Just As I Am…

Making Altar Calls: Is it Justified? – Malaysia's Christian News Website

I remember well my time as a ‘zealot’ type youth pastor giving altar calls while preaching and seeing many young people come forward in response – ostensibly to express their desire to follow Jesus. These were moments of great excitement and immense joy. Young lives had found their way to Jesus and they were boldly putting it all on the line. Even as I reflect on those times now it evokes a wonderful feeling of happiness at what was happening.

But I also remember that when I shared this information with other older people their responses seemed less exuberant than I anticipated. I expected long term God botherers to be whooping and hollering at the stupendous news of new birth in the kingdom of God. But often the response was restrained and quite unexpressive, as if I had said ‘tonight the youth watched a movie.’

‘Oh yeah… Nice.’

I remember when I had these experiences I would wonder what was wrong with these older Christians who did not seem at all inspired or encouraged by the news of new faith. To this day I still feel their responses were a little befuddling and may have spoken somewhat to the state of their own spirituality. I judged them much more harshly then, as half hearted, luke warm wannabes who had lost the plot in their own faith, so it was no wonder they found it hard to share in the joy of new life.

Interestingly over the last few years as I have heard similar stories both from our own church and others I have found myself with some similar reactions. I certainly share in the good news of young lives saved, but inwardly my responses are more muted and nuanced. Because 20 years on from my time doing this kind of evangelism my ‘where are they now?’ filter suggests many did one lap of the track and then found something else to devote their lives to.

Perhaps it was a failure of discipleship processes or perhaps it was just that they ‘got a better offer.’ Or perhaps the altar call’ itself is a problematic tool in evangelism. In my teen years I remember attending rallies and events where we painfully endured ‘just one more verse’ of ‘just as I am’ because there was still someone out there who needed to make peace with God. The potential for emotional manipulation in these spaces is very high and young people are particularly vulnerable. Did they really understand what they were signing up for?…

Who else remembers those words ‘every head bowed and every eye closed’? It was the cue for the Holy Spirit to begin his work… Or it was a part of a process that not so subtly messed with people’s emotions and may have even manipulated them into a position they would not have been in if they had been sitting in a silent, well lit room.

I’m not a fan of altar call evangelism. I’m not even sure if it ‘has it’s place’. If it means mood music in a dark room at the end of a long night and a persuasive speaker offering a choice between heaven and hell then it feels like a bit of an ambush for those who have attended.

My final few attempts at ‘altar call’ style evangelism – probably 12-15 years ago – met with minimal success. Because in I painted a picture of discipleship to Jesus, we don’t have any ‘sign me up’ music – just silence – and I invited people to stand up where they were as a statement of their intent. No eyes closed and heads bowed, no mood music, just a raw decision.

Do it or don’t do it.  I’m not going to make it easy for you.

I’ve only done this 2 or 3 times and the response has been underwhelming on each occasion. However by setting the bar higher and choosing to paint a more holistic picture of what it means to follow Jesus I think those on the edge may have said ‘Oh… I need a bit more time to really think this thru…‘ If that is all my altar call accomplished on these occasions then I am content, knowing that if one day that person does decide to sign up they do so with a much greater consciousness of what it entails.

So hear me on this; I do want to be able to share in the joy of our young people as they see their friends find faith. I don’t want my years in the game to simply turn me into an old cynic. But I also want to acknowledge that the ‘conversion moment’, if there really is such a thing. Is but one small step in the journey of faith. When Paul wrote of those who are ‘being saved’ he seemed to be implying that it is an ongoing process, an experience I would concur with. I cannot track my ‘conversion’ to any one moment, but I can speak of many ‘moments of conversion’ where I chose Christ over the other options life offered me.

Somehow 40 years on from my own teen years I am still following Jesus and still ‘being saved’ regularly. Now I am less attracted to shiny things and more able to make the choices intuitively as distinct from my teen years when I was having to choose intentionally and often.

There is a line between cynicism and wisdom and it’s a hard one to walk in these situations because there are people who have responded to these calls and walked in faith for years to come. My unverified hunch is that those who responded and are still going likely came from Christian families where it was hoped that at some stage they would respond in faith, but for those who live in families as the only Christian I’d suggest the attrition rate is much higher. (This is a generalisation so your own story may prove me wrong…)

So – by all means please celebrate the young people finding faith and beginning a journey of discipleship. But more than that let’s make sure they have the support around them that enables them to keep making ‘conversion decisions’ when the option to give up will often be much easier. And as older people who may be aware of this, let’s enter into the joy and maybe we can just do our bit by praying for them.

And if you want to explore the (very recent) origins of the altar call then here is an article that may be helpful.

Another String

While we have been on the road part of our pondering has been around future ventures, how we invest our lives, our time, our money so that we make the best contribution we can to the kingdom of God at this point in our lives.

