Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Evil Could You Be?

"...deliver us from evil" --Matt 6:13

What does the face of evil look like? Does it bear the rectangular mustache of Hitler or does it hide behind the long, bristly beard of Bin Laden?

Or can evil lurk in that image we see each morning in the bathroom mirror?

How evil might each one of us be -- given the right circumstances?

In describing Hitler and Stalin, the great evils of his time, CS Lewis insightfully wrote: "You and I are not, at bottom, so different than these ghastly creatures." Could that be true? It is worth pondering.

We live in an age where a great deal of evil is minimized by our social customs and even  excused under the auspices of psychology and medicine.

For example, if a child is rude and disrespectful to you and is forced to apologize, what are you supposed to say?

"Oh, that's okay."  Or "It's alright."  Or "no problem, don't worry about it."

What are we teaching kids?  It's not alright to treat others poorly.  The apology does not make the behavior okay.  Treating others badly is a problem.

Perhaps a more appropriate response would be "I forgive you."

We downplay wrongdoing even on the adult level, but we have found more sophisticated ways to make evil behavior palatable and void of responsibility.

In 1991 in Virginia, a 41 year old woman was acquitted of drunk driving after claiming "diminished responsibility" due to her PMS. In England, a barmaid who murdered her co-worker in a fit a rage was convicted on the lower crime of "manslaughter" after claiming severe PMS diminished her responsibility.

Yes, I understand the whole chemical imbalance and hormone thing. Yes, I've experienced a bit of it myself.  But is that an excuse for sin? Does it make sin okay?

A few weeks ago I visited a friend who struggles with a bipolar disorder. She is very open about it. And I have to say  she manages it extremely well. Still the disorder impacts every aspect of her life. But she has not used it as an excuse for sin.

She has taken responsibility which in her case means meeting with a therapist each weak who adjusts medication regularly. She has to make conscious choices when everything inside of her is driving her to run away.  When all feelings tell her to do things that would destroy her life, marriage, and family, she must choose to fight and avoid situations that might even lead to temptation. And she does it. She fights a hard battle each and every day, tirelessly. She does it because she knows what is at stake.  Her prayer of "deliver us from evil" is a very real and tangible one.

Humbled by how she lives her life, I had to re-evaluate how I respond to my own mood swings which are just a result of being female. How often do I allow the fact that I feel edgy and miserable inside to become some sort of license to snap at my husband or children.

 The fact that  I feel bad does not give me a right to treat others badly. (Yes, I know the blog will come back to bite me, but that does not make it any less true.)

And men are not off the hook.  How often do we let things like stress (whether we brought it on ourselves or it was thrust upon us) to be our excuse to treat others badly?

Do I really think that because I feel overwhelmed and stressed that it's okay to yell at my kids, be rude to my spouse, slap the dog ...etc.?

It sounds ridiculous, and yet we've bought into it. So how far are we willing to take it?

Hitler had a troubled childhood, does that somehow atone for his sins?  What was in Bin Ladin's chemical makeup and childhood upbringing that crafted him into the image of evil that he became?  Do those things invalidate his countless murders?

Considering how bad we are at taking responsibility for how we treat others, if we found ourselves in either Hitler's or Bin Ladin's same circumstances, would we really be so different than they?  It's a chilling thought.

And with that thought, we can properly look at this line of the Lord's prayer: "Deliver us from evil."

Indeed we are capable of all kinds of evil and we can thank God that he has preserved us in so many ways.  Still we allow evil to creep into our lives and even embrace it.  We've allowed certain sins to become familiar friends, so much so that we hardly even think about asking forgiveness for them anymore.

No wonder Christ taught us to cry out, "Deliver us from evil."

Let's rekindle the desperation of this plea and recognize how we've given evil a foothold in our lives.  Let's stop giving ourselves a license to sin in the name of stress and pms and start crying out forgiveness and help. For God wants to help us bear those firey emotions -- that we may not to leave those we love most as scorched victims of our wounding words and deeds.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Worst Thing That Could Have Happened

"Lead us not into temptation ..." --Matt 6:13

It was the worst thing that could have happened.  For a major in the US Army to be passed over three times for promotion to Lt. Colonel, stung with a bitterness that was not unlike death.  Yes, it was a death, the death mark to a military career that had otherwise appeared quite successful. Everyone who knew him and had worked with him were aghast. If ever there was a major who deserved promotion, it was Major Russell J. Chun.

What no one knew at the time was all that hung in the balance of that promotion. Had he become Lt. Col. Chun, Russell would indeed likely have received the accolades he deserved and completed all the accomplishments he'd planned. But countless lives would have also been left in bleak darkness.

Because he did not make this promotion, he became involved with GoodSports International and began working with orphans in Hungary. As a result I met him, leading to our marriage and the birth of our daughter and the adoption of two children out of the Hungarian orphanage system. But that is only the beginning. His retirement in 2005 led to a consistent presence in the Miskolc orphanage where the children regularly hear and experience the love of Christ. Beyond that, at least four or five other adoptions can be traced directly to Russell's involvement with GoodSports and the Miskolc orphanage.  Still more, thanks to Russell's failure to make Lt. Col, one orphanage boy grew up to work with GoodSports where he met his American wife. Her family has so embraced him that he has discovered what family is all about.  Moreover, another boy who grew up in the orphanage now attends Bible college in Hungary.  And these are just a few of the stories where we've had the privilege to see the outcome. How many more do we not even know about!

Yes, at the time it seemed like the worse thing that could happen to a successful major in the US Army. But in God's economy, it was the best thing that could have happened for countless souls.

When we think about temptation, we think about the lure to sin.  But often we limit our scope to sins like adultery, fornication, lying, stealing and cheating. And granted, we need to pray that we are not lured into such sin.  By praying this, we acknowledge our weakness. We realize and remind ourselves that we are frail creatures prone to failure in our spiritual walk and we desperately need to cleave to our Lord to make it through the temptation.

But temptation can take many forms -- forms that we are all too comfortable with.  And subtle sins can become familiar friends in the landscape of our lives, so much so that if we really understood what we were asking God, our human nature might hesitate to pray this prayer.

CS Lewis explained it well when he said, "'Lead us not into temptation' often means, among other things, 'Deny me those gratifying invitations, those highly interesting contacts, that participation in the brilliant movements of our age, which I so often, at such risk, desire.'"

