The Way to Reconciliation Leads Through Empathy


Photo: ROM – Renewing Our Minds group prays in Vukovar, Croatia. Picture taken in 2006.

A new report argues that using the word ‘reconciliation’ does not help families of Kosovo Albanian and Serb war victims to deal with the past because it suggests that crimes should be pardoned or forgotten”, quotes the Balkan Transitional Justice news portal, as it reports on the research released recently by the Pristina based Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication.

I do not agree with the report. It assumes that reconciliation is only possible when all the facts and truths about atrocities committed by the other side in the conflict are agreed to, confessed and admitted. Otherwise, as Nora Ahmetaj, a cofounder of the Center for Research, Documentation and Publication said: “The word ‘reconciliation’ simply causes irritation to victims”. She was also reported to say that the word “reconciliation” should be replaced with “living in solidarity with each other.”

Considering that in almost all modern conflicts no side wants to take responsibility for any atrocity or wrongdoing, should we ban the word “reconciliation” from use in every post-war situation, and discourage any attempt at reconciliation until we all agree somehow that the blame is solely and publically to be placed on one or the other side?

According to this kind of reasoning, for example, there should be no attempt at reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats in the US because at any given time someone will be hurt, thinking that he or she is wronged through an “unfair” process. Nor should ever a process of reconciliation start in the Middle East, because so much hurt has been caused across the region in the past decades by various sides involved, that any idea of reconciliation would certainly feel insulting to many in the region. And all attempts at reconciliation through the “Truth and Reconciliation” movements in Africa were simply wrong because some war criminals were forgiven for their atrocities.

Of course, a separate work needs to be done in regard to any conflict in order to deliver facts, truth and justice as much as possible. Of course, the global community of the powerful should take upon itself, too, part of the responsibility and blame for manipulating a number of international conflicts to their advantage, or engaging in proxy wars, thus causing even more damage and suffering to the lives of people caught up in the violence. Of course, not all war crimes are simply the work of some crazy unknown individuals for which no general or government wants to assume responsibility. Of course, it is true that some governments, country leaderships and military commanders are more responsible for the calamites of war than others. Nothing in the war situation happens in a vacuum, and seldom are war atrocities the result of some spontaneous, coincidental circumstances.

But if the work of reconciliation solely depends on those being set right first, we will only have more conflicts, more war crimes, and more never-ending cycles of retribution, and more obstacles in the way of reaching any meaningful reconciliation. And, in the countries of the Balkans reconciliation is already long overdue.

Balkan countries need to consistently work on reconciliation at many levels because even though more than twenty years have passed since the last round of wars blame-shifting continues to flourish abundantly across all ethnic lines. Across the territories of what used to be a unified former Yugoslavia each side continues to blame the other, while itself ‘innocently’ continues to play the role of the sole victim. If in the Balkans we take the inconvenient word “reconciliation” out of use, we will have even less of a chance to move forward towards meaningful acts of reconciliation, forgiveness, and mutual ‘life of solidarity’.

Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative, that was born in post-war Croatia almost two decades ago, and remains very much alive today, desires to make its contribution to the reconciliation processes in the Balkans. Over the years ROM has been suggesting a different approach to the challenges of reconciliation in the region and elsewhere – one we have learned from Jesus of Nazareth, who, while innocently suffering on the cross prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.

We believe that given the opportunity people across the lines of conflict would find a way to reconcile sooner than their governments. There is a power in grass-root initiatives that bring together individuals, groups of people, especially young people hurt by recent and old conflicts into the intentional and relational learning communities in which sincere friendships are forged and empathy practiced. Under those conditions of togetherness, people hurt by recent or more distant conflicts are helped to interact with other victims of war, irrespective of their ethnic or religious identity.

All involved soon realize that war crimes across all lines of division look alike, and that the suffering of all victims, regardless of which side of the conflict they find themselves on, hurt the same. A mother whose family was slaughtered in the heat of war, whether she is a Kosovar, Serb, Croat or Bosniak, suffered at the hands of the same kind of evildoers. There is healing in the process that helps victims of any war empathize with the sufferings war victims on the other side. It is only when we are brave enough to place ourselves in the life story of the raped, tortured, brutality murdered and otherwise abused “enemy” mother, father, grandfather, son or daughter, whose suffering was caused by brutality of our own people, that we become ready to embrace genuine reconciliation, and reject retribution.

Indeed, there needs to be place for repentance and truth telling in any process of reconciliation. But those can only take place when we become vulnerable enough to deal with our own demons of injustice and hatred first. When one’s heart becomes broken through empathy for this and that man, woman or child who suffered at the hands of my own people, one is only then ready to move forward into whatever else is needed to achieve honest, truthful and long-lasting reconciliation. When I realize that appeasing my thirst for justice needs to be refined through the acknowledgment of the hurts of others, my enemies included, a true process of reconciliation will be well under way towards genuine peace and reconciliation between nations, neighbors, families and individuals.

There exists a world of difference between the retributive reconciliation (retributive justice) and restorative reconciliation (restorative justice). The first one believes that all wrongs done to me, my family or my country must be paid in full and made right first, without much consideration for the hurts of others. The second moves forward towards redemptive rebuilding of human relationships through empathy, recognizing that “no one is without sin” and humbly admitting that others suffered too.

