Video: Memories of Assurance

My mother Krista Kukolja died in February this year. My father Pavao Kukolja died in October 2017. I returned back to Croatia in June this year and visited the place of their burial. The feeling of being there was a different one than in the days of their departure and funerals. The fact that some months have passed made the awareness of their absence lass surreal and more real. At the time of my last visit to their grave (in June) I recorded the following reflection, which I have recently enhanced with some photos. I would like to share this latest video feature with my friends as an act of thanksgiving for the gift of their lives.

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Walls are Not Everlasting

Thirty years ago this month the Berlin Wall was brought down, echoing the plea of one president who said, “Tear down this wall!”. Thirty years later a different kind of leader is ranting: “Build that wall! Build that wall!” 

When the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989 for a brief moment the world basked in a spring of refreshing air of a more promising future. Since then erecting all kinds of walls and fences has become a paranoid fashion. A false sense of security is being sold at the expense of liberty.

In the summer of 1986 I learned with enthusiasm what it looked like when countries were not fenced off with walls or barbed wire. I hiked a mountain trail between Sweden and Norway.  It was an inspiring moment of freedom. No walls, no fences, no checkpoints, no surveillance cameras, only  few markers letting you know where one country ended and another began.

My firsthand experience with the walled off communities that lived next to each other happened a few years later when I visited a divided Belfast in Northern Ireland. The same, warm and friendly people were divided between themselves by a lasting sectarian conflict. The picturesque wall graffiti that decorated many houses on both sides demonstrated clearly how they hated each other. I hope Brexit will not resurrect the long-gone walls and tensions again. 

Then in 2013 I stood next to the wall separating Mexico from the US.  It was there even before a new leader promised to build even a “better, taller, longer, stronger” wall. It was a sad experience as I looked through the metal bars into the river, trees, houses, half of the city on the other side. On both sides of the wall lived the same people, divided families, who spoke the same language, played and listened to same kind of music.

And then in 2015 and 2016 I saw the barbed fences put up between Hungary and Serbia, and Slovenia and Croatia. Hungarians and Slovenians argued that they wanted to “keep their countries safe from the invasion of refugees”. They said that they wanted to keep their “Christian values, heritage, history, traditions” protected, so by twisteding the command of Jesus they “did to others what they didn’t want others do to them”. 

More fences of all kinds have emerged since: fences and walls in the minds and hearts of mesmerized crowds that seem to enjoy yelling ugly statements of hysteria, hatred and division: “Go back home! You don’t belong here!” 

And some are promising even more fanciful walls. Only a few days ago our President promised to build a big wall in Colorado (!?!) “that really works. You can’t get over. You can’t go under it” – promised he.

November 1989 brought an end to the Berlin Wall, but a fresh and promising breeze of a better world born at its ruins did not last for too long. The builders of walls, fences, and all kinds of barriers and obstacles are busier than ever. But the writing on the Berlin Wall continues to prophetically declare: “Walls are not everlasting!” 

Wall that separated communities of people in Belfast in 1989
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Through a Glass, Darkly

Even when we behold the most attentively the magnificence of the universe we still remain unable to grasp its truth. Even if we could be sent to its furthest destinations, and plunged into other galaxies at the maximum warp, we would still remain under the veil of ignorance. Our senses are not sharp enough, and our scientific sight is inadequate. We see only “through a glass, darkly”.

We live in the quarantine universe with time and space bent in such a way as to project to us an altered reality. All our perceptions about the depth of space and lengths of time, even when enhanced by the latest scientific theories, hypotheses and desperate longings to discover some traces of life out there are only tricky illusions. We live in a dark cave in which flickering lights of the distant stars are confusing our senses. We do not see the things of the universe as they are.

A brief metaphor will suffice here. The other day I was taking my morning walk in a new, uncharted area. After walking for about 40 minutes along the trail that looked to me fairly straight, I decided to walk back the same route. I wanted to get back to my parked car on time to reach another scheduled appointment. Just in case I looked into my GPS to see the path and the distance I’ve already taken. To my surprise I realized I’ve been walking on a constantly curving trail. I have in fact already walked the two thirds of my planned distance not knowing that I was already well on my way back to the car.

