Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thursday Was A Great Day

Apologies to those of you who are looking for more regular updates. Now that we're back at school, not much happens - I get up, go to work or class (or both), eat dinner, study until the coffee shops close, and then go home and sleep. So a) it's pretty repetitive, and b) there's not much free time to write anyway.

That said, today was special. Nothing unusual happened, but this afternoon I found myself thinking, "Wow... this has really been a great day!"

Last night, I translated these words from Psalm 8:
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars which you have put in place,
What is man, that you remember him?
The son of man, that you attend to him?
And it struck me - what an amazing privilege to actually be able to read this in the original. But even more significant, to hear the psalmist's words and realize they apply to me - who am I, Christian Cryder, that God actually cares for me?

In the midst of the infinite cosmos, here I am a mere speck of dust, who will come and go in a few years time without so much as a ripple in the big picture of things. I epitomize insignificance, and yet God takes a personal interest in me. His attention makes me significant in spite of myself. The Psalms are filled with this kind of language.

At any rate, that's what I was thinking about last night, and then again this morning as I spent a few minutes reflecting before heading off to class. Speaking of class, here's what today looked like...
  • 8:30-10:30, Modern Age - we talked about how Jonathon Edwards' desire to contextualize the gospel in plain language actually paved the way for many of the theological errors that cropped up in the 2nd Great Awakening (lot's of releveance here as we think about church planting - how do we communicate theological truth in non-technical language and yet guard against theological error that can kill a church?)

  • 10:30-11:00, Small Groups - we paused for a few moments to pray for one another (isn't it amazing that God actually delights in our requests, our turning to him in need?)

  • 11:00-1:00, Psalms - one of my favorite classes, today we pondered God's hand in inspiration, not merely in the hand of the original authors, but through all the redactions, developments, NT re-readings, even to the readers final conviction that 'this IS the word of God' (if God can deal with the messiness involved in all that, surely he can handle the messiness of my little life?)

  • 1:00-2:00, Lunch - I had the privilege of sharing a table with 2 dear sisters, talking about how all this theology stuff actually plays out in the practice of the church - sharing our frustrations, but also seeing places where the church has actually gotten it right!

  • 2:00-5:00, Human Personality - listening to Ed Welch wrestle with what it means to be created in the image of God, not in abstract terms, but in the lives of real people we encounter every day (it was amazing how much this overlapped and amplified the very themes we had just been discussing over lunch)
So that was my day. And somewhere in the middle of this afternoon, I remember thinking, "Wow, I am so fortunate to be here!" Yes it's hard, yes I'll be glad to be done, to get on to the "real work" of planting a church. But right now I find myself particularly grateful for this present opportunity, to be surrounded by godly believers at school, and by thoughtful unbelievers in the coffee shops, working to pay the bills, yet getting to learn how to love and serve and build up the church of Christ.

I am indeed very fortunate, and this has indeed been a great day!

Thursday, September 22, 2005


These past few days have been exhausting, and to make matters worse I've been having trouble sleeping. Last night I got home at 10:30, long after my kids were in bed, to find this note from my 10 year old daughter sitting on my desk:

Dear Dad,

I know that school and work are difficult. I want you to know that I pray for you all the time. Maybe every morning we could pray at about 7:00. Please tell me if you want to. I would love to pray with you. We all love you so much. Love in Christ always...

I can't tell you how much this means to me - to see your children loving you when life is hard, to see them loving Christ, to see them sharing in your struggles, to see their faith be strong when yours is weak... that is truly overwhelming. We prayed together this morning, Rebekah and I, and it was priceless.

Thank you Jesus for the way you minister through those who are weak, small, and insignificant in the eyes of the world. May you continue to sustain us in this great adventure...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Oswald the Otter

Hey, Rebekah has written about her pet otter... you might want to check it out!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Philly In Late Summer

2 words about Philly in the late summer: Humidity. Sucks.

It has been in the 90's all week, and the humidity has been up well over 80%. Blech. Gasp. Sweat sweat sweat. I hate this time of year in Philly. We've been desperately trying to avoid turning on the air conditioner in our dining room (2 days ago we gave in). It is just hot hot hot. Hard to sleep, hard to sit around. To top it all of, I'm pretty slammed with homework already. Blech!

So what am I doing to cope? Well, sitting here in the dining room drinking coffee of course! :-)

Ah well, at least we're in the home stretch now...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Looking Back On Our Summer

Well, here we are at the end of another summer, and I thought I'd take a few minutes just to recap some of the highlights and look forward to what lies ahead.