As soon as we are ready to realize that “eye for an eye” will not bring about peace, justice and reconciliation, but only more black eyes and more heads chopped off, our eyes and hearts will become open for new ways of seeking justice. The ways to reconciliation lead through empathy. When we learn to identify with the hurts of others – our enemies included – it will become increasingly more difficult for us to become the source of abuse of others in the future. It would certainly help the Balkan countries to relax somewhat, break the vicious cycle of blame-shifting and start “living in solidarity with each other”.

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Guns For All and the Culture of Death

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The first step ought to be to make the access to weapons of the kind that was used to kill 17 students more than a week ago impossible, certainly illegal. Apparently, in most recent mass shootings killers used the guns designed to kill many, in the shortest possible time, leaving no survivors. AR-15 is a high-powered military weapon designed for war, and not for the civilian use, or for hunting purposes. It releases bullets with the force of 2182 miles per hour, which causes a deadly shock and damage to the body of a victim.

I would not trust anyone with this kind of gun, even if they have all necessary clearances that they are mentally sound. I would not trust myself with a possession of such deadly force either. I would certainly not entrust our children with those high-powered rifles. A responsible government should follow the Australian example and issue a legislation that would make those guns illegal. If, however, we continue finding excuses that would, in the name of the reverence to the Second Amendment, keep on justifying free use of the high-powered assault weapons, we can just as well be honest enough and admit that we are simply obsessed with guns. In which case why stop at the assault weapons? Why not legalize buying military tanks, provided the proud owners have their driving licenses in order?

A more recent statistics states that  “on average there are nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the US”, and that  “for every person killed with guns, two more are injured.” According to Vox, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, “where a gunman killed 20 children, six adults, and himself in 2012, there have been more than 1,600 mass shootings, killing more than 1,800 people and wounding more than 6,400”. However one wishes to interpret the statistics, more people are killed by guns in the US within one year than in some countries with the ongoing active war situation. Military style weapons should never be in the possession of the civilian population living in a democratic country.

But we must also do more than ban the extreme lethal weapons. We must look for some honest answers to the questions – Why are too many, especially young people, turning into mass murderers today? What are the ingredients that lead to their radicalization? Why are there more mass shootings of different kinds taking place today within a single year than there are days in a calendar year? Where does the urge to kill others, or take one’s own life in such large numbers come from?

So, this is the deeper truth which only a few dare to touch.

We are living in a social framework that, in every possible way advances and monetizes the culture of nihilism, dehumanization, abuse, aggression and fear of uncertainty. In other words, we are living in a culture of death, enhanced by the education anchored in atheism, pop-science based on fiction rather than facts, spiritual and moral darkness and confusion, political hopelessness, and tons of meaningless media and entertainment content. They all are working in unison to effectively kill all sense of decency, hope and purpose in the lives of the young people today. Unbeknown to them, and often unaware of the causes, the minds of young people are steadily becoming addicted to the nihilistic worldviews that advocate meaninglessness of life. Just as much as we are being changed for better “by beholding Jesus”, according to the words of Paul (2 Corinthians 3:18.), or any good and decent example, so it is equally true that “by beholding” we are changed into whatever we behold, even quicker if we behold darkness and evil.

Especially lethal for human mind today is the aggressive visual and audio entertainment industry and market, that ‘evangelize’ effectively through the use of TV networks, internet, smart phones and other gadgets, and especially through electronic and video games. All of them are indoctrinating today’s generation, the youth and children especially, with the mega-tons of brutal, sexually explicit, occult, highly suggestive, idiotizing, mean and addicting content – intent at formatting a generation of brainless human zombies, quickly bored by any decent, community loving and socially responsible interaction or activity. Through it all we are witnessing the evolution of a disturbed, disorientated, lonely, angry and desensitized generation of young people, utterly confused as to the purpose and meaning of their existence.

Most of it has to do very much with a gradual change of generations, increasingly untrained to know the Living God. With our fallen natures being constantly fed with moral and spiritual garbage we are losing the sight of the only remedy, which is Jesus Christ. Apostle Paul very graphically explains what happens when a generation loses its touch with its only legitimate source of life and meaning. “Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor they gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy”. (Romans 1:21.28-30.)

Is it then surprising that some people, in the state of utter darkness, desperation and deep-seated anger, not knowing who to punish for their hopeless estate, are turning against the most innocent, vulnerable and available victims? Or against their own lives? Of course, most of them will never become mass murderers. But those who will are more than enough to terrorize the whole nation.

My point is this: when a free access to guns is granted to all, in the climate where all kinds of pulpits declare the meaninglessness of life, accompanied with no sense of accountability to anyone, nothing short of disaster and perpetual tragedy will follow.

Yes, the easy access to guns, especially the assault weapons, needs to be radically reduced. But, by God’s grace and with His help, we must do much more than that. We must be brave enough to identify the substances and sources that are poisoning the minds and hearts of the young people of today. We must raise our voices in opposition to the centers of power that not only promote a free access to weapons of any kind, but also in the opposition to the centers that manufacture and profit from the ever-growing culture of death and hopelessness.

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Jesus is Never About the National Prosperity Gospel



Tihomir Kukolja reflects on the President’s remarks delivered at the 66th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. Note that the author is not calling into question the purpose and the organization of NPB, nor the hard work and dedication of many men and women who labor hard to make this beautiful gathering of leaders possible.

