Looking Back and Looking Forwards

I usually do a blog post around that theme at this time each year so… here it is…

In many ways 2013 has been a somewhat uneventful year, in that there have been few dramatic life changes, but some of the less obvious ones have been valuable and significant.

I began the year experimenting with the sabbath and seeking to ‘rest better’. It was in the middle of the busiest retic season we had known and I was feeling pretty ragged. I haven’t stuck to the regime/practices I laid out in that post, but I have been able to keep a really healthy life balance all year and rarely felt like I’m getting swamped with work, or unable to disconnect. I don’t answer the phone at all on Sundays, but it still amazes me that people will call me – sometimes at 7am to ask retic questions. I had one person ring this year who I ‘declined’ 3 times in a row, however the next time they called I answered with ‘this better be important!’ and there was no one there… funny that. I used to be someone who would call tradies whenever I felt like it. Not any more. I had no idea just how annoying I was.

I also sought out some spiritual direction this year as a way of helping me hone some of my own reflections on life, faith and personal directions. No question it was time well spent and a really worthwhile change to the schedule. What did it do?… I think I enjoyed having someone help me think thru the questions I mull over alone. It helped chewing around some of the challenges of ministry in a focused way. It helped pondering where life is headed and considering the future a bit more intentionally. I have friends I do this with but its also good to set aside specific time. I feel more focused and ‘in tune’ for it. Thanks Jennifer.

One of the outcomes of the spiritual direction process was a change in the way my life is structured. I had been losing the passion for my retic business over the last few years, but haven’t found anything to replace it with. I would regularly go thru ‘quitting season‘ where I would get to the end of my tether and seek ways out of business. This year I actually advertised the business for sale on Gumtree with the intent of giving it up. I had no clue what else I was going to do, but figured that maybe that would fall into place if I took the first step. I did a sophisticated calculation as to the value of the business and advertised it for the value of our mortgage… My thinking was that I didn’t care what ‘market value’ was – that was what I wanted to get to opt out.

It didn’t sell and by June and July I was relieved and enjoying myself again. Working shorter hours with less pressure in cooler weather was nice. But around July just before we took off up north for a month a mate came by and asked if I was interested in selling 50% of the business… I was interested. We discussed a figure that we both felt was fair and then we began to work towards sorting out the details of a working agreement. But the further we went into working things out the more complicated life became. Right at the start I expressed what I wanted from my business – simplicity, flexibility and autonomy – and B wanted the same, but the more we discussed a ‘semi-partnership’ the more convoluted the process became of getting there. So instead I agreed to help him get his own business off the ground and to send work his way and take a small commission. Now he’s up and running and all work south of Joondalup gets sent his way.

The beauty of the whole thing has been that he has found the life he is seeking – closer to his family and away from the rigours of the corporate world. He is finding a new rhythm of life and mine feels much more sane. I’ve been really enjoying the more compact working area and especially the growth in work around the Yanchep area. Come the cooler months I may have to travel a little, but my hope is to eventually work the areas north of Clarkson and not have to head further south than that.


My invoice app allows me to track where I have been working this year and the density of work further north is pretty obvious in the pic.

Part of being able to slow down was to ensure I had more headspace for the work Danelle and I do at QBC. We increased our combined time to 3 days/week and we share that between us according to what we are good at.

As a church it has felt like a steady and fairly undramatic year. It is our fourth year with QBC and next year is the final one of this first term. I’m not averse to a steady year, but I feel the need for a bit more energy as I think we are in danger of lapsing into being just another happy bunch of people who sing songs and listen to sermons. Not a good place and be and time for some refocussing and prayer as to what the future might hold for this community of people.

It was the year of car changes but finally I have landed on the big ole Cruiser and am very happy with her. I’m no mechanic, but I love cars and to have the right one is a nice feeling. I’ve heard it said that ‘women wear clothes and men wear cars’… Well, this one fits nicely. Tough as nails, big and spacious with lots of grunt, but also some pretty decent fuel economy.


We also relented and got a dog this year – Lucy – a 5 year old labrador who has been a wonderful pick up. She loves people, the ocean and eating. A bit like me except for the people… She was a bit toey around other dogs initially – I’m guessing there was a story there – but now she’s great. The daily walk means we get to the beach just about every day of the year so rather than just seeing it from the balcony we walk it and take in its different moods which is always fun.

IMG_4226Around the middle of the year I stopped drinking alcohol. That was a biggie. I haven’t blogged about it because I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but the short reason was that I sensed God saying ‘that’s it’. At least ‘that’s it for now’.

It was hard because I am a red wine lover and at times I loved it too much. It began to be one of those things that shaped my life negatively, but because I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to let it go. I woke up early one Sunday morning with what I felt was a prophetic message for our church. I rang Ryan and cancelled him for the morning and spoke myself. The message was simple – that sometimes we have ‘demons’ in our lives that need to be removed, but that often stay because we are attached to them.

