The Final Voyage

Oh my son my son! If only I could have died in your place.

I literally read these words in the Bible just over a week ago as David wept for his son Absalom (and the kid was a complete jerk). I remember feeling his anguish even then. Today I feel his pain a thousand times over, for a son who was everything a dad could hope for. Sam died free-diving off Mandurah. We think maybe he stayed down too long and blacked out. He was unable to be revived and Sunday around 2.30 pm we got the news that he wasn’t coming home.

I am the guy who ‘writes things’ and is able to put words around ideas so they make sense, but today my words just feel so paltry and inadequate as I have struggled to put language around such a deep inner heartache and loss – a terrible tragedy and one I can’t make sense of in any way. It has taken me 6 days now to form some kind of response.

My world has changed forever and I still don’t even know quite how. I just know that I wake up, begin pondering what the day holds and then the grief truck mows me down and takes all the wind out of my sails all over again. It leaves me stuck on repeat, remembering moments with my son, but knowing I will never have those experiences again. 

Each day there is a realisation of a new ‘what will not be’, because Sam is gone. Ellie is left without her dearly loved brother and our small family loses its brightest spark. Sam was the one who brought the joy, the passion and the rage. Sam rarely left you guessing as to what he was feeling and for that I admired him. He laughed loud and cried hard. He loved life and brought so much energy to our home. 

Heading out on the final voyage

Sam had a deep and sometimes troubled mind. He was an ‘over thinker’ – a second guesser and so often his questions were about his own worthiness – his own intrinsic goodness – which no one else ever doubted. There were few men in this world as ‘good’ as Sam – as kind and loving  as brave — he was the kind of guy you hoped your daughter would marry. In my journal as I pray for my kids each morning, I write words that I am praying for them. For Sam the word was ‘peace’ – that his brain would settle and allow him some rest. The words alongside Ellie’s name are: fun, substance, adventurous, courageous, Godly, kind – except these aren’t words I am praying for her – but its a description of the man who I hope will one day win her heart. And yeah – I did notice that I could overlay that description on Sam and it would fit him like a glove. So I pray for his type of man to one day come along and sweep my own daughter off her feet. 

His beautiful partner, Cosi, who found him, dragged him onto their kayak and tried to resuscitate him, now has to live without him – her final memories so traumatic. She is one courageous and strong woman, but her heart is shattered and healing will take time. I am grateful every day for her efforts to save him and bring him back. We love her deeply and share some of her pain – but who can feel the pain of a love lost like that?

In these days after Sam’s death we swim in a sea of both murky darkness as we contemplate the loss, but also beautiful light, as we are surrounded and cared for by so many people who love us and who want to support us. So much of our lives have been spent caring for others and being those people who help in times of tragedy. It never crossed my mind that one day we would be the ones bereft and mourning. ‘Those poor people’… are us…

On my previous blog I tried to describe as concisely as I could my deepest convictions about life and faith. First and foremost was that God is good. Just in case you’re wondering, I do not doubt that in the slightest. I also said that my hope is in the cross and the resurrection. Again I am reminded of the beautiful truth that there will be a final resurrection and we will be once again share in life together. I know some speak ‘hopefully’ of a good God and perhaps a heaven… if we are lucky… I feel a depth of confidence from deep in my being that I am unable to explain – except that my life experience over 60 years has always led me to a place of trust and confidence in that same good God. 

I know Sam shared that confidence and hope, but I am devastated that his life ended too soon. Initially I was angry with him, until i reflected on my own early 20’s where I pushed limits in every way I could. It’s what young men do… Only most of us get away with it.

So, my son, Sam is dead.

That is such a brutal thing to say or write, but that is the reality we are facing now. And it’s as cold and harsh and terrible as that word on the page. 


We sometimes describe it as passing away or even sleeping, perhaps as a way of cushioning the blow. But when all the dust has settled the result is still same. Tragic, devastating and utterly unfixable. The ocean I taught my kids to love was a place where Sam was genuinely free and able to be himself most fully. But it was the ocean that claimed his young life. Just 21… so strong, so full of life and potential. 

Gone in a heartbeat – or a lack of one.

And so we weep for the life that was lost and the future that will not come to be. For a world that is poorer for the loss of a vibrant and deeply compassionate human being who loved people and loved adventure. 

Yesterday afternoon as we sifted thru the stuff in his room, I found this poem in Sam’s journal. The opening line states ‘I belong to the ocean…’ It feels gut wrenching to read those words today, but it was actually written a few years back. It is him trying to express deep love for this most marvellous part of creation that ultimately was his undoing.

Thank you to the incredible number of people who have supported and loved us this week. Our family, close friends, our church communities, the local Yanchep crew, our surfer friends and more. We have been overwhelmed with love and for that we are so grateful. Tomorrow is ‘resurrection Sunday’, a day that will take on even greater significance from this year onwards a we wait for the day when we will meet again

Runs Deep

If you read my previous post then you’d know where I am headed with this one. And no I hadn’t forgotten to follow it up – I just thought I’d wait a week so you could reflect more on it in your own experience.

