Friday, December 20, 2019

Confusing Cultural Christmas Adventures

So this is just a quick story from a recent sermon I preached that I thought would be fun for you all to hear. It is a reminder that no matter how long we live here, we will sometimes forget things we've learned or not always connect the dots.

As we are preparing for the church plant, we are serving in an existing Austrian church. I preach there on occasion to keep my skills up and to serve the church. We've been in a sermon series talking about Christmas songs, where we look at the scriptures that are quoted or alluded to in the verses and see how they are preparing us to celebrate Christ's birth.

I personally love Christmas music. I worked enough retail while in high school and college to be inoculated to the pop music side of things. But I am deeply affected when we sing about the simple and old truths of our faith. These songs refresh my faith and remind me of the core of what I believe.

My text was Oh Come All Ye Faithful. It is a truly great song. It is an invitation to come and see the child, the baby king and savior of all. The invitation is to respond to the incarnation with worship.

So here's where I goofed up a bit. One of my points of application was that we should set aside our worries and hurrying and make our Christmas celebration more worshipful. For example, as a family we do readings together that go along with taking ornaments out of a box and putting them on the tree. Each ornament has a picture on it that reminds us about the story connected to it. It is a great family tradition that leads us to think about who Christ is and what happened in that stall. We talk about the incarnation and celebrate Christ's arrival together.

So this was my encouragement to the congregation in my sermon: to grab something like this and move Christmas from worry and hurry to worship. To try out something like putting ornaments on the Christmas tree throughout December that remind us of Christ.

Here's the problem: Almost everyone in that room listening to my sermon didn't have a Christmas tree up yet.

Some of this depends on the family and background, but Austrian tradition regarding Christmas trees is pretty different to how I was raised. Austrians put their tree up usually at Christmas eve. The kids are sent out of the room, and the parents decorate the tree, and put out the presents. Then the kids come in and open their gifts. The tree usually stays up until January 6th (Three Kings Day). This marks the 12th day of Christmas.

To be honest, it wasn't that big of a deal...mostly because people understood the point. They understood the application and the basic point still stands, even if the specific suggestion doesn't quite fit. But thinking about this error, it was a good exercise in humility and reminder that I still need to work hard at learning this culture and always keeping cultural norms in mind.

We pray that you have a worshipful time this Christmas. We pray that you find times of stillness where you can connect with the creator and sustainer of the universe. The same one born as a small child in the middle of nowhere. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Maya turns 3!

 They say that as your kids get older, the time goes faster. This has definitely been true, especially with the second child! I can't believe we celebrated Maya's third birthday yesterday. We started off the day with chocolate chip pancakes and Maya opened one present. At church, Maya was old enough to go to kids Sunday School for the first time and she celebrated her birthday there! After her naptime, she opened the rest of her presents and we skyped with grandparents and Papa (who is on a trip to the U.S. right now). Then the girls had time to play with the new toys while I baked cupcakes for the kindergarten the next day. We finished the day meeting friends at McDonald's for dinner and cake. It was a fun day and the girls had a blast!

Maya has grown up so much this past year! She is now fully potty trained, is going to kindergarten (pre-school) like her big sister, has started speaking German and her personality comes out more and more. She loves to be silly and make jokes or say things that she knows are contradictory to what everyone else is thinking or saying. She loves her big sister and even though they frustrate and annoy each other sometimes, they are also each others' best playmates. Maya can be a little hesitant to try new things, but she is become braver every day and going to pre-school has helped with this. Overall, she is easy going, sweet and full of joy. Happy birthday, Maya!


 Late in the spring, a friend from church (and now a member of our church planting team) came to me with an idea. She had noticed that many of the young women in the church mostly had relationships with other young women and that the older women also weren't very connected to the younger ones. She wanted to give women of all ages a chance to connect and develop intergenerational friendships, perhaps even leading to mentoring relationships where the older women could teach the younger women from their life and spiritual experience. So she and I began working to plan a daylong conference in the fall for the women of the church.

We chose the theme "encouraged and strengthened" - encouraging one another and being strengthened by God. We filled the day with game time, food and connection time, worship time and several talks. We intentionally invited women from the church to speak, instead of inviting anyone from outside, so that the more experienced women in the church could share from their own wisdom with the rest of us. We also offered a card making time in the afternoon, where the women could make their own card and then write an encouraging message to someone. We had three "vendors" there with tables for the women to visit - one women who owns her own sewing business, one who makes bible verse cards, and representatives from an organization that offers post-abortion counseling for women and men.

What I enjoyed most was watching the women connect for the first time. During the "speed dating" game we played at the beginning, I enjoyed watching the women smile and laugh as they discussed the questions on the screen, shared about themselves and made new connections. I also really enjoyed working with my friend for all those months and seeing this day come to fruition. I hope a new tradition has begun and we will turn this into an annual event for women, perhaps even bringing together women from several area churches to connect, share and encourage.

Card making time

Beautifully sewn items handmade by a woman in our church