Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Trophy or Tool?

Have you ever wanted to be God’s trophy – all shiny and sparkly with the glory of heaven? The kind of thing that’s put on display, under glass for all to admire. For those who aspire to excel in the public area, be it through music, preaching, teaching or writing, the longing to be God’s trophy in some shape or form rushes through our veins with a fury.

But I cannot find a single reference in scripture where God calls us to be his trophies. We are instead called to be “witnesses” (Acts 1:8), “disciples” (Matt 28:19), “vessels “(Romans 9:21), and “implements of righteousness “(Romans 6:13). In short, we are called to be tools.

Tools are far less glorious things than trophies. They dwell not in showcases, but on hooks, in boxes or in drawers. They aren’t necessarily so interesting to look at. They aren’t pretty. And they can have no ambition unto themselves. They are wholly dependent, serving no purpose at all, unless they rest in the Craftsman’s hand.

Oswald Chambers writes: “If you seek great things for yourself, thinking, ‘God has called me for this and for that,’ you barricade God from using you. As long as you maintain your own personal interests and ambitions, you cannot be completely aligned or identified with God’s interests.”

So what does that mean? That the singer should never sing again, the preacher never again expound the Word, the writer never again place word on paper? I don’t think so. But I do think it challenges us all to consider WHY we want to be God’s trophies? For this is not a call of God, but a call of self.

We would be better suited, however, if we stopped thinking of ourselves in the use of our gifts as trophies and began to see ourselves a mere tools. That requires a death of our own ambition for the sake of His ambition to be realized in our life. But is that really so much of a sacrifice?

For in the end, a trophy is terribly hollow, cold, and untouched, and untouching vessel. It tarnishes with time and even the safety of protective glass cannot change it. But a tool regularly experiences the warm magic of the Master Craftsman’s touch as He uses it to fashion something beautiful in the lives of others.

May we learn how to simply rest as tools in His hand that He might use us to craft His masterpieces in this world.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tapasztalatok: Aldi és Ifjúság

Aldi magyarorszagon most. És én nagyon szeretem Aldit.

Miért?

Lehet mert sok Német dologok tudok venni ott -- mint fekete erdei sonka vagy német csoki. Ez egy jó okot, de nekem, egészen másmilyen okok.

Lehet mert legolcsobb tonhal és nem nagyon draga lazac. Ujra, ez egy jó okot. De nem eleg nekem.

Én vásárok Aldi-ben, mert szerinti Aldi, nagyon fiatal vagyok! Ez igaz!

Oktoberben, elment az Aldi-re venni bort. Amikor fizettem, a pénztáros azt mondt hogy, "Személyi igazolvány, kérek szépen."

Én mondtam hogy "tessék? Csak egy kicsi beszélek magyarul."

A pénztáros mosolyogot és azt mondt hogy "passport?"

Megzavarodott voltam. Miért szükségnek az útlevélem? Soha történt elott.

Akkor a ferfi mögött engem azt mondt hogy "Mi baj? A hölgy 30 éves legalább!"

"Ahhhh, értem," gondoltam. "I'm being carded!"

Én mosolyogotam. "Nagyon öreg vagyok!" Én mondtam hogy. Mutattam az útlevélem. "40 éves leszek marciusban!!!!!"

Nagyon vicces volt, goldoltam. De amikor elmeséltem Russell-tol mit történt, kacagot!

Szerint Russell, ez az új értékesítési módok. Aldi pénztáros kell mondani az öreg hölgyek jónak és fiatalnak látszik. Akkor öreg hölgyek az Aldiben akar vásárni.

Lehet Russell helyes. Lehet csak egy új értékesítési módok.

Én azt mondom hogy ez egy nagyon jó értékesítési módok. Munkadik!!!!!!!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gotcha Day!

On Saturday 15 November the Chun family celebrated GOTCHA day! That's two years since the day we got Niki. It was a day full of fun and surprises, topped off by a raklett(sp?) dinner and a decadant chocolate cake with vanilla pudding filling. Here are some photos of the event.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The World According to Andi


"It is a good thing we know, 'Jo napot kivanok!' Because if we didn't, we'd have to 'csokolom' all over the place." Andi Chun. November 9, 2008.

(For those who do not know Hungarian, I will leave it to your imagination)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Declaring DEpendence Day!

Well, elections are over. And as Americans whinny "woo hoos!" or wail "boo hoos!" over the results, I find myself worlds away pondering, not the glories of independence and the stars and stripes, but the sanctity of dependence in the Christian life.

Dependence? Ick. It reeks of weakness and helplessness -- void of security, self sufficiency and all those things we cherish most. For those of us who are Americans, our culture and national history and pride are rooted in independence. It represents a fundamental element of our national identity. And as a result, I fear, it oozes over into our understanding of the Christian life.

But let me throw in a curve ball. What if God never created us for independence?

Think about it. From the earliest days of creation in the garden, when the world was perfect, man was not independent. He was truly DEpendent on God for everything and he knew it. God provided his food, his water, and even his companionship. Man recognized God as truly Jehovah Jireh.

It was man's demand for independence that got him into trouble there.

Now we go through life masquerading under a facade of independence, but are we really so independent? Children depend on parents, husbands on wives and vice versa. Families and individuals depend on their jobs. Many older people depend on social security... etc. The list goes on and on.

So it is not that we are truly INdependent. It is simply that we are independent of God. Perhaps one's true god is what he depends upon most -- be it one's work, one's belongings, one's money, one's romantic interest/spouse/ child, or even a presidential candidate.

I recently read the book, The Shack. In it, William Young paints a beautiful representation of the interdependence of the Godhead, rooted in the purest deepest form of love and fellowship. He longs for us to tap into it, but that comes only if we surrender that independence that charms us most -- which is little more than dependence on things other than God himself. It demands a breaking.

Oswald Chambers put it this way in Monday's devotional: "Has that breaking of my independence come? All the rest is religious fraud. The one point to decide is— will I give up? Will I surrender to Jesus Christ, placing no conditions whatsoever as to how the brokenness will come? I must be broken from my own understanding of myself. When I reach that point, immediately the reality of the supernatural identification with Jesus Christ takes place. And the witness of the Spirit of God is unmistakable— 'I have been crucified with Christ . . . .'"

Want to do something radical? How about declaring DEpendence day. Ironically, that day of surrender may bring the greatest victory your life has ever known.

Can we say, "I want dependence!" Dependence, no matter what God asks me to walk through, however the brokenness may come, I give up the right to know "why"all the time. I make the choice to simply depend.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tapastalatok: A Kórház élmény

A Magyar kórház nagyon érdekes hely --különösen a betegnek!

Russell hat nap a kórházban volt. Egy nagyon dramatikus multi-kulturalis élmény volt.

Amerikai emberek és Magyar emberek nagyon különböző fogolomok meztelenség illetőleg.

Szerint az Amerikai ember, ruha nem csak egy divatos dolog. A ruha egy fontos dolog. Az Amerikai ember nem akar masik emberek a meztelen testje latni. Nagyon kinos!!!!!!

De a magyar nem nagyon aggodalmaskodó. Neha, nagyon boldog felfedni több test mint senki sem akar latni.

Ez igaz különösen a korhazban.

Amikor Russell a kórházban volt, szobatársa van. A harmadik nap, az uj sobatárs jött. A név Nagy Ferenc.

Nagy Ferenc nagyon baratsagos ferfi. Ferenc üdvözöl mindenki a szobaban a mosogolyyal. Mindenki szereti Nagy Ferenc. Ez nagyon bűbájos ember beszelgetnek Russellel es a masik magyar beteggel a szobababan. Magyaraz az operációjat. Ferenc mondj hogy "Itt van a röntgenképet, és az operáció itt lesz."

Most a baratsagos Ferenc felfedt a meztelen feneke!

Eh! Ez túl sok informacio a Amerikai szemeknek.

Az igaz mindenki szereti Nagy Ferenc, de szerintem ez volt túl sok Nagy Ferenc szeretni.

Nagy Ferenc operacioja sikerül volt, és a jövö nap elment boldogan a haza.

De szerintem, Russell lehet soha felépül teljesen a multikuluralis élménytol a Nagy Ferenccel.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Gift

"There's far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There's also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting." --The Message Phillipians 1:29

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lullaby of Heaven

Listen!

Do you hear it?

Listen hard. It's drowned out by the sounds of cell phones ringing, TVs blaring, and all the pressures of daily life, but it is still there.

But it can be, oh so hard to hear.

It is a melody than can only originate one place. It whispers from the highest halls of heaven and seeks to tenderly comfort the human ear. It is the lullaby of heaven.

Why do we sing lullabies to babies?

To provide comfort, to create security, and to bring the child into a place of rest.

We too need to hear such lullabies, especially when we fall in to the valleys of life. And such lullabies are ringing out right now, if we will only stop to listen.

The lullaby of heaven poured out boldly last week when a pregnant horse and a ping-pong table landed my husband in the hospital for a week. But it rings out with equal comfort when day to day drudgery drives me into melacholy mediocrity.

