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

Australia, church, Church planting, Lift Church, Uncategorized, Video

Launch Rewind Video

So thankful for our talented volunteers!  This awesome night was captured beautifully on video.  Check it out:

Australia, church, Newcastle, Timing, Uncategorized

Preparing the Way

Just as God sent John the Baptist to “prepare the way” for Jesus on this earth, we are continually amazed at what God has and is preparing for us in Australia.  As we are stepping out to follow God’s voice for our future church plant, we have discovered some exciting things about the Hunter region where we are going.  With an approximate population of 645,000 people, this area extends from the North side of Sydney about 75 miles.  The city of Newcastle and Lift Church are going to be centrally located within this area.

When we picked the place we wanted to re-locate and plant our church, we asked God to close the doors if He didn’t want us there.  So far, there have been nothing but green lights.  We never had any super-spiritual reasons for choosing it.  We like where it is on the map in relation to Greg’s family and Sydney.  We like the population, weather, and proximity to the ocean.  That’s about it.  Well, we are continuing to be amazed by how much God is positioning us for an exciting time in the region.

While visiting Australia last month, everywhere we went, people were raving about the Newcastle economy and growth.  We found out 200,000 people are predicted to move to the Hunter region in the next decade.  Housing developments are thriving out West of Newcastle with projected growth in just one suburb already mapped out for the next seven years.  The mining industry is booming.  As a matter of fact, this was the front page of the newspaper the saturday before we left:  

The article says “the Hunter is defying an alarming industry trend to cement its position as the most productive region in Australia.”  While 53,000 people lost manufacturing jobs in 12 months across Australia, 4000 have gained a job in this sector in the greater Newcastle area during the same 12 months.

It is exciting to be in a city where there’s a buzz and energy about the future.  People love living there and are positive about the years to come.  The economy is thriving and there is an undercurrent of something great that you can “feel” in the city.

The growing economy is just one area God is touching in the region.  He is laying the groundwork and “going before us” to prepare the way for people to hear the Good News about Jesus Christ.  The Bible promises that the LORD himself goes before us and will be with us. It says he will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:8).    We are continually being reminded that this endeavor is not about us. God is moving in Australia.  Revival is coming.  We are just being allowed to be a part of it.  Rather than looking at what we are doing as a way to pat ourselves on the back for our great faith, or to promote ourselves as church leaders, I am daily being humbled at the fact that God would choose us to play a small part in what He is doing in the Hunter region.  We declare the promises of Isaiah 55 that we “will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.”

Australia, Church planting, Inspiration, Lift Church, religious, Uncategorized

Preparing for LIFT-OFF

Today is a significant day for many reasons!  (For one thing, it’s my daughter Sydney’s 3rd birthday.)  Secondly, we are headed to Australia for almost a month.  This trip is something like a Nehemiah reconnaissance mission where we plan to scope out Newcastle and lay some groundwork for our move.

Setting up our non-profit, opening bank accounts, looking at neighborhoods and schools, visiting churches, and networking with local pastors are all on our “to-do” list.  Not to mention we will meet our new 8 week old niece, Greg will find the surf, and we will have lots of Nana and Grandad family time.

I will drive on the streets of the city in which we are going to plant a church for the first time. Up until this point, I’ve only bypassed Newcastle via train or car from Forster (where Greg’s parents live) to Sydney.

My heart beats a little faster every time I think about what God has in store.  Have you ever been so excited about something yet so scared at the same time?  I imagine it’s how I would feel if I were standing on the edge of a bridge with a bungee cord tied to my ankle and someone behind me was yelling, “It’s ok!  You can do it!  Just jump!”  My hands sweat just thinking about it.  We are on the edge of a cliff preparing for “LIFT OFF” right now. Everything God has in store for our family, our church, and all of the people we will affect for His glory hinges on our willingness to trust Him and just JUMP!

A scripture that has been dear to us since last summer is John 12:32 and it says, “And when I am LIFTED up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  Jesus was referring to his imminent death and resurrection.  The point is that it’s Him, the Holy Spirit, who draws people to Himself.  We know that this journey is not about us.  Although we have a lot of sacrifice and hard work ahead of us, ultimately we have ONE JOB: to LIFT up the name of Jesus.  To make HIM famous.  When we do our part to LIFT Him up in our weekly services, in our training of leaders, in our parenting, in our community, HE will do the supernatural work which draws people into a saving relationship with Him.

