Sunday, September 27, 2015

When Crisis meets Grace -- a Heartbeat for Europe

Hungry, tired, weak and traumatized ... everyday 8,000 more desperate souls hobble across borders into makeshift refugee camps, struggling for a chance at security, searching for hope.  An estimated half million have staggered into Europe so far in 2015, the women peeking from beneath the head scarves of their Muslim faith, wondering if today they will eat, speculating if their little ones will survive, perhaps questioning if Allah even cares about their desperate journey.

This is Europe today. And UNHCR says it is likely just the "tip of the iceberg" of what's coming.

And so the tsunami of humanity has brought with it a flood of fears of holy wars. Some speculate that ISIS is using the crisis to flood the West with its operatives who will be poised to embark on a rampage of unconscionable terror attacks at a strategic time. Others argue that by simply allowing such large numbers of Muslims into Europe, we set the stage for an "Islamicisation" of the continent within the next few generations. A victory for Muhammad without firing a single shot.

Crisis, indeed. And Europe may never again be the same.

But while many have wrapped themselves around the anxiety of certain annihilation, countless others, followers of Christ from varied backgrounds, have banned together in Hungary to, not just tell, but SHOW these needy refugees that there is a God in Heaven who loves them so completely that He sent his Son, Jesus, "Isa," to die that they might live.

"But what if there are terrorists among them?" you might ask. Then through the blankets and the bananas, the smiles, and the tears, just maybe a Muslim extremist might discover the difference between the god of jihad, and the God of Grace.

Arpad Horvath-Kavai worked with the ecclectic group of voluteers at the Hungary's southern border, handing out food packages and blankets and striving the meet the insurmountable needs. He wrote of the experience:

The extraordinary circumstances of the largest exodus of people since the last world war culminated in remarkable spiritual blessings—prayers were offered in the name of ʿĪsā,(Jesus) weary souls saw the light, the Scriptures were quoted, and Yahweh was praised.

Yes, the world faces a crisis in Europe. But instead of moaning and harping the worst possible case scenarios, we as Christian must realized that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood," (Eph. 6:12) and we must take the battle to our knees. This moment is more than the moment of crisis. It is the hour of opportunity.

Thousands, perhaps millions of Muslims, pouring into Europe know only the kind of god they've ever been exposed to:  a god of judgement, a god of  law.  Imagine if in this desperate time, they could be introduced to a God of Grace and the very real possibility of relationship with Him.

GoodSports International recognizes that the Word of God is the very heartbeat of relationship with Him. And in an effort to share this life, GoodSports is seeking to put an Arabic language Bible into the hand of every refugee, to make known this God of love, this God of grace, Isa (Jesus).

Join us in this battle and pray for all the migrants and refugees flooding into Europe. At the end of these trying days may we be able to stand against the Evil One and say what Joseph did in Genesis 50:20: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

[You can join the "Heartbeat" refugee Bible project by clicking here and donating under the item "GoodSports Hungary -- Refugee Ministry."]

Sunday, March 15, 2015

R.I.P. Rob Greathouse

R.I.P.  Rest in peace. These have become our trite words of release. An acronym of farewell that perhaps helps us let go of those we love who have made the journey into eternity. During this past week, our dear friend Rob Greathouse, who paved the way for us coming to Hungary in many ways, crossed over through death into life eternal. And as his passing has caused me to remember the past and recall his great contribution to ministry here in Hungary, I find the old acronym RIP, strangely inappropriate.

Rob and his delightful wife, Carol, came to Hungary several years before my family did. Carol was the extrovert with a heart full of compassion and such extraordinary love for everyone. Rob played the role of the strong stoic background man, the homebody that held down the fort. Together they were truly a force to be reckoned with, a force that no doubt left Satan shakin' in his shoes. They hosted orphanage kids for special weekends away from the institution. They played a critical role in building the church that we all know as Golgota Debrecen (Calvary Chapel, Debrecen).

