30 November 2012

Language Acquisition, Oh My!

We have a friend here in the Czech Republic who speaks 8 or 9 languages. Actually that’s only a bit unusual around here. Everybody speaks Czech, of course, but many also speak German, Russian, English, and one or two others. But, this friend is an American! That’s what makes it somewhat remarkable.

Sandra and I have been attempting to learn the local language, which is, not surprisingly, Czech. It’s not easy. On the 5-pointscale of the Foreign Language Institute of the American Foreign Service Institute, Czech is ranked in the 4th tier. That’s the next-to-hardest for Americans category. 

Add to that the fact that we are both a few decades beyond the optimal age for the introduction of a foreign language. While some “experts” dispute this, the general understanding about this is capsulized this way

The earlier children begin learning a foreign language, the greater the foreign language skill set they obtain. Children that begin learning at an earlier age, and then continue the foreign language study in years to come, have a better chance of developing the secondary language at a higher level of proficiency.
To see more on this topic go here.
So, undaunted, Sandra and I have taken on this task. We want to be able to, at least, have simple conversations with our neighbors and shopkeepers. After all, I get upset when in America and I am surrounded by people who have lived in the country for years and still don’t (or won’t) speak English.
We both started having some success in commerce-related Czech before we began the lessons, of course. Just going to the grocery store encourages a little bravery in speaking the local tongue.

But, it really is a somewhat difficult language. Some examples:

  • I used the word zmrzlina in a FB post recently. Nobody asked the meaning. I assume some folks looked it up.
  • Are you hladovy? (hungry)
  • Checking in? Tell them, reservoval jsem pokoj.
And be careful about the accents. We learned (the hard way, of course), the difference between paliva and pálivá. One (unaccented) simply means “fuel.” While the other (especially when applied to papriky) means “whoa, hot.”

Then there are the famous tongue-twisters, such as:

  • Třistatřiatřicet stříbrných křepelek přeletělo přes třistatřiatřicet stříbrných střech. 
  • Pštros s pštrosicí a malými pštrosáčaty.
  • Strč prst skrz krk 
Go here to hear the pronunciations and see the translations.

So, friends, if you have any compassion, please pray for us as continue to work at the task. And děkujeme.

27 November 2012

Heathcare Reform - European Style

Healthcare, or ObamaCare, has been at the forefront of the news in the USA for several years. The USA, however, is not the only country with such issues. Here in the Czech Republic, and other countries in the region, doctors have been abandoning the country over their issues.

According to a report in the Prague Post this week,

Doctors in the region have long opposed the health policies of their respective countries, especially in the Czech Republic, where the "Thank You, We Are Leaving" (Děkujeme, odcházime) campaign, launched in the summer of 2010, saw more than 4,000 doctors hand in their post-dated resignations to hospitals, making their frustration over unsatisfactory pay rates and working conditions known.

That’s nothing, in Romania, it is reported that, “Between 2007 and 2012, more than 10,000 doctors left Romania, according to the country's College of Physicians (CRM).”

So, pointing to the wonderful healthcare of Europe as some sort of vindication of ObamaCare is, perhaps, not the best advertising for advocates. Maybe they need to go back and resurrect Michael Moore’s movie Sicko and compare the US healthcare system (unfavorably, of course) with that of Cuba.

I'm pretty sure that I will NOT be heading to Cuba for my healthcare any time soon. I'm just as sure that socialized medicine, wherever it is practiced, is a "fail."

23 November 2012

Protecting the Secular State

Wenceslas Square during the Velvet Revolution, 1989
Christianity in the Czech Republic has a long and, at times, arduous history. The first mentions of Christianity in these lands go back to the ninth century. Not long after its introduction to Christianity, missionaries Cyril and Methodius came onto the scene. Cyril is most noted for giving the Slavonic languages an alphabet, now known as Cyrillic.

Over the centuries, various princes, kings, and empires have ruled what has become the Czech Republic. Likewise, religious belief and leadership had a certain ebb and flow. Primarily an historic Catholic state, the Republic has had it’s Protestant moments. This is, after all the land of Jan Hus and the Prague Defenestration.

Communism came to the Czech Republic in 1945 and all religions were victims of persecution. Churches and church lands were confiscated, priests and pastors imprisoned or executed. Although various religious leaders took part in the movement to bring down the Communist regime in 1989’s Velvet Revolution, Christianity did not experience a revival. In fact, religious belief was kicked to the curb by the Czech population. Czechs like their “secular state.”