Alcohol had become that for me. A love and passion that was morphing into a demon that was controlling me more than I was controlling it. I had ‘cut back’ a few times but always slipped back into unhealthy patterns. I was conscious it was an issue but not aware I was going to be speaking to myself. Well… there you go…

It took me a week to let go, but its been 7 months now and I haven’t had any alcohol. I’m sad about that because my take is that alcohol is good and given to us to enjoy. I’d like to be able to be a moderate drinker, but I always liked ‘one more’ and could see the potential for disaster ahead. It also loomed as a simple discipleship issue. I’ve seen too many people as they get older just decide to live with a level of personal compromise that means faith lacks its punch and I have dreaded becoming one of them.

I don’t know if I will ever get back into it – I doubt it. Has life been richer for not drinking? I honestly don’t feel ‘better’ for it and I do miss it, but I also feel like there was both a response to God that was good as well as a simple issue of self control sorted. Sometimes you just gotta roll with your convictions whether they bear fruit in any specific way or not.


I haven’t read a lot this year, but my ‘Book of the Year’ would be Winton’s Eyrie. My TV Series of the Year is a tie between Ricky Gervais’ very funny and poignant Derek and the ABC series, Time of Our Lives, an insight into middle class Australia. We don’t watch a lot of TV so its good to know when something good pops up.

Blogging has been sporadic, but also meaningful when it happens. I still enjoy writing, but the demands of physical work still limits the creative impulses.

So 2014 happens shortly and it will be the year I turn 50. I don’t feel especially apprehensive about it, but I am aware that I am leaning towards the other side of middle age now. We will celebrate the 50th with a visit back to Ireland around the middle of the year and I’m looking forward to that. I guess we’ll have a party in May, but not a big one if I have any say in it.

Lately I’ve been praying about the possibility of a church starting in our area, and listening for any rumblings of the spirit. If its on God’s radar then I’m in for sure – I’ll even stick my hand up to lead if he’s giving it a green light. But I don’t need or want another thing to do, so in the mean time I will pray and wait and see what emerges. Possibly the greatest shift in the last 10 years has been that one – ‘I can make it happen’ (whether God’s in it or not)  to ‘If God’s in it then I want to be part of it.’

So, thanks for reading my ramblings and sharing the journey. I’m always a little surprised by who is ‘still with me’ after 10 years of writing.

May 2014 be a wonderful year for you and your family!

Life Rhythms

I watched this short TED clip this morning as I had breakfast and it reminded me that we are close to another ‘sabbatical’ period. The presenter in this talk works on a year every seven years to allow the creative genius to refresh and renew. His argument is that instead of breaking life in three segments as most people do of 1-21 = study 22-65 = work 65+ = retirement, why not take 5 or 6 of those ‘retirement’ years and intersperse them in your working years to enhance what you are doing?

While the sabbath is a biblical concept his argument is not religious at all – it is purely pragmatic – that ‘it works’ (funny that…) but few are game to try it. It could sabotage all we have created in business… I might get bored… what a waste of time and money… But perhaps the sabbatical isn’t just a self indulgent luxury afforded to the wealthy. Perhaps it is something more of us could build into life if we so chose?

He offers 3 ways of looking at work – as ‘job’ for financial returns and minimal enjoyment or as ‘career’ for financial gain but with advancement and aspiration as part of it, or as ‘calling’, where the motivation is primarily intrinsic and the rewards are there whether there is financial gain or not.

I have often wondered why so few people live in the realm of calling or vocation and I get the sense that part of it is that most have no clue as to the concept. Much of that is due to our western world mentality of job=$$= stuff and better job=more$=more stuff which somehow suffocates any hope of a sense of vocation or calling emerging. If the goal is more and more stuff then the mechanism required to get to that goal is simply to earn more $$.

Simple. But rather sad. If this is life then is it any wonder our society is awash with depression. The creative spark is snuffed out as the need to ‘get ahead’ calls the shots. Interestingly, the devotion to work and advancement is so often counter-productive when it comes to finding genuine contentment and peace.

Over the last 30 years of my own working life I’ve taken several sabbaticals – not a year in length – but time enough to disengage from the predictable patterns of life and to allow the heart and mind to be stretched in some new directions. Usually they have come at the end of a term of ministry in a church environment and have been opportunities to step back and reflect before bowling on with the next project.

At the end of our time at Scarborough Baptist we took 3 months off from ministry. In that time I wrote a report for the Churches of Christ on the impact of their sports ministry programs and that funded the break as well as being an enjoyable project. It was in that time that I discovered the ‘sabbatical’ concept as I emerged from 3 months ‘off’ fresh and energetic, rather than simple closing the door on one job and then opening it on another a week later.

