The Lens You Look Through

Earlier this year I remember reading either a blog or a meme that looked at how we approach challenging or risky situations. (I can’t remember the source – so if it’s you then let me know.)

It said simply ‘what if, instead of asking “what could go wrong?”, we led with “what could go right?

As someone living in a period of personal transition I find myself faced with these questions often. And having become a little more risk averse these days my default focus has slowly shifted to ‘what could go wrong?’

What if I leave local church ministry in QBC and Yanchep?
Maybe I will lose a sense of identity? Maybe I will never get another gig somewhere else? Maybe I will miss the role…

Yeah… Maybe…

But then, if it all “goes right “…

Maybe I will have the time I want to be creative…
Maybe new opportunities will emerge that wouldn’t have while settled somewhere.
Maybe I will enjoy not being a pastor more than actually being one.. (ludicrous I know…)

We have just employed a good friend to work in our business and one of my hesitations over the years about a commitment to staffing is that question again – what if it goes wrong?… What if we blow up a relationship? What if it gets icky?…

But then again, what if our two families lives become beautifully entwined and we get to serve one another in ways we never could if we were simply friends thru church? What if we both help one another get closer to the kind of lives we want to live?

There are so many really good ‘what ifs?’ – if we choose to look through that lens.

In this time of transition, any time I feel myself anxious or rueful about decisions I come back to this question – “what if everything went right ?

And not surprisingly it is energising to do this – to look ahead in expectation of ‘success’ and good outcomes rather than disappointment or failure.

So I’m thinking that will need to become my default setting from here on when engaged in change.

What if everything went right?

I have a feeling the way you approach a process has a fair bit to do with the outcome!

So… Italy

A picture is worth a thousand words., but what if some of those words are lies? So we have just spent around 9 days seeing around Italy, starting with 2 nights in Rome, then 2 in Florence, 3 in La Spezia and finishing with tonight in Venice. Along the way we have taken your normal touristy type pics and from a distance it probably looks like a super cool place. It is… But the photos don’t show some of the other aspects of out trip that would actually give it perspective. So if you’ve seen our pics and thought ‘Italy is my next destination ‘, please read on…

Coming to Italy from the Outer Hebrides is like going from a Monastic silent retreat into a snake handling, yodelling pentecostal firestorm! It’s an assault on the senses and there are massive crowds everywhere.

A rare quiet moment!

Perhaps we shouldn’t have started in Rome. It’s a big, busy city with some amazing historic sites but it’s busy busy busy! We got in late, found our hotel and crashed before doing the ‘Rome in a Day’ tour the next morning. We signed up with a tour guide and went to many of the famous places and they were very impressive. But the fighting thru crowds was less inspiring. (I’m not unaware of the irony in that statement.) I loved seeing some of the incredible structures and hearing some of their story, but the time we spent in the Vatican left me very conflicted. You can’t deny the beauty and magnificence of what is there, but I just can’t see Jesus saying ‘ah well done – exactly what I was hoping for!’

Beauty is such an important and overlooked element in life that I just wanted to say ‘wow’, but I must admit I didn’t post any pics of the Vatican area as I just can’t endorse it. If this is the heart of Catholic faith and it is supposed to tell a story then it isn’t a story Jesus would want to be associated with.

In Florence we walked around similarly impressive structures – also beautiful and the same question of ‘did someone miss the memo?’ kept running thru my head.

Nice place somewhere in Rone

How we create worship spaces matters. Hence my use of the word conflicted. There is a sense of awe and gravitas in these places that we will never feel in a school common area. But the wealth of the Vatican itself raises questions in my mind – and seeing the hoardes that swarmed thru on the one day we were there I can only imagine the $$ that are being made! Maybe there is a balance that can be struck?

We walked 15kms on the walking tour and on the way home discovered Steve and Elaine were in town so we headed out for a feed and some great conversation. Those were the ‘Rome highlights’ and personally I don’t think I’d go back unless it was en-route to somewhere else. It’s a big busy city with some cool stuff to see, but other than that I was happy to move on.

