Utilitarian Christianity

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Utilitarianism tempts us to sit in the judgment seat over God. Could it be that as we pursue sophisticated efficiency and numbers (the two pillars of utilitarianism) we miss to discover the heart of God?

Today’s Christian thinking is deeply saturated with and trapped by utilitarianism. We’ve adopted our society’s moral normative of maximizing happiness and good (money, time, resources, opportunities) for the greatest number of people. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill’s moral code completely saturated our thinking and our decision-making process. Today churches, mission organizations and donors widely operate based on utilitarian principles as they seek how to maximize every invested dollar with other resources and turn them into the most number of saved souls. Utilitarianism created a deformed version of Christianity where EFFICIENCY and NUMBERS are the two idols by which the will of God is decided and by which stewardship is measured. Most times – out of good intention – decision-making processes in the churches and missions are only considering utilitarian aspects: where can we get the greatest return for our investment and resources? (Efficiency to maximize results is the mantra of our whole society.) And at many cases that could be the wise and good thing to pursue.

The Word of God encourages us to maximize our God-given resources as good stewards (see Mt 25:14-30 – The Parable of the Talents). However, this “maximizing” doesn’t always carry the utilitarian meaning of the word – which is maximizing the resources to benefit the greatest number of people. As we’ll see below, simply following utilitarian aspects in our decision-making processes might lead us far away from the heart of God.

In the following two stories from the life of Jesus we can observe how he addresses that spending money and time (two very valuable assets) should NOT only be decided by simple utilitarian aspects.

“Wasting” money – Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8

These stories in the Gospels are recording the anointing of Jesus. Mary poured a very expensive ointment on Jesus. The cost of that in today’s money is app. $40,000. The disciples – being (seemingly) so concerned for the well-being of the poor – immediately outraged and scolded Mary. They’ve used a utilitarian argument: “this resource could have been used much better to benefit the many most needy”. With this argument they’ve placed themselves to a morally superior position and subtly they’ve judged Jesus who allowed and supported such waste of a potentially valuable resource. (See how pure utilitarianism can place us in the judgment seat even over God.) They have a strong moral argument: a lot of people for a long time could be fed from this money that was just wasted.

Mary was isolated, bullied, judged, misunderstood and misrepresented for her costly, loving sacrifice just because it didn’t fit in the disciples’ utilitarian thinking. There are times when our obedience and sacrifice doesn’t make sense and it comes with a cost.

The disciples were very much like us: they knew how someone else should spend her money. They made moral judgement on her sacrifice. It was not their money, they didn’t work for it, it was not given to them to make a decision about it, yet they were bold enough to place themselves in the judgment seat just because it didn’t fit into their utilitarian “superior morality”.

Jesus not only rebukes them and corrects their false thinking, but makes a promise to Mary as well: “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her”.

She was the only person who has captured the moment and understood what will happen to Jesus. She was the only person who were so intimate and close to the heart of Jesus that she understood what she needs to prepare Jesus for. It’s ultimately more important to prepare Jesus for his saving death than to feed the poor.

But simple utilitarianism failed to understand the heart of God and to reveal such secret. Simply listing pros and cons and prioritizing needs do not always lead us to the heart of God. God’s heart can be only discovered in the intimate solitude by someone whose heart is silenced and is deeply connected to Jesus.

The number one question is not what benefits the most, but what glorifies God.

What is the will of God and how can I express my love for him the best way? – are more important questions and motivations than any utilitarian aspect.

We constantly fall back to rely on our default utilitarian decision-making process. Because to discover the will of God requires more than a simple list of pros and cons. It requires solitude, silence, humility and obedience at all cost. All these demands – as Henri Nouwen writes – “daring to stand in the presence of God”. We are afraid to do that, because probably it would demand too much to change in our life, in our churches and in our mission.

“Wasting” time – Luke 10:38-42

In this passage above we find Mary again now wasting her time at the feet of Jesus INSTEAD of doing something that benefits everybody in the community: helping Martha to serve the food. What Martha did benefited the maximum number of people: she fed the whole group. What Mary did – listening to Jesus – benefited only one person: herself.

Martha complained that Mary has not maximized her time for the benefit of others. She was not serving, not producing, was not creating tangible, measurable results for the community (at this case, food). We are also much like Martha, we are good in knowing how others should spend their time, right?

Jesus is rebuking Martha saying that sometime there are better ways to spend time than only meeting the needs of others and chasing tangible, measurable results. The “good portion” that Mary has chosen is solitude, is listening to Jesus, “which will not be taken away from her”. Our ministry, our services and our activities can be taken away. What Jesus did for the one, Mary, was better, then what Martha did for the whole group.

When we have moved to the U.S. many people told us that we are wasting our talents, our opportunities, our resources, we are putting unnecessary burdens on our kids and family, and that we could have been much better used, if we would have stayed where we were. We had the relational network, we had the language, we had the experience, we had the reputation, we had an established ministry, we had access, we had the knowledge and the know-how. Many people knew better how we should spend our time, life and resources.

Our decision was born from spending years in solitude and silence before the Lord. We knew we had to do the seemingly irrational, non-utilitarian sacrifice to leave our homeland. As Mary was willing to “waste” what she owned, we knew God wanted us to do the same and bare the misunderstanding, the misrepresentation, the disappointment and the anger of many.

If we don’t want to fall into the trap of utilitarianism, than we need to dare to stand in the presence of God and bare the consequences of it.

Living in The Age of Decay

Apples in various states of decay isolated on white
(Source: Adobe Stock licensed picture)

The past 100 years we’ve experienced and continue to experience the decay of cultures and empires in a faster and larger scale than ever before in human history. 100 years ago the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed, then Germany, Great-Britain and Russia (Soviet-union) lost its hegemony. After WWII the U.S. aspired to become the new “Rome”, but that role is greatly challenged by new empires arising in Asia. We witness the stumbling of the EU and the power-struggle between the U.S. and China. Conflicts of interest and crises are popping up daily everywhere.

Sir John Glubb in his essay, the “Fate of Empires” identifies 6 stages of the rise and fall of great nations. The final stage before a nation collapses is “The Age of Decadence”. The Age of Decadence is marked by materialism, consumers who become a burden on the state, extreme display of wealth, loss of sense of duty, a weakening of religion, massive disparity between rich and poor, obsession with sex, the debasement of the currency, overextended military and the worship of sport-idols and celebrities.

Jesus has promised that we will witness the intensity of signs of decay as we get closer to His second coming. In Mark 13:3-13 He warns us that we will experience moral instability by being exposed to ongoing lies (“false teachers will come”), political instability by seeing wars and hearing rumors of wars, environmental instability by seeing increasing number of natural disasters (“earthquakes”), economic instability (“famine”) and animosity against Christians (“they will deliver you over…“you will be hated by all”, “brother will deliver brother over to death and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to them…”).

Jesus describes the decay of environment, of nations, of cultures, of communities and of families as something that is a natural outcome of the future. The way He sees the natural flow where humanity is heading is a complete decay and disaster. To him it’s like 2 + 2 equals 4. He sees that our sinful, selfish nature creates sinful, selfish cultures and sinful, selfish cultures conflict with each other and consume and destroy things around them. He has not promised to stop the process of decay, yet He clearly states that there is hope to live life through this with a great prospect of a different personal outcome.

Jesus gave 2 commands and 1 promise of how we should live in The Age of Decay. These commands are for our protection and preparation. If we don’t follow these commands, we will be consumed by the decay of our culture.

The Command to See.

“See that no one leads you astray.” Mk 13:5b, says Jesus and repeats that in 13:9 as he says “be on your guard”. Basically he is using the same greek word: ‘blepo’ which means: ‘see, watch’. The only way you can protect and guard yourself if you have the skill to ‘see’. If you don’t ‘see’, then you are unprotected, defenseless, naked and unguarded. Your sight, your vision on the truth is your #1 skill to protect yourself. That’s why Jesus warns us to ‘see’.

The command to “see” means, to watch, to be mindful, to live our life with careful consideration, to observe everything with care and understanding. Jesus warns us that many influencers will want to blind us. Yet, the overwhelming flow of lies around us and the cultural pressure is not an excuse not to have clear spiritual sight. There is no excuse for not seeing. Our ability and responsibility is to see.

Gertraud “Traudl” Junge was the private secretary of Hitler. She was young and naive. First, she gave herself an excuse why she didn’t ‘see’ the evilness and horror of what Hitler did:

“Of course, the horrors, of which I heard in connection of the Nuremberg trials; the fate of the 6 million Jews, their killing and those of many others who represented different races and creeds, shocked me greatly, but, at that time, I could not see any connection between these things and my own past. I was only happy that I had not personally been guilty of these things and that I had not been aware of the scale of these things. However, one day, I walked past a plaque on the Franz-Joseph Straße (in Munich), on the wall in memory of Sophie Scholl. I could see that she had been born the same year as I, and that she had been executed the same year I entered into Hitler’s service. And, at that moment, I really realized that being young is no excuse, but that it might, perhaps, have been possible to find these things out.”

There was no excuse not to see when others saw what she didn’t. Sophie Scholl died with his brother because she saw the truth and acted.

So few have the ability to ‘see’ clearly today. People are blinded and lost their ’sight’ and follow the many ‘false teachers’, cultural influencers and self-proclaiming ‘saviors’.

