Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas from Us!

Ellie loved that you could stand "inside" the Tree
As I write this it is Christmas Adam! Our family is very excited about Christmas. We're looking forward to reading the Christmas story (not watching it...I've never seen "A Christmas Story"...judge me if you must). It's been a whirlwind of a week for us. Ellie is finally out of school for Christmas break and we're excited about spending more time with her. As best we can remember, for the first time in our lives, we won't see either set of parents for Christmas, so we're pretty bummed about that, but we thank God for Facetime and Duo so we can video chat with family! But has been gracious and kind to give us each other to spend time with! I've spent more time with the kids and the kids have been forced to enjoy spending more time together too! Jodi has a decent schedule going for the boys through the morning each day, so she's having a few moments of potential sanity.

The kiddos enjoying a tree!
This week we went to Longwood Gardens with some new friends. We enjoyed seeing all of the trees lit up and the kids enjoyed the children's area. In the coming week we're going to Herr's Potato Chip Factory to tour it. A family from Tennessee with be around visiting some of their family so we're going to take a morning and do that tour with them. We're looking forward to seeing some familiar faces.

It has been sweet in the last couple of days as we've prayed together. Will has been volunteering to pray. That's new for him. He usually says no when asked, but over the course of the last week or so he has prayed some pretty cool things. He has thanked God for his parents, which really blesses our hearts. He has also thanked God for his siblings, without be pressed to do so. Finally this week, he prayed and thanked God for moving us to Oxford! I know he's only 4, but I pray he knows and understands that we're aiming to follow the God he is praying to and that this God is leading and guiding his life, not just his parent's lives.

Ellie mostly had a good week, but we ended poorly. Thursday night she asked me to talk to Jodi again about homeschooling her. She has asked about that several times in the last month. She says she works hard on her school work when she's supposed to be doing that and she enjoys that part of school, but during free time she doesn't like school. She says people don't really care if she's there or not and no one pays attention to her. She told me she tried to talk to one person and he just told her to stop over and over again. She says at New Union everyone was my friend, here no one is her friend. She tells me people ask her every day if she's the new girl. She says she knows the answer to that question because she is the new girl. However, they ask her other questions that she doesn't know the answer to. I'm not sure what these questions are though, she hasn't ever told me. Jodi and I are trying to decide if we should schedule a meeting with her teacher after the break and get her teachers opinion on how things are going. I trust there must be some good things happening and she's probably doing fine in school, but it's no fun seeing her demeanor down so much when talking about school.

On a positive note though, she's home with us for a bit so we're looking forward to that. Together, we've got a birthday cake to make for Jesus, a Christmas Eve church service to go to, and Christmas morning, which includes gathering to worship with our friends at Wrightsdale! We're looking forward to catching up with friends and family over the holiday as we try to video chat with as many people as possible! If you want to connect, let us know and we'll schedule a time to talk with you too!

Here are a few ways to pray this week:

  1. Pray for our family to spend time celebrating Jesus this weekend!
  2. Pray that God would help us make friends as we know many people are lonely in these coming days and weeks. Perhaps God would allow us to care for some folks who are tired and weary.
  3. Pray for Ellie.
  4. Pray that Jodi and I would know how to encourage Ellie. Ask God to give us wisdom about the best way to ensure she's properly educated.
Thanks again for you all do to encourage and care for us! Many of you have sent Christmas cards...thanks for doing that. Some of you have sent gifts...thanks for doing that. We love you and we're grateful to be on this journey!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Conversations

It's time for another update from our world. You would probably think that since we moved in life has slowed down a little and we're bored to tears, but actually the opposite has happened. It has been a little bit of a surprise to us that we've been as busy as we are.
Last week I told you about our tree lighting experience in Oxford. This week we have had more normal tasks to do! I had to go find new car insurance, so I visited a couple of agents. Both were friendly and asked if we moved here because of work. I said, "Kind of...it's something like that." I shared with them, like I've shared with others, that we have moved to start a new church in Oxford. The second agent I talked with invited me to come to his networking group that he started so I could meet other people in the area! I'm very excited about that. I also, by way of connection through another pastor, had lunch with our State Representative this week. I got an opportunity to ask him a lot of questions about Oxford so I can try to learn the area as fast as possible, so we get a better sense of what the church needs to look like and how she can best serve the community.
So far, I've found a local coffee shop I like that I plan to spend more time at and Jodi found the library and took the boys to story time! We've been to Wal-Mart more times than we can count and we've found that lots of places know how to make good pizza!
All in all, most of the people we've met have been kind and friendly (except for our first cashier at the store). We continue to pray that God would help us make friends. We've gone to Wrightsdale Baptist Church the last couple of weeks and they have been very kind. Pastor Steve and Kathy have really made us feel very welcome! We are incredibly grateful for their friendship and encouragement along the way! Mrs. Kathy even made our family chocolate chip cookies on Sunday. We really enjoyed them and they made a feel even more at home here!
We're grateful for your friendship and encouragement on this journey. Thank you for supporting and praying for us. Here are a few ways you can pray for us in the next couple of weeks:

  1. Pray for Ellie. She's still having a rough time with the transition. She's cried this week because she misses her friends and Mrs. Alonso. She's written notes and drawn pictures, but she still misses her friends. She hasn't really spoken of any friends she has made yet, though she says she has made some friends at school. She's shared of not having anyone to play with a recess and she's asked us a couple of times why we had to move. Pray that God would encourage her heart and that we'd be sensitive toward her as she struggles.
  2. Pray for the boys. They're a train wreck most days! It's been very difficult to get them settled in a new routine. 
  3. Pray for Jodi. She's managing all of this very well, but it's a tall order with the new baby. Pray that she continues to find her hope in Jesus and that he gives her the grace she needs for each new day. Pray that God would help her find friends as she seeks to build relationships at the Library and other places she's trying to go!
  4. Pray for me! Pray that I balance everything well. Pray that God brings people into my life that would be open to the gospel. Pray that I'd boldly proclaim it. Pray that I can set up some meetings for after the first of the year with some people I'd like to meet around town.
Thanks again for all you do to love and encourage us! You're a great blessing and a gift to our family and we thank God for you!

Monday, December 5, 2016

We made it and Christmas in Oxford!

Well, we made it! We arrived last Wednesday after a day-long drive in the rain. We tried not to complain about that because we knew our friend James was driving our moving truck in the rain too. We kept checking the radar to see if we could guess where he (and Adam and Whitney who were driving with him) might be along the interstate to see if they might be out of the rain, but we supposed they were always getting rained on. James reported upon arrival that it didn't rain for about 30 minutes of his 16 hour drive. Words cannot describe how grateful we are for our friends who came to help us get all of our stuff here. We're also grateful for new friends from Philly who came to help us unload the truck too! The easy part is done! Though it seemed hard at the time.

Now it's time to unpack all of our things! There's so much left to do! We've got the living room, kitchen and the boy's rooms set up. We've still got plenty to do in Ellie's room, our room and some in the dining room. We took a break from unpacking on Saturday to put up the Christmas Tree. We're doing all we can to try to make it feel like home. It's really weird being 800 miles from nearly everything know, but we're doing well. The kids loved decorating the tree, even though it meant they had to stay up beyond their normal bedtime.

Oxford, PA Christmas Tree
We are working hard to get settled in here, so we're trying to be social as best we can in the chaos of our lives right now. On Friday night, we went to, "A County Christmas" in downtown Oxford. It's was the lighting of the tree and other fun things vendors provided. We really enjoyed it. We ate some Pizza Hut stuffed crust pepperoni pizza and walked through the downtown area. The lighting of the tree kind of made us think we were in a magical little town from a movie. There was hot chocolate, facepainting, bird feeder makers and a variety of stores and street vendors. We all got a little cold, even though it was probably 40 degrees because the wind was colder than we were used to.


Here are some ways you can pray for us this week:

  1. Pray for Ellie as she starts school today (Monday). She's nervous, but we think she'll do OK once she settles in.
  2. Pray for Jodi and I as we try to finish getting unpacked. Once we get unpacked our schedules should start working themselves into a rhythm, which will be good for all of us.
  3. Pray that we might make a friend before Christmas. 
  4. We still need to raise about $9,000 for the coming year. Please pray that God would provide the resources needed. We're praying for 8 people that might feel led to give $100/month over the next 12 months toward the work of planting the new church. If you'd like to do that (or if you might want to give $25 or $50/month) feel free to reach out to us or choose one of these 2 options to give a) www.encounterlifechurch.org/give and put PA Plant in the Notes/Memo section or you can mail a check to Encounter Life Church PO Box 375 Manchester, TN 37349. Include PA Plant in the memo of the check.
  5. Pray for opportunities to have gospel conversations.
  6. Finally, pray that God would help us find some people of peace who can help us learn more about Oxford so we can better figure out how God might call us to serve here.
Thanks for everything! We're grateful to be on this journey and we thank God he's allowed you to be a part of our lives!

