Prayer and the Difference It Makes

Revolutions of the bright points that first defined him to me. And beneath the effulgent Antarctic skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined the chase against the starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of Hydrus and the Flying Fish. five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. then, when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. i’m neglecting my other guests. enjoy yourself, you’ll find the young ladies stimulating company.

Fasces of harpoons for spurs

With a frigate’s anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons for spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond!


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Then they show that show to the people

Well, the way they make shows is, they make one show. That show’s called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they’re going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don’t, become nothing. She starred in one of the ones that became nothing.

Now we took an oath, that I’m breaking now. We said we’d say it was the snow that killed the other two, but it wasn’t. Nature is lethal but it doesn’t hold a candle to man.


Well, the way they make shows is, they make one show. That show’s called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they’re going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don’t, become nothing. She starred in one of the ones that became nothing.
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Steering from the Crozetts, we fell in with vast meadows.

Just Not For Me

Man Walking Down the Line in the RoadIf I consider what it is that has taken the heaviest toll on me over 24 years of pastoral leadership it might well be those who walk away from faith.

Each one who has given it away is probably not that significant on their own – and I reckon that’d be how they feel about it – but the combined weight of each person’s ‘failed journey’ or whatever you choose to call it can eventually become quite a load.

Maybe you say ‘its not my load to carry’ and that’d be true. And I don’t think I do carry it these days. But I feel it. I feel it in my heart as someone else says ‘I dunno… I just can’t keep going with it…I’m not sure I believe any more… I’m not sure I ever believed…’

And I wonder, ‘what do you say to that?…’ I’m not sure…

In my youth ministry days I think I felt an inappropriate sense of responsibility for the faith journey of those who were in our churches. When they gave it away I felt like I had failed them, or maybe just that I had failed. Maybe I had sometimes.

But young people are known for going thru phases and it appeared that some went thru their ‘church phase’ under our leadership. I never liked to see young people get baptised and then 6 months later say ‘ah, I’m over that now…’, but what’s harder is watching adults lose faith, give faith away or simply choose to let it go.

Usually for adults it starts as ‘giving up on church’ (and sometimes the reasons are even valid) and then moves to disillusionment with God and eventually to disinterest. The convenience of a life removed from God can be pretty attractive if your journey following Jesus has been particularly hard.

I see people give faith up for a whole host of reasons. Boredom with church is a biggie. The struggle to ‘attend’ a service or meet weekly with people with whom there is often little in common can get old quickly. When we make following Jesus primarily about church attendance we are in trouble, but this is the dominant paradigm in our culture so we have to work with it.

For some, life can turn to poo and God is an easy target for the blame. Depending on your theology God may even be the source of your pain. That presents some real theological conundrums. If God isn’t the cause then he is the person who could have done something but didn’t… not the world’s most loving father after all. A broken heart is a danger for some and an impetus for others. Some run from God when the world falls apart and others run to him. My hunch is that more immature Christians run away.

For some a non-Christian partner is like an anchor, a huge weight that means faith is constantly being dragged around and never enjoyed. Sometimes it may be easier to just quietly slip out of a church and not return. What makes that strategy even worse is that many single Christians who have made a huge effort to connect in church may go MIA and no one may notice. The absence of any follow up is a nail in the coffin of a sick faith. The hurt from that experience can leave a person ‘believing in God but not in church’.

Then there are those who just ‘never really got it’ in the first place. Good people who have been part of the church community, have shared the load in every way, but who in their quiet moments will admit to not being even sure if they believe. What do you do there?

I certainly don’t fight God’s battles for him any more. If you don’t want to believe then that’s ok. Go ahead. If you think God is actually evil and has done you wrong then I’m not sure I can change that either. I reckon he can stand up for himself if he needs to.  If you signed up for the wrong gig and just want to get off the squad then I’m not going to stop you.

Sometimes I feel like I am being called on to defend God – to make sense of him in some of life’s most difficult situations. And I can’t do that. I can’t make someone believe. I can’t convince a broken heart that God is good.

I can listen, ask questions, speak of my own experience. I can share what I read in scripture of how God has worked in the past, but what I can’t do is flick a switch in another person’s heart that says ‘ok – I believe,’ or ‘ok I want to believe.’

A couple of conversations lately have sat heavily on me as I have realised people are exiting – leaving faith – and I can’t stop them. Nor do I think it appropriate to try and stop them.

I have been reminded in these times that our clever arguments are not the answer to the wounded, disillusioned or the disbelieving, but that prayer is the hope. Somewhere in the spiritual realm a battle is going on for the heart and its a battle that is only going to be won in the spiritual realm.

But each one that goes leaves a mark – causes pain and grief. I sense what I experience some days is the cumulative weight of that disappointment and of my own inability to fix it, but rather just having to accept that this is the way life is.

