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

My Calm, My Safety, My Courage

What I love about being a Christian is that it calls out the best in me. It encourages me to make the kinds of changes in my life that will make me a better man. It spurs me to the kinds of changes that will bring my heart, my mind, my words and actions in line with the kind of person God wants me to be.

But my Christian faith does not leave me with mere encouragement. It follows up the encouragement with the very real power to make the changes God wants me to make. That power is the gospel. That power is Jesus Christ, my Savior, who died for me and lives in me.

That gospel message assures me that Jesus came because of his great love for me. I am a sinner in need of his deliverance. And Jesus came to win that deliverance for me. He, the righteous one, came to offer his own life in exchange for mine. He came to take my sins, and offer me his righteousness.

John, the apostle, puts it this way: “Christ’s forgiveness is the most amazing motivation to not sin again. Christ’s forgiveness is also the guarantee that when you do sin again — and you will sin again — then that sin too has been forgiven.

The gospel is the most highly-motivating “carrot” to lead us on to more fully experience our freedom from sin. And even more importantly, the gospel is the most secure safety net in which to land when we do fall into sin.

The gospel points us to Jesus Christ, the one who, as our advocate with the Father, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins — the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. He offered his life up on the cross to atone for our sins, and reconcile us fully to God the Father.

It’s just like Van Gogh once said, “I feel a certain calm. There is safety in the midst of danger. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Jesus is my calm. He is my safety in the midst of danger — especially the danger to myself that’s created when I sin against God. He is my courage to attempt to become a man who brings glory to God in everything I do.

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2, NIV). 

Jesus, thank you for being the perfect sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice, for all my sins. Thank you for sacrificing your life so that I could be reconciled to the Father, and enjoy everlasting life in heaven with you. Give me courage to become the person you want me to be, bringing glory to you in all I do.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 30, is Daniel 5:17 – 6:28, 1 John 1:1 – 2:11 and Psalm 136:1-12.

Header image based on "Vincent Van Gogh I feel a certain calm..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

Advent: He Comes!

In the “church year,” a calendar that many churches use to plan their weekly worship, this coming Sunday will be celebrated as “The First Sunday in Advent.” The Advent season is a time when Christ-followers look back to Christ’s first coming, and look forward to his second coming.

It’s valuable to have the perspective that Advent gives us, because it reminds us that God makes promises. And regardless of the opinions of the doubters and skeptics, he keeps his promises, too.

In Old Testament times, he promised to come as the Messiah. People waited a long, long time for that promise to be fulfilled. But when the timing was just right, God sent his Son to be born of Mary.

In New Testament times like today, we have the promise that Jesus will return to judge all mankind. Jesus told us that we cannot predict when this will be. But it will be rapid and unexpected.

The apostles — such as Peter — encourage the church (us) to have an “end times mentality.” In other words, we are wise to keep Jesus’ second coming in mind at all times.

Doing so will inform our decisions in life, and our character.

It defines our decisions because if we believe the end of all things is coming, we want to really think through each decision in light of the temporary nature of this life, and the permanent nature of the life to come.

It defines our character because when we believe that the Jesus who is coming again is not simply our Judge, but also our Savior and our Lord, we look forward to that day with joy.

We know we are loved, because the cross of Jesus proves his love. And so, flowing from gratitude, and filled with joy because of Jesus’ forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, we are drawn to become a little more like Jesus every day.

  • We live a little more alertly and a bit more expectantly, with a sober sense of life and self.
  • We love more deeply, knowing that love covers over all kinds of wrongs — our own wrongs, and the sins of others too.
  • Every talent we have is God’s gift. So we use the talents and gifts we’ve been given not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.
  • When we speak, we don’t express our own ideas and worldview. We express the ideas and worldview that God has taught us in the Bible.
  • When we serve, we know that it is God’s strength that keeps us going, growing and working.
  • We know full well that God deserves the glory and the praise for anything we are able to accomplish.

It’s Advent. Jesus is certainly coming. From our perspective, it may be sooner, or it may be later. But from God’s point of view, it’s very, very soon.

And knowing that changes everything.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11, NIV).

Lord, grant that I wait expectantly for your return every day. Forgive me for all the times when I have lost perspective and forgotten that you are coming soon. You have loved me and sacrificed your life so that I could be in heaven with you. Give me an eternal perspective to inform my every thought, decision and action in this life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 25, is Ezekiel 47:1 – 48:35, 1 Peter 4:1-19 and Psalm 133:1-3.

Header image based on "everything-i-am-for-your-kingdom-cause-1024" by jubileelewis, CC By 2.0

Imperishable Inheritance

There are a lot of things in life that get old, fade, spoil and eventually go away. Relationships end. Health fails. Money is squandered. Old t-shirts become rags. Possessions end up at the dump.

It gets old that everything in life gets old. It’s all temporary. And the suffering that results from our grief is inevitable. Because, sadly, the momentary, transitory nature of things applies also to the things we love the most.

But in the gospel there is hope. We have the promise of something that will never, ever get old. Something that will not fade or spoil. Something that will never perish.

There is something that is permanent.

That something is our eternal inheritance being kept for us in heaven. This is the inheritance that Jesus won for us through his death on the cross and three days later, his resurrection.

When the apostle Peter thought of the permanence of this inheritance, he couldn’t keep himself from rejoicing. The joy overflowed from his heart, tumbling from his lips in poetic words of praise.

Even in the midst of suffering, Peter proclaims, this promised inheritance brings us great joy. It gives us patience and perseverance. It stills our troubled hearts.

As the Psalmist wrote, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV). And Peter says it this way:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV).

Heavenly Father, I praise you for your gift of heaven, and I thank you that because of your Son, Jesus, I can be confident that by faith in him, this inheritance is assuredly mine.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 22, is Ezekiel 41:1 – 42:20, 1 Peter 1:1 -2:3 and Psalm 131:1-3.