Billy and Jodi


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for Sadness

Ellie has been enjoying the Parade!
Well it's Thanksgiving Day! As Levengood's we're busy watching the parade and getting ready for football. We're excited about gathering together with my (Billy's) side of the family this afternoon. We've got a multitude of things to be thankful for this year!

For me, God has been gracious to call me from death to life through Jesus Christ and I'm eternally grateful for that! God has also been so kind to give me Jodi as a wife and best friend. The kids are also pretty neat too! Jodi and I are extremely blessed to be able to be called Mom and Dad by Ellie, Will, Matthew and Isaac.

I'm thankful for our extended families. They're the best! Jodi and I have amazing parents, indescribably awesome siblings, countless fun nieces and nephews along with our all of our grandparents. I couldn't mention them all here, but many of them have been so encouraging and supportive of our decision to move, even if it meant more distance between us and them for now.

I'm thankful for our countless friends, whether friends from school, the Thunder Radio family, or folks we've gone to church with in the past. Thank you for walking with us.

I'm also grateful for Encounter Life Church. It has been an amazing journey and I'm so thankful God would grant me the honor of being called Pastor for the last 7 years. I'm thankful he would entrust me with the opportunity to shepherd and lead such a fantastic group of people. A building doesn't make ELC, but the incredible people who show up week in and week out, Loving God, Living His Mission, Loving People and Leading them to Follow do make the church. Through the last 7 years I believe we've made a lasting difference in each other's lives and in our community. It has been a joy to baptize many of you and celebrate so many of life's blessings with you. What an honor. I'm so incredibly excited about what I believe God will do through ELC going forward.

Most of all, I'm thankful for sadness. As I write this, we're just a few days away from moving from Manchester. On Sunday, we load the minvan and begin this new journey. I've cried more times than I can count in the last 2 weeks. We've said good-bye for now to many of our dearest friends and family. This coming Sunday I'll preach my last sermon at Encounter Life and we'll have the honor of sharing one last meal together. You might ask why I'm thankful for sadness? I'm thankful for sadness because I think it tells us we've loved and been loved so well in Manchester! We've made amazing friends that we'll treasure forever. We're not dead yet, so chances are we'll see most of you again! We've aimed to give our lives to serve our church and the city well. The sadness tell me I think we've done OK! If you've been our friend or willingly walked with us, we thank God for you today! While we're sad, our hearts are full knowing that God has been so rich in kindness to give us friends and family like you.

The next time you hear from us, we should have safely arrived at our new home. We're grateful for your prayers for us! Thanks for everything!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Election is Over...the need for Gospel Proclamation isn't!

Well, we all survived the 2016 election cycle! Guess what? Our hope isn't built on a President or a President-Elect. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. The words of the old hymn "The Solid Rock" are good words for us to think on today! More than anything, our nation needs the gospel. One hope I have is that Christians wouldn't breathe a sigh of relief because the nation may have staved off a complete reorientation of the Supreme Court. We must be people who are serious about the Gospel!

As Jodi and I prepare to move, I'm more committed than ever to be a carrier of the gospel! May we be a people who give our effort and energy to being godly neighbors who are kind, caring, compassionate and hospitable. Where you live, work and play, I pray you will be willing to engage the people God has put all around you. This is a great time for us to be a different kind of people. Perhaps we could interact with people, even those we disagree with, in such a way that people will know us by our love. Obviously we cannot control other people's response to us, but we can control how we treat them. Romans 12 reminds us that as much as it depends on us we should strive to live at peace with every person. Today is a great day for us to live peaceably with others! Whether on Facebook or face-to-face, have integrity, walk in kindness and share the good news of hope found in the finished work of Jesus Christ! Let people know that there is no possibility of lasting hope found anywhere other than Jesus' sinless life, sacrificial death and supernatural resurrection. Wherever you live, whatever you do for work, however you choose to play, I pray we will make much of Jesus and people will find hope!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Settled in Before Heading Out and Updated Prayer Request!

Hey Friends! We've finally closed on our house and we're so incredibly grateful to a sweet friend from our church for taking us in before we officially head to Oxford! Bless Matthew's heart, he's asking about 5000 questions a day about the new place and what's happening. Many of you have asked us if we're excited about moving. That's a double-sided question. Are we excited to move to Oxford, Absolutely! Are we growing sadder (if that's a word) as the days grow closer to our family moving from Manchester? Absolutely. Knowing what God has called us to go and do bring a measure of excitement and hope as we aim to honor Him, but that doesn't take away the sadness we're beginning to feel as we get ready to go.
Ellie left this note on my board at work recently.
You can pray for Ellie, especially. She's less excited about moving than she has been. She's beginning to figure out she won't see everyone she sees each day. She asked me the other day if we could move all of her friends from school and move our whole church to Oxford. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to be able to pull off a task that big! But, by God's grace we're going to make it and be just fine. We're grateful for the friends and family who have tried to carve out extra time for us, knowing that our time is limited here. There are tons of people we would like to see before we move and we're trying to do all we can. If you'd like to get together with us before we go, just message us and we'll see what we can do!
Thanks again for being so kind and loving to us! By way of updated prayer requests, here are a few:

  1. Pray for our family as we get ready to move-we're excited, but sad (in case you missed that above :))
  2. Pray for a house for us to rent. We found a house we wanted and seemed promising, but it didn't work, so we have no options currently. Pray that God would open whatever door he needs to so that we'll have a place to live!
  3. Pray that God would continue to provide the resources needed for the new work. We still need to raise around $20,000, if possible. Maybe you, your church or a group in your church would consider either giving a one-time gift or partnering with us over the next couple of year. You can do that by giving online at www.encounterlifechurch.org/give or by mailing a check to Encounter Life Church PO Box 375 Manchester, TN 37349. In the memo of the check note that it's for the PA plant.
Thanks for praying! Thanks for encouraging us! Thanks for supporting us! Thanks for being our friends and sharing your lives with us!

Billy (and Jodi)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New people, fractured appendages, packing and more...life as a Levengood!

Matthew sporting his dinosaurs. He was amazing at the hospital!
I'm running a little behind my usual once a week post! Since we last spent time together via the blog, we've had a baby (which you saw pictures of) and went to see Jodi's family and our 2 year old fractured his leg. We now have 2 immobile children with lots of needs! In the midst of all of that, we're packing up the house and getting ready for the first of our 2 moves. We're grateful for our friends who have and who are planning to help with packing and getting out of the house. We're a little over a week away from closing and there's still plenty to do! Packing with two immobile children is a challenge to say the least. I've got to tell you though, that Jodi is a trooper! She's been incredible taking care of the boys during the day and working on the house. We're making progress, but we're grateful for your prayers!
In the midst of all of this we're also still raising support for the new work in Oxford! We'd be grateful if you'd consider partnering with us financially. Perhaps you could give a one-time gift or you'd be willing to partner with us on a monthly basis. We'd also love to partner with Churches and Sunday School/Small Groups. God has been faithful to provide about half of the support we're aiming to raise and we believe he'll provide everything we need. We'd love to have your support as you invest in the Kingdom of God, through our efforts to carry the gospel to the Northeast.
We're grateful for you friendship and partnership in the gospel. In all of this two verses keep coming to mind when I feel tired or frustrated in the midst of all that's going on.
[14] Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. [15] For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
and
[14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV) 

We know God has called us, is with us and is going before us! He'll make provision. His church will endure forever and we're grateful for the church! We're thankful for Encounter Life and the many other churches and individual members of churches that are walking with us on this journey!

This week, pray for our kids, the packing that needs to be done, support that needs to be raised and that we find a place to live in Oxford soon!

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Break from Planting Prep to Welcome Isaac!

Hey! It's been an interesting week! On Wednesday we welcomed Isaac into the world. He was born Wednesday morning at 8:25. He tipped the scales at 8 lbs 8 oz and is 21 3/4 inches long. Both Jodi and Isaac are doing fantastic. We've made it home and are beginning to get settled in. We're grateful for everyone who has sent encouragement our way! It's in these moments that while we push the pause button on lots of other things, we remember why we're pursuing them. God's grace and kindness toward us are overwhelming. God's incredible gift of another sweet baby reminds us of his love for us. We're reminded that he loves us so much that he sent Jesus in the very same way. Redemption is not a theory, but it's found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He came to restore us to God! Holding Isaac in my arms reminded me how much God desires to be restored to his kids. Watching Jodi care for and provide for Isaac reminded me of God's great care for us. He gives us everything we need through Jesus. We don't walk alone. In the same way we'll care for Isaac and raise him, God is walking with us and using every life situation to grow us in maturity to be more like Jesus. So, in a few moments of rest this week, I've tried to think on the Lord. I'd encourage you to do the same. While you do that, would you thank him for sending Jesus? Would you pray that we'll raise Isaac (and our other kids) to love and follow Jesus? Would you pray that God would provide everything we need as we prepare to move?
Thanks again for your love and kindness! We're grateful to be on this journey walking with you!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Hi from Jodi!

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." 
Matthew 28:19-20

"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we also be glorified with him." 
Romans 8:16-17

Hello, friends!