As we finished 8 years of ministry at Lesmurdie and headed up to Brighton we spent 4 or 5 months in transition, travelling for some of it and settling in for the remainder. Then in 2009 after 8 years of ministry with Upstream we finished up and spent 5 months travelling around Oz before coming back to a new role at Quinns Baptist.

I find a 3-6 month break every 5-7 years is a rhythm that allows us to declutter the mind, reconnect with our own sense of calling and get some good refreshment. We are coming to the end of another term of ministry in October 2014 – 5 years of ministry in the same community – working with the same people and doing the same kind of stuff.

Its been a good time, but I sense a significant break may be on the cards in some way. As the end of a 5 year term comes my eyes naturally look up to see what else is out there, in the way of ‘opportunities’ but my heart is strongly rooted both in these people and this location so I am hoping we will be able to stay another 5, 10 or 20…

But to do another 5, 10 or 20 well we may need to defrag a little, allow the imagination spark and listen again to God more closely and what he may want to say to us. We have already scheduled a month in Ireland for July, but I imagine another 8 weeks may valuable to allow a better disconnect.

I liked what the TED presenter had to say about ‘planning’ a sabbatical rather than just discovering you have 3-4 months of time to fill and little to do in it. Right now I am thinking of some folks I’d like to visit, spend time with, learn from, be inspired by and the possibilities of that happening… the cost is always a factor because they are dotted all over the world, but perhaps… perhaps…

Either way we have established the value of the sabbatical to refresh, inspire and renew.


A Way to Be Good Again?

I’ve been getting into some novels again lately and enjoying it. This time of year is great for lying in the hammock, kicking back and reading and I’ve been able to slow the work rate with the business down so it’s been nice to be able to settle into a few books.


Also at QBC we have been working our way thru the gospel of Mark and have cleverly managed to land up this week with the Easter story… Its a bit back to front when it comes to the church year, but that’s where its at for us.
As I was preparing my teaching for this week focused on Mark 15-16 – the death and resurrection I found myself drawn back to some of the novels I’ve been reading and the redemptive themes that seem to pervade them.

Eyrie by Tim Winton is the story of a 49 year old man whose life has just fallen apart. Tom Keeley was environmental activist who went too far one day and lost his job, his wife and his cushy lifestyle and now finds himself holed up in a dingy one bedroom Fremantle high rise. His life is on the skids, he drinks too much and takes too many pills.

He grew up in a family of faith where his dad was a rough working class bloke who found God. Winton describes him as ‘half Billy Graham and half Billy Jack’. He was a protector of others and a man who was known for his muscular faith. He defended those who couldn’t look out for themselves and one of those people was Gemma, a young girl who lived down the street, who men took advantage of, until Nev gave them a hiding (in the name of Jesus)

Now Tom finds himself living next door to this girl from his childhood with her autistic son. She is a bigger mess than ever and he finds himself drawn into her life – to help – but also conflicted by his own selfish needs.

He wants to find his way again in life but he doesn’t know where to start… He wants live a decent life but what does that look like?

Then there’s Barracuda by Christos Tsoilkas, author of The Slap. Danny grows up in a working class Aussie family and discovers he is a good swimmer. He earns a scholarship to an elite boys school where he goes and swims expecting to make the Olympics. He does very well, but in the world of elite swimming he is not elite enough. He fails, his dreams are shattered and he can’t cope with his failure. He ends up assaulting another swimmer and going to jail for a short time and his life comes unstuck in every way.

This novel is about Dan trying to figure out what it ‘means to be a good man’. He works with the disabled – he inherits a large sum of money and tries to give it to his family all as a way of making up for his failings. But he is on a quest to ‘right his life’. Barracuda is actually a very good story and intriguing in the way it follows Danny’s screwed up life and his desire to make things right.

My next read is Khaled Hossein’s new one ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. Hussein is another writer who regularly writes stories of people seeking to live lives of goodness – seeking redemption and wholeness often out of great darkness.

If you’ve read the Kite Runner you would remember that Amir’s quest throughout the book is to make up for his abandonment and betrayal of his friend Hassan. He watches him get beaten up and raped and says nothing – in fact he has his father dismissed from his job as a servant in their home because he can’t live with his shame.

The book opens with the words ‘there is a way to be good again’. And the rest of the story looks at how Amir seeks to atone for his failures. How he tries hard to find his way in life again – to be ‘good again’.

And my hunch is that that theme is so common in literature – because it is so common in humanity. The quest for a life that is noble and honourable and good. The desire to overcome the evil that lurks in us and to somehow ‘right the ship’.

With few exceptions, (because there are some wackos out there) none of us wants to live a bad life. None of us wants to screw up our own lives and the lives of others.