The prayer "Lead me not into tempation" may well mean, in practical terms, "Deny me success in my career because that success would make me smug and self-satisfied." It could mean, "Deny me marriage, because that relationship would become more important to me than my First Love."  It might mean, "Deny me a house or car because having those things would make me materialistic."

In a nutshell, these five simple words can have long-reaching ramifications.  It can mean, "Deny me all things that I long for and value most if they, in any way, would draw me into sin"

Because at the end of the day, when all is said and done, God is more interested in our character than our career.  His deeper concern is for our holiness more than our happiness.

And so Jesus urged us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation..." So if we are brave enough, if we have faith enough, let's obey and pray it. But let's do so with open eyes, understanding all that it might mean.  Because we may well be asking God to allow that which we think is "the worst thing" to actually happen to us.

But we also may well discover, like Russell Chun, that the thing we deemed "worst" by the standard of our frail and fallen desires may actually end up being a better plan with effects far greater than we could have ever dreamed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Supernatural Act of Forgiveness

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors...” Matt 6:12

I was mad.

More than mad. If aggravation, disappointment, and outright anger could be seen as steam blowing out my ears, I could have powered a steam engine at full speed. A church I greatly respect had removed two pastors for superficial theological differences. That alone was bad enough, but those were the only two pastors the orphans I worked worth had ever known. These men and their wives had shown love to these kids and now with little to no notice, these ministers were going back to the states.

What message was that sending my kids at the orphanage? To have these people leave with hardly a chance to say goodbye would be yet another slap of rejection in the face of an unwanted child. To know a church was the cause would form their impression of what “church” meant.

As I walked through the streets of Budapest running the account of what had happened through my head, I was ready to burst with rage. And who should I stumble upon but the pastor of my church. He was not singularly the force behind the denomination's decision, but he was part the authority structure that carried it out.

“Hey Trudy!” he greeted me pleasantly. “How's it goin'?”

I held my chin high as I looked him in the eye and answered, “As well as I could, given the circumstances.”

He looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” he asked kindly, in that pastor/counselor tone that shows sympathy and care.

Now he had asked for it and was ready to give it to him! With words that were on the surface polite and diplomatic, but underneath seethed with prickle and sting, I launched into a diatribe about how this church claims to “major on the majors and minor and minors” in points of theology but in reality had shown that is not the case. I told him how little I cared about their denomination's policies and politics, but I did care about the orphans. And those orphans are the greatest casualties of the decision. But I know they did not factor this into the equation when the denomination came down with its ruling. “...After all, they are only orphans.” I quipped with fire in my heart.

The man, perhaps wise beyond his years, met my prickles and stings with gentle tones as he expressed how painful this had been for him. And he promised the children would not be forgotten, and in the end, he asked, “Will you forgive me?”

Will you forgive me? Those powerful words all too often go unstated. I was caught off guard and mumbled something about how I was not sure it was an issue of forgiveness. I don't necessarily think it was a sin, but it on some level it was wrong. And I was all muddled inside.

As we look at this passage of scripture, it is interesting that it has been translated into English a number of ways. One version says, “forgive us our debts....” Another states, “Forgive us our trespasses....” Still another translates it, “Forgive us our sins ….”

The reason for the variation is that no one English word fully encapsulates the meaning. The original language uses a word here that encapsulates all these concepts.

So often, we take this part of the prayer to simply mean sin, as in clear-cut, breaking-the-ten-commandments-style sin. And we allow animosity that stems from less-clear offenses fester. Let's look at the different shades of meaning.

Debts: Financial debts are the first that come to mind, but it might also include a debt of deed. For example, we often say, “I owe you one” or “he really owes me for the help I gave him.” It may also include property debt, as when someone borrows and breaks something.

Trespasses: This word puts me in mind of the rickety signs that would hang from rusty metal gates in rural Texas. “No Trespassing” the signs read. It means don't come in here. It sets a boundary in no uncertain terms. To trespass represents a violation of person or property. Trespasses could include abuse, stealing, misuse of property among other things. But it also includes much simpler things like when people presume upon your time and you get forced into doing things you really never wanted to do. It can include those times when people take your stuff without asking or say something that is really inappropriate or hurtful – whether they mean it that way or not. It includes a host of minor offenses that serve to irritate, aggravate, and alienate us from those around us.

Sins: This one is most obvious. Sin is breaking the law of God. The clear cut disobedience to the ways and Word of God.

By looking at these three different words, our scope on this verse expands to a fuller understanding of this element of The Lord's Prayer.

By imploring God, our Father, to Forgive us our debts, trespasses, sins. We acknowledge:

  1. Our debt: all that we owe that we could never repay, beginning with salvation and continuing to every aspect of our life.
  2. Our trespasses: all the ways in which we go beyond the boundaries God has laid out for us. All the ways in which we presume upon his nature, power, goodness despite our inability to understand his ways. All the times in which we accuse Him when things don't turn out the way we think they should. All the ways in which we misuse and abuse the blessings He has given us.
  3. Our sins: all the ways we disobey His Word.

By understanding this, the scope and spectrum of forgiveness expands requiring serious attitude adjustment in common daily interactions besides the obvious difficulty in forgiving blatant sins that have been committed against us.

This verse would be meaty enough if it just stopped there. But Jesus doesn't stop there. He takes it one very uncomfortable step further when he adds, “as we forgive our debtors” or “those who trespass/sin against us.”

Linked to the first part of the equation comes that small but brutal word “as.” And by making this link Jesus underscores how important forgiveness is to the Christian life.

So not only do we need to consider our need to be forgiven for this spectrum of offenses, we also need to forgive in like manner.

Why is it so hard to do?

There is an array of reasons why it is hard to forgive, especially if the offense is some heinous act, a truly unforgivable deed that violated us to the core.

We don't want to forgive because:

  1. Fear – the false belief that forgiveness means you have to open yourself up to repeated abuse by the perpetrator. But forgiveness does not mean becoming someone's doormat. Forgiveness is where you are in your heart and if the offender shows no indication of changed behavior you are under no obligation to return to a bad/dangerous situation.
  2. Justice – the perpetrator does not deserve forgiveness. Many times those who sinned/trespassed against us really are not sorry, making forgiving them all the more difficult. We might relaize we can't and don't have to trust this person anymore, but how do we let ourselves trust anyone else? This opens a whole new can of worms.

When we face these kinds of situations, it almost makes us wonder why God would even give us free will if we only use it hurt one another? We all too often use it to turn our back on Him as well. Would it not be better if we had no choice. Wouldn't we all be safer and the world be a better place?

