Sermon – Are You Following Him?

At the beginning of April 2017 I was honored to preach at the International Christian Fellowship Church in Belgrade, Serbia at the invitation of my friend and colleague Samuil Petrovski. The message of my sermon with the title “Are You Following Him?” was anchored in Mark 9:33-10:52. I would like to share with you a part of the sermon where I focused on the need to follow Jesus with the honesty and trust of children, and to humbly accept each other in Christ.

The sermon begins with the following words: “I think of many of my friends in the days when we were young. They were enthusiasts about Jesus. They were enthusiastic about becoming pastors and ministers, and about working for the Kingdom of God. But when I look at them now, so many of them – they don’t believe in anything any more. They got disappointed with Jesus. It looks as if God had failed them. He did not meet their expectations. They are saying: ‘We don’t believe in anything now. We are atheists.’ I would tell some of them: ‘You really need to asses your heart, honestly. Have you come to this conclusion because you really came to understand that God does not exist any more? Or, maybe you have become arrogant, and you do not want to trust Him any more, so you think you are paying him back when you say that you do not believe in Him’. I hear them saying: ‘You failed me, Lord, and therefore you do not exist for me any more’.”

For more take a few moments and listen to the whole thing. Time: 7:16 min.

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Morally Corrupt and Dangerous Fiction

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Today’s embrace of the theory of evolution by natural selection, as if it were a proven scientific fact, has much more to do with the scientific culture ridden by dishonesty than with the workings of empirical science. When this theory is abandoned as fake only one thing remains: trusting that the entire universe, including human life came into existence thanks to the intelligent design put in place by a creative and powerful God.

This is something that many modern-day scientists and philosophers dare not swallow. Admitting that a mighty Creator is behind the whole creation would lead the evolutionists to ask themselves some tough questions, such as: Who is the Creator? Is there anything that He wants from us? Are we in any way accountable to Him?

The theory of evolution is in fact the religion of science that is ideologically, and not factually driven.

Many people today would rather believe in a nonsensical theory about nothing somehow becoming something without anyone interfering in the process, and call it a science, than pay attention to the abundance of visible evidence of God’s creative power plainly made manifest, according to the words of Paul, in “what has been made” Romans 1:19.20.

Likewise, they would rather believe that adding the imaginary stretches of millions and trillions of years to the fictional evolutionary processes would make them more scientifically credible, than humbly admit that the theory does not hold water. And because they are not able to provide any meaningful empirical demonstration in favor of the theory, many evolutionists, Christopher Hitchens  and Richard Dawkins including, have chosen the way of contemptuous insult and mockery of anyone who brings faith and God into the story of our beginnings.

The workings of the militant evolutionists and atheists go hand in hand. Their activism is not much different than the deceptive lullabying of the underworld witch, described in the C.S. Lewis’ children book “The Silver Chair” (The Chronicles of Narnia). Trapped in the underworld and taken hostage by the wicked witch, the Narnia-bound children came face to face with a deceiver who almost succeeded in deceiving them into believing that there existed nothing else but her dark underworld.

“’It is all a dream,’ said the witch, always thrumming. ‘Yes, all a dream’, said Jill. ‘There never was such a world (Narnia),’ said the witch. ‘No,’ said Jill and Scrubb, ‘never was such a world.’ ‘There never was any world but mine’, said the witch.” To the witch the facts did not matter. What counted were her ritualistically repeated lies intended at making the children lose a sight of the obvious truth that above the huge dark cave shines the sun, and spreads beautiful Narnia, ruled by the powerful, just and good lion Aslan. The witch thought that if only she could erase from the children’s minds any memory of Narnia, any notion of the king Aslan would have become nothing more than a myth too.

The theory of evolution is much more than a theoretical concept. It births a dangerous worldview that has inspired philosophers, leaders of revolutionary movements and shapers of ideologies, all of whom were attracted by its immoral social applications and implications. Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler understood just as well as the modern advocates of social evolution do today, that in the universe without God all moral restraints were gone, and the future belonged to the cruelest and meanest of the bullies. For, if the theory of evolution is the scientific and social truth, there exists no moral difference between one man killing another for the pure convenience sake, or crushing an annoying mosquito that has just landed on your hand.