But because we are naturally self centred – because it is part of our DNA to seek our own best interests first – that is the trajectory our life will take unless there is another power at work. And unless a new imagination of life can grasped, we will inevitably find our lives veering in that direction. Like a car with steering problems it takes all of your effort just to keep the thing on the road.

Most people live trying to balance the scales of life in favour of ‘good’ never really knowing if they’ve done enough – or if they’ve done enough if that ‘enough’ was done with the right motives – and will it count?

What does it mean to live well – to live a full life – to live in ‘shalom’ – peace – wholeness and goodness as God intends?

No one ever wants to think of themselves as a bad person… Why is that?… Why does goodness matter even to people who aren’t that good?

And you know in your gut that this is true. Its what we contend with. Our own brokenness and fallibility – our own darkness constantly reminding us that all is not well.

Sooner or later as you go thru this life you come to the dark realisation that you are broken – that you are messed up and your brokenness affects everything about you and everything you do.

Some of us hide that well – we appear to be ‘together’ – while for others of us it just leaks out all over the place and there is a big ‘mess’. And I’m not talking about being criminally messed up – I’m just talking about realising that because of who you are life does not seem to work as it should.

Because of who you are you never feel content. Because of who you are your marriage is always on the edge. Because of the person you are its hard to keep a job – or its hard to have friends. Because of who you are your finances are in a mess. Because of who you are your kids are living dysfunctional, destructive lives.

And you hate that. You despise your part in your own dysfunction

But you don’t know what to do… You don’t have an answer…

And even if your life is not in chaos – you still know that something is not right. The quest to attain to the kind of life we hope for feels always out of reach.

Its where the Jesus story offers such great hope. There is a ‘way to be good again’, but it doesn’t stem from our own efforts and our own ability to right the ship. It comes from his willingness to take the penalty for our sin and to rise again and offer that power to us to follow him and live differently.

There is way to be good again, but it s rooted in grace rather than in earning. It is an act of God that restores us rather than our own performance. Its totally counterintuitive and it isn’t  a theme we see in much literature. Most of it is people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and ‘making good’.

Les Miserables is possibly the best picture of the nature of grace and the way it can transform in a way that effort never could. Valjean experiences love and grace at the hands of the priest who could have sent him back to jail and it transforms his life for ever. Javert lives by the law and finishes a broken man.

There is a way to be good again, but it finds its life in the gracious salvation God offers through Jesus rather than in our own moral actions.

As I read the end of Mark’s gospel again this week I am reminded again of God’s plan of redemption, from creation to the cross and beyond – to see his kingdom come and the world renewed, all hinging on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And then our willingness to surrender and follow him, believing he is the one who offers us the shalom we seek.

A Cup of Tea in Seabird






Sometimes its a cup of tea that makes a difference.

It was a long hot Thursday where we moved fast and got thru 10 service jobs. I finished in Two Rocks around 3.30 and then hopped in the car and drove up to Seabird to meet a client – I had already quoted and won the job – but this was about making sure the site was good to go and there wouldn’t be any surprises come Tuesday morning.

Seabird is a sleepy little coastal village about 12 kms north of Guilderton and pretty much off the map – unless you happen to know its there. The last time I was there I was 17. I had been surfing in Lancelin, was driving home and the alternator had died on the Galant on the way back. We lobbed into Seabird tavern about 7pm just as the headlights were fading, met some generous pot smoking locals who gave us a free bed for the night and all was good.

I met ‘Mick’ on site and walked thru the job with him. It was a house that literally backed onto the sand dunes and had direct beach access – my kinda place… And after we’d finished walking thru the necessary details of the job he asked ‘do you want a cup of tea?’

At that moment the tone changed and the conversation shifted – as it does when you have a ‘cup of tea’. We sat in his lounge with 180 degree views of the ocean as he boiled the kettle. We spoke of his life as a farmer, an accountant, a husband of a woman with cancer and of his grandkids… and so it went on. We spoke of my time as a teacher, as a pastor (‘not a happy clappy are you?’) and now a retic bloke. We spoke of how we had both given up alcohol and laughed at the fact we were now ‘tea drinkers’.

We spoke of how life is good – if you can see it – but also fragile – and that the important thing was to find the joy where you can – in both the good and the bad.

It wasn’t earth shattering at all, but it was good to chat beyond the job – to sit still at the end of a long day and connect with someone who could have been just another invoice number.

As I drove the 50ks back down Indian Ocean drive in the old cruiser with the afternoon sun beating at my side and the air con cranking I was conscious that it was a good time – the stuff that makes running a business worthwhile and a joy.

The difference?… A cup of tea.

We head up there on Tuesday to lay some turf and to see what else might transpire in the little town of Seabird. I dropped a few cards in at the deli with a notice letting people know the ‘retic blokes’ would be in town, so we might be busy…