Here are 5 major reasons why people are BLINDED:

  1. Pleasures – it’s easy just to focus on personal gratification. We are happy until some of our basic, simple needs are met. C.S. Lewis said it well: “We are way too easily pleased.”
  2. Ignorance – it’s convenient to live our life in the little bubble of ignorance and indifference. Most people keep their heads in the sand.
  3. Pain – it’s too painful to face the brutal reality of our world.
  4. Fear – it’s too fearful to face that the brutal reality around us would demand a personal change, it would come with a price. We don’t want to change our life or the way we think; we don’t want anything to disrupt our personal space and challenge our security or identity.
  5. Hate – it’s too hard to face our past, our failures, it’s easier to blame and hate others for the problems around us. It sees that nothing united people more in the course of history than shared hate. Hate creates a bound between people, releases them from the “burden” of personal responsibility and frees their conscious. Hate gives people a way out from owning their life and their problems and from living with maximum responsibility, while at the same time it gives them a sense of belonging: “we are together in this”.

No one, but you are responsible to not let hate, fear, ignorance and pleasure blinging you! Otherwise these things will control you and consume you.

The Command to Trust.

“Do not be anxious!” – says Jesus (13:11b). In the midst of all the moral, economic, political, environmental and relational chaos our natural reaction is to panic, to be anxious, to worry and to lose hope. We are commanded not to go there. We are commanded to trust in the Ruler of History and the Creator of this Universe – trust in the One keeps everything under His control. The decay doesn’t surprise Him. He told us that this will happen 2000 years ago.

The Promise of Words.

“Say whatever is given to you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (13:11b).

He has NOT promised that we will not be hated, that our life will be spared, that we will live a peaceful life, that we will not experience betrayal, losses, pain and disappointment. Matter fact, He has promised the opposite: trials, betrayal, isolation, persecution, etc.

The only thing that He has promised in the hour of abomination is the POWER of WORDS: the Words of the Holy Spirit spoken through us! God created the universe with the power of His Words. The creating power of words spoken through us by the Holy Spirit is the way how we can defend ourselves in the age of decay.

Words create wars and stop them. Words cause wounds or heal them. Words destroy relationships or build them. Words separate us or bind us.

When the power of WORDS, the SPOKEN TRUTH is taken away, then we become completely defenseless.


Hope in our traumatized world: a traumatized God

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2Cor 4:7-11

Evidently Paul has experienced a lot of traumas.

  1. He was “afflicted in every way”: physically, mentally and emotionally. Such affliction would crush most of us. But not Paul: “we are afflicted…, but not crushed”.
  2. He was “perplexed”: experienced a lot of losses. When we loose wealth, health or space, we also loose hope. Yet, Paul says, that all those losses didn’t lead him to despair.
  3. He was “persecuted”. Persecution is a violent way for the society or community to isolate, cast out, marginalize or punish a person or a group of people. It comes with loneliness, isolation, separation and with the feeling of not being understood, or not belonging. A persecuted person will always feel forsaken, left alone, cast out, not wanted, but not Paul.
  4. He was “struck down” meaning pushed down, oppressed with the purpose of being destroying. Regardless of all the oppression and pressure, Paul was not destroyed.

Living in a traumatized world, what hope Paul offers to overcome such traumas?

I have my fair share of traumas in life. Some are still impacting me today and are influencing my reaction and view of life and people. The way Paul went through traumas, helps me to face mine. Here is what I’ve learned from Paul’s cited writing on how to maintain mental, spiritual and emotional health in the midst of traumas and what should our stand, as believers be as we see traumas in our world.

(NOTE: Professional help needs to be given to those who are seriously traumatized. The following are just a few observations from Paul's personal description which I found helpful and encouraging as I face my own traumas. In no means the following serves as a substitute the necessary professional treatment.)
1. Embrace that you are infinitely valuable and treasured in the midst of your brokenness.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay” – says Paul. Changing the way how we think about ourself is critical to overcome any traumas. Many times when we are traumatized we feel devalued, betrayed, lost, forgotten, worthless, lonely, depressed and hopeless. When trauma happens, our sense of personal value and territories (belongings, body, space, health, etc.) are brutally violated which many times followed by the feeling of being worthless. A special knowledge that comes from an outside source needs to change our thinking about ourselves. That’s what has happened to Paul. “This knowledge” equipped him with the conviction that he has a special value, a “treasure hidden” in “this jars of clay” (v.7.). He knew that his body might just be a fragile jars of clay, but that broken, fragile body contains an infinite, incomparable value. He didn’t identify his value with the brokenness and fragility of his body. This treasure was not a product of his own self, but it was given to him from an outside authority. He identify this treasure this way: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v.6b). Basically he is saying this: “I have received the knowledge that I’m valued, I’m special, I’m worthy, I’m treasured because the Son of God has died for me. No-one would die for something worthless! So I’m so valued and treasured by the God of the Universe, that He was willing to sacrifice the life of His own Son!” A key step to overcome a trauma is to embrace the reality that you are loved, valued and treasured by your Creator and Savior, regardless of what what you’ve went through, what your nationality is, who your parents were and what your talents are.

2. Embrace the power that is given to you to overcome the trauma.

A “surpassing power that belongs to God” (v.7.) is available to us as it was available to Paul. This knowledge (that we are valued and treasured) is not only an intellectual position, but a life-changing power. There is power in the knowledge that God treasures us. Power can be given to us not to be crushed when we are going through afflictions, not to be hopeless or paralyzed when we loose things or relationships, not to feel lonely when we are forsaken and not to be destroyed when we are pushed down. The more we embrace how God views us, how He loves us and values us, the more powerful we become to overcome our traumas.

3. Look up to the Cross and see the traumatized Son of God.

Paul talks about how he carries the death of Jesus in his body so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in his body (v.10). There are so many traumas we can’t explain and can’t find reasons for it. There are so many injustices that happens to people. Too many times we see that evil people are having a great and easy life and good people suffer out of proportion. If there is any hope in this unjust, unfair world, than this is it: our Creator is not a distant spectator who doesn’t care about our suffering, but He became just like us and voluntarily endured the most horrific injustice and was willing to be tortured to death. The absolutely innocent, infinitely perfect and good God was willing to be tortured and traumatized by His own fallen, sinful, wicked creatures. That’s the biggest crime and most outrageous trauma humanity ever committed! On the Cross we see a traumatized God!

The ultimate hope in our traumatized life and world is the traumatized God on the cross!

He walked in our pain and losses! He identifies with our sufferings! He knows our despair. (Phil 2:7, Heb 4:15, Is 53:3) He experienced all of it so He understands it! He wants to bring the good news to the poor, he cares for the needy and for the outcast. (Is 61:1-2) He is upset and angry when He sees injustice, corruption and abuse (Is 1:17. 23b. 3:15). He is ready to act. He wants to bring justice (Is 5:7), wants to bring comfort, wants to wipe away all tears.  And one day He promised to do that. (Rev 21:4) But until that day, the Church is God’s hand to wipe away the tears of the broken. The Church is God’s hand to embrace the outcast. The Church is God’s hand to protect the refugees. The Church is God’s hand to bring healing for the sick. The Church is God’s hand to feed the poor. The Church is God’s mouth to stand up against the oppressors, the corrupt leaders and destroy the lies of this world. The Church is God’s mouth to represent God’s Kingdom, His values and His good news. If the Church doesn’t do that, who else would?

If the Church truly wants to represent her traumatized Lord whose heart is for this traumatized world, than she has no other place than to stand with and to protect those who are traumatized. 

“We carry the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

Wilderness: an awkward reward for a godly life.


“Jesus had a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go.” – Henri Nouwen

Like it or not, our journey sometimes takes us through a wilderness: a place of need, a place of unrest, a place of loneliness. A place where we would rather not be.

What is common in the story of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Jephthah, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus is that they all had a “wilderness experience”. Most of them didn’t get to the wilderness because they did something wrong, so they deserved a punishment, but because they did something or all things right. It’s an awkward reward for a godly life. So a lot of good people of God were taken to a bad place by God. Yet a bad place can serve God’s good purposes.

WILDERNESS IS NOT FUN (not meant nor designed to be) so it’s not a self-choice, but it’s always God’s plan. (Yes, God’s plan is not always fun, but it’s always good. Good doesn’t equals fun.) Those Heroes of Faith listed above didn’t go to the wilderness because they wanted to. They went there, because they had to. They were either forced to go there (cast out, driven out) or were called to go there. It was not their choice. Even Jesus was taken by the Spirit to the wilderness and then later He chose to go there regularly to pray.

WILDERNESS IS WHERE WE BECOME POWERLESS AND LEARN TO LOVE. It’s a place where we loose control and become dependent. Wilderness is where everything is taken from us (position, past, future, influence, relationships) and we are left with nothing (as Moses), yet that’s the place where God shows up and will meet with us. It’s the place to learn dependency on God and to learn to give up control. It’s the place where God becomes our only source of life (security and provision). As we give up power and control of our life we learn to love, because the highest form of love (says and models Jesus) is to give up control over our life. It’s essential to learn to give up control and power in order to learn to really love. “Power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.” writes Henri Nouwen.

