Finding the Idols of Our Hearts, Part 2 – January 27, 2023

When I think of idols, I can’t get past the scenes in Indiana Jones as the natives worship the statues. Covered in colored paint, they dance, sing, and pray that their idol will give them blessings. When we consider the need to refrain from idols, we often think we do not have this problem because we think of these scenes. However, over the last few weeks, we observed that we have an idol problem. Our hearts are idol factories. The problem is that we don’t see them. For this reason, we began last week to look at why we struggle to spot our idols by looking at the first three reasons in Ezekiel 14. This week we want to cover the last two.

We struggle to identify our idols because they work in groups. Ezekiel 14:4 reveals that we all have an assortment of idols. Idols do not work alone. They work in groups. And so often, we may admit that we have one idol while several lurk in the background. We become content when we gain victory over one idol while we fail to recognize that we have more. Christian counselors have come to this realization and are now training to address sin that comes in packs. Someone who struggles with the idol of gratification through sex often struggles with the idol of money. Someone who struggles with the idol of self-worth often also struggles with the idol of judgmentalism. Rarely do we worship one idol. Often, we worship a multitude of idols. The idol factories of our hearts are seldom content with just one.

Because our idols work in groups, they work to hide each other. In elementary school, we played a lot of dodgeball. One strategy we employed was the strategy of distraction. We would attempt to get our opponent to focus on one team member while the other members attacked from a different angle. In the same way, one sin problem captures our attention, while the other idols attack us from the blind side.

A final reason we struggle to identify our idols is that they cut us off from the light. In verse 5, Ezekiel states that these idols estrange people from God. John tells us that God is light. He is the source of truth. God is the solution to our idol problem. But these idols cut us from the light needed to identify them. God, God’s Word, and God’s people are the best ways to diagnose our idols. Our idols recognize this and seek to cut us off from them. Just as it is hard to walk through the dark and identify obstacles in our way, our idols cut us off from the light that exposes them. Your view of God dictates your view of life. Idols cut us off from God and distort our view of life.

Don’t be blinded by your idols. They lurk everywhere in our hearts. We must find them and eliminate them. Next week we will begin to discuss the practical ways to identify our idols.

Finding the Idols of Our Hearts – January 20, 2023

Our culture understands that we have an idol problem. Culture refers to people we long to be like as our idols. There is a popular culture show based on this premise that does not even try to hide it. They put it in the title, American Idol. The advertising industry builds itself around what we idolize. In short, we have the propensity to worship everything but God. And so, John concludes his book with a direct challenge: Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

Over the last few weeks, we have examined our idolatry problem. We walked through a Biblical view of idolatry and began exploring ourselves to find our idols. We challenged ourselves with the reality that we all have an idolatry problem. While the worldly culture does not try to hide its idol problem, the church culture many times outright denies it. But we must acknowledge that we have idols. Now I would guess that no one has a statue on their mantle to which they bow down, worship, and offer sacrifices. No one has a totem pole in their backyard. How can I state so dogmatically that we all struggle with idols? How can we look at this passage and conclude that it directly impacts our lives? Let’s remind ourselves of the definition of an idol: “An idol of the heart is anything that rules me other than God.”[i]

I mentioned last week that those around us and close to us could probably tell us exactly what our idols are. But we struggle to see them ourselves. Our Idols lie to us and tell us that we cannot see them. We are often blind to our idolatry. So how do we obey this command to keep ourselves from idols? How do we even know what our idols are? To expose the idols of our hearts, we must answer two critical questions: “Why are our idols hard to spot?” and “How do I find my Idols?” This week we want to examine the first question.

In Ezekiel 14, God addressed the concept of heart idols. Israel did not believe that they had an idol problem. But through the Prophet Ezekiel, God sought to demonstrate to Israel that they had a massive idolatry problem. While they had not set up physical statues, they had set up idols in their hearts. Yet, like us, Israel was blind to their idolatry problem. As a result, Ezekiel 14 gives us a guide to help us understand why idols are so hard to spot.