That’s how I feel.

I can only imagine how God feels.

So How’s Your Church Going?

So there’s an interesting question.

My mate Travis asked it today as we chatting. Its not a question that produces an easy answer because it begs the response – ‘what do you mean by that?’

Do you mean ‘how’s the numbers’, do you mean vibe, do you mean the strength of discipleship and mission? Do you mean the funkiness of the band?… the quality of the programs… etc

When I get asked that I tend to do a scan across the ‘flow of energy’ in the community – whether its on a trajectory towards Christlikeness and the kingdom of God or whether we are becoming increasingly selfish and inward focused. As a leader I feel like I have (and ought to have) a pretty good finger on the pulse in that regard.

There have been times when the ‘flow of energy’ in the church has been depressingly self focused and unChristlike, there have been times when I feel like we are are really getting places, but most days it looks something like the image below.

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These days when people ask me how church is going I find myself drawing an imaginary normal distribution curve in the air…

‘Well its like this – some folks are fired up, renewed in faith, powering ahead and inspiring the rest of us. Some are doing well – growing, moving and changing. Some are in the game but preoccupied, struggling to create space for God to work, while others are either disinterested, struggling or plain difficult and resistant.

I’d suggest that at any one time all of those people are likely to exist in our community, and they probably exist in ‘normal distribution’ form. Very few at the front end, very few at the back and the largest number in the middle.

I’d also suggest that we all move through different zones from time to time in our faith journey too. Sometimes I find myself further along the curve and other times further back (sometimes all in the same week) Perhaps the bottom axis needs to be entitled submission to Jesus with the left side being ‘all in’ and the right side being ‘not for me thanks’. The vertical axis would then be the number of people in each space at any given time.

Perhaps this is why in one shape or form, I find preaching and leading to be largely centred around moving people towards submission to Christ in whatever place they are in and the people who I find most difficult to work with are those Christians who are either disinterested or preoccupied. (Its a whole different ball game when we consider the folks in our communities who aren’t followers as our expectations of them need to change accordingly)

Using this paradigm its quite possible for the church to be led by people who are living at the right end of the axis – un-submitted to Jesus – but are capable managers. Its possible to get the mechanics functional while the heart is empty. In that case ‘church’ can look the goods but lack any real energy.

My hope for our own church is that we will increasingly see people move to the ‘submitted’ end of the spectrum whatever form that takes and whatever that looks like. I think the danger is in being over prescriptive on this one. It looks like more regular attendance, less swearing and better behaved children… really?…

So when you ask how my church is going don’t be surprised if I find it difficult to answer because its actually a very complex question. You could ask me how I’m going and I could probably locate myself somewhere along the X axis but it will vary at times too.

It also makes me consider that one of the significant functions of a church leadership team ought to be that of challenging, encouraging and supporting one another in our move towards living Christlike lives. If our leaders are not well up the front end of the curve when taken as a whole, then I’d suggest a church is in trouble.

It also gives me some sense of focus when it comes to who I seek to work with. I don’t think time spent with the resistant and difficult is ever time well invested. If you don’t want to move then that’s ok. Good luck with that… In the short time I have to invest discipling and spurring others on I want to spend it on people who are willing to rise to that. Maybe that sounds harsh, but maybe its why the title ‘pastor’ doesn’t fit me too well some days.

So how’s my church going?… Just like the curve suggests. Some are leading the charge, some are digging their heels in, most are somewhere in the middle either hoping for more or lost in their own busyness. But I get the impression that this is how its always going to be.

That’s not at all a defeatist position, but possibly a way of surviving the inevitable variance that will always be there in any community. On the day you ask me that question I may have just been hanging out with those at the front end of the curve and I will feel alive and hopeful. If you catch me when I have been stuck around negative, difficult people then I may well be about to toss it in because it feels like a waste of time. Truth is those realities always exist.

I know as pastors we often get plagued by the question ‘why do we bother?…’ when church feels flat, people fight and squabble or just seem disinterested in anything that requires commitment. But in those moments there are always a few at the front end of the curve who say ‘whatever it takes…’ Whatever it takes to follow Jesus and see his kingdom come – count me in.

So long as those people exist there is great hope for the church.

Oh… and how are the numbers?…. In case you hadn’t guessed I really don’t care…


Beyond Words

downloadIt’s not often I’m  lost for words – or when the only words that will fit are strong and obscene – but the developments with asylum  seekers since  the Abbot  government  have been in power have increasingly left me irate. I haven’t said much on here or in social media because I often feel that ‘liking’ a facebook page, ‘sharing’ a status update, or signing a petition is a less that minimal response. It requires nothing of me beyond being another angry voice in a small crowd.