Carol was larger than life, calling everyone "honey bunny" and leaving all with the sense that they had a loving and compassionate Grandma in their court.  Rob always proved understated. Saying little and at times coming across as a bit prickly.  But his prickles were just a thin veneer that never successfully hid his GIANT heart.  Generosity was second nature to him, and his giving was always without pomp and circumstance. He saw a need. He met the need. And that was that.  The masses would never know he was involved.

After 10 years in Hungary, they decided it was time to return to the states. But before they left Hungary, they received news that fell like a bombshell. Rob had cancer and he likely would not survive three months.  By the time they sold their house and he climbed aboard the plane, pain racked his body to such an extent that he doubted he would even survive the flight home. But then something remarkable happened.

When he got back to the states all the cancer disappeared. God had given this older couple a gift. They would be able to enjoy the treasure of each other for several more years. And enjoy it they did!  A marriage rekindled with a renewed love, deeper than either of them thought possible. It was restoration. It was love. It was life at its best.  But it was also on a timeclock. Last year the cancer returned, and as the months passed, it became increasingly clear that this cancer would be terminal.

About a month ago they visited the oncologist as they prepared to go into hospice. The doctor explained the process. Rob would receive medication for pain so he should not suffer. His body would grow increasingly weak and he would find himself sleeping more and more often until finally he would simply not wake up. And it would all probably conclude within a month's time. Rob left the meeting elated.

"Wow! That's great news!" he said. "I get to be with Christ in Heaven within the month, and I don't even have to suffer. I get to go in my sleep!"

And so it happened much as the oncologist described.  The final weeks were speckled with indescribable moments of family affection, sparks of Rob's unwavering humor, giggles and smiles alongside tears and aches until finally last week Rob slipped into that final sleep.

Rest in peace?  No, that's not for Rob. Rest is for the weary.  Rest is what Rob needed as the pushed forward in life under the weight of human frailty in those final days.  Rest is for those who walked this road at his side and now fall exhausted under the strain of what they've come through. For Carol and family I pray they will experience the "rest" of Hebrews 4 in all its fullness, and that includes the comfort and assurance of knowing where Rob lives right now.

But rest is no longer for Rob. Rob shed that heavy, faded cloak of human flesh last week, and when he did, he emerged with zeal and energy into the incomprehensible and boundless love of Christ. Basking in the glory of Lord, Rob is not wanting to rest.  For him, now is the time to revel!

And so I do not say, "Rob Greathouse, Rest in Peace," because I know there's a heck of a lot more to the hereafter than slumber.  Heaven is a place of exuberance where we come into the fullness of who we are because we have been made complete by Christ on every level. To be in the very presence of Christ, face-to-face, who could rest?  Every fiber of Rob's being must be rattled with excitement.

Considering that, maybe I can still say R.I.P. But by those letters I do not mean "rest in peace."  I mean something far more significant.  So go ahead, Rob Greathouse, go ahead and revel.  R.I.P. "Revel in His Presence!" We will join you soon!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Growing Pains: Did you really think there wouldn't be a cost?

That day when you sent me out so boldly to change the world, did you really think there wouldn't be a cost?” --Martin Luther in the movie “Luther”

When we enter Christian service on any level, we'd be terribly naive to believe there will be no cost. Any perusal of scripture leaves no doubt, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps,” 1 Peter 2:21 explains. But so often the cost proves very different from what we brace ourselves for.

I recently read of blog about how missionaries can never go home again. They are truly strangers and aliens when they go home on furlough as they return to a world that is no longer their own. Friends and family members' lives have moved on. They find they no longer really fit in. So “going home” is really not going home at all. Back in the country where they serve, they find they can never fully fit in either. They are always a little behind the power curve. In one way it has become home; in another, they find they remain just another foreigner. And so we, as missionaries, are truly strangers in a strange land wherever we go. It is cost that comes with the territory.

I have largely learned to just accept it. It is a price that must be paid to have the privilege of living an extraordinary experience in the plan of God for this world. And it is very worth it. The alternative of just remaining hunkered down in one spot never understanding that people see the world differently, to me, is completely unthinkable.