From here we caught a very full train up to Florence. This trip is one of our first experiences of navigating a city where the language is foreign and (unlike lots of Asia) no one is hanging around to help you, so that was interesting and a tad stressful at times. As we hopped off in Florence it was into another congested train platform and then up into busy streets. We walked to our accommodation, chilled for a half hour and then went back down to check the lie of the land. A short walk around was helpful as we began to feel some of the smaller city warmth as well as some stunning architecture. That evening Danelle had set up a walking food tour which showed us around a little while we moved from cafe to cafe. It was a good tour – probably would have been better if I was able to consume alcohol and Danelle, gluten but we made it work. (She drank my alcohol and I ate her carbs 🙂

Gelato was cool

I have heard people rave about the food and coffee in Italy. That wasn’t my experience. The food was generally fine, but not ‘wow’, and the service varied from pretty good to meh. At times I wondered if the Italian waitstaff had just had a gutful of tourists. We enjoyed walking around Florence – also very crowded – but we started to roll with it. As for coffee, it was a mixed bag – some good brews and a few pretty ordinary. The Italian way is to simply drink the espresso shots, so the milk based coffee I prefer to drink was a bit average. ( I may have been perceived as a philistine asking for milk.)

We moved from Florence to the small town of La Spezia, with the intention of visiting Cinque qe Terre, a cluster of 5 small towns built on the top of the rocky coast line. This time we finished up in a very nice apartment near the centre of town. The pace of life definitely slowed a little here and the crowds thinned. I imagine it may be a peaceful place to visit mid-winter.

We planned to take the ferry up the coast and hike / train our way back. Unfortunately the ferry was cancelled due to rough seas and we ended up having to catch the train – along with the hoardes of people who also missed out. The trains that day were literally shoulder to shoulder with many people shoving their way into already crowded carriages. I got stuck standing in in a doorway section with no handrail to hang on to – but truth be told I wasn’t gonna fall over – I just couldn’t because people were pressing me on all sides. It was a relief to escape!

We took the train up to Monteresso, the northern most town, a very beautiful little place. We decided to hike back to the next town – only 3 or 4ks but it was a pretty serious climb up and down. Next time I will bring hiking shoes… The views from the walk were awesome and it was well worth the effort to do the hike. As we explored the towns we watched the ocean hammering the coastline and I remembered again where I feel most at peace – by the beach of some kind. We could have spent another day or two in the area, but at the end of the day wandering crazily crowded little towns, standing in long queues for tickets and food just left me a little jaded.

An intimate moment on the train

We were really glad we didn’t come at the height of the Italian summer which sounded very long and very hot this year. All of the walking would have been pure endurance. As it was we enjoyed 20-23 daytime temps with air con available if we ever needed it.

Our final day was in Venice. Our first train ran late and we missed our connection by 1 minute… The doors closed as we hit the platform so that was a quick way to blow $100 for tickets on another train! Venice was… well, what you expect Venice to be, canals and unique architecture as well as more cafes and pubs. It’s not a cheap place to stay – our nice but modest hotel room was $300 for the night.

So for me Italy was a 7/10 on the enjoyment scale. If I were to return I think I would:
a) come in winter when crowds are fewer (I’d hope)
b) hire a car and go off the beaten track. I’m not a good tourist. I prefer back roads to big cities any day.
c) learn a little language. I didnt find the Italian folks falling over themselves to help a foreigner (it isn’t Bali) so I’d try to meet them halfway more often.
d) I definitely wouldn’t put it at the back end of a trip to somewhere beautiful and remote. I’d do Italy first – then relax.

If you followed our pics on FB then this is perhaps a bit of a reality check. There are some cool places to see in Italy but expect to be seeing them with plenty of other people! And if you’re a beach hugging, peace loving introvert then spend the extra and go to the Outer Hebrides 🙂

An easing in the crowd

I Have Not Retired!

