Carpark Conversations

“So why do you love God?”

I was standing in the carpark at Horrocks Beach,. watching the surf and chatting with a complete stranger – a 60 year old man who was living in his camper van so that he could travel and surf as he pleased. It was clear from early in the conversation that he wasn’t up for any kind of
‘conventional life’ . He was a long time surf-nomad and raved like a 16 year old grommie about
his surfing adventures around the world.

Then he asked me this question… And to be honest it kinda flummoxed me. I didn’t have a simple ready answer like I would to ‘Why do you believe in God?” or ‘why are you a Christian?’

“Why do you love God?”

Just prior to this he asked me if I had hit the drugs hard as a young fella. When I told him I
had never touched any drugs he asked “Ah- are you a religious nut?’ I sense he was wondering which ‘social category’ to place me in.

‘Well – I’m a Christian… “I said, wondering where this was headed.

” Me too!” he cheered “I’m a Jehovah’s witness!”

‘Awesome…’ I thought, as my gut churned and I felt myself looking for escape routes. I got the sense he wanted to debate theology right here in the carpark – kinda like a theological street fight.

I didn’t want to get into a fruitless debate… However the conversation rolled on and we did end up discussing God’s name, John 1:1 and the “end time” signs. At some point in the conversation he asked, ‘Are you a pastor?’ I think my gentle pushbacks and degree of biblical knowledge left him puzzled at times. Maybe I knew more than I was letting on… (Of course I’m not a pastor now, so the answer was ‘no’.)

As the conversation ended he told me he had learnt something new from our chat (that there is more than one way to read Revelation – phew!), but I had also benefitted from his question. I spent some time trying to articulate a response that is true.

Why do I love God? And perhaps just as pertinent – what do we ever mean by that?

In our culture “love” has been so equated with romance that we can struggle to think outside
of that paradigm. To ‘love’ must mean butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms and that inner
excitement that goes with the “infatuation” stage of a relationship.

And no – it’s not like that with God – and certainly not after 45 years of devotion. I don’t know that it ever felt like that. As I was reflecting on my response, I was drawn back to a couple of (currently) popular worship songs about the goodness and faithfulness of God. Two of the lines say: from ‘Goodness of God by Bethel Music, say:

All my life you have been faithful

All my life you have been so, so good

Every time I sing this song and these words particularly, I feel like they are true – beautifully true – not just factually or intellectually, but because they reflect so deeply my experience of God. I then wonder whether that is because my life has had some kind of ‘midas touch’, or because I am a wealthy Western Christian. I don’t think so. I have had my own fair share of struggles & failures. I haven’t had a dream run, but somehow, from early on I have had a deep conviction about the goodness and faithfulness of God.

And I sense my experience has reinforced my conviction and vice versa. I cannot help but
feel gratitude and love for a God who I feel has been with me for so long and who hasn’t
let me down.

I wonder what its like for my children to sing these words. At 22 & 20 they just can’t be sung
with the same degree of emphatic, experiential knowledge. Maybe when they are in their 50’s and have done the time in relationship with God they will be able to sing with that same kind of conviction.

Another song ‘You Hold it All Together by Maverick Music says:

And I believe that I will see
The goodness of the Lord

I’m confident as seasons change
Your faithfulness remains

I only came across this song a few weeks back, but again it resonated deeply as my own experience. In a time of change – such as our life is at present – I am confident that there is one who ‘holds it all together’. I don’t at all mean that in a ‘meticulous sovereignty’ kind of way – but more a knowledge that he leads and guides in ways that have been proven faithful.

So to come back to my mate’s question – ‘why do I love God?’ I sense it has to do with it being a response to his love for me. I feel like I am echoing the words of 1 John 4:19 ‘We love because he first loved us.’ For so many years I have been conscious of his provision and his presence and the older I get the deeper that experience seems to go.

Honestly, I dunno how this question works for someone in a famine ravaged country where their only experience of life has been a struggle to survive. I don’t know how they experience a good and faithful God – or why they may want to love that God. I can only speak from my own context (but I do acknowledge and feel overwhelmed at times by the complexity of this question.)

So – lesson learnt… Carpark conversations can be enlightening if you’re willing to dive in…

Divine “Co-incidences”

At 2.45 on Friday afternoon I was cleaning my desk and looking through my Bible at the numerous pieces of junk that had accumulated in it over the years. Old church bulletins, tattered bookmarks, random notes and then a brochure that had been sitting there for around 12 months. The brochure was a promo for a basketball team from Australia who travelled each year to the Philippines as missionaries, moving around the villages, playing games against local teams and sharing faith along the way. “Venture for Victory” was the name of the trip and it had captured my imagination as something I’d like to do ‘one day’. But when?.. I didn’t know. I sifted a lot of the accumulated junk into the bin but this brochure I put back inside the covers with the noted intention of doing something about it – of enquiring what it would take to go on one of the teams.