But lately, this cost has erupted with new significance for me. Everyone thinks about the sacrifices missionaries make when the leave their home country for the mission field. Few give thought to the pain involved when circumstances require missionaries to leave the mission field they so desperately love to go “home.”

America is not home anymore for me. Mikepercs, Hungary is home with all its roosters crowing in the middle of the night, the dogs barking, and the smell of coal thickening the winter air. The horse-and-wagons rumbling down the street outside our house still make me smile as do the sounds of the village festivals melding the croaking frogs in the midsummer's twilight.

And yet, circumstances beyond our control, confirmed by affirmation from above (that I really did not want to listen to), have made it clear that in this next year we will be returning to the states.

In a lot of ways for us, it is like moving to a mysterious foreign country. The USA has changed so much since we lived there some 15 years ago. Technology has evolved. I don't even know how to pay bills in America anymore. I feel awkward and ignorant when I am in the states. I still feel that way in Hungary sometimes, but people understand that here. I am a foreigner!

I don't know how to use a smart phone! I've forgotten that gas comes in gallons, and how much is gallon, anyway? Miles instead of kilometers. Pounds instead of kilograms. No one walks anywhere. Public transportation is scarce. Food tastes funny because of all the preservatives. I am already culture shocking and we haven't even left yet!

Once again we find ourselves strangers in a strange land. And it is scary, scarier than when we came to Hungary, because we have three teenagers to shepherd through the radical change – three kids who know little about American life and culture.

When watching the movie “Luther” the other night, one quote stood out to me. As Luther's views began to shake up the establishment, he was confronted by his early mentor. Luther responded, “Did you really think there wouldn't be a cost?” It echoed in the recesses of my spirit.

Yes, I thought there would be a cost, but I didn't count on it being this one. It hurts to lose Hungary and the remarkable people I have come to know and love here. The things they have taught me shall be treasured in my heart for decades to come. They have made me into the person I am. Hungary has changed me, and I cannot imagine my life without this precious place.

And still we must go. Through the ache and with a heavy sigh, we will have to move forward and again become “strangers and aliens” because we indeed are not of this world.

No, moving to Texas is not going home. The only real home will not be found here in the “puszta” of Hungary or there on the plains of Texas. The only true home will be found in the Heavenly hereafter.

This perpetual sense of loss and feeling of homelessness is all part of the cost. And although the cost is high, I'd suffer the ache again and again. Because at the end of this life, I know the pain will not prove pointless. It will prove to have been what's necessary to grow into what I needed to be. 

It's just
growing pains.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recovering Thankfulness by shattering the lens of "me"

In America, the Thanksgiving season has arrived with all the splendor (and chill) of autumn. And while we ponder pumpkin pie and smoked turkey, it's a good season to think a little about what thankfulness really is.

"Thank you!" If you were raised to be polite, you probably say that a lot. When you make a purchase at the store, you say, "Thank you. Bye," as you leave. But is that really thankfulness?  Do you sincerely feel that sense of appreciation that comes from thankfulness. Probably not. Why? Because, you paid for the item. You simply got what you deserved.

BUT if you went to pay for an item and clerk said, "I tell you what, I am going to pay for that, myself. You can have it for free," your attitude would be different. Some of us would try not to accept it. "No. no, you can't do that. I must pay for my things."  Others might take a step back dumbfounded.  But at the end of the transaction, most of us would say, "Wow, thank you."  Same words. Totally different sentiment, a sentiment of true thankfulness.

I fear we have largely lost the sentiment of true thankfulness in our modern lives. We have more stuff and likely live in nicer houses than our parents' generation, certainly more than our grandparents'. We have all the gadgets of our technological age. We have dishwashers, clothes washers, even clothes driers! We live in an age of jet airplanes and regular vacations.  We have more to be thankful for and yet, ironically, we've largely lost the sentiment of thankfulness.

Baby boomers became known as the "me" generation, bent on "self-realization and self fulfillment."  Now the millennials are becoming known as the "me, me, me," generation, marked by overconfidence, sense of entitlement and laziness. The me culture has become our norm and it has even impacted our Christianity.

