My One Defense

Yesterday I took my contracts exam. Then last evening I went to a large-group Bible study at my church, and on the way home I was listening to the song “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher. Part of the chorus says, “My one defense, my righteousness, Oh God, how I need You.” I’ve heard this song many times before, but it struck me in a new way last night.

In any type of law, it’s often wise for a defendant to bring up multiple defenses. You can challenge the factual basis of a claim—stating the other side didn’t prove its burden—or you can raise “affirmative” defenses, justifications, or excuses. Maybe a defendant was justified acting in self-defense Or a defendant who breached a contract should be excused because the task was impossible. There are a variety of ways to defend someone, and good lawyers will often try to put more than one egg in the basket.

Sometimes a lawyer will bring up defenses that don’t even go together, arguing one “in the alternative” of the other. For example, “The defendant didn’t have a duty to care for X person, but if you think think he did have a duty, then he didn’t violate that duty.” or “The contract didn’t say X, but if it did, the defendant should be excused because he made a mistake and never really agreed to it.”

We might think that there is security in multiple defenses, but in truth, an effective defense will get someone acquitted, and a thousand mediocre defenses will just leave someone with higher attorney fees.

So with the law on my mind, I listened to the “Lord, I need You” with fresh appreciation for its truth—we don’t need an alternative defense or backup plan.

Just one will suffice. The One.

And yet so often I live as if I’m waiting in uncertainty for the verdict to be announced. In the worry of “will I be enough?” “Have I done enough?” As if the backup defense is somehow needed. As if my success and good deeds will up my chances with the Judge.

But instead what is required, repentance and faith: “Yes, Lord, I’ve sinned. But I plead not guilty by reason of Jesus’ blood.”

This defense cannot fail. It fully vindicates corrupt hearts headed for eternal death. And it’s always available to all people, no matter the sin, no matter the crime.

~~~

 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

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He is Risen (Easter)


When the world woke up that day, Hope had come alive.

And the dead rock was pushed away,

the heavy weight lifted like a feather with the resurrection’s power.

“He is risen!” sighed the breeze He breathed again.

No more grieving—the women, first fearful, now knew

the Son of Man went before them

in death to life.

Don’t look for the Living among the dead.

~~~

” We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

In Everything Preeminent

A couple nights ago I was reading Colossians 1. I took a moment and lifted my head, closing my eyes, pondering the phrase in verse 18 “that in everything he might be preeminent.”

How can I make Christ preeminent in my life? So that in my life He might be preeminent.

But then I thought—the text surely gives the answer. What must occur “that in everything he might be preeminent”? So I looked again, and I was shocked that I had so quickly forgotten what came before.

“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

The truth is I  can’t “make” Jesus preeminent; He is so because He is Creator, Sustainer, Savior, Death-conqueror (“firstborn from the dead”). His preeminence comes—not from my declaration that He is first in my life—but it comes from who He is and what He has done.

I think my intentions were in large part God honoring. I was thinking of preeminence in terms of laying aside idols and worshipping Christ above all else. Preeminence does mean “most important and “surpassing all others.” Yet there was some part of me that thought for  minute that His preeminence depends on me. That I could make or break it for Him. That He needed me.

Yet if such were the case, He wouldn’t be objectively and truly preeminent in all things. He is most important and surpasses all others regardless of what I do or think.

We should seek to perceive Jesus rightly, to worship Him rightly, to treat Him and obey Him as the preeminent One. But we don’t bestow preeminence upon Him with our praise—we acknowledge it. We wonder at it. We rejoice in it.

How freeing and heartening it should be to consider that His matchless power, love, and glory is enough. Jesus doesn’t need me.

And yet He came to me. He came to earth visibly. And even now He lets me glimpse His preeminent glory.

Pride is Deceitful; Look up.

Pride is fundamentally fueled by lies—

the lie that I am more important than I am

more powerful than I am

more intelligent than I am;

it deceives our hearts.

Humility brings truth

clarity

understanding.

True humility recognizes our place in relation to God’s place.

Humility brings wisdom that starts with the fear of the Lord.

Jesus, at the center of it all.

And I’m looking toward it,

I’m looking through it,

that lens of perspective informing every aspect of my life

like the sun—

by it I see all,

not like an artificial, flashing, fading, light bulb on its way out,

but fresh, anew, bright, and true

Light captivates.

By gazing at the Savior, pride dwindles here.

~~~

“The pride of your heart has deceived you,
    you who live in the clefts of the rock,
    in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
    ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?'”

Future Grace

Have you ever anticipated a person hurting you long before it ever happened? Have you ever anticipated the upcoming need to forgive that person? Jesus did—while we were unborn, while we were still sinners—then He died.

So this is for those—strangers, “enemies,” and the close-to-my-heart ones—who will hurt me someday. In Christ, I’m trying to forgive you today.

~~~

Future grace, I’ll give

‘cause

future grace, I’ll get,

bearing with you today;

tomorrow’s been forgiven

by yesterday’s blood

that every gives me power

to love as I am loved.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all else put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” – Colossians 3:12-14

Breath of God (Merry Christmas)

Love is in the air as the Messiah takes His first breath.

Inhale: This I so love.
Exhale: Peace.

By His breath He made the world; now in this world He breathes it in.

Inhale: Sorrow.
Exhale: Hope.

Love is in the air as the Messiah takes his last breath.

Inhale: Wrath.
Exhale: It is finished.

From his breath-inspired Word, catch a glimpse of glory giv’n.

