The Liquor District

On a recent mission trip to Cambodia (more on that later), our LEADER, a former resident, was showing us around Phnom Penh. As we passed one area in the van, she said, “And over here we have the liquor district, where I spent many an hour…” and I thought “Reaaaaaly? That’s … interesting.”

And then she finished her sentence. “… shopping. They make great wicker furniture here, and there are a ton of shops just in that one area.” One of the guys behind me exclaimed, “Oh, good, I thought you said liquor!” I said the same, and we all had a good laugh.

Sometimes it’s the small things. One letter made a big difference in what we thought about that area of town (and our LEADER, for that matter). Left uncorrected, those small things can lead to large misunderstandings, or worse.

I thought of that again the next day at church. One of the songs they sang during the service was “Above All.” Having abandoned KLTY (our local CCM radio station) long ago for a Christian rock station (go KVRK!), I hadn’t heard that song in years. (The few Western-oriented churches in Cambodia are largely stuck in the late 80’s/early 90’s, music-wise. Ironically, I heard the song again this past Sunday on KLTY when I had no choice due to KVRK being temporarily off the air. It reminded me why I abandoned it in the first place. But I digress.) As we were singing, I was struck again by how large a difference a small phrase can make.

The ending of the chorus, speaking of Jesus on the cross, says, “And [He] thought of me, above all.” There was a time I didn’t think anything about that line, I just went along for the ride. (Yes, that means there was a time I listened to Michael W. Smith. I’ve repented.) It was a nice thought — ahhhh, Jesus, on the cross, thinking of me above everything else. Isn’t that wonderful He thinks of me so much?

Except, of course, that it isn’t true. If we know anything about Jesus from the Gospels, it’s that His thoughts were always primarily on what His Father wanted of Him. If Jesus had any thoughts on the cross, I have no doubt they were directed towards His Father, not towards us. Because, above all, Jesus was obedient.

They are such a small thing, those six words. And yet they represent a very large, very dangerous, theological error. Jesus was not me-centered. He was God-centered. Jesus is not me-centered. He is God-centered. God is not me-centered, He is Himself-centered. Singing otherwise leads to thinking otherwise leads to acting otherwise leads to … trouble.

All of this does not mean, of course, that Jesus doesn’t love us. Of course He does — He died for us. It just means that His primary motivation wasn’t His love for us, His primary motivation was His love for, and obedience to, His Father. Just as our primary motivation should always be our love for, and obedience to, our Heavenly Father, not ourselves.

Have any “liquor districts” crept into your theology?

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