We discover the first reason in verse three. Our idols are hard to spot because they are self-built. Because we build them, we tailor our idols to ourselves. This tailoring of our idols is often an unconscious act. We usually do not, nor did the Israelites, consciously decide to turn our back on God and serve these idols. Instead, through our lives, we place things ahead of God little by little until one day, we look up and discover that we have replaced God in our lives. We focus on a desire so much that it becomes an obsession and then our god. It drives everything we do. This is the message of James 1:13-15. This text teaches us that God does not draw us into sin. Instead, we are drawn away by our desires. These desires become obsessions and actions, which in turn become our god, ultimately leading to shipwreck and death if left unchecked.

Further, because we build our idols, we do not often see them as evil. In reality, they usually are not bad in and of themselves. Many times, these idols are things that are necessary for everyday life. While some are driven by clearly wicked things, as believers, John has demonstrated that sinful living does not mark us. Our idols are often not things that are wicked in and of themselves. They have simply replaced God as the source of our satisfaction and joy. They become more important to us than God. They can be innocent things like family, finances, work, friends, rest, or food. But they become wrong when we seek our satisfaction in them instead of God.

We discover the second reason our idols are hard to spot in verses three and four. Our idols are in our hearts. They are at the very seat of our lives. Christ reminds us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). What we value is what we worship. What we worship directs our behavior. And our values lie in our hearts. Because our idols are sourced in our hearts, we value them. They are our treasure. These idols are the very reason why we do what we do. They are our treasures. So often, when we act on what we treasure, we don’t even think about why we are doing what we are doing. We merely act.

Culture today instructs us to follow our hearts. However, this advice is satanic. God informs us that our hearts are unreliable and naturally tend towards wickedness (Jer. 17:9). Because we struggle with a sinful nature, we cannot trust our hearts. Jeremiah states that they are deceitful and wicked. However, not only are our hearts vulnerable to idols, but they are also deceitful idol factories. Our sinful nature creates idols as fast as we can destroy them. And this factory is a factory of deceit. It will never admit that it is an idol factory. And so we must constantly remind ourselves of its work. This deceit of our hearts gives us an amazing ability to justify sin. We can become the “it’s not my fault” guy, the “it’s not that bad” guy, or the “it’s necessary” guy. This is why many even joke about their idol. They make their worship of food, sleep, finances, or friendship out to be no big deal by normalizing it through humor.

We also discover the third reason our idols are hard to spot in verse 3. Our idols blind us. The picture that Ezekiel uses is fascinating. He states that they set them up as stumbling blocks before their faces. Of all people, we should know our idols because we build them. And yet, we are blind to them and stumble over them. Why? Because sin blinds us to our sinfulness. Reasoning with people entrenched in sin (in idolatry) is incredibly frustrating because they are often unwilling to admit that they have a sin problem. Our culture has recognized this and admitted it regarding addictions (drug or alcohol). Studies have been built around interventions needed to help people admit they have a problem. The drunk and the drug addict will deny they have a drug or drinking problem while this problem wreaks havoc on their lives.

Yet we do the same thing. We fail to admit that we have a problem with our sin because our sin blinds us. We cannot see it even though it is painfully apparent. We set up our stumbling blocks. We are the hunter who sets the trap only to walk into it. 

We cannot afford to deny the existence of our heart idols. We all worship heart idols because our hearts are idol factories. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to examine how to discover our heart idols and put them to death.

[i] Paul David Tripp, Instruments in The Redeemers Hands (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002).

Finding the Idols of Our Hearts – January 13, 2023

Last week, we reminded ourselves that our hearts are an idol factory—our hearts long for things more than God. As a result, every one of us is an idolater. Perhaps you pushed back in your mind as you read last week’s letter. You don’t have idols. You are not a pagan. However, we often don’t see our idols as idols. They camouflage themselves as harmless things. Perhaps they even may appear helpful and spiritual. To dethrone our heart idols, we must first unmask them.

We must define what we mean when we say heart idols. David Powlison states, “‘ Idolatry’ is the characteristic and summary Old Testament word for our drift from God. … Interestingly (and unsurprisingly) the New Testament merges the concept of idolatry and the concept of inordinate, life-ruling desires. Idolatry becomes a problem of the heart, a metaphor for human lust, craving yearning, and greedy demand.”[i] Ken Sande states, “In biblical terms, an idol is something other than God that we set our hearts on (Luke 12:29, I Cor. 10:6), that motivates us (I Cor. 4:5), that masters or rules us (Ps. 119:133), or that we serve (Matt. 6:24).”[ii] Paul Tripp continues, “An idol of the heart is anything that rules me other than God.”[iii] We can clearly see that a heart idol can be just about anything. A heart idol is anything we love and serve more than God.

