Bible.

It means to have a complete change of mind about God and our sin.

Our hearts, minds and actions are naturally pointed away from God and towards rebellion because of the sin nature we inherited from Adam.

But then, by the Holy Spirit's working through God's Word, we begin to
recognize and feel how horrible our sin is, and at the same time how good God is to give us mercy.

As a result, a change of mind occurs and we turn away from sin and towards God.

This is repentance, and this is the work for which God's Word and God's Spirit was given to John.

To help people see a clear physical picture of what was going on inside their hearts, John was called to baptize, or immerse the people into water.

If you go to some temples and other religious places of worship around the world today, you may also see water for which to wash.

Deep inside people is a desire to be clean, not just on the outside of our bodies, but deep in our hearts.

By revealing the stench of our sin, John was not condemning, rather he was calling for
repentance in order for the people to find real cleansing and forgiveness from God.

If you do not know you are dirty, you will not seek to be washed.

If you do not know you are a sinner in need of forgiveness before God, you will not seek mercy from Him.

John was
preparing the way for the people to welcome the good news of the free gift of salvation and freedom from our sin and hell through Jesus Christ.

This explains a bit of why John is so bluntly honest with the crowds of people who were coming out to the wilderness to be baptized.

He doesn't welcome them politely, he begins by calling out to the crowds,
You brood of vipers!” (v.7)

The prophecy had said,
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,”

Every gap and valley of our understanding regarding sin against God must be filled in with the truth!

Every mountain and hill of pride that leads to our sin must be cut down and leveled low.

Every crooked and hidden way about us must be made straight and righteous.

And only
God's Word, working by His Spirit, can do this job right!

Imagine God's Word to be a bulldozer that can create new landforms in our hearts that human words and human hands cannot.

The Holy Spirit is the both the fuel and the driver for God's Word to work.

If I would try to level the land for the foundation of my new house with just my own two hands, I would be frustrated beyond belief.

But sometimes we try to live the Christian life on our own without God's Word and Spirit.

In a similar way, we think by our own wise words or actions we can lead someone to salvation in Christ.

It becomes a very frustrating way to live when those plans continue to fail.

But if, by the Spirit of God, we are working
with Him and the bulldozer of His Word, we can be like John and humbly prepare the hearts of ourselves and others to know Christ.

Even with these tools, preparing hearts and building a house of faith takes a lot of time and prayer.

But when we humbly admit our need for Him,
we will be built up and we can build up others as well.

In Isaiah 57:14-15 it says,
And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people's way.” For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

True salvation levels and humbles man even as it lifts up God as rightful King over all.

Christian, do you feel contrite and lowly?

you feel as low as a poisonous snake apart from God's work in your life?

I'm not talking about if you see the sins of others, I am asking, “Do you see and feel that there is
nothing to commend you to God right now apart from His grace?”

Do you know and feel
deep down that you truly deserve nothing but judgment from Christ?

The more we know and feel that, the more our hearts will be humbled to exult in and love the amazing grace of God that has saved such wretches as you and me.
He (John) said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

Apparently people were coming with prideful hearts saying, “We're already pretty much guaranteed favor with God since we are Israelites, the children of Abraham.”

According to Matthew, in this crowd were the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were also coming to baptized, loving to appear righteous and religious to others.

But it also included crowds of others who just wanted to be known as “good people”.

At heart, many really believed that they were
already good people and already partakers of all the promises of God, and already prepared to go to heaven when they died.

God had promised to bless the offspring of Abraham, whom they were
already a part of, right?

Yes God did, but as Paul said later, not all physical descendants of the chosen nation of Israel really belong to the true spiritual Israel, the true chosen people of God.

In other words, People are not saved from God's judgment just because their whole family happens to be Israelites!

Or we could say today, “You are not saved just because your whole family are Christians or because you prayed a prayer once and were baptized.”

God graciously promised to bless the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

but that did not mean that every physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be a part of the promised blessing.

It was only
through these forefathers that the promise of the one offspring, the Savior Jesus Christ, would come!

Galatians 3:16 says,
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

So true Israel or spiritual Israel are those people from every nation who have the same faith as Abraham in his offspring, the one offspring, Jesus Christ!

believed God that he would have this offspring, though because he and Sarah were too old, he knew it was impossible for him unless God did it for him.

In the same way we too must believe that while it is
impossible for us to go to heaven by our own strength or goodness; God has sent us His promised offspring, Jesus.

By faith in God's promise, we rest in and trust in Jesus alone for our salvation.

Galatians 3:7 says,
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

Those of
faith are the real sons of Abraham that are considered righteous before God;

those that look away from themselves and believe that it is because of what
Christ has done for us on the cross we are saved, and not by what we can do for ourselves.

Paul sums up the difference in Romans 2:28-29:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”

The religious leaders and many others were looking for the praise from other people instead of the pleasure that comes by being loved by God.

They thought the greatest thing was to be seen and respected among their peers.

So John scolds them, Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (v7)

In other words, “Do you even understand what you are doing here?”