It rings out when the piles of laundry start to resemble the insurmountable great Alps and when the leak under the kitchen sink which looked like a dribble yesterday begins to rush like Victoria Falls today-- with no plumber in sight!

It is a lullaby that says "Yes, in the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:23) It says, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt 28:20)

And it was celestially designed from the dawn of time to draw us completely into His rest. (Hebrews 4).

So take a moment to turn down the volume on the blaring ruckus we call life. And listen closely. You may hear a lullaby from heaven meant just for you.

There's a melody of comfort
for human hearts that cry,
for those so pained,
whose hopes have waned,
a celestial lullaby.

It's a melody from heaven
that bathes your heart with light,
to dry your tears,
and soothe your fears,
through the dark and stormy night.

And when that lullaby from heaven
seems so far away
Know that it rings still,
and always will,
for all who dare to pray

And the lullaby of heaven
will bring you through this test.
Just incline your ear
Let Him draw you near
Into His perfect rest.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Birth Pains" in Becoming "Falusi" (Village person)

In my last blog, I wrote (in feeble Hungarian) how I longed to be not simply a person who lived in a village, but a true "falusi", that is, village person. But if one is not born into this world "falusi", it seems the tranformation does not occur without a certain amount of pain.

Our birth into falusi-hood occured on Tuesday afternoon. We had planned to begin a youth group with the local reformed church. It was to start Friday and would feature Ping-Pong and Spaghetti -- quite an attraction, right?

Our Roma (gypsy) neighbors kindly offered to help us get the ping-pong table from our garage to the small house the church was to let us use. The mode of transportation would be the Roma famy's horse and wagon. Russ loaded the table on the back of the rig and as he stepped on, the horse spooked. The neighbor's son, Guszti, raced forward to grab the horse's bridal. Russ jumped to the seat and grabbed the reigns. Both Guszti and Russ pulled on the reigns with all their might, but the horse only grew more wild, dragging Guszti with it as it dashed down the road.

The boy finally let go. Russ though for sure he'd be hit by the wagon wheel. But he managed to get out of the way unharmed, but shaken. Russ failed in his effort to control the firey beast and in its tirade, the horse managed to flip both Russ and the ping-pong table out of the wagon.

Guszti ran to our house and got me as Russ lay on the side of the street, his head gashed and bleeding. He complained of some pain on the left side of his chest as I grabbed the first aid kit and tried to stop the bleeding. Neighbors began to pour out of their homes. One called the ambulance and we waited.

Russ was conscious, but closed his eyes to rest. He opened them to see Guszti's mom scrubbing the blood off his hands with soap and water as a half smoked cigarette hung from her lips. AHHH Village life!

When the ambulance came, we were glad to learn the mentő (EMT) spoke English well. He put a neck brace on him and placed him on the stretcher. As they rushed to the hospital they came across an automobile accident and said they may have to stop and help.

Imagine that, Carpooling the injured in an ambulance. It seems it wasn't a good day for many people.

At the hospital Russ was in and out of various rooms, getting x-rays, stitches etc. When I arrived he was wrapped in white netting that resembled that headgear of olympic water polo players. We were first told he had to stay over night. Then after more x-rays they determined he must stay 4-5 days.

They placed him in a room with several men in serious condition. And there he became something of a celebrity. They all were perplexed to understand how this Asian- American from Hawaii ended up living in a Hungarian village and how he managed to get in an accident involving a horse and wagon and a ping-pong table in that village.

Meanwhile every Falusi on our street wanted to help and constantly inquired about Russ' well being. One neighbor even baked pastries for him. Ahhh, sweet village life.

Friends at church met us at the hospital to help with translation and to give general moral support. They were such a delight that Russ heard the guy in the bed next to him telling them about how that American had all the people in here and they were having a party!

The next day after I visited him, the orderly, who spoke English, said "You no longer need intensive care."

Russ thought, "I did not know I was in intensive care!" And they settled him in a new room on another floor.

Today when the doctors made their rounds, Russ blurted out --"So when do I go home?" Some of docs were taken aback, but then a Canadian doctor stepped forward and began speaking with him.

"Do you know what is going on with you?" She asked.

"No, I don't know anything," Russ responded.

She explained that he has something known as a window fracture, which means there is more than one fracture in each of more than one adjacent ribs -- creating a window in the ribcage. (doctors correct me if I described that wrong) They must monitor it carefully to make sure it remains intact. We do not want any rib pieces floating around in there. (Our doctor friend in America, Thom Bresley, wrote that it is called "flail chest" in English. He said it is "not good" but "will heal as long as he can breath with the window." The good news is that Russ is breathing relatively comfortably.)

"Didn't they give you the rubber glove with the tube?" the Canadian doc asked yesterday.

"Yeah, I found that here," Russ responded rather confused. He kind of thought it was some sort of joke. After all, no one bothered to tell him what to do with it.

She told him that his job was to continually blow up the rubber glove -- some sort of therapy to make sure the lungs are not being affected by the "window," I suppose.

So now he knows what to do with the glove.

And thanks to the Canadian doc, he has a little more information on his medical status. And we await news of when he can return home.

Our Hungarian friends say that once you've had an accident involving a horse and wagon, you are truly Falusi!

It is a title we'll cherish as it has come with quite a price.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I am Falusi. Hear Me Roar!

Lenni falusi. Ez egy érdekes dologot.

Szerint sok városi magyarok, ez nem jó dologot. De én nem egyezem. Szerintem, lenni falusi nagyon kölönleges.

Mi az igazi falusi? Csak lakni a faluban? Nem szerintem. Sok emberek Mikepercsen laknak, de mindenki nem falusi.

A falusi nagyon leleményes. Ha valami rossz, a városi a boltba megy es visz új valamit. De a falusi megjaviti.

A falusi nagyon edzett is. Amikor esik az eső a városi szüleim jön iskolába a kocsiban a gyerekeknek. De igazi falusi sétál az esőban es falusi gyerekek a haza bicikliznek az esőban. Nincs problema!

A falusi nagyon önálló. A falusi hölgy a házi tésztát csinál. A falusi ferfi házi pálinkát csinal. Tészta es pálinka -- Mit más szükségnek?

A falusi élet egy egyszerű élet van, tejes kerekpárokkal és kis fagyizókkal. Ez egy jó élet. Lehet A jó élet.

Remelem egy napon én nem csak egy faluban lakok. Remelem egy falusi leszek is.

A falusi élet: Mit egy gyönyörű élet!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Making Progress


"Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearer." 1Timothy 4:15-16 Amplified

Over the past two weeks I have watched my daughters emerge into the world of school. They proudly bear the title "iskolas" (school kid) now as they organize and pack their backpacks gearing up for another day of first grade. Two weeks ago life was the same old thing. And then it happened. They became first graders and a whole new world opened up for them.

After the first day, I asked Andi how it went. "It was AMAZING!" she cheered and Niki danced all the way home after the classes let out. It was sheer delight, facsination. And it did not stop there. Not only do they get to learn lessons and begin to read words by themselves and earn a periodic "piros pont" in their "űzenö". Andi and Niki also discovered the world of dance/gymnastics -- with possibilities of future competitions. WOW! Who knew such an exciting world existed?

Progress can be exciting. Andi and Niki were very content being Ovodas (kindergartners). Life was good, safe and comfortable. As the first day of school approached Niki showed signs of apprehension. What if she could not hack it? Was she really ready? But she had no choice. If progress was to be made she had to move forward into the unknown and she and Andi both discovered there was more to life than they had ever dreamed possible. And that's just first grade.

Of course the day is not too far off when the the thrill of schoolwork will lose its sparkle and dance/gymnastics class will feel so burdensome and tiring. But if progress is to be made that they might reach that next plateau of progress when again a new world opens up for them -- they have to persevere with what lies before them now.

Is it so different with our spiritual progress? Remember those moments in the journey of the Christian life where God just illuminated His truths to you in a new and exciting way. WOW! We did not know the Christian life could be so rich and deep and fulfilling! We felt as if we had arrived at some real spiritual maturity. "Look at me I am a spiritual "iskolas" now -- no longer a mere "ovodas" like so many others around me." What we did not realize is that as "big and mature" as we felt, we had only entered the first grade.

And in time, the work required to continue progressing in this level has become not-so-exciting anymore. But Paul exhorts Timothy to "persevere" that his progress may be a testimony leading to the salvation of others around him.

Just as Andi and Niki who are now learning that 2+2=4 cannot begin to comprehend astrophysics, I cannot help but wonder what depth of spiritual reality may exist out there for those who are willing to persevere and go deeper with Christ. Consider the possibilities. Even the most spiritual among us has likely scarcely scratched the surface of what the Christian life could be.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tapasztalatok: A Hatalmasok Napraforgok

Ez aratás idő -- napraforgoknak! És Mikepércsen napraforgok nem kicsi dolog.

Tavasszal ültettunk sok napraforgok a kértben. Jo árnyéket csinal a napraforgok amikor a nyar nagyon meleg.

