God the Father

Truth be told, I don’t like to blog. You know those words that give you a bit of a gag reflex? Janelle hates the word “flesh”. Me – I hate the word “blog.” But I do think it’s important to keep our support team (and anyone else who takes notice) up to date on what we are doing throughout the residency at The Austin Stone, so every month I will be giving a sort of recap. I’ll also be doing some posts which focus entirely around books or journal articles that I’ve been reading.

I think my last post left you on a bit of a cliff-hanger, so let’s get right to it. ¬†As I explained in that last entry, Janelle and I had two weeks to find another $2100/month to be able to cover our living expenses. So here’s what happened, just as blunt and straight forward as possible:

God showed Himself faithful.

God called us here, and He provided for us. During those two weeks, we had another group of supporters come on, some supporters pledged to up their monthly giving amount, and Janelle found a job at the Center for Survivors of Torture as a part-time fundraiser, where she will have the opportunity to come on full-time in another three months. We’re not living a lavish life, by any means, but God has provided in a way that is so astounding that it’s hard to really even comprehend, to be honest with you.

Here’s the thing, just like I said in that other blog, if I had known that we would come down here and not be fully-funded and have an incredibly short amount of time to raise a large sum of money, I would not have come. I’m just being completely honest. I wouldn’t have come. In fact, I probably would have pointed to not being funded as a sign that God wasn’t leading us here.

“Oh, he’s just not opening doors up, so I think He’s calling us to wait.”

But that’s not true. He was calling us here all along, and even in all my pretense and words, I don’t know that I ever really trusted Him to provide during the time we were raising funds in Dallas before quitting our jobs, using up almost all of our savings to break leases and service contracts and move to Austin and pay brand-new deposits. And I say that because if I had known how painful it would be, I would not have come.

Matthew 7:7-11 gives a good picture of something I’ve been learning through this whole process.

You know those random things you remember from your childhood – some inconsequential afternoon riding your bike with friends, or a Sunday evening dinner with your family? One of those random stories I remember is driving to church with my parents. I asked them why I couldn’t have a Nintendo. I don’t remember what their exact answer to me was, but I do remember how stupid an answer it seemed.

“When I have kids, I’m going to give them everything they want,” I told them.

I didn’t really even grasp at the time how moronic that was. If my parents gave me everything I ever wanted, I would be dead. Let’s just be honest. Kids are stupid. Young boys are especially stupid. Can we agree on that? I spent a good portion of my holidays with family running around in a pasture with my cousins shooting BB guns at each other. I’ll call that Exhibit A.

Parents don’t give in to the every whim and wish of their children. Good parents don’t, anyway. But good parents give good gifts, and our Father God is so much more than just a “good parent”. He is the perfect Father, always present, never failing, never needing to apologize or make up for mistakes.

We asked God to provide for our needs in Austin, and he could have just let us win the lottery or something. He could have just let our Village Church home group made up of doctors and business men and women completely fund our time in Austin. But our Father is much, much better than that. Rather than let us go along, feigning faith in His provision, He took us to a place where we had no other option but to cry out “Lord, I need you to provide or we will be penniless and homeless.” Then He provided.

Now, here we are – fully funded, with an actual understanding of what it means to have a Heavenly Father who will provide for us and give us good gifts.

Dangerous Prayers

Janelle and I are in Austin! Well, we’ve been in Austin for a couple of weeks, actually. We’ve almost got the apartment set up, and I’ve reached the point where I have just come to accept the few boxes remaining in the bedroom can could probably function as some sort of modern decor. I’m pretty sure Janelle feels otherwise.

Austin and The Stone already feel like home. On Monday night, we gathered with other residents and interns on top of the Whole Foods building downtown and had a time of worship, fellowship, and prayer for the city and the different ministries we’ll each be a part of in the coming months. (“My church gathered on the roof of the downtown Whole Foods” might be the most Austin sentence I’ve ever said.)

I officially started on Tuesday, and that’s where the title of this entry comes from. I was accepted into this residency later than the other church-planting residents, and with that came the extra burden of trying to raise support in a very short amount of time. A little over two months to be exact. We filled out our budget, sent it in to the church and began to raise our support around that budget of $2800 per month.

I’m just going to be honest because I don’t know how else to say things. When this process started, I prayed one of those stupid prayers. It wasn’t stupid because it was wrong theologically or anything. It was stupid because it was dangerous and it is probably going to hurt. It’s like when you pray for patience and just dismiss that you’re praying to the God who calls Himself a refining fire to purge the Israelites of their iniquity, and who says through Paul that we develop perseverance in our faith through His testing. God answers those dangerous prayers. What I asked God for was that He would not only provide for us the financial support we needed, but through the process He would teach me to trust in His provision.

Some of you just slammed your head on your desk. “Provision is the hardest one!”

See, I thought He was teaching me this when a number of potential supporters from our church in Dallas just weren’t going to be able to help us like I had hoped. But funding began to come in from our friends who had just gotten married or just had babies, and family members who believed in us and wanted to invest in us, and we were overwhelmed at the generosity. When we moved down here, we were at 80% of our goal and were feeling pretty good about it.

But if I’m being honest, I don’t think I ever really started trusting God for His provision. I wanted to believe I did, and even told myself I did — “Hey, God really provided for us and it came from somewhere other than where we expected.” But I didn’t really believe it. We were just well prepared to send out enough letters and we knew enough people and a million little reasons why it worked out.

But then I started work on Tuesday. And by “started work” I mean I spent 9 1/2 hours doing HR paperwork. But as I sat down with one of the Stone’s number crunchers, we quickly realized that my budget was wrong. (Now would be a good time to mention that I don’t do numbers good.) I had accounted for all of our expenses, savings, school loan payments, and all of those sorts of things and totally forgot to take into account taxes, social security, and tithing. Where as I started the day off feigning trust in God’s provision and secure in that 80%, I suddenly found myself around $2100 below my actual budget needs.

Now, look, did God change the numbers on me? No. My inability to understand taxes is what messed up the numbers. But I asked Him to teach me to trust in His provision and here I am. If I had done the budget correctly, we would still be short the amount we need, but would I have moved to Austin? Well, that part I’m not too sure of. Here’s what I do know — I have two weeks to find 21 more partners to commit to supporting Janelle and I at $100 a month for 24 months.

Does God answer prayers? Yes. But too often I fall into this trap that if He answers my prayers then it’s going to be a comfortable thing. But our God sits as a refiner’s fire, to mold us and shape us into the image of Christ that we may come to know Him in fullness in glory. Every time I pray one of these dangerous prayers — prayers where I ask God to shape and mold me — He answers. And it hurts. Sometimes it hurts because your ankle gets broken (that’s another story entirely), and sometimes it hurts because you’ve just packed up your wife to move to a new city where, unless He raises up supporters in a very short amount of time, you’re going to be eating nothing but Ramen for a while. This isn’t because He’s some 9-year-old boy frying ants with a microscope, but because He purges sin from us like venom from a wound.

So, here we are, forced to rely on God’s provision. We have until September 20 to find 21 more supporters who want to see the gospel take root in Austin, TX. We need 21 supporters who will be coworkers in the truth by supporting us, just like Gaius in 3 John verses 5-8.

Will you support us? Check out the support page to find a link to the secure giving site. If you are already on our support team, please continue to pray for us, for Austin, and for the churches here and pass this blog on.