This evening when we went out to dinner in La Spezia, Italy, Danelle ordered a drink and was asked if she was over 18!!

Pretty cute – but 18?…

Ha… What a nice problem to have.

Since we finished in ministry as QBC and Yanchep a few people have asked me how retirement is. I have no idea – and I have no intention of finding out either.

I have not retired.

I have finished in my pastoral roles, but I have two businesses that I run and I have a couple of other books I’d like to write – not to mention other ideas that I either don’t have time for or can’t explore at this time.

The next few months will actually be very busy as I train my friend Brett in all things retic. I have been forced to admit that if I keep going at the same pace in this business my body is just gonna get wrecked. So we have hired our first full time worker in Brighton Reticulation and it’s with a view to stepping right back as he gets the hang of it.

My other caravan weighing business has got some traction now so I’m hoping it will double in workload in the next year or so

Ultimately what I’d like to do is create space to write and to be creative. Apart from The Future is Bivocational, I have put together a photo and story book based in our own suburb On Earth as in Heaven, which I am really looking forward to seeing published.

I have a couple of other book ideas that are tumbling around in my mind, but I know they won’t get much traction until the new year.

So there is plenty to do and plenty more I’d like to do if I had time. But one thing is for sure – I have not retired.. Maybe one day I will need to let go of some things, but I’m grateful for a mentoring session I had with John Bond (well over 20 years ago now) where I heard him say ‘retirement is not a biblical concept.’ I had never heard that previously, but once I did I resonated deeply.

That’s not a critique of any who have retired in a more traditional way. I think what John was saying is that there is no retirement in the kingdom of God. We never stop being who we are and using the gifts God has given us.

Certainly it is a critique if you envisage retirement as a time to be self centred and to simply wile away your days in self indulgent decadence. We have both been blessed with parents who ‘retired’ early but who actually then spent their time serving and going where there was a need,so we have seen what a fruitful life looks like when not needing an income.

I was reading 1 Corinthians 12 this morning and reflecting on the gifts God has given Danelle and I. I’m not sure exactly where an apostolic / teaching gift gets used in this next iteration of my life but I imagine that is part of the fun – wondering what comes next!

Anyway on the back of a few incidences of ‘congratulations on my retirement’ I just thought I should clarify where it’s at.

A Very Grey Gospel

As we walked among the large rocks that made up the ‘Callanish stones’, possibly a site of ancient pagan worship, Danelle asked me ‘can you not feel anything?’

‘Nope… Nuthin. Not a thing. My legs are cold… But maybe coz I’m wearing shorts?’

Not what she meant at all. She could feel something and it was spiritual, dark and nasty. I’m sure she’s on the money with her capacity to discern – she usually is – but that ain’t one of my super-powers. They could as easily have been a bit of creative landscaping to me.

But park me down in the heavily churched and yet miserably dour spiritual environment that is the Isle of Lewis and all I can wonder is ‘how would we help these people connect with the real message of Jesus?‘ From there I begin wondering about how a missionary might live in this unique context, what kind of church might resonate with the locals and how we might present an alternative to the bleak and joyless (free) Presbyterianism or Church of Scotland that seem to be the only shows in town.

The note in our visitors guide reminding us that Lewis was a ‘sabbatarian’ culture was the first hint of the tone that faith has taken in this environment. The drab grey buildings that are home to the churches seems to speak of utilitarianism rather than any kind of joy. The existence of a morning and evening service as well as a midweek prayer meeting took me back to my days in Belfast (the 60’s). Further reading spoke of an expression of faith with some very hard edges and strict cultural and pseudo-theological boundaries. I read of a minister who left the church after 45 years of ministry because they had introduced hymns alongside the metrical psalms that had previously been their only expression of sung worship. He argued it was simple heresy (to sing words not directly inspired by the Spirit) and he was forced to take a stand against this aberrant practice.