So how do I find my heart idols? How do I determine what has taken the place of God in my life? Often these are things that everyone around us can identify but we cannot see it. As a result, we must do two things: Acknowledge that we have heart idols and identify an idol’s progression.

Don’t believe the first lie about heart idols: heart idols don’t exist. Heart idols do, indeed, exist. You have an idol. Every one of us has an idol that we battle. In fact, every one of us has multiple heart idols. Unless we acknowledge them, we cannot overcome them. Consider the words of God through the prophet Ezekiel, “Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” (Ezekiel 14:4-6). Paul exhorts us, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Christian, you have a heart idol. And, you must unmask and dethrone that idol. The reality of heart idols helps explain the motivating “why” behind our seeming eagerness to engage in continuing sin.

Once we admit we have a problem, we can begin fixing it. A helpful step in overcoming idolatry is recognizing its progression in our lives. The most beneficial way to unmask idols is through our worship. Today’s Christians have secluded the idea of worship to an event on Sunday. This deceit from Satan leads us to ignore the worship in our hearts every moment of every day. You see, everyone worships something or someone. God made us to worship. As a result, we spend our days sacrificing our time, energy, and emotion to something. That something is what we worship because worship motivates human activity.

We can further identify what we worship through what we treasure. Christ reminds us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In short, we worship what we value. We worship what we want. How do you know what you value? Answer the question: “What are you unwilling to lose?” David Powlison asks the insightful questions, “Has something or someone besides Jesus Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight? It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question. Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?”[iv]

Perhaps you still wonder, what do I worship and what do I value? What you worship, you value; what you value, you serve. Stated another way, “You do what you do because you want what you want. And you want what you want because you love what you love.”[v] When we understand that our actions unmask our idols, we can identify them and dethrone them. For many, their heart idols are good things that have taken God’s place and become evil. It just might be that your heart idol is your reputation, your job, your home, your hobby (like your RV, fishing, or working on vehicles), peace and quiet, or even your family. All of these are good things. But all make terrible gods. Dear friend, what is your heart idol? What do you value more than God? What has taken precedence in your life over the Kingdom of God and His church? The two verses before the quote from Christ we looked at challenge us to refrain from worshipping this world. Instead, we must value eternity. Someday you will stand before God and give an account for your idols. However, you can find joy and purpose if you fight them here.

[i] David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter 1995)

[ii] Ken Sande, Resolving Everyday Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015).

[iii] Paul David Tripp, Instruments in The Redeemers Hands (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002).

[iv] David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart”

[v] This unpublished quote comes from my good friend Dr. Kraig Keck, Professor of Christian Counseling at Faith Baptist Bible College.

Addressing the Idols of Our Hearts – January 6, 2023

If you read through the book of First John, the last verse seems terribly out of place. Throughout the book, John addresses numerous tests to determine if we are God’s children. However, he ends the book with a command to stay away from idols. This statement seems like an obvious command. So obvious it would not need to be stated. But this verse is not a mistake or an afterthought. It is the very foundation of all that has been said. One leading Christian counselor observed that “Idolatry is by far the most frequently discussed problem in the Scriptures.”[i] This verse summarizes, in conclusion, the book. In 1 John 2:15-17, John addressed our love (our desires) for the things of the world more than our love for God. 1 John 3:7-10 addressed our behavior (our actions, what we do) as our love more than our love for God. Those who love God don’t worship sin. 1 John 4:1-6 speaks to the demonic nature of idolatry. And just a couple of verses earlier in 1 John 5:19, John divides the world into two: of God and of Satan. So we can conclude that to be anything other than a genuine believer, to place anything over God is idolatry.

In the Roman world, this command would have made sense. Idolatry was rampant. Consider Ephesus in Acts 19:23-41. The Roman world was filled with what we think of when we hear the word idolatry. People were bowing down to and making sacrifices to statues. Today we are much more advanced. We are much more intellectual. We understand that statues are just statues. Surely this verse does not apply to us today. But I present to you that this verse is just as applicable and essential today as it was 1950 years ago.

