Transplanting Cactus

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I recently planted three gorgeous little cacti for my bathroom windowsill. They came in tiny yellow plastic pots and I presumed it would take all of five minutes to transplant them to their new homes. My goal was the finished product you see on the left. Simple, eh? Some nice healthy soil, the perfectly sized pot, a sun-filled window ledge. For $10 each including the black ceramic, I was proud of myself for coming up with a cute, inexpensive, low maintenance idea.

What I didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to get my fat fingers around the edges of the pots in order to pull out the cactus and remove it. As I tried to reach for the little plant, I kept pricking my fingers. It seemed so fragile and small yet every time I tried to grab it, I would pull away in pain. I knew what was best for this little fellow: my cute K-Mart black pot. Not this ugly Bunnings temporary home. img_9965Yet, as the plant drew my blood, I almost ripped the little sucker straight from its roots trying to detach it from its former dwelling.

As a Pastor and leader, I often think about the environment, the soil if you will, of LIFT Church, where people are being planted. Jesus has a whole parable about the quality of soil and how something can flourish or die depending on the environment in which it’s planted.I feel a great responsibility to ensure our “soil” is full of nutrients, giving every opportunity for people to thrive.

However, planting these little cacti made me think more about the plant than the soil.

Each of us has a great personal responsibility to ensure we are not so prickly on the outside that God cannot guide us into the place where our roots can run deep.

I’ve witnessed hurting people hurt others unintentionally because of fear or insecurity. Some people stagnantly wilt in their current circumstances even though healthy soil awaits them only a few steps away. An unwillingness to allow God to grab hold of us causes us to die a slow spiritual death. People are as supple as succulents; and, I know my cacti could have lived quite some time in their flimsy yellow pots. That doesn’t mean it was the best choice for them, however. Just because you and I can survive despite ordinary, mediocre circumstances, doesn’t mean we should.

Our God wants us to have an abundant life.

img_9966Sadly, I’ve watched someone with outward beauty actually push people away, inhibiting her future growth. Soft and beautiful on the outside like like this little succulent on the left, but if anyone gets close enough to see past the gauzy exterior, ouch! We may not physically harm someone in order to keep them out, but harsh words or negativity drive others away. A defensive nature puts distance between us.

God can never wrap his loving arms around us if we rebuff him with our thorns. We might not even realise the repellent we have become because we have learnt to hide behind our brilliant bristles.

I believe God has a wonderful place for each of us to flourish if we allow him to move us. When we let Jesus soften our rough edges, he can grab hold of us completely. I don’t want God to have to pull away because my spurs have pushed him out. I don’t want to inhibit what he wants to do with me because my own personal pain manifests in spikes.

Let’s remind ourselves today of God’s beautiful promise in Psalm 92 and never allow the status quo to forbid our fruitful planting. Allowing God to gently move us, will only bring forth the beauty he has in store.

“Good people will prosper like palm trees, Grow tall like Lebanon cedars; transplanted to God’s courtyard, They’ll grow tall in the presence of God, lithe and green, virile still in old age” (Psalm 92:14 MSG).

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Plucked or Planted?

treeMy community is strewn with uprooted trees and fallen branches after massive cyclonic storms ravaged our region last week. Trees have crushed cars, houses and power lines. I have been shocked to see massive gums lying sideways on the ground with their entire root balls exposed like this one in the photo I took at the end of my street. It’s like the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk came around and pulled up the trees like you and I would pull up a weed.

I couldn’t help but think of some of the beautiful tree imagery found in God’s word as my Facebook feed was bombarded with photos like mine. The Lord promises to make us “oaks of righteousness, displaying his splendour.” The righteous are also told we will flourish like a “palm tree” and a “cedar of Lebanon” bearing much fruit, even in old age.

I don’t know of any scriptures that refer to our beloved Australian Eucalyptus trees or of any reference to 3 metre trees being unstable and easily moved. So, I set out to do some research intending to make a correlation between trees with strong roots versus weak ones and how they might relate to us spiritually.

Much to my creative dismay, I found out all of these trees have amazingly strong roots. I mean, some go down as deep as the tree is tall. Some hardwoods have tap roots digging metres into the ground. Roots can extend sideways as far out as the canopy of leaves above the ground.

Oak trees need little water or fertiliser once their roots are established. Gum trees thrive in wet areas as their roots rest in the upper layers of the soil. Palm trees have roots that regenerate and continually jut out from all angles acting as anchors and feeders for the trees.

The roots of trees are so strong they can crack foundations of houses, lift up concrete walkways, and kill off every other living thing nearby as they take nutrients and water from the soil. No wonder God uses them as similes all throughout the Word as he paints a picture of our strength and glory in his eyes!

So, my question remains – how did these massive Eucalyptus trees in the Hunter fall over with their roots and soil in tact as if I personally transplanted them from a pot and laid them down to await their next home?