We do not really know how far are the distant objects in the universe from us or if they are not far at all. Our truth of the universe is gained more from the wistful thinking delivered to us by fictional Darwinian movies such as Star Wars and Star Trek, and desire to avoid seeing God’s hand in the universe at all costs. This we see our universe as a cold, gigantic enemy to be discovered, conquered, claimed as we dream of bringing evolution under our management.

But once upon a time the cosmos was not our enemy, space and time were not our prisons, the eons of light years did not mislead us, and black holes did not radiate mystery. We became locked into the time and space container the moment we were escorted out of the Garden of Eden. And not even the most extravagant space exploration budget will change that. We can fantasize as much as we would like about finding our own truth out there “where no one has gone before”, we will never leave the threshold of our starry neighborhood even if our hands stretch beyond our solar system. 

Our physical universe, regardless of how spacious and impressive it appears with its distant galaxies, is only a vast looking chamber when beheld from within, and only a small room when looked at from without, locked securely in the palace of God’s garden. And no amount of science, no breakthrough technology, no matter the growing sophistication of AI toys, and no breathtaking height of the Tower of Babel will make the arrogant and the foolish break through the door of the chamber. We do not have what it takes to make the walls of our prison fall down.

This is what the rebellion against the Creator has done. This is what sin is all about. When the gates of the Garden of Eden were shut, and our great-great-great-grandparents exported out of the garden, we lost much more than a few conveniences. We were locked in a bubble, chained by altered reality, and enslaved within time and space alternations for our own safety. 

But there is a key that unlocks the bubble, and it is not the latest trans-human toy, nor the most advanced quantum computer.  It is Someone so many of us are so eager to dismiss – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords. He is coming back to open the gates of the Garden of Eden, to unlock the Heavens, and to unbolt the quarantine that holds us prisoners, and let the universe become a friendly home to all God’s children again, as it was in the days of innocence of God’s creation.

“The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” Revelation 6:14. NIV “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Revelation 21:1. NIV

Let’s trust His promise rather than our own fragile sight.

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Warning Against Fake Miracles

The Bible Study I had a privilege to teach yesterday was about Luke chapter 7.

Jesus did not raise the dead man out of or into some kind of zombie-like or a Frankenstein-like existence. It was an act of complete recreation of life, with an instant and full awakening to physical life. It was a manifestation of the same creative power, the same Word, and the same authority that was spoken into the creation of the universe. And whichever person was healed by Jesus he/she was completely restored to the most optimal conditions of health this side of eternity. None of them was healed partially or only seemingly. In other words, a previously blind man was not restored to see only vaguely, a previously paralyzed man could not now walk only for a week, and a resurrected person did not die one week later from the unfinished business of the sickness that killed him at the first place. Nor did he walk out of his coffin as a mindless zombie, struggling to unstiffen his bones and muscles for a week or two after the resurrection miracle.

Whenever Jesus heals one witnesses the unimaginable creative power of God at work and not a cheap and spooky magic.

Take a moment to listen to this short highlight of warnings against false miracles and miracle-makers.

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May All the Other Garbage Go

No church organization, movement or a group can honestly claim to be the flag-bearers of the Protestant Reformation if they have departed from believing in the central importance of the substitutionary, representative life and death of Jesus Christ, and His literal, bodily resurrection. 

Trusting in Jesus-alone, plus no one and nothing else, is the heart of the Protestant Reformation and its understanding of the Gospel. If we truly appreciate that “the Church reformed is always reforming” we will see clearly that the reasons for Protest have not been removed. 

Christian groups that undermine or caricature the most literal centrality of Christ in their teaching, or that pay the Gospel of Christ a lip service only, or if they hijack the Gospel of Christ for the promotion of their own peculiar teachings are not the Reformers of our days. Neither are those that major on the social and cultural benefits of the Reformation alone, while growing embarrassed of the exclusive claims of Jesus. And neither are those groups that are ascribing the redemptive attributes belonging to Jesus alone to their subjective and speculative prophecies, miracles and wonders. 