I pondered this issue for years. And it wasn't until I attended a lecture in Budapest some years ago that I finally understood. There a  man spoke about Adam and Eve and the garden and free will. To give these first human creations the gift of free will was a remarkable risk. It risked turning all of the exquisite creation into a tailspin of disaster. Why would God, especially a God who is sovereign, take such a risk?

The man explained that it was an issue of love at its very definition. We all know that God is love, right? The whole point of creation is rooted in love and relationship. That's what he wanted out of us. That's why he created us. But love by its very essence requires free will.

“It is the free will that gives love value,” the man said.

There could be no real love without the risk. And so as we face a cruel and hurtful world, we too must choose to take the risk if we are ever to experience that which we are created to experience: love and relationship with Him and others.

Forgiveness is central to both love and relationship. And therefore it is a critical ingredient in the Christian life.

Nobody ever said forgiveness is easy. Some may argue that in certain circumstances it is unrealistic and unnatural. But maybe that's the point. To forgive is such an antithesis to our nature that each act suggests something supernatural in the spirit has occurred. And if it is supernatural then it is something we need not embark upon alone. We can place our frail, weak hand into the palm of God and ask him to walk us through it.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, tells how one of the early church fathers explained this passage: “He says it's a bit like teaching a child to do something. The parent does it carefully a few times, then steps back and says, 'now you show me.' God forgives and then steps back and says, 'now you show me how to forgive.'”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Gimme" (give me) Part of Prayer

"Give us this day our daily bread," Matt. 6:11

Finally! We get to the "gimme" part of the prayer. It's our favorite part, right? Isn't this the aspect of prayer we spend the most time on?

"Oh, God, please give me what I want!"

"Oohh Lord, please make this happen for me!"

And sometimes we are not totally selfish. We pray a good "gimme" prayer for those we care about:

"Lord, my friend has this problem and this is what you should do about it."

"Father, make this and that happen for my family."

I can only speak for myself, but I must admit that for most of my prayer life, my communications with the Father have resembled these templates and as I look at the Lord's prayer, I realize I have badly missed the mark. Even here, the section of the prayer reserved for request, my perspective has been all wrong.

The line starts with "Give us ..." Why does it not say, "Give me ..." Even in these few words, I have to make a bit of paradigm shift. There is a fundamental realization in the use of "us" over "me" that I am not the center of the universe. True, God loves me intimately and individually, but that does not mean he revolves his universe around "me". I need to pray with the "us" in mind. I need to pray with an understanding that other people have needs too and are affected by the events that occur on this earth -- both in the physical and the spiritual realm. I need to have a heart for them.

This is not to say that I should never pray for myself specifically. After all God is all about relationship. Relationship is at the core of His very nature, as the existence of the Trinity testifies. God is in relationship with Himself; that is His essence. And through Christ, He has invited us into relationship with Him.

Relationship is rooted in communication. So talking to God about "me" is a healthy part of that relationship. The point is not to loose sight of the "us" as we talk about the "me."

The next couple of words "this day" also give me pause. Why are we praying simply about "this day"? Why don't we just cover the whole week or the whole year? Why not our entire lifetime?

Maybe it's because we are talking about prayer and not an insurance policy.

Prayer, again, is about relationship. It's not a Harry Potter-styled incantation designed to bring about positive results if I assemble the right combination of words. It's not an insurance contract where we have to make sure everything is covered.

The Lord's prayer seems to assume that this conversation with God will happen at least daily.

This week I put in a wood laminate floor. As I put in the planks one after another, I would at times stop when I was a few rows away from a difficult area. I would just stand there and think about how I was going to cut a plank to fit perfectly at that difficult angle/corner. I was still several rows away from having to deal with it, but I wasted so much time just standing there thinking -- when it wasn't my problem, yet.

I tend to approach life the same way. I have to figure out the solutions to problems BEFORE they happen. And I waste a lot of time trying to sort out problems that are never as bad I think they will be.

God urges us in this prayer to "take one day at a time" to use an old cliche. Further on in this chapter Christ summed up the concept when he said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matt 6:34)

Finally, the last words in this phrase, "our daily bread":

What is daily bread? Is it just our basic food? I would argue that it is all our basic needs. But how often do I really pray about my needs? I pray a lot about my wants and maybe a little about my needs, but only when I feel those needs are in jeopardy.

I don't pray so much about my basic needs because I think I've got them covered. I have food to eat and a nice place to live. I have heat, running water, and even a nice kitchen to cook in. It really never occurs to me to pray about these things. I don't even really pray about my basic spiritual needs. I take all this for granted.

But Christ is directing us through this prayer to pray for our daily needs. What's the point?

Perhaps, it's because by praying for these things we acknowledge that our Lord is giver of all good things. It is He, and not we ourselves, who provides for us. And in the face of managing our personal budgets, we tend to forget that. By praying for our needs, we recognize our dependence upon Him.

So there is good reason to pray for our daily needs.

Does that mean we should never bother God with our simple wants and desires? After all, He is God, isn't He too busy to bother with such frivolities?

Again, God is all about relationship. Just as I want my children to communicate with me about everything going on in their lives, so does God. When we open up the desires of our hearts to Him, we deepen our relationship with Him. Moreover, we open ourselves up to allowing him to refine those desires and sometimes He will even change them to the deeper desires we never knew we had.

There is a call to Christians woven into "Give us this day our daily bread."  Through these few words, we are challenged to realize we are not center of God's universe. But rather, we are called to allow Him to be the center of ours.

Proverbs captures the paradigm with this prayer:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
And so dishonor the name of my God. Prov. 30:8-9

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kingdom Moments ... even in loss

“Thy Kingdom Come ... Thy will be done” --Matt 6:10

“One of the orphanage kids committed suicide,” my husband told me after breakfast this morning.

“Succeeded? Or attempted?” I responded, taken aback by the news.

“He's dead,” my husband responded soberly.

There's an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I didn't know the kid, an older teen embarking upon adulthood. When I looked at his photo, there was only a very vague sense of familiarity. And yet the cold emptiness hangs in my innermost being. He lived there – in those rooms where the hope of the Gospel was shared over and over again. He must've lingered just beyond the fringes of all those outreaches and events where love and hope was shown in tangible ways.

Indeed the Kingdom of God was oh so “near” to him(Matt 10:7), practically “in his midst.”(Luke 17:21). And yet, in his tragically short life, God's Kingdom of Love and Hope did not come. Clearly God's will was not done.

So what do we do with that?

