Back to Back Fun & Friends

We’ve really enjoyed spending the last 5 or 6 days with family up in Muswellbrook, but I have also been keeping a watchful eye on the surf cams waiting to see when the Newcastle ‘lake’ would finally produce some waves.

The forecast said that today was the pick the days and that a 2-3ft swell would hit the coast so I came down to Maitland last night and stayed there with my old school mate Shaun Kelly and his family. We don’t see each other often but the shared experience of growing up in Scarborough High School in the 70s, then doing youth ministry together before both finishing up as church leaders gives us a lot of common ground. We had a great time last night catching up on the last few years and then thus morning I left for the surf… hopeful…


After a quick drive down the coast I saw decent waves at most beaches and some great banks. I decided on Dixons Park as there was a nice right hander rolling thru. It was a good wave but the crowd factor got a bit overwhelming. For once I actually lowered the average age in the water as these aging mal riders congregated out there. I counted 17 of them at one point, all in their mid to late 50s. They operated as a pack and would catch waves together dropping in on whoever happened to already be on the wave. I heard one bloke complain and they simply told him that he was welcome to surf somewhere else… None of them were particularly good surfers but the pack mentality meant that getting a wave was tricky. I lasted an hour and gave it away… Some days things just don’t work out… The wetsuit I had bought from the op shop for $5.00 was doing a fair job given it’s age but I was also getting chilly.

So from there I gave another old mate a call and we headed out for a coffee. Wayne Mordue was a much loved WA baptist pastor in the 80s who moved back east and Wayne is also one of our prayer team so it was really good to reconnect in person rather than by email.

We had coffee at Estobar right on Newcastle Beach – the coffee was a 7/10 but the almond croissant was a 10! After we finished our coffee we wandered over to chat where we could see the surf and I couldn’t help noticing how good it was… So this time I was back in the shortie wetsuit and out there for another bash. This one was much more enjoyable with less crowds and more waves. There are some great waves in Newcastle.

Before paddling out I went back to add some time to my parking meter. The parking inspectors were just doing the rounds and while I was pretty sure I was safe I thought it best to check. Lucky I did… As she approached I got talking with the parking inspector, we laughed and chatted for a bit. She even told me not to renew Mt ticket as she wasn’t coming back that day. Then she noticed I had accidentally parked in a disabled bay… a fine of $422.00!… ‘why don’t I look away and give you a minute to move’ she said. Moral of the story – be friendly… I could only imagine getting a fine for that amount… Ouch!

After the surf I went to see District 9, a fairly new sci Fi movie. My verdict was that it was interesting and unique in it’s approach and style, but the story itself was not that rivetting. Probably a 6.5/10 but worth seeing nevertheless.

From there it was back to Shauns place to drink red wine, eat chocolate, watch rugby and catch up.

Some days it’s nice to have back to back fun and friends and today was one those – noice

The Heavenly Man


This book has been around for a long time now, but I never bothered to read it. I did pick up the gist from friends – an amazing story of one man’s suffering and dedication to the gospel.

This week while at Janene’s I picked it up and gave it a whirl. My book selection lately has been very average and I was ready to move on from my last read ‘A Fraction of the Whole’, an Aussie book that seems to lack any real coherence and subtance and onto something a little more enjoyable.

In many ways THM was exactly what I expected. A story of a man with extreme dedication to faith and Jesus in a place where many others would simply give up. For those unfamiliar with the story, the book chronicles the life of ‘Brother Yun’ a Chinese Christian as he lived during a time of great oppression in his country. This bloke spends more time in jail and cops more beatings than you would think it is humanly possible to handle. And that is pretty much the point. The story is about suffering for the gospel as well as how God provides for us in those dark times.

It was inspiring to read of the miracles that God did in his life and yet I shared his wife’s frustration (she gets to write her reflections too) at the way he seemed to enjoy placing himself in harms way in Jesus’ name. Our own western ‘sufferings’ for the gospel simply look sick and lame alongside this man’s life and there are times when I wonder whether to be thankful for the ease of my life or to wish for a life that would call greater faith out of me.

