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?