One of my ‘hunches’ was that I’d like to get a business up and running that could be both a source of income for Danelle and I as we get a little older, but that could also be a means of employment for people we would like to support – thinking mainly of church planters, or those needing a ‘fresh start’, or other folks who we may want to help from time to time. We chatted about 3 options that all had some potential. We looked at possibly buying another caravan or two and slowly building a hire business… That would require a storage yard and other staff… The numbers didn’t look great on it unless you go big. We knew of a lucrative evergreen school bus run that was due for sale and when we enquired it was $100K less than we thought… but unless we drove it ourselves the investment return was pretty ordinary – and then that would have consigned us to living in school terms again… nooooo. Then I noticed 2 or 3 competing irrigation businesses for sale via business brokers…

We ran the numbers on each opportunity and they all came up less exciting than we anticipated. Each opportunity introduced an extra layer of complexity to life and as we pondered it we felt none of of them were going to be worth the investment of time or money. We sensed we may end up ‘being owned’ by our business and possibly we would get distracted from our core business of being who we are as missionaries and Christian leaders. Maybe they are just ideas for another phase of life… A few years back I wrote a post about 3 core values I wanted to keep in the way we operated – they were simplicity, autonomy and flexibility. They are still big for us so any larger operations may well see them compromised.

Then a week ago I was camped up at 80 Mile Beach near Broome when an older guy walked over and began chatting with me. He had ‘just retired’ at age 70. What were you doing I asked? ‘Mobile caravan weighing was my business’ he said. I did it for 5 years then 3 weeks ago I was on a job and talking to a client about possibly selling the business and right there and then he bought it!’

‘Interesting,’ I said. ‘How do you weigh caravans? And what’s the going rate for a caravan weigh? Do you weigh other stuff? How busy were you?’ I barraged him with questions.

What followed was a very brief conversation about his enterprise and how he found himself a little overwhelmed with work. Really?… I thought… Hmmm…

It is a fact that caravans have become bigger and heavier over recent years and weight is a genuine concern for people. I wondered how many mobile caravan weighing business there are in WA? It turns out there are just 2. Certainly room for another in that market… And with the going rate being $200/weigh it seems like a fairly easy gig if you can get the work.

From there I began researching ‘mobile caravan scales’, (as you do) and all matters related. I think I have read the entire internet on caravan weighing in the last week! And the conclusion was that for the investment in simply buying a set of scales, as well as some web dev and marketing stuff, we could have a new business that can slowly kick off in the background of Brighton Retic and hopefully in 10 years time will be at a point where it can employ someone all year round and perhaps even be saleable. And it will be simple, flexible and allow us autonomy.

One thing that attracted me to a business of this type is its potential portability. Now we have a service we can take on the road any time we travel and a source of income if we want to make some $$ while travelling.

TBH I doubt we will see a lot of action in this first twelve months, but as the word gets out and the marketing happens we will begin to generate work. So if you are interested you can head to our website here and like the FB page… And of course the great irony is not lost on me – that ‘she’ll be right Hamo’ is now running a business that is all about safety… Chuckle…

To Plant a Church…

I’ve been pondering this a lot lately. Why do churches get planted? And why do churches sometimes talk about planting but struggle to ever get around to it? Why do some never even consider it?

Planting Fruit and Citrus | Love The Garden

I remember my own experience at Lesmurdie trying to lead the church to a place of planting a new church. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that in the absence of my driving the project it just wouldn’t have happened. I pushed it hard.

It wasn’t especially high on anyone else’s radar, because most people don’t think about planting churches in their day to day life. That’s not bad – not a ‘judgement’. It’s just an important observation because in the absence of an apostolic (Gk ‘apostello’ = sent one / missionary) type leader it probably won’t ever be on the radar in a serious way.

At Lesmurdie discussed it, approved its progression as leaders and then even voted on it as a church. We agreed to the idea, but no one put their hand up (either internally or externally) to grab the bull by the horns and actually lead it. I spent 14 frustrating months trying to persuade existing pastors to leave their full time jobs and move into a new and risky space, with little guaranteed income and when no one was keen I approached some entrepreneurial types and asked them if they would consider applying their skills to church planting. No one had been sitting around thinking ‘gee I wish someone would ask me to plant a church!’ (And – on reflection – if they were waiting to be invited then chances are they may be the wrong people anyway.)

I have realised most people don’t wander through their days thinking about where, how and when to plant churches. I rarely stop thinking about it. That’s not especially virtuous – it’s just a product of how I have been gifted and formed.