WILDERNESS IS A PLACE OF PREPARATION to be ready to serve God’s purposes. (See Moses, Jephthah, Jesus.) Without the work of God in us in the wilderness, we can’t do the work of God through us in the community. Wilderness is the place where we change. (See Moses, the Israelites.)

WILDERNESS IS A PLACE OF GOD’S REVELATION. It is where God speaks to us, where God meets with us. (See Moses, Elijah, Abraham.) Without the revelation in the wilderness there is no revolution in the community. The revelation received in the wilderness changed the course of history (see Moses) and changes our communities.

WILDERNESS IS WHERE FAITH IS TESTED (see Jesus). Wilderness is a place of sacrifice where we put our dearest on to the altar (Abraham/Isaac). It’s the place where our heart will be truly revealed.

WILDERNESS IS A PLACE OF SOLITUDE, SILENCE AND PRAYER. (See Jesus, Abraham). The place where the true power of life comes from: being alone with God in prayer. Wilderness is a place where we are forced to listen to God (Moses, Elijah), even if we don’t want to.

Wilderness will become the place where we minister from. (See John the Baptist.)

BUT… wilderness is NEVER a place where God’s story ends. So go through with hope and a teachable heart!

Too Much Freedom?

“To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Mt 25:15

The Master gives the talents to the servants and then he leaves. He doesn’t tell them what to do with the talents. He doesn’t give instructions how to invest them. He doesn’t leave behind a know-how, a strategic plan, a detailed description, an instruction manual of how they should invest what they had been entrusted with. But at a point he comes back and holds them accountable. And he expects a return. This Master is profit-oriented. It’s his talents, so he rightfully expects profit on his investment.

The servants have huge freedom. They can make a ton of decisions about how they will invest what they have received. They had to be active, they had to be intentional, they had to take risks. Just like any investors.

Freedom requires intentional work. We all are responsible to invest what we got, because profit is expected on our life.

It’s stunning the amount of freedom we got. It’s stunning how serious the accountability will be.

Sometimes I wish I would have received a more detailed instruction from Jesus on how to invest what I got. But all he wants is intentional, fearless, diligent, full of faith risk-taking. That’s what the two faithful servants did. That’s what we need to do, too:

  1. Know what we got – 5 or 2 or 1 talents. Know what God gave us: gifts, strengths, weaknesses, experiences, relationships, networks,  resources, opportunities. Have an inventory of what you got and what you need to invest. Be intentional to know your story, your strengths, gifts, experiences, relationships, opportunities, etc..
  2. Risk them for advancing His Kingdom: intentionally, bravely, with full of faith, maximizing opportunities.

Yes, it’s risky. Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, it’s fearful. Yes, it’s tiring. Yes, it would be much easier just to follow a check-list, a to-do list, a God-given personalized manual. It would be easier if we wouldn’t have to think, to struggle on our knees praying, seeking, hurting; to study His word, to understand our story, to search our opportunities, etc.. The responsibility of freedom is extremely tiring and scary.

The first two servant did well. They used the freedom given to them wisely and diligently.

The third one failed. He was not a bad guy at all. He didn’t waisted the talent. He was not out in the bars drinking and partying. He was not loosing the talent. He just didn’t invested it. He preserved it.

Why? He was fearful. Fear that came with the freedom paralyzed him to take risks. “What if I make a bad investment? What if I make a bad decision? What if I loose everything? Let’s preserve it, keep everything going the same way as it always had been. If we don’t change anything, then we are okay, we are safe. Don’t move, don’t change, don’t take risks, so when the Master comes, we can return everything to him.” Seems good, safe and fair. But it’s called evil, lazy and judged harshly. Status quo is not acceptable.

Fear is not an acceptable excuse not to take risks, not to change, not to walk by faith, not to be intentional about our life. Freedom comes with fear. If you were never afraid, you’ve never had been putting yourself into situations where the return or the loss can be huge.

You can’t play safe if you want to be faithful in following Him!

We got freedom because we got everything we need to use that freedom well. If that would not be true, God would not have given us freedom and would not hold us accountable.

Lord, teach us to pray!


It was part of Jesus’s discipleship program to teach his disciples to pray.

So it should be ours.

Why did the disciples wanted to learn to pray? Because they saw Jesus praying. His model made them want to learn to pray.

With this request the disciples confess that they don’t know how to pray. It also means that we are not born with the ability of prayer. We need to acquire it. To acquire something means you need to take an effort to have it. Reading, writing, calculating are acquired abilities. We were not born with them. We had to make efforts to have those abilities.

For a long time I thought that the highest ability of language to acquire is poetry. Poetry is the tool to express the depth of your heart, pour out your pain, express your love and joy. Poetry communicates something that is deeply in you using the ability of language.

But later I realized that the highest ability of language is not poetry, but prayer. Not because it’s a better way to express what’s in our heart, or to describe our pain. That’s not the ultimate goal of prayer. Prayer is not another tool through which we can pour out our hearts, desires, wishes, wants, longings or pains to God. Prayer has a different purpose. Prayer connects us to God. It takes our fallen, broken realities into the perfect presence of God. It connects our world with his transcendent world. It brings his reality into our reality. That’s why there is no higher ability of language then prayer.
The miraculous ability of prayer is that we can discover what’s in Him and not just share what’s in us. The power of prayer is not me sharing what my problems are but Him sharing what his powers are. He knows well what is in us even before we would say it. But through the struggle of prayer we discover what is in God, we bring down to Earth what He wants to accomplish, we bring down to Earth the resources He has. How we mess up prayer! We are just listing our wishes, wants, problems, desires, goals, strategies. How rarely we use prayer to discover who He is and what He wants! How rarely we use prayer to connect His reality to ours!

Lord, Teach us to pray!

That’s a dangerous request. The prayers Jesus answered were not the kind of prayers we want to say. Those were prayers of people who were in misery. “Lord, heal my son, he is demon possessed.” “Lord, save me, I’m sinking!” “Lord, come and heal my daughter, she is dying!” These people learned to pray. Their misery forced them on their knees. They were so lost that they had only one option: crying out to God.

Majority of my prayers are reciting my prayer-lists to God assuming that He can’t read. By doing this we treat him like we treat a child who has not acquired yet the ability to understand the semiotic meanings.

We are encouraged to ask, seek and knock. Luke 11:9. That asking, seeking, knocking needs to come not from a list, but from the depth of a needy heart. That’s the ask of the beggar. That’s the cry of the hopeless. That’s the seeking of the one who relentlessly is trying to figure out his will. That’s the knocking of the one who is in danger outside and needs to be let in. But how do we knock, how do we ask, how do we seek is enveloped in the prayers Jesus has approved and encouraged us to pray.

We want God to hear and answer our prayers. We want listening ears from him. But God turns with listening ears only to the worshipper and obedient. _”If anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.“_ John 9:31. If you are neither, don’t have any expectations regarding your prayers. Why would God answer to someone who is not honoring Him with worship and with joyful submission?

The 7 prayers Jesus approved reflect that truth. That 7 prayers should envelope all of our prayers.

1. Hollowed be thy name

In every prayer we are commanded to ask and seek that His name would be glorified: “Lord, I want your name to be glorified in everything I’m asking from you! I want your name to be glorified in my sickness, in my financial challenges, in my children’s schooling issues, in my conflicts with others, in my goals, desires, purposes!”

2. Your kingdom come!

In our prayers we need to ask that His Lordship, rulership, authority to become more and more obvious by fulfilling our request. In our prayers we need to seek how his kingdom will become a reality.

 3. Your will be done!

We need to express a joyful and willing submission to his will. In our requests, asks, wants, knockings and seeking we should pursue one desire: his will be done through meeting those needs. Especially when we are praying for our plans, for our ministry desires and ideas we need to ask that we would dream his plans. We think sometimes that by asking God, we can force him to bring revival. We can’t. We can only build the altar. He can send the fire.  We have dreams. He has plans.

4. Give us this day our daily bread.

90% of our asks are around our physical needs. Jesus legitimize those prayers. But, that’s only 14% of all the requests in His prayers and it’s greatly limited by two factors: it’s about our daily need and it’s about bread – meaning basic needs. Note this: he has encouraged us to pray for something that he has promised to provide: daily bread. Ask what he has promised to give.

5. Forgive us our debts.

Confession of sins should be part of our regular prayer. Prayer is the means through which we experience Jesus’ forgiveness. Prayer by faith appropriates the reality of forgiveness. It needs to be asked. Another example of something that we need to ask what has been promised to give. It’s the prayer for spiritual purity and community with God.

6. Lead us not into temptation.
7. Deliver us from evil.

The last two requests are prayers for spiritual protection acknowledging that there is a spiritual battle. Asking God to give protection acknowledges the fact that there is a war against us. There is an enemy who wants to take us down.

The 1-3 asks are prayers asking God to rule and be glorified in everything we are asking for.

The 5-7 asks are dealing with our spiritual purity and protection.

These two envelopes one physical request in the middle. 86% of the prayer taught by Jesus deals with our spiritual well-being, being in the center of the will of God in everything we do.

The majority of prayer is bringing God’s glory, kingdom and will into the situation and separating ourselves from the evil, sinful, tempting impacts of the devil. That’s what prayer for.

Living beyond the limits of your past—Part IV. Overcoming the past

1-kV9VXChgv7vHsgLPoKrRwAIt’s not the sufferings in my story that should never have happened, but the healing.