Remember the fights over hymns and modern songs in our churches? (C.1970-80) Well this is a step further back from that… Whew…

I am always inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, so despite the drab appearance, I imagined a congregation of happy people living in blissful ignorance of where the rest of the world is at. For some reason I envisioned people finding joy in a form of church that simply wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

These were my impressions from afar. But on Sunday evening after we had finished our meal at the local pub we drove by the local church and saw that it was due to start in 15 minutes.

(Not the church I Attended)

‘I’d like to go,’ I said. ‘Anyone else?’

No one was keen so Danelle dropped me at the church. ‘What are you hoping for?’ she asked as we drove there.

‘I’m genuinely curious as to how it all works.’ I said, ‘I’d like to experience their worship, but I also know that sometimes you hear the voice of God more clearly in different places – so I’m hoping I might have a moment with God that I wouldn’t have otherwise.’

I knew that even though we speak of being the family of God, I was walking into a foreign culture. That said I’d spent a couple of days with the pentecostal side of the family so an hour with the other mob couldn’t hurt.

So at 6.25 I climbed the bare concrete steps to the grey stone building with hopes of something unique and special happening. I was met at the door by two men in suits and ties. They looked me up and down and asked, ‘You here for the service?’ I think my presence and attire (jeans and a jumper) may have caught them a little off guard. I smiled (someone had to) and walked thru the doors into a space that would have held 150-200, but had maybe 30-40 elderly men and women sprinkled throughout the area.

What stuck me immediately was the silence. Dead s I l e n c e Not a whisper was spoken by anyone. I pulled into a pew midway down the aisle and took the opportunity to pray quietly, reflecting that it was good to be able to do that. At home we normally have to dial people down to start a service because there is so much chatter. Both approaches have their merits. I do know that a significant factor in how I have led churches over the years has been a reaction against the stifling church culture I experienced in my early years in Belfast. I have no fond memories of that church experience whatsoever – however I do recall trying to fudge a few tummy aches in attempts to get a day off. My mum was a nurse and never seemed to have any compassion for my Sunday morning ailments. I don’t think I got a single morning off… Add to this the evening service as well as a strict sabbatarian culture and Sundays became endurance feats for a 9 year old kid.

We sat in the pin drop silence until one of the men who met me at the door brushed quickly past and shoved a Bible / song book onto the ledge in front of my pew. He then took up his post at the front of the building behind some kind of wooden barrier. I wasn’t sure what function he was fulfilling as he didn’t do anything else during the service.

Once he was seated the minister entered from the side room and climbed the steps up to the podium, a good 2m above the rest of us, where he spent the whole service. After another few moments of silence he stood and spoke.

It wasn’t a welcome or a call to worship even. Just the briefest of perfunctory introductions. ‘We are here to worship.’ This was followed by the singing of a Psalm. This brand of church believes in singing only what is already found in scripture and doing so without music. You can read the rationale on their website which incidentally was ‘closed’ on the Sabbath too. Internet use is deemed to be possibly an inappropriate Sabbath activity too so the website is closed to prevent you stumbling. I clicked a few links trying to beat the systems but was continually re-routed back to the Sabbath announcement.

So the minister read the Psalm right thru, then called on one of the men to start the singing. He led away while others slowly joined in. It was my first experience of this type of ‘metrical Psalm singing’ and while the language of the Psalms was all ‘King James English’ it was refreshing to simply sing a piece of scripture – although I will take the Sons of Korah (Aussie Band) version over this any day. With many of our smaller churches struggling for musicians I thought hmmm… maybe this is an option… Acapella as normal?..

Truth is you would never get away with it in Australia because the expectation is already so strongly calibrated to expect at least two instruments in play on any given Sunday. To sing without music is just a little too weird for most of us.

Once we had sung the Psalm we sat down, only to stand again for prayer – around 15 minutes in total led by the minister. In truth it felt like another sermon as he led us thru various passages of scripture that were related to content of the prayer. The practice of standing for prayer is engaged to prevent people ‘lounging’ in the presence of God. Again, I understand the sentiment but given the hardness and narrowness of the pews we were sitting on, lounging was never gonna be an option.

