Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reformation History in Vienna

Ask an American about Austria and you probably get a fairly short list. It usually starts with Sound of Music, the Alps and maybe Schwarzenegger. Sometimes Mozart is thrown in there, and don't they speak...German there? I don't blame them, as a mid-westerner I can barely tell the difference between New Hampshire and Vermont. If people have traveled here they talk about the beautiful mountain scenery, the cute villages and the grand cities. We have palaces and castles galore, but we also have churches. A lot of churches. We have many big beautiful churches. We have very old churches and very ornately decorated ones. The next thing you learn is that almost all of them are catholic. Austria is after all a very catholic country. Most of our bank holidays are connected to some saint or someone's ascension. The protestant church is a pretty small percentage of the population, and the free church is an even smaller slice of that slice.

Two large black church doors with a crucifixion scene painted above with Luther and Melanchthon kneelingIn many protestant communities today is Reformation day. This is not just because they want an alternative to Halloween. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It was one of the definitive acts of the Reformation.

Charles V
While many people know about the German and Swiss history connected to the Reformation, it is not well known how much of a role Austria played on both sides of the Reformation story. For example, if you've seen the 2003 Luther film you may remember that Charles V was the Holy Roman Emperor that called Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521. There Luther makes his famous statement "Here I stand, I can do no other." What we often fail to remember is that Charles V was from the Hapsburg family. They were the ones to build up the Austro-Hungarian empire. They were kinda a big deal.

On the other side of it, you have the example of a young Catholic monk that moves to Waldshut in present day Germany in 1521. In the 1500s Waldshut belonged to Austria, because in the 1500s a lot belonged to Austria. His name was Balthasar Hubmaier. He was influenced by the Swiss reformers and reads the writings of Martin Luther and comes to faith in 1523. Five years later he has planted two Anabaptist churches and baptized thousands before being martyred in Vienna. His wife is killed 3 days later. At a point in the 1500s it is said that 90% of Austria was protestant. The gospel had exploded in Austria. "Winkelprediger" - literally corner preachers would preach in the streets, in the mines, and on farms across the country. It was a truly transformational time. Even after the counter Reformation, there are villages in the mountains that remain Protestant to this day. They trace their roots back to this time.

Balthasar Hubmaier
All this to say there is an amazing tradition here in our country which we are excited to celebrate. We also pray that it will help Austrians understand that the free church is not some American splinter group. We want people to see that the values of the Reformation - Faith alone, Grace alone, the Scriptures alone - give us the chance to connect with the creator of the universe!

As we learn more about this and continue to celebrate milestones of the reformation (2021 will be the Diet of Worms, 2028 is Hubmaier's martyrdom and so on) we will continue to share with you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Power Up

Downtown Vilnius
A few weeks, I had the opportunity to attend a WorldVenture training conference in Lithuania offered for all missionaries in Europe and the Middle East. Nate attended this conference in the spring and they offered it twice in the year so couples like us with little kids could take turns. I was so thankful for the chance to attend.

Sessions in the hotel
It was a really refreshing week for me, not only because it was a break from the everyday and a chance to get away and relax a little, but especially because of all the great training content and conversations with other missionaries. There is something special about missionaries getting together, even if they have never met, because we all understand each other and the experiences we've gone through integrating into a new culture and learning a language. The worship and prayer times were also incredibly refreshing, since on most Sunday mornings here I miss part or all of the service because of the kids.

The main thrust of the conference was about skills in interpersonal relationships. It sounds like such a basic topic, but all of us need to constantly be striving to improve how we relate with others. This affects everything we do - our ministry in the church, how we care for others outside the church, how we have healthy marriages and family relationships, and everything in between. We discussed topics like encouragement, trust, listening, healthy rest, moral purity and conflict resolution. It was especially interesting to discuss how these topics each play out uniquely in our culture where we live, in comparison to American culture where we may be most comfortable.

We visited a Lithuanian Castle midway through the week

New friends!
The leadership of Europe and the Middle East for WorldVenture was there at the conference teaching the content. Informally, though, at meal times and in between times, they were also there to discuss how we are doing and questions we may have about things at the mission. Having these conversations in person is so valuable, and I was really thankful to get some questions answered about some recent financial changes and to get to know some people in leadership positions that I hadn't met before.

I'm so thankful for WorldVenture and that it makes it a priority to offer conferences like these, where we can come away with practical learning and new relationships and connections. And I'm thankful for Nate, who stayed home with the kids so I could attend!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seeing the Need for the Gospel

I had an interesting conversation in the baby room at church recently. To be honest, any sort of conversation with little kids around is challenging...Both parents spend most of their time redirecting and parenting their small children through a maze of things that they can play with or injure themselves with, depending on the context. I didn't know the other Dad in the room, and we chatted for a bit. At one point, one child did something selfish, and I made a comment about how children are inherently selfish, and it isn't something that we have to teach them. His response surprised me. He defended a sort of morally neutral viewpoint that the reason a child is selfish isn't because they are naturally that way; it is a learned behavior. It is because they hear "no" from us when they grab at our mobile phone (or in our case, the dog's water dish, to which Maya makes a bee-line ever chance she gets). When they hear "no", they learn our own selfishness.

To be honest, I was pretty fascinated by this line of thinking. I find this here every once in a while. I try to make comments that lift up the hood on my worldview every now and again. I understand that my worldview is fundamentally different than many of the people I encounter here in Austria, but it is often something that lies under the surface. Aspects of worldview are things that aren't normally addressed. They are hidden around every corner, but don't always come all the way up to the surface. It is important to be able to talk about and dialogue about worldview perspectives. I don't think we think enough or discuss enough these sorts of fundamental questions.

The weakness in his view is two-fold. First of all, I have less and less moral agency in my own life if I am purely a product of my environment and learned behavior. I can say, "its not my fault, I was raised like this", but our parents and their parents can make the same argument. I can give up responsibility for my own choices. It also doesn't explain the foundation of this all. If it just runs up the generations, where is the genesis for it all? It all remains subjective and disconnected from a reality outside of the material world.

The second weakness is it feels awfully hopeless. If this spiral is bread into us and permeates society, what hope do I have to break out? Do you really trust yourself to have the shear force of will to pull yourself out of this? Maybe others are able to bear that, but it feels too heavy for me.

The world is fundamentally broken, there is something wrong, and we can feel it. If we are honest with ourselves, the sickness is not just outside ourselves in society or just in other people, it is in our own hearts, as well. It is in my heart. I think this is the first step to understanding our need for the gospel. We need to understand that all that darkness is in our own hearts, too.

But that is not the end of the story. It is into our darkness that Jesus arrives and gives us the chance to change; he makes us new. It isn't my white-knuckled fingers on the steering wheel that change the direction of my life. It is his transformation and his power.