Greater Than Our Hearts

Our hearts are a constant pendulum. We waver between emotions — back and forth. We’re happy and then we’re hurt. We’re angry and then we’re over it. We love, and then love becomes hatred.

Almost everything about our hearts can be strangely fickle.

And this applies to our faith in Jesus Christ as well. One day — even one moment — to the next, our faith can swing from one extreme to another. We’re supremely confident in God’s promises. And then our confidence is dashed to pieces.

This is nothing new. It’s the human experience. It’s the sinner’s experience.

That’s why all the way back in the first century, John the apostle spoke to his people about how to regain lost confidence and preserve rapidly evaporating faith.

First, he says, you need to understand your own heart. Your heart will find ways to condemn you. And actually, it’s not all that hard.

Your sins will raise up feelings of guilt and shame. The words and actions of others will provoke feelings of hurt and alienation. Your mistakes and weaknesses will foster feelings of incompetence, unpreparedness and lack of giftedness.

Our hearts easily fill with un-grace. And it’s a lack of grace aimed at our own selves. It’s an inner voice of self-judgment.

Second, John says, you need to understand your Savior’s heart. You must remember that God is greater than your heart.

In other words, what his heart says about you is far more important than what your heart says about you. And what his heart says about you is found at the cross of Christ and the empty tomb.

Where is your heart at right now? Don’t be surprised if you have to admit that your faith is a little shaky. Don’t be shocked if your heart is hurting, not whole. Don’t be taken off guard if you’re sensing more anger and frustration than love and kindness right now. This is all a part of the life of a sinner-saint.

The good news is, if you feel that way, now you know what to do to set your heart at rest. You can look to Jesus, and know that his forgiveness, love and power are with you all the way!

You know this because the holy God who condemns sin in sinful mankind is also the compassionate God who condemned his own Son to pay for your sins. Jesus’ condemnation made God’s compassion your new reality.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20, NIV).

Lord Jesus, my heart feels shaky right now. My faith is weak and wavering. But you are greater than my heart. Set my heart at rest. Help me to know that you are with me, and to do the things that will refresh and restore my faith in you. I want to possess a confident faith that leans fully on all your promises.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 3, is Daniel 9:20 – 11:1, 1 John 3:11 – 4:6 and Psalm 137:1-9.

Header image based on "Colosseum" by Bob Garland, CC By-SA 2.0

No Longer Condemned!

In the world of construction and buildings, “condemn” means “needs to be demolished and destroyed.” The building is no longer considered fit for use or occupation.

In the world of people, the definition really doesn’t change all that much. Merriam-Webster says that condemn means “to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation.”

Putting the two together, many of us, whether we know it or not, live under a sense of condemnation. There’s a little bit of a “looking over our shoulder” feeling in our hearts.

Because we know our own sins and wrong best, we especially feel the threat when our conscience is troubling us. But intriguingly, even a string of good fortune will sometimes leave us wondering when the other shoe is about to drop.

That’s a form of condemnation too. So are questions like these: When is everyone going to find out what kind of person I really am — that I a fraud? When am I going to be caught and punished for the wrong things I’ve done, the hurts I’ve caused?

Paul knew that anyone who doesn’t have a good sense of God’s forgiveness, or our Savior’s power over sin, would feel this way. He recognized that especially the Romans, who often felt that their lives were ruled by the fickle Romans gods, or by “fortune,” or by their own powers of virtue and personal skill, would be subject to such feelings unless they really came to understand grace.

So he tries to make his statements as clear as possible. In fact, in Romans 8, Paul becomes very pointed. Condemnation? There will be absolutely none of that for those who by faith are covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness.

Why? Because we have been set free from the very law that would condemn us. God sent his Son to be a sin offering. Sin is dead. The law is entirely fulfilled. It no longer has any power or authority to harm us.

Yes, because of the weakness of our sinful flesh, we have failed to meet the righteous requirements of the law by our own efforts. But God sent his Son to be our perfect substitute. In our place, he has fully met every requirement of the law. And God has fully credited Christ’s righteousness to our account.

