Saturday, January 26, 2008

I am full of earth and dirt and You

I recently fell in love with a song by David Crowder. I had often heard this song on the radio, but never fully listened to the words. This week, I was struck by the poetic nature through which Crowder describes the vast difference between the essence of God (Holy) and the essence of man (sinful) . . .

Wholly Yours
(The David Crowder Band)

I am full of earth
You are heaven’s worth
I am stained with dirt, prone to depravity
You are everything that is bright and clean
The antonym of me
You are divinity
But a certain sign of grace is this
From a broken earth flowers come up
Pushing through the dirt

You are holy, holy, holy
All heaven cries “Holy, holy God”
You are holy, holy, holy
I wanna be holy like You are

You are everything that is bright and clean
And You’re covering me with Your majesty
And the truest sign of grace was this
From wounded hands redemption fell down
Liberating man

You are holy, holy, holy
All heaven cries “Holy, holy God”
You are holy, holy, holy
I want to be holy like You are

But the harder I try the more clearly can I feel
The depth of our fall and the weight of it all
And so this might could be the most impossible thing
Your grandness in me making me clean

Glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
You are holy, holy, holy
All heaven cries “Holy, holy God”
You are holy, holy, holy
I want to be holy, holy God

So here I am, all of me
Finally everything
Wholly, wholly, wholly
I am wholly, wholly, wholly
I am wholly, wholly, wholly Yours

I am wholly Yours

I am full of earth and dirt and You

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Iraq: A New Perspective

As I have been listening to the rhetoric of the candidates running for President in 2008, the War in Iraq and the greater War on Terror have been a frequent topic of debate. And the opinions are varied!

In Oct. 2002, Barack Obama (D), Illinois, said the following in a speech to his state legislature: "I know that invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst rather than best impulses in the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars, I am opposed to dumb wars."

Of a completely opposite opinion, Mike Huckabee (R), Arkansas, responded in an interview in this fashion: "We need to understand that this is, in fact, World War III. Unlike any other world war we've ever fought, this one is one we cannot afford to lose."

On one side of the aisle, the War in Iraq is "dumb". Just 12 feet away, on the other side of the aisle, the War in Iraq is "One we cannot afford to lose." I am struck by the massive gulf that separates these two opinions!

For anyone who knows me, it is no secret that I would side with Mike Huckabee and the Republican Party (sans Ron Paul and others) who believe that the War in Iraq is of monumental importance, and was a good and just battle for our country to embark upon. What many will not know, however, is som
e of the background that leads me to that opinion.

In December 2003, I traveled to Iraq along with a team of nine others, representing the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. We went with the specific missionary purpose of helping five Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. They were in need: physically and spiritually. And by God's grace, we delivered. During our time in Iraq, we were able to distribute 450 food packs (donated by churches in America), each designed to feed a four-person family for a month. We also handed out nearly the same amount of Arabic/English New Testaments.

As we entered these makeshift Kurdish villages, we had no idea what sort of response to expect. Much to our surprise, the people we met in Iraq treated us like heroes! Obviously they were grateful for the food to eat. We pray even now that they later became grateful for the truths they found in reading and studying the Word of God. What surprised me most about their response, though, was that these people were utterly and completely in support of the Iraq War! We heard chants of "Good Bush, Good Bush" and were asked to take messages of "Thanks!" back to our President for liberating them from their dictator.

How is it, I thought, that these real-life, living and breathing Iraqi people [right before my eyes] could be in such support of a war that so many at home think is "dumb" and "
without a clear rationale"? Why is this nothing at all like the Iraq that I have seen on television all of these years?

Considering the relatively small amount of Americans that travel to Iraq, I figure that I may one of the only people (outside of U.S. Military personnel) that many readers k
now, who has actually interacted with the Iraqi people first-hand. So, after watching the recent debates, I was compelled to share a little bit of the experience that I had. I also wanted to post a reflective narrative that I wrote in October 2004, about 10 months after returning from the trip. That can be found below.