The most evolutionists are still decent people who will not do anything foolish to other fellow men and women. However, this cannot be attributed to the high ethical standards found in the theory of evolution, but to the fact that the current lovers of the theory of evolution continue to feed off the borrowed values of the past generations. While most of them love to brag about how advanced and progressive they are in their thinking, they still dare not live the lives consistent with the worldview inherent with the theory. They are afraid of consequences. While professing boldly their scientific superiority, they are still finding comfort in the value systems derived from the faith in the God of clearly defined moral standards and expectations.

But, gradually, things are changing for the worse. Today we are hearing the talks about how science ought to take control over human evolution. Such statements demonstrate that the scientists and law makers of today are beginning to toy with the fire that does not belong to them. They are like priests of a new kind of humanity who believe that it is given to them to determine what will constitute the new human being. Eugenics, legalization of euthanasia, genetic modifications, merging humans with technology, and other attempts to redefine the boundaries of what it means to be a human being are only a few examples of the experimentations where we see the immorality of social evolution nudging us to take another bite from ”the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” Genesis 2:17. Apparently Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief futurists, is not the only one who believes that within a decade “humans, with the aid of technology, will be able to live forever.” The deceitful thrumming of the ancient Witch is becoming increasingly louder:  “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like god!” Genesis 3:5.

It all boils down to this: if we are the result of meaningless set of coincidences, journeying through millions of stages of impersonal and meaningless evolutionary history, and heading towards equally meaningless future, then human life is no more meaningful now than at any time in its evolutionary past, and as such it is a deserving prey to any bully or tyrant who will find a way to enslave us.

And why not? For in the universe which is run by the engine of impersonal lines of coincidences there is no room for justice, compassion, empathy, fairness and love. In fact, those qualities are annoyingly obstructing the evolutionary progress of the universe in which only one rule keeps the evil engine of evolution going – survival of the fittest. In the domains of social evolution this would mean the survival of the worst kinds of bullies, dictators, tyrants, all kinds of Borgs, Darth Vaders, Caligulas, demons and human beasts.

Wow! Would any sane person like to live in such a universe?

Thanks God, the theory of evolution is nothing more than a desperate and foolish fiction. Thanks God His revelation trumpets a different truth to anyone who wants to hear: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1.

 

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When Jesus is Dethroned All Lights Are Out

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There where God is treated as dead all moral arguments are murdered as well. And there where all moral reasoning is turned upside-down, confusion and deception prevail. Whatever is wicked is called good and progressive; and whatever is good, noble and decent, will be called illegal and criminal.

When God is pushed out of the picture evil flourishes by default, queasy science replaces faith, and the lives of people are treated as disposable commodities. There the Orwellian systems and Kafkian nightmares rule the people.

Such are the antichrist’s times

We are worshiping beings. Let us not be naïve. Neutrality is not given to us as an option. Wherever God is dethroned, Satan is uplifted and worshiped. Bob Dylan truthfully and prophetically declared in a song more than thirty years ago: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody!”

There, where God is not allowed to reign, Satan sure will, one way or another, whether you believe it or not.  There, where Jesus Christ is dethroned all lights are out and all hell breaks loose.

Has our world reached that point yet? Almost! But hear the good news: God is alive and well, and He will not be bullied forever.

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The Right Time and the Right Cause to Give

Friends, let me share something from my filed of service that has been my primary work and ministry over the past sixteen years. If you feel inclined to respond feel free to see the additional information as you read our latest newsletter. Thank You.

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Dear Friends,

As we are fast approaching the summer of 2017 we would like to share a quick reflection on the work of Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum) at this time.

The work of Forum embraces the governing of the three amazing leadership ministries with global impact, yet anchored in Southeast Europe (Balkans):

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ROM – Renewing Our Minds reconciliation and leadership ministry was born in 1999 in Fužine, a picturesque and welcoming village in Croatia, with the vision and mission to help build a new generation of leaders across all lines of division – ethnic, racial, political and religious; and all of it on the platform of the teachings and example of the person of Jesus. Many ROM alumni have emerged as leaders of influence, and are today making a difference in the political, social, humanitarian and religious arenas of their countries. Our vision and mission continues to grow strong – “Developing Ambassadors for a Better World”.

We are less than three months away (August) from our next, two week long international ROM – Renewing Our Minds Leadership and Reconciliation Gathering to be held in Fuzine, Croatia. We are expecting 60 young and selected leaders from at least 15 countries to take part in the ROM 2017 Gathering.