Overall it was a very good, diverse and encouraging National Prayer Breakfast (Washington DC, February 6th – 9th), and in tune with its historic purpose: to lift up the name of Jesus in the presence of the world leaders.

This was the 66th National Prayer Breakfast (NPB), and no doubt many good people, committed to the cause have spent many laborious months putting this annual mega-event together for the enjoyment of the hundreds of international guests and about 3000 American participants.

To understand the intentions and workings of the National Prayer Breakfast one needs to taste more than just the big Thursday morning event at which the President speaks. Every time NPB takes place, it is surrounded by a number of international, regionally organized breakfasts, luncheons, dinners and other meetings in-between that start on Tuesday and finish on Friday during the NPB week.

The themes this time covered reconciliation, forgiveness, leadership of service, following Jesus, and praying across political divides. A number of international guests were invited to speak, share or lead a prayer. Among them were Jeannette Kagame, the wife of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame; David Beasley, Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Program; Yulia Timoshenko, former Prime Minister of Ukraine; Grace Nelson, wife of the Senator Bill Nelson; Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagels quarterback; Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe from Uganda; Eran Duran, the producer of the movie A New Spirit – to mention but a few whose messages captured my attention. (Keep in mind that there are number of various events taking place simultaneously, so I have missed some of the good content too.)

But the central event, the actual National Prayer Breakfast held on Thursday morning (February 8, 2018), the occasion attended by the thousands, was somewhat weak, as if put together in haste. Something was lacking.

To his credit one has to say that the message of the President Trump was more subdued this time, than the one he delivered one year ago. This time there were no verbal excesses, nor abusive or bragging comments. In fact, this was probably his most “Christian” message delivered so far. The good thing was that he did not improvise too much. He kept following the script from the beginning to the end. Most likely this was the reason why his message was somewhat monotonous and impersonal, and maybe this was also the reason why we did not witness this time the outbursts of enthusiastic applauding or endless stand-up exercises. In other words, the response of the audience was not nearly as euphoric as it was one year ago.

Many were relieved that the President Trump did not go wild with his out of control, twit-like comments, and thus they considered his speech a success. However, they ignored the real content which was dry and inappropriate because it glorified the greatness of America through the use of spiritual, Christianized language and images. So, his speech was “good” only in so far that he did not make the organizers of the event sweat in the anticipation of his unpredictable, excessive, tweet-like remarks. However, the content of his message was a far cray from a message centered in Jesus.

When I shared the link to the video of the President’s address on my Facebook page, some of my friends who did not have a luxury of attending NPB 2018 captured well what was the problem with the President’s presentation. Sometimes watching and listening from a distance helps.

One of them wrote: “He didn’t say anything I would consider “uniquely American” – but he claimed it all proved how “blessed Americans are for being American.”  His remarks were a celebration of “America”. Not of prayer. Not of following Jesus. So, everyone else remains to be the second-class? But the Gospel is not about promoting “national identities” or “nations”. The examples Trump gave of goodness, faith and selflessness were good – but not unique to America alone. Followers of Jesus are not called to defend anyone’s flag. We are called to serve, protect, care for, and defend people. Not flags.”

Another friend commented: “In his speech there was not a single sentence about admitting or repenting of the national wrongs and sins. Yet those are the norms in Biblical narratives about kings, prophets and leaders. Consider Daniel, Moses, Nebuchadnezzar. Mr. Trump’s speech was a quasi-Christian speech, dominating in nationalism (America above everything else). His was not a Christian message, despite the fact that it repeatedly referred to God, and often quoted the Bible.”

While we may agree that the President’s message was free from his usual wild verbal excesses, from the beginning to the end it was a political pamphlet, a kind of mini State of the Union Address, in which he gloried in the God given American greatness, wrapped in the jargon of insincere “Christian” humility.

But one cannot preach nationalism, national greatness, and the greatness of the Gospel in one breath, and claim that through it all the name of Jesus is being lifted up. God will not accept our declarations of God’s power and glory when blended with preaching of the physical strength, toughness and exclusiveness of a nation, American or any other.

It was against this kind of idolatry that the President Abraham Lincoln spoke in his 2nd Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865. He spoke powerfully against a nation treating God as if He were their own private mascot when he said: “Each invokes His (God’s) aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” And this is exactly what we do when we arrogantly act as if my nation, my party, my race above all other nations, parties or races enjoys some special favors in the sight of the Almighty God.

One more thing ought to be said at the end. The exclusivity of the American nation was not a prevailing theme of the 66 National Prayer Breakfast. In fact, I do not remember any other speaker I had opportunity to listen to between Tuesday and Friday even remotely suggesting the idea.

So, the remarks of the President were out of character with the rest of this worthy international gathering of leaders. And although he did his best to be less intimidating in the choice of his words, nevertheless The President could not run away from his agenda of “making America great again”. Only this time he thought the idea would be digested easier if packaged with God.

And, while to many Americans the idea of restoring the “greatness of America” with the help of God looks like a noble plan divinely approved, to many of us international followers of Jesus the idea looks heretical and preposterous, and certainly far removed from the mission of the National Prayer Breakfast – which is to provide an opportunity for the world leaders to come closer to the Person of Jesus. For we know that the message of Jesus has nothing to do with the “national prosperity gospel”.