Inhale: Truth.
Exhale: Hallelujah!

~~~

The first reference to God’s breath in the Bible is in Genesis 2 when God creates humans. Verse 7 says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” He breathes out, breathing into us, our very sustenance.

Then in Genesis 8 the Lord smells the pleasing aroma of Noah’s sacrifice to God after the flood, and God promises to never curse the ground or destroy all living things. He breathes in, intaking praise.

The God of the Bible contrasts with manmade idols, including all lifeless things to which we give our devotion. The psalmist in Psalm 115 mocks such idols: “They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not ear; noses, but do not smell.” But our God is alive. Moreover, He breathed in the most literal, human sense.

When Jesus first breathed in and out that Christmas night, it was, I’m sure, perfectly ordinary. His breath wasn’t a different color. And I doubt it smelled like a box of Altoids. He didn’t blow out magical shapes like a wizard with a pipe. There was a normal exchange of molecules in the air: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, plus some others.

And yet what is ordinary about God in human form? 

What is ordinary about a king taking the form of a servant?

What is ordinary about choosing to endure pain?

Yet so it began in the stable. Love is always more than ordinary.

Christmas highlights the great paradox. The beautiful irony of the Incarnation.

Christmas brings us the perfect gift. The only solution to our sin.

I love Christmas. I love the quiet commencement of substutionary atonement (starkly contrasting the consumeristic fanfare that overtakes stores and homes alike). I envy the shepherds more than I should, pondering how they breathed in the scientifically insignificant but spiritually symbolic air full of fresh breath from heaven.

I come to the stable, breathe in deep, and behold the Breath-giver.

When the busyness wins the day . . .

I had been hoping to post an original poem every Advent Sunday in addition to Christmas, but unfortunately, I am extremely busy at the moment with final exams. I will post again sometime next weekend, and I hope to post several times a week during my break.

In the meantime, here is stunning Advent poem by Richard Wilbur. Also, here he is reading it and talking about it.

“A Christmas Hymn”

by Richard Wilbur

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.
This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave His kingdom come.
Yet He shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.
But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

“Behind the Scenes” (An Advent Poem)

Before we knew it, Jesus was alive on earth
in the womb,
human heart beating, little feet kicking,
viable,
vying for us
from the beginning.

Take heart, He is with us.

When He’s behind the scenes
when we’re still waiting,
He’s growing
a plan into fruition
for our good, for His glory.

Carefully arranging
fulfillment of the prophecies
as the baby grew,
pushing them toward Bethlehem,
He shaped their paths
“as it is written.”

So while we were still wandering
still hoping,
still longing,
the Messiah was already here—
behind the scenes
about to make His entrance.

~~~

I wrote this poem after contemplating something I had never given much thought before: Jesus spent nine months in the womb before Christmas. While Mary, Joseph, and some others may have known the Messiah was en route, most Jews would have been completely unaware that their Savior, though unseen, was already on earth. Nine months before Christmas, Jesus already had His human DNA, and His body was being formed. He was already God incarnate. And He was not far off.

How true it is for us as well—that many times when we believe God is far off, He is doing something important and amazing behind the scenes, doing things instrumental to the fulfillment of His promises and will. In due time He will reveal to us His purposes. And in all times we can trust Him for He is good.

Thank You, Father

Sometimes God amazes me. Oftentimes God amazes me.

This week started off with an off-the-charts “meh” level. I was stressed about school, anxious about life, and feeling very lonely. A few days ago I thought to myself: I cannot live like this. I could not make it through this semester if nothing changes. I need more of God.

I don’t always like to draw a direct cause and effect link between these things, but last week I was not spending enough time with the Lord, especially in the Word. I’m fairly sure that had some effect ton why I was feeling so down and anxious. While I was praying about my anxieties, I wasn’t listening to God’s words in Scripture.

So the next morning I woke up and put aside the excuses. It didn’t matter if the house was burning down, I was going to read the Bible. I don’t think it was really the checking of the “read Bible” box, but it was the turning toward God and relying on Him that changed my outlook—saying, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Perhaps what amazes me most is how God prepares me and refines me through trials. A week ago I posted about how God always holds my hand. It was inspired, as I mentioned, by someone else’s hardship, and yet even as I posted it to my blog, I was beginning to realize how much my heart needed to hear that message. I believe God is always with me, holding my hand in the valley of the shadow of death which is this life. But I want to share a couple ways God “squeezed” my hand to remind me of this in the last 24 hours.

  1. Financially – There’s a good chance I will have a free place to stay when I’m traveling for a wedding in a few weeks. I was getting a little worried as I was searching for hotels earlier this week, but I think I now have another option. It’s not 100% settled yet, so I’m continuing to pray through this, but it was the greatest relief.
  2. Relationally (a) – I was sad that a particular friendship seemed to have ended, and I was praying for some sort of reconciliation, and yesterday, I saw concrete progress in that direction.
  3. Relationally (b) – I am absolutely overjoyed right now because I just learned that at aforesaid wedding, I will get to see a dear friend whom I’ve not seen in over a year!

And now, I’m off to finish my writing assignment for what I’m sure will be a long night (early morning), and yet, even in this, I’m encouraged as I was reminded today about where my identity is (not in academics):

Thank you, Father,
That whatever I do,
To the heights I’ll reach,
To the lows I’ll fall,
When the As become Cs or the Cs become As
When the undesirable becomes desired,
Then returns to ugly again,
My identity is secure above
As beloved, child of the Most High God.