The late David Powlison, formerly a professor on the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, made this statement about this verse: “John’s last line properly leaves us with that most basic question which God continually poses to each human heart. Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight? It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. … Who or what rules my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?”[ii]

So if an idol is more than a statue that we bow down to, what is an idol? It is best to look at the Biblical context of idolatry to understand what an idol is. God created all things for His pleasure (1 Cor. 10:31, Rev. 4:11). This most definitely includes his prize creation: the one being created in God’s image. We exist to glorify God. This is our purpose. God must dominate our lives. We must make our lives about God. God created all things good. But, when Satan rebelled, he attacked God’s most prized possession. And he did so in the form of idolatry. Satan caused Eve to question God’s command and God’s purpose. Adam and Eve then questioned God’s place and desired to displace God. Sin causes us to seek satisfaction apart from God by serving ourselves or something other than God (Rom. 1:25). In reality, all sin is idolatry in one shape or form. All sin is a failure to glorify God and keep God in his proper place. All sin is us putting ourselves in place of God.

Because God is the All-Powerful Creator, he demands that we fulfill our purpose in creation and place him first. Because of the Fall, God gave man the law in progress toward redemption. In it, he reminded us of his jealous nature. God will not be displaced. He alone is God and to be worshiped (Ex. 20:3-4). But even today, the problem is that we have a sinful nature that leads to an inherently idolatrous heart.

In Ezekiel 14, God charges the Israelites with idolatry. They did not worship physical statues but worshipped things other than God in their hearts. They had idols of the heart. We today have the same problem. Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 identify some of these idols of the heart: Ephesians 5:5 – “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Colossians 3:5 – “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” 2 Cor 10:5 explains that our idols can dwell in our thoughts: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

In the journal article “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” David Powlison relates our hearts and our place in the world by reminding us of the classic book Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. “The world is a ‘Vanity Fair,’ as John Bunyan strikingly phrased it in Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s entire book, and the Vanity Fair section, in particular, can be seen as portraying the interaction of powerful, enticing, and intimidating social shapers of behavior with the self-determining tendencies of Christian’s own heart. Will Christian serve the Living God or any of a fluid multitude of idols crafted by his wife, neighbors, acquaintances, enemies, fellow members of idolatrous human society … and, ultimately, his own heart?”[iii]

So what is God’s answer to our idolatry problem? The answer is the Gospel. Jesus became our sin so that we might be made righteous. The Gospel teaches and empowers us to treasure once again and serve God (Titus 2:11-14, 2 Cor. 5:14-15). However, the Gospel does not eliminate the presence of sin before our glorification. So John reminds us to guard against idolatry in our lives. However, it is one thing to know that the presence of sin remains. It is another thing to understand why we continue to sin. Enter heart idols. Next week we will look at the personal context of our heart idols and ask, “How do I find my idols?”

[i] David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter 1995), 35-50.

[ii] Ibid., 35.

[iii] Ibid, 36.

The Forgotten Christmas Character – December 23, 2022

Let’s talk about the forgotten Christmas Character. No not Dancer, Prancer, Donner, or Blitzen. Not even Rudolph. Every Christmas, we rightly sing about the Christ child. We ask if Mary knew stuff. We sing about the Wisemen and the shepherds. And Joseph falls into the background. However, as we look closely at Joseph, we discover a man of incredible faith.

Two young people, Joseph and Mary, were betrothed to be married. Between the betrothal and marriage, Joseph would build a home for them and prepare to provide for his young bride. As he anticipates marriage and works hard to prepare, Mary arrives with news. “Joseph, I am pregnant.” You can imagine the heartbreak that occurs in Joseph. Perhaps he asks, “Who is the father?” Mary then dares to say, “There is no father. God is the father.”

Place yourself in Joseph’s position. He is an adult. He understands basic biology. Now Mary attempts to tell him that she is pregnant by God? It would not be any more believable in that day than it is today. How would you respond? Would you react with anger, bitterness, or distrust?

Matthew 1 gives insight into Joseph’s mindset. Joseph understandably did not believe Mary. Yet, he had the integrity to seek to protect her from what he perceived as her sin. Matthew informs us that he attempted to devise a way to end the engagement without anyone knowing. Even in his hurt, he sought to protect the one he loved.

