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

church, Fasting, Lift Church, Newcastle, Series

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.

ARC, Australia, church, Church planting, Inspiration, Lift Church, Newcastle, Uncategorized

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)

Contentment, Newcastle, Pictures, Uncategorized

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)

Australia, church, Church planting, Faith, Inspiration, Lift Church, Newcastle, Uncategorized, Video

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.

Australia, Faith, God Speaks, Uncategorized

Learning to Drive

Yesterday was my first time driving our Nissan X Trail that we just purchased in Australia.  We found a really great deal and bought it off the internet!  I never did a test drive, leaving that to Greg.  See, I have a confession: I’m scared to drive in Australia.  First of all, the traffic drives on the opposite side of the road to America.  The actual steering wheel is on the right side of the car as well.

Everything about driving here is counterintuitive to me.  I’m looking over my right shoulder when turning right only there are no cars coming from that direction.  They are coming towards me in the lane to my right!  There are traffic circles everywhere and I have to pay attention to stay in my lane and give way to traffic on the right as I use them.  Then, there’s the blinker.  It’s located where I’m normally turning on windscreen wipers in a rainstorm.  So, instead of cleaning the glass each time I need to turn, I find myself concentrating very hard just to flick them with the proper hand when I need to signal.

As we are living in a small country town with Greg’s family until our furniture arrives and we settle in Newcastle, I decided it’s a good place to practice my driving.  We went into town to the Medicare office and to the beach, only about a 15 minute drive. Luckily, I didn’t have to parallel park and pulled straight into a spot.  I had Greg at my side, the left, no doubt, as I was driving and he was a great help to me.  He kept reminding me where to look and encouraging me that I was doing great.  My oldest son, Brett, said when we arrived back home, “Mom, I know a sign that you did well: we are all still alive!”  Thanks for the encouragement, son.

I found myself dreading every turn and traffic signal and wondering how long it would take me to get used to this.  There will be a day that driving will be second nature just like it was in America.  After practice in different cities, day and night, heavy traffic and light, I know I’ll wake up one day and know that I can do it and won’t second guess myself anymore.

It’s much the same with God when we have just given him the steering wheel of our lives.  If we have always been a worry wart, it feels odd to suddenly surrender control and trust a God we can’t even see with our present and future decisions.  Going to God in prayer feels unnatural when we have been seeking our own common sense our whole lives.

To step out in faith feels scary at first.  We can find ourselves looking over our shoulder for impending threats.  Even using new “Christian lingo” feels odd like putting on a pair of shoes that haven’t quite molded to our feet.  At every turn we wonder if God is really there.  Before we truly know the voice of God in our lives, we have to rely on mentors to help guide us.  We must make a concerted effort to trust and believe what we are being taught.  Like using a GPS to help us drive, we must form new habits that will guide our Christian walk like going to church and reading our Bibles. We may even have to research things a little further and use our concordances more often.  Scripture isn’t yet memorized and our road map might seem confusing at times.

With time, however, as God shows himself faithful to us, we begin to know the still small voice that belongs to our Savior and we can quickly respond when he calls.  Even when we have doubts, our confidence comes from a proven track record and familiarity with his ways.

As I look back at the last decade of my walk with God, I have trusted him with more and more of myself.  I have begun to trust God wholeheartedly with my finances and my future.  Things that once felt so hard like giving a tithe, are now second nature to me. Based on experience traveling with God, I now know scripture like I knew my way around Cedar Park. Hearing God’s voice is as reassuring as the nice Australian lady on the GPS; I now know I can trust him.

As I get more familiar driving in Australia, I will be praying for those who are just getting familiar with our Savior.  I will be conscientious of the roads while at the same time never forgetting what it feels like to be a new believer.

Australia, Church planting, Faith, God Speaks, Lift Church, Uncategorized

Our American-Aussie Team

If you know me, you know I’m an extrovert; I like having people around for everything!  When Greg and I committed  to plant a church in Australia, one of our first prayers was that God would send people with us so that we wouldn’t have to journey alone.  I envisioned these people would be from Australia, not America.

Well, lo and behold, THREE families and one single young adult are moving to Australia to help plant Lift Church.  I can’t believe it!  Why is it that when I pray for something and it happens, I am often surprised that God really heard me?  I think about Peter when he saw Jesus walking on water toward his boat in the middle of the night.  Peter specifically asked God to allow him to walk on water too.  Jesus answered his prayer and even in the midst of the miracle, Peter began to doubt.  As he started sinking, Jesus asked him, “Why did you doubt me?”

From the beginning, when these families told us God had been speaking to them about Australia, we would smile and encourage them (answer to our prayers).  However, Greg and I would secretly feel like it couldn’t possibly be.  I mean, how would they get visas?  One family has a toddler and a baby on the way.  Two of the families have FOUR kids each.  How would they get jobs?  The questions were endless.  Walking on water seemed more likely to happen than this!  I truly thought their excitement would wear off and they wouldn’t actually follow through.  Call me doubting Thomas.

A major breakthrough built my faith while we were in Australia in November.  One family who was visiting with us sent the husband into a recruiting agency while we were walking down the street.  After 45 minutes, he came out grinning ear to ear.  Industry is booming (check out this blog) in Newcastle.  There’s no doubt that he and the other guys can get jobs.  The recruiter will help them get visas and the company who hires them might even pay for the move!  The guys have since had a Skype interview to talk about their qualifications and hiring potential.

After all of this walking on water, my excitement is sometimes like a roller coaster.  I take a step of faith and get excited about how much quicker things will move with a team by our side.  Then, a storm comes and I start to sink.  Hurdles show up out of nowhere like when one of our couples had a close family member receive a cancer diagnosis.  This seemed like it would halt their plans to come.  All of this made me feel like the grandiose visions were just fantasy.  I mean really.  Are we all having an early mid-life crisis? No sooner than I put my eyes on Jesus taking a step out into that water, I doubt again, thinking when the rubber hits the road, they may not actually come.

Our little team has been meeting as a group and every time, someone brings news about how God is confirming the decision to go.  We started the year praying and fasting for 21 days.  After the fast, we gathered for a night of prayer and worship and God moved powerfully continuing to shore up our faith.  These families are making daily choices to move themselves in the direction of Australia.  One family of SIX whose lease on a 3500 square foot home ended in December downsized to a two bedroom apartment (with FOUR KIDS) saving money and beginning the purging process this move will require.

Needless to say, I believe they are all coming!

As we are in the very midst of a miracle in our own lives, Greg and I are humbled that these wonderful people are picking up their lives and moving to the other side of the world to help us fulfill the vision God has given us for Lift Church.  It comes with great responsibility and we take it very seriously.  We will go even if they do not.  But we are thankful God heard our prayers!  We are doing our best to keep our eyes on Jesus as we step out of the boat.

You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior. You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas. Psalm 65:5