Nowadays I still think about planting churches, I see opportunities and I wonder about how we will move forward into them, but (unless I have a bolt out of the blue) it is more about having an eye out for the up and coming, younger apostolic types. I sense the bottom line is that churches don’t plant churches – apostolic leaders gather teams and plant churches. Existing churches support these people with prayer, resources and encouragement but churches don’t just plant other churches. There is too much bureaucracy and red tape to get thru for churches to do this – and committees rarely move quickly. So my advice if you are a church and wondering if this should be on your radar:

First – the answer is yes – in healthy organic systems birth happens, but it is preceded by desire, conception and gestation. It takes time… (If your system is unhealthy then it shouldn’t be on the radar until the issues are resolved.)

Second – if you have someone with the apostolic (missionary) drive to initiate this kind of thing then get behind them and support them. They may not even realise that this gifting is in them! So encourage them and help them flourish into the unique people God has created them to be.

As a result of Christendom, our churches are light on for apostles, prophets and evangelists, but we need these people to be encouraged and empowered to do their thing in the church so that we can achieve our mission.

I remember leaving Scarborough Baptist after 5 years as a youth pastor and heading to the hills for a new role. In between time the BUWA ran a church planting course. I remember hearing of it and thinking I must spend a week of my holidays here! I did and I was inspired by what I heard. I knew then that this was going to be high on my life’s priorities and that at some point in the future I would be doing this.

Later, when we were leaving Lesmurdie, a long time member said ‘well good luck to you. It isn’t something I would ever want to do!’ I heard his words but all I could think was ‘What a hoot! What a buzz! What an adventure!’ It wasn’t his thing – and that’s fine. But if you are reading this and thinking ‘yeah, yeah YEAH!’ – then maybe it IS for you!

Spacemaker by Daniel Sih

Did you know most people would rather receive an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts for half an hour?

True story.

We struggle to sit still and not have something to fiddle with or look at.

I have just finished reading Daniel Sih’s book Spacemaker, where he writes of how we can have spacious, full and joyful lives by reflecting on our current patterns of living, taking stock, and then taking action to move towards a healthier and more invigorating life.

Dan is a long time friend and associate from days with Forge Australia, so when we visited he and Kylie in Tasmania this year he happily flicked me a free copy of his book. As is often the case a PDF can sit on a computer for a long time without being opened and with so much reading already scheduled Dan’s book took a back seat.

But when I opened it I literally guzzled it down in two days. It is a really valuable, genuinely interesting, but also personally challenging read. One of the big themes that pervades each section of the book is the impact of technology on our ability to live whole, joyful lives. Most of us know the lure of devices and screens and for many of us life is now incomprehensible without a screen nearby. Dan doesn’t suggest we abandon technology and pursue Luddite like ways, but rather he alerts us to the reality that what technology promises (greater productivity and space in life) it can actually end up removing if we aren’t careful. The law of diminishing returns seems to apply as we end up achieving less with more tech.

Dan has written a thoughtful, but also thoroughly practical book. It is divided into 3 sections:

Paradigms – the thinking and logic that undergirds ‘spacemaking’

Principles – the ways we can frame life to create space

Practices – the things we actually need to do to see space become a reality rather than a nice idea

The goal of the book is to help us live more productive and peaceful lives – to learn to be content – to rest – to do one thing well rather than many things poorly.

If you find yourself feeling too busy, like life is out of control and frustrated that you are not the person you want to be then I can definitely recommend Dan’s book. It presses on some nerves, so it will challenge you, but at every turn it recognises that it is better to make small gains than feel the need to upend our world and start over. Most of us have complex lives, so a complete makeover may be out of the question, but what Dan offers is some very helpful strategies (I found myself journalling as I was reading) for planning and framing both our days and our years.

After a dark history of workaholism, I have moved to a much more even keeled and gentle paced life – so much so that my physio recently introduced me to a work experience student by saying ‘this is Andrew – he’s semi retired.’ I didn’t know that… but perhaps my life gives off that vibe… When people ask me my philosophy on life it is to live a ‘spacious life’, rather than a cramped and cluttered existence so I resonated with Dan’s language. I want to be able to give both people and tasks my full attention, so I have chosen to keep my days under-loaded rather than over-loaded. It means there is always time to stop for a chat when my neighbour is outside. There is time to take a random phone call from a friend or just to hop in the hammock and enjoy the view of the ocean and the afternoon seabreeze.

Dan’s book is less written for those of us who have chosen to live life slowly, but is more written for those who live busy lives either because that is what is required of them, or by force of habit. As well as challenging us to consider our use of technology a recurrent theme is that of rest – of living from a place of rest rather than working in order to rest. Read it and try it. It really does work.

The practices Dan suggests are helpful and I found myself beginning to consider how I may better organise my life to be someone who is both spacious in living, but also productive. I know I have sacrificed some of my productivity for space in recent years and some days it feels like it could blur into laziness – not a place I want to live either.

Dan’s book has a distinct spiritual basis and yet it is not likely to be offensive to anyone who doesn’t share his worldview. He draws on wisdom from various spiritual traditions as well as his own Christian faith.