We shape our story and we are shaped by our story

“In our story God shows us what he’s up to and what he wants us to be about.”
— Dr. Dan Allender

Coming from where I’m coming from and going through all I went through I shouldn’t be who I’m and shouldn’t do what I’m doing. That’s what human logic and experience can say. I state the opposite: I wouldn’t be who I’m and wouldn’t do what I’m doing without going through all I went through. My story was God’s essential tool to shape me. Sometimes I wonder about the contrast in my life: how is this possible at all?

  • I’ve started as an abused, hurting, sick person who had absolutely no future. I was living with major health, family, financial, legal challenges and disadvantages.
  • I’ve started as a non-leader who were banned to go even to our ministry’s student weekly meetings and now I’m leading other missionaries, projects, a ministry that influenced over 60 countries.
  • I’ve started as a stutterer and now I’m preaching, speaking at conferences, training educators not only in my mother tongue, but in a foreign language, too.
  • I’ve started as someone who had no future and my teachers told me that I shouldn’t even try to go to a high school and now I’m training educators, teaching at a university and coauthored accredited curriculums.
  • I’ve started as a fearful, shy young guy and I’ve addressed impossible legal issues, raised support, helped to plant churches, created strategies, made hard decisions, developed leaders, wrote books, etc..

God certainly in the business of choosing the nobodies, but to that extreme? I literally had nothing to offer to Him other then my own problems, issues, troubles, sickness, pains, disadvantages, losses, fears, sins and hurt. And he turned all of those into a beautiful story. No, it’s not an easy story. It’s not a story without sufferings, problems and pain. But it’s a story which truly shows how mighty He is, how loving He is and how much He can overcome every human weakness and turn the most hopeless situation into a wonderful victory.

Overcoming the boundaries of the past

“Real healing and spiritual power can be found if one can get into a confessing, safe relationship, where the darkness can be made light and the ‘dark parts’ can find forgiveness and acceptance.”
— Dr. Henry Cloud

The impossible can only be done by Someone who is able to do the impossible. Facing the impossible inspires fear or faith. We decide which one wins. Our decision is based on who do we trust in and to whom do we see the one we trust in.

God has a sense of humor. He likes to choose the nobodies, the unwise, the not noble, those who has zero potential. (1Cor 1:26–29.) He finds joy in doing that, because this way it becomes so obvious that He is doing it all! There is nothing I can boast with. Nothing. He saw that I had nothing, that I was hopeless and helpless.

My story is nothing, but a sheer evidence of Jesus being in the business of doing the impossible. The impossible is the healing. It’s His story lived through my story.

Looking back, I can now verbalize a few things that were essential to be able to function, to actually get healed, to go through the challenges, to live through the sufferings and to see the impossible becoming a reality. Below you can read are a few pillars of my personal journey.

1. Relying on God’s daily grace.

I only can say that by the grace of God, somehow Jesus gave enough strength and grace to go through each day, even if we had to drag ourselves through it with fainting souls and trembling hearts. Somehow, he always held our hands, always gave enough wisdom, always gave just enough of everything. But only for that one day. Never for tomorrow. C.S. Lewis verbalize the essence of this daily grace beautifully: “It is only our daily bread we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” (C.S. Lewis: Learning in War-Time) It’s all grace, and nothing more. There was nothing in me, in us as a couple or as a family to be able to survive, to get where we are now, to make the right decisions, to have enough wisdom, strength or courage. But we’ve tried to listen and obey to him. Intentionally. Diligently. Fearfully. With opened hearts and mind.

2. Viewing God to whom he really is.

Learning and leaning on the attributes of God was and continually is essential for healing. In my first 4 years of my Christian walk I was motivated by my fear. I wanted really badly to live up to God’s standards and earn his love. I continually failed. Only Jesus was and is able to live up to God’s standards.

I had a very bad acquired pattern that determined my relationship with God: I wanted to avoid his anger and earn his love, just as I wanted to avoid my dad’s anger and wanted to earn his love. But I couldn’t do either. I couldn’t earn my dad’s love, because he never loved me and I couldn’t earn my heavenly Father’s love because he always loved me. I couldn’t avoid my earthly father’s anger, because he was always angry with me and there was no anger to avoid in my heavenly Father, because he already poured out his anger against me on his only Son. See, I took the old pattern I learned in my most important relationship as a child and adopted that to my most important relationship as an adult. It was fundamentally wrong. Why was it so wrong? Because the attributes of the two fathers are vastly different. So, if I keep relating to my heavenly Father the same way I did relate to my earthly father it is not simply an insult to God, but it hinders me to experience who he really is and who I was created to be! Not having the right view of God comes with at least 3 fatal consequences: 1. I will insult, hurt and belittle God; 2. I will never experience who he really is and what he can do; 3. I will never become who I was created to be. That’s why our view of God is essential. Our enemy, the Devil will always do everything possible to distort our view of God, so we would not see him as holy, loving, caring, almighty, personal, giving, omnipotent Father who is for us and not against us.

I had to unlearn, undress that pattern. How to do that? Well, I intentionally studied and meditated on (and continue to do so) who God really is and how he relates to me regardless of my behavior. What I continue to learn about who He really is heals me and changes me. When I started to discover that I don’t need to hide or cover my weaknesses, struggles, temptations or failures and that I can be transparent and vulnerable with God without risking to loose his love for me, then my wounds started to heal. Experiencing intimacy (being transparent and real without fearing rejection) with God is not only a power to heal, but a power to change. Real, intimate acceptance doesn’t leave me with my weaknesses and sins, but gives me the power that I always sought for the change I always wanted. His love doesn’t only mean that he accepts me as I’m, but it also means that he wants the best for me. And in order to experience his best, he gives his power to change so I could have more of him. Embracing the fact that God is for me and not against me, gives me tremendous hope for the wonderful adventure he and I will have together in my future, which future is planed and secured by him. The more time I spend learning and meditating on who God really is, the healthier and stronger I become.

3. Taking God’s Word seriously.

Faith means — as it is described in Hebrews 11 through the examples of the Heroes of Faith — taking God at his word. Faith is trusting that what he says about himself, about me, about my relationship with him and about the world is true. And it is not just a theoretical truth, but an experiential reality.Why truth matters? Because truth sets us free (John 8:32). Truth gives us definitions. We know that nothing functions in the physical world without definitions. (That’s why they teach definitions in physics, chemistry and in other sciences.) The same applies in the spiritual, emotional and relational realm of life. God’s living Word gives definitions, breaths life, provides direction, comforts the hurting hearts, gives the knowledge we lack, builds up the broken pieces of our lives and points to areas that require growth. Daily tapping into this infinite source of wisdom, guidance and life gave us important lines of definitions (beliefs, values, priorities, distinctive); guided us in difficult decisions; comforted us when we were hurting; envisioned us for future adventures; gave us hope to press on; encouraged us when we were distressed; educated us to nurture our marriage and raise our children and gave us insights to teach others.

The decision to take God for his word, to stand on his promises and to nurture our soul from his word daily brought healing and restoration to our broken hearts.

4. Awareness

I’ve studied my life. I’ve studied my weaknesses. I’ve put intentional efforts to search my heart, to understand my problems and to know my limits. Self-awareness was sought through wisdom from others, through reading books, through much discussions with my wife. I’ve understood some important weaknesses and tendencies I have. My early developmental years left a painful mark and created some patterns in my life that I continually need to unlearn and pay attention to. Here are some of them:

  • I tend to ignore my own pain and needs to please others. Pleasing others, being way too loyal to authority figures, not giving grace to myself are all patterns rooted in the experiences I had with my father.
  • I’ve developed a very high tolerance of pain and became numb to the poor performances of others. I’ve learned to tolerate situations long past when they should have been dealt with.
  • I have a tendency to be over-responsible, taking too much responsibility for others and for situations. Underneath is the thinking that all depends on me. I feel responsible to make others happy and protect them from having pain. This often enabled people to stay in situations they shouldn’t stay in. This kind of seemingly gracious service of others came with a price for me, for the person who was enabled and for others around that situation.

The many painful endings in my past made it very hard for me to end things that should be ended earlier, release people from positions who should had been released earlier, bring people into leadership situations who should had been brought in earlier.

Being aware of my on limitations and tendencies helps me to recognize and correct behavioral patterns or typical reactions.

5. Building an inspiring community around us.

Every life in the universe exist in connection. There is no life in isolation. God created us to be connected to him and to each other. We are dead without those connections. Life, growth and production comes through connection. That’s why the community around us was and is essential for us to get well and to get through the troubles of life. Somehow God always provided just enough people around us to encourage us, advise us, teach us, inspire us. Not too many, but a few, barely enough. We’ve intentionally invested into some relationship. We’ve established a few, very strong friendships over the years. Unfortunately, most of them now live in a different continent and time zone.

Relationships are so vital to our growth that it became a conviction to us that we will not want to live the rest of our life without real friends and will do everything possible to work again with our best friends. We know we are at our best when we are in the right team. And if we are at our best, that’s the best for the mission, too. Paul couldn’t become Paul without Barnabas. Titus couldn’t become Titus without Paul. Paul left behind great ministry needs and opportunities because his relationship with his coworker, Titus was a higher priority for him.