Perhaps here is where we find our fundamental flaw.  We only see the world through the lens of ME.  Psychologists of our times speak of  people suffering from everything from inferiority complexes to superiority complexes, or vacillating between the two. Yet all the complexes place the "me" at the center of the universe.

And when we can only see the world with the "me" at the center, we are incapable of comprehending the truth of who we are and who God is.  Until we "get" this, it's hard to truly be thankful.

I was recently reminded of one of my favorite stories of the Bible. Matt. 15:26 tells of a gentile woman who came to Jesus in utter desperation because her child was tormented by a demon. For many it is a troubling story because of what Jesus says to her: "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."(v.26).

Stinging words! But surprisingly, this woman was not offended at all. Why? Because she knew it was true. The woman understood exactly what He was saying. Jesus was calling things as they are. She had no right to ask anything of Jesus. She was not even a Jew, for heaven's sake!

She could demand nothing. She knew she was like a dog, the pet that lies beneath the table. She accepted that, because she was not looking at the world through the lens of "me".  As a result, she could see things as they were. She understood exactly who she was and who He was.  Because of this understanding, she made an appeal. "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table," she said. (v27).

It was a remarkable moment. It brings tears to my eyes, as it must of done for Christ himself as he answers with great emotion, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish."(v. 28).

So while God's own chosen people were rejecting him, the Jewish leaders were fighting with him and his own disciples were so often missing the point, this pagan woman really understood who God was and who she was. And on that basis, she made her appeal, an appeal for mercy, for grace. And when she received that which she asked for, we can be sure her heart brimmed with true thanksgiving.

As we enter this thanksgiving season, let's take the time to step back from all our luxuries, remove the lens of "me" and just see God for who He is.  When we let Him truly be the center of our universe, we can begin to understand who we are in the face of His reality.  And then, perhaps, we can recover a true spirit of Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 17, 2014

This blog has been dead for the past year, mainly due to a huge writing project that's now complete.  My newest book, "A Story of Grace: Beyond the Iron Curtain" is now available on Written with Phil Metzger, pastor of Calvary Chapel Budapest, this book looks at some of God's amazing works in Central Europe over the past twenty years.
I look forward to returning the world of blogging soon.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Saturday: Doubting God

Nestled between the tragic "Good Friday" and triumphant "Easter Sunday" lies a day often overlooked in the Christian calendar: Easter Saturday.

It's a day sometimes observed by the more high church denominations with ceremony and tradition, a day of mourning. It's a day of grief.  But it is also a day of much deeper emotion, a day that represents doubt and despondency.  And it poses a poignant question: How would you respond if everything you could see, hear, touch, feel, and taste told you that what you've believed in was completely wrong.

On Friday, the disciples, family and followers all watched Christ die a gruesome death.  Perhaps even as they stood there, against all hope, believing God would intervene at the last possible moment and all would see that Jesus is Messiah!  But God didn't intervene. God let Him die.

For those who believed in Him so completely, it had to have been incomprehensible. They knew Him and loved Him. He could not be dead! He had not done what Messiah was supposed to do! He had not ushered in a new era.

And yet as they wrapped his body quickly in spices and laid it in the tomb, they faced the incomprehensible reality.  He really was dead. As they pushed the stone over the cave opening, they had to begin burying all the hopes and dreams they had wrapped up in Him as Messiah. It was over.

As the sun rose on Easter Saturday, they had to go through their Sabbath routine, but it had to have felt so empty.  The questions must have screamed through everyone's mind, even if no one dared utter the words aloud.

Had Jesus deceived them? The love they had for Him made the possibility all the more painful to consider.

Was He not the Christ? How could He be if now He were dead?!

But His love, His miracles!  And yet now, He lay dead in a tomb. Death did not lie.

All evidence, all reality, all of life experience culminating in the day of Easter Saturday left no doubt. They were wrong. They had clearly misplaced their faith.

