March & April Update | Answered Prayers

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
- 1 John 5:14-15

2018 is a year I believe God is inviting me into deeper dependence. As I look back on the last couple months since our last update, our days have been filled with grace upon grace of subtle (and sometimes obvious) gifts of a heightened awareness of God's presence, coming face-to-face with how foolish any attempts at self-sufficiency are, and door after door of opportunity and favor being opened wide in ways only explainable as answers to the prayers of God's people. I am learning dependence- not just because I am studying it, but because I am living it. 

My first couple weeks in the city were frustrating. Filled with fear, struggling to know what to do in this 'in between' stage of our church, and the unsettledness of learning and living with new everything- new relationships, new surroundings, new culture, new jobs. I was driving up I-25 early one morning into downtown, grumbling to God about how he felt far away and I felt alone, overwhelmed to know what to do first or what to do next- and how futile everything seemed that I had done over the last several days.

Then I saw the Rocky Mountains.

I mean, I always see them (Denver ain't a hard place to live, ya'll). And they're always beautiful and awe-inspiring. But that morning I saw through them to the God who spoke them into existence by the power of His Word. Those mountains are majestic...how much more must their maker be? It was almost instant... clarity, conviction, confidence.

My God is big. Really big. With man, a lot of stuff is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
My God is glorious. All the longings of my restless heart are filled up with just one glimpse of His beauty.
My God is able. The God who simply spoke everything from nothing and holds it all together is the one who has spoken new life into my dead soul and is the one who sustains my feeble faith, promising to keep me until I see him face to face and he makes it all new.
My God is near. He's not just my sovereign king, but my kind-hearted Father who has come near. This gospel we're giving our lives to is first the gospel that gives me life.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who led us here to Denver, who made me and lit these convictions and dreams in me. He promises to lead me, to protect me, to provide for me. He's proven this by laying down His life for us, His sheep. Sheep are stupid, defenseless, and totally in need of someone outside of them to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. And just as Jesus walked in sync with the Father's heart, hearing and obeying His voice, he tells us that he knows us and we will know him- that we can hear his voice and follow him. 

That morning was a turning point in my heart. It was almost a tangible experience of what Paul prays for when he asks to have "the eyes of our heart enlightened." It's a gift to have the lights turned on to the liberating reality that our insufficiencies do not get in the way of God's sufficiency. It's the proud (self-focused, self-reliant) that God opposes. It's the humble (God-focused, self-forgetful) that gets His grace. It was in this humbling embrace that I was convicted of my prayerlessness. Sure, I pray. I'm talking about a life saturated in a posture of prayer because we've come to know the desperation Peter felt when he said, "where else will we go? You have the words of life."

Most of my anxiety and "feeling stuck" could be traced back to functionally picking up the cares I had cast on him, because deep down I really didn't think he cared for me like His Word tells me He does.

I'm learning what it means to cast cares at his feet and leave them there. To truly pray, fast, and seek his heart. To not just tell people you will pray for them, but to actually pray. I'm learning that there's a difference between praying expectantly and praying presumptuously- for far too long I've let fear of the latter keep me from doing the former. I'm learning that there is a level of intimacy and communion with God when you stop trying to make things happen and instead, you pray and trust and wait. I'm learning that feelings and faith aren't the prerequisite to a prayerful life; they're the result of one. The things God has stirred up in me while praying, the very specific requests He has been answering in very specific ways, the hope that is welling up from taking God at His Word and simply asking. I could tell you story after story of how we have been experiencing answered prayers. There are many prayers we're still waiting on God to act according to His good purposes and his perfect timing. In it all, we're learning to live dependent on Him for everything. This isn't an easy thing, but I'm eager for more.

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Here are a few specific updates & requests for The Oaks...

Clarity of Neighborhoods

In our last update back at the end of February I asked you to pray God would give us clarity within 90 days of which neighborhoods we will focus in on to love & serve. THANK YOU for praying. By God's grace He has answered. God is calling The Oaks to begin in SouthEast Denver. 

We've identified roughly a 3 mile radius that we as The Oaks will take spiritual and social responsibility for. In that 3 mile circle there are several distinct neighborhoods- Glendale, Virginia Village, Washington Virginia Vale, Windsor, Indian Creek, Dayton Triangle, University Hills.

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Why this southeast corridor?

  • Density | In this 3 mile radius there are approximately 235,000 people. 

