Thursday, March 5, 2015

Out of Their Heads?

It's been a long time since I blogged about the cultural differences between Croatia and America. Most likely, I won't start up again with any regularity. But when I watched this video of a certain Bostonian response to all the snow this year, I was shocked. Simply put, Croats, for many reasons, would not jump out of their windows into the snow with just their swimwear on. What causes so many Bostonians to do so? And Croats, why would this never be a thing in Croatia?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Good Life

I’m as satisfied as could be. Warm, well-fed and rested, surrounded by friends and settled knowing that my family is safe, secure and waiting for me when I return, I couldn’t, in good conscience, desire more. Added to that is the fact that I’m enjoying a new book by an established spiritual mentor. The Nebraska state sign I read as a child passes through my mind; The Good Life.

“…Jesus withdrew from that place” (Matt 12:15)

Earlier today, we engaged in a mandatory time of silence. I had looked forward to this two hour block of time for months. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was the source of my input while my MacBook mediated my output. I was determined to do more reading, writing and processing in the first hour than I had done in the previous week. I spent the second hour in prayer while exploring one of the northern Hungarian hills.

“When Jesus heard what happened, he withdrew…” (Matt 14:13)

Intentional silence allowed me to meditate. As I read Scripture, prayed and subsequently processed events from the previous couple days, I was convinced that I need to seek more. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they would receive “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better”. I was challenged to pray that for myself, to continue to seek the Lord more deeply and to in turn pray for others in the same way Paul did. 

“Jesus then left them and went away.” (Matt 16:4)

Isn’t it interesting that in Ephesians Paul cared more for the spiritual state of his friends than the circumstances they were enduring? As Keller notes, this is true of most of Paul’s prayers. As I consider the text, and the state of comfort I’m in now, I give thanks. 

Father, thank you for this period of renewal. Thank you that your son set an example of withdrawing and that even you - Creator of the universe - rested. 

Thank you for the place and state I’m in now. Yet, may my comfort be found more in you and less in my circumstances. When this period passes and the storm comes, may my peace be found in you. You are good and the source of all goodness. You are life and the source of life abundant. You, and you alone, are the source of the good life. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Need More David!

If you were to scroll down the right side of this blog and look for our kids names among the labels, you'd notice that Enoh is included in (by far) the most posts. David, on the other hand, has just a few. Obviously, there are good reasons for that. But since this blog is just as much a collection of some of our favorite memories as anything else, I realized we need to include a little more David.

Here's David making faces:

Here's David running around with his brothers and sister. 

And here's David getting a ride with his sister. 

A Message for Mommy

The other day, Ian mentioned he would like to make a short video for mommy. Emily agreed and David didn't disagree so I started recording. This is what came out.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Beauty of Croa...Creation

The honeymoon period was over long ago. I've lived in Croatia for seven years. My wife and I have settled down. We have a family, jobs and everyday responsibilities. Naturally, I don't experience the country I live in the same way I did when I first arrived.

But every now and then there are days like yesterday. Due to a meeting I had in Istra two days ago, I woke up in Poreč - the westernmost Croatian city. Not having been to the oldest structure in Croatia yet, I drove an hour with my friend to Pula: (red arrow on the left of the map).

The Arena in Pula, the only completely preserved of six remaining Roman arenas in the world, is 2,000 years old.

Two Thousand Years Old! 

I'm not sure that's even possible for an American to fathom. Anyway, the structure that has seen gladiators, martyrs, knights and Elton John is located right off the water where fishing boats were coming in from their overnight haul. Between the antiquity of the architecture and the openness of the sea, the thing that seemed most normal to me about the situation I found myself in was the language being spoken. In other words, everything was foreign to this American. Everything was exotic. Again.

Croatia's land mass is the size of West Virginia. But if you were to drive from East to West, then North to South it would take more than 20 hours - and that's even on some of the best roads Europe has to offer going upwards of 80 miles an hour (the speed "limit" on Croatian highways). Croatia is so wide and diverse that it has signs in Italian, Hungarian and the Cyrillic alphabet depending on where you are geographically. And when you start learning its history it's like trying to fit a gust of wind in your lungs.

We had to quickly move on. Picking up the highway in Pula and driving said 80 miles an hour we set off for Slavonija - the easternmost region where we live. We made a quick stop near Zagreb for lunch and finally arrived in Orahovica 6 hours after departure.

The jezero has become one of my favorite places to run, pray and take in the beauty of God's creation.

Its history is much shallower than Pula's but it has been home for some of the deepest spiritual moments of my life. Yesterday, I had just enough time to soak in the familiar sights helping me decompress from the all the driving.

Then it was time to go again. I had arranged to go to a piano concert in Osijek with some friends.

In Osijek, I found myself with a congregation of evangelical Christians in a synagogue listening to an American play selections written by German, French and Russian composers.
Photo Courtesy of Daniel Wurzberg
It's not easy to make a percussive instrument sound melodic, but Sam Rotman did just that while delighting the audience with a diverse pallete of musical colors. I can't imagine that even the composers of the pieces he played could have been any more enthusiastic about their music than he was. As he explained during a short talk, every concert he played was for Jesus.

I have to admit that a classical piano recital followed by a moving personal testimony is the sort of program I've never been a part of. But by the end of the concert it made complete sense. Rotman's conviction is that Christ is worth devoting his whole life to. Playing the piano with excellence for audiences around the world is his way of doing so.