Ez egy szép virag, de ez nem egy kifinomult virag. Ez egy boldog virag. Mikepércsen, nem csak boldog, de túláradóan vidám! Ez Igaz napraforgok nagy virag mindenhol, de Mikepércsen ezek a viragok ÓRIÁS vannak!

Nem hiszed el? Ide figyelj ezek a fotok!


Monday, September 8, 2008

Ever Been Ship'Reck'd?

"This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith." --1Tim.1:18-19

This summer I watched two people suffer shipwreck of the soul. One suffered it some time past and quite frankly does not see the point of having God in his life anymore. The other, even as I write, is crushed beneath the blows of rancorous waves spintering the wooden bow of what was once faith to shreds and washing it away into an endless ocean of despair.

How does it happen? Not in a moment, or in a day, but over time somehow that which was once full of faith and hope did not endure.

Some would casually dismiss their plight, writing them off by saying, "They were never really saved." But that is a convenient catch-all explanation that callously ignores the very real suffering and abuse these people have run up against, in some cases in the name of Christ.

Moreover, it arrogantly disregards even the possibility that I, myself, could one suffer similar shipwreck.

Have you ever come close to suffering shipwreck with regard to your faith? If so, how did you end up there? More poignantly, how did you get out?

It is a topic worth exploring in our Christian walk -- but is all too often ignored.

I hope some of you readers will venture to share. I look forward to seeing your responses.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tapasztalatok: A Csókalom Csirke

Mikepércs nagyon kellemes hely -- barátságos emberek, szép kértek. A csirkek is nagyon udvarias!

Amerikaban a kakas mond hogy "Cockadoodledoo!" Ez normalis, de nem nagyon szép. És amikor sok csirke van, a hang bosszantó.

Magyarorszagon a tipikus kakas mond hogy "Kukariku!" Ez nem egy gyönyörű hang. De a Mikepércsi kakas nem mint a tipikus kakas. A Mikepércsi kakas jobb van.

A Mikepércsi kakas kifinomult es udvarias! Amikor az egyszerű kakas mond hogy "Cockadoodledoo" vagy "Kukariku", A Mikepércsi kakas mond hogy "Csókalom! Csókalom!"

Nehezen hihető, tudom. De Igaz!

Nem hiszel el? Jönn a Mikepércsre es figyel!

-----
*Sajnalom sok magyar nyelvtany hiba!
If Luca, Arpi and Andi, and all my other Hungarian friends can post in English, then I can post in Hungarian, right? (but perhaps "can" and "being capable of" are two distinctly different things in this context. Hope my Hungarian was not too painful to read!)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lost Longing for the Presence of God

These days, an announcement that a pastor will be speaking on "the presence of God" in this week's church service is likely to elicit yawns and glazed stares. This might be a good week to take that family weekend in the mountains, the thoughts of congregants race. It's a trite subject, over-used. Countless books have been written about it and it is so often mentioned over the course of "growing up Christian," that I think, perhaps, we have allowed its meaning to slip through the grasp of our understanding like sand through our fingers. In short, we have lost the awe.

Yeah, yeah, God is present everywhere. Yadda Yadda. So what? What more can possibly be said.

That's largely how I felt until I began to re-examine the tabernacle as I studied Hebrews.

What must it have been like to be a priest in ancient Israel? To day after day perform the monotonous duties of the tabernacle. Bloody sacrifice. That would get old fast. Refreshing of the show bread, renewing the oil in the candles... etc.

But I suspect that, from time to time, there arose a priest who truly loved God with all his heart and wanted nothing more to be able to enter the Holy of Holies -- to come into God's presence. Of course that was a the role of only one -- the high priest, so chances were, he would never get to do it.

What must it have been like to meander through the outer courts handling sacrifice, day after day. After which he would wash up and gaze at the sanctuary building (holy place/ holy of holies) and wonder of God's presence in that tiny room.

Perhaps when he had to go into the holy place to change the showbread or add oil to the candles, he stopped and took a minute to look at that thick rug-like curtain that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies -- that separated him from some manifestation of the very presence of God Himself.

Maybe as he walked beside it, performing his duties he allowed his robes to brush against that curtain, and an inexplicable thrill as well as stifling fear erupted from his innermost place at the possibility that the presence of God could have been brushing against the curtain on the opposite side at the same time.

Perhaps before he left, he looked again deeply at he curtain that separated him from his God, and fantasized what it would be like just to run up and pull back the curtain and bask in the presence of God. Of course, that would mean certain death. But there would be that moment, that singular nano-second where he would behold some manifestation of the presence of his God -- and wouldn't death be a small price to pay for such a moment?

He would then scold himself for having such irreverent ideas. It was borderline apostasy. And then ashamed of his longings, he would return to his duties in the outer courts.

In all the centuries that passed during the use of tabernacle, and later during those generations that used the temple in Jerusalem, is it so far fetched to think, a priest with such a longing for God's presence could have lived?

Perhaps such a priest served in the lower ranks even during the days Christ walked this earth. Perhaps he stood before that curtain on that fateful day Christ said, "It is finished." He likely had no clue of the significance of all that was happening outside as the sky turned black as night, he was too wrapped up in his own longing to go past the outer courts, even past the holy place. Perhaps he stood before the curtain that only the high priest could pass by and ached to be there -- in the very Holy of Holies. And as he stood and reflected on longings that had to stay sealed in the most hidden parts of his soul, the earth began to shake, and as Christ slipped into death on the cross, the impenetrable curtain tore from top to bottom.

That priest surely could not comprehend how completely the longing of his heart was now truly being fulfilled.

I have become increasingly convicted in the past months that I do not long to be in the Holy of Holies. I do not recognize it for the spectacular opportunity that it is. I am content just to pass in and out of the outer courts. After all, that's closer than most folks ever try to get to God.

I rarely push in to even the Holy Place. And so for the past few months I have been praying for the longing of that priest -- an unquenchable thirst for the presence of God.

And I have been awakened as to how Christ has taken it all one step further. Ephesians 2:22 tells us: "And in [Christ] you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His spirit."

No longer do we have to stare at dark curtains longing for that which has been withheld from us. God wants to build us, His people, into His new Holy of Holies, so that we may truly dwell -- not in the outer courts -- but in the very presence of the Lord forever!

What an opportunity! Now the question is, what are we going to do with it?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Of Horses, Heaven, and a Holiday Klub in Heviz, Hungary

It has been a wild and crazy summer and I have much to write, but before I get started I thought I'd post the photos of our recent vacation. First we spent a couple of days with Dr. Gabor Gyuri and his wife Gabrielle and two of their five kids at their horse ranch near Lajosmizse, Hungary. No electricity, no running water. Our family slept in the henhouse and ate with the Gyuris by the open fire. It was just horses, good food, good friends, and great fun! The Gyuri family has taken their passion for horses and turned it into a ministry for Christ -- doing horse camps for kids in the summer. They are a new GoodSports partner here in Hungary.

After that we were off to Holiday Klub Heviz near Lake Balaton in Hungary. Thanks to my parents generosity, we had a wonderful getaway of sun and fun. Here are our pics.
video

Monday, July 21, 2008

When An Orphan Discovers Family

As I write this, we are wrapping up five weeks of unending camps and mission outreaches which stretched from an orphanage in Miskolc, Hungary up to a baseball camp in Bojnice, Slovakia then into the simplicity of Hungarian village life and finally into a youth English camp before wrapping up back in the orphanage at Miskolc.

Over the course of these weeks we've struggled to break through the thick walls erected by wounded souls, we've fought stereotypes and an outbreak of scabies along with a threat of lyme's disease, we've learned more about our brothers and sisters in Christ who come from different denominational backgrounds, and we have seen some precious kids come to Christ in very genuine ways.

I used to think that was what it was all about, but now I understand that this is just the beginning. Becoming a part of a family can happen in just a moment, but that moment is but the cusp of relationships that develop and deepen over the course of a lifetime -- or perhaps eternity.

On last Friday, a baptism occured on the final day of English Camp. When Evi, one girl from the Miskolc orphanage learned of it, she ran to her best friend asked her if she wanted to be baptized. Evi had been baptized the year before.

"I do not even know what it is about," Anita explained.

Evi shared with her friend how it was the outward expression of what Christ has done in one's heart.

Anita's eyes lit up as she asked excitedly, "Can I do it in jeans?"

Anita could not be held back that day and as she stood before the crowd of campers and counselors, she told her story:

"My name is Anita. Two years ago both my parents died, one six months after the other. I lived with various relatives after that, but as soon as I got settled in one place, I was sent somewhere else. I had no home. Eventually I was sent to the orphanage in Miskolc. And when I started going to the Wednesday bible study and the different conferences and programs that you made for us, I suddenly felt like I had a family again. God has given me a family in you."

That day Anita proclaimed Christ and was born into a new family -- the family of God. It is a new beginning for her, but just the first day among many where she will grow and change succeed and sometimes fail.