Only those who continue to sift everything they believe through the filter of the exclusive, substitutionary, representative and objective significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are legitimate flag bearers of the Reformation. 

Friends, no compromising formula has been discovered yet that bridges the gap between the two irreconcilable views of the Gospel. The only way to bridge the gap between us and God is for us all to embrace Jesus plus nothing (no one) else, and let all the other garbage go. 

It must be Christ plus nothing, or it soon becomes everything but Christ.  

May “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse (purifies, heals) our consciences from acts that lead to death (FROM dead works, useless rituals), so that we may serve the living God!” Hebrews 9:14. NIV

Have a Thoughtful Reformation Day!

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Unwrapping Jesus

Wherever a Christian culture exists that encourages its followers to believe and act as if their salvation, or sense of God’s approval depended on our human works (whether they are the works of the Law, or our own rules, or the rules dictated by church); or the works of our own subjective feelings – all of them 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.

Today many are praying for unity, quoting the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one”. Unfortunately, they are forgetting that the only legitimate call to unity shared between the followers of Jesus is the one where Jesus alone is 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. Unity that does not have Jesus-plus-nothing in the center is a hijacked unity. Cosmetic or politically driven unifications are not based on the truth but on the compromises that always sacrifice the Gospel. There where Jesus Christ is not on the throne, some other christ will be enthroned. This is why the warning of Paul the Apostle sounds so urgent and 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.

As long as we are adding anything to Jesus, whatever that may be, to which we are crediting even partial redemptive attributes, we have not grasped the heart, meaning and continuing urgency of the Reformation.

Most of us Christians of all brands would in one breath happily claim that we believe in Jesus alone – in Jesus free from all additives. But the truth is that we are so readily wrapping Jesus into all kinds of security blankets of our own making. Thus, we are worshiping a blanketed, often heavily dressed up Jesus. Often those who brag the most that they are the people of the Bible worship another, crippled Jesus. This is a widespread problem shared among too many Christians. 

The reason we are continuing to live in the state of cognitive dissonance of claiming the name of Jesus only, while blissfully continuing to venerate various additions of our own making, is that we ourselves can no longer tell the difference between Jesus and our own wrappings of Jesus. 

Our hardest challenge today, that always meets the strongest opposition within and without, is to unwrap Jesus, take the layers of unnecessary, even misleading and deceptive wrappings off, and let the undiluted Jesus speak from the pages of the Gospels and the New Testament. And the good place to start for me would be to ask myself: “Do I care enough to let the real Jesus stand up?” 

Jesus continues to ask his disciples of today the same question he asked His first disciples: “Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:15. May we let the Holy Spirit lead us to a place where it will be said about us too: “They saw no one else but Jesus!” Matthew 17:18.

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

Earlier version

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Video: Uganda Report – Developing Young Leaders in East Africa

Two weeks ago Bojan Ruvarac, new Renewing Our Minds director, and Tihomir Kukolja (ROM Director 2001-2019) were visiting Uganda.

We meet with the leaders of the Africa Youth Leadership Forum (AYLF) from Uganda and Eastern Africa.  We shared our work experiences with the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) ministry and our governing organization Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation. Our African friends shared their work experiences with AYLF and Cornerstone Development.

We were impressed, humbled and inspired as we watched how young people of Uganda and East Africa were becoming transformed into the future leaders of this region thanks to the dedicated work of the African youth Leadership Forum and Cornerstone Development, and their vision of “nurturing a new breed of African leaders”. Out of our visit and time spent with our friends from AYLF a new vision has flourished: AYLF is seriously planning to move forward with an African version of ROM.

Thank you friends from Uganda for your wonderful welcome and hospitality. Special Thank You goes to our friends Phillip Ojok, Gabriel Odhiambo Achayo, Allan Shepherd, and our new friends Branly Madatii, Monicah Monique Waithera, Emmanuel Baraka, Josephats Yeeko Izaacs, Tim Kreutter, Samuel Wanyagira and Yusuph Athuman, and to a number of other new friends from Uganda and the region.