As we head out on this amazing trip (which has now been delayed by another 10 hours as we are in a hotel in Los Angeles waiting for our new flight time in the morning), we are excited to share the name of our church with you all: LIFT CHURCH!

God is the one who LIFTS our feet from the miry clay and sets them on a rock (Psalm 40:2). He LIFTS our head (Psalm 3:3).  We LIFT our voices and our hands to praise the one who created the heavens and the earth. We LIFT up a standard. We LIFT up prayers.

God’s been clear on every part of this journey so far.  With clarity, we take the next step into what He has for us and LIFT CHURCH.  We are trusting Him with every day, every dollar, and every decision.

church, Church planting, religious, Timing, Uncategorized

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

“Hurry up and wait” is the phrase that I seem to live by these days.  We have prepared as much as we can thus far in our journey: Visa application submitted, trip to OZ budgeted and planned for this week, house for sale, de-cluttering in progress, video being made for our fund-raising when we get home… medical checks done.

The future seems so clear on one hand, yet so muddy on the other.  We know where we will be in a couple of years. I can envision living in Newcastle with an awesome church that is growing and thriving.  The kids are loving their schools and life is great.  Brett knows how to surf, we spend holidays with our family, Sam has an Aussie accent and I can drive on the left side of the road confidently.  I have a permanent visa to live in Australia as long as I want and our vision continues to grow for all that God wants to do in and through our family and church.  Life is good!

I know some of the steps that are going to have to happen before we get to that place.  It’s the timeline that’s muddy.  I know our house in Texas will sell eventually.  I know we will put our belongings into a 20 ft crate and ship it overseas.  We will say our goodbyes to family and friends.  We will have raised $100K for our church.  We will rent a house in Australia.  We will buy a car (or two).  We will start our church with an amazing launch team of people who feel called to help us get it off the ground.  We will have a website and a logo.  You get the point.

The hard part is that I really have no control over so many of these steps.  It’s the same for all of us.  We have vision and dreams for our future.  We know where we’d like to be in 5 years.  The questions is, “How do we get there?”

Every significant person in the Bible faced a situation full of unknowns.  Just think about Noah building that ark for a few decades when there was no rain in sight!  The good news is that juxtaposed with unknowns is our God who knows everything.   The Alpha and Omega, our God prepares the way.  Just like He prepared the way for Jesus through John the Baptist. God sent the wise men on a journey with provision for Jesus in Bethlehem long before he was actually born.

He sent Moses to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt while they were still in slavery.  Boaz was ready and waiting for Ruth once she took a risk and left home with her mother-in-law Naomi.

Every time I start to get impatient or worry about how the details are all going to fall into place for us to get settled in Australia, I’m reminded of this trend!  I’m reminded about every phase of my life up until now and how there has always been a season of preparation and waiting before actually eating of the fruit.

We all know you plant a seedling and it takes decades to grow into a shady tree.  We understand pregnancy takes nine months.  We tell our kids “good things come to those who wait.”  Every athlete works and prepares long before a national championship.

Waiting and preparing is oftentimes the hardest part.  I will not be disqualified because I quit.  I won’t miss out on important lessons I need to learn before we step into the big shoes of being Senior Pastors.  I will take each day as it comes and cross off the items on my to-do list without stressing over the items carried over to tomorrow.  I will wait with excitement upon the Lord to open each door He has for us.

ARC, Church planting, Inspiration, religious

Church Planting???

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” is what we refer to as the Great Commission (See Matthew 28:19, 20).  We make disciples through personal evangelism and mentorship, but beyond and in addition to this, the local church is where we must plant ourselves to truly flourish (Psalm 92:13).  Our passion for the local church and its relevance and importance is what drives us and gives our family purpose.  After all, the church is what Jesus is coming back for someday, His bride!  One of the best organizations I know of that exists to plant life-giving churches all over the United States is ARC.  We love their model of church planting and feel so blessed to partner with ARC as we move forward with our plans.  Even though ARC doesn’t plant churches internationally, we will be using the ARC model for our church. 

The Association of Related Churches  was started in 2000 by the late Pastor Billy Hornsby along with Greg Surratt from Seacoast Church.  Their desire was to work with church planters and leaders, as well as churches in transition to provide support, guidance and resources to launch and grow them.  ARC helps train and equip church planters, provides financial and other means of support, as well as ongoing leadership training and mentorship for the life of a church.  Their vision is to plant 2000 churches by 2020.  ARC has already helped launch over 200 churches.