We could sit around and beat ourselves up with all the questions of “Why?”
Why did I not notice him?
Why did I not do more?

Followed quickly by all the “If onlys.”
If only I had known his suffering …
If only I had reached out further …

But there's a fundamental problem with this approach.  Notice all the "I"s?  It's all incredibly ME centered, suggesting that I am the center of God's universe and His workings somehow are limited to my frail abilities. It's really rather egotistical.  And it serves only the purposes of the Evil One.

Instead we must turn our hearts and minds toward God and God alone, throw ourselves to our knees and pour out our heart praying “Thy Kingdom Come!” For there are many more lives that still hang in the balance at the Miskolc orphanage and all around us every moment everyday.

“Thy Kingdom Come” What does it really mean? Are we fantasizing about pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by when we die?

No, I would argue that when we pray this we are praying for something living and dynamic in the here and now. For indeed, as Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 17 “the Kingdom of God is in your midst.”

But this kingdom is not found in manipulative schemes designed to get weak minds to pray “the sinners prayer.”

Neither is it found in the spiritual bullying tactics employed by some evangelistic campaigns.

It is rooted in Christ and Christ alone. And if we really want His Kingdom to come, we must start by rooting ourselves in Him. After all He is the King, right? And if He is our King, we need to start treating him like our Sovereign, placing all our faith and confidence in Him, not in our abilities to make things happen for Him. His kingdom comes in and through us not when we do things for Him, but rather when we are rooted in Him and keep Him on the throne of our lives. When we maintain that relationship, His kingdom flows from our lives to others.  It is always humbling to learn one's most significant moments of ministry were when we were not even trying to minister at all. We were just being who we were created to be and abiding in Him.

So where is the Kingdom? Indeed, it is in our midst, when we fully surrender to Him. It is in the fellowship of the saints.  And when true worship occurs within that fellowship, we experience Kingdom moments, glimpses into the Kingdom of God. In these places, we find strength and comfort even at a time like this when the loss is so fresh, tragic and unnecessary.

So what does this mean for an orphan boy who had lost all hope?

My heart grieves when I think of it. But I like to believe that maybe somewhere in those desperate last breaths, when the series of tragedies that made up his life may have flashed before his eyes, Christ may have somehow made himself known to this young man, this hurting child. I like to believe that might be possible because I know it is consistent with Christ's nature to love "the least of these" and through that love expand His Kingdom.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"What's in a name?"

"Hallowed be Thy Name" -- Matthew 6:9

"What's in name?" Shakespeare penned in Romeo and Juliet.

To be truthful in our culture today, there's not that much in a name.  You can name your kid pretty much anything and few people would raise an eyebrow to it. In our culture, names are but labels which help us distinguish one person from another. That's it.

But in Biblical times, a name meant much more.  A name reflected something of the very essence of a person, a reflection of their character, and miniature snapshot of who they were.  So when we come to this second line in the Lord's prayer, we need to keep this perspective in mind.

The first line brought us close to God as our father, a loving father, a good father who welcomes us with open arms and continually cradles us in the fullness of His fatherhood.  The second line rounds out the image or gives us the other side of the same coin when it says, "hallowed by Thy name."

God is our intimate loving father, but he is also God (Jehova, YWHW, El Shaddai ...). Here we are called to take a step back and recognize how holy and sacred His name is -- to meditate a moment on our Lord's very character.

It is a moment of sheer and complete reverence where we gain perspective on who He is and who we are. And we should be a bit blown backward in awe.

Lord's Prayer in Greek from wikipedia
Have you ever been in awe -- really, genuinely in awe about anything? For me it was when I first came to Europe and could walk the streets where so much history took place, knowing the only thing that separated me for those climatic moments was time. As I spied bullet holes in Budapest buildings dating back to WWII and the 1956 revolution, it was both thrilling and terrifying.  I felt so close to it.  And it awed me. Yet that is a pale comparison to what my awe should be when I come into the presence of God.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, described the purpose of this line well when he said, "Understand what you're taking about when you're talking about God. This is serious. This is the most wonderful and frightening reality  that we could imagine, more wonderful and frightening than we can imagine."

To be honest, when I recite "The Lord's Prayer," I tend to skim over the "hallowed be Thy name" part with all the excitement of a dull yawn.  I've missed the message of it, the fundamental lesson Christ was teaching through it when the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray.

Lord, awaken me the the proper awe due Your Name, as Your name is truly Your Essence.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cradled in the Fullness of His Fatherhood

"Our Father who art in Heaven ..." --Matt 6:9

I never thought a whole lot about the "father heart of God."  I mean, it's a nice notion for me as I had a great Dad. It gives me warm and fuzzy feelings, but beyond that superficial sentiment, I really hadn't given it a lot of thought until recently.

While stranded on the east coast of the United States waiting for a flight back to Germany, we stayed with some dear friends who have and are weathering more than their share of difficulties. A couple months earlier they had celebrated the big news. They were becoming grandparents for the first time.  But the days of joyous celebration were soon tempered by bigger news. Not long after their daughter announced she was expecting, her husband discovered he had cancer.

It was a severe blow to the young couple with so many hopes, dreams and plans laid out before them.  Those images of nine exciting months of anticipation culminating in the emergence of precious life now took a back seat to the realities of surgery and regular chemo treatments.  Her morning sickness and pregnancy weakness would be compounded by his chemo nausea and treatment recovery.  And what would the final outcome be?

While we stayed in the house with our friends, a call came in one afternoon.  Their daughter's husband had developed an infection at the surgery site and he was being rushed into surgery.  A heaviness hung over the household.  And it was there I saw the father heart of God manifested so clearly in human flesh.

Knowing his daughter's fear and anguish, this loving father could not eat nor socialize. His heart was too wrapped up in her hurts.  He excused himself and took the dog for a walk. He needed to be alone with His Heavenly Father.  Because his daughter hurt so deeply, he hurt too.  Maybe not exactly in the same way. Maybe in a deeper, different way.  But he cradled her hurts in the fullness of his fatherhood.

When he returned the phone rang with news we'd all prayed for.  Everything was alright. They got the infection taken care of and the young husband was back on track in his healing process.

A wave of relief flowed over the household.  And the loving father's whole demeanor changed. He joined us for dinner and could laugh and enjoy life again.

By witnessing this event, I was awakened to what the father heart of God is all about.  A father does not simply cradle his child as an infant.  He cradles his child every day of his/her life.  He takes in to his deepest being every ache, every pain, every joy, accomplishment and celebration.  He cradles that child's spirit in the crux of his own existence, because somehow those existences are inextricably linked.

