We went on a cruise this week. I mean, it was work-related; I was playing. But still, we went on a cruise. My son’s teacher just gave him one piece of homework to complete over our week long trip: a cultural report on Haiti. This was our first stop on the cruise. I was pretty excited because we, as a church, have spent a lot of time and money supporting the people of Haiti over the last few years. I looked forward to seeing this country which had been through so much, that we had prayed for so often. But we didn’t actually see the Haiti I was expecting. We landed at a dock where the surrounding area had been leased by the cruise company for the next 99 years. Everything was geared toward tourists. They weren’t trying to show us Haiti. They were trying to show us what they thought we wanted to see, all the while keeping us very happy and comfortable.
I was proud that my son decided to write a paper comparing what he saw on the trip to what he researched Haiti to be really like. So he said things like, “I saw brightly painted buildings and everything was new and shiny.” ”But most dwellings in Haiti are of a poor standard, as the majority of people live in severe poverty. Many houses are one floor high, square and small buildings made of the materials available in the nearby area, with no running water or indoor sewage system.” He talked about the food: “We ate hamburgers, hot dogs, and barbecue chicken. We did have a little rice and beans.” “Mostly, the foods eaten there include rice, beans, yams, and corn. Some of the wealthier residents may be able to afford pork and goat meat.” He wrote about the entertainment: “We played at a water park, played volleyball and swam in the ocean.” ”Boys and girls both love to play soccer. Boys play it more because they have more time. Girls like to play rocks and bones. It is played similar to jacks. Kids also like to make homemade kites. Most of the time though they do chores such as getting water for the family.”
He was most excited about sharing with his class that over the hill and out of sight of the tourist section was a large fence with barbed wire and guards. This keeps our little tourist world safe from an invasion by real Haitians. It keeps us from seeing anyone who doesn’t have a uniform and a nametag.
I was grateful that my kid understands enough about the world to see through the facade they showed us. I hope he has as much wisdom in the rest of his life. I was proud that he wanted to explain to his friends the difference in “tourist Haiti” and real Haiti. I was thankful that after spending a week with people who were attempting to satisfy their every whim, he was still in contact with reality, with the difference between gluttony and need. And I was grateful that he wasn’t self-righteous about it. He wasn’t angry. He just wanted to share the truth with his class.
May I be as wise.
I wanted to point out one more thing in this song. If you missed the first blog, I’m talking about the song “God I Look To You” from Bethel Church by Jenn Johnson and Ian McIntosh. They accomplish something in this song that is quite difficult and often overlooked. So I want to point it out to you.
When you are talking about the goodness of God (and by “you”, I really mean me), we usually juxtapose it with the darkness and despair of the world. I do that a lot. When my chorus is going to be celebrating His love, my verse will have a tendency to talk about how horrible I am, thereby setting up how amazing it is that He loves me. But in all honesty, I think that is actually exalting our fallenness. We are drawing attention to the flesh, to the evil, to the sin and shame in the world and in our own lives.
What Jenn and Ian do (I hope they don’t mind me calling them by their first names, even though we’ve never actually met) is they use both the verse and the chorus to exalt Christ. The first verse says,
“God I look to You
I won’t be overwhelmed
Give me vision
To see things like You do.”
They indirectly mention the world as a threat to overwhelm us, but it is only the context of our looking to God and Him rescuing and establishing us. And that still sets up the chorus…
“I will love You Lord my strength
I will love You Lord my shield
I will love You Lord my rock
Forever all my days I will love You God.”
God has and is rescuing us and we love Him for that. I don’t have to spend my whole verse listing everything He’s saving me from. That actually seems to be exalting my sin and my shame. I am drawing focus to it. What they accomplish is to place the focus on God from the very first word of the song and never take it off of Him. Great songwriting. Grateful to be able to lead this song.
As you may have guessed, I’m really intense about lyrical content. Even in worship songs. So if a song has a lyric I don’t think is theologically sound, I just won’t play it. So recently, my church started playing “God I Look To You” from Bethel Church. The song starts with the lines, “God, I look to You, I won’t be overwhelmed.” The first time I heard this, my thought was, “What? How could you possibly say that when you see God, you won’t be overwhelmed?” It seemed to be the height of arrogance and presumption. And in the depth of my arrogance and presumption, I turned away from the song, assuming it to be theologically weak.
Fast forward to the present, I’ve had a tough week. I got some bad news, was really disappointed in some things, had a hard week as a husband and as a parent. So I was pretty beat up and worn down as I was trying to prepare to lead worship this weekend. As I sat at my piano, God brought this song to mind, and in His grace, pulled the webs of pride from my eyes and made it clear to me. The song wasn’t saying that we wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the presence of God! It was saying that when we look to Him, we won’t be overwhelmed by anything else.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 ESV)
I’ve always loved this verse, well ever since 1994 when my friend Brad taught me a song based on it. God brought it back to mind this weekend. It was exactly what I needed to hear and it caused this worship song to blossom. I had a powerful honest time of worship out in my back room. And then was able to prepare for a special weekend of congregational worship on Sunday. So thanks to Jenn Johnson and Ian Mcintosh for writing a great song and sharing it with me. And thanks to God for being patient with me until it was just the right moment to open my eyes, and for upholding me with His righteous right hand and not letting me be overwhelmed.
I just took down our Christmas lights. Yes, I know it’s the end of January. I’ve been busy. At least too busy to work on this. Admittedly it’s hard to carve out time to do a job at the end of which your house looks either exactly the same or a little worse. When all the lights are off the roof and off the trees, then there is no more nightly shimmer in your yard. Do I miss that? Not necessarily. But I don’t have a lot of incentive to make it go away.
I think we face the same thing in our Christian lives, especially in the area of spiritual disciplines. We are working on something that no one will notice tomorrow. Say I spend an hour in silent contemplation today, guess how much people will notice that tomorrow? Right, none. Say I study my Bible for 4 hours, who notices that? No one. Much of our spiritual life is done in the presence of only God and is designed to please only Him. But pleasing Him is quite important.
Not one of our neighbors will notice that our lights are down. But my wife will. Because she has a consistently updating list in her head of all the things she needs to do around the house, and one big item will be removed from it. And you know, that’s enough for me.
And it’s enough for me that God is pleased when I pursue Him in ways no one else will notice.
Hey everyone, I just finished speaking at a great event in Gatlinburg TN. Our theme for graceCONVO 2013 was Seasons. We addressed the issue of the omnipresence of God, and how His presence enables us to obey His commands to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:16-18), to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), and to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2). So I wanted to post a blog where the students and their leaders could post their comments and thoughts about the weekend. I hope to hear from you guys and am excited about what God is going to do in your lives.
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)
Christmas is a busy time. There are presents to buy, to wrap, and eventually to open, to play with, to try on. There are meals to fix for family that is visiting, which is why you had to clean the house. There are traditions to be upheld: the hanging of stockings, the lighting of the tree, the tension among family members. There are church services to attend, or to plan and produce. Christmas is so busy that we can fill every minute of every day with some task which is “absolutely required” to pull off Christmas.
But are we so busy that we fail to spend time with Jesus? Where is that in our holiday planning? I think Christmas might be a good day to leave a few things undone and to sit at His feet for a while. We have the chance to celebrate the birthday of our Rescuer, our Redeemer. And we get to spend it with Him. Let’s not pass that up this Christmas.
P.S. Credit and thanks for this blog topic must go to one of my mentors, Joe McKinney. Much love to all the McKinneys and a very Merry (and Mary) Christmas.