As he thought through his reaction, God visited Joseph and informed him that Mary had told the truth. At this point, we discover Joseph’s faith. He believed God. He agreed to continue the engagement and enter marriage with Mary. We must understand that in the small town of Nazareth, the news would travel fast. If he ended the engagement, the town would pity him and be on his side. If he went through with the marriage, the town would think he was the father. Later in the Gospels, we discover that this is what happened as they refer to Jesus as the son of Joseph. Having a child out of wedlock was an absolute scandal in that day. Yet Joseph was willing to endure the ridicule to obey God.

We rarely talk about Joseph. But perhaps we should talk about him more often. He endured a wide range of emotions and ridicule while holding onto his faith. He obeyed God even though it negatively impacted his reputation with his family and friends. He believed God when told of the impossible. And he loved Mary through it all. Men, we should strive to be like Joseph. We should seek to be faithful men of integrity. This Christmas, remember Joseph.

Three Important Results of Eternal Life – December 16, 2022

You can have confidence that you will have eternal life. Often individuals hope for the best. They live the best life they can. They serve other people. And they hope that God will accept them when they get to heaven. But God desires something better. God desires that we have confidence in our eternal future. John informs us that the purpose of his first epistle is to help instill this confidence into believers’ hearts. When we have this confidence, some fantastic things result. In the final paragraph of the first epistle, John informs us of these tremendous benefits of eternal security.

First, because we have confidence in our eternal home, we have access to God. For thousands of years, priests would go into the holy place in the temple once a year to sacrifice for the people’s sins. This day was known as the Day of Atonement. Only a specific priest was allowed to go behind the massive curtain, the veil, that separated the holiest of holies from the rest of the temple. If an unauthorized person entered, God would kill him immediately. When Christ died, one of the miracles was that the temple’s veil tore from top to bottom. The book of Hebrews tells us that this was done because God granted direct access to his presence to every believer at any time through the sacrifice of Christ. One of the results of eternal life is that we have direct access to God as believers.

This direct access means two things. First, it means that God hears us. Think about this for a moment; God listens to you. You have direct access to the one who places and removes kings from their thrones. You have direct access to the one who spoke the world into existence. Further, John states that he hears us. This word “hear” gives the picture that he listens. Sometimes when people talk, we only half listen. We tune them out. God doesn’t do that to believers. He listens to you. He hears you. We can hold to this confidently.

Second, if we ask according to God’s will and have confidence that he hears us, we can have confidence that he will act for us. When we ask for something according to God’s will, we can be confident that he will work on our behalf. What an amazing promise that the God of the universe will act on our behalf.

The second result of eternal security is that we pursue righteousness. This pursuit of righteousness takes on two forms. First, we take sin seriously. If we have access to God, know that God hears us, and take sin seriously, then we should be praying for others in their struggle with sin. The second form is that we recognize God’s power. Sin is a big deal, but we have the ability and the power to overcome and conquer sin. We do not have to be bound to it. Believers are no longer under the control of the evil one because Jesus Christ keeps them safe so that the evil one cannot harm them!

John has already stated that a believer cannot persist in sin because God’s seed remains in him (3:9). Now, he says that a believer cannot continue in sin because God keeps him safe. He will not allow Satan to harm him. John is confident the true believer will remain. John reminds his readers that no one born of God continues in sin since Jesus protects him from Satan’s influence. Sin and its consequences are to be taken seriously, but in Christ, the child of God is given supernatural power to overcome sin and obey God’s will.

The final result is that we will keep ourselves from idols. At first glance, this verse (v. 21) seems to be terribly out of place. It seems almost to be a passing statement tacked onto the end. “Here is how you know if you are genuine believers, and oh yeah, don’t follow idols.” But this verse is not a mistake or an afterthought. It is the very foundation of all that has been said. This verse summarizes the book as a whole. In 2:15-17, John addressed our love (our desires) for the things of the world more than our love for God. In 3:7-10, John addressed our behavior (our actions, what we do) as our love more than our love for God. Ones who love God don’t worship sin. 4:1-6 speaks to the demonic nature of idolatry. And just a couple of verses earlier in 5:19, John divides the world into two parts, “of God” and “of Satan.” To be anything other than a genuine believer, to place anything over God is idolatry. We will discuss this more as we enter the new year.