Oh and those people who got the electric shocks?… It was to show that most of us would rather experience pain that be alone with our thoughts for an extended period of time. We would rather just do ‘stuff’ – even if it is mundane unproductive stuff than be still. Bizarre hey?…

I’m one of those people deeply connected and perhaps even addicted to devices, so my pondering has been around how I can shape a less device oriented life. It isn’t just that I need devices for business. I like what they do and how they do it so I will need to do some ‘screen fasts’ and digital detoxes as Dan suggests… Even thinking about it is uncomfortable, which I guess tells you something…

If I didn’t know Dan personally I’d probably write a generous review of a very good book, but knowing him it feels like I want to point to it and say ‘hey this is good and my mate wrote it! You should read it!’

Because you really should…

Liquid Church?

As opposed to?…

Solid church?…

What does that mean even?

Pete Ward wrote a book by this title way back in 2001 when we were all busy trying to understand the impact of post-modernism on the church. The blurb for the books says:

The church must be like water–flexible, fluid, changeable. This book is a vision for how the church can embrace the liquid nature of culture rather than just scrambling to keep afloat while sailing over it. Ward urges us to move away from the traditional understanding of church as a gathering of people meeting in one place at one time to a dynamic notion of church as a series of relationships and communications. In the Liquid Church, membership is determined by participation and involvement. Liquid Church is continually on the move, flowing in response to the Spirit and the gospel of Jesus, the imagination and creativity of its leaders, and the choices and experiences of its worshippers.

Ultimately he was advocating church as a fluid community and set of relationships that could adapt to the culture, rather than the more rigid ‘modern’ structures that see the Sunday gathering as central and essential for church to exist.

Ward wasn’t overly suggesting we abandon existing structures, but he was pointing in that direction. Curiously he also advocated for us ‘commodifying faith’ and appealing to the consumer… Like we needed a voice to tell us that! But it does seem a bizarre thing to call for, when it’s clear that ‘consuming’ is one of our greatest idols. I didn’t resonate with that part of his book at all.

Anyway I googled Liquid Church and discovered an Australian church by this name, who seem in most regards to be a fairly stock model of Church of Christ. Is this what Ward meant? I don’t think so…

I don’t know exactly what the definition is for a ‘liquid church’, but I wonder if we should begin explorations more intently in this direction – begin trying to imagine a church beyond the gathering that is still genuinely a church.

It’s hard to do. Our imagination is calibrated so strongly to believe ‘Church = Sunday‘. No matter what we may say – this is our default paradigm and it’s almost set in stone! So to develop a conversation around a richer, stronger, more impacting form of church that is not ‘Sunday centric’ is really difficult for us. I know when we started Upstream our missionary church experiment in 2003, we did not meet on Sunday for over 3 years because we wanted to try and shift the thinking around what ‘church’ meant. Even then it was difficult and in time we all reverted back to the conventional understanding, largely because there were few willing to venture down an alternative path.

But – why should we even bother? Aren’t people just happy with Sunday as is?.. Hmmmm, some are, but I also know that:

a) for a substantial number Sunday gatherings don’t work especially well in forming them into disciples of Christ. (Which is not say they don’t work as helpful social gatherings of Christian people)

b) the compliance demands on formal expressions of church have become so onerous that it may be necessary to re-imagine informal ‘fluid’ expressions of church if we don’t wish to align with the various not for profit regulations.

The last 10 years especially has seen the role of the pastor in church life change dramatically as churches have become ‘Incorporated Not For Profit’ entities in the eyes of government and with this has come a plethora of administrative and bureaucratic tasks that must be done. For those in single pastor, smaller outfits the demands of compliance and conforming to regs has become quite a challenge. We’re talking ‘policies and procedures’, risk assessments, incident reports and plenty of other reports and administrative data that has created a black hole of bureaucracy for churches – and most of us didn’t sign up for this stuff. To master it takes time and effort – and it doesn’t end because we need to stay on top of it. It is tedious and weighty especially for smaller churches and it is one of the reasons I have intentionally changed roles. I could not muster the heart to stay on top of it all and yet the reality the person ‘at the top’ – or however you frame it – must be across it.

Red Tape

Yesterday morning we went to a local Anglican church in Darwin and my conversation with the pastor afterwards was around this exact subject – the burden it places on small communities and how we may be able to move forward?

The option most of us take is simple compliance and conformity – doing what’s asked and just working it out as best we can. For some people this is no issue. For some larger churches with admin staff they can outsource this to a person who finds joy making sure these i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. (I believe these people exist…)

But the other option is to ‘decommision’ or ‘dis-incorpate’ (is that the word?) church as we know it and simply gather as informal groups of people. I remember a few years ago when we had a Sunday event planned at a local park someone heard of it, rang the council and ‘dobbed us in’. Apparently there is form to be filled in, a risk assessment to be completed, and a fee to be paid before 50 people could have a picnic in a park. No kidding… We cancelled the event and on the Sunday before announced that church was also cancelled for the following week, but that a few of us ‘may be down at the park… if anyone wants to join in…’ The next week a group of 40 or 50 people met informally at the park.

