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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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)

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:

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Lake Macquarie (5 mins from my house)!

And this:

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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)

My Christmas Letter

This year, my usual Christmas schedule was “off” since we moved to Australia! Here are some highlights from our year that you might have received in a Christmas letter if I had sent one:

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Disney World trip: It was amazing to go to Disney for a week before we moved! I still miss Mickey and dream about another trip to Florida with all three kids.  We left Sammy in TX so he wouldn’t slow us down this time.  It’s only fair to him that we go again ASAP! #wheredreamscometrue

beach

Moving to Australia: We love where God has called us! #newcastle

furniture arrival

Furniture arriving: Our furniture left TX on April 10. We moved into our rental house on June 1.  Our furniture arrived around July 20.  Camping out in our house was old news by the time our shipment arrived.  We were so happy to have our own beds and more than 6 suitcases worth of clothing for the five of us. #stuff

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Hillsong Conference: There’s nothing like worshiping God in an arena with 25,000 people from all over the world. #spectacular

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Getting Brett into Belmont Christian College: God provided a way for Brett to attend the great private school at the end of our street.  This has helped us all in our transition. #education

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Meeting Robyn and Angie: My two neighbourhood friends who make me feel at home everyday.  From early morning runs, to “happy hour,” baking, and special celebrations for birthdays and holidays, these two girls are already like family to me. #friendship

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First Lift Service: Having our first service in our rented church building was indescribable.  We never thought we would be as far along as we are in building a team in 2012. #blessed

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Our First Aussie Members: We were surprised the day this beautiful couple came to us (after meeting at Hillsong Conference) to say they felt called to join Lift Church.  They lead worship too! #answertoprayer

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Running Blackmore Half Marathon: I trained throughout winter to run this race so I could experience the beauty of Sydney in a different way.  I ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and ended at the Opera House. #lovetorun

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Celebrating 13 year anniversary:  I love this man more than words can say.  I am so proud of the Godly leader he has become and cannot believe the journey we are on with our three amazing kids. #truelove

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Ephesians 3:20 MSG)

My Way is the Right Way?!?

They speak English in Australia so it can’t be THAT different here, can it?  Let’s just take the grocery store as an example… the one place I seem to have breakdowns.  I’m handling the adjustment to living in a foreign country pretty well all things considered.  But, when I go to the grocery store, I find myself frustrated and overwhelmed at all of the things that are different. You know, the ones that make no sense.  Why do they individually wrap cucumbers with plastic and call them Telegraph and Continental cucumbers?  Is that the same as the cucumbers I buy in Texas?  

Where is the orange cheddar cheese?  I have yet to see it ANYWHERE in ANY STORE on ANY ISLE.  However, you can buy white “Tasty Cheese” in blocks, shredded, grated, low-fat, low salt, every brand.  The eggs aren’t refrigerated and can be found next to the bread.  Kids drink cordial, not Kool-Aid.  Cilantro is called Coriander and we measure in kilos, not pounds.  You can’t find coffee for a drip coffee maker and biscuits are cookies.  Scones are biscuits and they are served with jam, not gravy.  Wholemeal bread is wheat bread and it has taken me three months to find one my kids like, similar to “American bread.”  You won’t find an isle labeled “Mexican” but you WILL find huge sections of isles with Indian and Asian foods, spices, and noodles!  Pepperoni pizza is hard to come by, but pizza with prawns is not.  Oh, and that is shrimp, if you’re wondering. Juice boxes are poppers.  And, you must always have a one or two dollar gold coin on hand for the shopping carts.

So, needless to say, I get a little stressed out walking in circles with toddlers in grocery stores while trying to find simple ingredients or substitutes for ingredients for dishes I’m trying to cook.  My frustration comes from a lack of familiarity and also a deep down arrogance that believes MY WAY IS THE RIGHT WAY!  Whenever I find myself saying, “Why do THEY do it this way?”  Or, “This makes no sense the way THEY have organized the layout of the store.”  THEY being Australians.

Over and over, I’m faced with the reality that My Way isn’t necessarily the Right Way.  It’s A WAY I’m comfortable with but it doesn’t mean it’s the Best Way.