As most of you probably know, we are living out in Philly during the school year while I pursue a masters degree at Westminster Theological Seminary. At this point, it's 3 years down, 1 to go, which means that I should finish some 9 months from now in May 2006.

That reality is exciting, sad, and scary:
  • exciting because it'll be great to be done, to move on with life and finish this fascinating vocational transition from software development to spiritual development;
  • sad because we will be leaving many dear friends behind as we all move our separate directions (indeed many already have);
  • scary because there is an awful lot of work left to do between now and then - not only do I need to keep up with classes and work, but I also need to start studying for ordination in April, and there is still a lot of ground work to be laid for a church plant that will follow graduation.
Speaking of church planting, we are happy to report positive developments on that end of things as well. Many of you know that we spent a week at the beginning of the summer down in Atlanta at our denomination's "church planting assessment center."

Evidently, all their freakometers were on the blink, because not only did we pass, but one of the assessors there - Terry Traylor, a seasoned church planter who just took a pastoral call here in Philly - asked to mentor us this coming year. So either they liked us or felt we needed all the help we could get (or perhaps a little of both); whichever it is, we are honored at this opportunity. As an added bonus, Terry will also be mentoring Ryan & Rachel Sutherland (our church planting partners in crime), and we couldn't be happier.

At the beginning of August, we actually got to spend some quality time in the city where we hope to plant our church once we're done with seminary - Missoula, MT! So what did we think? We absolutely loved it, and came away feeling this is definitely the place we want to live and labor.

Then just this last week, the church planting sub-committee of our presbytery voted to approve us for this work. Assuming the full comittee confirms this recommendation when it meets in a few weeks, we will have completed the last major step in the approval process.

So what does all this mean? Well, at this point it looks all systems are go to proceed with a church plant in Missoula next year - and that's very exciting for us, not only to sense God's leading within, but also to see that confirmed by the churches around us.

As we move into the fall, keep your eyes peeled for further developments as we begin to move forward with what comes next (here's a hint - there's another blog site in the works, and we are going to be very interested in your feedback!)

Fortunately, the summer wasn't all work and ministry - we also had a lot of time just to get out and relax. We did some hiking, caught a lot of fish, drove through Glacier Park, went to my sister's wedding, celebrated Rebekah's birthday - LOT's of stuff! And since we captured all of this stuff in digital photos, it's all there for you to see over on the photoblog (please check out the recent improvements we've made there - all the posts are archived daily now, so you won't have a ton of photos loading at once; plus there's a handy new index to easily find your way around).

At any rate, that's our summer in a nutshell, along with a glimpse of what lies ahead too. We appreciate all the friends we reconnected with this summer, and this fall we're looking forward reconnecting with those of you back here in Philly. If you find yourself in our neck of the woods, please don't hesitate to give us a call and invite yourself over.

Looking forward to hearing from all of you...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Back In Philly

Just a very quick note to let everyone know we made it back to Philly safely for our last year of seminary - three down, one to go (woo hoo!).

We got in about 3 PM yesterday afternoon, ran to Costco for some mandatory pantry restocking, grabbed a new wireless router (mine evidently got fried by a power surge over the summer), and then ran to the airport to pick up Ryan and Rachel as they returned from some much needed time away in Nova Scotia.

By the time we finally got to bed it was midnight. Then we got up this morning and went to church at Spirit & Truth, which was a major blessing - both to reconnect with friends we've made there, but also to hear Manny's message from John 15 on friendship. Good stuff, as we think about our own friends (we're sure going to miss those of you back home in MT, but we're looking forward to seeing all of you out here again), and also consider how Christ makes it possible for us to be friends with God.

At any rate, there's a lot more to say, so be on the lookout for a major update in the next day or so. In the meantime, we've got tons of stuff to unpack, and we could probably all use a nap this afternoon. If you live here in Philly and want to get together, the next couple of days are fairly open for us - please give us a call!

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Big Steer

So the family consensus is that Iowa is a wierd place.

Dinner time last night found us in Des Moines, looking for someplace to eat, and the task proved surprisingly difficult - we drove around the city, we drove into the city, we finally ended up on the far side of the city, and we still couldn't find a decent sit-down restaurant. We did see a Perkins (should have stopped there), but we were looking for something more like an Applebees or TGIFridays, and so we drove, and drove, and drove some more. And we just didn't see anything.