That's what our Heavenly Father does for us.  That's what "Our Father who art in Heaven ..." is all about.

So the next time you are reciting the Lord's Prayer and you open up with those words "Our Father," take a moment to remember my friend and know that your Heavenly father aches with you and celebrates with you  -- only more so, much, much more so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Habit of Inappropriate Prayer

"Lord, teach us to pray," Luke 11:1

Over the past several months, I've been considering the Lord's prayer like never before. Those of us who grew up in Church have had those words memorized since childhood and the prayer has become so familiar to us that when recited in service, we tend to mouth it without really considering its meaning.

At least that's how it was for me, until recently when I become awakened to a whole new perspective on the prayer. And as a result I became convicted of how inappropriately I pray.

The disciples asked Christ to teach them how to pray.  He responded by giving them what we call today "The Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father."

Just an overview of the prayer's structure is eyeopening.

Consider the parts:

1. Recognizing who God is and His holiness
2. Longing for and desiring the accomplishment of God's purposes -- Recognizing the primary importance of God's purposes
3. Requests for my needs
4. Recognizing my need for forgiveness and my need to be transformed so that I can forgive others
5. Acknowledging my weakness, frailty and proclivity to return to sin and requesting deliverance.
6. Proclaiming God's sovereignty and eternal nature.

From this general breakdown, I noticed

50 percent of the prayer focuses on God, who He is and His purposes
One-third of the prayer is dedicated to acknowledging my frailty and requesting that God continue His transformation of me.
And only one-sixth (16.67 percent) is allotted  to my personal request for my needs. Note: needs not frivolous desires.

If I took an honest look at my own standard prayers.  The statistics would not stack up the same.  It would look something like this:

Maybe 10-15 percent acknowledging, celebrating who God is.
40 percent telling God how to handle my family and friends problems (Give them this! Make this happen!)
40 percent telling God how to handle my problems (Give me that! Make that happen!)
And about 5-10 percent on seeking the furtherance of God's purposes.

Those are some sad statistics -- especially for someone who is supposed to be a missionary, right?

So maybe its time for me to give my prayer life an overhall, starting by taking a hard look at how Christ himself taught us to pray.   I intend to do this over a series of blog entries beginning with this one. And maybe through this process the old liturgy of "Our Father" will breath new life into a prayer life that has fallen all too flat.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Imperfect Homecoming

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;" -- 2 Corinthians 4:8

"Be careful what you pray for," the old adage goes, "you just might get it."

For the last month we have desperately prayed that we could just get home. With heavy hearts, we were deferred flight after flight to the point we wondered if we would ever make it back home to Hungary. We literally wandered from Airbase to Airbase up and down the east coast desperately seeking a flight. Finally, a week ago today, the girls and I boarded American Airlines flight 70 and made it to Germany where Russ and Levi (who had flown in earlier that week) picked us up and after a little rest we embarked on the 13 hour drive home.

Ahhh, we breathed a sigh of relief to be back in our village. But the sigh was short lived. Not only did we return to a dead dog (which, thankfully, a neighbor had buried), within the first few days we were barraged with all the irritations we had forgotten about life in Hungary.

1. Our car's registration had expired so we cannot drive it and are waiting to go pay the fine (an undisclosed amount). Keep in mind they send no notification to car owners about this. Each car owner must remember to re-register his car every two years or so. We await our day in court.

2. The gas company tried to turn off our gas two days AFTER we had paid all the late bills. It took a special trip with a translator to the gas company's main office (payment receipts in hand) to defer the looming shut down.

3. After buying curricula and preparing to homeschool Niki, we arrived at school to learn they had set up a new special ed program in the Mikepercsi school. Niki was expected to go to her new special, smaller class and stay all day at school. Upon visiting the class, I discovered that the school does not differentiate between learning problems and behavior problems, so now Niki is stuck in a class, the only girl, with the 10 biggest trouble makers in the 1st-4th grade. There will be more to come as I work out these issues with the school.

All this while fighting jetlag and trying to remember Hungarian.

So this is what we prayed so hard to come to?

Even though our hearts sink when the dogs run to greet us and Blacky is all to obviously absent... And even though the station wagon sits undriveable until we navigate the bureaucracy, reregister the car and pay the fine ... and even though we have many agonizing meetings ahead as we sort out how Niki should be schooled, we can still somehow be thankful because after two and a half months away, the Chuns are home. Indeed "we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair."

It's not the "welcome home" that I'd hoped for. I thought we had already done the "overcoming" of great obstacles, and now we were poised for our "happily ever after." But real life does not work out as neatly as Disney movies. In real life, it seems overcoming one set of obstacles only prepares us for the next.

But there is a joy in the journey.

And so when I look out our back window and see crimson sunset blaze the sky, silhouetting the quaint village rooftops, it reminds me of the opening of Fiddler on the Roof, and I can genuinely say, "It's good to be home."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lessons Learned in Stasis

Miracle of Miracles the Chun family is finally home -- after a full month of failed attempts.

But there were many lessons to learn while we waited -- lessons taught to us gently by our Heavenly Father through the lives of those who shared our lives during this season.

Here's an overview of my lessons learned.

From Mom: The self-sacrifice of caregiving, the evidence of true love.

From Dad: Tenacity and determination (laced with orneriness and humor) to overcome the odds in recovery.

From my brother Jay: An amazing ability to overcome what others would write off as "impossible" or "not worth it" with practical know-how and ingenuity.

From Carole: An insatiable spirit of hospitality and servanthood, even when the guests unexpectedly stay a whole month!

From Dave: a clear reflection of the father heart of God.

From Nancy: delight in sacrificial giving.

From Susil, Lidia, and Kara and all those who helped with the dogs and house: the willingness to endure inconvenience in order to help a friend in need.

There were hundreds of lessons rooted in these headlines, but this is the overview. Now it's back to the grindstone in Hungary. We are blessed to be here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

In Stasis

I have not written for a long time on this blog largely because I've been on an epic journey. It wasn't supposed to be an epic journey -- just a jaunt for a few weeks to visit my folks in Texas. But now we've been gone from Hungary since July 20th. And our adventure of military "space available" travel has taken us from Ramstein, Germany, through Trier, off to Washington State, on to Texas, to Delaware where we sought flights to Germany then moved on to Maryland, DC, Northern Virginia, then to New Jersey, only to return to Washington DC and wait for flights. The bottom line is that we cannot seem to get a flight back to Europe.