I would definitely‘ do something ‘ about it… soon… I was only 21 and in my first year of teaching in the little country town of Wagin. So I figured I had plenty of time to get around to it. I loved basketball and was a super zealous young Christian so it seemed like a perfect fit. I tossed the Bible back onto the desk in my tiny makeshift Phys ed office.( It was actually one of the Home economics store-rooms!) and closed the door for the weekend.

I was Perth bound and had signed up for a weekend of discipleship training with Rod Denton from Melbourne. I didn’t know anyone else going, but that didn’t matter to me. In those years I was a sponge for new information and the issue of “discipleship” seemed front and centre to me. Nothing has changed on that front.

The weekend was valuable. I was inspired to go back and think more purposefully about discipleship, but just as it was all about to end I had one of those weird and all too rare “God moments”. A bloke I had never met before approached me with an unusual request. I knew who he was – well, I knew his name – Dave Stanford – and I knew that he had already done a couple of the ”Venture for Victory” trips that I had said I would look into.

What I didn’t know was that he had gone on the weekend with the intention of promoting the trip in the hope that God might speak to someone there. As the conference ended he hadn’t felt that a generic group promo was in order. But he did sense God telling him specifically to approach me and ask me if I had ever heard of these teams and if I would consider going.

So he did just that. He came and said ‘G’day, I’m Dave and I saw you playing basketball earlier. I was wondering if you have ever heard of the Venture for Victory teams – and if you might want to pray about going”


I had the immediate sense that this was no accident – that it was one of those divine nudges to go and do something that was both exciting, but way out of my comfort zone. Oddly enough looking back after nearly 40 years it doesn’t feel scary at all now – but I was just 21 years old then and the world felt very different. The trip was expensive and I needed to find the necessary $ $ to go. I was excited but also not sure of all of what was involved – what I was sure of was that I had either had a significant and immediate answer to prayer, or I had experienced a massive coincidence.

I have never thought of it as a coincidence. It was one of the first times I recall experiencing a sense of “calling” from God and the trip itself was probably the most life changing thing I have ever done. I remember during my teen years that I had a very negative perception of missionaries. When they came to speak in church they looked and sounded so nerdy – so out of touch – and their stories left me bored however, I came home from the Philippines knowing that my days as a teacher were numbered and that I wanted to do work that involved sharing my faith with people outside the church.

It was a pivotal moment in my life.

On this weekend just gone I saw Dave again at a family function and he introduced me to his son and told the story of how we had met and of the connection we have because of that very unique and special moment. I don’t think I have ever shared that story on this blog, but this weekend was a prompt do just that because as I listened to Dave re-tell it I couldn’t help but thinking “what a cool story’.’

Im thinking I might even start a folder or category on this blog titled “The Fingerprints of God”, became as I look back over my life I see moments that I now regard as unmistakably divine encounters. You can call them whatever you like, but my experience since then tells me that’s exactly what they are.

Tiny Town Churches

On Wednesday I stopped in the little town of Dongara to refuel for the northbound trip. As I did I spotted a new cafe that had popped up since my last visit – a cafe that was working from a familiar looking old building. See the image above…

You know what building used to be. It was a ‘church’ building – no mega church, that’s for sure as there was barely enough room inside for a small kitchen and a few tables. This building used to serve a local community of Christians, but it had clearly seen it’s use by date. It was now being ‘re-purposed’ as a coffee shop. Based on the number of people there it seems to have been much more successful in this mode.

But this re-purposing of old church buildings is not a new thing – we just haven’t seen a lot of it in WA. Around this time 2 years ago we were passing thru South Oz and I saw an old church building for sale on Gumtree – $75K. Sounded like a bargain and I imagine someone snapped it up and converted it to an air bnb, a trendy cafe or maybe an art gallery. This isn’t happening with the same frequency in the cities where churches can survive that bit longer, but across our country towns we see most churches shrinking, especially smaller towns where the younger people leave for the city or for broader horizons. The proverbial ‘writing is on the wall’ for many of these churches.

What’s ironic is that in many of these towns there are at least 2 or 3 churches all in the same boat – small congregations struggling to survive, unable to attract a pastor and just doing the best they can with what they have. Some are in ‘limp’ mode, while others have a few more k’s in the tank before the red light warns that the end is nigh. As I have pondered how these churches move forward into the future it’s hard to see any easy solution. I even ask what the value is of 7 or 8 people gathering week after week in a large building while down the road the same thing happens. It seems absurd and to anyone looking on from the outside it would be utterly bewildering.