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 EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum, a powerful leadership ministry for change built upon the vision of ROM, continues to bring together young professionals whose mission is to serve their countries as business people, economists and politicians. Since 2006 EDI has been instrumental in inspiring the birth of several national EDI initiatives in countries like Romania, Albania, Costa Rica and Serbia.

We are only two months away from the next annual EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum planned for two weeks in Fuzine, Croatia at the end of July. We believe that the best way to fight against unhealthy rivalry among and within nations is by pursuing an economic and political community inspired by Jesus’ life and based on His principles. We are expecting 40 young, promising leaders from at least 10 countries to attend EDI 2017 in Croatia.

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Golden Rule Project, a more recent project was born with a vision of becoming a practical expression of service of Forum, that embraces the communities of ROM and EDI into visible demonstrations of love and service to various groups of people in need. Since 2015 our focus has been on serving refugees passing through or staying in the Balkans. In 2017 we will continue to serve a group of Iranian Refugees who left their country due to religious persecution. The words of Jesus, “Whatever you did for the least of those, you did for me” are the guiding principles behind the Golden Rule project.

Our Forum ministry, and our ROM, EDI and Golden Rule programs are becoming more precious and needed than ever, at this time of increasing global distress, international tensions, and growing atmosphere of hatred and conflicts. How we wish we were able to do more, or encourage others to do more in peace making by multiplying the practical means of service, training and mentoring? But all of it calls for funds that we do not have, and frankly, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to secure the financial support we need.

With your support however, we will be able to equip at least one hundred young leaders with a new, Jesus centered vision of leadership and peace making.

As you give this time we would like you to see our need in the light of our rich history almost twenty years old, and always about lifting up the name of Jesus. This long history of service and education has been proven by success, supported by the prayers of many, and made possible only through the sacrificial donations and gifts given by people like you.

And let us remember that the main fruit of our labor are the hundreds of seasoned leaders who are at this time making a profound difference in many countries of the world.

Thank you for your love, partnership and giving.

Tihomir Kukolja                                                                                                                                                Executive Director                                                                                                                                               Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation

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Sermon: Law, Grace and Promise

Law, Grace and Promise in Galatians. Tihomir Kukolja reflects on the Law. Grace and Promise in Galatians in his sermon preached in the Malesnica Baptist Church in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday, 26th March 2017. The sermon was enhanced by the translation into Croatian provided by Mihal Kreko, pastor of the Malesnica Baptist Church. The guiding Bible reading for the sermon was from Galatians 3:10-14. Time 41:10 min.

More …

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Can You Hear the Engine Roaring?

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My most recent daily Bible readings are from the Old Testament books that major in the judgments of God against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah at the hands of the Assyrian and Babylonian invaders.

One cannot miss the point that God was delivering repeated warnings to the kings, leaders and people of both kingdoms over a long period of time. Through a number of His prophets He warned that severe judgments would follow with certainty and precision should the rebellion against Him continue.

God was not angry because his people were involved in some petty, minor and mischievous sins. One does not need to go beyond reading Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel to notice that God’s judgments visited Israel and Judah due to their offensive lifestyles. Demonic and promiscuous idolatry blended with syncretism, attack on human dignity, abuse, injustice and oppression of the week and poor prompted God to act severely.

The list of relational and social sins, which were spiritual sins too, was a lengthy one. It included “shedding of innocent blood”, “oppression of alien (immigrants, refugees)”, “mistreatment of fatherless and widows”, “acting wickedly”, as well as pursuing corruption, sacrificing their own children to demons, and leading unapologetically promiscuous lifestyle … (Ezekiel 22).

Previously I used to read those Old Testament passages somewhat academically, by distancing myself from a possibility of any real personal impact. But today, as I am observing the rapid and global growth of moral, social, political and religious decadence, the judgment passages of the Old Testament are forcefully coming to life. They are no longer only some ancient tragedy stories removed far from having anything to do with our days. They are coming to life as the harbingers of our own days, very much paralleled in the apocalyptic pages of the Book of Revelation.

