Friday, June 12, 2015

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pushed to the Extreme

“One of the goals of Royal Rangers is to push you to your limit” our regional leader explained to us during a preparatory training session. “You never know how you’re going to react in extreme circumstances unless you’ve been pushed to your extreme ahead of time.” 

This would be my third National Training Camp (NTC). My first was in Serbia as a participant. Last year I hosted and shadowed the leader so I would be prepared to lead in the future. This year the responsibility fell on me. Although I felt inadequate to lead, especially knowing my greatest weakness - public speaking in Croatian - would be exposed, I didn’t expect to be pushed to any particular extreme. 

Throughout the camp I felt even more sure that this training would pass without any major challenge. In comparison with the flood-like conditions and my lack of experience last year, this year’s added experience plus perfect weather and the number of leaders supporting our effort, convinced me that this would pass without difficulty. 

Then came Sunday morning. The finish line was ahead of us. Our award ceremony/church service would conclude the weekend and I felt okay. But as I began watching the slideshow summary of the weekend with the rest of the congregation tears began to well up. “What’s this?” I asked myself, stepping out of the sanctuary to collect myself before giving a report of the weekend.

I stood up to say how overwhelmed I was with thankfulness and nothing came out. I choked. This had never happened to me, in public or private. Another leader quickly took over and the show went on. But after the whole camp was over I had to process the whole event. 

In retrospect, I had been pushed to my limit. Physically I hadn’t slept more than five hours a night for the last six nights - a very unusual occurrence for me. When I stepped on the scale on Sunday afternoon I realised I had lost three kilos - six pounds - since Thursday. Although I hadn’t run or physically exerted myself as much as I have at other times, various things took their physical toll on me. 

Mentally I was spent as well. From preparing lectures and workshops to simply trying to give directions to convey what needed to happen in my second language was more of a burden than I expected. 

Spiritually I had been seeking God’s help more than I have in a long time. How would these details be taken care of? Would everyone be safe? What if this happened…or that? The responsibility of 38 people fell on my shoulders for the first time in my life and I pleaded with God for help much more often than I normally do. 

Finally, I had been pushed to my emotional limit. Throughout the weekend I had witnessed the growth of several of the young teenagers I work with. Additionally, leaders had come from Germany, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and the other side of Croatia to support our efforts. God had rained down his mercy upon this camp in the very practical forms of leadership, experience and support. And when I saw the evidence of it at the end, I couldn’t hold it in.

The point is, I was pushed to the limit. 

Isn’t that what we need? As a church, I believe we’re at our worst when we’re comfortable. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are called to serve the Lord with their heart, soul, mind and strength. How do we do so without being pushed to the extreme in each of those areas from time to time? Royal Rangers is a wholistic ministry aiming to equip men and women of God physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. Part of this equipping means challenging each individual in all four of these aspects of their life. 

In the end, I consider the training session a success. All of our goals were met, and teenagers and adults alike had been trained. And because of the number of eager leaders, beautiful weather and lack of unexpected obstacles, it was an enjoyable experience for many of us. 

But the greatest success was that many of us were pushed to our limit. This, I believe is an invaluable part of becoming and making disciples of Jesus Christ. 

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14)

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