I doubt we could ever replicate that type of thing on a weekly basis and keep it running. But perhaps we will find ourselves in a place one day when the screws tighten further where we simply say ‘ok, we are closing the book on this organisation, but we want you to keep gathering informally as ‘the church”.

I know some of you are already thinking ‘that’s a dumb idea and it won’t work.’ I agree in parts that it is very likely going to die a dismal death. But not because we couldn’t pull it off.

It would die because we are by and large more committed to the Sunday event as ‘church’ than we are to one another as church. Can you see the serious problem there? If we ditched Sunday events for a year how would your faith fare? Where would it be nourished and resourced? If Sunday didn’t exist who would you actively seek out to connect with and ‘fellowship’ with – as in talk of Jesus with?


I would sense that a way too large percentage of Christians ‘attend church’ but struggle to ‘do church’. If we were to move to informal gatherings, with no central pastoral team to make the wheels turn then would we see faith nourished and sustained or would we see it drop off a cliff? I have a sense that for some people the act of being in a church community is so linked to Sunday that they would struggle to imagine another way. I imagine some would actually thrive as they latched on to the opportunity to share life with others and sustain one another. But it would be fluid and may not look like church. Those who find security in ‘ticking boxes’ would get the jitters.

I sometimes get the jitters writing stuff like this, because I don’t know that I could give leadership to a bunch of people in this form – or that I could see missional intent sufficiently present in a group of this kind.

THe word ‘busyness’ keeps crossing my mind as a reason we would fail at liquid church. You need large slabs of available time to be with people. Too many of work too long and too hard for this to be possible.

And then if we did pull it off, how would we stop simply gathering with ‘people like us’? Those in our age and stage? How would we keep the diversity of the body? How would we connect with the broader body?

If church went ‘underground’ and was invisible except to those with eyes to see would we become better disciples of Jesus? Better missionaries? Better human beings?…

Would ‘The Church’ do better or worse in this mode?

My working ‘definition’ of church is that of a ‘covenant community of people committed to loving God, loving one another and loving the world’. A key concept in there is that we covenant to be those kinds of people and to be committed to one another. It’s a much bigger ask than a Sunday gathering and it’s intended to be how we operate today, but the struggle is that often ‘ticking the Sunday box’ leads us to believe we are fulfilling the requirements of church.

What if church was 2 or 3 families a couple of oldies and singles geographically based who were in each other’s lives to the point where when they gathered it was not to catch up on the news because they already lived in those kinds of relationships, but was rather to purposefully focus on Jesus and share what they had been experiencing of him since the last time they met? It was to purposefully pray for their friends and neighbours and to live as missionaries.

We could do this without all the red tape and hoops that we currently have to jump thru, but could we?… Really?… Could we?…

Nah – lets just stick with 3 fast, 3 slow, offering announcements and sermon followed by a cup of tea and a biscuit… that oughta crank out serious disciples!

Brothers in Arms

In just a few days this has become an iconic image all around Australia and anyone who watched that bronze medal game the other night will find it hard to look at without a teary eye. Two mates, two comrades, two warriors who finally saw their hard work bear fruit and the cards fall their way as the first Aussie basketball team to have the honour of taking home an Olympic medal.

I read one newspaper article that said It was the’ bronze medal that felt like gold’ and when you watched the Aussie boys on the podium, the joy they showed and the comradeship with one another, that was the message that came thru. Contrast that with the Americans who seemed fairly nonchalant and you realise how significant this moment was.

Personally, I have been watching these guys since 1976, when there was minimal TV footage of basketball games, when Phil Smyth, Ray Borner and Larry Sengstock carried the team. The Gaze years were strong and ever hopeful, but we just couldn’t get there and then there was that double overtime heart break against Spain when we looked every bit a world class team, but luck was against us. We just seemed to be ‘that team’ constantly dogged by bad luck.

As I sat down to watch the bronze medal game on Saturday night my heart was literally beating faster, hoping that this might be the year – hoping we wouldn’t have a sleepy spell like we did against the Americans two days prior. Jerry Seinfeld has a sketch where he mocks the ‘we won!’ line that spectators often cry when their team does well. ‘You didn’t win – you watched‘, he says. Well on Saturday night Seinfeld was wrong. I know I was one of thousands of hopeful Australian spectators sitting on the edge of their seats wishing their team to their first ever Olympic medal. I know I have walked the road every 4 years of devotedly watching them when they were abysmal as well as watching when they finally made it to the bronze of the podium. I don’t get animated easily but that night the whole caravan park new that ‘WE WON!’ because WE did and it was glorious!