Most of us do not like to talk about it, but the day of big reckoning is coming, fast and certain. The sins of our age and civilization are no less grave than those so graphically painted by the Old Testament prophets. And just as God could not tolerate the sins of the ancient civilizations forever, He will not tolerate the sins of our generation much longer. “Once more”, quotes the author of Hebrews the Old Testament prophets, “I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” Hebrews 12:26. My friends, this warning is not a metaphor. And this time it will not happen at the hands of the world superpowers, but by the mighty hand of the King of kings, the Lord Jesus himself.

Contrary to the musings of liberal interpreters of the Scriptures, who would like to suggest that the final stage of the Kingdom of God will be established gradually, by the means of some kind of friendly spiritual evolution, the coming of the King of kings will be shockingly sudden and obvious, terrifying and beautiful at the same time. This will be the final act of liberation, as well as the final act of judgment of which the Old Testament judgments were only a type. From that day forward everything will be radically different. The power brokers of today, exposed or hidden, will have no say whatsoever in the shaping of this new world. “There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend” (Bob Dylan).

Can you hear the engine roaring?

Zagreb, Croatia, 24th March, 2017.

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The First Iranian Christian Community Organized in Croatia

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News Release

Under the leadership of the Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church and its minister Mihal Kreko, and with help of the visiting pastor Reza Ansari from Vienna, Austria, a group of 30 Iranian refugees established the first organized Iranian Christian Community, HAMGAM in Zagreb, Croatia. The Iranian Christian Community in Zagreb conducts all its weekly church services, Bible classes and prayer meetings in Farsi language.

Baptist Church Zagreb, Malesnica, with the Iranian Christian Community in Zagreb has embraced a group of Iranian refugees in Croatia, who are at this time waiting to have their asylum requests approved by the Croatian Government. All of them left Iran due to the life threatening religious persecution directed against the Iranian citizens who left Islam and embraced the Christian faith. They all became Christians, or sympathizers of Christian faith by their own decision, many of them before they left Iran.

Although Iran is a signatory member to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which obliges the Iranian Government to guarantee its citizens the full scope of “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, including “freedom to change one’s religion or belief” (article 18), Iranian government punishes the Christian converts with persecution, social and religious ostracizing, severe prison sentencing and torture, and frequently by sentencing them to death. Although the Iranian government claims that it has granted the freedom of religion to its citizens, numerous international documents, released by a number of religious freedom and human rights agencies claim otherwise. They prove that serious and life threatening forms of persecution follow all discovered or suspected converts to Christianity.

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Pastor Mihal Kreko, whose local Baptist church has become a spiritual home to the Iranian refugees in Zagreb, said: “Croatian Constitution and the Croatian laws are among the most democratic legislations in Europe, and as such they are fully qualified to respond affirmatively to all requests for international protection, including those made on the ground of religious persecution.” He added: “My church community empathizes with all refugees who are seeking help from Croatia at this time regardless of the religious identity of the asylum applicants. However, we recognize that the Iranian refugees who have embraced the Christian faith are in the unique situation to be misunderstood by the Croatian authorities and disqualified as legitimate asylum seekers. Should this happen their lives would certainly be put in serious jeopardy. We hope, pray and are doing whatever is in our power to see that no one in our Iranian Christian Community is sent back to what would amount to certain persecution, even death sentencing for most of them.”

In addition to providing a spiritual sanctuary for the Iranian refugees in Croatia, the
Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church is offering the refugees various means of practical assistance. They include social help, humanitarian care, and legal and integrational assistance in forms of the Croatian language and cultural integration classes. Also, members of the church are readily opening their homes to refugees, and by doing so they are surrounding them with so much needed warmth and friendship. Moreover, the CBA – Croatian Baptist Aid provides additional support to the refugees in the care of the Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church.

Today there are exists 200 HAMGAM Iranian Christian worshiping communities across Europe. 

Zagreb, Croatia, 13th March, 2017.                   

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A Painful and Sobering Reflection

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A slightly upgraded version of my message shared yesterday on my Facebook page.

For more than fifteen years I have been privileged to lead a leadership development and reconciliation ministry that continues to teach the young leaders of the Balkans to reject hate speech, racism, national and religious and political nationalism, ethnic tribalism, nation worship, and veneration of cult leaders.