May we always be faithful to love her and those like her through it all. This is our call -- to love and guide them in love through their good and bad days. For not only do we share the gospel of Jesus Christ, we share our very lives as well, because they have become so dear to us. 1Thess2:8.

Please pray for Anita and Evi and all the kids of the Lakasotthon orphanage. God is doing a work among them even now.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Comfort, Character, and Scabies

“God is more interested in our Character than our Comfort,” Tom Johnson, director of GoodSports Slovakia, said on that fateful Wednesday morning during the Slovak baseball camp(yesterday). Wednesdays are infamously difficult days in the course of our camps. That day is late enough in the week for genuine fatigue to set in. Yet it is still early enough that the end is nowhere in sight. This week was no exception.

It all started when one of the boys from the Hungarian orphanage was taken to the hospital for an unexplained rash.

Diagnosis: Scabies.

Minor hysteria ensued. Someone alerted the Slovak health department. Officials came. Tensions that already exist between Hungarians and Slovaks stretched to their limit. Stereotypes and stigmas of “orphans” darkened even further as whispers of “epidemic” swirled through the halls. All those sharing a cabin with the infected boy underwent a process of fumigation – or debugging. Plastic bags filled with clothing and sheets received the pharmaceutical insecticide and those most exposed to the critters lathered up in an ointment lethal to the mischievous mite.

All Hungarians in the camp fell under something of a quarantine and during the eight hour treatment phase had to be isolated from the rest of the camp’s activities. The day screamed with stress and tempers flared, including my own, I must admit. At times, it was downright ugly. And at that moment we stood at a crossroads. Would we let this destroy us, or would be let God do His work through us even in this?

Indeed, God was not concerned about our comfort. So what is happening to our character in all this?

If faith is indeed the essence of things hoped for the confidence in things not seen, then I have every right be excited – to expect a real move of God in the midst of this mild fiasco. God is forcing our lives to rub up against one another in very uncomfortable ways. And in the midst of all of this, He is here -- ready to touch these tragically ravaged lives in wonderfully healing ways.

Please pray for this camp. I have no doubt God is working, but I have no idea exactly how at this moment. Pray that all will be overcome in the name of Christ’s love.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Reason to Mourn

Last month a mother died. And as the austere funeral dirge rang out, her little boy cried. The boy cried tears that burned like acid the soul of a child brutally separated from the parent who loved him best. The mother whose body once nurtured and caressed now is reduced to mere ashes in a box. I hear his cries and my blood runs cold. A shiver runs up my spine and I feel my very soul shrivel in sympathy to his ache.

“The wages of sin is death,” Paul wrote to the Romans. Sin is death. Death is the ultimate experience of separation. And what is sin but utter separation from God?

2000 years ago, a Father died in the form of a Son. Yesterday, I invited the enticing emptiness of sin to separate me from that parent who loves me best. But I did not cry.

I fear death. But strangely I do not fear sin in the same way. When I consider the possibility of losing a child or my husband to death, it makes my blood run cold and I tremble. When I consider sin and its cruel separating force cutting me off from God, I shrug my shoulders in something frighteningly akin to indifference. If I loved God half as much as that child loved his mother, the thought of Sin’s separating impact would send me into throes of grief.

Is not God my heavenly father? Does not my sin separate me from Him? Oh God, let me ache and mourn when I sin. Give me pain, grievous pain of bereavement when I allow sin to separate me from you and sever our relationship. Let me recognize it as the death that it is – that you might accomplish true resurrection in me. Amen.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"But God, She's Dead."

Have you ever known a person who truly knew God in the most intimate of ways -- whose life enriched yours simply by being near. Yesterday, I learned that one such person had passed away.

I pushed the news into the back of my consciousness and moved on to the people and issues of my day, but this morning when I took time to enter the presence of God, it all came back to me and I said, "God, Monyi is dead."

It is incomprehensible that such a relatively young and lively woman could really be gone. Monyi truly loved the presence of God, if anyone ever did. She lived in it. I suspect there is not a person alive in this part of the world who has not been impacted if not actively by her life, then certainly by her prayers. She would rise at 4am to get a good two hours with the Lord, before her day began.

Praying was like breathing for her, inextricably linked to her very existence. If a need arose, be it for family or ministry, her gut reaction was to pray, even if the solution seemed obvious. She knew how to hear God too -- even in the hard things.

To tell you the truth, I only met her a few times, but she had that kind of spirit that quite simply glowed in a way one cannot see with human eyes and yet, is unmistakably there. We did not speak the same language, but that did not matter. Christ so permeated all that she was that her very presence exuded Him.

So many faithful, constant, continuous prayers exhaled from one gentle spirit. I have no doubt her words in Christ's name uttered so humbly to the Father caused battalions of demons to tremble and flee. Having Monyi pray for you was like calling in a spiritual brigade of reinforcements.

I can't help but wonder how Hungary will go on without her prayers supporting us. And yet, why do I think her prayers somehow ceased with her death. Why would she who communed so naturally with God over the affairs and spiritual state of her people in this life, where one can see only dimly, suddenly stop when she sees her God face to face. (1Cor. 13:12)

This morning when my eyes welled with tears and I said to God, "Monyi is dead." God spoke back. "Trudy, Monyi is not dead," He said. "She is alive like she had never been alive before. You should see her."

I wish I could see Monyi in God's presence now. She lived to be in His presence in the weak way we frail creatures can stumble into his presence in this life (thanks to Christ's blood). But now, in her death that overwhelming passion for His presence has been made complete as she will truly dwell in the house of Lord forever. Amen.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Remember ... and Do Not Forget!

"God is big on urging us to remember," I noted in a recent Bible study.

"We are big on forgetting," a friend wisely replied. And she is right.

Nearly 100 times in scripture, God commands or exhorts us to "Remember" or "Do not forget." In fact, God rooted the whole Jewish system of sacrifice and ceremony in remembering, from the passover feast which reminded them of their slavery and deliverance to each bloody sacrifice which reminded them of their sin. (Heb.10:3).

Why is God so emphatic that we remember? Because we are so prone to forget and when we forget, we so subtly, yet steadily drift away from Him.

"Remember," says the Lord over and over again. "And do not forget..."

What is it that the Lord wants us to remember?

As I reviewed all these passages over this past week, I found four fundamental categories of commands for remembrance.

1. God, over and over, calls his people to remember their slavery (Deut 5:15, 15:15, 24:32), the days of darkness (Eccl. 11:8). Remember the days of suffering. (Hebrews 10:32).

2. Remember God's deliverance from that severe time. (Deut. 7:18,8:2, 16:12, Matt 16:9)

3. Remember the law of God. (Joshua 1:13,Mal. 4:4)

4. Most abundantly, the scripture urges us to remember the deeds and attributes of God, who He is in His very nature and how He has proved it in His actions. (1Chron. 16:12, Job 36:24,PS 77:11)

"Yeah, yeah, I know all that stuff," you may be thinking. But when was the last time you sat down and took to time to remember, to think back on the darkest, most painful time of your life and remember those days of suffering, and then remember exactly how the Lord brought your deliverance? And in light of what the Lord has done in your life, when was the last time you simply reflected on his word and prayed it back to him and celebrated in either written on spoken word, the sheer delight of who He is?

Our time is precious to us. But the Lord has commanded us to "Remember!" So here is a challenge: Take time this week to remember these things, either sharing it with a friend or writing it in a journal or simply praying it aloud to God, himself.

Let's take some time to remember, and perhaps in this discipline, we will discover a new richness in relationship with Him.

Monday, May 26, 2008

When "Doing Good" Goes Awry

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up," -- Galations 6:9

My seven year old screamed at the top of her voice and her Dad came running. A baby bird's ill-fated first flight landed it squarely in the jaws of our dog.

"Blacky! Drop it!" Russell commanded. Surprisingly, the dog obeyed and Niki, who holds a deep love for every living thing, scrambled in to rescue the injured creature. Russell and Niki placed the tiny bird, wet from both the recent rain and canine druel, in a box to ensure its safety. And seeking an appropriate place for avian convolescence, they placed the box in the warm coziness of the laundry room. A good deed done, right?

The next morning, just before the girls left for school, Russell decided it was time to put the baby bird outside. Unfortunately, the creature had again made an ill-fated attempt at flight. This time landing behind the washing machine. Russ grabbed a broom to encourage it to scurry the correct direction, but instead it ran under the hot water heater. He swiped again, hit a pipe and hot water began spraying everywhere.

By now we had a lost bird, a burst pipe, and the girls were late for school.

Russell placed the bird in the box, on a fence post outside -- far from the reach of our carnivarous canines as we waited for the plumber to come.

That afternoon, the tiny creature made one last attempt at flight, equally ill-fated. The bird failed to master the necessary aerodynamics and crashed into a bucket of vinegar water which, I regret to announce, became its watery grave.

Our efforts at a good deed left us with two girls tardy for school, a burst pipe resulting in a sizeable plumbing bill, and in the end, the bird died anyway.