Its a sad thing that Christianity is so much less potent in a comfortable world and so much more alive in a place of suffering.

I’m still reflecting on what I need to glean from the book. While some of it was definitely challenging there were also times I wondered if Yun had some sort of pathology that saw him constantly placing himself in these places. The flip side is that perhaps he sees the world in a whole different way to me and if I had lived in his context then maybe I’d understand.

This is a challenging book to read, but a little difficult for us to relate to as Westerners. I have been wondering why it has been so popular over here and my guess is that we all long for a more gutsy faith – at least something more than we currently experience – but I doubt any of us would really want to pay the price Yun has…

And a Good Experience

Following on my post from last week about our not so grand experience of being visitors at church I received a couple of comments that suggested I tend to focus on the negative or that I need to change my attitude.

Sadly as we have travelled I have had way more disturbing and frustrating experiences of church than I have had encouraging and inspiring. But last night was one that offered some hope… and with Anglicans… (yes I smirked too… 🙂 )

We are staying with Danelle’s sister in the coal mining town of Muswellbrook about 2 hours from Newcastle and we decided to visit their community last night. I almost didn’t go Ellie was wanting to stay home and I didn’t want another lamentable experience to add to the pile.

But at the last minute Ellie changed her tune and I was able to join the rest of the crew. The experience was as refreshing as it was simple.

We arrived at the church hall bang on time for the 6pm service along with about 40 others of all ages. Perhaps because of my experience last week I was rapt to walk in and have a group of 3 blokes immediately open up and welcome me in. Nothing particularly hard about that, but they did it.

The service began with a woman leading proceedings while the kids played with some toys down by the front. The vibe was not one of having to have it all right, but the focus seemed to be on the sense of being a family and doing things together.

There were songs, prayers and a kids bit and then the kids moved to the side of the hall to do an activity. A little later when they were looking a little restless the minister stepped up and took them outside for a ‘run around’. This was very impressive as the minister obviously saw ‘running around’ with the kids as part of his contribution to the night.

The bloke preaching was the local prison chaplain and while it wasn’t an unforgettable sermon, it did sound real and honest. When it was all said and done we stood around and chatted before heading home.


The big difference between this week and last week?…

Friendly people across the board who seemed glad to have us there (even if were tourists)

A very unpretentious vibe.

A sync between what they say they are about and what they behaved like.

No doubt its a church with its strengths and weaknesses like every other, but if I were to live in the town then I’d have no hesitation in spending a bit more time with the good people of Muswellbrook Anglican.

Top 5 Essential Sites for Travelling Surfers


When travelling it really helps to have a bit of electronic assistance with finding waves and checking surf. Here are my most used sites for surf info in order of usage:

1. Coastalwatch – this one gives wave info, predictions, weather, wind and surfcams where possible for every state in Oz. It is a great site and easy to get around. I have been using the iPhone app for 3 days now and it is brilliant – worth every cent of $3.99 you pay for it. For those using ordinary mobiles is where you want to head.

2. Wannasurf – This is a site that gives you most of the main surf breaks in an area as well as a description of how to get there and what to expect. It isn’t always accurate, but it does get you started and it does have pics of the waves. I have surfed in a couple of places not registered on there and I’m sure there are heaps of others too.

3. Google Maps or Google Earth – once you know where swell & wind is coming from you can think for yourself and use satellite maps to help you locate some decent and remote breaks

4. Swellnet – kinda similar but with info presented slightly differently. One cool feature of this site is the desktop widget for staying up to date on surf conditions.

5. Seabreeze – this is for an easy to read weather,swell and wind guide all around Oz. I use it a heap back home, but I think the new iPhone coastalwatch app is going to supercede it.

As much as these are useful its pretty hard to beat a bit of good ole local knowledge from a friendly face. I find that as I chat with locals and ask questions most are pretty happy to give me their tips on where to surf. I get the feeling it helps that as a 45 year old I am not likely to be a threat in water these days…

Anyway, if surfing’s your thing then you can’t go wrong with these sites.