Today’s “...Czech Republic ...is one of the most atheistic countries in the world,” according to Czech political scientist Ondrej Slectha. And he likes it that way.

Now, a bill is working it’s way through the channels of government in Prague which would restore church properties confiscated by the Communists, or compensate the church for their loss. The bill also includes ratification of a treaty with the Vatican. This really worries secularists such as Slectha. If President Vaclav Klaus does not veto this bill, states Slectha, “The status quo on which the secular tradition of Czech statehood has been built up will be broken.”

The reputation of the Czech Republic as an atheistic state may or may not be true, depending upon one’s definitions. Czechs are not necessarily against the concept of a God. They most certainly are not against the understanding that a spiritual realm exists, as an article in the UK’s Guardian illustrates. Magic, New Age practices, and Eastern Mysticism are well-accepted here.

My experience here has been that while they hold their skepticism and their secularity dear, the Czechs are, at worst, tolerant of Christians, and at best, open to hearing about the real Gospel. Just don’t talk to them about “Church.” The fields here are “white unto harvest.” But, don’t call yourself a “missionary.” Czechs don’t like that either.

20 November 2012

On the Giving of Thanks

It's Thanksgiving time in the United States. It's a time when Americans focus their thoughts on several things: Christmas shopping, family, football, turkey, parades, time off, etc. Many believers will focus their time and attention upon giving thanks for the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon them. In light of this, I would like to take a brief look at some of the principles we can glean from God's Word about thanksgiving.

First, giving thanks to God simply for Him being God is an important principle. The Greek verb εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteo) is used 39 times in the New Testament. All but one of these Scriptures has to do with giving thanks to God. In Romans 1:21, Paul states that there are those who reject God and that, "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him." This verse expresses two things; mankind has failed to glorify God for being God, and they were not thankful to Him for being God. Being thankful, then, is described as an expression of gratitude to God for being God.

Second, this same Greek verb conveys the understanding that the giving of thanks is a response to the grace of the Lord. We give thanks in response to His grace, which is first ministered to us. Eὐχαριστέω embodies the same understanding as that applied to "love" in 1 John 4:19, "We ourselves love Him, because He Himself first loved us." (Literal Translation.) God loves and gives grace first, then we respond in love and thanksgiving. In addition, we know that the more we are exposed to God's love, the more we love Him in return. This is also true of being exposed to God's grace; the more we are exposed to His grace upon us, the more we give thanks in return.

The third principle is that our response of giving thanks to the Lord is based upon experiencing the sufficiency of His grace. We see the sufficiency of God's grace being poured out upon Paul when the apostle says that he prayed three times to have his thorn in the flesh removed. The Lord answers, as recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you." We see from this example, that God knows what we need (considerably better than we do, ourselves) and He supplies ALL that we need.

God's grace enables us to give thanks in spite of our circumstances because in every situation God, with all of His attributes, in the full glory of His nature, is ministering His all-sufficient grace to us. In response, we love Him and give thanks from a grateful heart. The more we experience all that God is, His sufficiency, His provision for us in Jesus Christ, the more our love for Him grows; the more giving thanks becomes a natural part of our expression back to Him. 

"In everything be giving thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Literal Translation).

16 November 2012

What is a "Sabbath"?

I've been thinking a lot about the term "sabbath" lately. It's really a deep concept. It means so much more than "Sunday go to meeting" day or day off.

The origin of the Hebrew sabbat is uncertain, but it seems to have derived from the verb sabat, meaning to stop, to cease, or to keep. Its theological meaning is rooted in God's rest following the six days of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). The meaning of the Sabbath can be found in several places. Exodus 20:8-11 makes a clear connection between the Sabbath day and the seventh day on which God the Creator rested. Sabbath observance therefore involves the affirmation that God is Creator and Sustainer of the world. (In the NT, believers found it appropriate to use the day of Resurrection as the day of Sabbath rest and worship. See Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

To “remember the Sabbath” meant that the Jew identified the seven-day-a-week rhythm of life as belonging to the Creator. If the Creator stopped his creative activity on the seventh day, then those who share in his creative work must do the same. Sabbath contravenes any pride that may accompany human mastery and manipulation of God's creation. In ceasing from labor we are reminded of our true status as dependent beings, of the God who cares for and sustains all his creatures, and of the world as a reality belonging ultimately to God.    