Ever feel that your attempts at doing good go awry? You try to reach out to others, only to have them pull away. You think that if you only do what is right and good, then things will eventually turn out okay. And then they don't. In fact, you find yourself penalized for the effort.

And so we cry out to God like inexperienced children, screaming, "It's not fair!"

But God's economy is not one of instant gratification. It is all about endurance and pressing on. And so He urges us not to "grow weary in doing good." It is an important exhortation in an era of microwave ovens and instant coffee. We want our just rewards NOW! We want the satisfaction of quick results.

But what if the time of reaping what we have sown does not occur in our lifetime? What if we never get to see with physical eyes the fruits of our labor? Are we still willing to press on, purely because of faith?

It is when we do not see the results of our good deeds that our motives are most poignantly tested. Why do we do what we do? To make ourselves feel good? To make ourselves look good? Or is it an act of obedience born out of love -- not primarily for others, but rather for God himself?

God has told us that obedience is better than sacrifice (1Sam 15:22). But often there is sacrifice in the obedience. Sometimes the sacrifice is in the giving up our "results orientated" natures and saying, "I will obey and do good, simply because I believe."

We have been given a promise -- that sooner or later, in this life or the next, a day of reaping will come. Let us be faithful enough to rest in that promise and not lose heart in doing good.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What is the Point of Sacrifice?

"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." --Psalm 51:16-17

Throughout the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy), God appeared obsessed with sacrifice -- giving explicit instructions of how and when it should be done. Season after season, year after year, the people and the priests engaged in the bloody, unpleasant practice. And yet, in Psalms we read this verse -- that God does not delight in it.

Has God changed His mind? Is He some sort of hypocrite?

The Old Testament sacrifices must have seemed so pointless. To see life ripped from the most perfect animals, time and time again. Wouldn't onlookers think it cruel and a waste?

In my last blog, I wrote of a woman who in the 1940s, after long and intensive training, set out to the mission field in China. Her colleagues testified she was the most qualified among them. But then she was killed only 12 days after arriving in country in a jeep accident.

Her sacrifice also seems pointless. What a waste!

So in this we must ask, what is the point of sacrifice -- that God could one day demand it and the next say it is not his desire?

Hebrews 10:3 may hold the key that unlocks this mystery: "those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins." (NIV)

The purpose of the Old Testament sacrifice was to remind the Hebrew people of their sins -- and that blood must be shed to atone for it -- a symbolic act designed to drive them to repentance, which after the Ultimate Sacrifice had been made, could bring them into the very presence of God. If the sacrifice fails to do this, then the suffering was truly in vain. How could that please God?

Throughout our lifetime, there arise times of sacrifice and suffering that are often forced upon us, either due to our own sin or because we live in a sin-filled world. It is ugly and seems pointless. And we anguish over what could be God's purpose in this? Is there a purpose?

Perhaps there is a more poignant question. Will we let this sacrifice drive us into His presence with a contrite heart? For only there will we find purpose.

When I think of that missionary and her sacrifice, while her friends and colleagues may have struggled with the purpose, I suspect she did not. After all, China and her tragedy represented little more than her gateway to the very presence of God. Could there be a better purpose than that?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ugly

Beryl was a missionary to China in the 1940s. She faithfully pushed through missionary training in England which was several times interrupted by the war. But God's call was on her life and she determined to follow. Finally she and several other novice missionaries set out on their first journey to the land they all longed for -- China.

It was an arduous journey on a cargo ship through the Mediterranean, through the Suez canal into Red Sea and later the Arabian Sea. Eventually they arrived in India and finally went on to China. Conditions were bleak, but good practice for what they would soon face for years to come in China.

Less than two weeks after arriving in country, Beryl was traveling by Jeep up a treacherous road when the vehicle began to slide. It rolled down the hill mangling Beryl's body as it tumbled. When it came to a stop, her body lie lifeless beneath its wheels. After all her training, despite her hopes and dreams, she was ripped so abruptly from life. She never even arrived at her mission outpost. She was gone.

It's an ugly story.

But it is not so unique, is it?

We have all faced ugly stories in our life experiences. Those experiences where, as much as we struggle to make sense of them, sense cannot be made. They are simply ugly.

I have been studying Hebrews 9 lately which talks a lot about the Old Testament tabernacle. On-line I found a picture of a replica and I was surprised to learn it was ugly. I had always focused on the gold lavished Ark of the Covenant, and the gilded lampstand. But from the outside looking in, that place was not attractive. What happened there was also not attractive -- bloody sacrifice. How pointless it must've seemed from the outside looking in.

Students of the bible may gasp at this opinion. After all, isn't the tablernacle a symbolic image of Christ himself? But before you write me off too soon, consider the famous Isaiah 53 prophecy of Christ, "He had not beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire him..." (vs.2 NIV).

Sacrifice is ugly. It is bloody and gorey. If it were not so, I would have no trouble letting my seven-year-olds watch the movie, "The Passion."

But if we look through the ugliness, not with eyes of our flesh, but through the vision of the innermost soul, we find something more.

Although the sacrifice is ugly, the love that motivates it contains an unspeakable beauty that radiates and permeates even to the heavenly realm. It is as powerful as it is incomprehensible to the frail human mind.

We cannot understand God's ways. I do not know why we waste so much time trying. What kind of God would He be if finite, weak creatures as we could really comprehend his dealings?

So let's take a new look at the ugly things we face -- those things that make no sense and realize that God does not owe us an explanation, and even if he chose to give one, we'd likely not be able to grasp it, anyway.

Let's instead focus our efforts on the Love and Presence of God to motivate us through any and all sacrifices he calls us through. For in His Presence, all the ugliness we do not understand is burned away by His incomprehensible beauty.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Write on ME!

"...I will imprint My laws upon their minds, even upon their innermost thoughts and understanding, and engrave them upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." --Hebrews 8:10 (Amplified)

It's a standard scripture, full of trite religious lingo, and words I've heard in utter repetition since childhood. So much so, that if I had read this a month ago, I would have quickly breezed over it. "Yeah, yeah. I know that stuff," I'd have said to myself and moved on.

But in this last month God has awakened me to something new -- new to me, at least. It is something that perhaps I knew in theory before, but now grasp in experience. It has to do with holiness, the filling of the Holy Spirit, "resting" in Him (Heb.4) and it is as difficult to describe as what goes on in your heart when you see your newborn child for the first time. It is strange and mysterious -- as the ways of the Lord tend to be.

I hesitate to write about it as I am likely to be misunderstood, and am ill equipped to describe it in something as frail and human language. But I shall try.

To put it in a nutshell of theological terms, I am discovering that not only does Justification come by grace through faith. But the process of sanctification works in similar measure.

We have all heard the testimonies of those brought to the end of themselves and in utter desperation, surrender to Christ and his Salvation by faith. It is all about Him and not about me. Is it such a far leap to think sanctification could happen the same way?

I recently read a book: They Found the Secret by V.Raymond Edman which chronicles twenty people's experience with God -- post salvation -- where they came to end of themselves and simply had to cease striving in their own sanctification and KNOW that He is God. And in the midst of their weakness, a passion for the mere presence of God was born and they found completion in Him, despite their incompletion in themselves. Still they did all the "good" deeds that they engaged in before, but now the power of God stood squarely behind them. They learned how sanctification came not in their striving to follow models of Christian behavior, but in their resting and surrender.

This is not to say they were suddenly perfect, but rather they experienced God's spirit completing them in the myriad of ways they fell short.

And strange as it seemed, in the midst of that surrender and rest, Christian behavior became increasingly natural, not due to self motivation, but simply out of an ongoing experience of the presence of God in their lives.

And from this perspective I discovered the above verse in Hebrews 8. Imagine it for a moment --God inscribing his law on our very thoughts and motivations. This is not something we can do for ourselves. Sure, we can memorize and should, but to actually have it inscribed on our very souls, that comes only through the work of the Spirit. It is a work that forces us the face our own shortcomings instead of always pointing a finger at others. It is a work that awakens us to our weakness and drives us to continually surrender to Him for strength.

What's more: It is a spectacular transformation that step by step changes the way we see the world and how we operate in it. Spurgeon said it best, regarding this scripture:

"Oh brothers, is it not a wonderful thing that God should ever make it as natural for us to be holy as it once was to be unholy, and that we shall find it as much a joy to serve Him as we once thought it a pleasure not to serve Him, when indeed to deny ourselves shall cease to be self-denial? It shall be enjoyment to us to be nothing. It shall be delight to renounce everything of self and to cling close to God and to walk in His ways."

It is not our striving that brings about our sanctification any more than our striving wins us justification. Rather, it is surrender -- totally giving up all that we are (including our pursuit of our own happiness) and allowing Him to complete us with all that He is.

The description in this verse should excite us and drive us to surrender to His presence and the work of His Spirit in our lives.

"God, Make My Heart Engravable. Because I want you to write on me!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No Place Like Home

Today's blog post is my tribute to Mikepercs, the village in which I live, the town that I love...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Perilous Prayer

Prayer can be a dangerous thing. If prayer is as powerful as we suppose it to be, how could it be otherwise?