Another Psalm was read and then sung, followed by a Bible reading – all of Galatians 3, again read by the minister. I know Galatians pretty well, but the KJV language lost me early. I’m curious that people still favour it despite the simple evidence clearly showing it is a poorer translation. But then we are all guilty of baptising our cultural preferences in a modicum of scriptural / theological proof.

One more Psalm was read/sung before the sermon – a 40 minute tirade on freedom in Christ – that somehow got converted into a spiel on why we should continue to observe the law. Woven into this was the Reformed staple of justification by faith, but it would be an undestatement to say there were mixed messages. As I listened I found myself hoping that there wasn’t communion that Sunday as well as I wasn’t sure I would receive permission to take part.. I wasn’t sure of what their house rules would be and I didn’t want to find out.

I’m not sure if I heard correctly but it seemed like there was a belief in ‘perfectionism’, as we were called to be perfect as God is perfect. No pressure folks… (If you can’t be perfect then you can learn to pretend.) He seemed to be saying that the law was our schoolmaster pointing us to Christ, but Christ did not end the requirements of the law – he simply bought us freedom from its consequences. To be fair I don’t think he was arguing for adherence to the whole of levitical law – but more the 10 commandments. Nevertheless the spread of grace felt very thin while the call to behave felt heavy and the consequences of failure very grave. At no point during the entire service did the minister smile or give any sense of this being a joyful experience. As I looked around during the service his misery seemed to be shared equally among the flock.

As the sermon finished the minister declared the end of the service and as one the congregation stood to their feet and filed out the door. Within 30 seconds no one was left in the building. Another 30 seconds and the carpark was empty too. In our churches the ‘after’ part can last as long as the service itself some weeks and usually ends with me turning the lights off and telling everyone to go home!

On my way out I did manage to receive a nod and a smile from one older lady, but other than that I made it to the carpark with no human interaction whatsoever.

Then I heard the sound of footsteps and some puffing. It was the minister running to catch me – clearly I was the visitor – and he was now all smiles as he shook my hand and greeted me. I think it was supposed to be the ‘gospel service’ that I had attended so I imagine he was coming to see if I may have been a lost soul searching for help. He was around 50 years old and by far the youngest member of the congregation. We chatted briefly until we established that I was already ‘in’ and then he excused himself. I wondered why his pulpit persona was so sombre and heavy. Which was the real ‘him’?

I walked the back streets home wondering again ‘how would you communicate the good news of Jesus to these people?’ It is a culture steeped in so much religion and yet it felt in many ways like an unreached people group.

Bizarrely these very islands were the site of the Hebridean revival (C.1950) that literally reshaped the spiritual landscape of the entire region. It was hugely significant and lasted 4 years – but what is left now is nothing that would even approximate that move of the Spirit. Worse still perhaps, the people may have had their fill of protestant religion and any one who comes in under that guise will be 6 goals down and kicking into the breeze before they even begin.

So what would a missionary do in this culture? I get the sense that any overtly ‘evangelical’ expressions of church would be met with suspicion by existing churches and the community may not be easily convinced to reconsider the Christian message.

I couldn’t understand why the evangelical churches of mainland Scotland haven’t sent church planters over? Why are there no Baptists or charismatic or pentecostals on these islands? Is it just too difficult?

Much of our time on Lewis was wonderful and stunning. Vast landscapes and beautiful beaches were found simply everywhere. We were quite literally overwhelmed with beauty. Wouldn’t it wonderful if the people really got to know the creator of all this and were able to share in his joy?

Living With Unreasonable Expectations (Of Yourself)

What unreasonable expectations do you have of yourself?

I spent a Monday morning a few weeks back at a seminar focused on leadership anxiety. I don’t feel particularly ‘anxious’ at this point in life so the topic didn’t ‘feel’ especially relevant, but I have often found you can learn more from good presenters with a less relevant topic than attending a seminar with a pertinent subject and a less than inspiring presenter.