The reason behind my efforts, and the efforts of many involved in the ministry, are to be found in the troublesome history of the Balkans, recent history included. Religious and ethnic nationalism, as well as ethnic tribalism shaped the history and culture of the Southeast Europe, or the Balkans. Thousands paid with their lives over all kinds of “shibboleths”. And the story of Balkan nationalism is not a bygone story yet, unfortunately.

I would be a big hypocrite, and the most dishonest person with no moral credentials, if I were to continue teaching the young people of the Balkans, or elsewhere, to recognize and oppose any form of nationalism-worship in other places if I deliberately, or for any other reason pretend to not see, or fail to point out that the same social sins and evils (that have led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia twenty-five plus years ago) are at this time flourishing and intensifying in this country under its current leadership.

Believe me, all brands of nationalism are the same. The manifestations of nationalism in the countries of the Balkans, or Rwanda and Burundi, or the UK, or the US, or anywhere else manifest the same kind of symptoms, speak the same language, and eventually give birth to the same fruit of wickedness. At the end of the day it is the ordinary people who pay the price. And the nations pursuing aggressively the sins of nationalism and nation worship do not end up “great” after all.

I am glad that many of my American friends see that this is so. Many of them are raising their voices of concern. I am sorry if I am hurting the feelings of those who do not want to see that America is steadily and quickly departing from what it used to be not so long ago: a moral leader, example in the protection of human rights and human dignity, and inspiration and sign of hope to many nations – the qualities that truly made America great in the past.

One thing needs to be said, though: most of Americans are not nationalists, racists, or the nation or leader-cult worshipers. They are beautiful, warm, inclusive and friendly people. Most of the ones I know personally are like that. You, my friends are continuing to inspire and encourage me. You are the sign of hope for this country at this time when a vocal but sizable minority has become empowered to take America into an un-American, highly dangerous direction for the country and the world.

 

 

 

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Heavenly Reality is not Just a Better Shadow

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Recently in the Bible study group I am attending we were studying the Epistle to the Hebrews. As we were reviewing this fascinating New Testament letter I remembered some notes on the Hebrews I wrote twenty years ago. I am now sharing those notes, put together and slightly updated.

“When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already hear, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once and for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption… For Christ did not enter a man man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” Hebrews 9:11.12.24. NIV

The entire Old Testament, or the old covenant religious system – with its law, tabernacle, sacrifices, festivals, observances and every other aspect of religious life – was a shadow, or a copy of the real deal, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, God’s final and complete word to men. By the virtue of His redemptive work, achieved through the ministry of His life, death and resurrection, Jesus inaugurated a new covenant, or “the time of the new order”, thus making the old one obsolete (Hebrews 7:22., 8:7.13., 9:10). The entire Book of Hebrews majors on underlining the supremacy of Jesus over every detail of the old covenant.

Thus Jesus stands for – a better Moses (3:2.), a better Sabbath (4:9.), a better priesthood (7:12.24.), a better law (7:12.), a better high priest (7:15.16.26.27.), a better sacrifice (7:27., 9:26., 10:12.), a better ministry (8:6.), a better hope (7:18.), a better promise (8:6.7.), a better covenant (7:22., 8:13., 9:13.), a better order (9:10.11.), a better tabernacle (chapter 9), and a better access to the Father (6:19., 10:19-22.).

As the destination of our journey is superior to all the signs pointing to it along the way, and as all the signs become obsolete once we have reached the destination, so it goes with all the elements of the Jewish religious décor which were only the prophetic signposts along the Old Testament road to Christ; they are now obsolete and void (Hebrews 8:13) because they were consumed and contained in the Real Deal, namely in Jesus Christ. A copy, or a shadow of an important object only has a meaning and purpose as long as the object it reflects is out of sight. Likewise, a shadow (or a copy) of an object is always inferior to the entity it represents. Once the real thing is revealed, to continue adoring its shadow might easily become an act of idolatry.

In other words, to retain the elements of the inferior shadow-like old covenant as if they were the worshiping realities in themselves, would mean to veil, even undermine the impact and significance of the ‘mechanism’ by which the New Covenant was put into effect; namely the Atonement once-and-for-all completed in the life and death experience of Jesus Christ. To keep on adoring his shadow (old covenant), once the person of Jesus was fully revealed (Hebrews 1:1-3), would amount to believing and acting as if the Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was not adequate and complete means of restoring us back to God.  It would also mean to remain unnecessarily “under the veil”, under the law, dull and blind for the reality of Christ. (2. Corinthians 3:12-16)

Here is the case in point.

