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

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.

When your heart beats in tandem with a stranger’s from afar

This is not a political statement. If I have time, I will write more legal/political analysis of the recent executive order on travel/refugee ban, but this is not that. I wrote this Sunday night when my heart was feeling so heavy.

~~~

“Why I’m Crying”

I’m thinking about those who had a plane ticket for today,

finally to depart for the promise land.

Not yet. Maybe later. Maybe not.

I’m thinking about those who received the stamp of approval last week

that they would be settling here in the United States.

I’m thinking about their smiles,

the hugs they shared in celebration at the good news—

but now tears.

Hold on, I care. He cares

I’m thinking about the ones who have never heard the love of Jesus

being turned away by a “Christian nation.”

My heart beats for you.

My heart bleeds for you.

I want it to.

If only they could know, the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed.

And He himself was once a refugee too.

~~~

“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” – Psalm 9:9

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4

Edit: I realize I didn’t explicitly acknowledge many of the specific factors that make life in a refugee camp (and life in a war zone) so hard. Yes, I’m moved thinking about the hunger and cold and other dire circumstances refugees face—more than anything. That’s why it must be all-the-more difficult and tragic for refugees who have been approved for resettlement to now hear that such hope is delayed, in some cases indefinitely.

 

Prepare My Heart to Praise You Then

I’ve said and heard many times in Bible studies before “It’s so much easier to praise God when life is going well for us.” It’s true. A few days ago I was feeling unusually joyful and happy about life. As I was singing worship songs in the two-hour drive I was taking that day, I prayed, “Prepare my heart to praise you then.” In the other times. In the less-easy-to-praise-God times. In the less-easy-but-immensely-important times.

I think of it as an infinite pattern of praise—praising God today for today and praising Him today for tomorrow. “Lord, I praise you today. And I praise You that when hard times come tomorrow, You will be with me. And I praise You because when you get me through the hard times of tomorrow, and I’m tempted to ignore You and boast in myself, You will be with me. And I praise You that when I’ve been humbled from that boasting that follows the hard time following the goodness of today, You will still be with me!”

And so this is what I’ve written over the past week:

Prepare my heart to praise You then
When darker days do come.
When earth gives way and mountains move,
Recall to me Your love.
Steadfast, I know it never leaves.
Each morning it is new.
I trust You for the coming doubt
That You will see me through.

The woes of earth surprise me not.
Already I rejoice.
I hide Your word within my heart
To always know Your voice.
With truth in hand, I’ll face the trials.
My double-edged sword
Cuts down the lies that pull me far
Away from Christ my Lord.

With eager heart, expect great things,
His glory coming soon,
A story of His faithfulness
To never-changing tune.
Steadfast, I know You never leave,
Each morning grace anew.
I trust You for the coming doubt
That you will see me through.

Some verses referenced:
Lamentations 3:21-22; Psalm 46:1-3; 1 Peter 4:12; James 1:2; Psalm 119:11; Psalm 105:5; John 10:3-5, 14-16; Hebrews 4:12; Romans 8:18

Palace Plans

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity