Sunday, April 30, 2006

What Kind of Egg is This?

So, can anyone guess what kind of egg this is? Look closely, then click here to find the answer (along with a couple of other shots). Can you tell we're having a nice restful Sunday? :-)

Hello Sunshine

While we're at it, here's a nice shot of the flowers that are blooming in front of our house now.

Sunday in the Park

So I'm finally back in Philly now, after two trips out west over the last three weeks, with only a couple of days home in between. We're entering the last week of school, which means I really ought to be studying, but I feel pretty wiped and today is supposed to be a day of rest anyway. So a cup of coffee, a pipe full of Cattleman's Gold, and we went for a little walk just to enjoy the beautiful weather.

(Kudo's to Becky-Lou, who took this photo!)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Life in the Whirlwind

So this is my life right now - something of a whirlwind! This past week (spring break), I was back home in Billings to work on fundraising for the Missoula Project. Very, very busy, but very encouraging and rewarding at the same time - not so much in terms of funds raised, but in primarily terms of relationships renewed (or created!).

I had a chance to speak extensively in our sister church in Bozeman, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to see what God is doing in this body. From an outsiders perspective, you can see that things are happening - God is on the move in people's lives, and there is a zeal evident which I haven't seen before. I am encouraged to have connected with so many of you there.

I'm also extremely grateful to have been able to connect with friends back in Billings as well - we hosted a couple of desserts in the evening, and then I met with a lot of people individually. Very, very good to see you all. I can't wait to get back on a more permanent basis.

Speaking of "getting back" (not on a permanent basis, unfortunately), I got home to Philly late Sunday night - and I will be heading back out west on Thursday afternoon - this time to connect with veteran church planter Shane Sunn in Greeley Colorado. We'll be driving up to Billings on Friday for the annual RMCC Missions Conference (Shane's speaking), and then on Sunday or Monday we'll be heading back down to Colorado, for presbytery which will run Wednesday through Friday of the following week.

Is your head spinning yet? Mine is. I have a Hebrew quiz to prepare for before I leave (ouch), and then 2 papers that are due within a week of when I get back (Apr 28). So the end is near. It's crunch time, and we'd definitely appreciate your prayers. Things are definitely busy - life really does feel like a whirlwind right now - but I can also say that God is good and I am excited to see what he's doing. Stay tuned and we'll keep you posted...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why Personal Support?

When it comes to fundraising, one of the questions that comes up frequently runs something like this: "Why do you have to raise personal support? Why doesn't your church just foot the bill?"

The short answer is, "They are - very significantly, in fact." Both Rocky Mountain Community Church in Billings (RMCC) and Gallatin Valley Presbyterian Church in Bozeman (GVPC) are supporting us as an official mission work, raising funds through their Faith Promise programs. The regional arm of our denomination, Rocky Mountain Presbytery (RMP), is also supporting us. So we actually have a very strong base of "project level support."

That said, there are a number of reasons why we still need to raise personal support. First of all, we are going as a team - both us and the Sutherlands. This offers some obvious advantages (twice the ability to do outreach and ministry), but it also raises the cost of the work as a whole, because it will need to support 2 pastors from the getgo. In addition, Missoula is a tough place to plant a church - 70% of the population is completely unchurched (and often somewhat hostile to the Christian faith). Because we are committed to reaching unbelievers, the church is going to take longer to grow. Add to that the fact that we are starting from scratch, without a core group, and the plot thickens. We want to be wise and realistic - it may take up to 5 years to become self-sufficient.

That in itself is not a bad thing - there are actually some key advantages to planting a church this way - but it does mean that the task itself is longer and more expensive. It is beyond any one person, any one church. Most church plants fail because of inadequate funding. And that is why we and the Sutherlands are both raising personal support as well - to supplement the project funds which have already been pledged.

Now, here's where things get a little more complicated. When you raise personal funds, you typically do it by appealing to friends, relatives, family, etc. For us, many of these people attends RMCC, and a number of them are already supporting us indirectly through their Faith Promise giving to the church. We are huge fans of missions programs like these - so we don't want anyone to stop giving to Faith Promise in order to start supporting us directly. At the same time, we know that some people aren't giving to Faith Promise yet, and others have indicated they want to support us directly as well.

So what does all this mean? Well, since we don't know who's doing what, we have to ring you up and share our vision and see if you would like to come alongside us in this adventure. As I've mentioned elsewhere, this inter-presonal relationship thing - dealing directly with people rather than just a church committee of missions board - this is part of what makes fundraising a beautiful thing.

At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter to us whether you give a little or a lot, whether you support us directly or through Faith Promise, whether you give money or simply pray. At the end of the day, what we really want is a deeper relationship with you - we want you to be a part of our lives, to participate with us as we move forward in this exciting work. So that's the "why?" of raising personal support. We'd love to have you be a part of it.

Another Kind of Excursion

Next week is Spring Break, and that means I'll be taking another kind of excursion - this one a short, quick trip back to Montana. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, Malachi is heading back to Billings just in time for baseball season (like he did last year). This time he will be staying with our dear friends, the Skiles. He will probably be playing up in the heights again, with the same team he was on last year. There's an outside chance, however, that he may be making a jump up to legion ball - he's been asked to try out for the Cardinals. No guarantees, and its probably a long shot (since most of the kids on the team are 15 and 16), but it should be a good experience. Please pray for him if you think about it...