‘So you guys believe in the same God, read the same Bible and believe roughly the same things?’


‘So why not come together and do it!’

It’s so incredibly obvious to an outsider who doesn’t understand how these communities have been deeply formed by distinct cultural and theological practices over the years. My own experience in small towns is limited, and I think the theory of ‘merging’ is great, but I just can’t see it happening any time soon. Most smaller churches would rather march to their death entrenched in their own ways of worship than have to compromise their long held traditions in a merge.

And yes it looks absurd to those of us who are ‘insiders’ also, until we begin to scratch a little deeper. I was reading John 17 this morning – Jesus prayer for his followers to be ‘one’ – not a theory, but a genuine call to unity. And as I did I began to journal around what cultural and theological issues I would struggle to let go. Turns out there are a few.

Could I go to a KJV only, hat wearing, fire and brimstone church where attendance was expected at every service (like the church I grew up in) and allow my own preferences for informality and theological exploration to be curtailed? I honestly don’t think I could do that in the name of ‘unity’. What about a complementarian community where my wife and daughter would be always limited in the way they could express their gifts?… I don’t think so… If it meant life or death for the church could I give up an informality in our way of gathering and return to a more rigid and old fashioned way of meeting? Maybe… but if that culture carried over into the rest of the community life then I think I’d almost rather not be part of a church than subject myself to that again.

So while part of me says ‘hey we ought to just get over our differences’, I’m not actually sure that I could do that in practice. There are convictions I hold very deeply about how church is expressed that would be incredibly difficult to let go of.

And if it’s difficult to imagine two churches of the same denomination merging then what hope is there for Baptists, Anglicans and Salvos all throwing their hand in together in an ongoing way? Whose ‘way’ gets to shape the future? What would the church do with their existing buildings? What form of leadership would govern the church? Whose theology takes prescience?

It’s not hard to see how we have got to where we are today.

Perhaps a better path forward is for these smaller churches is to consciously and intentionally raise up leaders from within. We are working with a smaller country church at the moment, but if someone asked me if I’d like to live there and lead that church I would not be interested at all. I also don’t think I’d be a good fit for them – but I’d get very bored in that tiny town. It just wouldn’t be for me. But there are locals who love it there – who have no intention of ever moving! They love their town and are committed to it no matter what the future holds. So maybe the future leadership of these churches need to be found from within. Perhaps those who love the town and are committed to being there are the people who ought to lead the church into the future.

I’ve seen this happen in a couple of towns now, where local people have stepped up to the plate to lead the churches they once attended as members. And the great advantage of this is that they know and love the community, they know and love the church, they aren’t seeing it as a stepping stone to a ‘real’ ministry position. Of course unless they are diligent about raising up successors the hand of time will eventually catch up with them and the problem will re-surface. But perhaps this is the approach we should adopt with churches that still have life left in them. For others that are simply die hard, uncompromising and unwilling to change perhaps the easiest solution is to let them die.

And yeah I hear you Jesus… this isn’t what you had in mind in John 17, but I doubt we are gonna get close to that any time soon.

A Tip For Authors

Do you ever take the time to read the endorsements on books by other authors? I do and sometimes I wonder to myself ‘ok – so he/her knows their stuff – but what kind of person are they?’ You see I know of some authors / preachers / ‘big name Christians who are gifted at speaking and writing, but who can be complete jerks even though their book endorsements make them sound positively messianic!

No – of course I’m not going to name names!

But it was the reason that on my own book I had 2 endorsements from people who actually knew me well – the good and the bad. My long time friend Stuart wrote one of them and my co-pastor for 14 years, Ryan, wrote the other. I wanted people who could without a hint of ambiguity say ‘yeah – a good book and a good bloke. He does what he writes about’.

Interestingly in the world of Christian literature they may well be considered ‘weak’ endorsements as they aren’t ‘thought leaders’ or other writers who carry a measure of authority. They are very much ordinary people – both very gifted in their own ways – but they haven’t written books so they are possibly going to be perceived as less impressive.

I drew the line at these two men, but I did also consider endorsements from people in our local community – some Christian and some not – who could speak of who I am and what I do. A well written book can open up a whole world of ideas in a fresh way, and to some degree those ideas can stand on their own – which is why we can still read books by Yoder, Hybels and the like. But I really want to know that if a person is writing a book on integrity that they live with integrity, or a book on kindness – that they are actually kind. And no one knows that quite like those who are up, close and personal.

So there’s my simple idea for keeping it real in the world of Christian literature. No BS endorsements from the people who see you doing the stuff you write about. And if you cant find people like that then maybe you shouldn’t be writing the book.