These difficult grocery store moments make me see our church through a different lens.

I can look at everything I feel is the “right way” to do church, “my way,” and ask with a genuine spirit, “Is this God’s way?”  Is this the way we can bring the most glory to our Lord?  Are we making the pathway clear for those who don’t yet know Him?

I often sit in churches I’m visiting and wonder, “How did this become “The Way” we do church?” Over time, I guess trends develop and people get used to certain things. Our tastes, so to speak, are aligned and we like a certain flavour so we stick with it.  We expect this denomination to worship this way and that denomination to worship that way.

I want to be the kind of pastor who isn’t afraid to shake things up a bit.  I want to ask the question, “Why?” and to throw in the towel on Sacred Cows if they aren’t helping us move toward the vision God has given us.  I want to be willing to see things through someone else’s eyes and lay down my pride in moments where my idea isn’t the best one to help us reach our goal.

I want to keep the shoppers in mind as we plan our signage and always make it easy to ask questions.  It will be ok if the gold coin was left at home; and, Jesus can work with whatever ingredients someone brings to the table.

Tooting Horns

“I love my husband so much! He is AMAZING!  Look what he bought me!” “I ran 25km, aren’t I AMAZING?” “My kids are the cutest. They are JUST AMAZING!” “I ate dinner at the best, most expensive, AMAZING restaurant.” “Look, I’m hanging out with someone famous. Amazing, right?” Spruikers are everywhere these days.

We promote our own “causes” now more than ever.  What we cook, what we wear, how we look, where we are on vacation, our politics. We post and pin.  Tumblr and Twitter, Google+ and WordPress.  Connected to circles and friends, we can be LinkedIn with anyone from anywhere in the world.  We Skype and we blog.  We “like” and we re-post.  We troll famous people and people we wish would follow us all in hope that someone will read our status update, look at our Instagram, comment on our newest post, and validate us in some way.

By the time we get up to speed on how to use one arena of social media, we find out we are behind on the next one that those on the cutting edge have already mastered.  But why?  Why the incessant need for approval and validation, oftentimes from perfect strangers or acquaintances?  We are on the computer or our mobile devices, checking in and checking out what everyone else is doing.  In some way, we feel connected, needed or better about ourselves.

Sometimes, though, it makes us feel worse.  Sometimes I see the party to which I wasn’t invited.  I see friends hanging out when I’m lonely.  I see quotes from people smarter than me.  I find out so-and-so is much more popular and “liked” than I ever will be.

Social media is the new “norm.”  It’s this generation’s way of communicating.  Bosses can vet their potential employees.  One can stay connected with her friends across the ocean if she moves away.  I’m encouraged by my favourite preacher and informed about upcoming events and promotions happening in my network. I like to share what I’m reading to encourage my friends.

You and I can also waste a lot of time.

I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church while teaching them to have an answer for those who brag about having a “spectacular ministry” rather than a sincere heart.  Like anything else, too much of a good thing can take away its goodness.  For goodness’ sake, PLEASE don’t tweet all day long.  Have a genuine phone call with a friend.  Read a book start to finish, not just the Cliff’s Notes online.  Teach your kids to find their self-worth in who God created them to be, not in who re-pins their cool outfit or “likes” their provocative picture on FB.

I have to wonder how sincere our society has become when everything we see is someone else’s highlight reel.  I like to brag about how beautiful my city is (click here) and how precious my kids are.

But I know that I have bad days too.

My kids are bratty sometimes.  Runkeeper doesn’t post to Twitter every time I skip a run or overeat.  I have friends I only see on FB which gives me a chance to stay connected and see their kids grow up.  I have people I admire on Twitter who inspire me.  I look at your pictures on Instagram to enjoy what you find beautiful.  I roll my eyes when you complain.  I un-follow you when you have too many personal conversations and force me to read them.  I Pin recipes and that’s about it.

There’s no harm in connecting on social media; in fact, I think we will be left behind if we don’t.  But let us use our time, our voices, and our talents to encourage one another and have sincerity of heart as we brag about our AMAZING, spectacular lives God has given us!