It’s different to saying ‘I have high expectations of myself.’ The word he used was ‘unreasonable‘. I want to have high expectations. I want to do excellent work at whatever I do, I want to be continually improving, and not standing still, but I have been grappling with the idea that some things are just beyond my capacity.

So Steve Cuss was right up there with the quality presenters – engaging, funny and able to make his content relevant even to someone who thought he felt quite at peace. That said one of the cracker questions he asked that I have actually been mulling over for the last month or so was ‘what unreasonable expectations do you have of yourself?

As we chatted briefly around the table that Monday morning it floored me just how many unreasonable expectations I have of myself. And not just unreasonable – more like utterly ridiculous

For example:

  1. I will not get old. (Yeah… really dumb…) My body will not fail me. I will not lose strength, power, capacity. I will be able to work as hard now as when I was 44 and started my business. What’s bizarre is that I consistently operate mentally with these expectations – but my body is telling me that it’s time to wake up to where this is headed!
  2. I can run two businesses simultaneously while pastoring and writing. I don’t know what kind of brain fart I had that saw me think a new business would fit well with my life… It’s been the busiest 9 months of our lives in a long time – and I got a yellow card from Danelle recently – a reminder that my unreasonable expectations don’t just affect me.
  3. I should be able to surf at the same level I did at 25 years old. What is wrong with me? I am slow to my feet, less agile and I get scared in big waves that I will get held down beyond my lung capacity. A couple of weeks back we spent a week in the Margaret River region and I didnt surf. I was disappointed in myself and felt frustrated, but I also know what I could be ‘that guy’ in the line up who gets in everyone else’s way and generally is a danger to himself and others. Oh… But I should just push thru and paddle out! The confidence will return right?…
  4. I should be able to push on past the pain of my various injuries (back, knees, elbows etc) and just keep going. I know my body is telling me to slow down but I am struggling to give it a hearing. I don’t feel like the idea that weakness and frailty should ever be a reality in my life.

But they are… Most of my unreasonable expectations relate to my physical capacities and ability to perform. Truth is, I am 58 and getting older and this body that I have given a fair flogging to over the years firstly thru sport and then thru work is slowly breaking. I feel like a car with 300 000kms on the clock. Still good for a bit longer but just be aware that seals will go, internals are wearing out and one day it is just not gonna be worth repairing…

I don’t like this. I object to this process…

Too bad huh?

I shouldn’t be feeling this way I tell myself. I am still strong and able. I can keep going!

But let’s be frank it’s an utterly unreasonable expectation to think that my 58 year old self will have the same physical capacity as my 25 year old self – even my 45 year old self. Where did this expectation come from? (I know… A question for a counsellor…)

And the juggling I have been doing the last 6 months would have been a fair challenge for anyone, but for a bloke who has been looking to slow down and do more writing it was a backward step.

And then there is the bulge around the waist line that I see creeping and I remind myself that I can shake those kgs in a few hard weeks… But with all of the pain issues I haven’t been able to get (properly) on top of this weight issue in the last 5 or 6 years. But I still believe that ‘if I wanted to’ I could demolish the fat in a snap… Yeah right.

So I am conscious of my unrealistic expectations. I am aware of them – but I can’t say I actually want to let go of them.

I don’t want to admit weakness physically or mentally. I don’t want to accept that maybe one day I may have to sell the surfboard and call it a day, or stop laying lawn for people, or hiking for half a day in the bush.

I am wrestling with the idea that I am beyond middle age and now in that in strange space between middle age and old age. (I was actually asked today if I was over 60 and eligible for a seniors discount… ‘No! I’m only 58 1/2!)

Even as I write this I know that there is a reality I am not engaging with – I am looking away from it and almost pretending that I am going to ‘snap out’ of this space.

My pain will disappear, my energy will increase, my body will magically fix itself… I will once again paddle out in big waves and feel confident. I will start running again, I will match it with the young guys on the work site… And so it goes on.

It’s simple BS.