Greg and I are blessed to be involved with ARC through Celebration Church as our Senior Pastor, Joe Champion, is on the board of this great organization.  We went through ARC church planter trainings when we were preparing to launch Celebration’s first satellite campus two summers ago.  The irony is that the entire time we were there, we talked about how thankful we were that we weren’t “real church planters” but just “satellite pastors” who didn’t have to worry about fund-raising, creating bylaws, hiring staff, putting together a board of overseers, etc.  We listened as other church planters talked about their visions and we were excited to be a part of Pastor Joe and Lori’s vision for Austin, TX; we had no desire to start our own church!

Fast forward two years… now that we are walking out our calling to plant a church in Australia, we are so thankful for all of the exposure and teaching we have received from ARC.  We have many great relationships with other church planters and leaders across the country.  The resources ARC provides to church planters are unbelievable and we plan on gleaning from the ARC pastors and leaders every step along the way in our journey.

This weekend, we are traveling to Birmingham to attend the 2.0 training with ARC.  We didn’t go through all of the training two years ago and they have revamped their materials since then.  We are excited to spend the week at Church of the Highlands with Pastor Chris Hodges and the ARC team.

This time, we will be soaking up every bit of the information they provide with a new set of eyes and ears.  Maybe as you read this, you are thinking, “I’m glad I’m not Greg and Stacy… wouldn’t want to be called to THAT!”  Be careful… you never know where you might land in a couple of years!  In the meantime, let’s all do our part as disciples of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission!

Church planting, God Speaks, Inspiration, religious

Where Are We Going?

Sometimes God speaks so clearly that you “know that you know” what direction to turn and how to proceed with important decisions.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that’s what happened with regard to us planting a church in Australia next year.  We have no doubts that God has called us!  There are other times when we pray and seek God for direction and we don’t really feel like He is directing  us anywhere!  All of our options seem pretty good.  There’s no clear indication it’s a mistake no matter which way we choose.

One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 119:105.  It says that God’s word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.  Two significant thoughts arise from this simple phrase: one, that God only illuminates the next step that is in front of us- a lamp isn’t very bright and doesn’t allow us to see very far ahead.  Secondly, there’s no point in lighting up our feet for the sake of staring at them!  I’m pretty sure we need a lamp at our feet because we are moving them somewhere and we need to see where we are stepping.

So many times, Christians I know stop themselves from making decisions because they feel God hasn’t spoken to them.  They are “praying” about “IT” for ages.  At some point, we have to start moving in a direction.  God can’t make our feet move.  He can’t steer a parked car.  We have to trust that when we are praying and seeking God while pressing forward that He will let us know if we are making a wrong turn; we can then switch directions.  I call this a closed door.  God will close a door, meaning we will hit a dead-end if we are not supposed to step in a certain direction.  He is faithful and God is not going to allow us to mess up our future because we step out in faith in something we are seeking Him about.

As Greg and I began to pray about where God would have us plant a church, we had no “aha moment.”  Literally, we began to research a city we like for its location on the map and proximity to both Sydney and Forster, where Greg’s family lives.  Newcastle, New South Wales, has a population of about half a million and we love that.  There are beaches and lakes and the weather is wonderful.   We did a hundred Google searches and Greg spoke to Aussies who know the area well.  While he was in Australia at the Hillsong Conference in early July, he asked pastors who have lived in the region for years what the spiritual climate and churches are like there.  He even met with a city planner in Newcastle to talk about the economy and growth potential.  All lights were green.

There were no hurdles or negative opinions about us moving there and starting this journey.  As a matter of fact, the consensus among everyone is that Newcastle is a great place to raise a family; it needs a great church; it’s growing and thriving; the age demographic is diverse.  Housing is more affordable in Newcastle than in Sydney.  Oh, and Lonely Planet declared Newcastle number 9 in their top 10 picks for best cities in the world! (Check out www.visitnewcastle.com.au for info.)

God hasn’t written the word Newcastle in the clouds for us as of yet.  Our decision may not sound super-spiritual but He certainly hasn’t closed any doors.  So, we are moving forward, one lamp lit step at a time towards moving to Newcastle, NSW, Australia next summer to start a church!