I met a woman about a month ago who told me of her perilous prayers. She prayed that her children would not have easy lives, but rather lives that reflected rock-solid faith -- no matter what it cost them. In essence she asked God to give them hardships if that would develop truly genuine faith.

It is not a prayer to enter into lightly.

The result: her husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise her children alone. Then as a teenager her daughter became pregnant. And in the face of these crises, her young son experimented with all kinds of acts of rebellion as he entered his early teen years.

Dangerous prayers, indeed.

But she smiles with an inexplicable peace as she tells the story today. "My kids are so solid and secure in their faith now, because of what they went through then," she explains. "It was hard -- very hard. But my prayers were answered so completely!"

Have you ever prayed a dangerous prayer?

It is a real paradigm shift for most of us. To be honest, it is something I've tried to avoid. And yet, now more and more, I sense God calling me to it. To pray such a prayer, understanding its ramifications, we must be willing to give up all things we value most, for the sake of Him.

And I guess in doing so, we actively choose to elevate Him to that which we value most.

I spent last month in the states and while there I came across a truly tragic situation. Someone I knew years ago fell into adultery and now stands on the brink of losing all that he once held dear. Of course, these situations are always as complicated as they are tragic. But a pastor gave my friend some sound advice:

"You need to give up 'the other woman', sacrifice all your expectations and rights regarding what you believed your marriage should be, and dedicate the rest of your life to restoring your marriage. You may have to give up all pursuit of your own happiness, for the sake of holiness."

It is good advice for all of us. While there may be no 'other woman' in our lives, there is certainly plenty of 'things' that we pursue for our own happiness at the cost of holiness.

We talk a lot about our lives being all about God -- but how much time do we spend pursuing holiness compared the to time we spend seeking happiness? We act as if happiness is our right as Christians, and holiness is something we will save for the hereafter.

Are we ready to get our perspective right? Are we willing risk it all for the sake of holiness? Our answer reflects how deeply we really believe that his grace is sufficient for whatever he asks us to walk through.

Take a deep breath and consider it soberly:

Has the time come to embark upon dangerous supplication?

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Village Idiot

After a month in America, returning to Hungarian village life can be ... abrupt.

Gone are the days of high-speed vans with automatic doors that open like magic. Gone are the days of being taken out to restaurant meals every night, and clear communication with folks who actually believe (however deceived they might be) that I am an intelligent human being.

Today, I awakened to the reality that I am the village idiot.

Since I speak Hungarian on roughly a four year old level, the villagers have come to accept me as a mental four year old. And today I lived up to their expectations. It began when I dropped the girls off at Ovoda (Hungarian Kindergarten) and found the entire class, including the teacher, decked out in fine white shirts and black pants -- the traditional special event attire.

They had to tell me three times before I figured out they wanted me to go home and get appropriate attire for my girls. Thankfully, they are patient and generous toward the village idiot, and one of the teachers let me borrow her bike so I could make the trip across the village and back before they departed for the event.

Following this scramble, I proceeded into the day's tasks, stopping off at the village "Gummi Szerviz," or "Tire Service" shop. The adorable little old man, clad in blue work overalls, listened patiently as I slowly, painstakingly explained I would be buying summer tires in the city today and I wanted him to put them on this afternoon. His gray eyes began to glaze over as I struggled to construct the sentence. It was as if he were thinking, "By the time you get this horrendously constructed sentence out, you won't need summer tires, because it will be winter again!"

It can be humbling to be the village idiot. It can be frustrating when no one understands your words, and everyone doubts your mental capabilities.

But I would not trade it for a dozen Americas. For all the enticing things America has, for me there is something grander and more alluring in the simplicity of Hungarian village life, and serving God in its midst -- even as the village idiot.

So, it is good to be home in Hungary again, or as I would say it in what I suspect is very poor Hungarian, "Nagyon jó van lenni otthon Mikepércsen!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

God, Our Divine Abuser?

Death...

It is a raw, pus-filled, seething wound that never really heals.

This week I interviewed a woman named Viviane for a book I am working on. She and her family were missionaries in Malaysia -- devoted fully to serving God whatever he asked. But they never suspected what He would eventually ask of them.

After six and half years of dynamic, devoted ministry where both Viviane and her husband experienced that complete fulfillment that comes from fully used one's gifts in service to Him, her husband went to the doctor with severe headaches. Tests revealed his brain riddled with tumors and six agonizing months later he was dead.

Seven years later, her voice still trembles as she recalls the searing memories of day after day, watching her beloved husband slowly and steadily waste away, hoping beyond all hope that God would do something to save him. Surely God could and would want to heal such a man as this. Does not God bless those who faithfully serve Him?

But then He didn't. And Viviane was left alone -- with three grieving children to raise.

In that gentle, death-scarred voice, I could sense the magnitude of loss and suffering that reached much higher on the richter scale that any earthquake that has ever shaken the planet. And I wondered how such devastation could have struck in 2001 without me even noticing it.

No spiritual pat answers can soothe the pain. They only further the questions: Where is God in this? Why did He let this happen?

In the aftermath, this woman struggled with the conflict of it all. "I tried to find my comfort in God, but I felt like the abused going to the Abuser for comfort," she said.

Viviane is not alone in her sentiment. In CS Lewis's very honest reflections during his pilgrimage through the loss of his wife, A Grief Observed, he lashed out at God calling him the "divine vivisectionist" and "cosmic sadist."

Those are honest feelings, and I believe God appreciates honesty. He remains there in the midst of our railings of grief.

If we believe Romans 3:23, that "the wages of sin is death." Then we can see death as perhaps the truest, most poignant glimpse of hell we can have while still on earth. Death is a cold and complete separation that ironically burns with a cruel and brutal vengence.

Death is separation and the death that separates us from those who are most intricately woven into who we are is more that a separation, it is a violent tearing apart. And when we are left in these shreds, we can do little more than ask, perhaps angrily, "why?"

But Pastor Arpad Horvat-Kavai, who lost his first wife and unborn child in a car accident, argues that such "why?" questions may never be answered in this life. He says there is bigger question still. The question of whether we will allow our unanswered questions to separate us from God.

In Hebrews 5:7, we see Christ's very human struggle. He, like Viviane, prayed that things could be different, and although He was heard, it did not change the outcome. The Amplified expresses it best:

"In the days of His flesh Jesus offered up definite, special petitions [for that which He not only wanted, but needed], and supplications, with strong crying and tears to Him who was [always] able to save Him (out) of death, and He was heard because of His reverence toward God -- His godly fear, His piety [that is, in that He shrank from the horrors of separation from the bright presence of the Father]."

When I hear a story like Viviane's, I shrink at simply the thought of death separating me from my husband or children. It would indeed be a "horror."

But in everyday life, I scarcely notice when I make choices that place that first wedge of separation between God and myself. And in this I begin to see that although my priorities may be in "good" places, they are certainly not in right places.

The pain of death that mars us in this life may well never heal until we reach God's presence. As beings created for eternity, we are ill-equipped to deal with it. But when our losses in this life drive us to speculate whether God might be some sort of Divine Abuser, may we take a moment to reflect on how we casually invite our sins to separate us from Him who loves us best. And perhaps we will catch a renewed glimpse of His pain -- for he too knows what death is.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"God Has Never Answered My Prayers"

"God has never answered my prayers," said 15-year-old Robi* who lives at the orphanage in Miskolc, Hungary, "And He never will."

The other orphan teens at the Wednesday afternoon Bible study raised their eyebrows as they turned to Russell and Karesz, the leaders, for reply.

It is a statement that would raise most of our eyebrows, if not cause us to gasp in shocked offense at such blatant irreverence for God. But what was Robi really saying with this statement?

I do not know his story, but one does not end up in a Hungarian orphanage if life has been good and happy. We can rest assured that his life, thus far, has been at best, really bad; at worst, unspeakably tragic.

Last summer Robi came face to face with the Gospel and love of Christ for the first time in his life. He responded, and was baptized.

Since then, despite his everpresent proclivity for getting into trouble, he often comes to the regular Wednesday Bible study at the orphanage. Sometimes he is little more than a disruptive influence there, but still he comes. And so last week, in the midst of his disruptions, he blurted out, "God has never answered my prayers, and never will."

The words are shocking. They are irreverent. Perhaps a cry for attention. Perhaps a challenge to God. But before we write Robi off as a "tool of Satan" to wreak havoc on the Bible study and place doubts in the hearts of the struggling believers there, consider the fact that Robi's words are not so different from those penned by David, a man after God's own heart, in Psalm 22:1-2:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent." (NIV)

Robi has not yet made it verse three in this passage, where David takes his eyes off himself and begins to recognize who God is and all that God has done through the ages, which galvanizes his faith to push forward, despite God's seeming silence.