Are You a Baptist ‘Kid’?


Yesterday as we were travelling from The Great Lakes thru to Muswellbrook I was discussing with Danelle Steve’s post about where children fit in regards to membership in Baptist churches.

Steve writes:

Sunday morning service included the welcoming of 6 new members at church. This included a family of 5 from the Philippines and made for an exciting service.

On the way home my children floored me. “Dad, are we church members? We listened to what you said (by way of introduction). You talked about membership as belonging, and membership as participation. So we can be members. Right?”

As baptists, we have a number of rites of “theological” passage: membership, baptism and communion. Historically, they are not generally reserved for children. But looking at my kids, I’m suddenly not actually saw why not. If my kids participate and feel they belong, why can’t they be members?

The post prompted some interesting conversation and I thought I’d flesh it out a little here. Having been a long term ‘baptist’ (small ‘b’ intentional) I am interested in this subject and more broadly how we organise ourselves as the church.

My bottom line statement on this issue would be that if we don’t engage children in our churches in every way that is reasonably possible then we lose the contribution of one part of the body and we suffer because of that.

Of course that statement does have the ‘reasonably possible’ caveat attached and that is where we start to enter grey areas.

Steve mentioned participation and belonging as key elements of membership and I would agree strongly here, but would also add ‘responsibility’. My favourite biblical metaphor for the church is that of extended family where every person is valued and has a role to play. In the family (in its best sense) there is a sense of feeling connected, a willingness to get involved and a recognition that we have certain responsibilities and even obligations.

I am in favour of children:

– taking communion when they declare that they know and love God

– being baptised when they are ready and can articulate (however simply) their faith journey.

– becoming members of the church in some way

The last one is more nuanced than the first two, partly because there are legal obligations involved with membership. We also need to pay attention to the child’s stages of faith, social and cognitive development. The question Steve asks is an important one. How do we engage kids in the life and decision making of the church in a way that both values them and protects them?

If we don’t have their input we are poorer for it – but kids also see the world thru a very small lens so we need to guide them.

As we have travelled we have made most of our decisions as a family, however there have been times when as parents we have simply had to make decisions for our children as they would not have the necessary cognitive development to do so competently. Ellie wanted to fly across to the US… so we could go to Disneyland… She didn’t get all of our adult reasoning, but she knows we think that is a really bad reason to spend $12K!

Kids will ‘get’ some of what we discuss as churches, but much of what happens in church meetings will be over their heads or completely irrelevant to who they are.

So, do we adjust the way we do meetings and decision making to include them?…

One of the challenges of our Baptist system has been described well here by Neo-Baptist. The implicitly adversarial approach of our meeting procedure is highlighted and the question is asked ‘how do we do things better?’

I think Neo-baptist’s point is that we need to allow people room to think, discuss and discern without the ‘vote’ hanging over them. To arrive at a meeting to vote is quite naturally to ask people to take a side before entering and then to allow debate to ensue. This can bring out the worst in church meetings as people fight for their position (and some don’t fight clean).

This is an environment where kids would not be safe and no one where they would want to be. In fact lets face it – very few adults would feel safe or want to be there!

As I write this I am wondering if the best way for issues to be considered is by family groups within the church. We as a family can discuss and consider an issue and then come to a meeting to offer what we believe is the best way forward and to listen to the conclusions that other families have reached as they have had similar discussions.

I don’t see that we can ever avoid ‘meetings’ per se, but we can frame them differently so that they become more in line with what the original Baptists intended – a collective discerning of the will of God rather than a system of political maneuvering and ultimately voting.

Even as I write this I am aware that some of it is quite idealistic and that the real world is more messy. We have had some difficult situations recently where the only solution has been to use the political process to win the day. While I hold my ideals, I am also pragmatic enough to know that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… cause if you don’t the consequences will be worse. But my thinking is that if we start with our best ideals in mind then we may at least do a reasonable job. If we start from the point of believing that all hope is lost then that will affect the process too.