But this post doesn’t end with a revelation that helps me reach peace with myself. I still sit here hoping that the aging process will somehow reverse, that I will return to the feeling of power and strength I had as a younger man.

I know it is unreasonable and I am hoping that one day I will come to a place of contentment with the realities that I am currently at war with.

And yes, I know I should take hope in the biblical story of new bodies in the resurrection, but right now that feels a bit distant and ethereal and my memories of better days are still taunting me.

And yes, I am aware that my years of life experience give me wisdom and credibility I didn’t have in my youth. My contributions now may be more to do with relationships and ‘giving back’. But I still envy those who are my age and un-plagued by injuries and ailments.

Anyone else have this struggle to deal with aging and the loss of physical capacity?

Do you one day just come to terms with it?

(Asking for a friend of course…)

Hanging with Prophets

Caveat: Its easy to simply criticise what we don’t understand, so as I write some reflections here based on my experience of the Global Prophetic Conference we were just a part of in Glasgow I am concious that I was well out of my natural habitat and I need to tread carefully.


Back in 2003 I remember having a deep and distinct awareness of my calling to be a missionary to the western world, rather than trying to keep shoehorning myself into the local church pastor role. I flew across to Melbourne to hang with Al Hirsch and the Forge crew and I just remember feeling like I had ‘come home’. I had discovered other people like me who were disturbed deep in their gut about the state of the church and our missional indifference. All thru the 5 day intensive I felt myself wanting to yell ‘YES YES YES!! This is what we need to do!’

I was inspired but also excited because I had found my tribe. They were predominantly apostolic types – pioneers – church planters and innovators. At that point I didn’t realise that an apostle was the equivalent of a missionary (apostello = to send) nor did I care. I just felt relieved that I wasn’t a lone voice agitating for change.

I sense the Global Prophetic Conference was that equivalent for prophets – a gathering of like minded and similarly gifted people coming together to focus on the enabling of the prophetic gift within the church and the world.

I had been listening to Emma Stark’s podcast for a few weeks before attending to try and get my brain tuned to the frequency on which these guys are communicating. And I found their content interesting, sometimes provocative and intriguing. But I was also aware that they were using a language and tone that I wasn’t familiar with – and at times I was wary of.

Why wary? Probably because my historical experience of prophetic people has been a bit chequered.

My positive experiences have been with the John (Smithy) Smith / Tony Campolo types who have confronted the church on matters of justice – the preaching prophets. But my more negative experiences have been with the ‘thus saith the Lord’ types who deliver an apparent message of ‘revelation’, or those who dispense ‘prophetic words’ like fortune cookies or horoscopes – clear enough to he possible – obscure enough to be interpreted any way you like.

Being a fairly natural cynic doesn’t help me to hear their voice. I want to say ‘really?… Are you sure?…’ Especially when it’s a prophecy of larger proportions. And I find it easy to dismiss anything that is so vague it could apply to anyone.

So what of the conference?

It was clearly led by a small team of high powered prophetic people (all of whom I had never heard of before – not my tribe). So the entire weekend was like a freight train powering across the land with no sense of slowing or taking a breath. The intensity level of the preaching and the worship was between 8-11 on a scale of (1-10). After the first evening Danelle asked me ‘ok so come on – hiw did you find it?’

‘Loud’ I said.

Because that was the only word I could speak with clarity. It was intense, confronting and at times inspiring. Emma Stark spoke the first message and essentially ‘downloaded’ a lot of what she felt God had been saying to her.

I really appreciated her courage to tap into the issue of the hour and speak about monarchy and how we compare ’empire’ and ‘kingdom’. She suggested that we may see a dismantling of ’empire’ going forward but that we shouldn’t be overly concerned because our focus should have always been the kingdom of God and it’s expression in our world.

She spoke of seeing Jesus as king rather than saviour or friend, not a new concept for many but it seemed to be a shift in that community. Scot McKnight’s writing on this subject has shaped my own thinking for many years now. She spoke of having a ‘violent’ approach to the kingdom battles that we face – that we have been too passive in dealing with the kingdom of darkness and too accommodating. ‘Violent’ is a strong word – usually with negative connotations – but I got the gist of what she was saying. The passivity and apathy of the church has allowed the kingdom of darkness to tap deeper roots and immobilise / strangle us in many ways.