It is a time of much angst, aggravation, and frustration. And while we have been trapped in the USA, our car's registration (in Hungary) expired, the school year started without us, and our dog died.

Our lifestyle now is simply a series of fruitless, endless hours at airports up and down the eastern seaboard, waiting for the ever evasive flight we can never get a seat on. We feel helpless and sort of in a state of stasis -- a period of life when nothing seems productive and one just exists.

But I guess such periods in life are a natural part of the Christian life. I guess we tend to think the Christian life should be all about those periods of intense ministry or spiritual epiphanies. But those years that feel more like stasis are a real part of the Christian life. We are frustrated as we seem to just be spinning our wheels and going nowhere.

But if you, like me, have ever felt like you are in stasis, we are not alone. Consider the apostle Paul who spent about 14 "unknown" years of his Christian life doing nothing recorded before beginning ministry. Even Jesus himself did not rush into ministry at the moment he hit adulthood. He started at age 30.

Those periods of waiting are no fun, but that does not mean they are not productive.

Although enjoying friends' generosity and hospitality, I find myself in one of the places I really do not want to be. I want to be home. I need to be home. I want to serve God THERE! So why won't He let me go!

Because apparently I need to be here in stasis. And although it may feel like stasis, it really isn't. It is an opportunity for me to let God call the shots, even when it is incredibly inconvenient and periodically a bit uncomfortable for me.

It is an opportunity to say, "Yes, God," regardless of what He asks me to walk through. It is an opportunity to release control of my life, which I never really had control of anyhow.

And so we wait and try to catch a flight, again and again. I know someday we will get back, I'm sure. Until then it's time to make the most of the moment wherever I am and submit to His greater plan, knowing that -- however inconvenient, it is the best plan in the grand scheme.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Radio Interview

Recently I had the pleasure of being a guest on Christian Devotions Speak Up America. Here is the broadcast.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Ultimate "Aha!" Moment

"We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!" 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Message)

The elderly Hungarian man stepped off the tram. Releasing a deep sigh he looked at the maze of buildings that made up the medical center. It was a sober day. He had made his choice and he was determined to go through with it.

He navigated his way through the labyrinth of old buildings until he found the right place. He stopped a nurse in the hallway and told her why he was there.

"Just sit down and wait," the nurse said. "I'll get the paperwork to sign you up as an organ donor."

Time passed slowly as it always does within the walls of medical bureaucracy. But in time, he got all the paperwork filled out, and he felt good about it. After the last page was signed, the nurse turned to the old man and told him he was finished and he could go home now.

"Go home?" The old man's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

"You're done with the paperwork, you can go home," the nurse explained.

"But I came here to donate my organs!" The old man protested. "I ate the last bit of food in my apartment this morning. I spent the last of this month's pension check on the tram ticket to get here!"

The nurse, clearly taken aback by the man's misunderstanding of how the organ donor program works, quickly called the doctor over. An education of organ donation proceeded, and the doctor paid for taxi to get the old man home.

This true story might make some of us laugh at the old man's simplicity. He had absolutely no grasp of how things worked. It was really beyond his comprehension and life experience. He took the information he had and staked everything on his understanding -- never considering for a moment that there might be more to it than that.

We laugh, but are we really so different from this old man?

So often we approach Christianity in much the same way that this man approached organ donation. We take what we know to be true (what we understand from God's Word) and act like we've cornered the market on spiritual knowledge -- and we bank on it, regardless of who we may hurt in the process.

We saw it most recently when self-proclaimed prophets predicted doom and gloom to descend on May 21. Many banked it all on that prediction. They were willing to sacrifice jobs and homes to be a part of this event -- the end of the world!

And let's face it they weren't totally wrong. After all, we know the world will one day end. And Christ will return. They were at least right about these facts. But none of them were willing to consider that the ways of God might be beyond their understanding in this matter and therefore the prediction might be wrong.

In less dramatic ways, we all have our dogmatic beliefs. Some are truly fundamental and foundational Christianity -- and are clearly laid out in Scripture. Those we should bank on and stand strong, unwavering. But many other beliefs are the product of the facts we've gathered from the Word mixed with our limited experience and cultural bias.

Yet we bank on them as if we have full understanding of the ways of God -- often leading to our own disillusionment. We are not so different from the old man who thought he was doing the greatest of deeds, only to end up going back to an empty home alone.

Oswald Chambers commented, "The counterfeit of obedience is a state of mind in which you create your own opportunities to sacrifice yourself."

True obedience doesn't require whole understanding. Self-appointed martyrdom is rooted in misunderstanding and ultimately leads to disillusionment.

Have you felt a bit disillusioned in your faith lately? Feel like God let you down in some area? Maybe like the old man, limited by your own experiences and cultural bias, you've misunderstood how the ways of God work. After all, "we don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. ..."

But take heart. It won't always be so confusing. At the end of time when all is said and done, the blinders will fall off and we will all have an amazing "aha!" moment. And I dare say, we may all be a little ashamed about how dogmatic we were about things for which we had no real understanding.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Good vs. Easy

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." --Romans 8:28

That's a standard verse we use to assure ourselves and others that "everything will be all right." But there are times where everything does not turn out all right. Life remains hard. Our losses are so deep. Pressures multiply. Life grows more complicated, and one cannot help but wonder, "Where's that 'good' we were promised?"

But are we genuinely looking for "good" or do we really just want "easy."

When we decided to adopt our son, the various social service officials that we dealt with in the process raised their eyebrows when they learned all our kids would be the same age. They'd sigh and say, "This won't be easy."

Are the most significant things in our lives necessarily easy?

And yet, "easy" is what we long for in the modern age. After all, we have machines to wash our clothes and our dishes. We have microwaves and crockpots for maximum ease in food preparation. We have countless cleaning gadgets and products to make life's menial tasks simpler.

We have come to believe the terms "good" and "easy" are synonymous. And it has infected all aspects of our lives, including the way we pray. Think about it. How do we approach God in prayer. What do we ask for -- both for ourselves and others? Our prayer requests focus little on our character development and more on telling God what to do to make our lives easier.

Oswald Chambers warned of this tendency in his day: "Beware of thinking that intercession means bringing our own personal sympathies and concerns into the presence of God and then demanding that He do whatever we ask."

Indeed, we pray that God would make something happen. We pray that God would not let something happen. We give Him our list of demands. Tell him how to solve our problems and everyone else's.