So I would like to see us completely revisit how we listen to God as a church and how we make decisions. There will come times when it is necessary to have ‘a vote’ and that is ok, but there is much that will already be decided long before a meeting and a vote will simply be a legal requirement of a constituted body.

So… getting back to the question… can kids be members?

I would say absolutely, but as churches we need to ‘parent’ our little ones as we would our own children and involve them where possible and protect them where necessary. They don’t need to know all that goes on (good or bad) but they do need to be nurtured and valued in the community. They need to know that they can contribute and that they will be listened to. They need to know that sometimes their parents will not agree with them and they will choose not to run with their ideas. They need to know that sometimes their parents will get it right and sometimes they will mess it up.

In fact just giving thought to the place of kids in our midst actually challenges us to reframe some of how we do things and that is a good thing I reckon.

Of course we haven’t touched on the issues of ‘listening to leadership’ and running with their recommendations, or on how church size affects this process, because it does… I know from my varied experience of church community that there are many ways to make decisions and no-one has the mortgage on the best way.

Does this actually do anything to change our missional impetus in the world?… Well… It might… as we re-imagine ourselves not as a collection of power brokers but as an alternative community who listen to the voices of all – not just the influential – and who allow them a voice.



Recently I downloaded an album of Matt Redman’s as I reckon he is one of the better song writers out there when it comes to worshipful songs.

I have been inspired by his ‘Blessed Be Your Name’, a song that declares that God is worthy of praise in the good the bad and the ugly – not just when he makes me feel good. This is a gutsy song that requires some faith just to sing and that seems to tap into the parts of us that sometimes wonder if God is still there in drak times. You can’t sing it casually.

But I have also found it very difficult to listen to ‘Let Your Words Be Few’, which is in essence more of a love song to Jesus. I don’t have any problem declaring my love for Jesus and my allegiance to him, but the song frames it as ‘Jesus I am so in love with you’…


It was my friend Mike Frost who put his finger on what disturbs me with this, when he spoke of how romantic love has been elevated to the highest status in our society so that now the most powerful statement is about that of ‘being in love’. In many ways this is a western cultural reading of what it means to love Jesus – to be ‘in love with him’ as if he were our partner.

Aside from the fact that this just doesn’t cut it for a vast majority of blokes I don’t think it is what the Bible intended either. David is probably the most expressive worship song writer in the scriptures and he is clear in his expressions of love and adoration for God, but I’m not convinced he took his cues from a romantic idea of love.

I like Matt Redman’s stuff by and large, but I think this one may have slipped thru the cracks.

Of Faith and Superstition…

Fijian churchgoers (men) are being requested to in favour of skirts in order to please God.

The article says:

“The ban is meant to bring good luck to the island as we respect the day of the Lord,”… “You can see that often misfortune befalls us because we don’t respect His commandments that there be no work performed on Sunday except worship.”

Fortunately some are not conforming:

A villager who wished not to be named said the ban was “too restrictive”. “We can’t understand how wearing a sulu vakataga on Sunday will help us forge closer relations with the divine,” he said.

Its interesting that I look at this today with bemusement yet it wasn’t so long ago as a kid growing up in Belfast that we had similar rules. Ties were worn to church, no work was done and nothing was bought. We still have some of these rules in places now but a little more subtly eg. worship leaders must dress ‘up’ to be on stage because that is honoring God etc. I wonder what God would do if we didn’t dress up to sing?… Personally I don’t think he’d give a rodent’s backside. I think our rules tend to me more of our own making. FWIW I don’t mind when we frame these as ‘our rules’, but when we try to give them a biblical basis then I get very edgy.

I am fairly confident that these days we still get faith and superstition a little confused by seeking to do things that have little biblical currency but which make us feel like we are ‘performing’ better. My hunch is that there is a strong connection between legalism and superstition and that those bound with legalism will have quirky beliefs derived from a poor concept of God.

