Church planting, Inspiration, Leadership, Newcastle

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

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2015 Fasting Devotion, Day EIGHT

Read Matthew 16:13-20 (MSG)

*Beginning today, we will spend time each day during week TWO of our fasting to specifically pray for the church.

Ultimately, as we focus on God during our time of prayer and fasting to kick off the New Year, we are seeking a deeper revelation of Jesus Christ. Revelation just means gaining new insight into his character and nature. The disciples who walked with Jesus were no different. Daily, they were gaining revelation into who Jesus was and out of that flowed their own identity and purpose.

Jesus applauded Simon Peter for understanding him as the Messiah and made a declaration of who Peter was in turn. Jesus exhorted Peter and told him that it was upon HIM that Jesus would build his church and that not even the gates of hell could destroy it. We can walk in confidence today knowing it’s God who ultimately builds his church and nothing will stop it.

That’s pretty exciting!

God is continuing his work on this earth today through his church. There’s nothing else like it and we, at Lift Church, have such a privilege and honour to be a part of it. Let us take our personal revelation of who Christ is a step further and allow him to build his church through us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving me new insight and revelation into who you are during this fast. I pray specifically today that you will continue to build your church to be strong and mighty across the earth. Specifically, I pray for LIFT Church: I ask you to bless and grow it further so that we can make a difference in our city, reaching people for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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2015 Fasting, Day Two

Read 1 Kings 4:29-34

King Solomon ruled over all of Israel. He had great success and provision during his reign and was known for his wisdom. 1 Chronicles says God gave him wisdom because he asked for it. He didn’t ask for wealth, possessions, honour or the death of his enemies. He wanted wisdom and knowledge for how to lead the people.

Do you ever feel like you need answers? Or wish that your children would come to you for answers as you watch them struggle to make decisions? We can actually pray and ask God to make us wise like Solomon did. Knowing God has all the answers for us, let’s specifically seek Godly wisdom during our fast.

*This week, we are lifting up Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in prayer in addition to whatever you are personally bringing to God.

Lord, before I chase after anything this world has to offer, I first seek YOU and your wisdom. I know no matter what I face, you hold the answers for me. I pray you would speak to me through your word and guide my every step. Also, I lift up the leaders of our city. I pray for our Government officials, school administrations, council members, and anyone with influence in our community. Please guide them. Give them great wisdom as they make decisions that affect the ones they lead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Slowing Down Makes Me Notice

map of 20km run

What I love about training for my first marathon is that the “busy-ness” of the 100km/hr life I lead building Lift Church and raising three kids slows down to 10km/hr as I pound the pavement in training runs 5 days a week. Recently on a 20km run from my house in Belmont down to Caves Beach, I observed many things I have never really seen before. I’ve driven and I’ve sat passenger in a car down the Pacific Highway many times. The magnificent views of the ocean and Lake Macquarie pass by in an instant.

I don’t notice the slight undulations of the road or the bumps and uneven bits in the grass. I take no note of the smells with my windows rolled up; nor do I contemplate the old houses and rusty mailboxes, wondering how long its been since they have opened for communication. Nope. When I’m riding in a car, these are merely background images racing past my subconscious mind, rarely ever making me glance twice.

Yet, when I’m afoot, looking down to keep my stride through the parts with no path, I notice them all. The RunKeeper updates in my ear saying another five minutes have passed give me pause to remember exactly where I am on the road…

I can feel the gaps between the wooden planks on the bridge. The aroma of meat pies from the Bakers Cottage in Belmont South contrasts the stinky fish being caught as I cross Swansea Bridge. I resent the exhaust from passing cars and relish the fresh outdoor fragrance of trees and flowers on Fernleigh Track.

I’m reminded like never before that God is alongside me. He is Omni-present. He is Omniscient and Omnipotent. He sees above and below, to where I’m facing and from where I’ve come. I think I’m in control, metaphorically marking out my steady path so I avoid disappointment and pain; but he already knows the potholes and wrong turns I’ll make. He is never disillusioned or disappointed in me.

He numbers the hair on my head and died for me before I ever lived. He knows the fluctuations of my moods and the uneven ways of my motives. Every step I have taken and every one I’ve yet to take are ordered by him and I don’t even notice most of the time. I’m passing through this life, all 37 years, with speed and persistence as if I have somewhere important to go. All the while, he’s alongside me, patiently holding his hand out for me to slow down and consider his ways.