What happened to the the humble prayer of "thy kingdom come, THY will be done"?

God's will for our lives and this world is the ultimate good. And if He is after your best interest, life probably won't be easy. But that doesn't mean it won't be good. Think about the most beautiful testimonies or life stories you've ever read or heard? Were they stories of "an easy life" or stories of a relationship with God forged through hardships and suffering?

To pursue "the good life" is to seek relationship with God.

This is our primarily calling. THIS is what we were created for!

If we can grasp this fundamental concept, then we can stop approaching prayer as some cosmic tool we use to try to control the circumstances beyond our control. And maybe we can let prayer be what it was meant to be: a vehicle for building relationship with our Lord, a tool for letting Him change us.

Maybe then, we will be able to let go of our demands for an easier life and genuinely commune with God in the spirit of: "THY will be done."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. -- Proverbs 11:2

I received the registered letter in the mail and knew immediately what it was -- a speeding ticket. I couldn't imagine where we could have possibly been speeding. We are so careful when we drive through Tiszaujvaros where the speed trap whacked us with two 30,000 forint fines ($150) last summer.

I opened the letter and scanned the Hungarian for time and location: Mikepercsi u. 80. I knew the road well as it is the main thoroughfare connecting Mikepercs with Debrecen. The letter claimed we were traveling 68km/h in a 50km/h zone. But that road has a speed limit of 60 all the way into the city. We've lived here six years and its always been that way. Clearly, there had to be some mistake.

As I drove into Debrecen, I watched closely to read ALL the speed limit signs. As I entered the outer limits of Debrecen, 60km/h signs flashed by about every 50 meters. And then right at an intersection where motorists are likely to be focused on the traffic light and may speed up to get through it in time. THERE. Right there! They changed the speed limit to 50km/h. And maybe 20 meters past the new sign, there was the unmarked cop car taking photos of unsuspecting motorists.

I saw the police officer's hunched over silhouette through the car's tinted windows. I could sense the smug, self-satisfied smirk on his masochistic face as the camera clicked again and again and he savored the financial distress he inflicted on the common masses.

Then, not much further down the road a speed limit sign of 60km/h again appeared.

It was entrapment, pure and simple.

How dare the Hungarian police bully us around like this!!!!!!

Who do they think they are?

My blood boiled as all the "American" in me lashed out in defense of MY RIGHTS!

"This would never stand in America! What a racket!" I ranted. I wanted to write letters to the editor, file complaints at city hall.

I deserve better than this!!!!!

I think, many times, I have a tendency to approach the Christian life in like manner. I believe that as a Christian I have certain rights and a fundamental one is to be justly treated. And so when things go awry and everything does not turn out okay, I lash out demanding MY RIGHTS.

But Christianity is not America and there is no Bill of Rights in the Kingdom of God.

And it is not our place to tell God how to run things. Fundamentally, it is my pride that drives me into these rantings. I have certain expectations. I deserve better than what God has seen fit to give me right now. I must therefore know better than God.

Hence, the arrogant Christian is again born in my flesh.

I must grasp the concept that Christianity is not about rights, but about surrender, believing that there is a bigger picture, a better purpose than what I can see right now -- even the face the police photo "proving" our guilt of alleged "speeding."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Critical Ingredient

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" -- John 13:35

I like to bake. Sometimes I go on baking binges, continuously making my favorite treats for friends and families. One year the recipe of choice was Hawaiian sweet bread.

I made loaf after loaf and became so good at it that I did not need the recipe. One day, in the midst of constant distractions and interruptions I tried to make a loaf. It wasn't until I tasted it that I realized that I forgot to add the sugar.

As you may suspect, "sweetbread" without sugar can no longer be called sweetbread, and in this case, it could hardly be called bread at all. I had removed the essential ingredient -- that through which the bread was defined.

Here in Hungary, the word for "sugar" and "candy" are exactly the same word: "cukor." It makes perfect sense because, after all, what is candy but straight sugar with a little coloring and packaging added.

So the pressing question for me, in the spirit of reaping lessons from everyday life, is: What is my essential ingredient? What is the fundamental characteristic in me that defines who I am?

Probably for most of us it is more than one thing. It's a pound/kilo of what we've accomplished mixed with an equal amount of what we are good at added to the relationships we have with family, friends, and especially romantic attachments.

But this verse from John 13 defines exactly what our essential ingredient should be. The characteristic that defines us as Christians should simply be "love."

If we do not love, and love well, we are like my sweetbread without sugar -- a big, hard lump of flour that only makes the world twist up their faces in disgust. Without love, we are like candy without sugar -- just hollow packaging with no purpose.

Jesus asked Peter in John 21, "Do you love me?" It is a question worth posing to ourselves, bearing in mind that loving Christ with agape love goes much further than how we respond to Him.

"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." --1 John 4:20

Maybe today is a good day to take inventory. By what characteristic is your life defined? What is your essential ingredient?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Arrogant Christian Paradox

"...He will beautify the humble with salvation." --Psalm 149:4

A couple weeks ago my father was in a car accident. He is relatively okay. I mean, it could have been much worse. But when a 78 year old man sustains a whole series of broken bones, injuries and contusions, recovery does not come quickly. We expect recovery to be at least a four month long process. And I, being half a world away, can do little to help.

I get updates from my mom and brother. And it seems the docs have him on some serious pain medication that messes with his brain -- alters his perceptions of reality. He insists that the television is floating off its stand or that the nurses are "out to get him." It's interesting to me how a person's eyes and ears can be working quite correctly and yet somewhere between where they take in information and where the brain interprets that information, something gets skewed.

It's kind of like sin. Reality exists. Our senses take it in, but because we are tainted by sin, we have a hard time interpreting reality correctly. It all gets skewed and as a result we see things NOT as they really are.

As a result, we sometimes mistake arrogance for confidence and insecurity for humility.

I have lately been struck by the value God places on humility. Over and over again in Scripture, we find examples of how God takes pleasure in the humble. We are exhorted to humble ourselves before God that He might lift us up.

Why is humility so important to God? Maybe it's because salvation is impossible without it. Consider the reality: if our salvation is rooted fully and completely in Christ and His sacrifice, then we, in coming into His salvation, must give up all ideals of self-sufficiency. We must surrender every ounce of pride in our own goodness, and we must confess our utter wretchedness and inability to do anything about it. In short, salvation fundamentally requires humility on the deepest soulish levels.

But if we back up a moment, we'd see that humility is not something one works toward or accomplishes. Humility is quite simply seeing things the way they are -- without that drug of sin skewing our perceptions.