In our understanding of the heavenly intercessory ministry of Jesus Christ, we may go with the logic that the heavenly sanctuary (tabernacle, temple) is only a better shadow of the earthly one; only a more solid and better looking physical object. We may look only for a higher quality of design, more impressive liturgy, more grandiose furniture, without ever asking: does the pattern, according to which Moses was asked to build the tabernacle, point only to a more lavished pattern somewhere else? Or, does it go beyond the geography, the visual, the physical – reaching its true meaning and purpose in something by far more important than physical walls, tables, altars, veils, even if they were all made of the most precious materials? What if the entire décor of the heavenly tabernacle has very little to do with a grandiose physical object somewhere in the distant celestial spaces? What if it has to do much more with the divine plan and certainty of salvation, and the assurance of our secure place in the embrace of God, thanks to the perfection of the saving work of Jesus Christ, our only true Intercessor, High Priest, and the eternal King of Kings?

The following thoughts of C.S. Lewis might illustrate the point further:

“An early peasant Christian might have thought that Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father really implied two chairs of state, in a certain spatial relation, inside a sky place. But if the same man afterwards … discovered that God has no body, parts, or passions, and therefore neither a right hand nor a palace, he would not have felt that the essentials of his belief had been altered. What had mattered to him, even in the days of his simplicity, had not been supposed details about celestial furniture. It had been the assurance that the once crucified Master was now the supreme Agent of the unimaginable Power on whom the whole universe depends. “ C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock

Heaven is for real. The Kingdom of God is for real too. Salvation is for real, and the life eternal is for real too. However, we need to recognize in all humility that “all language, except about objects of sense, is metaphorical through and through” (C.S. Lewis). In other words, from the moment our human existence became drastically altered by sin, and our alienation from God became real, God has been painstakingly working in and through Christ on making His and our reconciliation story real, truthful and meaningful to us despite the workings of all our limitations.

At the end of the day the promise remains: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived, (these are) the things God has prepared for those who love him”. 1. Cor. 2:9.

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Inappropriate Message from the President

I have been privileged to attend the National Prayer Breakfasts (NPB) in Washington DC almost every year since 2004. I was there too one week ago at the 65th annual National Prayer Breakfast. A number of people involved from the US and other countries, or who frequently attend the event, officially or unofficially, are my good friends who love Jesus and are committed to serving other people faithfully. Meeting them, even if for a short time, is often more precious than attending the diverse events that make up the four-day long spiritually refreshing feast known as the National Prayer Breakfast (NPB).

The way NPB works is that thousands of US and international leaders attend a number of different programs organized geographically. For example, European guests would attend a set of luncheons and dinners that are separate from those attended by South-Pacific or African guests. And then there are a few events that gather together all of the guests. The event that would bring the greatest number of people together – a few thousand – is the actual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning of NPB week.

But whether we speak of the International Luncheon, the European Dinner, the Middle East Breakfast, the Closing Dinner, or the actual Prayer Breakfast, or any other local, regional or international NPB event, you will always hear the same set of encouraging messages – about loving God and one’s neighbor, even the enemies; and about reconciliation, unity, brotherhood of all people, and about following Jesus. The intention of the organizers is that the name of Jesus be lifted up in the presence of the national and international leaders, including those from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and other backgrounds.

Occasionally, for a moment or two, one might even wonder if NPB is a gathering of religious syncretists worshiping different gods, only to have your fears corrected by a straightforward Gospel proclamation. I loved hearing some guests commenting on the powerful keynote message of the U.S. Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black soon after the NPB 2017 was over. One of them enthusiastically said: “We haven’t heard the Gospel so clearly presented for many years.” Equally powerful and very moving was the Closing Dinner message delivered by Dr. Rick Warren, the founder and senior pastor of the Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch in Lake Forest, California. He used the story of his own family tragedy to deliver a strong and encouraging message of hope. Even the Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who would a day or two later approve of the latest sanctions on Iran, preached like a church pastor as he delivered his message at the International Luncheon. If you wouldn’t know he is a politician, you would surely think he is a church minister.