Read and watch the entire President’s address at NPB 2018 here.


Postscript Feb 20, 2018: I watched Donald Trump’s message delivered at the 66th National Prayer Breakfast again, couple of times, and read the script of his speech again. These are my postscript thoughts:

From the beginning to the end his speech was impregnated with the spiritualized version of a nation worship. His statements constantly shifted from giving praises to God to giving praises to the greatness of the nation, the flag, the military. His entire message assumes that America enjoys a place of unique favor in the eyes of God, as “the light unto all nations”.

A couple of statements reveal this subtle blend of the nation and God worship. One of them was: “We place our hands on our hearts as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaim we are one nation under God.” Another one was: “Today we praise God for how truly blessed we are to be American”. Although it is a blessing to be American in many ways, in the context of the current White House narrative this statement sounds more like the statement of an arrogant Pharisee recorded in the Gospels: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…, or even like this tax collector” Luke 18:11.

There are many good, truthful and benevolent things listed in the presentation of the President about America, its people, and about God’s kindness and providence. One of them is: “Across our land we see the splendor of God’s creation. Throughout our history, we see the story of God’s providence. And in every city and town we see the Lord’s grace all around us through a million acts of kindness, courage and generosity.” However those features are just as true for many other nations in the world, and not for America alone.

Considering that the President spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and not at a political or election rally, his presentation was lacking the features that have marked the prayers of all great Godly leaders throughout the history. The President’s message lacked in humility, repentance for the nation’s sins, and empathy for the oppressed and the otherwise disadvantaged.

For example, there was no room in his address for the refugees, immigrants, vulnerable people regularly separated from their families and deported just because they entered the US undocumented as children. Likewise, there was no word of empathy uttered for the homeless, jobless, the poor.

Moreover, it is a simply proven fact that there is more exhibited hatred and anger in the US today than two years ago. Unfortunately, all kinds of white supremacist and alt-right groups feel at home in the US today. In the light of those facts the President’s message was shallow, incomplete, one sided, and unconvincing.

On the other hand, considering the speaker this was probably the best speech he delivered to date. The President refrained from using his otherwise well known, tweet-like, wild and cynical comments, and other verbal excesses. At least he did not insult or humiliate anyone this time.

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Podcast: Developing Transformational Leaders in the Polarized Balkan Region

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In the latest The Peacemakers Podcast Randall Butler interviews Tihomir Kukolja about  his growing up in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Tihomir describes the shocking rise of ethnic nationalism after the death of Yugoslavia’s long time leader, Josip Broz Tito and the resulting devastating wars in the 1990s.  He also tells the story of the founding of the ROM – Renewing Our Minds leadership development and reconciliation project in the immediate aftermath and its transformative work for the past 19 years with young leaders in the polarized Balkan region. Time 81 min.

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Audio: Leading Jesus’ Way

Friends, take a moment to listen to the message I shared at the end of ROM (Renewing Our Minds) Gathering 2017, in Fuzine, Croatia. It is a relevent message to all of us who take Jesus seriously. In the message I invited everyone to follow the leadership example of Jesus. Jesus demonstrated that the only legitimate kind of leadership was the leadership of service administered through love and humility. This kind of leadership is offensive to many leaders today because they believe that humility is a weakness, and that the greatness in leadership is achieved by walking over the other people. But we are here because we want to become a different kind of leaders, leaders who will not create a graveyard of people. It is Jesus’ humility that made Him the greatest leader of all. To be big one needs to become small first. Time 16:34 min.

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Prayer for 2018


Dear Friends,

As we are crossing the bridge between 2017 and 2018 we are inheriting the world in distress, agonizing, and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). It looks as if a blanket of darkness is descending upon the earth.

But these are not the days to despair. God, who will not let his glory and throne be hijacked by anyone, is in control. Our future is not guaranteed either by the right-wing or by the left-wing ideologies, nor by charismatic leaders. Instead, these are the days when we are called to listen to the summons of Jesus:  “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28.

Today, courageously we must reject all ethnic, religious and political nationalism, racism and ideological euphoria, if we are to discern with clarity what is good, honorable and righteous in the sight of God. The times are too serious and perilous that we should toy with the notion that a sugarcoated or mediocre religiosity would do the trick.

In fact, we must decide now to give our undivided loyalty to Jesus, and Jesus alone, and let all our values and actions spring up from there. As we are about to cross into the New Year may we pray together:  ”Wake us up, Lord! Open our eyes, quicken our souls, renew our minds.“

In 2018 may we move forward with the determination of Jacob who, having wrestled with the Lord and people, declared: “Lord, I will not let you go unless you bless me!” Genesis 32:26. May the Lord bless you as you continue to seek Him with ever increasing urgency.

Wishing You and Your Families a rewarding and Christ-anchored New Year 2018!

Tihomir Kukolja


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By Courtesy of the President and His Faith Constituency

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It is embarrassing to read the multitudes of praises lavished by the choruses of overjoyed Evangelicals at this moment upon the yesterday’s decision of Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. For them the President’s decisions was a prophetic milestone. In their view Donald Trump had just proved himself to be the Cyrus of our age, a leader handpicked by God, and the defender of modern Israel. Dr. Michael Brown now asks rhetorically, subliminally jubilant: “Will God bless Trump for moving our embassy to Jerusalem?” No doubt Franklin Graham will bless the President’s move soon enough too.