Two steps to go and whether we get there or not is kinda not the point. WE did win and we can be incredibly proud of a bunch of men who modelled for us teamwork and comradeship.

My Unsolicited Advice to the World

There is one piece of advice I find myself repeatedly telling my kids (and others) because this has been my experience and learning.

Life is a series of trade offs.’

That means you can never have all you want. You must decide your priorities and values and then make your decisions accordingly knowing that every decision to do ‘X’ is also likely a decision not to do ‘Y’. That’s how life works…

It’s not mind blowing advice I will grant you, but until you get this, you will never find contentment and peace. You will never settle and be at ease. You will fear missing out. You will scratch around and struggle to make life work.

So you have to choose what you want to go after and be content, knowing that in doing so you are purposely letting go of some other things. A perfect example is the choice to get married. In doing so you ‘trade’ the ability to play the field or remain single, for loyalty and devotion to one person – for life. Of course that choice has great benefits too, but you have to know that you are consciously making a choice that has these implications. You can’t change your mind later because you don’t like being tied down. That’s the deal… you made that trade right at the start…

Speaking of being tied down, I remember doing a leadership course and meeting with a competent, high profile pastor who had been in the same church for 10 years and he didn’t see himself moving. I was 32, ambitious and driven. I was looking for any opportunity to ‘move up’ in what I then perceived as my ‘pastoral career’, so his fairly vanilla looking stability made me cringe. I asked ‘how can you just plonk yourself down and not get bored to tears?’ He told me had a wife and kids to think of, a family that needed stability and he needed to forgo his own ambitions and aspirations for that to happen.

He seemed surprisingly at peace with the decision. But I remember at 32 thinking ‘what a waste of talent and opportunity…’ Truth was he had made his choice and he was content in it. He traded personal aspirations for ensuring his wife and kids had stability in relationships. A few years later I had kids of my own and I began to understand exactly what he was saying. I needed to forgo my desire for adventure and novelty to provide a suitable degree of stability for them. 13 years later I am in the same church community and around the same people…

So if you find yourself frustrated that you ‘can’t have everything’ then my simple advice is ‘YES – YOU’RE RIGHT – YOU CAN’T!’

Because life is always a series of trade offs.

If you read this as a person for whom faith is not that critical then you will make choices to suit what you feel is best for you and your family at any given time. But if you read this as a follower of Jesus then you are always listening for his voice and his call. This is how we make choices as disciples of Christ.

As we take long service leave we realise that we are in a transition place in life. We have many opportunities and adventures we could pursue. I find myself pondering and imagining many scenarios. But as I distilled down what I am hoping to do, it comes to one core question: ‘What is the most valuable and important contribution I can bring to the kingdom of God at this point in my life?

I think it’s a question we should always ask when seeking to look to the future. ‘What is it that God is calling me to now – that he wants me to put my energy towards?’ It may be simple and fairly straight forward eg. Raising kids and keeping a job, or it may be unsettling and bizarre? How does taking the family to Lebanon as missionaries sound? It sounds absurd and crazy – unless there is the knowledge that someone is guiding your decisions. In that instance you trust that while your kids have the same basic needs for stability, relationships etc, your God knows that and will use the experience for good in some way.

So if you’re feeling frustrated because you can’t have everything you want, then my rather simple, blunt advice is get used to it. This is reality. And it isn’t adjusting for you or anyone else.

But… come back to the question ‘‘What is the most valuable and important contribution I can bring to the kingdom of God at this point in my life?‘ and you will have a guidepost for how to navigate the choices you are making.

Getting to the Bottom of It

How to Tell if Your Sciatica is Actually Piriformis Syndrome

This post may be of no interest to anyone – other than those who have come here searching for info on pudendal neuralgia, an issue I have been struggling with for over 8 years. Feel free to read on if it interests you as there precious little information out there for men on what is largely considered a ‘women’s issue’. Be warned – this post will veer into the domain of ‘too much information’ in places…

When we left home on March 31st I had pain in my right glute muscle, what my physio called ‘piriformis syndrome’. It hurt early in the day, but eased as the day went on. It was annoying, but not that debilitating.

It started to get a little worse as we travelled so I visited a phyio in SA who did some dry needling. No change… oh well…

I assumed it would slowly disappear as pains often do, but this one remained. I had a similar pain in previous years but it always disappeared. This was new.

All thru Tassie as we went for walks I would spend the first 2-3 kms in pain and then the rest would be fine as the body warmed up. However as we left Tassie and moved on to NSW I was aware the pain had increased again so we decided that when we were stopped in Newcastle for 10 days that I’d see a physio and really give it some treatment – try and sort it out. There was a whole NSW coastline to look forward to surfing and right now I was struggling to get to my feet because the pain would grab each time I’d pop up.

