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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Time Away

This month, after a busy summer, we finally were able to get away and take a vacation for a week. We decided to try going to a hotel where all of our food was provided, and we found this to be an incredibly restful way to vacation with little kids. Not having to cook and clean for a week was a real treat! The kids spent a lot of time in the pool and at the beach, and we each did lots of reading. (We each finished a book on vacation - I can't remember the last time that was possible!). Overall, we were really thankful for the time away, and we returned home refreshed and ready to jump back in.

Here are a few photos from our trip:

We ate lots of ice cream...

Vacation hat!

Posing with the local camel

Mexican food night (Maya's hat is a little big...)

The kids enjoyed participating in a few kids activities, including crafts and cookie making

Seeds Sprouting

This last weekend was the end of the gardening season for us. Bethany pulled out the remaining tomato and pepper plants from our raised bed. I've finally harvested the last of my cayenne and jalapeno peppers from the balcony. The air has changed from the summer heat to fall's cool winds. School has started, and we are finding our rhythm of life and ministry. But in the middle of all of this, spring is happening again. Things are sprouting and growing.

I remember when we first planted our garden. We tried to start as much as we could from seeds. When you get baby plants from the garden store, there is something tangible from the beginning. It takes a little while before they are established, but the tiny plant is there. It is shows you a piece of what is to come. However, seeds are different. With seeds, it is hard to know where you stand. Seeds require a great deal of patience.

With the initial planting of seeds, it isn't always clear what would happen. Will the seed germinate? Did they put the right seeds in the right packet? Am I going to get hot peppers instead of green peppers from this plant? There is a period of time where you just stare at the ground and water it and hope for the best. Days go by, sometimes a week or more depending on the kind of seed. In this time, all we see on the surface is dirt.

Then suddenly, a small plant emerges out of the ground.

Sometimes, I have felt like our preparation process for this church planting project has been like those days or weeks in between planting and sprouting. We've worked and prayed and sown, and we hope to see that first shoot break through the ground. But we are still in that preparation and waiting process. We're still watering and waiting. But the roots are forming and God is moving. We're seeing growth in our small group (we just agreed to split it into two with regular community gatherings to keep the groups connected). We're seeing growth in our team (another couple from a different organization has joined our team!). We're developing the vision together to reach our target area with the love of Christ and the transforming power of his gospel.

All in all, we believe that it is worth it. We believe we should take C.S. Lewis' "long way around", which is to say, we want to take the hard road. We want to be faithful to see God build His church, in His timing, and to His glory.

I'm not sure how far this metaphor goes. To be honest, I don't know if our first Sunday Service is the point at which the tiny plant first sticks it shoot out to collect sunlight. Sometimes milestones are hard to come by. But we are glad to see the movement and growth, even if most of it is under the surface for now. I think that is where God does some of His most important work in our lives. Not in the huge sweeping changes, but in the small things. 

Let's keep praying diligently for God to move.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Video Update

It's been awhile since we did one of these! Here's a video update of what's been going on recently and how you can be praying for our ministry going into the fall. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Speaking at a Youth Retreat

Some things in our ministry here happen pretty regularly. I get invited to preach a sermon at various churches. Other times, I'm asked to be on a worship team for an event. I've also taught courses at our church. I love all of the opportunities to open God's word with his people and see what he has to say. A few weeks ago, I was honored to be able to do that again. The leader of the youth group at our church asked me to come for one night and speak twice as a part of the bible teaching at their youth retreat. It was a huge honor to open the Word with these young people. Here are some of the thoughts we looked at.

I was given Colossians 1 and the first few verses of chapter 2 to deal with in just two sessions. We weren't able to hit everything in our times together. One thought that really jumped out at me was right at the beginning of the letter. Paul has a pretty normal greeting structure that involves introductions (who is writing to whom) and a quick "grace and peace to you from God" greeting. He then thanks God for three things that the Colossians already have. 1. Their Faith in Christ 2. their Love for all of the saints and 3. Both of which are based on the Hope they have in the Gospel. So these three things: faith, love and hope are what Paul thanks God for. Of all of the good things that he has heard about the Colossians and all that God is doing in their midst, this is what he is most thankful for.

First and foremost, that is a pretty good list of qualities. In a lot of ways, it is a great all encompassing list of qualities. Their faith is grounded in Christ, which is the central message of the book of Colossians. If you want to avoid believing false teaching and straying away from the core, keep Christ at the center. Keep pursuing Christ. 

The second is equally as laudable but also difficult to live out. It is their love for all the saints. This second aspect to their character as a church is something that is difficult to live out alongside the first aspect. What do I mean by that? We all have known churches that are very focused on Christ, they are very focused on teaching correctly the things of Christ. They want to make sure that every doctrinal particulate is sorted and sieved. But they are so focused on that, they miss the chance to show love to all the saints. The word "all" there is important. I think it focuses on unity in the face of geographic distance, cultural distance, and ethnic origin. Probably this took the form of direct financial investment or support of workers or churches. 

Finally, what is great is that both of these things flow out of a hope in the gospel. All of this faith in Christ and love for the saints is all set on a foundation of hope. They hope in the promises of God and the future that he has in store for them.

These three things are what the Colossian church was known for. These were the things that Paul praised in them. The question I challenged the students with was this:

What is this youth group known for? How do you want to be known?

If a friend of your youth leader visited you and then went and reported back to your your youth leader's mentor, what would that friend say? Would the mentor thank God for your faith and love that is grounded in the gospel?

I challenged them to think and take an active part in knowing what the vision for the youth group was. They have the chance to either hinder or help that vision to succeed. The youth leaders can point them in the right direction, but if they want to be a youth group that is focused on the Word of God, then they need to actively take part in it.

I hope and pray that the youth are going to take on this challenge. I pray that they would grow in Faith and Love that is based on the Hope of the Gospel.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Very Special Visit

Beating first day jetlag with a ferris wheel ride!
In early July, I was blessed with the visit from a dear from from the States, Suzanne. She and I got to know each other in a small group just after I graduated from college, and we have stayed in touch ever since! She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and we always make it a point to see each other when we are back in Chicago. But this time around, we got to spend a whole week together! And because Suz left her kids and hubby at home (who we missed, of course), we got lots of uninterrupted time and that was a treat. It was so special for me to show her our life here and our beautiful city, as well as to go on some special adventures just the two of us. We spent the day in Budapest, a city I'd been wanting to visit for years, and it was fun to explore it together. We ate lots of delicious food, played tourist in Vienna and hung out with my kids, of course, too. Here are some photos from our time together!

In front of Stephansdom in downtown Vienna

Relaxing at the Therme (thermal baths)

In front of Karlskirche (Karl's Church)

Riding some ride at the Prater Amusement Park

Suz and I did the swings that go 117 M high!

Climbing the tower of Stephansdom

The Grand Market in Budapest

The top of Gellert Hill in Budapest

Budapest Parliament

Riding the Ubahn! (Subway in Vienna)

Girls' Night Out!

Riding the train at Schönbrunn Palace

Downtown gardens

Pastries at the famous Cafe Central