This will inevitably lead to a ‘folk religion’ kind of faith where we impose on God and scripture what we feel is the best way to follow.

Back to Galatians…

For the Surfers…

Ok – so this has become more of a surfing blog in the last few weeks, but I guess that’s where my head is at as we travel in this part of the world.

For those who care here are some pics of the places we have been surfing… For those who don’t… you know what you can do 🙂


Sapphire Beach at Coffs Harbour – nice 2-3ft beachies with no crowds


Me about to egg it


The water was a beautiful colour and temperature.


A panorama of Scotts Head


Scotts Head – small but clean and long – and cold…


Scotts Head is a great mal wave – would have been better on my 8’8″!

Hot Spots

After leaving Alstonville we headed down the coast to a remote little spot called Minnie Water. It is 30km off the main drag but based on a tip from a local we decided to give it a try. The advice was beautiful, good surf and very remote.

We checked out accomodation options and discovered that the NSW National Parks wanted to charge us $30.00 for a night in an ‘unpowered site without water or showers, but we could book into the local caravan park with all we need for $24.00/night… Someone has their price planning a but skewed! In fact we have found that all NSW nat parks are ridiculously expensive. I rang about a place called ‘Point Plomer’ today and was told you could only book Sat-Sat and that the low season rate (for an ‘unpowered bush site with no water or showers) was $770.00! What’s with that?!

Minnie Water was a beautiful spot – quiet – secluded and the surf looked like it could be great. Unfortunately for us we didn’t score it that way. We got it big, lumpy and messy. My second wetsuit zip snapped just before I paddled out to the beach break so I did it in boardies and only lasted 45 mins before chilling up. 

The caravan park was a really good one and one of the best value we have hit on the trip. I’d definitely go back there both for it’s beauty and for it’s value. The surf looked like it had great potential – but then the whole NSW north coast is pretty amazing in that regard.

From Minnie Water we headed on down to Coffs Harbour and stayed in the Split Solitary Caravan Park right on the beach and about 9 km out of town. It was $36.00/night and pretty good value with lots for kids to do and it was also clean and small. 

At first I thought we had lucked out with location in regards to surf, but when I ventured out on our first morning I was greeted with a 2-3ft beachie that looked a heap of fun. It’s one of the lesser known spots in the area, so I enjoyed a couple of great surfs there in my shortie wetsuit -which I worked out is over 18 years old, as I had it before getting married. When you compare that to the lifespan of the two I have just bought it’s quite amazing

From Coffs we headed about 80km south to Scotts Head as we heard there was some great surf there. (yes – this is a recurring theme) Sadly the swell is on the wane but there were still some little 2 footers pulsing thru into the bay in the late afternoon.  So despite it being cold and grey I headed out again and had a bit of fun. It’s a classic longboard wave and my 7’2″ was a little undergunned but I managed to get a few long rides before hypothermia took over. The caravan park here isn’t cheap $43.00/night but it is right on the beach, so we’re prepared to spend a little extra for a couple of nights.

I’m writing these posts from the Mackville Hoospital where I have been sitting for 90 mins waiting to get seen. It seems my day at Lennox has left me with an infected foot – almost inevitable… The funny thing is that three or four of the cuts have all flared up simultaneously. After threatening ‘to stick a needle in it’ and try to get some pus out the doc discovered he was too busy and just handed me a bottle of antibiotics – everybody is happy now…

I came home to hit the water only to discover the disappearing swell is further on the wane. I paddled out and sat and chatted with two other blokes for an hour. We caught two waves total and ended up having to paddle in. It was like someone hit the ‘off’ button on the wave machine!

Tomorrow we hit the road, possibly to Diamond Head or anywhere there are waves. Its my final few days of being in the water before we take a  break from surfing and head inland to Danelles sisters place in Muswellbrook.

As we travel we regularly apply the ‘could we live here?’ test and so far northern NSW is a clear winner. It’s a beautiful place, great climate and the surf is pretty damn fine too. If we didn’t have commitments back home I think we’d have to look at finding a way to slot in over here