This final text reminds us that eternal life is more than fire insurance. Eternal life brings with it many implications and responsibilities. John addressed them as he closed out his epistle. We have access to God. We must use it. We must take advantage of it. It is our source of power. Second, we must pursue righteousness. We have been given the ability to overcome sin. We cannot continue to be its slave. We must take sin seriously. We must address it when we see it. Finally, we must put away the idols of our hearts. May God bless us as we follow him.

Three Witnesses to Christ’s Deity – December 9, 2022

How do we know that Jesus is God? Many agree that he was a good person and a great prophet, but how can we be sure that he is God? Last week we began to look at 1 John 5:6-12. We rejoice this time of year that Jesus came in the flesh. But Jesus was more than a man. He was God in the flesh. John gave three witnesses to the deity of Christ.

First, we see the witness of the Spirit. John appears to be referring to the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see the truth as it is in Jesus. We see this confirmed by Christ in John 14:15-17 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Again in John 16:13, he tells us, When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” The Holy Spirit confirms in our hearts that Jesus is God.

Second, we see the witness of the water. Here we speak of Christ’s baptism. Before Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist was baptizing in Jordan. To have a relationship with God at this time, one had to become a proselytized Jew. To do this, one had to repent of their sin and be baptized. John came along and began to tell the Jews that they were not true Jews and needed to repent and be baptized to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Then Christ came. John recognized him as the Messiah and stated that Jesus did not need to be baptized. But Christ stated that it was necessary. Why? To fulfill all righteousness. To condescend to our estate, he had to identify with our sin. He did this in his baptism. But an interesting thing happened at his baptism. As he came out of the water after being submerged, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. God himself audibly said, “This is my beloved Son!”

Finally, we see the witness of blood. Even in Christ’s death, there was a witness to his deity (Matthew 27). In verse 45, darkness came over the land from the 6-8th hour (12:00-3:00 pm). Then, in verse 51, we see that when Jesus died, the earth mourned, and our way to God was opened. The veil of the temple ripped from top to bottom. This veil was a thick curtain ripped from top to bottom. Second, there was a massive earthquake. Third, dead people started to resurrect. All these things combined to demonstrate Christ’s deity. So much so that the centurion reacted in verse 54, “This was the Son of God!”

As you consider the season of Christmas, remember that we celebrate the coming of God in the flesh. The miracle is that Jesus became human to take our sins on himself. Jesus is God!

God in the Flesh – December 2, 2022

The Christmas season is upon us. If you are like my family, you have Christmas songs playing regularly. My wife enjoys decorating for Christmas. She has placed and decorated nine trees in our house (yes, you read that right). Everyone is thinking about the presents they will give to others. Christmas is in the air.

However, it is easy to get caught up in the frivolity of Christmas and miss the true meaning we celebrate. Christmas is one of the two most important holidays on the calendar (Easter being the other). This is the day we celebrate the fact that God became a man. Jesus Christ took on flesh to take our sin on himself.

As we look through 1 John, we arrive at some confusing verses: 1 John 5:6-12. Yet, these verses contain a vital test of faith for every Christian. As we face life’s challenges and sin in our hearts, we wonder if we can gain victory. The answer is yes. Indeed we can. John asks, “who can overcome the world?” The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This Jesus is the one who came by water and blood.

So, who overcomes the world, who has the victory, the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is a statement about the Deity of Christ. John then provides the evidence that Jesus is indeed God and that he can grant us life. He presents three witnesses to Christ’s deity: The water, the Spirit, and the blood. This is important because, in Jewish law, at least two witnesses must confirm someone’s testimony (Deut 19:15).

What are these witnesses? One view holds that these are the ordinances that the church celebrates. However, this seems very much to read into the passage as baptism and the Lord’s Supper are nowhere else mentioned and don’t provide a concrete witness. Another view is that water and blood refer to the water and blood that flowed from Christ’s side when he was stabbed with a spear at his death. This does prove Christ’s humanity but does not prove his deity. The third option, to me, seems the most probable and best fits the text and context. Probably he is referring to the water of Jesus’ baptism and the blood of his death. This view was espoused by the Church Father Tertullian, who believed water refers to the baptism of Jesus, at which he was declared the Son and commissioned and empowered for his work, and blood to his death, in which his work was finished.