He is God wholly good and wholly powerful -- the very creator of all things in existence. We are frail, feeble, unattractive creatures bent on self, be it self-promotion or self flagellation.

Therefore, there is something fundamentally contradictory about the arrogant Christian.

Feeling smug and self-satisfied today? Feeling sorry for yourself and insecure? Either way, your perspective has been skewed by the drug of sin. You, like my dad on his pain medication, are seeing the television floating in the air.

Let's take some time today to ask God to help to see things the way they really are and embrace the beauty of godly humility.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Love is not Selfish ...

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." -- 1John 3:16

Last week American Idol hopeful Chris Medina won the hearts of millions not with his dazzling vocals, but with his story of love and commitment. In 2009, two months before his scheduled wedding, his fiance was critically injured in a car accident. She suffered a traumatic brain injury.

"I was about to make vows just two months from the accident -- through thick and thin, 'til death do us part, for better or worse," he said in an interview. "What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?"

As we learn of Chris' story, we watch in awe. His level of true commitment, devotion, and unadulterated unselfishness leaves us breathless. But perhaps the most telling part of the story is not Chris' actions, but our response.

In a society that rhapsodizes about "love" in everything from the biggest hits in every genre of music to the hottest movies to best selling books, we really don't get what love is.

We've redefined love to cater to our own pleasures and desires. We've made it all about ME! And we've forgotten what our God has taught us -- that love is sacrifice. It is laying down one's life for another. It is not about getting your needs fulfilled but about giving up your own comfort for another person's good.

Chris Medina has quite simply demonstrated true love. It is a choice he is making each day. And one I hope he continues to make.

Are you longing for love? Then take a honest look at Chris' story. His situation is not one any of us would ever choose. But if God saw fit to require it of us, would we be able to love well? It is not question I want to answer, because I fear I would fail, though I pray God would grant me the grace to walk faithfully through it.

Our ultimate example, our Lord Jesus Christ, demonstrated it so long ago when He laid down His life for us. But since we've heard it in church since childhood, sometimes it seems to have lost its luster. If we can get teary eyed in the face of Chris' demonstration to true love, why can't the idea of God Himself giving His very son still stir us inside?

As February approaches and Valentine's day emerges on the horizon, instead of buying chocolates and roses (or gagging at those who do), we would do well to ask God to help us learn to live out true love -- by His definition.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sharp Surrender

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." --Philippians 4:12

"There's always something," my husband sighed as our three children shouted at each other in a language we could not understand. After months and months of fighting to get Levi, now he's ours and the period of "adjustment" is in full swing. Levi was new and exciting when he came to visit us each weekend. But now he's just an annoying brother.

"Why do we always get the annoying ones?" my biological daughter, Andi, asked as I put her to bed last night, exasperated with both her siblings. Five months ago when the brakes had been put on our adoption process by an unsupportive psychologist in Budapest, this same little girl looked at me with anguish in her eyes and asked, "What if they don't let us have Levi?"

We are never satisfied, are we? There's always something.

We tend to our lives filled with the phrase, "If only ..." You can fill in the blank.

If only I had more money...
If only I had a car...
If only I were married...
If only I had children...
If only I had a better husband/wife...
If only I had smarter children...
If only I had a better car ...
If only I could lose weight...
If only I were better looking...

...then I would be content/happy.

Really? I doubt it.

Because if we live the "if only" lifestyle, there will always be something else -- just out of our reach.

We frail, pathetic human creatures seek our completeness in the things of this world. AND some of those things are truly good and legitimate requests we can make of God. But these things are not God and therefore will never give us the "completeness" we seek. And God is under no obligation to give them to us.

So often we approach God as if He owes us. After all, He's provided those things to so many others. Why not ME?!

And so instead of coming to Him recognizing who He is and who we are, we selfishly demand things of God, telling Him that "if only" he will give us this one thing, THEN we will be good and content Christians.

I believe contentment is deeply connected to surrender. I remember growing up in Church hearing songs that rhapsodized over "sweet surrender." But that may be a misnomer.

Surrender is tough when it is genuine. It involves loss, a death of sorts. It is a death to the self and all the expectations and rights we deem our own. And on the outset there is nothing sweet about it. It's more like sour or spicy hot, piquant, bitter or sharp. It is uncomfortable and goes against our nature.

And yet, surrender is the centerpiece of the Christian life.

We call Him Lord. And yet readily tell him NO!

Think about that. There is some fundamental contradiction in the statement "No, Lord." If He is TRULY our LORD, then we can only say, "yes." If we say "no" then He is not truly our Lord.

So this brings us back to the places of discontent in our lives. If God chooses to never give you any of your "if onlys", would you still be able to say, "Yes, Lord"?

After all, a place of discontent may very well be little more than a place unsurrendered.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cross Cultural Cornucopia

"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands." --Revelation 7:9
There was milk, and there was wine. Saaris and Csizma. It was a night where Bollywood meets csarda dancing and Hungarian, English and Malayalam merged into the universal language of laughter. When a Hungarian girl marries an Indian boy (from America) the cultures collide into a cornucopia of beauty and splendor this gives us all a little glimpse of Heaven.

I've always believed that in
each and every culture on Earth, God has infused a bit of Himself -- something that reflects His glory. After all, if He created man in His image, how could it be otherwise?

So when cultures come together and maybe a little savory masala mixes with potent paprika sprinkled with a little American salt (and a pinch of Chinese parsley), the result is a scrumptious combination that can potentially draw us closer into the courts of Heaven.

And for me this wedding did just that. From Suja, the groom's sister who beams with the glory of God in all she does to Sunil who knows how to make sure everyone has a good time, to Luca the Hungarian choreographer of the Bollywood-styled wedding dance, to Gigi who inspires all with her eye for design and gentle spirit. Cultures came together seamlessly as women in Saaris joined Hungarian folk dancers for a few boot-slapping steps. And the bride and groom? Well, the picture says it all!
If we frail creatures can create such a beautiful night of celebration by combining several cultures, just imagine what the wedding feast of the Lamb will look like one day -- when God brings the best of all cultures of the world together and we celebrate our union with Him!

Egészségedre! Cheers! Prost! Salute! Skål! Noroc! Chia!
Oogy wawa! Lechaym! Ziveo! Budmo! Saliginiza! Choc-tee! Na zdravie! Minum! Hipahipa! It will all be just one big party. And I'm looking forward to it!