In the first session the physio pummeled that muscle and then the second session she hit it harder again. After the first session I was sore, but figured this was ‘healing happening’. After the second I was struggling to walk and the pain was ‘angry’. We had to leave Newcastle quickly due to Covid so when we landed in the Gold Coast. I tracked down another physio who beat me up and also used me as a pin-cushion all in the anticipation of a good outcome. I spent 4 or 5 days lying on bed with a heat pack, trying to ease the pain, all the while believing this was ‘fixing’ me.

It wasn’t.

When we left the Gold Coast for the Sunshine Coast I was at a loss as to why I was not getting better. I was now up for anything – copper bracelets, 5G signals… I was on the verge of heading for home as spending days curled up on bed reading or watching Netflix was getting old.

Then I saw a Facebook ad for a local ‘physical therapist’ who had been getting outstanding results where others had failed. I could hardly walk so there wasn’t much to lose. He didn’t promise miracles, but did suggest he could definitely make a difference. His focus was more on gentle massage and ‘working with nerves’ rather than muscles. As we chatted he told us that he learnt his skills from an old bloke in a little house in the Gold Coast. This old bloke had no special training, but he could ‘heal people’. He had healed him when others had failed, so he was ‘sold’. He became his disciple and learnt this new kind of therapy.  I call him the ‘witchdoctor’ 🙂

I saw him for one session and the next day felt mildly better, however the day after was worse again. We went back 3 days later for another session. I felt better again.

Did his methods work?… I wasn’t sure, but what I noticed after about a week was that I could hobble a little and get around. Two weeks later I could walk a bit but with pain.

Then it started to dawn on me as I scoured google for answers…

For 8 years now I have struggled with ongoing pudendal neuralgia. The pudendal nerve comes out of the spine and feeds to the anus, penis and perineum. My pain was in the anus, however in researching I discovered that this other pain I was trying to resolve is often misdiagnosed as ‘piriformis syndrome’. So my theory is that what the physiotherapists had been doing was pummeling that muscle and irritating the nerve to the point where it was going crazy. They weren’t to know, as it is a very uncommon problem and few people know anything about it.

But a month on from my last phyio pummeling and I am now back to being able to walk. I don’t think the witchdoctor fixed me but rather it was just the absence of punishing massage. The pain is almost back at pre-Tassie levels and I don’t know that there is much that can be done for it other than what is called ‘nerve release surgery’.

The beauty of holidays is that you have time to actually chase stuff up, so I have been ‘Dr Googling’ and discovering all sorts of stuff. I thought I had been suffering from it for around 5 years when the butt pain began, but in reality is more like 8 years. It was around 8 years ago that I noticed that all was not well in the bedroom. I wasn’t ‘up for it’ as I used to be and I didn’t know why. So began 3 years of trying to figure out what the problem was there only to have no clear diagnosis emerge. The final conclusion of the specialist was that the issue was ‘neuropathic’ rather than vascular, but he didn’t explain it and didn’t give me anywhere else to go. I was over it so I gave up… I just didn’t know what to do next and my GP is pretty much a prescription dispenser / specialist referrer who doesn’t seem to know much. It didn’t ruin our sex life, but it meant that the sensation during sex was diminished significantly, so if you were to ask me if I would like sex or a slice of cheesecake I’d have to check what kind of cheesecake it was… Not an issue I ever thought I’d be dealing with.

But it turns out the same nerve that gives butt pain and piriformis issues can also cause problems with sex as it’s a branch of that nerve that goes to the penis… Ah… that starts to make more sense… I see what is happening here…

I joined a few Facebook groups for people with this issue to learn some more and discovered other help sources around the place. I spoke on the phone to a couple of local men who had been affected badly – one had ‘burning hot poker’ sensation thru the penis to the point where he checked himself into emergency. He was going crazy with pain so I feel quite relieved to be where I am at.

It seems this issue affects women, post childbirth most often, because the pelvis gets super-stressed, but men are also affected with causes usually indeterminate. In the end I stopped reading the Facebook posts as often they were from people in sheer agony hoping for any form of relief. It was really depressing.

What I did manage to do though is get on the scent of some help. There are a couple of Drs in Sydney who specialise in this nerve release stuff and it seems there is also one local bloke. So the next step is to go see him… Here’s a little bit about him helping a woman with no clue what was going on.

The challenge though is that not all surgeries are successful and some people end up in more pain than they were before they started down that track. It’s a dangerous dice to roll, but it could also be amazing if all 3 problems get fixed in one hit. I think I would need long service leave all over again just to celebrate!

Why write this? Because one day some poor bloke will be struggling with these symptoms and his doc will be useless and he won’t know where to turn other than google and I happen to know that blog posts of this kind rank fairly high on the google rankings.