It was also important that the community around us, our friends needed to be inspiring. There are lots of people around us who have inspired fear instead of faith. We’ve learned to avoid them and intentionally close their voice out from our head.

6. Maintaining a teachable heart.

Proverbs identifies wisdom with being teachable. Protecting my heart from pride and intentionally remain teachable was an important aspect of my healing. Having a listening ear, an open mind to other’s opinion without taking it personally and be willing to apologize when it was needed, helped me to learn and see things from different perspectives. Reading a lot and seeking council is critical for being teachable. Allowing people to speak into my life, being vulnerable and transparent was an intentional decision so others could see our reality, our hurts, our pains, our fears, our joys and our victories.

7. Taking faith-steps and paying the price.

We all make mistakes. Mistakes can be corrected or we can apologize and make it right. But opportunities are coming and going. There are opportunities that are there once in your life. Once those opportunities are gone, they will never come back. Not every opportunity needs to be pursued, but most opportunities require taking risks. According to the Parable of the Talents9 faithfulness requires risk-taking. There are no safe risks. Risk demands courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of obedience. Blessings sometimes come with a price that we need to pay first. Sometimes that price is very high. Our sacrifices need to be on the altar before God’s provision would come.

God always gave just enough faith to be able to take risks when we had to. His Word personally spoke to us at various situations when we needed courage. For example, in 2004 when I said yes to the challenge becoming the National Director, some profound truths and a personal challenge were revealed to me through the story of Feeding the 5000: “You give them bread.”

A recent occasion of a major risk we are taking is our decision to turn over the leadership and pursuing to work with Dave and Karen again. Staying in our position and enjoying the fruit of our labor would be much easier than to give it up, pursue a new pioneering ministry and putting up with the hurtful comments from people who are second guessing our decision.

The story of the spies in Numbers 13 and 14 taught an important lesson to us. There are times when there is not a second chance. When we are in a risky, new, challenging, unknown situation, our first reaction to it could be life-changing. The people of Israel reacted with fear instead of faith. The assumed God wants to cause harm to them. They questioned God’s love for them. Circumstances didn’t change their life, but their reaction to the circumstances changed it forever. They were not allowed to go in to the Promise Land. Impossible situations are either generating fear or faith. We decide which one wins. For God the circumstances are irrelevant. Pretty much our choices will set a whole lot in our life: where and how we live, what we do and how we spend our time! They missed a once in a life-time opportunity for good because they reacted with fear. There was no way to undo it or to fix it. A whole generation wasted their life wondering in the wilderness, because they were not reacted by faith to the impossible.

It’s not the sufferings that should not have happened in my story. It’s the healing. We are not the victims of our circumstances, but much more so the victims of our decisions. God heals the wounded, uses the weak, lifts up the poor, comforts the grievous. If you are wounded, weak, poor, grievous than you are in good hands. But there are decisions that you need to make and nobody, not even God, will make those for you.

I hope this story inspires you, educates you and perhaps leads you to make some long-needed decisions you have postponed about your heart, about your life, about your attitude and about your relationships.

Living beyond the limits of your past—Part III. Difficult beginnings

It’s not the sufferings in my story that should never have happened, but the healing.

Difficult beginnings

“The most important thing is this: to sacrifice what you are now for what you can become tomorrow.” “God has already written the first chapter of the new life that awaits you. All you have to do is start reading!”
— Shannon L. Alder

Myattempt to reestablish my relationship with my father in my early twenties didn’t ended the long, silent and lonely years of my life. The arrival of Dave and Karen Robinson to Hungary in the late 80’s and their new leadership in the ministry of CCC (now known as CRU) brought new hope for me, too. I had been re-invited to be a part of the student ministry again. In my last year in seminary I started to work as a paid office worker in CCC’s small office: cleaning the office, organizing events, developing materials was my job.

Our relationship with Edina led to marriage in 1991. On our wedding day a pastor came up to me and as a congratulations he gave an odd blessing: “I never thought that you guys would get married, this is not a good match.”

A year later we’ve obeyed God’s calling and joined staff with CCC. Our excitement as new missionaries were over very quickly: we were burned out, tired and wanted to quit. In 1993 we’ve decided that we need to leave staff. Many friends and respected pastors supported our direction. A different mission-agency recruited us to join their ministry. There was only one person who came to our small, tiny apartment and asked us to reconsider our decision and stay on staff with CCC. That person was Dave Robinson. We’ve listened to him and stayed on staff.

Soon, it turned out that this was the right decision. In 1994 — after many clumsy attempts trying to launch a community ministry — God opened the door to start “Youth at the Threshold of Life (YTL)”. You can read about the details of that in the book Dave Robinson and I coauthored, titled “The Outrageous Promise”.

When we launched YTL it was so new, so different than anything we’ve ever done before, that we had to face massive opposition. The opposition came from believers, while the support came from non-believers. (Pretty much a recurring pattern of my ministry ever since.) Our vision and attempts were ridiculed. Christians were criticizing and judging us. Our faith was laughed at. It was new. It was different. It was outrageous. The rest is history: 22 years later YTL is present in 62 countries. Millions have heard the gospel.

Thousands got saved. Hundreds joined the mission because of that impossible attempt. And millions of dollars were given to missions.

Anew challenge was added to the turmoil of the newly launched YTL in 1995 when we were expecting our first child. In the midterm of the pregnancy the doctors came with a very bad news: this child will be sick and we need to abort her. Of course abortion was not an option for us, but prayer was. Thousands started to pray. I remember the doctor’s rough verdict as we’ve told her we won’t abort that baby: “You are putting a horrible burden on the shoulder of our society with your decision”. God had another plan. 20 years later that little baby is now studying science in the 15th highly ranked university of the world! (Read more about that story here.)

As YTL grew, so did the health-challenges in our family. In 1998 our second child’s birth was quite dramatic. The c-section took 2,5 hours and as they finally lifted him out he absolutely was looking dead. They had to revivify him twice before they rushed with him to the ICU where he spent 10 days. I was standing there horrified by watching our newborn son as they tried to bring him back to life while at the same time the doctors were fighting for Edina’s life, too. In the middle of the night, after my wife’s life was secured, I went up to the ICU and talked with the doctor. She said that there is a very little chance for our son to survive, because they already had to revivify him twice, he lost a lot of blood, he got pneumonia and they don’t know if he got a stroke or not. I remember driving home with tears rolling down, not knowing if I will have to raise up my little girl alone or not. We named our son, Renato, a name meaning: born-again; which name prophetically proved to become true. Edina still had horrible pains, fever and was in ICU as well. She had not even seen the baby she gave birth to. We’ve arranged her to see Renato. She couldn’t move or get up, so they rolled her bed to a place where she could see him through two windows as he was laying in the incubator with tubes coming out of him. In the moment she saw him, even from such distance, she started to get better. She got up a little later, her fever went down and was able to leave the ICU. Miraculously 10 days later we could take Renato home. It took another year, and regular check-ups before the doctor told us that most likely he will be healthy.

We prayed and hoped that our third child would not have any complications. We felt we had our fair share of health issues already. Yet God had another plan. Gergő was born with a rare tumor in April of 2002. We were going from doctors to doctors to get a diagnosis. The tumor on his chest was continually growing and bleeding. After much research the diagnosis came with a difficult dilemma. The doctor who finally was able to diagnose the tumor said that it is so rare that she saw this 15 years prior Gergő’s case. The clinicians were so excited that they immediately took pictures of the tumor and called other dermatologists to see it. The diagnosis just began the journey. What should we do with such tumor? What’s the treatment? Is it benign or cancerous? The number one expert said that we need to wait 3–5 years and it will just go away by itself. The other expert said that it will never go away and we need to have surgery to remove it. After doing our own research via medical journals and studies of Dermatology we’ve decided to have the surgery and to get the tumor removed. Gergő was only 7 months old when he went under this procedure. At the end of the surgery the operating professor told us that this tumor was such that it wouldn’t have gone away by itself, because it was directly connected to a vein! He handed the tumor over me in a little vial and asked me to take it to another hospital for pathology. It was a surreal feeling to drive over to the other hospital with my son’s tumor in my hand.

These are just a few of the multiple and ongoing medical challenges, painful surgeries, rare autoimmune diseases, countless nights spent in the hospitals with our kids and the many other impossibilities we have faced with. The hard moments of medical challenges were also mixed with many other significant challenges, like:

  • major financial crises (more times we had that than not);
  • seemingly impossible legal problems (like when it turned out that the apartment we owned we didn’t own, because of the mistake the local government made; or when the government took away the right from our ministry to be a religious order, etc.);
  • the countless moves we had to make;
  • being burglarized while we were sleeping in our house and our very first new car being stolen from us;
  • and the list could go on and on with sometimes the weirdest challenges life brought on our path.