Trump’s evangelical constituency believes that their prayers are being answered. The President’s status as the Lord’s anointed one is being verified. In their eyes, Donald Trump is a fulfillment of the last-day prophecies. He is giving a helping hand to God so that the coming of the Lord may be hastened. His yesterday’s announcement, they believe, presented a big leap forward towards the rapture. In their views, we may soon expect the final seven years to begin, ushered in by the Antichrist. Of course, his evangelical constituency does not see him as a valid candidate. How could they since his evangelical advisers, prophets, and associates helped set stage for the Trump’s decision?

Let me put this in a straightforward language. His evangelical constituency is overwhelmingly populated by people who firmly believe in the theology of the “Left Behind” apocalyptic fiction; a deceptive belief falsely taken for the Biblical truth. It is widely popular across many denominational lines, and heavily preached by too many popular preachers, evangelists, self-styled prophets, and leading evangelical TV networks, and based on the faulty theology of dispensationalism.  And when blended with the American international politics, it becomes explosive.

Dispensationalism is a religious fiction that misses to understand, in the words of St. Paul, the “mystery of Christ” – namely that “Gentiles and Israel are members together of one body, and sharers together in the promises of Christ” (Eph. 3:3-12. NIV). It fails to understand that all messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were met in Jesus, and not in the geographical Israel of the 21st century. Its followers fall into the same trap the Jews of the days of Jesus fell two thousand years ago, who missed to see the true significance of Jesus because they expected a militant messiah, a heavily armed warrior who would lead their wars against the Roman oppressor. Mistakenly, they believe that the current Israel plays the leading and central role in God’s economy of salvation in the final days of human history. One day, so they believe, Jesus is going to fight the physical war for Israel, and they want to make sure they and America are fighting along the wining side. Thus, the Trump’s evangelicals believe that in order to be blessed one has to bless Israel. And, so they believe, this was exactly what their redeemer-president did yesterday.

And yet, we who read the Bible prophecies somewhat differently, know that a new pandora box has been opened. We will not need to wait for a long time to see the damaging consequences of the latest President’s decision upon the international affairs, knowing that the President is intimately and professionally surrounded by an army of advisers, counselors, prophets, and spiritual warriors – all of them firm believers in the “Left Behind” deceptive fiction. What a nightmarish prospect for misguided decisions and actions, when made to fit in the pre-made paradigm of the questionable prophetic interpretations?

Today we have witnessed only a beginning. More is coming. Indeed, the yesterday’s decision of the President might just as well have a prophetic meaning. If it does, it will be of a different kind from what the President’s evangelical friends believe. But there is a hope. Not all Christian leaders have fallen for deception.

One more thing. What we believe does have consequences. For, what Michelle Goldberg, the author of the article “Antichrist Politics” published sixteen years ago said, could be more than true today: “When people believe their politics are endorsed by God, today’s ally can be tomorrow’s Satan”.


PS. I am adding some now points that I shared on Facebook in response to the comments shared by the readers of this article:

  • It is not the Gospel that does this to people but the twisted beliefs about the Gospel. I am not criticising the Christian faith, but its perversions. Dispensationalism is one of them, and at this moment many who surround DT believe in it. When you bring a twisted belief into the political arena, it becomes dangeorus. Our President craves a continuing support of 81% white evangelicals and he wanted to please them. Now he can do whatever he wants, and they would not mind because they are now reasured in their deceit that DT is a man sent by God to bring America and the world in order. I have an issue with them, not with the Gospel of Christ.
  • I am not sure I know what the Presdident believes. But I do know what his faith constituency believes. He would not have ever become the President if it were not for the 81% white evangelicals who brought him to the White House. Many of them believe in what I have described in the text. They have blended a perverted belief with politics, thus the issue has both – religious and political connotations. In their view Donald Trump has scored big with what he did yesterday. Now he can do whatever he wants, and his evangelical constituency will not mind. Who cares now that he groped who knows how many women, and that he lies and brags about himself habitually. He is now their champion appointed and annointed by God. And this is the only thing that matters to them.
  • I have no issue with Israel deciding about its capital. I have an issue with the way the President goes about his business, and the influence of a large segment of his evangelical friends who are definitely formatting the US international politics with their misguided beliefs.
  • Also, a clarification is needed. Not all Evangelicals support Donald Trump. The 81% (most likely less by now) who are behind him are still a minority, but a vocal, militant and restless minority. There are many evangelicals, and even more other Christians who see things differently. So we need to be careful, including myself, that we do not put all American Christians into the same box.
  • Dec 9, 2017: I feel tempeted to expand this earticle further because at this moment a number of statements and comments are growing at many places across social media that demonstrate that my article, urgently completed two days ago, was not an exaguration at all. Feel free to google and visit YouTube. For example, Senator Doug Broxson declared yesterday: “When I heard about Jerusalem, where the King of Kings, where our soon-coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel!…” It seems Senator Broxon and many like him cannot wait for the Armagedon to start, and they would be very proud if some credit for it would go to the Presdient Trump and his faitful followers. It almost seems that one day Jesus would have to say “Thank You” to Donald Trump. However, such an insane statement reminds me of the Bible warning given to many Christians today who are ready for some kind of Christian jihad to take place: “Because of you the name of God is being blasphemed among the people”. Romans 2:24. What we believe does have consequences, indeed. And what Michelle Goldberg, the autor of the article “Antichrist Politics”, published sixteen years ago said, might just as well come true today: “When people believe their politics are endorsed by God, today’s ally can be tomorrow’s Satan”. Read also this and this.