Pictures from the trip are posted on Picasa.

The fourteenth day of December two-thousand three was a day that will never escape my remembrance. In fact, the events of that day will likely persist in the memories of most everyone. But for me, the day was more personal. The day was more in my face. It began like any other, my ninth day of ministry to the citizens of Iraq. However, on this day I would bear witness to one of the most historic events of our generation. Before the end of this day a tyrannical dictator would take his first step toward justice. On this day, Saddam Hussein was captured and the Iraqi people were set free.

Nearing the end of our trip, our schedule was different from the previous days. This was the time set aside for traveling the countryside and actually seeing a good portion of the country and its people. Before dawn our team met together for a time of worship. Soon thereafter, we were ushered off in our SUVs toward the northern mountainous region. Our drivers were particularly excited to have the opportunity to showcase the beauty of their country. This was clearly not the Iraqi sentiment portrayed by the mainstream Western media. Deep in their hearts you experienced a love of country; a love which you knew had been hijacked for many years.

Over the course of the next five hours, we were given the opportunity to view scenery that rivaled Yosemite National Park. The northern regions of Iraq are truly glorious! Snowy mountains, crystal clear rivers, luscious green forests, and of course many areas of dry sand and rock. And the people, what beauty! We witnessed diligence and resolve in their craftsmanship. We saw innovation and invention in their commerce. We cherished the joy and laughter in their children. Even still, we inferred the death and sorrow in their expression. Before our eyes was a constant reminder that the mold for the Iraqi people was nothing other than the image of God. And most importantly, in the hundreds of Islamic Mosques we saw – one in nearly every village we passed – we identified their need for a Savior.

One stop we made was particularly influential. Despite the language barrier, I was able to have a broken conversation with one of the drivers who had been serving us throughout the week. He explained to me that the village nearest to us at this time was where he had grown up as child. They had been refugees from the Kurdish area of Iraq, and were forced to flee Saddam’s forces and to establish new roots in the mountainous areas near the Iranian border. Even after all the turmoil of moving their community, they still were not exempt from Saddam’s evil wrath. This driver told me that his father had been killed by Saddam Hussein, and I could see the pain and anger in his eyes. I tried as best I could to express my feelings and to join him in his mourning. I desperately wanted to express God’s love to him, but the language barrier was too strong. Thankfully, he had accepted an Arabic New Testament as a gift earlier in the trip. While I was thankful for the conversation, I came to learn that I had not fully comprehended the gravity of his feelings about Saddam.

A few hours later, as we were traveling back to our base in Erbil, we heard gunfire. While this is not an altogether rare experience while on mission to Iraq, it was unusual for it to be this close to the vehicles and in such large quantities. We knew it was out of the ordinary when our drivers noticed it. As we traveled through each village along the long desert highway, we heard this gunfire, sometimes even seeing the AK-47 that was responsible for all the racket. Something was amiss, but our vehicle had no means of communication with the outside world, so we waited patiently. After about thirty minutes, the two vehicles in our caravan pulled over ahead of us. The first driver leaped out of the truck, very excited. He ran back to us, exclaiming something unintelligible to my English speaking ears. But I did catch one word: Saddam. The translator soon informed us that the radio had just confirmed reports of Saddam’s capture in Tikrit . . . mere hours from our location! This explained the uproar of celebratory gunfire in the villages. How else do you celebrate if you’re a good Iraqi citizen?

It was in that moment that I fully understood the feelings my driver had for Saddam Hussein. I watched three grown men jump for joy and celebrate in the street. In that moment I looked upon a jubilation and gratitude that was nearly tangible. Decades of tyranny halted, and the hope of justice now on the horizon.

I will never forget that day . . . the day Saddam Hussein was captured, and the Iraqi people were set free. And still, I long for the day that those men experience true freedom, when they jump for joy on golden streets, heralding the true Enemy’s defeat, and proclaiming our shared victory in the one and only Prince of Peace.