2002–2003 was not only challenging because of the countless health issues in our family and our youngest’s tumor surgery, but those years were bringing up major issues in the ministry, too. It seemed that everything was falling apart in the whole ministry. In a short year we’ve last over 70% of our staff, ministry areas were shot down, teams disappeared and close to $500 000 debt were accumulated. On top of that there was not one staff fully funded and we were facing major legal instabilities. In 2004, I was asked to step up and take over the leadership of the ministry of CCC, Hungary in this very challenging and seemingly impossible situation. I was 37 years old, unexperienced, with little children who were mostly sick, all of them having sever asthma, with a wife who also had significant health issues, and our own support was not raised yet. I had never been a campus director (which is the first-level of leadership in CCC). Matter of fact, I was never even in a campus team. In reality my first leadership assignment was to lead Youth at the Threshold of Life — YTL, which never had a strong and big team. So very suddenly I’ve found myself in a position where I had been challenged to take over the National Director’s role with the enormous problems we’ve never faced before.33

Each issue and problem we’ve faced with should deserve a whole chapter, because there are so many miracles we’ve experienced and so many lessons we’ve learned about people, mission, cultures and leadership. Looking back to the past 12 years, we saw miracles: all of our debt is paid, the number of staff grew 300%, every staff are raising their own financial support, our legal situation is solved (regardless the fact that the government took away our religious order status), multiplying ministry models were launched, new policies and systems were created to support organizational effectiveness, new partnerships were established, leaders are developed and most importantly the staff unity and morale is very high.

However, there were two major impossible situations which deserves to be mentioned. Although there were lot of financial impossibilities, the most difficult situations were never around money, but around people. People create more problems than money ever can create. A big chunk of leadership is solving problems other people create.

Over these years the most difficult issues were facing betrayals. There were three cases that were especially painful. God helped us to make the right decisions in each of those, but there had been very significant battles, sometimes with friends or with other leaders who were close to us and whom we respected. Years later, looking back to those decisions and seeing how those people’s lives had been turning away from God, those hard decisions proved to be right. But when you are in the middle of those decisions sometimes left alone, struggling with your own doubts, you can only hope that you are making the right decision.

The other very memorable impossible situation is tied to our legal case. First we had to find a legal structure which would fit well our ministry both financially and functionally.

It took a lot of effort, countless nights of researching, but finally my wife encouraged me to go and meet with a certain expert and pursue their help establishing a Religious Order. We got the government’s approval and everything worked well for the first time in 20 years. Unfortunately, the newly elected government in 2011 changed the church-law and banned us — along with 300 other churches — to be a Religious Order. Another hard decision and impossible legal trap we found ourselves in. We either try to sue the government in the European Court or just let this happen and suffer silently. After praying a lot, I’ve decided to go with the second choice. By now, this proved to be the right decision. Those who started a battle with our government, all suffered greatly and their mission had been hindered significantly. After a two-year-long, complicated process, we were able to establish a legal entity under the umbrella of the Baptist Denomination. The main reason why this was successful is because 25 years ago we’ve helped to plant a church in Rózsakert which became a Baptist Church. Rózsakert than helped planting Kőszikla another Baptist Church along with several other churches. Because of those church-plants we were able to go under the Baptist Denomination as an independent legal entity. Without that initial church planting effort 25 years ago, our work with YTL would not have a legal home now and we most likely would be loosing many of our staff.

There are many other miraculous details in the journey God allowed us to experience. Reading the chapters of our journey leaves us with three possible responses: 1. Worship God who is precisely and lovingly planned our journey. 2. Learn important lessons from the journey. 3. Believe and hope that He has not finished the story.

To be continued with the last part, Part IV: “Overcoming the past.”

Living beyond the limits of your past—Part II. Painful endings


It’s not the sufferings in my story that should never have happened, but the healing.

Painful endings

“In many contexts, until we let go of what is not good we will never find something that is good. The lesson: good cannot begin until bad ends.”
— Dr. Henry Cloud

Weall have a first memory of life. Mine takes me back to a hospital in 1972. I was only 5 years old. Most of my childhood memory is around sickness and abuse. Since my birth, my childhood was marked either with life-threatening diseases or with painful abuse. My battle for life started when I was only six weeks old. The small town, Siófok, where I grew up in communist Hungary had an untrained pediatrician who diagnosed me with a simple flu. On that evening my mom had a surprise visit from a relative who happened to be one of the leading pediatricians in the country. At the moment he entered our apartment and saw me in my mother’s arm, he picked up the phone and called the ambulance. He said that this baby won’t survive the night if he is not taken to his hospital in Budapest. My situation was so severe that the ambulance had to stop half way to Budapest and put me into an ICU before they were able to carry me to the final destination the next day.

As I mentioned, my first vivid memory of life is marked in my brain from age of 5. In that year I spent 200 days in the hospital. The doctors suspected that I have a fatal kidney dysfunction, which diagnosis was later changed to leukemia. The predicted life-expectancy was very short. Eventually none of those diagnosis proved to be true, but they gave all kinds of treatments to cure my scary symptoms. When my mom went home with the news of my diagnosis and shared it with my dad, he just kept watching the soccer game on tv without giving any notice to this troublesome news. The treatments and the side-effects were so brutal that for a time I was not able to walk. A weekend came and the doctors allowed me to go home for a visit. My father was not willing to drive me home so my mom had to carry me on her back to our apartment which was located on the 4th floor and there was no elevator in the building.

That was my first moment to realize the cruelness of my father. I thought that the every day physical abuse and harsh yelling words are the norms everywhere. Another incident after my lengthy time in the hospital deepened my fear from my father. I had a bicycle accident and I broke my left leg. Regardless of my pain and inability of walking, my dad forced me to walk on my broken leg, terrorizing and yelling at me saying that I only fake the pain. With tears rolling down on my cheek I tried very hard to please him. I forced my self to walk by overcoming the excruciating pain. Later, my mom took me to the doctor who said that my leg is broken in spiral form. I ended up being hospitalized again. The plaster splint on my leg took me out of school for another 8 weeks. Those memories were the beginning of a long discovery of the brutality of my father. The lasting marks of his brutality are shadowing me in my adulthood. Even up to these days, when people misread me, mistreat me, my very first feeling is what I’ve felt as a little 6 year old boy limping in pain, commanded to walk, trying very hard to please his dad while he ignored his own pain. My trust in a loving father ended.That moment (later confirmed with many other experiences) created a life-pattern for me to ignore my own pain and needs to please others, planted in me the seed of hopelessness and fear, and made me doubt the existence of a loving, providing, caring father. The fear and doubt soon was revealed in physical symptoms. The first among those was that I’ve started to stutter.

In the next two years my father’s abusiveness and his regular unfaithfulness to my mother was elevated to a new level. My mom was not able to tolerate it anymore. She saw only one way out: suicide. One day she was laying down on the train tracks waiting in tears on a train to come and take away her pain forever. A few men tugged her off from the tracks before the train speeded over the area. A “bloody” divorce ended their painful marriage when I was 8. Although I witnessed and suffered the terror of my father, the news of their divorce shocked me. Our family was ended. I was not able to imagine how life will go on from that moment.

My mother, with my sister and me, moved into a small rented room where we’ve shared a kitchen and a bathroom with several other families. I only realized how poor we were when coming home from school I didn’t find my little dachshund, who was my only friend to share my pain with. My mom had to trade her for a piece of sausage so we would have something to eat.

Finally the judge decided that it’s best if I live with my dad and my sister stays with my mom. This move launched a four-year-long journey of a daily torture for me. My father’s verbal, emotional and psychological terror accompanied with physical abuse and severe beatings.

The following incidents exemplifies well the kind of terror he exercised week after week. One day he couldn’t find a part of something he disassembled. He suspected that I was responsible for the missing part. But I didn’t even know what he was looking for. He kept insisting that I stole the missing part yelling at me: “You stole it! Admit it! If you don’t admit it, I’ll call the police and they’ll take you to prison!” I was begging him in tears not to call the police. I was so terrified and hysterical with fear that I admitted that I stole the part he was looking for. Later he found that missing part and then he punished me for admitting something I didn’t do.

My ongoing fear and isolation just grew as my father was remarried and his new wife brought two girls into our broken family. Missing my mom and the newly arrived family members’ privileged situation forced my soul into the dark corner of devastation. My pain inside soon showed up on the outside in the form of dangerous physical symptoms: at age of 10 I’ve developed severe asthma-attacks and allergy. Once again, I ended up being hospitalized for months. Medicine in the 1970’s in the communist Hungary was not well-developed to handle the severeness of my attacks. The doctors again predicted a short life-expectancy: for sure I’ll die before the age of 18 or 20.

In January of 1979, after my 12th birthday I’ve told my mom that if she wants me to see alive, she’ll need to rescue me from my father’s hand. She had also been remarried by that time and her new husband brought a young girl into their new family. My mother hired a lawyer to help in the legal process of getting the custody. The lawyer immediately told her that the chance to win the case is less then 1%, because 4 years earlier the judge already made a decision and it’s almost unprecedented to get that decision reversed. Regardless of the implausible chances, the legal process had been started. Basically it meant that at the age of 12 I was going to sue my father with my mom’s assistance, while I was still living under his roof, trying to prove that he was not qualified to be a father. The daily emotional and psychological terror I had to put up with during the 11 months long legal process was indescribable. My dad was so determined to win the case, that he told my sister that he would rather see me in a coffin than with my mother. “You can prepare the flowers for your brother’s funeral” — concluded his discussion with my sister.