I think I’ve noticed a slight rise in elevation as I approach Swansea Heads, clever in my mind at how strong I’ve become and how long I have run. I am surprised at the beauty; how did I never notice it before? swansea headsMy Father, in his glory, gently reminds me that he created those waves with the work of his mighty hands and the revelation is all mine. Nothing has ever occurred to the One is WAS, who IS and who IS TO COME.

I run and I wonder the story of the broken down shack, all tagged with graffiti and disregarded as refuse. broken down shackI think of my own life and the damaged places and wounded bits and rest in knowing my God still finds me useful and worthy of his love, despite the scars.

No matter what rocky path might come my way or what heartache or tragedy takes my breath away, my God steadies me and secures my steps and my faith. For it’s not in the ground itself that I place my security. My assurance lies not in the width of my path.

swanseaIt’s in knowing the One whose

Faithfulness

Equals

Fidelity.

He maps my course and gives me comfort when the path seems too narrow and enmity enters in. He can calm a raging sea inside of me when I waver. He lifts me from the clay when I’m bogged down heavy and sets me on a rock, firm and surefooted again. His wing shelters me and his promises shift me toward everything I need and everywhere I should go. I only have to slow down to notice.

If you don’t know the God I’m talking about or have questions about your own faith journey, I’d love to introduce you to your Heavenly Father and come alongside you in your walk. Please contact me here.
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City Serve

rowly_paint

Since Lift Church is a new church plant, I sometimes struggle with how to juxtapose where we currently sit against our huge vision for the future.  Dreams of a community centre and coffee shop open to the public, hundreds of youth, thousands of people giving their lives to Christ and serving this community together overshadow our current reality!  Although we certainly do not despise the day of our small beginnings, it’s difficult to figure out how we can make a lasting difference in our community.

We recently heard about an amazing project called “CityServe,” and its goal to transform our city together through service.  It seeks to ELEVATE what’s already being done in Christian churches throughout our city, ENGAGE civic leaders and other influencers to identify needs, and to ESTABLISH an annual city-wide serving month which elevates the name of Jesus through making a huge impact.

What a perfect way for our church to be a part of something much bigger than what we could do on our own! Throughout the month of October, churches of every denomination are working on projects all over the region.

We found a need we could meet at the PCYC in Windale.

This club offers all sorts of programs like archery, gymnastics, boxing, judo, and more.  The huge facility houses multiple meeting rooms, an outdoor skate park, and a community garden.  The problem is that the building is in disrepair.  The PCYC lacks the funds to be able to make needed upgrades; and, the amount of manpower needed to clean up the place just doesn’t exist at the moment.  When we came to offer a hand and some finances to spruce up the place, we were readily received!

Graffiti has overtaken almost every blank wall space outside.  And, over time, the club has collected so many “extra” items, that the indoor storage was overrun with rubbish.  We spent about 60 man hours painting a massive concrete wall at the entrance to the club.  This first impression was quite un-inviting before but now looks clean and fresh.

wall_before

wall_paint

wall_after

We also hired a skip bin to remove a lot of the un-needed items which had filled some of the storage space.  Our team quickly filled it to the brim and everyone associated with the club is so happy to have the breathing room inside the facility.

move_junkethan_skipskip2

Although there are many more projects to be completed around the PCYC (and we can’t wait to come back and do more), we are so happy to get the ball rolling in the right direction.  Our church willingly served and gave up their Sunday afternoon.  We had a BBQ and fun time hanging out afterwards.  I love the culture we are building into the foundation of our church that puts others before ourselves and seeks to shine the light of Christ into our city. I pray no matter how large we grow, we always have more vision than we have resource to make a difference and keep moving forward. The best is yet to come!

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Grand Opening

launch team2

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)

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Stop and Smell the Roses

I’m amazed at how many people in my BEAUTIFUL city complain about it or say negative things.  No matter how many other beautiful places around the world there are, I refuse to look around at this:

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Newcastle Beach (20 mins from my house)!

And this:

lake
Lake Macquarie (5 mins from my house)!

And this:

lake2
Lake Macquarie from Green Point Reserve (5 mins from my house)!

And this:

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Blackbutt Reserve (15 mins from my house)!

And think anything except, “GOD, I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU CALLED ME HERE!  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!”

Oh, how sweet the light of day,And how wonderful to live in the sunshine! Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted. Take delight in each light-filled hour… (Ecclesiastes 11:7 MSG)