In many ways the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast was very much like any other in previous years, except the message of the freshman US President Donald Trump. His remarks were out of character with the spirit of the gathering. It was overly political to say the least, although somewhat less tense than most of his public addresses until now. We saw a regular Donald Trump nevertheless, unaccustomed to the fact that he was a guest at the biggest leadership prayer event of national and international outreach. For one brief moment, I thought he was about to execute yet another executive order, one in which he would praise himself for restoring religious freedom to America. I especially felt uncomfortable when the President assumed almost a messianic posture saying: “The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out. Okay? That’s what I do. I fix things. Believe me.”

I was actually troubled with the message from the President. I was not troubled with the fact that the President was speaking at NPB 2017. Since the time of the President Dwight Eisenhower all presidents spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast. What troubled me was the ease, enthusiasm and appreciation with which his message was received by the majority of domestic guests, although there was hardly anything in his message that an informed follower of Jesus could approve of. Some of my international friends have expressed their dismay with its content. One of them wrote: “I found Trump’s speech at the NPB extremely disturbing – on so many levels. He respects nothing and no one. But so many Christians still adore him. I just don’t get it. There was absolutely nothing in his speech that was acceptable for the occasion. Most of it would not have been acceptable at any occasion”.

But the most of the American guests at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast didn’t mind the inappropriateness of the President’s message. They didn’t mind the joke about Arnold Schwarzenegger and the low ratings of the current TV seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice, nor the reference to Donald Trump’s unpolished telephone conversations with world leaders. Nor did they see as problematic his complaint about how the US “is being taken advantage of by virtually every nation of the world”. Never mind that many among the thousands of guests were international delegates, many of them prominent government leaders from many countries. Most of the domestic guests attending the event were his political and spiritual admirers, mesmerized by his presence, and nothing would get in the way of their enjoyment of the occasion. What mattered was that their godly president, for whom they prayed and about whom they prophesied for the last two years, was finally speaking from the podium of the most known prayer breakfast in the world. Afterwards, in the corridors of the Washington Hilton Hotel, one could hear their approving comments. One of them said: “Wasn’t Trump good! Just a few more touches of refinement and he would be just fine.” In their views the President appeared to have been a humble and gentle servant, whose countenance and spiritual maturity is changing for the better every day.

And there was something else that troubled me in addition to the inappropriate remarks of the President. No, there was nothing sinister about the event itself. It did not look as if it had been hijacked by the political sway of the moment. What troubled me was the prevailing atmosphere of surrealism given the context of the current political confusion that reigned immediately outside the walls of the 2017 NPB sanctuary, with far reaching consequences.

Let me give you an illustration, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, barely made it to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast only because his passport contained a few stamps that revealed to US custom officers that he had previously visited a couple of Muslim countries that had been only few days earlier placed on the list of seven banned countries by the president’s executive order. A Slovak member of the European Parliament, Branislav Škripek was less fortunate. He, too, previously visited some of the countries on the banned list, and was denied on technicalities to enter the plane to the US at the Istanbul Airport.

The point of the illustration is this: the system that almost kept a former prime minister of a friendly country from attending NPB 2017, and made it impossible for another to board the plane was endorsed and embraced by many of the same leaders who one week ago raised their voices in praise to the Lord at the latest National Prayer Breakfast. I wonder if we are going to hear more stories of people who, although invited, weren’t able to attend thanks to the new regulations reflecting the latest chain of the president’s executive orders, hastily put in place during the first two weeks of his presidency?

I have experienced enough of National Prayer Breakfasts to want to believe that the intentions of the organizers are noble in character. Those among them who I know personally I know as people of good character, with hearts dedicated to service and genuine commitment to following Jesus.  There is a place for a ministry that desires to bring the leaders of the world closer to Jesus. But I would not be honest if I wouldn’t say that that more than ever before I felt a tension separating the two worlds: one that existed within the boundaries of this international mega prayer event, full of declaration of love, grace and brotherhood; and the other one evolving fast only a few feet away, full of nationalism, bigotry, falls sense of greatness and designed paranoia. What created this tension was the awareness that many beneficiaries of, and contributors to both worlds, were the same people, who at one moment would joyfully and innocently lift their voices in praise to Jesus who said “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me”, while at another, without any hesitation or a second thought, would self-righteously embrace the executive orders that are about building borders and closing the doors of America to the homeless and persecuted of the world.

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