Second, I am heading back to raise awareness (and hopefully support) for the Missoula Project. I'll be preaching in Bozeman on Palm Sunday (April 9), and then I'll be back in Billings for the rest of the week, mostly to try and connect with as many people as possible over breakfasts, lunch, dinner, coffee, even desserts! If you a) live in Billings or Bozeman, and b) aren't yet participating in the Missoula Project, I would love to get together and talk with you about it...

I'll be flying back to Philly on Easter Sunday, and then I'll be back out in Billings again the following weekend - this time with church planter extraordinaire, Shane Sunn, who will be speaking at RMCC's annual missions conference. After that, back down to the Denver area for presbytery, and then finally back out to Philly (where I will basically have about a week left of classes before heading into finals).

As you can see, things are quickly drawing to a close... We would definitely appreciate your prayers over the coming weeks - both as I travel, but also as I get a chance to meet with a lot of people to talk about the Missoula Project. I am increasingly coming to see fundraising as a beautiful thing, and I am looking forward to sharing our vision with others. Pray that God would continue to raise up partners in this effort.

Good News

Well whaddya know - a couple of pieces of good news all in one fell swoop!

First and foremost, we finally got our Excursion back today (some 3½ weeks and $1000 bucks later). We ended up having to take it to a different Ford dealsership (one w/ certified diesel mechanics), and it even took them a while to figure it out, but it's finally up and at 'em again. HURRAY! What was the problem? A camshaft sensor / synchronizer malfunction. If your 7.3L turbo diesel ever stops dead in its tracks (won't start), this is the thing to check...

Second, we accepted an offer on our house today. WOO HOO! So now we just pray that everything goes through and there are no surprises, etc. But we're encouraged! If you ever need a realtor in Philly, Joanna Bellinger is the bomb.

Next time you pause to speak with God, please join us in thanking him for these things...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Why Fundraising Is Beautiful

Sometimes fundraising can feel a little uncomfortable - like having to introduce your wife to an old ex-girlfriend, or getting stuck at a red light next to a guy with a cardboard sign that says "Will work for food". Its uncomfortable for you, its uncomfortable for them.

In situations like these, we often tend to look for the easy way out, or else we grit our teeth and just try to grind our way through it as quickly as possible. That's how we deal with discomfort in life; that's how we deal with discomfort in fundraising. After all, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to ask for money? Wouldn't it be easier if we could simply "pay our own way"? Be self-sufficient?

Easier, yes. Better, no. You see, one of the things I am learning through the fundraising process is that weakness is beautiful - it is certainly convenient to be strong, to have all you want or need. But God did not design us to be self-sufficient. He designed us to be weak, fragile, needy, dependant. After all, we are all creatures - finite, limited, fleeting. We are also sinners - twisted and twisting, serving ourselves rather than others. And those two features inevitably make for some really amazing train wrecks.

Surprisingly, however, our weakness is not a limitation for God; rather, it's a vehicle for his grace. Self-sufficient people seldom feel desparate for God. The same is true for churches - the body of Christ is at its strongest not when its piety is most visible, when its bank account is most black; rather, the Christ's Church is strongest when she is most aware of her need, when she is most reliant on God's grace. We will never seek help if we do not first sense our own insufficiency and inability and lostness. This is the way God designed it (2 Cor 12:9).

And that's why church planting is wonderful - because God tosses you headlong into the deep end, where there's a very real danger of both drowning and sharks. And in the sheer terror of being in over your head, something amazing happens - we cry out to God; we call out to others. We are forced to look beyond ourselves. We are forced into relationship.

This is why fundraising is so important. At the end of the day, it's not really about the money. Sure, we need that to live, to plant a church, to be about the work of the kingdom. But what fundraising does is force us to reach out relationally. If you are struggling to find a vibrancy in your prayer life, consider planting a church (you will suddenly find it easy to pray like you've never prayed before, because you will suddenly see your need like you've never seen it before).

The same is true of our relationship with others. Fundraising is a vehicle for deeper relationships. I can't tell you how many times I have sat down with someone - we start by talking about the Missoula Project; we end by talking about our lives: How's your marriage? Your family? Your faith? Where are you struggling? How can we pray for one another? These kinds of conversations generally don't happen naturally - fundraising forces us to knock on the door of one anothers' lives, to say "We need you to help us in our lives - how can we help you in yours?"

And that process of crawling into deeper relationship with one another - not just because I like you, but because we are friends and I need you - that process is a beautiful thing.

This is why we are committed to fundraising. Not as something to be endured, but something to be embraced. This is why we are talking to all manner of friends - those in our own church, those in other churches (its a wonderful testimony to the world when we illustrate how the Church really IS bigger than any one denomination). This is why we are asking both believers and unbelievers to participate with us - because for some people, this may be one of the first tastes of real Christian community they have ever experienced.

This is why fundraising is beautiful. The task is beyond us individually, but it is well within our reach corporately, as a community of friends working together in pursuit of a common goal. And what we value most here is the process of being drawn into a deeper relationship with you - learning to share our needs; learning to lean on one another. If this is the type of church we hope to plant in Missoula, one where real community is central, then we might as well start working on it now. What we really desire in all this is not your money - it's your friendship, your fellowship, your participation with us in the work of building Christ's kingdom.

That's why fundraising is actually a very beautiful thing.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Family Photo

Yes, indeed, Spring has finally sprung, so we all trekked down to the park this afternoon and took a family photo. Another 2 months and we'll be heading west for good...


Look who stopped by for dinner and a pipe Friday night! It's Janine from seminary! She was only going to stay for a little bit, but the weather was nice, and no one really felt like studying, so we stayed up till midnight and talked. Janine has an amazing voice (both singing, and characterizations) - our kids loved listening to her read 'Hank the Cow Dog'!