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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Watch This!

hillsborough

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)

Lift Church Left the Living Room

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

When we moved to Australia at the end of April, our family of five had six suitcases in our possession with no idea where we would live, what we would drive, where the kids would go to school and virtually NO PLAN for how we would get our first Lift Church members.

But, we had a word from God and an idea of our next step.

Almost seven months later, I find myself in the same boat with different circumstances.

A word from God and an idea of my next step.  

Outside the timeframe of about a week, I’m not sure what steps God will have me take to fulfill the dreams and visions he has given me.  His word lights our feet on the path like a lantern, not a floodlight.  God’s word is ever-present, yet daily bread.  We must come to him every morning to receive it and partake.  Thinking we can meet with him once and have the answers for our next few months is like eating breakfast one morning and expecting it to fill us for a few weeks.  No, we must go back for nourishment every few hours if we want to be healthy.

A lamp at my feet.  Although looking out beyond means darkness and uncertainty, there is great comfort in simply looking at my feet to see what God has placed before me.  The safety of the glow of his word keeps me in boundaries and shows me the next step.  I am hungry for his presence like never before.  If I step outside his light for even a day, I feel cold and empty.  I must get back on the path to remain in alignment with my guide.

I can’t even really explain how we graduated from the living room to have a service in a rented church building; God has done it.  I am literally IN AWE at what has transpired in every circumstance where God has provided for our needs in relationship, connections, friends, and answers to “starting church questions!”

Our goal is to grow this core team to around 25 committed families before we spend the majority of our raised money on equipment, a building, advertising, etc. to “LAUNCH” a weekly service to the public.  Right now, we are building through word of mouth and divine appointments; this keeps our costs low as this core team develops.  Our first in home meeting was on August 12 with 17 people.

I am so excited to say that Saturday night, November 17, we had 36 people at our first service with FIVE visiting families!  Our simple set up had acoustic worship with two guitarists and a couple of vocalists.  And, God’s presence was tangible!  We had our kids separated into two venues and they all LOVED IT.

It was beautiful to see our original “living room team” using their gifts to serve others in kids, hospitality, and worship.  Everyone talked like they can’t wait to come back and they are already inviting other friends.  I’m reminded of the word God gave us that inspired the name of our church, Lift.  John 12:32 says, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”  The word at our feet guiding us daily is that we are to focus on Jesus, lifting up HIS NAME, and that by his spirit, people will be drawn.

What word are you standing on this week?  God is faithful to speak to us when we seek Him.  He promises to guide us step by step into the destiny he has for us. We may not have all the answers.  Sometimes his word is practical and feels unspiritual.  Other times, it seems so dim we feel like we can’t take the next step at all.  Maybe we aren’t supposed to.  Or, maybe we have stepped off his lighted path.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. (Ephesians 1:18 NLT)

Happy Blog-iversary

I can hardly believe it’s been a year since I started this blog.  Mainly, it was an attempt to journal everything God is doing along this awesome journey of church planting.  It’s also been a great way to keep our friends and supporters in the loop as we celebrate the “wins” along the way.  Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable posts:

Our big announcement that God was calling us to plant a church down unda prompted my first post. A short while after, we made the announcement that we would be moving to Newcastle.  Our son, Brett, had a wonderful reaction to the news and I wrote about it along with an encouragement to us all!

A three-part blog on why the church matters ended with a celebration of the fact that the church is not a place we go, but a people who ARE!  Shortly thereafter, we had our biggest transition to date, leaving staff at Celebration Church and ending a wonderful fruitful season there.  This meant No Turning Back!

This great video articulates our vision and story (and has cute footage of my kids who have already changed so much!). Then, we started the year off with prayer and fasting and God really spoke to me deeply about breaking through to Him!  One of my favourite posts prophesied the amazing neighbours God has placed us among.

I DID have a few moments of wanting to throw in the towel on this whole gig and I wrote about one of them in early April just before we left.

Perhaps most significantly, I can testify to God’s faithfulness in his provision.  First with our house and secondly with the first Lift Church members!

I am looking forward to many more testimonies of lives changing and a city being impacted by our team as it continues to grow.  I hope you will follow along and be a part of all God is doing in and through our family.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Growing up, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of my favorite TV programs.  I can still see King Friday XIII and Lady Elaine in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  I can hear Mr. Rogers singing his opening song asking me to be his neighbor while changing from his work shoes into sneakers and putting on a casual sweater.

Fred Rogers had a way with kids.  His ability to be himself on camera and speak to children about real issues like fear, war, divorce, and other tough topics connected with children and made an impact.  I can still hear the sounds of the trolley coming on-screen to take us to the land of make-believe.  Fred Rogers is quoted as saying one of the greatest gifts you can give somebody is “the gift of your authentic self.”

So often, as Christians, we are not our authentic selves.  We go to church and are one type of person and then come home and are someone else to our kids.  Someone in public who seems happy and friendly to strangers then turns to her husband and is rude and impatient.  It’s like we transport ourselves from the neighborhood of make-believe (real world) into the reality of home.

Reading John 1:14 in The Message made me think of good ‘ole Mr. Rogers.  It says, “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”  This, of course, is referring to Jesus coming to earth as God, yet entirely man.  He moved into the neighborhood and was rejected by the very people with whom he should have had credibility.  He made such a difference every place he traveled that no one was the same after being in his presence.  People were healed, delivered, and set free from touching his robe.  Power moved into the neighborhood when Jesus came to town.