Violent… Hmmm…

Another speaker spoke to the issue of timidity and called people to move beyond fear to confront darkness. He was fairly insistent that pretty much everyone struggled with timidity and needed to respond to his call in some way or other. I don’t struggle with it so I found myself getting annoyed at his louder and louder calls for people to wake up to themselves. Yeah Nah…

As I sat there and listened I realsied there is a whole ‘theology’ around prophetic things that I am unfamiliar with and at times prone to critique. On Friday evening Emma Stark made minimal reference to scripture so I found myself immediately asking ‘why should I believe / trust her message?’ (When you’re a long time Baptist it’s what you do.)

But it’s also a fair question. I am not so constrained that I feel every speaker needs to preach expositorily each time they stand up – but I know that when I am needing convincing of an idea the person speaking needs to convince me from scripture.

No speaker took a passage of scripture and worked thru it as their base for a message. Perhaps that is more of a prophetic thing than what I am used to. But it meant I was always listening and on guard at the same time.

I attended 3 and 1/2 sessions out of the 5 and in each I found valuable challenge. I wished I had the energy to be present more fully on the Saturday evening but weariness got the better of me and by 9.15pm I was propping my eyes open. Knowing these guys like to ‘party’ I decided to head home and Danelle found me asleep with the light on when she came back to the room. My attempt at reading had only lasted a few minutes!

If I had to rate the transformative impact of the conference for myself it woukd probably be in the 2-4 range. I know that is very low, but I just didn’t feel the depth of impact that it seemed to be having on others. As someone who values silence and reflective practices over long repetitive worship sets I found myself zoning out during worship. When you repeat a line 72 times you lose me! (Yeah I ended up counting as I was getting bored.)

The long times of musical worship and long very intense (think lots of yelling) messages just didn’t turn a key in me. But this where I recognise that these are ‘not my people’ – not in the sense that the Forge crew were. There were some theological /cultural clashes as well at times although none of these were deal breakers – just different ways of reading the Bible and living it out. For example I chose not to join the other 1300 people who were filing past the prophets for an ‘annointing’. In my mind I don’t feel like I need or would benefit from their hands waved over me in prayer. Maybe I am wrong on that – but I struggled to see the value of the exercise.

And so?

As we drove up to Glencoe this morning I asked each person in the car what their one most significant ‘takeaway’ was. Each of us had a valuable insight. Mine was the sense that I had been too complacent when dealing with obviously evil or demonic activity. I can look away too easily because it doesn’t impact me directly. The folks I was with over the weekend would walk up and pick a fight – and win.

So perhaps that’s enough value in itself for a weekend. I fully believe in the value and need for prophets in the church and would never want to see them marginalised or done away with. In Baptist churches we haven’t valued prophets or apostles all that highly but apostles are probably an easier fit. Prophets still weird us out a bit too quickly.

My tribe will always be the apostles and I will find myself most at home among those who are dreaming new dreams of how the kingdom can advance – but I know I need my brother’s and sisters who live and operate in the prophetic realm. On the weekend I walked in to their tribal gathering – and while I wasn’t on their frequency at times with how they did things – I was with their heart to see Gods kingdom come on earth as in heaven and concious that for this to ever be a reality it will take us working side by side, arm in arm to get there together.

As an aside – Danelle and I asked one another as we entered the building – ‘what are the chances of being known by anyone at a prophetic conference on the other side of the world?’ No chance right?…

So we thought until after the first session when a woman approached us and said ‘hi – remember me?’

Truth be told I couldn’t place the face – such was my lack of expectation of any connection – but DJ was a friend from 20 years back during our time in Lesmurdie. She has been travelling with a friend and finished up hanging with our family for several weeks. Nice moment – and proof it’s a very small world!