To learn more about our recent visit to Uganda watch this video. Time 11:30. 

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Ours is Not a Tribal War

The main trait of any kind of tribalism is primitivism. In the ages past tribes were after each other just because they could. Not belonging to one’s family, caste or tribe was enough for conflict, because in the eyes of a tribe no one else existed worthy of respect, and everyone else was a threat. 

Today, despite all modern sophistications we are returning to the age of tribalism, just as primitive, forceful and savage as any in the former, barbarian ages. Bitter rivalries between ideological, political, gender, racial, ethnic, national, socio-economic, cultural tribes are branding our days. It is not a war of civilizations that we are facing, but the war of tribes, each determined to settle the scores of the bygone hurts – real, perceived or falsified. Nothing else matters any more except one’s tribal pride.

It seems everyone is up against everyone else in this war of survival of the meanest. Each tribe demands a revolution and retribution of some kind. Everyone provokes and blames the other with gusto, while declaring our own innocence. The other is always at fault. Everyone demands justice and respect while showing none for the other. Everyone screams that to be on the right side of history means pledging our allegiance to their cause alone. And everyone venerates only their own villains as heroes.

For us, followers of Jesus, the most urgent priority lies in finding a way to be above and removed far away from any form of tribalism of today. We must choose our battles carefully and discernibly. The tribal wars of self-righteousness, self-victimization and uncritical blaming of everyone but oneself are not our wars. While it is true that we can’t stay neutral, we can’t afford to let ourselves be tribally prostituted either, “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12. NIV

And if the cynics of today are so quick to label us a tribe too, let it be clear to us and to them that our identity is in Jesus Christ alone, and never in any form of tribalism – national, ethnic, racial, religious, or any other form of ideological tribalism. Likewise, our identity is not in any kind of supremacism, whether white, black, brown or of any other color or ideological persuasion.

Let me say it again: no racism, nationalism, supremacism, fascism or communism, or any other ideological tribalism, even if blanketed in Christian clothes and buttressed by Biblical quotes, has anything in common with the claims of the Kingdom of God. 

Our identity is formed as we are continually looking upon Jesus Christ, and thus becoming a new creation in Him. 

Let’s be careful with our allegiances lest we find ourselves fighting wars that are not ours.

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What is My and Your Religious Security Blanket?

What is My and Your Religious Security Blanket? A highlight from the Bible study of Luke chapter 3 shared by Tihomir Kukolja last Sunday with the Crossroads class at MDPC, Houston. About useless reliance on one’s religious pedigree, whether we talk about the Jews, Croats or Americans, or any other national, ethnic or religious group. We all have our own “Abrahams” of some kind, our own religious security blankets to keep us spiritually safe, superior, all sufficient, without any need for Jesus. Remember Jesus cannot be owned by anyone. The background text: Luke 3:7-9. NIV “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’” I believe this part of my Bible study is of significant importance today in many places so I would like to share it with my wider circle of friends. Time: 5:22 min.

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The Storm is Coming

For many years Noah worked on the ark. To his generation the ark was a powerful visual sermon, a wakeup statement, a call to repentance and salvation.

But no one listened. Not even one, except his family, most likely reluctantly. The message of the ark was too ridiculous, too naive, too unscientific, too intruding, too provoking, too undesirable to his civilization. They believed that their destinies were firmly secured in their hands. They arrogantly thought that no one could challenge them anymore, not even the God Almighty.

It is the same today. Our civilization is too sophisticated to hear God knocking. We do not want Him to disrupt our lives. We have our own plans. Deceived, we are frantically trying to rebuild the Tower of Babel, fantasizing that the day is drawing nigh when we will finally claim the very throne of God. 

The golden image of our Babylon is almost cast. The furnace if getting hot. The instruments of science are fine-tuned and ready to call us to bow down and worship. Nebuchadnezzars and Nimrods of our days are defiant. But, just as it was with the Noah’s generation ours too will be suddenly and shockingly surprised.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.”

The night is falling. The storm is coming. It is about to start raining heavily again. Do not miss the light calling you to enter the ark.

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