Recommended reading:

What President Trump’s Jerusalem Proclamation Means for Palestinians, Shadia Qubti


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Predestined in Christ and Because of Christ


God did not arbitrarily draw the line between the saved and the unsaved. The election of believers can only be properly understood in the light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A long time before anyone of us existed God predestined Jesus to be the Redeemer of the world. Then, for no apparent inherent reason, of all people God elected Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to deliver Jesus into the human family. And then, in and through Jesus, God made His election effective for everyone who trusts in Jesus – regardless of our religious, national, ethnic or racial backgrounds.

Election and redemption of believers are not two independent events or categories. Notice that, according to Ephesians 1:3-11, anything that has ever happened to us in regard to predestination, has already taken place “in Jesus” for the purpose of “bringing all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ”. Eph. 1:10. NIV.

When Paul debates “God’s sovereign choice” in the Letter to the Romans (chapters 9, 10, 11) he is not doing it to justify an arbitrary will of God in regard to the final destiny of people, or to argue on behalf of “limited atonement”. He is trying to tell the Jews of his days, who were steeped in religious nationalism and national self-importance, that just as much as it was God’s sovereign will to choose formerly Abraham, Isaac and Jacob out of so many other human families, peoples and nations, because of Jesus God now has equal sovereign right to choose anyone else (Romans 10:11), without apologizing to the Jews, or to anyone else for doing so.

No two independent lines of salvation exist anywhere in the Bible; one that goes through a random act of election of an arbitrary God, and another one through the cross of Jesus. The line of election and the line of the cross are one and the same line. They are the two facets of the same truth.

In fact, everything is very simple: “To all who received Him. to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12.13. NIV

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Reformation Without Strings Attached

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Five hundred years ago, on 31st October 1517., a German monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. This event set in motion the unstoppable wave of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and led to the departure of the churches identified with the Reformation from the Roman Catholic Church.

In the heart of the big split were two incompatible interpretations of the centrality and the role of the saving grace and faith in the lives of believers. On the one hand the Roman Catholic Church, through its teachings and popular beliefs acted as if it were the authorized administrator of God’s grace to believers. In other words, the grace of God came into the lives of believers with some conditions attached, of which the Roman Catholic Church was in control.

The Reformers, however, understood that if the grace of Jesus Christ were to be the undiluted grace, it had to be administered without any human strings attached. According to the Reformers, grace is no longer grace the moment subjective interpretations or requirements are added to it. Such was the case with the offensive sale of indulgencies in the days of Martin Luther, when the Roman Catholic Church of the days was adding a monetary value to the grace of Christ. It deceived the millions by the Johann Tetzel’s formula: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul out of the purgatory springs”.

As the Reformation reached its momentum, following the brave Luther’s declaration “Here I Stand, I can do no other”, the Reformers guarded the rediscovered Gospel by the following statements of faith: “Jesus alone! Grace alone! Faith alone! Bible alone!”

Today, 500 years later, we are hearing the choruses of Christian leaders and scholars declaring that the Reformation was a big mistake, and that all theological differences that continue to keep the Roman Catholics and the Protestants apart were caused by “a tragic misunderstanding”.  “Our differences are only a matter of semantics. After all don’t we all believe that we are all saved by grace! Aren’t we sharing in the same Holy Spirit!” – many are reasoning today.

A case in point was the late Anglican Bishop Tony Palmer, who dedicated his life to building bridges between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants, especially the Evangelical charismatic communities claiming that the “Luther’s protest is over”.  In his view the protest achieved its purpose in 1999 when the “Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Lutheran church signed an agreement that brought an end to the protest”.

Likewise, a recent visit of  Pope Francis to Sweden, where he met with the top leaders of the Lutheran World Federation about the commemoration of 500 years of the Protestant Reformation, seemed to be suggesting that Pope Francis too believed that the end of five hundred year-long separation was almost over. As the time of celebration of the important anniversary was nearing the voices declaring the ushering in of the age of new unity of the Spirit were becoming increasingly louder. It seems as if the embarrassment of the fragmented Christianity is about to end soon?

But, is that really so? Has anything substantially changed for better in our appreciation of the Gospel of Christ since that day in 1517 when Martin Luther protested against the religious manipulations of the day? Have we finally come to a clearer understanding of the meaning, centrality and all-sufficiency of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in our salvation? Have we finally stopped turning our denominations and churches into the ‘dens of robbers’ by selling in them our own brands of saving supplements? Have we all, after many debates, commissions and joint declarations come to share in the transfiguration experience of Jesus, so that finally we “see no one and nothing else but Jesus”? Matthew 17:8.

I am not convinced that we have. And I am saying “we” because all kinds of self-saving placebos are marketed across the entire spectrum of Christendom today, and not only by the fringe Christian movements.