Header image based on "Entrance to heaven" by Wonderlane, CC By 2.0

How to Be Patient

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance,” wrote Samuel Johnson.

There’s a reason for the fact that great works are performed by perseverance. It’s because truly great works are performed by God. Sometimes we go through troubled times because God needs to teach us to know this. He wants us to rely on him rather than our own wisdom, ability or strength.

Wise farmers  get this. And they are also smart enough to know that you can’t rush the harvest. The finish line is the finish line. Crops cannot be rushed. There are no shortcuts. You do what you can do, and you trust God, and you keep your eye on the day when the harvest will be brought in.

The Old Testament prophets also got it. There were times when life was pretty unbearable for them. Think of Elijah under the constant threat of Ahab and Jezebel. Or consider Hosea being asked to marry — and then redeem and remarry — his unfaithful wife. Or recall Jeremiah who was thrown into a muddy, mucky cistern for a prison cell and left to barely survive.

Job understood too. Job’s patience in all his troubles is legendary. After all Job went through — including losing his property, his possessions, his friends and most of his family — he was hurting and he struggled, but he persevered in his faith in God.

You get the picture. Life was often extremely difficult for an Old Testament man or woman of God. The only thing that kept them going was their Lord, and their faith that God would make good on his promises. Patience and perseverance was the result of having an eternal perspective. They knew there would be a finish line. They knew a harvest day was coming.

And so, in the midst of all their difficulties, they kept their eye on the end goal, not knowing exactly when it would arrive, and they waited for God to perform a great work in their lives. Whatever events were telling them, they clung to their faith that God’s plan for them was full of compassion and mercy.

The truth is, when our trials and troubles seem to provide proof that God has disappeared from the scene, God’s promises assure us that his plans never fail. There is an end in sight, because the Lord is coming.

So in the meantime, we can recall that great works are performed not by our strength, but by God’s strength. Knowing that, we can be patient and persevere.

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5: 7-8, 10-11, NIV).

Lord, I know your plans and promises for me are great. It is hard for me to be patient and to wait for your plans to come to fruition. I fail many times at being patient. Please forgive me and help me to always keep the finish line in mind as I wait for you to do great things in my life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 21, is Ezekiel 40:1-49, James 5:1-20 and Psalm 130:1-8.

Header image based on "Henri J. M. Nouwen Let's be patient and trust..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

The Way Up Is Down

The way God works is sometimes counterintuitive. This happens in so many areas of our life. With God, for instance, we don’t find happiness by pursuing happiness. We find it by pursuing God. We don’t discover our true selves by looking to ourselves and following our own path. We discover our true selves by looking to Jesus and following his path.

And it works that way with moving upward in life. Most of us hope to see some kind of progress in our life. So we try to climb the corporate ladder. Or we try to move the needle on our saving accounts upward. Or we take the extended trip to discover ourselves. All of that, we hope, will tell a story of us moving on up.

We try to go up by going up. Seems natural.

But this too, with God, requires a counter-intuitive approach. God’s grace is the operating principle of the Christian’s life. That is, God’s undeserved love and favor on our lives is what makes our life truly move in a positive direction.

Earning God’s grace and favor is not possible. But we certainly can ward off that grace and favor. We do that with a prideful heart. By definition, grace requires a person to know that he doesn’t deserve it, to realize that he has not earned it. Pride says, “I did this. I have earned the credit for achieving and accomplishing this result.”

The two attitudes cannot coexist.

Which is why James says we are to humble ourselves before God, and submit ourselves to his will. Shout a loud “No!” to Satan, and a quiet but firm “Yes!” to God.

That may mean hitting rock bottom. It may mean pain, grieving, and getting really, really tired of where our rebellious streak is leading us. It may mean a period of time in our lives that is dark and gloomy and depressing. The fun and games are over. Hitting rock bottom hurts because rock bottom is hard.

But it also humbles us enough that we become willing to cry out, confess our sin, grieve over the hurt we have caused ourselves and our God, and finally — finally! — stop trying to lift ourselves up and make our own progress.

Because lifting us up is God’s job. And he promises to get his job done.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

‘God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.’

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10, NIV).

Father, humble me so that you can lift me up.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 20, is Ezekiel 38:1 – 39:29, James 4:1-7 and Proverbs 28:7-17.

Header image based on "Morning Workout" by Dawn, CC By 2.0

Perfect Protection

God’s promises are like a powerful shield that guards us from the slings and arrows of life. Make no mistake, life will throw its best blows at us. But God’s promises are our perfect protection — whether from sin, the temptations of Satan, or even death itself.

God’s promises are our rest. We can lie in them when we feel exhausted.

God’s promises are our rescue. We can look to them when we feel lost.

God’s promises are our medicine. We can find healing in them when we feel broken.

God’s promises are our power. We can find strength in them when we feel weak.

God’s promises are our vindication. We can find justice in them when we feel wronged.

God’s promises are our guidance. We can find direction and purpose in them when we feel life has lost its meaning.

And the Israelites were all of these when they were exiled in Babylon. They were exhausted, lost, broken, weak, wronged and felt life had lost its meaning. So God sent Ezekiel to them to remind them of his promises.

According to Ezekiel, the Israelites would find everything their souls were missing in the promises of their gracious God.

And so will we!

“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 18, is Ezekiel 33:21 – 35:15, James 2:1-26 and Psalm 128:1-6.

Lord, your promises are wonderful. Help me to always remember how important and helpful they are. They are my perfect protection. I want to look to your promises for everything my soul needs in life.

Header image based on "Museum of London - London before London - Bronze shield" by Elliott Brown, CC By 2.0