As I was praying  this morning  I considered handing in my citizenship as a way of saying ‘count me out of this bullshit.’ But that’s pretty drastic and takes me out of the equation completely when it comes to influence. Not that I feel I have any…

That said, I know many Australians want to disassociate themselves from the actions of their government. Many of us feel a deep sense of shame and anger coupled with a disturbing impotence at what we see and hear.

But I keep coming back to the belief that this must actually be what the majority of Australians must want.  There must be a stack of votes in this baby for the government to ride it so hard. We have gone from being average to below average at showing needy people compassion to now being a model of oppression and persecution. We flout international laws on asylum seeking, produce offensive propaganda and then con our own people into believing there is such a thing as a ‘queue’ and an ‘illegal’.

I can accept that some of the media may be biased either way. Those supporting asylum seekers will highlight the atrocities. The government will highlight the ‘dangers’. But even if we take the polemic out of it, and try to be objective we can’t help but see a tragic absence of care for those who need it most.

Sure – we have been involved with some of these people and have been close to it, so there is a personal element to the conversation for us, but I sense that this is what is needed if we are see people rather than ‘illegals’.

The latest piece of propaganda created to deter potential refugees is beyond belief in what it communicates. The latest news and images from Manus island are also frightening in that it shows the volatility of the camps these folks are in. The decision by the government to round up those without permanent visas and send them home has some sinister overtones too.

Hope-less is the word that comes to mind all the time. Even those in prison have hope – they will be released – they will have a life. But for those who have been beaten and tortured and given up everything to escape and seek protection they are simply locked away out of sight until they can stand it no longer and would prefer to go home and die.

That seems to be the strategy. Get asylum seekers to the point where they can no longer handle the bordeom, hopelessness and poverty of their lives and where to go back seems like a better option.

What do we do? What do I do?…
That’s the problem I am feeling. I don’t like being unable to do anything at all. I don’t want to be seen as just a ‘lefty, refugee lover’ because I know its easy to look like that.
But I am angry – angry at a government that was voted in to ‘stop the boats’ and has taken that as a mandate to make sure no-one ever seeks asylum here in Australia.
I recently read The People Smuggler, the graphic story of an Iraqi refugee who to this day has not received a permanent residents Visa in Australia. If you want to understand some of the tensions involved then read this book. It tells a tragic and horrible story where the key word is ‘survival’.
I’m afraid this may have just turned into a rant, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. I’ll be looking for something creative to do that will make a difference. I’m just not sure where to put my spade in right now.

Opportunities and Dreams

My days are shaping up a little differently year and I’m considering some shifts in what I do with my time

I have taken a break from my part in our home-schooling. As much as I love my kids and as much they tell me they enjoy my teaching, (I think they mean it…) I have become stale with it. Towards the end of last year I hit a wall and began to lose interest. Its not a pretty place to be and knowing myself I knew I needed to jump ship quickly before it started to show and before I ended up fudging and doing a shoddy job.

I am also in a place now where I can more effectively regulate how much time I put into my business.  With my friend B starting up as ‘Mr Retic’ I have been sending him almost all of the work and quotes that come in south of Joondalup and as a result my travel time is down, my  costs are lower and I am enjoying life a lot more because of it. This may change come the winter months and its harder to find work, but then again I may just work less.

Church is continuing at the same pace and together Danelle and I share a 3 day/week leadership role. Its great because we get to do what we are good at and because there is only so much that can be achieved in that time some of the peripheral or non-essential aspects of a church leader’s workload is shed and the priorities are seen more clearly.

So I am feeling like I have some extra time and that’s a nice feeling…

Some of what has been bubbling around in my head as possibilities are:

Writing – I have loved writing and in a conversation with my mum the other day we discussed that ‘what would you do if money was no object?’ question. My answer – I’d write. I have a couple of books in my head, one fiction and one non-fiction.

If money were no object… yeah… I reckon I’d probably give it a really good shake. What holds me back is that I sense and I hear that writing is not easy and I am not sure if I have the discipline to finish what I start. I began writing a novel on our trip around Oz 4 years ago, but that was a bad idea. Who wants to knuckle down on a lap top when you’re on the trip of a lifetime?

So I may write… I am in the ‘counting the cost’ phase at the moment, but I am thinking I’ll take 5 or 6 Monday mornings when I would have been teaching to see if I can get some momentum up. Two houses up from us in our street lives a woman is a published fiction author so I may even wander up and have a chat.

Owner Building – We love where we live, but we could do with an extra living area that is good for bigger groups. Right now our lounge is small and two families is more than it can handle. We do tend to have people over fairly regularly so its been a real consideration.

Probably the smartest and most practical thing to do would be to go up one level and add space up there. I could pay a builder to do it, but I am guessing there wouldn’t be much change out of $150K when all was said and done, or I could DIY as an owner builder and probably save $50K or thereabouts.

