Monday, May 22, 2017

Langham Austria

I was able to get some fresh air during a break and hike a bit.

A few weeks ago, I headed off to Schloss Klaus for a great week of training and learning. If you read this blog really carefully you may remember me (Nate) attending a Simeon Trust workshop at my brother-in-law's church in Atlanta while we were on home assignment. Well Langham Preaching is a sister organization to the Simeon Trust through All Souls church in London.
the main session room overlooking the mountains

What is Langham? It is an interdenominational group focused on increasing the quality of preaching and teaching in the church. They focus on expository preaching - which means focusing on a specific text in a sermon/teaching versus a topical framework. Over 100 church leaders from all over Austria met at a beautiful castle retreat center called Schloss Klaus to focus on the way we interpret and teach the four gospels. It was a very special time of sharpening and encouragement. These leaders came from a pretty broad spectrum of backgrounds. We had BEG (our church association), Lutheran, Brethren, and non-denominational International churches represented. Just like my time at Simeon, I think it is tough to call this JUST a preaching conference. Ultimately, these conferences focus on the fundamentals of good teaching and preaching. We focus on good hermaneutics. 
Stairs were every where at the Schloss
staying there is a good workout - if only the
cooking didn't taste so good!
For many that is a scary or technical word. Who needs "hermaneutics"!? I just study the bible, they say. That word just means the "science and art of biblical interpretation."  If understanding the bible is a football game (to borrow a metaphor from some of my college text books), and the game itself is the act of studying the text, preaching would be the color commentary - the explanation of the game. Hermaneutics is just the rules of the game. When can I throw a forward pass? When do I score a first down? The rules tell us these things. 
The main speaker and his translator
For the bible the questions are things like, "how do I read this poetic text?" and "how is that different than how I should read a historical account?" 

These ideas aren't just important for preaching - though they can make or break a sermon. They filter down into how someone teaches in a youth group setting, with middle-schoolers or even how you teach Sunday school. It goes into the very core of how we communicate the scriptures.

Here are a few ideas I took away from our time there:
1. When we teach the gospels we have to avoid some key dangers. The stories are familiar to us, which is dangerous, and we have to key into the specific details of the story and how the gospel writer tells the story. We have to continually ask the question, "what is the gospel writer trying to emphasize here?" We can often give brief summaries of the stories but every time we study them we can unearth details that we may have missed before - details that are key to really truly understanding the text. Another danger is moralizing the stories. Jesus quotes scripture in the face of temptation in the desert and so should you. Except Jesus only quotes from one book in the Old Testament, and really just a few chapters. So is it possible that there is more going on there? It forces us to focus on the text and understand it, instead of making a list of rules. 

2. The New Testament is saturated in the Old. If our New Testament text refers to the Old, and we don't go back to that reference, we can't possibly hope to understand our text. So often the nuance of what Jesus is doing in a specific story is lost, because we don't go back and understand the Old Testament context. In a recent sermon, I wrote on Luke 7 the Old Testament context was the key to the passage. Without the Old Testament context the story is just Jesus healing a widow's dead son. That's pretty amazing, until you realize that they story parallels a story in 1 Kings 17 where Elijah also heals a widows dead son. The core of the text is then "The prophet Elijah needed to cry out to God for healing, Jesus is the prophet who proves his deity by healing with a word." The first statement isn't wrong but it is incomplete.

 3. Lastly, the gospels are not primarily a list of propositional truths; they are stories. We must learn how to tell those stories with all of their twists and surprises. Jesus often does unexpected things and we need to learn how to communicate that.

These conferences (and the concepts that undergird them) are really important and will lead to more faithful and relevant proclamation of the scriptures in our churches. Please continue to pray for all of those that faithfully teach God's word from the Sunday school children's hour to the pulpit.

Special Time with Family

Last week, we were blessed to be visited by my brother and his family. It was so special to have them visit us here in Austria and get to share a bit of our life with them! They combined the visit with some touring in Germany and the Czech Republic, visiting some Reformation sites (in honor of the 500 anniversary) and a concentration camp. They spent 3 days with us here in Vienna and then we enjoyed 5 days together in the Alps.

Ellie LOVED playing with her cousins and it was so special to watch them spend time together. One of the hardest things about living overseas is missing out on time with family. Saying goodbye was hard, but we are so thankful for the memories we were able to share together.

Here are a few photos from our time last week!

The cousins together at Schönbrunn

Eating traditional Austrian food together

Hiking above Hallstatt

Touring the salt mines

The cousins together! 

Above Hoher Dachstein, one of the highest peaks in Europe!

Our First Prayer Meeting

Church planting can be an undefined, uncertain ministry. Each day is different and the way God works to plant each new church is also different. Many questions arise at every stage...What does each day look like? How should we start? How do we take tangible steps, while also relying on God? How do we remain culturally relevant, while also "pushing the envelope" and taking risks? When do we ask people to join the team and when do we communicate more indirectly, as is common in this culture? I've found there are more and more questions, as we move further along in the journey.

So far, we have relocated to our target geographic area and started making intentional connections with Christians in this area. We are attending a local church and serving there, with the hopes that we will soon have a team of believers ready to step out and join us. In the fall, we hope to start a bible study of people who want to reach out local area.

Two weeks ago, we took another important step and started hosting prayer evenings for this church planting project. We invited local pastors, Christians nearby who have expressed interest in the church plant, those from our former church who want to pray for us, other missionaries, and anyone else who we thought might want to pray. We did not ask people to commit to joining the church planting team - these evenings will primarily be about praying for this new church plant and for our efforts to reach this region. We know God works through prayer, and we also believe He will use these times of prayer to start forming a team of people who will join us.

We were so encouraged by all of those who attended our first prayer evening! There were about 13 people in attendance (including us) and it was a diverse group of people - potential team members, local pastors and church leaders and others who want to pray for this area. We took time to pray in segment for the region, the project, and the team. Nate also gave a devotional at the start and took time to explain some of the reason why we are targeting this region of Vienna.

We are excited for this start and will be hosting a prayer evening every 3 - 4 weeks to build momentum. Please pray with us for this church planting project - for God to work through us, for people to be reached and for a thriving, gospel-preaching community to be established!