So if you are that bloke and you’re sick of constant pain then drop me an email and I will let you know what else I have discovered since this post was written. Pudendal neuralgia is often undiagnosed and the general consensus seems to be that it is managed rather than treated. I’ve been popping drugs for 4 years now and I’d really like a different path forward as I can’t imagine living with this pain when I’m in my 80’s and beyond.

And if you’ve read this far and want to know what you may be up for then here’s a real life ‘nerve release’ surgery being done… Not for the squeamish, hence the reason its at the end of the post!

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you…)

Puberty in Faith

Or as the Americans like to say ‘poo-berty’, happens to everyone sooner or later and it can be a fairly intense and crazy time. All sorts of chaos takes place in this period of life.

The same kind of phenomena happens in faith. If we are going to mature, we almost inevitably have to experience a ‘puberty’ of sorts – a time of reframing and recalibrating what it means to be a person of faith. It can actually be a really distressing and disturbing time, especially if you don’t see it coming. And moreso if you don’t have a church community that can help you.

A number of people have written about the various stages of faith. James Fowler speaks of 6 stages with stage 4 being the ‘critic’, the one who no longer accepts old understandings but must find a way to shift from a childlike faith to an adult expression (stage 4 = puberty). Kiwi Alan Jamieson wrote his book ‘An Unchurched Faith’ based on Fowler’s research and observed that in Evangelical / Pentecostal churches questioning and doubting is not well received. He tracked the journeys of many ‘stage 4’ people and observed that they seemed to ‘bounce’ out of churches during this time. It’s been the case that our communities can sometimes struggle to deal with the ‘difficult’ people who ask ‘inappropriate’ questions, refuse to accept the party line answers and who then disturb the equilibrium. I know of people who have been told to ‘stop questioning and just believe’. If only it worked like that…

Sadly, some do stop questioning and try to ‘just believe’, but sooner or later all of that unprocessed doubt, questioning and ruminating comes out in one way or another. When faith is refused access to this stage it becomes brittle and fractures easily. I think of a good bloke I studied with who came to Bible college full of conviction and certainty, but whose world rocked as he had to grapple with the inevitable questions that get raised in higher education. As far as I know his faith shattered and never did re-form. Tragic – not that Bible colleges raise tough issues – but that middle aged men can enter with a faith so naïve and infantile.

Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It by [Brian D. McLaren]

Recently I was listening to Brian McClaren speaking on the Bible For Normal People podcast (not a podcast for ‘simplistic faith’ people) about his new book ‘Faith After Doubt’ where he offers a 4 stage framing of how faith develops:

  1. Simplicity – we believe what we are told. We accept like children and trust those who teach us. It’s what our own kids do for a period. Kids accept that Jesus walked on water… As they mature they wonder about whether that is really a thing. So they should…
  2. Complexity – This stage sets in as doubts emerge, prayers go unanswered, God feels distant, the Bible doesn’t make sense and maybe Christian friends let us down. Many questions come and we leave behind ‘simple belief’. We become aware of the incongruities.
  3. Perplexity  – We feel overwhelmed with doubt at times. We wonder if the whole thing is a hoax. I remember a friend describing this as like driving a car around a bend on a gravel road at 100kph. You feel like you have no control and you don’t know where it’s going to end. Being perplexed can be really really disturbing. It’s in this stage where we must grapple with the difficult questions and seek resolution – or maybe in this stage it’s where we walk away from faith because we just can’t resolve the tensions and incongruities.
  4. Harmony – I’m not sure if this is the best word, but it is McClaren’s word for the place we arrive at when we have been able to make peace with our doubts, cynicism and questions. In this phase we can affirm ‘God is good’, even if we can’t understand why the world is so messy. We can affirm the Bible as reliable and trustworthy, even if we are aware of the realities of different interpretations and understandings. All of the difficult and incomprehensible questions may still be there, but they no longer disorient us like they once did.

But you don’t get to harmony from simplicity. You have to go thru the process and allow yourself to grapple with the questions. I know McClaren’s theology has taken a hammering lately (and I actually can’t comment on that because I haven’t read the book), but I do think he does us a favour with these 4 easily recognised stages.

As churches we need to create space for the questioners, cynics and the doubters. Rather than fearing their questions, invite them and create a space where we can ponder together, struggle together, sometimes find answers and sometimes say ‘this is too difficult to figure out’. What we can’t be is afraid of the questions because this suggests we have something to hide. There is an element of mystery in faith that we must invite people into if they are to mature. Of course we have to have done the journey ourselves to be able to guide another thru it.

So – if you feel like you are in a spiritual crazy zone – questions, doubts then don’t panic. Seriously – it’s a good thing. You are really just maturing – finding a resilient and robust faith rather than pushing under the rug a faith you know is fragile and easily shattered. And if you feel disillusioned then remember that is a good thing. Being ‘dis-illusioned’ means that your illusions have been removed and you are seeing truly. This is the path to spiritual maturity.