Finally, we stopped at a hotel to ask for suggestions / directions (yes, we were truly desparate), and here at last our luck seemed to turn. "Sure, there's a family steakhouse just down the road. It's called The Big Steer." Hmmm... a nice steak sounded good, and when we pulled into the parking lot, it was packed with local vehicles. That would seem to be a good sign when it's 8 PM on a Thursday night. So we walked on in an asked for a table. And that's when things got strange.

The Big Steer is evidently a local establishment, and has been for quite some time, judging by the vintage vinyl wallpaper and 1950's style decor. Pictures of large (evidently local) cows adorned the walls - hence the restaraunt name - and judging by the average size of the (evidently local) clientelle, all those steers must get their photos taken right before they get carved into steaks, which are then quickly devoured by very large folks with names like Earl and Roy and Monica.

Monica was actually the name of our waitress, and she was as nice as she was large (judging by her size, she could evidently hold her own with Earl and Roy). She gave us our menus, which we opened and promply gasped. The prices were as large as the patrons - the kids menus started at $6.95, and the cheapest sandwich was $10 bucks; the average steaks were nearly $20. Anything that remotely resembled seafood was simply labeled "Market Price" (Can you actually GET real seafood in Iowa? I was afraid to ask...)

Now don't get me wrong - local largeness is not a bad thing. In fact, our initial response was to think, "If they can charge this kind of money, and still attract this kind of patronage, the food must be outstanding!" And by this time of the trip, I was really in the mood for an outstanding steak. With a good beer. So I asked the next logical question: "What do you have on tap?"

"All our beer's in bottles, hun." (a waitress calling you 'hun' can be a very good sign, but 'all our beer's in bottles' is generally not).

"Um, what kinds of beer do you have in bottles?"

There must have been a note of fear in my voice because she responded quite reassuringly, "Oh, we got tons, just about everything. Whatcha like?"

Some uncanny sixth sense tells me to not even bother asking if they have Fat Tire, so I try to phrase it generically: "Um, anything like an amber ale?"

Now it was her turn to look worried. "Hmm... we don't get much call for them 'round here..." This was followed by a long pause and then a much shorter list of options.

Now judging by what was sitting on other folks tables, I think "we got tons" meant "Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light" [Aside: one of the questions at our church planting interview the day before was "Which beer do you prefer: Bud Light or Coors Light?", with the correct answer being "Neither - those aren't really beer" ... see why we like these church planters?]

At any rate, when Monica finally mentioned "Bass Ale" I quickly said "that'll do" and she bustled off, looking relieved. Of course, having a beer like this sitting on your table this clearly marks you as "foreigners" or "friends of Al Quaeda" or something like that, but sometimes that's just the price you have to pay.

And speaking of prices, that brings us back to the menu.
  • Rebekah's "chicken strips" came with choice of "fruit dish or cottage cheese" (cottage cheese???);
  • Marilyn's "italian meatballs and spaghetti" came with a salad but "sorry, we don't have Caesar";
  • the fries that came with the boys sandwhiches were miniscule (think McDonald's "mini-sized");
  • and my 10 oz. Ribeye ("our special tonight!") was just that - a steak on a plate. No rice, no little sprigs of greenery, nothing extra or fancy at all - I guess what made it special was that it was only $14.95. There was a little red slice of some apple or beet thingy resting off to one side, but it certainly didn't look natural (let alone edible). As for the steak itself, it was ok at best. No seasoning (I had to add some salt), no steak sauce (Monica did bring us... "ooh, catchup!" but that was about it).
To top it all off, the place didn't take Amex, but they did charge an automatic 18% gratuity for parties with 5 or more people. Automatic gratuity for a family of 5??? This floored me, but in fairness to Monica, when she saw me scrutinizing the bill, she said "I didn't put the tip on there...I figured I'd just leave it up to you." Then she smiled so nicely we went ahead and gave her 20%, but we (probably wisely) passed on dessert.

All told - it was just a lower-than-average meal at a higher-than-average price in a wierd little restaraunt where all the locals sure seemed happy about what they were getting for what they were paying. Heck, even the cows in the pictures seemed to be smiling. Go figure.

Of course your own mileage may vary, but the next time you're passing through Iowa, we'd suggest you "steer clear" of The Big Steer, or at least don't ask what they have on tap...