  • Spiritual Apathy | Even the most liberal statistics estimate only 10% of Denver's population claim to follow Jesus. The more realistic prospectives push this number to more like 3-5%. That means that in this corridor of 235,000 people, over
    211,500 to 227,950 people are not yet enjoying Jesus.

  • Lack of Gospel Presence | There is only 1 SBC Church in this corridor of 235,000 (an established African American Church) and only ~ 10 more evangelical churches, most of which are plateaued or declining and several would not be considered gospel-centered or engaging in mission to their neighbors. 

  • Diversity | Denver is a city that is predominately white, fairly affluent (cost of living is significantly high), and is one of the top destination cities for millennials, so the city trends very young (and insanely 'hip'). This part of town is one of the exceptions. Within this 3 mile corridor you have a neighborhood like Glendale, which is largely high-rise apartments filled with mostly young singles. Just South of there is Virginia Village which is filled with somewhat older, more established families who have lived in Denver longer than the average (which is ~2-5 years). University Hills is highly educated and very affluent, but head just 1 mile NorthEast into Washington Virginia Vale, Windsor, and the Dayton Triangle into lower income, lesser educated, and very diverse communities. One school in this neighborhood has students speaking over 60 different languages from 40 different countries. The socioeconomic, generational, and ethnic diversity of this corridor creates many obstacles to church planting, but by faith we see those obstacles to be tremendous opportunities to be obedient to Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations & to see an expression of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a city struggling with significant division and segregation.
  • Please pray for us to have supernatural wisdom as we seek to learn the culture, the people's stories, their fears, and the idols that exist here. Pray we could have discernment to know what areas of brokenness to step into and to do the good work of learning the 'language' of this particular subset of Denver so we can speak the good news about Jesus in ways that makes sense to them. 

Development of Kingdom Relationships

Since identifying our focus area, our team has been praying, asking questions, and spending intentional time in these neighborhoods to learn the specific aspects of both the beauty and the brokenness of this area and discover how the gospel uniquely speaks to both. There's 3 things I'd love you to pray:

1 | Pray for our team as they begin to look for housing in this corridor. 2 families have secured homes here and the rest will be looking to relocate there within the year. Where we all find housing with narrow our focus even more, as this gives greater clarity on which neighborhoods to serve first & determines a centralized location where we will seek to gather when that time comes (likely Fall 2019 or early 2020).

2 | Pray for favor & open doors for partnerships with organizations, schools, local businesses, and other churches in this corridor. We are isolating our initial focus on organizations serving refugees/poverty & the Denver Public Schools. We have had several opened doors within the last 3 weeks. One that we're really excited about is a subset of the Denver Metro YMCA called the Diversity, Inclusion, Global Initiative which partners with refugee resettlement organizations, the school system in Denver & Aurora, and the local government to provide holistic help for refugee and immigrant families. The director of this program has been gracious to us and helped us network with several people and opened the doors wide for us to serve with them. After some initial meetings, I accepted their offer to sit on their board. The Oaks will help with our first event with refugee families next weekend (4/21). Please pray God will continue to show favor to us and that we will be humble, bold, selfless servants to our community.

3 | Pray for needed relationships. We're asking God for continued favor with people in this corridor. We're asking God to show us "people of peace" who are open to hearing the gospel and sharing life with our church as we seek to be hospitable and who can help us enter into relational networks in our city. We're asking God for diversity for our team, particularly in the area of leadership within our church so we can love and serve our diverse culture in healthy, reproducible ways. We're asking God for "Denverites" to join our team. God has been so kind in the way He has raised up men & women to relocate to Denver to help see the vision of The Oaks become a reality (and we're praying for more to do just that), but we also see the tremendous need for believers who know Denver and its unique culture to join our team to ensure we do not try to plant "a southern church" here. We have blindspots we're not aware of, and we need people with different cultural backgrounds to help us. 

Pray for Gospel Partnerships

Our 2019 budget is ~175,000 in ministry expenses + a goal of $50,000 in our account for startup expenses + savings for after Years 3-5 when our church partnerships begin to dwindle to account for potential gaps in self-sustainability. 

We are currently at ~$107,000/year and $22,000 in our start-up account. We are asking God for 10 more supporting churches and 20 more supporting individuals/families investing in what God is doing through The Oaks. Will you pray with us toward this end? Will you join our team of financial partners to help fund this mission going forward in Denver? Can you help us network with churches/partners who may be interested in what we're doing? We cannot do this alone.

Thank you for walking this journey with us! 

-Derick & The Oaks' members