We all have Easter Saturdays in our lives.  They do not always correspond with the calendar holiday, but they are there--days when we doubt, days when we wonder where God is and if He even really cares. And our harsh circumstances testify with all certainty that we've misplaced our faith by putting it in Someone we cannot see.

Easter Saturdays are critical, defining moments in our lives. They are moments when the rubber hits the road in our faith.  After all, what is faith but the "confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)  It's easy to have "faith" when God makes sense. But that's not really faith at all. But in those Easter Saturdays of our life, when all logic and circumstances scream "there is no God,"  that's when real faith begins.

Easter Saturdays are not the enemy of our faith. They stand as a necessary ingredient in establishing a true faith built on more than religious axioms and tradition.  Easter Saturday represents a critical part in the process that brings us from the point of inexplicable tragedy (Good Friday) to a place of complete redemption and hope (Easter Sunday), where faith actually does become sight.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Born To Die

It's Christmastime! The streets are ablaze with glittering lights as snowflakes dance in the early night air, and homes, schools, and shopping centers  burst with candy canes, caroles, and colorful gifts. In the hustle and bustle, the stress and expectations, Christmas can really become as artificial as the silver and gold tinsel on a plastic fir tree.

So much so that we become lost in all the gingerbread, chocolate, and childhood dreams of a fuzzy-faced icon in a red suit.

Yeah, yeah, we all know the true meaning of Christmas. And if you are at all like me, you struggle to keep it all straight this time of year. "No, no, it's not about the presents," I say to myself as I rush into TESCO. "It's about Jesus." But immediately the thought is lost among my lists of things to buy, cookies to make, meals to plan and prepare.

To be honest, I all but failed this year to stay spiritually on track during the chaos of Christmas; that is, until I went to Miskolc and visited the orphanage there on Saturday.

I've done the orphanage thing for many years. But this year was different. It was different because Marko wasn't there.

Marko, precious Marko, passed away at age eight last month.

I really hadn't thought about the void until I walked into the house where he used to live. As I passed through the door, I totally expected to hear his little voice cry out, "Szia, Trudy!" as it always had before. I did not even know I expected it, but it's cold, harsh absence hit me with a sober silence.  Sure, there were the sounds of the other kids laughing and playing, but Marko was not there, and I wanted to cry.

I pulled it together as the day's events continued, but a heaviness remained. At one point I saw Philip playing with one of the new little boys in his lap. I saw the little dark-haired boy wrestle and laugh out of the corner of my eye, and for half-a-second I believed it was Marko, at home in Philip's arms where he belonged. For half-a-second, I forgot. For half-a-second, everything was alright again.

Then reality hit. And all that was left was the ominous presence of Marko's all-too-painful absence.

This year has been a year of a lot of death. From young Ben's death of brain cancer to the suicide at the orphanage in the summer, to our friend who lost his father, to Marko, and the flower girl from our wedding.

Loss makes for a sobering Christmas. It pares back the superficiality and forces us to look deeper at the holiday -- to reach out (perhaps desperately) for something more.

And when we reach out for a deeper meaning in Christmas, we discover a baby born to die.

Indeed, there is no superficiality here. No tinsel, no sugar plums. Only the somber reality that, on some level, Christmas commemorates a life coming in the world with one fundamental goal, one purpose. And that purpose was death.

And it would be the most significant death the world had ever known, for all of human destiny hinged upon it. It was a death that would bring grief, just like you and I have known.  But it was also a death that ignited life eternal for all who dare ask.

That makes Christmas on one hand a holiday as sober as grief itself, and yet on the other, a true reason to sing, "Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!"

And so we celebrated Christmas at the Miskolc orphanage.  We handed out the gifts (provided by the generosity of the American military community in Germany) and it was fun to see the kids tear into them with all the eager anticipation that fills the season with magic.

So even if you are grieving this holiday season, you still have a place by the manger because the manger is not so far from the cross. And the cross is just a few steps away from the empty tomb.  And that's a reason to celebrate -- especially in a time of loss.