Robi's faith is still in its infancy. He scarcely knows it what it means to be "sure of what we hope for and confident of what we do not see." (Heb. 11:1) The life in which he finds himself has left him ill-equipped to fight the battles that he faces. He is like an untrained soldier forced to the frontlines. And these Wednesday Bible studies represent his only training ground -- and he is being trained in the heat of fiercest combat.

As we see the despair, let us not overlook the hope in his words. First, clearly Robi believes in God. He knows God is out there, he merely questions God's interest in him personally. Second, "God has never answered my prayers," insinuates that Robi prays. There is some faith alive in him. And finally, the fact that he says, "God never will," insinuates that he expects to pray in the future.

Robi is distraught, longing for assurance, but he has not given up on God.

And the better news than that is: God has not given up on Robi.

If we were all a little more honest, we'd have to admit we have had Robi moments too -- those dark days when God seems so distant, "so far from the words of our groanings." (Ps 22:1) I am thankful Robi had the confidence to articulate the doubts most of us would keep hidden in our secret places.

Join with me and pray for Robi at the Miskolc orphanage, that God would bring this boy through this dark time, and make Himself known to Robi in a real and dynamic way. And that God would use Karesz, Russell, and other Christians to meet this boy where he is.

*Not his real name.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

..Sin..

Sin ...

In many circles, it is an outdated word.

It is a harsh word, a severe word. It is politically incorrect. Some would argue it is a mean-spirited word, wrangled only by the hateful.

We would much rather use words like "issues" or even "struggles" because they reduce the culpability. And maybe through these linguistic gymnastics, we can ignore the devastation our own sin wreaks on others and ourselves.

In a recent bible study with orphanage teens, the subject of sin arose. And these hard-edged youth struggled to understand the concept of sin. It was not a part of their social code and therefore they possessed little ability to grasp the cause and effect of sin. (That the "wages of sin is death.") They struggled to even define examples of what true sin is.

In this day and age, are we so different from the Hungarian orphans? Do even those of us who bear the name "Christian" truly grasp the life-massacreing, soul-searing nature of sin?

Hebrews 3:13 states, "But instead warn (admonish, urge and encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called Today, that none of you may be hardened (into settled rebellion) by the deceitfulness of sin -- (that is,) by the fraudulence, the stategem, the trickery, which the delusive glamor his sin may play on him." (Amplified)

Sin does not lie placidly by the wayside waiting for us to wander accidentally into it. It is as active as the con-man out to secure the long con, toying with our affections, playing on our insecurities, strategizing on our weaknesses. No matter how small a sin, each works insidiously to drive one more nail in the coffin for our faith.

We do not have to look far to find examples. From pastors who have fallen into sexual sin, to church ladies consumed by their own venomous gossip, to the bitter heart who can only lash out in hate --- to the reality of me in my deepest places. Sin takes its toll. And its repurcussions ripple out like spiked lashes on the backs of family and friends. John Donne was correct when he wrote,"No man is an island."

We live in a battlezone, but scarcely realize it. We catch glimpses of it in some moments and pray eanestly for a day, and as quickly as we begin, we forget and slip into the mundane cares of the world that seem so pressing.

In Holy Sonnet 19, John Donne captures my own struggle with faithfulness and facing sin:

Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vows, and in devotion.
As humorous is my contrition
As my profane love, and as soon forgot:
As riddlingly distempered, cold and hot,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yesterday; and today
In prayers and flattering speeches I court God:
Tomorrow I quake with true fear of his rod.
So my devout fits come and go away
Like a fantastic ague; save that here
Those are my best days, when I shake with feare.

As Hebrews 3:13 admonishes, may we grasp an understanding of nature of sin, and, "as long as it is called today" actively encourage and urge one another to be on the alert, lifting all those dear to us up to our Lord in prayer, that he might protect us from the Enemy's schemes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Longing for Love

It is Valentine's Day -- when girls'expectations burst with dreams of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates accompanied by over-priced bundles of flowers. It is a day of flirtatious gazes and fluttery giggles. In secular circles, passion reigns king. And in Christian circles, endless recitations of 1 Corinthians 13 attempt to spiritualize silly schoolgirl crushes.

Valentine's Day has been dubbed the day of Love. But perhaps more accurately, it is a day of longing -- longing for ideal love and perfect romance. Unfortunately, few recognize perfect love even when it lingers fully within reach.


Last week, at a conference for teen girls here in Hungary, several twenty-somethings attended. They had grown up in the orphanage since age three -- in world with little moral compass, and much more passion than compassion.

"Marry your best friend?" Mari*, one such girl, questioned the wisdom being shared in a small group. "Never! What kind marriage would that be? There would be no real love or passion!"

In her world, love is all about wild rushes of emotion and sensual nights of passion. And so she searches for a sexual passion that will endure forever, an emotional high that never grows dull. And she cannot understand why it continues to evade her.

Clearly she does not understand love.

When I was growing up, I recall endless discussions on the topic of "finding Mr. Right." In Christian circles, we phrased it, "waiting for God's best," but in the end it all amounted to a notion that there was someone out there crafted just for me -- my ideal life partner.

True love meant a perfect fit and certainly happily ever after.

But what happens after all the rice is thrown and the new couple settles in the utter imperfections of day to day life only to learn each is now eternally linked to a fellow creature as sinful as himself? It is disillusioning. And some have been wont to conclude they must have missed God's best in the pursuit of a mate, because the life in which they find themselves is certainly not happily ever after.

Again, I would argue, this person does not understand love.

So what is love?

Love is not sappy sentimentality or fluttery feelings around the heart. It is not rooted passion and sensuality, but rather in sacrifice and long suffering. We will not discover it by "finding the perfect mate," but rather by allowing ourselves to be perfected by Him who loves best of all.

Valentines Day each year underscores our very natural longing for love. But that longing is not satisfied in idolized images of a perfect man or a perfect mate -- because people are not perfect and therefore inevitably fail to emulate perfect love.

Still, deep inside us, we want to make mere human love our idol and believe if we can only attain it, all will be well. Our lives will become happily ever after. And like Mari, who grew up in a Hungarian orphanage, we cannot understand why it continues to evade us.

Real love is out there. It has lingered within our reach all the time. It longs to teach us what it is all about, but we shun it again and again. We eschew its complete sacrifice. And dismiss it casually only to again pursue an idol of imperfect love.

True love is not of this world. And we will not understand it until we begin to value it above our own selfish ideals and idols of fleshly love.

Are you longing for love on this Valentine's Day? Then take a fresh look at the Author of Love and discover that a divine romance awaits you -- one so mystical and magical than it could only be designed by the Lover of your Soul.

*not her real name

Monday, February 11, 2008

Do you believe in Spiritual Warfare?

Hocus Pocus!

In the era of Harry Potter-esque incantations and Lord of the Rings mystique, the concept of spiritual warfare can conjure images of Dementor-like demons and Sauron inspired personages of Satan in a dark, creepy battle for the fate of a soul.

To be frank, such images creep me out a little. And I prefer not to think in such terms. But that does not mean I do not believe in the spiritual battle. As we prepared for last week's conference for teen girls both from the orphanage in Miskolc, Hungary and from our church's youth group, I was astounded by the series of obstacles that arose. Was it spiritual warfare? Following is a chronology of events. You decide.

Week before the conference:

Primary translator for the orphanage segment of conference must cancel due to ill family members.

Our church, which uses a small Christian conference center for church services is due to renew its contract. We are using the same facility for the girls conference. The renewed contract price is too much for our church, so the church moves with one week's notice. This means that while we will still have our conference there, we will not have ready access to the sound equipment and other church stuff we had been counting on. Moreover, it increases our costs as we could no longer "piggy back"on what the church is already renting.

Monday 4 February (3 days before conference begins)

We have one replacement translator scheduled to be at the orphanage for the opening night of the conference. Her father has what appears to be a heart attack and is rushed to Budapest for medical attention. We now have a team of 10 Americans coming and no one who can translate for them.

Tuesday 5 February (2 days before conference begins)

We learn that three sisters (out of the ten girls slated to come from the Miskolc orphanage) have just been contacted by a long lost sister who has decided to come THIS weekend to visit. The three will not come to the conference. Moreover two others who are close to these girls refuse to come without their friends.

Meanwhile two new translators agree to join us for opening night.

Wednesday 6 February (the day before the conference begins)

Hungarian train workers are on strike with no resolution in sight. Team of 10 from Ohio will arrive in 24 hours and there is no transportation available between the Budapest Airport and Miskolc -- about a 2 and a half hour drive. All transportation alternatives are booked due to train strike.

Snow begins falling in Chicago -- the hub that the team is scheduled to fly through. Large snowfalls predicted. Team's flight delayed and rerouted.

Orphanage agrees to send van to pick up team.

Thursday 7 February (the day the conference begins)

Team misses connection in London will not arrive until 3:30pm. Conference starts at 7:00pm -- but site is a good 2.5 hours from airport. I arrive at airport only to learn the expected flight actually will not arrive until 5:00pm. I wait with Hungarian orphanage van driver for the two hours and phone back to tell Russ to push back start time until 8:00pm.