I'm sure many in the crowd were only interested in having some kind of spiritual or emotional experience.

Possibly others thought they might even be healed if they just jumped through the right religious hoops for God.

They are all like vipers because just like the serpent in the garden of Eden their motives are hidden, and they deceive many people by their appearance of righteousness.

And even today this still happens, and it happens even in church.

Many people seem to make a confession of faith, and truly seem to make life changes, only to later fall away from the faith and reject it all together.

Like the crowds here, they may have only been interested in the attention and kind friendship of others, or in the feelings of goodness and spirituality that they felt,

but whatever their motivation, their hearts were never truly focused on God; He was only a means to their own self-centered desires and plans.

By the fruit of their lives we see that they never loved their Creator more than the things and people of this world.

So John would say to these, Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (v. 8)

In other words, true conversion changes your whole life, your heart turns from sin to God.

This is the same message Paul preached, as he said in Acts 26:20.

[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Having a good family, checking boxes on papers, praying prayers, and getting baptized do not save people, only Jesus does!

It is not hard for Jesus to keep His promise to raise up spiritual descendants for Abraham from every nation and people group.

He works and He changes our stone-like hearts into soft hearts that can respond to Him.

That is what He did for each of us who are real Christians here today!

When He works, our hearts and our minds are humbled under His Word and our lives change forever.

We are born again into a new life in Christ that cannot continue on in sin, as 1 John says!

A good tree is known by the good fruit it bears.

In other words a true child of Abraham or a Christian, is one whose heart has been changed, however imperfectly, to love God and hate their own sin.

1 John 3:9 says, No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit living in a Christian is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. (Gal. 5:22-23)

The true Christian is one who has realized his or her great need for salvation and has trusted and is resting in Christ for it and has the Holy Spirit living inside their heart.

Obviously, that does not mean we are perfect, as Paul says in Philippians 3:12.

But if you have not experienced this kind of change, and if you don't love God more than your sin, then you may not really be a Christian yet.

Now if you feel any doubt about your salvation right now, maybe that is okay!

May our pride be humbled and leveled by the Word of God so that we can trust Christ alone for salvation and not our own strong faith or good works!

Today is the day to think about whether or not you are saved and in Christ, or whether you are still embracing your sin and headed for eternal judgment instead.

John says, Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (verse 9)

We are not guaranteed tomorrow, even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.

Are you right now, however imperfectly, bearing the fruit of love to God and love for others, or are you dead to God with no real love for Him in your heart?

If so, repent of your sin and cast yourself on His great arms of mercy, love and grace in Jesus Christ today, and He will begin to transform your heart.

He will save you and begin to fill your heart with every good thing you need to do His will, and then you will be ready to face the judgment of God.

But perhaps you wonder, if I have already repented for my sins and I already am a Christian, “What good fruit should a good tree be bearing?”

We already saw the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, but let's see how John answers.

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (v. 10-14)

John is saying, you cannot be converted and not feel compassion for other people around you.

Each of these commands has to do with loving other people more than money and material possessions.

As we saw earlier, truly loving God and truly loving others around you is a fruit of God's Spirit inside of us – it is not something we can do on our own.

But a heart that is focused on material things more than on loving people is not a heart from God and it cannot please God; and in the end it leads only to judgment in hell.

1 John 2:15 says, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

1 John 3:17 says,If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

But why is money and material possessions the issue here?

Because they have the ability to expose what we truly value in life.

Many people say that they value the church and mission work, and that they want to help those in need, and yet when the time comes to give, they are nowhere to be seen.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Maybe you say, “But I don't have much money.”

No matter how much money we have, we are to love God first and trust Him, and He will fill our hearts with love and the ability to help others for His glory.

In the Scriptures, some of the most generous people had little money, but were rich in love.

In an overflow of love for God they used their money and resources to bring honor to God.

So let us humble ourselves and confess our need for His help today, knowing that He is ready and able to help us and lift us up.

As He fills our hearts and minds, we will become the kind of people that are truly satisfied and are able to give love and grace to others too.

He will provide us with all we need to do His will both for now and for eternity.

Jesus has come to save sinners and bring us to God, but first we must see our sinfulness and neediness for Him and turn to Him with humble hearts.

We will then begin to experience all of the great things our Creator has planned for us!

Let us humble ourselves now together as we bow our heads to pray.

Dear Lord, We confess that we have sin and cannot break free from its control unless you work in us.

You say in 1 Peter, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Lord, we are sorry for how we have not loved you or respected you as our Creator.

We have deceived ourselves into sin and been deceived by sin, such that we have become like lowly vipers.

But we thank you that you still love us and we can still come to you because of your great love shown at the cross of Christ.

By your death and resurrection on the cross, Jesus, you can heal us and give us new life that is full of love, joy and peace and continues forever in heaven.

We thank you that while we cannot save ourselves, you can, and you love to help us!

We come to you and ask you to change our hearts and make them new and alive in you today and each day as we walk with you as our Lord and Savior.

In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.