Billy asked me if I was ready to write my first blog post, so here you go! At first I had no idea what to say, but if you know me very well, you know I can't stay quiet for too long...

As of today, I am 2 days from my due date as we prepare to welcome our sweet little Isaac James into our family. Right now it's just a waiting game, and I have to say that I am getting impatient in my waiting! After nearly 10 months of growing and preparing for this child, I'm ready to meet him. We also signed a contract on our house this week after having it listed with a realtor for only 24 hours. Isn't God awesome?! I am daily amazed by how He chooses to provide for us.

Life as we know it right now is a bit crazy. Billy is working hard at the radio station, and during his free time he is working hard to raise support for our pending move and new ministry in Oxford. Ellie Grace is doing very well in 1st grade. She loves her teacher, friends, and school. She is often tired and a bit grumpy or emotional in the evenings.  School is hard work! Will, Matthew, and I spend our days trying to stick to some kind of schedule that we know will change in the next couple of months in some drastic ways.

I share all of that information to say this: There's nothing special about us. Our lives are so very average. I always find myself thinking that there must be something extra special about (other) people that God calls to ministry. They must be super spiritual or have it all together. However, if you read in the Bible about the people that God used to lead people to him, you will notice a trend. They are all sinners unworthy of the grace and favor of God.

I have been studying Paul and his ministry for the last couple of months. It's outstanding! God took a man whose life's goal was to persecute His followers and used him to lead many to Him and plant churches all around the region. His life was far from easy. In fact, God said in Acts 9:15-16 that Paul was a chosen instrument to carry his name to the Gentiles and that he must suffer for the sake of God's name. God was so faithful to Paul, and Paul was full of joy despite his trials.

My prayer as we continue on this journey is that we would be faithful to God's calling. Trials have and will come. We are moving right at the beginning of winter, and it will be a new experience for our family. We are leaving everyone we know. It won't be easy, but I have absolutely no doubt that God will be faithful. So, pray for us. Pray that we will be full of the joy of the Lord despite whatever trials may come. Pray that Ellie transitions well to her new school and is able to make friends. Pray that we are able to get out in the community to meet people. Pray that the hearts of those we meet would be receptive to the life-giving gospel of Christ.

I hope to blog soon about my perspective on reaching people in Oxford. Keep your eyes open for it, but I ask for grace as I have no idea how life will change once Isaac decides to join us! Thank you for going along on this journey with us! It's going to be quite a ride!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Partnership...the primary way this church planting ship sails!

I've heard Dave Ramsey say tons of times that the only ship that won't sail is a partnership. He's usually talking to someone about a business venture and he's trying to talk them out of entering into a bad business deal. However, when I think about Kingdom expansion and the best way for the gospel to get across the street and around the world, I believe gospel-oriented partnerships are the way to go. I believe Christian family members should pray and commit to seek to work together to reach other family members that don't yet believe the Gospel.I believe neighbors should commit to intentionally work together to reach other neighbors. I believe local churches should partner together to reach more of their community. I believe the best way to plant new churches is through partnerships with existing churches.
While we are moving to a new town where we don't really know anyone, we believe partnerships will be one of the reasons we are able to focus our time, effort and energy on planting this new work. We're grateful to the North American Mission Board, Encounter Life Church, and other churches and individuals that are already committed to walk with us along the way. We're praying and asking God to help us find other individuals, churches, and groups who would be willing to partner with us in 4 different ways.

  1. We're asking for people to commit to pray for our family. For specific needs right now you can click here to read the last post, where I wrote about how you can pray for us! We know that we must have people walking alongside of us and faithfully praying for our family and for the new church. If you'd be among those who would commit to pray for us, we would be grateful! If your church would be willing to commit to pray for us, we would love that too!
  2. We're ask for people to consider partnering with us financially. We believe God owns all of money on the planet and he's going to provide the funds necessary for the planting of the church. We also believe, in the beginning, the primary way he's going to do this is through partnerships! We're praying for people who might be willing to make one time gifts to help with the relocation and resettling process. We're also praying that God would provide partners who would be willing to commit to financially support the new church for 3-5 years. We believe that in the first year of planting we need to raise about $60,000. That probably seems like a lot of money, but we believe God can do that! We already have several people, churches and organizations that have committed financial support. Based on the need that still exists, we're praying that God might call 35-40 individuals, churches or organizations to commit to give $100/month. We're grateful for people and churches that are able to give more, but we wanted to give you quick snapshot of one way God could meet the need. Would you consider partnering with us in this way? We aim to make it as simple as possible. Whether you're giving a one time gift or plan to give in an on-going way, here's what you can do. Encounter Life Church is our sending church. All support goes through them, so your gift is still tax-deductible (if that's important to you).  You can give online by clicking here and putting PA in the memo or description line or you can mail a check to: Encounter Life Church Attn: PA Plant PO Box 375 Manchester, TN 37349.
  3. We're praying that God would call some people and churches to partner with us to bring mission teams to come as needed to help with various projects along the way. We'll work to coordinate those as we get settled and begin seeing where God might be calling us specifically to jump in. A team might help us serve a non-profit or school in the area. We might do physical labor or we might facilitate conversation to share the gospel. We'll aim to utilize a variety of people with different gifts to try to reach more people for God's glory! Would you or your church be willing to commit to serve in this way?
  4. Finally, God may call some of you to move to Oxford with us. We're praying God would call some people to move who have a heart for those who aren't yet redeemed and feel called to church planting. If you're interested in this please reach out to us so we can begin the conversation!