The examples vary from the outrageous and extreme self-molestations of Catholics in Philippines during the days of Easter, to the superstitious veneration of relics and deceased human intercessors and co-redeemers, still very much alive even in the most liberal circles of the Roman Catholic Church. There where the leaders of the church are still directing their followers to seek the redemptive and mediating qualities in their saints, bones, holy objects and holy places, reformation has not taken place yet.

By the same token, have we Protestants moved forward “always reforming” when many of us are relying on our subjective forms of mysticism?  Listen, for example, to the popular contemporary praise and worship services and you will discover that too many Protestants/Evangelicals are indulged in the praise of their emotions rather than in the praise of Jesus the Redeemer.

Or, what to say about depending too much on the subjective prophetic and charismatic experiences for the assurance of our standing with God rather than on the firm promise that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved?” Romans 10:13. Are we truly reformed if it matters to us more that we feel right, rather than that we believe right?

Also, have we really understood the heart of Reformation if our mainstream denominations are watering down all the denominational statements that have until recently declared the appreciation for the uniqueness of Jesus as “the only name given to men to be saved”? Acts 4:11.

In other words, wherever a Christian culture exists that encourages its followers to believe and act as if their salvation, or sense of God’s approval depend on our works of any kind; or on our subjective inner feelings and notions; or when we are encouraged to look for the revelation of God in the inner mazes of our consciousness and emotions – through it all we are demonstrating that we are not sure if trusting in Jesus alone is enough to keep us in the saving relationship with God. Thus, the grace of Christ, as the supreme and all-sufficient agent of our salvation is compromised, diluted, even lost.

As long as something is being added, whatever that may be, to which we give even partial redemptive attributes, we have not grasped the heart, meaning and continuing urgency of the Reformation. Instead of “always reforming” we are continually deforming.

Today many are praying for unity, quoting the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one”. Unfortunately, they are forgetting that the only legitimate unity shared among the followers of Jesus is the one with Jesus firmly occupying the throne, and deciding the rules of the game. “That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You”’ prayed Jesus. John 17:21.

Jesus never prayed for unity at all costs. Claims that “since we all share in the same Spirit we ought to share in the visible unity too” are very deceptive claims. Unity that does not have Jesus-plus-nothing in the center is a hijacked unity. Cosmetic unifications are not based on the truth but on compromises that always sacrifice the Gospel. There where Jesus Christ is not on the throne, some other “christs” will be enthroned. This is why the warning of Paul the Apostle sounds so urgent and so uncompromising: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned”. Galatians 2:8.

The 16th century Reformers understood that the heart of the Gospel was the gift of Jesus Christ without human strings attached. This was the landmark which they did not dare compromise or subject to improvisation. Neither should we dare do it today.


Postscriptum added November 14, 2017 :

No church organization, movement or a group can honestly claim to be the flag-bearers of the Reformation if they have departed from believing in the central importance of the substitutionary life and death of Jesus Christ, and his literal, bodily resurrection. Trusting in Jesus-alone, plus no one or anything else, is the heart of the Reformation. Understanding its meaning is enough to know that the reasons for the Protest have not been removed yet, and that they are very much alive today across the Protestant spectrum too.  Any Christian group that undermines or caricatures the most literal centrality of Christ in its teaching; or that pays Him a lip service only, or hijacks the Gospel of Christ for the promotion of its own peculiar teachings are not the Reformers of our days. Neither are those who major on the social and cultural benefits of the Reformation alone, while being embarrassed of its Christ-alone centered heart. Only those who continue to see and interpret everything they believe through the glasses of the exclusive and substitutionary importance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and are ready to get rid of all other additives to our salvation as redundant, are legitimate flag bearers of the Reformation.

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Becoming Agents of Forgiveness and Reconciliation


ROM 2017 Generation, Fuzine, Croatia

Tihomir Kukolja wrote this article for the October 2017 Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation Newsletter

The 2017 Renewing Our Minds (ROM) leadership gathering held in Fuzine, Croatia this August brought together, a group of seventy young and seasoned leaders from fifteen countries. Among them were politicians, social activists, founders and directors of various non-governmental organizations, professors, journalists, artists, community and faith leaders, and pastors, students eager to make a positive contribution to their societies, and refugees from distant and conflict ridden countries seeking a new home.

Most of us came from Southeast and East Europe countries like Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Moldova. Some came from more distant places, such as Iran, Afghanistan and South Africa. Some came Norway, UK and USA. We all came to wrestle together with hard issues that are hurting and dividing our countries, communities, and the world.

We talked in our small groups about the rise of nationalism, fascism, hatred, and intolerance.  We wrestled with the sins of modern day slavery, ethnic and religious discrimination, and increasing threats to human rights, freedom of conscience and religion, and to the peace in the world. Through it all we focused on Jesus as the source of healing, personal and social, and the answer how to uphold the dignity and integrity of human life. We discussed at length about how to become agents of forgiveness and reconciliation in our communities.