That would take some time and energy and would be an invigorating, creative project, but my biggest obstacle is the level of debt we would incur. I realise more and more that the big financial loss we took several back now has left a mark on me and made me both risk averse and skittish at the thought of increasing the mortgage.

Its a really bizarre situation and I can reason in my head that it makes sense, will be a good investment etc, but there is a ‘block’ within that refuses to say ‘yes’ to a project like this. I’d love to do it – I think we could really use it – and then we could possibly rent out the lower section of the house if we did a little remodelling.

So if we land up with a lotto win for $40 or $50K then it might happen but given we don’t enter lotto its a long shot.

Yanchep Mission Project – I mull this one around often and its slowly gathering a bit of energy. We have lived here for 3 years in July and right now there is one church in the area. Just one church to reach out to the Yanchep / Two Rocks area and I know we could do something of value up here. The Anglicans move out shortly to relocate to Alkimos and leave one ‘Foursquare’ mob to hold the fort.

Up to now I haven’t sensed any desire to plant a new venture and I can’t say I have sensed God calling us in that direction, but I am wondering if that is shifting. Its more a ‘wondering’ than a burning desire. There is also a part of me that simply says ‘just do it‘, but I’m conscious that isn’t always the ‘god’ part of me.

This would be a project that would take some creative and physical energy because I don’t imagine it would be in place of leading QBC, but rather alongside. So we would need to work out the hows and whats of it all if it were going to happen. We’d also need to form a team of people committed to the local area and I am not sure if we have those people at the moment.

But I like the thought of it… Anyone want to move to Yanchep and form a team?!

So there’s 3 projects that each require some level of creative, physical and emotional energy. I’m not sure I want to tackle all three this year…  but then again maybe that’s the way to change gears. Hit them all at once and charge like a rhino?…


What Are You Looking For?

the-late-ted-deerhurst-was-the-first-british-surfer-to-turn-professional-223217292-3883534This evening a comment came in on a post I put up several years ago but British surfer Ted Deerhurst who was on the pro tour way back in 1978. Its interesting to see how many people have found this blog by looking for ‘Ted Deerhurst’. (And Ted’s story is an interesting one too…)

So I opened up my stats to take a look at what people are searching for when they find this blog. I thought it was interesting so here’s a bit of an insight.

The TOP search request of the last 5 years… Eucla Caravan Park… How about that? After having the worst night’s sleep because of yobbo staff I posted an angry rant titled ‘Australia’s Worst Caravan Park?‘, not thinking it would make much difference, but it has obviously been found by plenty of people. Some folks I know stayed there recently and liked it, so maybe its changed. But the message is clear – bad online reviews get found!

Backyard Missionary was the second most popular search term and I guess that stands to reason. It was a ‘tag’ I used for a long time and I imagine if anyone wanted to find me online this would be the best search to use. I’ve noticed a few other ‘backyard missionaries’ out there in blog world, but this is the original…

‘Losing virginity’ turns up next… probably because I posted about it twice – losing my ‘facebook virginity‘ and then going to my first ever live concert at the age of 43. Fortunately the real deal happened a few years before that…


Leo Sayer chimes in next. What the?… I wrote some stuff on Danelle’s love for Leo and obviously it gets found. Seriously though – who searches for Leo Sayer?…

Often people are searched for and the most common searches that land people up at backyard missionary are in order:

  • Wayne Mordue – who was a pastor in WA and then NSW and died recently
  • Jarrod McKenna – local bloke working for World Vision
  • Travis Fitch – another local WA pastor and CEO of 12 Buckets
  • Noel Vose – the founding principal of Vose College and a legend at 90 something,

Some of the more unusual searches are these:

Vicky Groves – a young girl was murdered in her class at Churchlands High School back in the 90’s. Many of the young people in our youth ministry at the time attended the school and some witnessed the attack. A pretty horrific story and probably getting some airtime now  because the guy who killed her was recently released from jail.

Sexy Christian Singles – unusual because I doubt I have ever written a post along these lines..

Longreach Waters – a beautiful camp spot by an inland waterway right in the guts of NT just out of the little town of Elliot. We loved it here, but I’m guessing its fairly unknown.

Top Trim Bairnsdale – a small motor trimming company who got a blog post for the opposite reason to Eucla Caravan park – because they dropped what they were doing and helped us out on the spot with some caravan troubles.

Wedgie Training – come to the master and I will prepare your kids for school

FWIW my most popular post of all time is still this feisty piece I wrote specifically for a provocative debate. Almost all of the comments got deleted in the shift to a new host but the original piece remains.

And my own favourite is still this one – a bit of a naughty title, but my fave because it brings back such sweet memories.

And yes – it is a quiet night in the Hamilton household…