The ground around the tree became totally saturated with rainfall, making the tree vulnerable. Then, winds upwards of 100km/hr blew, ripping them out of the ground as easily as you or I could pick a daisy in our back yard. (I’m no arborist so please excuse my simplistic explanation for the sake of your personal growth and inspiration!).

I want to remain firmly planted when the storms of life rage against me, never allowing them to uproot my faith or my view of God and his steadfast care for me.

Unlike a giant gum tree who has no preference or say in where he is planted, we have the privilege of choosing in which soil we place ourselves, how much we are watered and fertilised as well as how much input we receive from the SON (pun intended).

Psalm 92:13 says those who are planted “IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD” will FLOURISH.

I’m a church planter, so it goes without saying I’m passionate about the church. It’s what Jesus says he’s coming back for, his bride; it’s to whom most of the New Testament was written; it’s the hope of the world to bring communities together and to care for those in need; it’s where we teach and instruct; it’s a house of prayer and a place of worship to our God.

Not being PLANTED in good healthy soil as a believer is like telling that gum tree to grow on the sandy shores of Redhead Beach. Or, expecting it to flourish in a car park with concrete all around, poor drainage, and pipes cutting into the roots underneath. No one would think that’s sane! We must find the nutrient rich soil of a local church and stick ourselves in it if we want to flourish.

We must care for the soil and keep it watered by serving and building relationships. Let us never over saturate with self-doubt, fear or judgement of those around us who are doing their best to thrive too. We must stand tall in the face of trials, sending out our roots for Living Water that nourishes and protects. We have to find comfort in the canopy of other believers, knowing there is protection when we aren’t isolated and exposed.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-9

Shrug Your Shoulders!

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Discouragement is something we all face at varying times in our lives.  Having unmet expectations can lead to disappointment and sadness.  I would be lying if I told you this last year moving across the world didn’t hold moments of true discouragement for me personally and for my family.

We had a local pastor who questioned our coming with strong statements like, “are you sure you’re called to Newcastle?  We already have a lot of great churches here.”  Great people have visited our church and didn’t return for whatever reason.  That’s always discouraging for me because I think everyone should love our church and want to be a part of it!

I’m sure you all have the regular letdowns of your spouse not meeting certain expectations (is mine the only one who leaves socks all over the house) and/or kids disobeying or deceiving you despite all your good efforts at instilling morals and molding their character.

It’s not “IF” we are going to be discouraged, it’s “WHEN” and the bigger question becomes “HOW” do we deal with it?  At times, I have had big fat pity parties for myself becoming the victim in my own mind about how life isn’t fair and usually blaming others.  If everyone would just “do things my way” life would be so much easier!  That’s not a good approach… it’s self-centered and a set up for more disappointment because I have yet to master the art of controlling other people!  It’s a losing battle that will bring casualties every time.

In the book of Acts, Luke writes the story of the beginnings of the church and many experiences of the first followers of Christ.  It’s like an exciting action movie in parts and if we read the passages carefully, we see extraordinary accounts of persecution and trials that these early church leaders came up against.  Discouragement unlike any most of us have or will ever encounter.

Paul and Barnabas were going about telling people the good news of Jesus and lives were being changed.  Practically the whole city turned up one Sabbath to hear Paul preach.  The message of salvation spread like wildfire all through the region.  You could say these guys were building the first “mega-church” with great success!  Week after week, the numbers were growing and people were coming their way.

Then, towards the end of Chapter 13, something interesting happens: “Some of the Jews convinced the most respected women and leading men of the town that their precious way of life was about to be destroyed. Alarmed, they turned on Paul and Barnabas and forced them to leave. Paul and Barnabas

shrugged their shoulders

and went on to the next town, Iconium, brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit, two happy disciples.” (vs 50 – 52 MSG).

How many times do we have difficult situations (usually involving people) that keep us up at night?  Stomach ulcers ensue from the difficult co-worker who seems out to get us.  Pastors who let financial stress or a conflict in the church cause them to question their call.  Major stress from family members can bring on depression and sadness.

How did Paul and Barnabas seem to move on quickly from this major setback in their ministry?  Momentum was going their way with influence in the city among leaders; momentum that was building the church was suddenly thwarted by some negativity and bad influence.

I believe they shrugged their shoulders (one version says they “dusted off their feet”) and kept moving on the same way we can all move beyond discouragement – by staying full of the Holy Spirit!  Staying in close proximity to our Heavenly Father who loves us no matter what our circumstances.  Keeping a heavenly perspective throughout trials knowing that this world is not our home.  Making sure we aren’t setting people up as our Gods in order to gain approval or fulfillment.

I want to remain FULL OF JOY as ONE HAPPY DISCIPLE no matter what comes my way.  What about you?  How do you stay encouraged?  Feel free to share in the comments section so “that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12).

Grand Opening

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Well, this amazing journey of church planting is now entering a new phase.  Last Saturday, May 11, we officially “launched” Lift Church!  This just means we pushed all of our marketing (radio, mass mailers, FB ads) towards this ONE BIG DAY in order to create some critical mass.  And, guess what?  It worked!