What distinguishes ROM from numerous other leadership development initiatives, is that we believe that the only humanism, social engagement and entrepreneurship that make a lasting difference in the world are those sanctified by the transformative power and example of Jesus Christ. The underlining understanding behind the ROM worldview is that only those leaders whose lives are moved and instructed by the power and example of Jesus, who through the cross embraced the whole world into His forgiving and healing embrace, are able to spread their hands in the loving embrace of our fellow men and women. Consequently, only the people with their minds renewed by Jesus are empowered to become the true ambassadors of genuine renewal in the world (Romans 12:2). Hence the ROM motto “Ambassadors for a Better World”.


Participants at ROM 2017 from South Africa, Afghanistan and Moldova


If one is to single out the most powerful and transforming moments at the 2017 ROM Gathering it would be hard to do justice to the abundance of powerful moments that made this ROM Gathering stand out. We ought to mention a few, however: Agape Dinner, a welcoming dinner at the beginning of ROM; Refugees Morning and the Persian Night – special moments when refugees shared their stories and cultures; Empathy Night, a powerful evening session that opened our eyes to the hurts of others; and the feet washing moment at the end of ROM 2017 that powerfully and meaningfully demonstrated the power of humility in leadership. The most individually transformative times at ROM 2017 however were the afternoon small group activities.

Asked in the survey what they were taking home from ROM 2017, most of the participants said: “a genuine demonstration of love and service, friendship and transformation, a fresh understanding of leadership, powerful human stories, motivation to be deliberate in serving and loving others, better understanding of the centrality of Jesus, and of how one’s faith in Jesus informs one’s actions in society.”

A special gift to the ROM 2017 generation were the seven refugees who attended the gathering from the beginning to the end. Two refugees joined the ROM 2017 summer team. The other five attended ROM for the first time. One of them, a professional taekwondo sportsman from Iran, recently received the residence status in Croatia. The other six are caught up in a lengthy and tiring process of waiting to receive the final decision about their legal status in Croatia. Three of them, Christians had to leave Iran due to religious persecution. Two of them, Muslims from Afghanistan, left their country due to ongoing tribal discrimination and persecution. All of them are beautiful young people whose life stories, their attitude of service and gentleness have moved and enriched everyone attending the Gathering. All of them were also profoundly moved by the kindness, acceptance and love they received from everyone attending ROM 2017. “To us you are not refugees. You are our friends, brothers and sisters. We are your family, and you are our family,” those were the words of encouragement they often heard at the ROM 2017 Gathering.


Small Groups are the heart of ROM

One of the two refugees from Afghanistan who attended ROM 2017 for the first time embraced the welcome he experienced at ROM with the following words: “I was a person who was not normally welcome into any community due to the reasons which were not my fault. I am from Afghanistan and this created in me a sense of growing hopelessness in my heart about God, people and everybody around me. But coming to ROM created a very different experience. I was no more a refugee. I was not a foreigner or a Muslim. I was a friend. I was a brother among other brothers and sisters. I understood that I am liked by others, and that God loves these people and me.”

It has to be said that the center of everything we did, taught or practiced at the ROM 2017 leadership and reconciliation gathering was the person of Jesus. The objective of the ROM leadership team was to encourage everyone attending to follow Him and emulate Him. One of the participants said a few days the ROM 2017 was over: “I was worried I would get depressed in the days after the gathering. But I did not because I see myself now as a person on a mission”. Another participant wrote: “A broken hearted and frustrated girl turned into an inspired, happy and full of hope person. The best gift I am taking from ROM 2017 are many friends who share the same values and love for Jesus.”

That ROM is much more than just another event to be quickly forgotten is demonstrated by the intensity of interactions between the new friends who now think alike in the days following the  ROM gathering. Debora Salgau from Romania wrote on her Facebook page a few days ago: “There were participants from many countries, of different backgrounds and different age groups. They slowly became my friends, and all my walls came down, and my prejudices were gone. So now, countries like Afghanistan, Iran or Serbia are more than just a point on the map”.

Violeta Altmann blogged recently: “I came to the (ROM) table hungry, dehydrated, discouraged, and then I was served clarity, encouragement and wisdom in the most unexpected ways. What I loved the most about ROM 2017 is that not every attendee was a Christian. If we don’t dine with the nonbelievers, when will we witness to them? I loved the way there was room for respect and conversation, understanding and love at the table.” You must read her entire article.


Shayan and Donya Spanta share some music in Farsi


It is very hard to explain the passion and transforming impact the Renewing Our Minds ministry has on everyone who comes in contact with it unless you’ve seen it and experienced it yourself. Yes, ROM has to be experienced. The main reason I have myself stayed at the helm of the ROM leadership for so many years (since 2001) is that I am continually witnessing the work of the transforming power of God in the lives of the hundreds of young people who have allowed their minds to be renewed through its ministry. Nevertheless, one thing we witness again and again in connection with the Renewing Our Minds ministry: God is using it to direct, shape and change the lives of the young leaders, one at the time.

At the end of the 2017 ROM Gathering, through her own experience, Heather Staff – a young and emerging politician, and a director for the Youth Leadership Board of Christians in Politics in the UK, who serves also as a member of the ROM Core Leadership Group – summarized well the impact ROM ministry has had on the young leaders who attended the ROM Gathering in Fuzine, Croatia this August: “I am inspired. I work in politics in the UK. I am inspired, have become more cross-cultural, working with different groups and different people, but also basing all of it on the principles of Jesus. I am now louder and stronger, and a better voice in my community.”

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