Whether you can commit to pray, give financial support, be a part of a mission team or feel led to move to Oxford with us, we're grateful for whatever role God is calling you to in this partnership! Together, for God's glory and other's good, we'll partner together under the banner of the good news of Jesus Christ that others might hear the gospel and find life and hope in Him. As always, thanks for taking time to read and for walking with us on this journey!

Friday, September 2, 2016

How You can Pray!

For this post, I thought I'd just share some specific ways you can pray for us along the way. We're grateful for your friendship and glad you're tracking with our story. We're so glad we aren't walking the road alone, but that God has been so incredibly kind and gracious to give us friends like you all! We know that you're praying for us, so we thought giving you specific ways to pray might help you!

  1. Pray for Encounter Life Church during the transition. We love ELC way more than anyone will probably know. It has been the greatest joy to share our lives with those who call ELC home. We're incredibly sad to move away, but we couldn't be more excited about the future for ELC. We know the church is God's church and they're God's people. 
  2. Pray for our family spiritually, emotionally, physically as we prepare to move. Pray that we hold fast to Jesus in all of the busyness. Pray for energy as we get ready to welcome a new baby, while trying to sell our house and everything else that goes into moving.
  3. Pray that our house sells. 
  4. Pray that God would provide as we raise support. We're praying for and aiming to raise $75,000 in the first year. We know that God owns all of the money on the planet and that he desires for people to be reached, so we're excited to see how he moves. Perhaps God might use you to help us raise support! We're praying for churches and individuals to commit to partner with us for 3-5 years as we work hard to start a work in Oxford. You might want to give a one-time gift or perhaps you'd commit to give a set amount per month toward the new work. You can give online by clicking here (put PA in the memo) or you can mail a check to Encounter Life Church P.O Box 375, Manchester, TN 37349.
  5. Pray for the people of Oxford, PA and surrounding areas. We're exciting about building relationships and sharing the gospel. Only about 6% of the people in the area are likely Christians. 
  6. Pray for us to be able to find a place to live in Oxford. The realtor we've been working with says the rental market is very lean and he's asked us to think about looking outside of Oxford. We're praying God provides a place that will work for us in Oxford.
We're grateful for your prayers. We'll keep you updated as God answers prayers so you know how to specifically pray. God is faithful and we trust him. We're so glad that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, died the death we deserve and was resurrected to defeat sin and death so that would have an advocate! Where we're tempted to doubt or worry (which I'm sure we'll struggle with some more along the way) we have a high priest who understands. I'll close with Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV) as an encouragement to all of us!
[14] Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. [15] For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why Oxford?

Hopefully so far along the way you're beginning to see and understand our heart and why we would decide to move. Oxford, Pennsylvania is about 11 hours from Manchester or about 729 miles. Why move our family? Why go there? 

When visiting the Philadelphia area in November of 2015 we visited several different suburbs. Culturally speaking we come from Manchester, which you know is a rural setting. We never believed God was calling us into the heart of Philly, but still had a drawing to the area. We are small town people. Oxford has a population in the zipcode of 17,847, which is a 35% increase since the year 2000. The population is expected to grow another 3.5% percent between 2016 and 2021. The size of town is very similar to Manchester. As a matter of fact there are several similarities between Oxford and Manchester. Both have an emphasis on a healthy downtown areas. Both have a farmers market. Both are about an hour from two major cities. Oxford is one hour from Philadelphia and about one hour from Baltimore. We believe we have an opportunity to influence both major metropolitan cities as people who live in Oxford work and play in these two cities. However, 57.5% of households are described as “Established Country Families”. There’s still very much a rural flavor to the community, as best we can tell, at this point. With the population growth people who are not from Oxford have relocated there. I believe this is because they want a more rural lifestyle, even if they have to work closer to Philadelphia. With this growth comes a great time for a church planter to move in, build relationships, share the Gospel and start a new church.