Prior to last weekend, our core team has been holding great services with anywhere from 30-60 people in them.  Saturday, we had 161 in attendance and most were first time guests.  Friends and fellow pastors drove from Sydney, Maitland, and Nelson Bay to celebrate with us.  The service itself was very special and we sizzled some sausages while kids ate sugar and ran laps through the jumping castles afterwards!

Most importantly, one lady made a decision to become a Christian and many of our guests experienced church and God in a fresh way that was upLIFTING, pardon the pun, and actually surprising for them.  Many will return and begin this journey of understanding their Creator alongside us.  Now, we have a great foundation on which to build.

On a personal note, I have to share what meant the most to me on the day…

Our family moved to Newcastle 11 months ago from Texas; we didn’t know anyone here.  We came with amazing training from ARC on how to plant a church, money we had raised from supporters in the States, some experience in pastoring, and that’s about it for the tangible pieces.  Everything else we owned was all tied up in the secret places of our hearts.  Our dreams, vision, and burden was alive in us but we felt very alone.  We believed strongly that God had called us and sent us here; however, we really had NO IDEA how we would get our first members.

One family moved here from TX to help us and then suddenly in July, one more approached us and asked if they could come along (which we thought was quite funny as we really weren’t in a position to say NO!)!  Over the next month, we gathered a couple more people which allowed us to begin “living room church” with five families.

As the weeks went on and one by one we added to this core team, shared our vision, and began putting systems in place and holding serves, a significant shift began to occur.  What was once only in OUR hearts, poured out and took root in OTHER PEOPLE’S HEARTS.  What I saw on Saturday, and what made me weep on and off all day (and again as I type), was a group of about

40 “LIFTERS” who were absolutely SOLD OUT to our vision.

They came early and stayed late.

They moved equipment and decorated.

They shopped and planned and cooked and cleaned.

They practiced playing their instruments and singing.

Their kids joined in the labour of love that was about to “LIFT-OFF!”

The enthusiasm was electric and each and every one of them invited friends and family and were so proud of what they, with God’s help, had accomplished.

This, to me, is God’s Church at its best.  Unity and enthusiasm working hand in hand.  A dying to ourselves and a willing sacrifice in order to provide a place of refuge and hope for the lost and hurting.

When we place our gifts in God’s hands and allow them to be used in the local church, there’s no greater example to the world of Christ’s love and character; and THIS, my friends, is why I love the church.

Before Jesus was captured and crucified, he prayed a beautiful prayer for his followers.  Tonight as I reflect on all that is good in my life, I am praying a portion of this same prayer over Lift Church and our amazing team:

“I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.” (John 17:20-23, MSG)

Your Personal Invitation

As we ramp up towards the launch of Lift Church on May 11, we would like to personally invite you to come check us out.  Take a look at this video and hear our story.  We pray that through our life-giving church body, you can encounter God in the same way Greg and I have.

Watch This!

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Having three kids means someone is ALWAYS trying to get my applause.  Brett (11), is constantly learning a new method to solve one of his FIVE Rubik’s cubes and wants to show me.  Sydney (4) is perfecting a trick, dancing ballet, putting on shows, and practicing her letters.  Sam (2)… well, this cheeky little toddler is usually jumping off something or hitting some sort of ball showing off his skills.  He shouts “LOOK-A ME!” and it doesn’t matter what important grown-up task I’m doing at the time, I can’t help but stop everything to see what this bundle of joy is up to now!

Needless to say, a child seeking his parent’s attention and approval is at the very core of his nature.  Our kids aim to please the ones who love them most; they want affirmation and encouragement every step along the way.

I feel like this with my Heavenly Father right now.  Our lives revolve around fulfilling the mandate we’ve been given to build a church here in Newcastle.  At every step, we know God is working on our behalf, supernaturally aligning and drawing people to us.  We are also doing everything we can to “show off” for our God.  At every step, I’m so excited to say,

“Look at this, God!”

“Take notice of what we are doing for you!”

“Watch what we can do as a team!”

“See how amazing we will make your church!”

“Be on the lookout out for how we will please you with our offering!”

The Bible says that “the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9 NASB).

God loves us just the way we are and we can’t make him love us any more or less.  However, just like our own kids have the ability to please us, we are equipped to make choices that will please God.  Our task is to “single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and [we’ll] kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above [us] and proving [our] worth to the people around [us].” (Romans 14:18 MSG).

Last weekend, we moved into the school hall Lift Church will call “home” for the next year or more.  Our beautiful team worked tirelessly opening boxes of equipment, setting it all up, training on its use, and then executed a powerful, anointed service that was PLEASING on every level.  We had 53 people and one woman became a Christ follower!

We are gearing up for our advertised May 11 “GRAND-OPENING” and our goal is to fill up our venue with hundreds of people who are hungry to know more about God and His church.  In single-mindedly serving Christ, we believe He is well-pleased.

Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. (2 Cor 5:9 MSG)