We will work with the third view in mind and the three witnesses. All require that Christ took on flesh. So as we work through these the next few weeks of the advent season, consider what we celebrate. Jesus Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. Through him, we are made righteous!

A Note of Thanksgiving – November 25, 2022

Yesterday, we all had the opportunity to pause and consider the various things we ought to be thankful for. I pray that you took that opportunity. Paul portrays the atheistic culture as one that does not honor God as God or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). Although we have many struggles, we have much to be thankful for. This week, as I considered all that God has done, I was overwhelmed.

I am thankful for my church family. In 2017 God brought us together in His gracious goodness. My church family at Cambria has proven to be loving, gracious, generous, encouraging, exhorting, and full of godly servants. They love the Word and long to be taught its eternal truths. They love each other and continually demonstrate that through their good works for one another. They have been encouraging to my family. I am continually amazed at God’s gracious goodness in allowing me the privilege of shepherding this church. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.

I am thankful for the family God has gifted me. Proverbs 18:22 tells us that he who finds a wife, finds a treasure. Proverbs 31:10 informs us that an excellent wife is far more precious than jewels. I am a wealthy man. God has granted me an excellent wife. She is kind, she is loving, she is hard working, she loves the Lord, she is full of integrity and character, she is meek, she is gentle, she is a gem. All of this is true about her because she values her relationship with God above all else. She allows the Word to form and change her. God has seen fit to grant me two wonderful young men. Their love for God is a constant blessing. Their love of fun and jokes brings laughter to our home. They are turning into young men who are sensitive to the Spirit of God and demonstrating fruit of the Spirit. This is all to the praise of God’s glorious grace. He could accomplish this.

I am thankful for the ministry partners God brought to our church this year. Pastor Christian and Chelsea have been a tremendous blessing to me and Heather and to our church. Their energy, their excitement, their maturity, and their passion for God have been exactly what our church needed. God has been very good to us.

 I hope this letter of thanksgiving prompts you to examine your own life and praise God for the unique gifts He has given you. He is always good and always faithful. You have much to be thankful for … you just need to look. 

We Obey Because God Wins – November 18, 2022

Often in life, we struggle with sin and conflict, which we believe will never end. Sometimes we give up because we think we can never gain victory over it; the struggle is who we are. Sometimes we look at the advancing evil in the world around us and are tempted to believe that good and Truth will not triumph. As we continue in 1 John 5, we arrive at verses 4-5, where we learn that we can and must obey God because he has overcome the world. Because God has overcome the world, we will also overcome it.

John states that everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is a present tense statement. He says that believers are already experiencing victory over the world in their lives. Often, we overlook the victory that is happening because we are embroiled in the battle. We are wise to step back at times and see God’s work in us and the world. We must not lose sight of all that God is doing.

After the election this past week, some stood back in understandable frustration. In many cases, we observed the advance of immorality and anti-biblical mentalities. The Christian could easily lose sight of all God is doing and fall into anger and bitterness. However, we must remember what grants us victory over evil today. John states the formula in two words – our faith. God will not overcome the world through the ballot box (although that is important). We will not overcome the world through temporal means (although they are essential). We will overcome the world through faith (1 John 4:4; James 4:7).

At salvation, God granted you victory over sin. You were given complete victory over the condemnation of sin. You were given the ability to have victory over the power of sin. And one day, we will be given victory over the presence of sin. This faith supplies the basis for the believer’s overwhelming victory Paul speaks of in Romans 8:37. We can not only survive sin and struggle in life, but we can also overwhelmingly conquer.

As you examine your life, you must remind yourself of the victory that God has granted to you. The struggle with sin is real. But God is working in you to grow you through it. He has given you the means to gain victory over it. This victory is not instantaneous but a life-long struggle. And one day, you will be freed from the struggle forever. So don’t give up! Continue the struggle.

As you examine the culture around you, you may be tempted to despair. But remember that God has already gained victory through Christ. Although we engage in the battle for Truth, the outcome is secure. This means that when it appears Truth is losing, it is not. Jesus wins!