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

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

The Jesus Who Came (Palm Sunday)

It’s been too long since I’ve posted! Hopefully, I’ll be back to my semi-regular posting now. I wrote most of this poem a couple Palm Sundays ago, contemplating how Jesus—knowing a brutal death awaited Him in Jerusalem—still chose to enter the city. Hosanna! Salvation is coming!

Bound for death, bound for glory,
bound for a redeeming story,
lowly and lovely, my Jesus came.
On the road to Jerusalem, surrounded
by twisted “hosannas” from future betrayal,
His unpleasant object known, yet he came.

Bound for death, bound for glory,
bound for a redeeming story,
love on His mind, my Savior came.
On the back of a donkey, worshipped
by earnest “hosannas” from sinners, desperate
for a glimpse of the Messiah who came.

Bound for death, bound for glory,
bound for a redeeming story,
for sinners still, my Jesus came.
On a cruel wooden cross, crucified
by a mocking people for whom He died
Even then, even though, He came.

Bound for death, bound for glory,
bound for a redeeming story,
to reconcile, my Jesus came.
On the throne of heaven now, majestic,
by the Father’s right hand sits He who lives.
Praise the Lord, oh my soul, that He came.

Bound for us, bound for glory,
bound for a redeeming story,
to make anew, my Lord will come
Like a thief in the night, He’ll return,
and may our hearts continue to fully yearn.
Praise the Lord, oh my soul, that He comes.

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.

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.

“Throne of Glory” (A Christmas Poem)

Throne of glory filled with hay, there in a cattle stall
Majesty, on it was laid, our King and Lord of all.

Lifter of my head as babe who couldn’t lift His own
Latent power, love displayed, the King lay on his throne.

Manger held the King that night whom cribs did not accept.
He who has so loved the world, the world would still reject.

Good Shepherd slept among the sheep for that was his path
to willingly lay down his life for lambs deserving wrath.

Humble Savior, King enthroned upon a mound of hay
Star awakens souls to sing Him everlasting praise.

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.

Amazing Words from an Advent Devotional

A Facebook friend recently shared an online Advent devotional she’s been doing recently, and I decided to check it out (you should too!). Each day (or most of them) has a song, poem, Scripture, and devotional portion. Here is one poem I read that is so touching and full of truth.

The Coming
by R.S. Thomas

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Color. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

~~~

Wow.