The Bible says that the same power that raised Christ from the dead actually LIVES in us, as Christians.  The power of God should be evident in our lives everywhere we go. If someone can’t look at our house and associate what moved into the neighborhood with Godliness, the fruit of the spirit, etc. then we are failing at our job as Christians.  Just as Mr. Rogers was known in his community as a friendly, kind neighbor who showed respect to everyone from Mr. McFeely the delivery man to Handyman Negri and Lady Aberlin, we should be to those God has placed us among.

Greg and I are praying daily for the neighbors we will meet in our new city in Australia.  Before we can speak to anyone about Jesus or invite them to church, they are going to know us as their neighbors.  They will know how we treat each other and our kids.  They will hear how we talk and whether we are “Negative Nelly’s” or full of life and positivity.  Our goal is to serve those around us and have an impact through friendship and neighborly love.  This will be pleasing to God and will make room for his Holy Spirit to move them toward a relationship with Him.

So in the words of Fred Rogers, I pray our neighbors will say:

“I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.”

Caught in Freedom

On Sunday, we visited Pastor Phil Camden’s Church 180.  It meets in two locations in Newcastle and we were in the downtown locale.  They purchased an old theater and it is perfect for church.

Everyone was so friendly as they handed us welcome brochures and offered us tea and coffee.  The pastoral care pastor, Garth Belford saw us and immediately escorted us around.  It was obvious we were new and I loved the way everyone seemed genuinely interested in greeting us and getting to know us a little.

The service opened with the Hillsong United song “Go” where the first line is “Giving it all away, away!”  I don’t know whether it was the presence of God in the room, the reality of our “giving it all away,” or just the beauty of seeing people like us worshipping God in a way that felt comfortable that caused me to be overcome with emotion.  Maybe it was a combination of it all.  The song was appropriate on every level. Greg and I are “giving it all to go your way!”  As much as all of the unknowns can be intimidating for us, we are also in a place of perfect peace. Knowing we are doing exactly what we are called to do is refreshing and meaningful.  My favorite line from the same song is “we are caught in your freedom.”

When you live in a place of total surrender to God’s will for your life, there is ultimate freedom.  So many people think if they give their lives to God, there is a list of “what-not-to-do’s” waiting on the other side.  The opposite is actually true.  Christ set us free to live a FREE life (Galatians 5).  That means we walk without fear, with an attitude of gratitude in all things, in peace, with joy and dreaming big dreams.  The only place I want to be “caught” is in this very freedom.

When we know we are standing for what Christ died for and surrendering everything to go His way, there is complete freedom.  I love the bathroom stall sign at Church 180:

I want to encourage you today to turn your “cant’s into cans.”  With God, your dreams can and should turn into plans.  All things are truly possible.  As we venture out into the unknown to plant a church in Newcastle, it is encouraging to know that we will be in a city with other great churches who are making a difference.  To know their heart and methods are Christ-centered and their “product” (for lack of a better term) is much like what Lift Church will be is very inspiring.  Many lives will continue to be changed and we feel honored and blessed to come alongside Pastor Phil and Church 180 to make a difference in this awesome city.

The Church, Part 3

It’s interesting to talk to people about how they see “the church.”  Many people I know base their ideas about the church on their experiences and oftentimes, they are negative.  They grew up GOING to a church that was BORING.  They know hypocrites and judgemental  people who GO to church.  They WENT to a church that always asked for money. They WENT to church as a kid but never really saw a need once they grew up.  They GO to church on Christmas and Easter, the important days.  They GO to church but nothing ever really changes in their worlds.

The common thread in all of these opinions is that the church is a PLACE that you GO. Have you ever thought of the church as a PEOPLE who ARE?  We, as believers, are called to BE the church.  Are we consumers who look at the pastor and decide whether or not we like what he has to say?  Are we to judge the building on its beauty and base whether we come back or not on how cool our kids thought their class was?  Do we pick a church based on its convenient location, free hot coffee, and has comfortable seating?

Or, do we ask God to plant us in a church where we can help spread the good news of the gospel?  Do we CONTRIBUTE instead of CONSUME?  What if we spend more time focusing on what we CAN DO FOR THE CHURCH instead of what the church can DO FOR US?

God created us for a purpose and we each have gifts He gave us that are for the benefit of the whole church?  As Christians, we are the body of Christ.  The church is not a building but a group of people each playing his or her part in displaying the glory of God on the earth. A healthy church reflects the love and beauty of Christ.  We are His body on earth.

1 Corinthians 12 draws the parallel between the parts of the human body and the parts of the church body.  Although there are many members in both, they represent one body. The Apostle Paul explains that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are actually quite necessary (have you ever broken a little toe?) and that the members all care for one another (injure your ankle and see that every joint all the way up your leg is affected!). If one member in the church suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  Every serving member of our church from the parking team to the kids team, to ushers and greeters, makes a significant difference in how people experience “church” every week.  This translates into how they experience God long before the Pastor ever steps onto the stage.

I’ve never been more personally fulfilled in anything I have accomplished than when serving my local church.  Let’s move outside ourselves to care about those walking through the doors who are broken and need to hear about our God the Healer.  Can we put our own comfort aside and pray for those who coming in who are far from God?  If we embrace the notion that we ARE the church and that is OUR responsibility to show others what a loving and awesome God we serve, our churches will be full of life.

People who come won’t leave feeling like they just sat through a bad movie.  They won’t complain about the decor or the lack of leg room in the aisles.  They won’t notice whether the seats were comfortable or not.  Instead, they will leave with a taste in their mouth of the living God who met them there.  They will leave with images of our smiles and loving handshakes.  They will want to be around us and among us everyday, not just once a week.

Romans 9:17 says that the purpose for which we are raised up is to demonstrate God’s power IN US, that His name might be proclaimed throughout the earth.  This is the church.