Doctors and experts from all kinds of field were involved in the case. My father forbidden me to visit my mother hoping that I’ll change my mind and will not want to leave him. The peak of the case was when I had to show up in the courtroom for a hearing. I knew it was unusual for a 12 year old to be heard. By that time it was at least a month I’ve not seen my mother. She was sitting outside of the courtroom as I’ve entered into the courthouse being ushered by my father and his new wife. He didn’t let me even greet my mom. Soon, it was time to enter the courtroom. Only the judge, my father’s lawyer, my mother’s lawyer and two other people were present as I entered this big room. The whole seen was horrifying. I felt just like a small dot whose life and future is in the hands of these giants around me. The judge asked several questions before she turned to the most important one: “Do you want to live with your dad or with your mom?” I broke out in tears and answered: “I want to live with my mom”. Immediately my father’s lawyer jumped up from his chair yelling at me: “You are only saying this, because your mom is giving you gifts.” I was speechless as my tears were rolling down uncontrollably. The judge’s summary closed my short visit in the courtroom:“This child is deeply wounded.”

After this event I knew that I can’t survive this any more. I needed to escape from my father. One day after school my mother with her husband was waiting for me and stopped me on the way home: “Do you want to escape from your father?” — my mom was asking. There was only one answer I could give: “YES!”. In the next moment we were on the road to Budapest with the clothes I was wearing on that day. Every single thing I ever had or owned — toys, clothes, bicycle I worked for, books — I left behind. I’ve never crossed the threshold of my childhood’s home again.

My childhood ended on that morning in September of 1979 as I left for school not knowing that I’ll never return. I was on the road to a new life with hopes, but with tremendous fears. After arriving to Budapest, my mother called my father and told him that I’m with her. He immediately went to the police and reported my mom for kidnapping me. Knowing that the police will chase me, my mother took me to the hospital where I’ve already spent several months before with my asthma trying to hide me and to win some time before the decision of the judge arrives. Of course she had to go to the police and they were considering arresting her for kidnapping me. But the officer was gracious and was willing to wait on the judge’s decision about the custody before deciding about her arrest.

The hospital was my well-known environment, it felt secure. One day, just randomly, I stood up in the bed and was looking out of the window. At that very moment I saw him, my father, the one whom I had been running away from, crossing through the gates of the hospital. I was rushing to the nearest doctor begging her to hide me. After she’s talked with my father, she strongly tried to convince me to meet with him. But I didn’t want to see him. She kept insisting: “Your dad really wants to see you, he is so sad, what’s wrong with you that you don’t want to see him?” I knew from my instinct that I can’t see him. I decided to hide in a storage room. They couldn’t find me. Hours later my father was gone, I came out from my hiding place. It turned out that this was a critical move. The final round of the trial came. The judge’s first question to my father was: “Did you meet with your son?” My father replied: ”No, for the child is not ready to apologize.” The answer shocked the judge and she decided to give the custody to my mom. Based on the many expert’s opinions my father’s right for visitation was taken from him.

Deep wounds don’t heal fast. My healing came very slowly. For a long-long time when I saw a picture of my father or have heard of him, the ambulance had to take me to the hospital because of the severe asthma attacks I suffered, which was triggered by anything related to my dad. Healing speeded up as I’ve started to experience the healing love of my Heavenly Father as I became a follower of Jesus. My high school years were my first firm steps toward God. The very first thing I recall in my relationship with God is that I prayed to him in the dark closet in my father’s apartment. Growing up in a communist environment I’ve heard nothing about Jesus. But when I first encountered with the message that God can become my heavenly Father, I started to pour out my heart to him in the secret darkness of that closet.

I’ll never forget the life-changing moment when the very first time I personally felt that the healing hands of God touched my hurting soul. That happened right before I started high school. I opened the Bible, probably the first or second time in my life. I knew hardly anything about it. But I started to read a passage I would not recommend to read to any seeker or new believer. The passage was Isaiah 54. I felt pierced by every single words I read. I couldn’t move as I was just reading over and over again that one chapter. Every single words were speaking to me: “you will forget the shame of your youth” and than “for a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you… with everlasting love I will have compassion on you…”. Every words were healing my soul. From that moment, the Word of God became the key to heal my soul.

At age 14, as a new believer I was so excited about my newly found faith that I denied the demand of my school to become a member of the Young Communist Party (KISZ in Hungarian). Every student had to become a member of KISZ if they wanted to be accepted to university. I remember that the vice-principle of the school told me that I cut my own throat by denying to be a member of KISZ. My already fragile trust in my teachers endedwith that sentence. (It’s interesting to see that the same teacher 30 years later became the Deputy Secretary of Education in Hungary of a conservative government. The communists just changed their colors.)

Unfortunately, my mother’s second marriage was soon shipwrecked as well. My step-father was a severe alcoholic and a notorious womanizer. His daughter — with whom I lived under the same roof for 7 years and went to church — choose a very wrong path and became a professional prostitute. Later she gave birth to 5 children and all 5 ended up being in an orphanage. As it turned out, the environment I found myself escaping my father’s brutality was not the healing environment I needed. But even with the alcoholism of my step-father it was still a much better situation then my pervious environment. By the end of my high-school years, my mother’s second marriage was over, yet the two, now separate families (my step-dad with his daughter and my mom with my sister and I), still had to live together in a very small apartment for another two difficult years. This was the third time when family ended for me. Finally, my mom, my sister (who was married and pregnant) and I were able to manage moving into a one-roomed apartment.

1984was an important year for me. I met with an American missionary couple, Mike & Kathy Uno. Of course, I didn’t know they were missionaries, because they had cover jobs. That’s how missionaries managed to live and serve in Hungary during communism. Mike started to disciple me. My excitement for evangelism grew greatly and at least 4 nights a week I went to a dorm to secretly meet with students, showing them the Jesus film in an 8 mm projector in their tiny room. Well, eventually my enthusiasm for evangelism took me to the place where I didn’t want to be. In the summer of 1985 I had been arrested. Sharing the gospel at the beach of Lake Balaton was not welcomed. The police searched our house for gospel literature. This incident had an impact on my attempt to go to university, too. Graduating from high school they banned me to start my studies. Only a year later I was allowed to start college, but in a so called, “evening” course. They were afraid that I’ll be a “bad influence” on my peers.

Regardless of my growing enthusiasm for the Lord, my family background left some very painful marks on me and now I daily faced with the brokenness of my mother’s second marriage. The Uno’s offered a very generous opportunity to move into their home and live with their family in Budapest. I gladly accepted that offer. The next 18 months were the healing environment I badly needed after being tossed around during all my childhood. First ever in my life, I’ve experienced a real family: eating together, playing together, talking with each other. A life-changing and healing experience. Of course, the necessary departure of the Unos to leave Hungary arrived soon. Another painful, yet necessary ending was added to the many I already had. I felt left alone. While they were in Hungary, I was involved in the underground ministry of Campus Crusade. Right after the Uno’s left the country, the Hungarian man who grabbed the opportunity to lead this young, underground ministry decided to shot down everything and banned me to be a part of the student Bible-study group. He told me that there is no good reason to invest in me, because there is absolutely no potential for ministry or leadership in me at all. He finished our conversations with these harsh words which still rings in me: “Mike Uno sinned when he decided to disciple you!” It was a sin to invest in me! These painful words ended my trust in other believers. I was giving my everything to this young ministry, I had been arrested, because I was sharing my faith, I was banned to go to university, because I was following Christ and now I was left alone. I was already kicked out from our church because they viewed sharing my faith and joining to an “American underground group” as being in a cult. I was kicked out of this new underground ministry of CCC, because I was “not worth” investing in. At the age of 19 I was without friends, without church, without family, without work, without a future, carrying the burden of a very painful past. I felt horribly alone. In the moment of total loneliness again God’s Word gave me comfort. I remember how reading the comforting words of Psalm 121 helped me to lift up my heart and learn that God is enough: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:2–3, ESV)

After the Uno’s left I moved back to the tiny one-roomed apartment with my mom and sister and her newborn baby. My mom and I slept in the hallway on mattresses. I got a job in a small factory and worked there mostly during the night from 7 PM to 7 AM. Then I slept in a closet in the factory until 12 PM. After getting up I went home, changed, took a shower and did my studies. After working two years in difficult physical labor I was able to get another job where I could work during the day. This was the time when Edina and I started dating, and some sunshine began to sneak into my life.

During those lonely years I knew that if I ever want to get well and healed, I need to be able to leave behind my past. I knew that I wont be able to overcome my father’s abuse he committed against me unless I’m willing to forgive him. I’ve decided to meet with him after the 9 long years we’ve not seen each other. His involvement in various corruptions in business sentenced him to be in prison for more than 3 years during that 9 year we have not seen each other. The reestablishment of our broken relationship was initiated by me. I’ve tried to extend the forgiveness I’ve experienced through Christ to him. He never ever thought that he did anything wrong and he blamed everything on me and on my mother. Despite of his hardened heart, I’ve tried to maintain a relationship with him until he died, so at least he had a chance to have grandkids and see them regularly although he never knew their birthdays and never gave them anything. His written will revealed his angered heart: he disinherited me and my sister and left all his wealth to his new wife. It was a sad moment. Not because we didn’t get any money, but because it showed that his heart was full of hate and bitterness. His anger disabled him to show any respect to his own parents by passing on something to his grandchildren from the wealth he inherited from his ancestors. He lived angry and died angry. The only mark he left on earth was anger. His anger didn’t make anything better, but hurt a lot of people among whom he was the chief victim of his own anger. His death was another painful ending of a painful relationship.