So no more worries about being punished by God. No more anxiety about divine threats hanging over our heads. No longer do we have to fear that we are headed for the torments of hell.

Christ is ours. And we are his. By the Spirit’s work we live under absolution, and no longer under condemnation. In God’s eyes we have already fulfilled his law perfectly.

No matter what anyone else may think or say about me, I know what God thinks. He loves me. He does not condemn me any longer.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 23, is Hosea 8:1 – 9:17, Romans 8:1-17 and Proverbs 17:25 – 18:6.

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to be the perfect sin offering for me. Thank you for forgiveness and absolution. Help me to no longer feel a sense of condemnation, because the truth is, I am no longer condemned by you.

Header image based on "Condemned" by Karl Frankowski, CC By 2.0


For those with some experience in the sports world, the word “substitution” is a double-edged sword. If you’re the kind of person who spent a reasonable amount of time on the bench (like me) then you love the word, because that’s the moment you waited for: the substitution.

A substitution was great! It meant you–the substitute–were going into the game to get some minutes. Maybe, just maybe, you could spark something with those minutes. You knew it was best to maximize your minutes, no matter what.

On the other hand, if you were a starter, the substitution was something you dreaded a bit. First of all, someone not as good as you (wouldn’t he be the starter, otherwise?) was going in the game. Secondly, the substitute was costing you minutes. He was snagging your opportunity to make a game-changing impact.

But in the Biblical world (as opposed to the sports world), the substitution is always a matter of wonder and joy. Just like in the story of Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas was a notorious criminal. Jesus was innocent.

In the ultimate irony, Barabbas is released and given his freedom. Jesus is crucified.

It’s the perfect metaphor. I deserve to receive God’s wrath because of my constant idolatry, unbelief and disobedience of God. The one who is condemned should be me.

But Jesus took my condemnation for me. He is my substitute. And that’s why I can take this beautiful promise and apply it to myself: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NIV).

So can you. Because he’s your substitute too.

And that’s why there’s no more beautiful word than the word “substitution.”

“But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ asked the governor. ‘Barabbas,’ they answered. ‘What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify him!'” (‭Matthew‬ ‭27‬:‭20-22‬ NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, February 12, is Exodus 11:1 – 12:51, Matthew 27:11-44 and Psalm 21:1-7.

Header image based on "It Is Finished" by abcdz2000, CC By-SA 2.0

Where Change Begins

January is the month when we try to make changes in our lives. New Year’s resolutions!

We’re going to work out more. We’re going to lose weight. We’re going to finally read that book. We’re going to fix that relationship.

Character qualities rise to the fore. I’m going to be a more hard-working person in 2015. And more honest. I’ll amp up the compassion. Get rid of the swear words. Stop the gossiping.

So we set up a “fine jar.” A dollar for every cuss word. Five dollars for every time I catch myself gossiping.

We write out our list of goals. We share it with our best friend, and ask him to keep us accountable.

None of those are bad things. In fact, they can be very, very good things. But they are not the place to start.

Jesus shows us that place. The starting line for life-change is not our neighbor or the list on our smartphone.

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV).

This is so important. Jesus tells us why our habits are broken. It’s because our hearts are broken.

The place to start is with healing the heart. And the place where healing the heart begins is the cross. The person who can change my habits permanently is not me. The person is Jesus.

That’s because change begins with hope, with strength, with love. Not with condemnation, with feeble attempts, with selfishness and shame.

And who is Jesus? He is hope. He is strength. He is love.

Ask him to heal your heart. And change your life.

Jesus, heal my heart through the good news of your forgiveness won for me at the cross. I want to change. Give me your hope, your strength, and your love.

Our reading for Thursday, January 22, is Genesis 43:1 -44:34, Matthew 15:10-39, and Psalm 13:1-6.

Header image based on "Granite Cross" by Lindman, CC by 2.0