  • The Sabbath is a sign of the Covenant. God says (Exodus 31:13), “This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” He is holy, therefore only He can make us holy. We employ certain signs and symbols in the church. Baptism symbolizes our dying in Him and becoming a new creation. The LORD’s Supper indicates that He shed His blood that we might have communion with Him.

  • The keeping of a Sabbath is not suggested. It is required. Exodus 20:8-11 makes it clear that the reason we must keep the Sabbath is because God did. Why would God make this a command, instead of a helpful suggestion? Because people don’t generally respond to suggestions. Good intentions abound, but actions don’t necessarily follow the intent. “Nothing less than a command has the power to intervene in the vicious, accelerating, self-perpetuating cycle of faithless and graceless busyness, the only part of which we are conscious being our good intentions.” (Eugene Peterson).

  • The Sabbath is not intended to be a burden. The spirit of the Sabbath is joy, refreshment and mercy, arising from remembrance of God’s goodness as Creator and as the Deliverer from bondage. The Sabbath was a perpetual sign and covenant, and the holiness of the day is connected with the holiness of the people (Exodus 31:12-17; Ezekiel 20:12). Joy was the key-note of their service. Nehemiah commanded the people, on a day holy to Jehovah “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-13). The Sabbath is named as a day of special worship in the sanctuary (Leviticus 19:30; 26:2). It was proclaimed as a holy convocation. (Leviticus 23:3). The observance of a Sabbath is not merely the taking of a day out of the week. It is a sign of recognition that God is God. It’s an indication of our trust in a sovereign God who can take care of things quite nicely even if we take a day off.

  • Eternal Sabbath. Hebrews anticipates an eschatological "sabbath rest" (sabbatismos) that remains for the people of God (see Hebrews 4:1-11). The term sabbatismos appears nowhere else in the New Testament, and may be the writer's own creation to indicate the superiority of the coming rest to that of the seventh day. Though a superior quality of rest, it is still marked chiefly by the cessation of labor patterned after God's rest on the seventh day. This final rest is only for Christians. (See Revelation 14:12-13). This final, eternal, rest will not be a complete stoppage of all activity. It will be like an active retirement. (See Revelation 7:9-17).

So, the idea is that you work during your lifetime, but don’t allow yourself to become a slave as Israel did when they worked 400 years without a vacation (Deuteronomy 5:15) and were, therefore counted as slaves. 

Always be looking forward to the time when you are no longer a slave to schedule but will have the opportunity to worship God as your full time activity.

13 November 2012

Election Reflection

By Carlo Schneider in Tageblatt, Luxembourg's largest daily
I waited a few days to write this as I sorted out the various viewpoints on what happened in America on November 6.

Immediately, as is usually the case, the blame game began. Conservatives blamed the Republicans. Whites blamed anybody who isn’t. Christians blamed one another. Donald Trump labelled the election a travesty and called for a march on Washington.

An interesting Christian-demographic breakdown has been provided by author and blogger Joel Rosenberg. He leads with this statistic: “25 million self-described evangelicals voted for Obama.” That’s just devastating.

The European press, almost unanimously cheerleading for Obama’s re-election, has had some interesting responses. Presseurop a news aggregator of European media, led its 8 November editorial with the headline: “‘Obama 2.0’ Urged Not to Disappoint.” The lead editorial is titled “Obama, a Lackluster Ally,” stating that “it is a known fact that Barack Obama symbolises a turning point in an America that no longer has affinities with the Old Continent.”

Yet, not unlike their American counterparts, the European media did at least give two cheers at the election result. Again, they were wary, however. As presseurop stated it, “Reflecting a public opinion largely favourable to Barack Obama, the European press heaves a sigh of relief after his re-election. But the illusions of 2008 about his commitment to Europe have vanished.”

Here in the Czech Republic, although Obama was certainly favored over candidate Romney, it seems as though the love affair is over. The response of President Vaclav Klaus was lukewarm, at best. Although  recognizing that at least there would be continuity in the relations between Czech Republic and the U.S., Klaus stated, "Though it is known that my heart is beating on the right side rather than the left, I would like to congratulate President Obama.”

Maybe the Europeans are beginning to understand some things that the American electorate missed. Obama has not kept his promises to anybody. Maybe it would be good if Obama read some of the European press instead of the press release bureaus that pass for journalism in America these days. It might be sobering reading. It might help.