Team arrives. I take a critical three people in my car and the van takes the rest and luggage. Jozsi, the van driver assures me he knows a fast way through Budapest that will get us on the highway to Miskolc in no time. I agree to follow him.

Jozsi gets us lost in the heart of Budapest. Frustrated by the man's inability to follow his own map, I take off without him and drive like a maniac toward Miskolc. We phone ahead to the translators and tell them to play some games with the girls until we get there.

8:35 pm -- we race into the rented conference room to face about 6 or 7 teenage girls, some of them laden with teen attitude. Gina shares a testimony about how she had been brutally rejected by her birth parents -- suddenly all attitudes change.

Friday 8 February (conference recommences in Debrecen)

We meet the girls at 4:00 (after school and work) to travel together to Debrecen -- about two hours away by bus. At 3:00pm one of the girls slated to leave with us calls saying she was vomiting and very ill -- ate some bad food at the mall. She has to cancel.

The conference that followed proved a time of love and healing for all the girls who attended. It was truly rich with relationship, care and concern. And it may prove to be the beginning of something really big in the way we operate and reach out to youth here in Hungary. I am thankful that God is bigger than all the obstacles and that he has the victory in the battle for the soul.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What is God thinking?

Danger! Construction Zone.

That is sign that should hang around every Christian's neck. We are souls in progress, spirits under construction. And as with any construction site, those venturing close, need to proceed with care.

Ironically, God calls us, with all our rough edges -- some dangerously sharp -- into the lives of others. He wants us to reach out in our weakness and love the unloved, care for the discarded of this world. He rarely waits until we are "ready" -- until we have reached some pinnacle of perfection in the school of compassion and charity. He simply says GO! LOVE! and POINT THEM TO ME.

This is an insane scheme! What is God thinking? Are we not more apt to do more damage than good? And indeed, one does not have to look far to find examples where those bearing the name of "Christian" have done more harm than good under the banner of "serving God."

So why would the God of the Universe entrust the love and care of the wretched -- His precious wretched -- to such frail, bumbling, brutes as we? He knows we are bent on arrogance and prone to pride. He has to know it is a recipe for DISASTER.

What is He thinking?

On Thursday of this week, we will begin a teen girls conference for ten orphanage girls and ten youth group girls here in Hungary. Now, only four days before it begins, more things are falling apart than coming together.

And as I consider of the magnitude of these orphanage girls' pain, I can't help but realize I and a group of Americans are ill-equipped to reach them where they are. We are but bumbling brutes -- construction zones in our own right -- entering their fragile world. It would seem a recipe for disaster. And yet, God has called us to enter it.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17 cries out. God created us to need each other -- all the "each others" are the tools of Christ's craftsmanship in our lives.

Perhaps this conference is less about us teaching them and more about simply sharing where we are in the process of our construction and letting them share where they are. And as the iron of their lives scrapes up against the iron of our lives, we may just discover that as much as they desperately need a touch from us, we, more desperately still, need to touch them.

I am astutely aware of the potential for disaster here. I am equally aware of the potential for God to move by His spirit when we recognize and acknowledge our weakness and need for Him. So I enter this week with fear and trembling, urging all to pray for a miraculous work of God's spirit in the lives of these girls. May our team and translators come together in humility and subject ourselves to God's plan in these four conference days.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sexual Sin and Drifting Away

They drop like insects caught in a cloud of Raid.

First one.

Then another.

And another.

The masses simply shake their head. "That's too bad," some say and then casually move on with the business of their own lives.

"How could he do such a thing?" ask others, in disgust, perhaps secretly delighting in the newest, juiciest gossip.

Meanwhile, in each case, the ripples of pain filter out to spouse, family, friends, and all those who ever loved and admired him. He is the victim of Satan's plot, and the cruel victimizer of those he should love best.

He is the adulterer.

I have found myself caught in a vice of grief this week as I have been reminded of a series of dynamic Christian men who have fallen prey to sexual sin. Some are dear friends whom I love and admire, others are only acquaintances who gave birth to great ministries that still bless many here in Hungary and other parts of the world.

And yet somewhere along the way -- long, long, before the fateful act -- these men began drifting away.

Hebrews 2:1 states, "We must pay careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away."

Drifting is a subtle thing -- hardly noticeable at first. And by the time it is noticeable, it is often too late. It is the result of not being actively anchored -- a physical effort occurring every moment of everyday.

All of the men I am thinking of were pastors or missionaries or both. They read their Bibles everyday. Some even preached a couple times a week. And yet, in all that they did that was right, they still managed to leave some critical aspect of their lives unanchored.

It had been actively anchored once, and perhaps they believed at the time that was enough. But soon it had drifted all too far away to recapture. And now everything has shattered, and they and their families are left with nothing but countless jagged pieces -- razor sharp shards of what used to be.

The pain of their sin radiates like festering sores on the flesh of humanity. And such deep rooted infections do not heal with the simple words of "I'm sorry."

Hell is having a heyday as godly men fall, and all we do is sit around and say, "That's too bad."

When will it become real to us? How many have to fall before we take up the battle?

Through Christ we are equipped to take strategic and effective action in the spiritual realm -- but it requires that we humble ourselves and invest time on our knees.

Let's make today the day we take up this battle -- Pray for your pastor, missionaries, spiritual leaders and for your own family. If you hold any belief in the power of prayer, then take up this fight and pray that none of us allow any aspect of our lives to drift away.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Answer the Question!

In my last blog I posed a question: Do we really want to be perfected?

But if you look closely you'll note that I artfully avoided answering it myself. I find it more comfortable to stand on the brink, pondering that question, than actually answering it.

Perfection requires pain. My chapter for the week has been Hebrews 2. And although I tried to move on without answering the question, the theme arose again: "In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering."(verse 10).

If Christ being perfect in nature needed the experience of suffering to complete his perfection, what would it take for me? It is a frightening thought.

I have been working on a book lately that requires me to connect with people who have truly suffered. And as I weave the words to portray that pain I become somehow intimately involved in the grief, despondency, and misery they have endured. I am witness to the ways in which they have been perfected by their pain. And as a result, they become my heroes.

I see how it works. I like the end product. But still, I remain silent before the question: Do I want to be perfected?

It may seem terribly unspiritual and horribly inappropriate for a missionary to admit. But maybe the reason I hesitate to answer, perhaps why I prefer to leave the question rhetorical .... is because my answer, I am ashamed to say is "no."

Everyday I see suffering. Orphaned teen girls for whom abortion is way of life as they desperately seek someone to love them. Kids who have tragically lost parents and siblings, or worse yet, have been abandoned by them, pursue self destructive behavior in a desperate attempt to alleviate the pain. And much, much more.

I don't want to have to hurt. I don't want to suffer. But perhaps the biggest issue is that I do not value the end product (perfection) the way I should. If I did I could look past the temporal pain and simply say, "Yes, Lord. Whatever it takes, perfect me."

But I am not there.

So I answer the question from the place where I am. I'll neither say "yes"with naive enthusiasm, nor "no" with shame.

Instead, I will simply say, "Nevertheless, not my will, dear God, but Yours."
I wish I could boldly pursue perfection. But I am not there. So I will leave it in His hands and submit to what He leads me through -- when he leads me through it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Pain and Perfection

“Don’t you just hate Christians whose lives have always been so happy?” a friend said to me some years ago. “I have no interest in hearing their testimony and little interest in hearing them teach, because I cannot relate to that.”

I thought it was an odd thing to say. At the time, I believed that if I always sought God in every aspect of my life, committed to being obedient to Him, then everything would always work out all right. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him…”(Romans 8:28).

But then I faced a crisis where everything did not turn out all right. I sought God and earnestly believed He had led me to marry a man who loved Him. Five years later the marriage disintegrated. Still I believed that if I prayed hard enough or fasted long enough, this marriage could not end in divorce. But then it did. And where was God?

Hebrews 5:7-9 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of his reverent submission. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.”

Knowing what was coming, Christ begged God in utter desperation to deliver Him from this fate, and He was heard – but being heard did not change what God had called Him to do. Even though Christ was already perfect by nature, there were apparently some things that even He could only learn by experience. Christ learned the full meaning of obedience through His suffering. And through this experience of suffering there occurred a completion of His perfect nature – the kind of completion that connects him to us in the most intimate, empathetic ways.

Christianity is all about relationship -- our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

It is not our all-too-happy Christian lives that draw us most deeply into relationship with others – but rather it is our pain. The honest pain that testifies, “Yes, I have been there and I know it’s hard and it hurts.” It is in these tender places that our lives can most powerfully testify to Christ and His Gospel – not that He will rush in like a superhero and remove the pain, but that He is faithful to walk with us regardless of what He asks us to walk through. For in those places of pain, He is most poignantly there.

Do we really want to be perfected? It is a question not to be taken lightly. If Christ, being perfect in nature had to suffer to learn obedience and experience a completion of his perfection, we can only speculate what it would take to complete our own sanctification.