Oxford is located in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, but it’s the second poorest town in the county according to the Chamber of Commerce in Oxford. The average income in Oxford is about $87,000/year. We believe the more rural context and income demographics seem to indicate our family will fit in well as we make the transition.

The family structure in Oxford seems to be very traditional with an above average number of married people or two parent homes. While that seems like great news, some of the issues that most concern people in Oxford deal with day-to-day financial worries, better quality health care, adequate food, health insurance, parenting skills, and dealing with stress. We believe the Gospel offers hope to families and individuals who are facing these issues. We also believe, that given my background in Biblical Counseling, we’re more prepared to help people deal with these issues as we build relationships and establish trust with the people of Oxford.

We've seen God's faithfulness in Manchester and we're grateful for our family and friends that are here. God has been so kind to allow us so much time in this town. We thank God for the opportunities we enjoy and for the people we know. It's your kindness in loving our family that gives us confidence that God's with us and he's preparing a people for us to meet and share our lives with. As usual, we're grateful for your prayers, support and encouragement along the way!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Calling or Bad Burrito? How did we Discern the Will of God (Part 2)

Thanks for reading! We're picking up our discussion of how we figured out God was calling us to move to Oxford, PA. Click here for the first post. Here's a recap of the steps we used to make the decision:
  1. Prayer
  2. Scripture
  3. Seeking wise counsel from godly friends
  4. We visited the Philadelphia area
  5. We participated in the full assessment process with the North American Mission Board
  6. We prayed more!
We're ready to cover step # 4. The fourth step involved an airplane ride to Philadelphia. Just before Thanksgiving last year Jodi, Matthew and I flew to Philadelphia. Over the course of a few days we visited several different suburbs and boroughs outside of Philly. We found that we liked Downingtown and Oxford. Still we weren't totally sure God was calling us. We were still willing and open-handed but didn't have a strong sense of calling.

The next step in the process was going through the full assessment process with NAMB. Jodi and I flew back to Pennsylvania. This time we went to Pittsburgh. Overall, we found Pittsburgh to be a dreary and lonely place to be and we thanked God he wasn't calling us there. The assessment process evaluated various areas of our lives including our ability to plant a church, the strength of our marriage, and our willingness to exercise faith. The biggest concern for the assessment team was the issue of calling. Other than that, after some clarifying statements, everything seemed to be a go, if we could answer the issue of calling. We committed to pray until Dec. 2016 for clarity from God about staying or going.

This brings us to the final step. Again, we prayed. This time specifically about the issue of calling. In early June, our friend David sent us a list of 8 indicators of a call to plant a church. Here they are:
  1. A pattern of multiplication
  2. Entrepreneurial personality
  3. Confirmation from others
  4. Pull you can't resist
  5. Passion
  6. Buy in from spouse
  7. A Sending church
  8. A sense you can't do it
We felt like 7 of the 8 were done deals. #4 was the hang-up. Did we have that? That's what we began praying. If you want us to go, God, you're going to have to confirm this. As we prayed we consistently ran headlong into the reality that statistically speaking, as best we understood from everything we'd been told, only about 6% of the state of PA were probably believers. If that was true, then 4700 of the 5000 people who live in the city limits of Oxford are destined for an eternity separated from Christ, with the appearance of no strong evangelical, gospel-oriented church in sight. How could we stay, if we knew this and keep being drawn back it? In Manchester, we figure there are about 45 Southern Baptist churches within 30 miles and there are a number of other gospel-oriented churches also. Our estimate is that about 25-30% of people across TN probably are Christians. If both of those things are true, that means there's a greater saturation of churches and Christians in Tennessee than there is in Pennsylvania. We believe in our leaving, that God's raising up people in Manchester and surrounding areas to continue that work. Encounter Life will continue to Love God, Live His Mission, Love People and Lead them to Follow. Our leaving is multiply our gospel efforts. 

For us, the call to make disciples and get the gospel to as many people as possible means we're willing to give up our preferences and desires for the sake of carrying the gospel. We can't escape this reality and it's compelling us to go and tell! Throughout this process we'll talk more about that! The next post will talk about why we chose Oxford! In future posts I'll also talk about how we plan to start the church, how you can pray for us, how churches and individuals can partner with us and lots of other topics! Got a question? Leave a comment and perhaps I'll try to write a post about that too!