To be continued with Part III: “Difficult beginnings”.

Living beyond the limits of your past – Part I.

You are designed for your story


It’s not the sufferings in my story that should never have happened, but the healing.

Your story is designed for you and you are designed for your story.

“God is not merely the Creator of our life. He is also the Author of our life, and he writes each person’s life to reveal his divine story… In our story God shows us what he’s up to and what he wants us to be about.”
— Dr. Dan Allender

Stories inspire us. Good stories educate us. Godly stories change us. We all live through stories that should never have happened. The roads of such stories are paved with sufferings leading either to great tragedies or to glorious victories. We are curious to learn such stories, because they are impacting us. How the main-character of the story overcomes her pain and sufferings makes any story inspirational. We laugh at comedies, but we are shaped by the tragedies. These stories give us the hope that the impossible indeed is possible, and we want to know how. The pain, the challenges, the sufferings, the troubles of others and how they overcome or loose in that battle is what draws us to a story. Living in a broken world plants a desire in us to know how to overcome the pain in our life. We were meant to live in a perfect world. We were not created to cope with the pain. Reading, watching, hearing and sharing those stories of sufferings soften our hearts, focus our priorities, give us hope, inspire us to act, teach us skills, bear the fruit of gratefulness, generally they help us to become a better person.

We all have a unique story. God is the Grand Designer of our unique story. His design makes us laugh, triggers tears, forces us on our knees, takes us to our limits, teaches us something about the Author, draws us closer to him and if it’s told well then it blesses others. Our story is part of His Story that He wants to tell through the history of mankind. Each and every story is unique. Each and every one is designed. The design involves unchangeable circumstances, carefully crafted gifts, special encounters, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and our freedom of choice.

The two kinds of basic stories are the epic and the drama. In the epic the main-character saves (something or someone), in the drama the main-character suffers (from something or from someone).

As we live our stories we enjoy the chapters when we feel that we control the flow of the story. But the story starts becoming really interesting when we start loosing control over our story. We naturally withdraw from things we don’t have control over. Loosing control comes with uncertainty. Uncertainty generates fear. When things happen you don’t understand then you start loosing control over your reality. At that point, suddenly a gap is created between your understanding and your reality. Hope needs to fill that gap, the hope that things are going to get better. Without that hope we can’t move forward in our story. Hope only can born out of trust. Trusting that by someone or by something the reality (which is now far from our understanding) eventually will be under control again and that we will gain understanding over it. Trusting requires to turn over the control to someone or something and admitting that someone or something has a greater power to gain control over our reality than us.

That’s why God is doing things in our lives that doesn’t make sense to us. Loosing control over certain areas of our life is taking us back to the root of our hope. Our limited capacity to understand should never limit God’s will and plan for our life.

The story you’re going to read will remind you of how the things you don’t understand, the pains you experience, the control you loose, the impossible you face — are all tools for God to use so you would get to know him in ways you’ve never imagined and you would have to see him doing things through you that’s way beyond of your wildest dreams. This will only happen if you love the God you know more than fear the things you don’t know.

I’m sharing my story with the hope that you’ll see that the impossible is just another option if your story is lived with the One who is in the business of doing the impossible. My hope and prayer is that you’ll discover in your own story that the loving hand of God crafted your story for you and He made you in such a unique way that you would perfectly fit to your story.

If you feel that you are the victim of your circumstances then this story will motivate you to overcome your circumstances and start making steps toward gaining control over your life.

If you feel that you are the victim of other people’s selfishness and evilness then this story might help you find the path of healing for your painful traumas.

If you feel that you can’t overcome your fear, disbelief, poor self-image and you are sinking in the bottomless ocean of self-pity, then this story will prove that love overcomes fear, faith overcomes disbelief and God’s acceptance heals your wounds and builds up your poor self-image.

Our story never starts with our story

“I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
— Exodus 20:5–6

Like it or not, we are born into other people’s story. Our story is a sequel of the story of our ancestors. We are born into their dysfunctions, problems and sickness. The sins of our ancestors leave marks on us, just as their virtue does. Of course we aren’t determined to guide our story in the direction it was set by them. But we can’t ignore the impact that their story has on ours.

My personal story is flowing out of our family-story which is woven into the tragic history of our nation’s past 90 years. Fascism and communism left their deep and cruel marks not just on Hungary as a nation, but on our family, too. The tragic signs of the Jewish persecution started to show up in the early 1930’s. My great-grandfather — in order to be able to progress in his business — changed his name leaving behind the immediately recognizable Jewish name, Swartz and picking up the Hungarian-sounding Szemere. My grandmother — in order to have a future — left her Jewish background and got “baptized into” the Lutheran church. Her Jewish father being a wealthy businessman wanted to provide education and a hopeful future for her regardless of the growing anti-Semitism. Even if the only way to achieve that meant to leave their Jewish background and to “become officially Christian” as a baptized member of one of the state churches. Soon it turned out that this attempt was not adequate either. Jews had been deported regardless of their attempt to assimilate. At the peak of the war 5 siblings of my great-grandfather had been deported from the countryside and murdered in Auschwitz. We don’t know their names and they don’t have a grave.

The horror of the war touched our family in many other ways, too. My grandmother had been raped by a dozen Russian soldiers witnessed by my mother who was only 5 at that time. The horror of that memory burned in to her brain. Being a Jew at that time meant that my great-grandfather lost everything: houses, businesses, money, siblings, parents, job and on top of that her daughter being brutally raped. He was the survivor of his family. It’s more than anyone can absorb. These losses came with excruciating pain which he never talked about. Instead, the bottle became his painkiller and eventually his killer.

After the Nazis were defeated, the Soviet Army took control over the country. My father’s side of the family being a part of the nobility since 1200’s and giving many top leaders of the army were viewed by the communist as an enemy. (Between 1867–1945 our family gave the most number of Generals for the Hungarian army. There were times when out of the 5 Generals in the Army, 4 were from my father’s family and one was the General Secretary of War.)

At the end of the war my great-uncle (a former army General) was taken to the Soviet Gulags and was kept captive for 11 years in Siberia. Very few have survived the brutal circumstances in those camps. He was among that few. One day in 1956 he just showed up at the doorstep of his wife’s tiny apartment. She was waiting for him faithfully not knowing if he was alive or not.

1950’s were very dark times of the newly established communist regime as it reached the peak of its brutality. My grandfather, grandmother and father had been deported at the beginning of that decade. If the communist government wanted your apartment or they thought that you are the enemy of their system, than one simple way to isolate or punish you was deportation. They sent a 24 hour notice to leave your home, all your belongings and you could carry only one suitcase with you to the small village the government assigned you to live in. Your home, your wealth, your belongings, your job was given to someone the communists favored. You couldn’t appeal and you were not allowed to leave the village you were deported to. That’s what happened to my father’s family. They had been deported from Budapest to a small village where my grandfather had to do hard physical labor. Soon, he got a stroke. Loosing all their wealth, becoming an outcast of the society, not having a future naturally led him to loose his health. Eventually the stroke he suffered took his life.

The only descendant of a once wealthy Jewish family (my mother) and the only descendant of a once noble family (my father) fell in love with each other in 1954. That marriage could never have happened if the war and communism would not have made both families equally poor by loosing everything they ever had for centuries.

The 1956 Revolution found my parents in their late teenage years. My mother’s uncle had been shot by the communist a year earlier and had been buried in an unmarked grave. He was only 24. The communist were so cruel that they’ve sent his coat to his mother, he wore during his execution. The coat was full of bullet holes. During the Revolution all the boys in my mother’s high school class were killed by the Soviet’s who quenched the revolt. My parents as young and adventurous lovers wanted to escape from the country with the promise of a free life. A young, 19 year old soldier helped them passing through the borders in the ambush of the woods. They got caught. This young soldier had been shot immediately by the Soviet soldier and my parents were imprisoned. Quenching the revolution disrupted our family: some family members were able to escape from the country and we never saw them again.

The horror of the war, fascism and communism left a lasting mark on my wife’s family as well. Her father’s parents buried two little babies because they starved to death, there was no food to feed them. Her mother’s father was giving Bibles to Russian soldiers in the ’70s which led him to be persecuted and he lost his license to be a Baptist minister. He had to work as an unskilled factory worker for the rest of his life with his ThM degree from a well-known seminary from Germany. He has not been rehabilitated as a pastor even until now.

The family history of losses is endless and continuous — even up to this day. You can’t recover from being so badly and continuously abandoned by your own country, especially if the society is not willing to face her own sins and problems; and its leaders are successfully abusing the whole society over generations.

The pain caused by history was multiplied by the pain caused by the members of my family. Betrayal, cheating, alcoholism, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, abortions and occultism were present as an everyday practice in both sides of my family.

My story enters into the brokenness of this family. My parents already went through a divorce from each other and tried to rebuild their broken marriage. They got married again in 1966. I came as an unplanned surprise and they had one plan with me: abortion. My sister was 4 years old at that time and my parents were without a home. But a friend of my mom who is still unknown to me convinced her to keep this pregnancy.

I was born — unwanted. This word prophetically shadowed my childhood.

To be continued with Part II: “Painful endings”