It was a fitting end to a delightful day. Diverse visual and aural beauty from sunrise to sunset reminded me of the pulchritude Croatia has to offer. As has been the case in the past, Croatia's beauty pointed me to creation's beauty.

The heavens declare the glory of God
The skies proclaim the work of his hands

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

David's First Chestnuts

It's not until the aroma of roasting chestnuts fills streets and kitchens throughout Croatia that autumn has really arrived. This year, for the first time, we found a vender selling chestnuts in Orahovica. Although we hope to take a trip the woods to look for chestnuts ourselves we were excited to get our hands on them without the effort. Here's David's first taste of chestnuts. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Bible Song

Heard a song that made some sense out of the world

There are a lot of things on U2's latest album I can relate to. (Hence the series of Songs of Innocence related posts). But the influence the Ramones had on Bono - as sung about on the first track of the album - is impossible for me to resonate with. Instead, I'll reflect on an early and constant influence on my life.

I was raised on the Bible.

My first memories of church are filled predominately with listening to Bible stories and memorizing Bible verses. Most evenings after dinner we read devotionals and memorized some more. Besides my family, there was nothing that influenced my childhood more than the Bible.

Over time, my identity was shaped by the stories and principles the Bible teaches. Of course the verses that summarize our beliefs most concisely (ie John 3:16) were the ones at the foundation of my memory base. But the Lord as a shepherd, Scripture as a lamp and righteousness as a breastplate were pictures that filled my imagination before cartoons ever did.

As I grew older my theology was developed subconsciously through continued memorization. Proverbs 16:9 and Ephesians 1 became go-to proofs of God's sovereignty. Psalm 19 drew me to creation when I was ever tempted to doubt. Paul's dedication to preaching the gospel in the midst of threats to his life were a model to imitate in endeavors to witness to my friends.

Now as an adult I consider the Bible as a source of truth, beauty and inspiration. Here are four reasons why I love the Christian Scriptures.

1. The Bible is Deep
I like to describe a Bible story as an onion. You can peel off the first layer, understand the basic story, and still have a long way to go before you get to the core. Take one of the most well known stories - "The Prodigal Son". Most are familiar with the youngest son and the eventual return to his father. But there's another son. Based on the context, the older son is of equal, if not greater significance to the point of the story. And that's just that story.

One could then also consider how the Prodigal Son fits into the Gospel of Luke, Jesus' ministry and the grand narrative of Scripture. Of course, that's just looking at it from a literary perspective. Imagine, if you will, that you find yourself in the story as one of the two sons. Consider that this story of lost and found, death and resurrection, could have strong spiritual significance. There is no lack of depth to the Bible. In fact, the more I read it, the deeper it is.

2. The Bible is Wide
Isn't it incredible that the book predicting, announcing and preaching God's plan of redemption also includes many other facets, all of which in some way revolve around the main theme? Right from the beginning we get a theological explanation of how the world, animals and humankind were created. But matters of hierarchy, authority, separation and goodness (just to name a few) are all explored in the opening chapters of Genesis. All these topics point to the New Testament, yet are full of meaning in their own right as they stand in the creation narrative.

Subjects like marriage, murder, building, family, slavery, history and redemption are all discussed through narrative - and we haven't even left the first book! Of course, interpreting the text is of absolute importance. But the main point here is that the fact that the Bible spans so many topics over countless generations and cultures is indicative of its complete relevancy to all of creation. The gospel it proclaims to the whole world is proof; Scripture matters to every person on the globe, whether they realize it or not.

3. The Bible is Rich
To describe the Bible with this term is to say that its depth and width overflow with valuable content. It's not an empty wordy space. Scripture is filled with stories, images, beauty and truth that speak to the person reading it. The suffering of Job, the despair of David and the dedication of Paul offer hope to people dealing with similar situations. Prophetic symbolism remind the reader of God's faithfulness and prompts them to respond with thanks, praise and genuine Christian faithfulness.

The Bible's greatest value is that it points to the ultimate treasure - Jesus Christ of Nazareth and the salvation that comes through him alone. Imagine you're an outcast, like the woman at the well (John 4) or Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and the person who was expected to change the world through military force decided to have a drink or meal with you. Chances are you'd take the content of the conversation seriously. In each case, Jesus offered more than expected. Though not the source, the Word of God offers the richest means of knowing the Author of salvation. Nothing is more valuable than that.

4. The Bible is Effective
The Bible claims many things about itself. Throughout my life I've found its claims to be true. For example:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Throughout my life there has been no better mirror for my heart than Scripture. At times I've resonated with the hatred of Cain, the shame of David, the frustration of Ezekiel, the confusion of Peter and the passion of Paul. Yet more often than that, I'm just a regular guy reading the Bible. And even then, Jesus' teachings are incredibly challenging. His claims, while believable through faith, are difficult to live out.

But thankfully there's salvation for people like me. This sword that penetrates my heart, showing its greatest weaknesses, also fills it with hope and joy. The beautiful expressions of God's grace throughout both Testaments prompt me to try to live the sort of life Jesus did. Fortunately, I'm not alone in this endeavor. The Bible offers instruction and directs me to the Spirit through whom Scripture was ultimately written. In this way, the Bible is effective in communicating who God is, who I am and how I should live. I am witness to that.

Believe it or not, this post isn't meant as an apology. My intent isn't to argue for the validity of Scripture. I simply hope to communicate why I have fallen so in love with the Holy Scriptures. They point to the source of life. And my life has been eternally affected by them.

To quote Bono, I "heard a song that made sense of the world." That song is the Bible.