We'd welcome your prayers, thoughts, questions and support. We're grateful for an incredibly supportive church, family and friends! Thanks for your partnership along the way!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Calling or Bad Burrito? How did we Discern the will of God? (Part 1)

Since we shared that we were moving to Oxford, PA, we've had many people ask us, "How did we KNOW God was calling us to do that? Wouldn't it make more sense to be in Manchester since we're comfortably connected in the community? Why would we want to leave Encounter Life? Is moving away from our family the right thing to do? Why would God possibly want us to leave this community? What's wrong with Manchester that we don't want to live here anymore? What's wrong with the church that we wouldn't want to continue to serve there? Don't you like your job? Is your family enough to keep you here? The list of questions goes on and on, but the basic question remains the same? How did we know God was calling us and we can trust that we've actually heard from God.

In the next couple of posts, I thought I might try to give you a glimpse into how we made this decision. I think you'll find that we're not running from God and that we don't hate Manchester! As I shared with some people early on in the process, when I looked at the Bible, I believed God was calling us to go. When I looked at circumstances, I thought he was calling us to stay. So, given that, how did we decide to move?

We began the process by being, "open-handed". We prayed to God, individually and as a family, communicating to him that we were willing to do whatever he would want us to do. I'll confess though, I did pray "God I want to be in Manchester, but more than that, I want to be where you're calling us." We used a pretty thorough process to try to determine, as best we could understand, God's will for us. Here the list of the series of things we used:
  1. Prayer
  2. Scripture
  3. Seeking Wise Counsel from godly friends
  4. We visited the Philadelphia area
  5. We participated in the full assessment process with the North American Mission Board
  6. We prayed more!
We'll look at the first three areas in this post! Like I mentioned in the prior paragraph, we began with prayer. We tried to communicate to God that we were his people and we would submit ourselves to his Lordship. That meant we had and have to be open-handed in the way we live. We're trying to do that now in the way we live. Whether we decided to stay or go, we wanted and continue to want God to use us where we're at. 

Second, we tried to consider the Scripture. What does the Bible say about the issue of calling. We felt like we most related to Abraham. It seemed to us that we were either in a season like Abraham experienced in Genesis 12 where God called him to leave his home and go to place that he would reveal to him or we were more like the story of Abraham and Issac and God was calling us to put our total trust in him, but he was going to give clear evidence that though we were willing to go anywhere, he really wanted us to remain in Manchester.

The third thing we did was invite a few of our friends and family members to speak into our lives. We asked them if they believed God would call us to plant a church somewhere else. In other words, did they see that giftedness in Jodi and me. Did they believe God could use us in the Northeast? I hear the people are different there. They don't even drink sweet tea. Crazy, I know! We were also asked a lot of questions about our current situation. Were we running from something? Was there some reason we wanted to get out of Manchester? All of these questions and conversations helped us think through the situation. Our friends' prayers, thoughts and feedback helped us evaluate our situation and think honestly about our motivation to consider moving from Manchester.

In an effort to keep the post shorter, I'll finish sharing the process in the next post! Thanks for taking time to read!


Friday, August 12, 2016

Sad to Leave, but not Sad to Go...

Jodi and I announced our plans to move from Manchester a few weeks ago. We shared with our family and our church (Encounter Life Church) that we believe God is calling our family to move to Oxford, Pennsylvania to plant a new church in that community. We're excited to follow God's leading, as best we know how. I wanted to share with you the letter that I shared with our church a few weeks ago. Jodi and I appreciate your prayers and support as we continue to take steps toward moving. As best we understand God's timing and plan, we're aiming to arrive in Oxford on December 1, 2016. At that point, we'll have already had our fourth child and should be in a decent position to move without causing Jodi too much stress with a brand new baby.

Below you'll find a link to the letter that I shared with our church. I hope you'll take a little bit of time to read it, so you'll know what we're thinking. Along the way, I'll share more about exactly what we believe God is calling us to do, other ways you can pray for us, possible ways you could walk alongside us in support (I'll post a link to our church website below so you could give if you're already familiar with our plan and might want to support the work), and other thoughts as we run through a wide range of emotions and experiences before we move. I'm sure Jodi will even jump in and share some posts from her point of view. We'll also plan to use this blog to keep people updated about how life in Oxford is once we arrive there! 

Thanks for taking the time to check on us and find out what God is doing in our lives!

Click here to read the letter I shared with our church on July 10th.

Interested in supporting our efforts financially? You can give a one-time gift or a recurring gift through Encounter Life Church's website, by clicking here and following the steps. On the review page, you can leave special instructions, simply say "Oxford Church Plant". You could also mail a check to:
Encounter Life Church
PO Box 375
Manchester, TN 37349