The question I am pondering is, ‘after 40 odd years of following Jesus what have I come to ‘know‘ deep in my heart as absolutely critical to the establishment of a strong and well formed faith

I had thought I would cycle thru these ideas one post at a time so I could really develop what I mean and why it matters, but having begun in that frame and found it feeling a bit awkward and detached, I sense it is better to scan the whole range of ideas in one swoop

So here we go with 6 elements that give foundation to my own faith and that help me stay the course and live as a disciple of Jesus.

  1. God is good.

He is GOOD!

This deep conviction is the cornerstone of my faith. It has been my experience over and over, but it is also a deep belief. If God is not good for any reason then we are in real trouble. If God is malevolent, capricious or just has ‘bad days’, then he would be impossible to trust and to put our hope in. If God is not good then he simply becomes another despotic deity who needs appeasing on a regular basis.

This knowledge cultivates an awareness of his goodness in the world, a heart of gratitude for what I see of him and a deep sense of joy in life.

This understanding also helps me deal with issues like Old Testament violence. If God is good then I begin reading these passages with that premise. And it helps me form a reasonable response – maybe it wouldn’t be one that everyone would accept – but the premise of a perfectly good and loving God must be the foundation for my ruminations (as I don’t accept that God simply wanted to wipe out nations who weren’t onside with him and his people.)

What do I mean by ‘good’? I mean that he only ever intends the best for his creation. Perhaps it’s not much different from saying ‘God is love’ and as a result he is ‘good’. But his goodness for me relates to his ongoing faithful concern for his creation – his refusal to do anything to harm that creation.

I just can’t buy the view of God’s sovereignty that has him as the mastermind behind all sorts of shitty stuff in life because he has a ‘greater plan’. I was abused as a child because God wanted me to help other abused kids? … It was God’s plan for me to have terminal cancer / motor neruone disease / or whatever else for some greater good?… I don’t think so. There may well be greater good come out of tragedy and difficulty, but God is never the one pulling the strings and screwing up people’s lives so they can learn some hard lessons.

God is good. If we don’t get that factored in early then we are in trouble.

2. Jesus is Lord – again – utterly foundational and not negotiable. Paul spoke to this when he said ‘For me to live is Christ – and to die is gain.’ Scot McKnight once summed up the gospel in these 3 exact words, ‘Jesus is Lord’, When Stanley Hauerwas was interviewed by a rather straight laced Christian journal and asked to define the gospel he was a little more feisty stating ‘Jesus is Lord – everything else is bullshit’. Maybe this was why Time magazine called him America’s best theologian in 2001. 🙂

This statement gives shape to literally everything I do. Ok not everything – not what colour socks I wear – but it does give shape to the way I live my life – the way I use my money – the way I treat other people – the way I do business. If Jesus is Lord then I bow the knee to him every day and surrender my own will to his. If you’re reading this as someone who doesn’t have faith then I appreciate that can sound a little weird – but it’s a conscious decision when you become a disciple – to live a life that is reflective of the one you follow. And it’s done in the belief that the life he calls me to, is life as it’s intended to be, lived in the ‘kingdom of God’,

Most days this idea bubbles away beneath the surface guiding and shaping. It’s rare that I hear a megaphone giving me instructions to obey. At this point in my life it is in some ways ‘second nature’ – and that’s probably an apt term because my first nature is still to look after no 1 and make decisions that only ever serve me. There are times when the voice of Jesus speaks clearly into a situation I am grappling with in a way that is simply calling for me to choose the Christlike way when I am struggling with my own will. It’s been 11 years since I gave up alcohol, but it happened because in a moment I heard him say ‘stop‘. (Follow the link if you want a broader picture). I had grappled with drinking in moderation and failed on numerous occasions. I just loved wine. Then one day – clear as a bell – Jesus said ‘stop‘. For someone who holds to the idea of Jesus as Lord the only appropriate response is to say ‘yes’. I did – and he hasn’t said that I can start drinking again yet, so the ‘ban’ is still in force 🙂

I won’t deny there are times of wrestle as I discern him sometimes forming me in ways that are difficult – but this choice is firmly made, and as long as it’s in place there is only ever one response.


3. The kingdom of God is ultimate reality & the hope of God for the world – I am embarrassed to say that I really didn’t ‘get’ the ‘kingdom of God’ until I was in my 30’s. I didn’t understand or grasp that what was meant by ‘your kingdom come on earth as in heaven’ was for the world to operate according to God’s original design. And while we live in the ‘in-between’ space now – we anticipate a time in the new creation when the kingdom of God will be fully expressed and experienced.

This matters to me because for much of my early years ‘salvation’ was nothing more than being pulled from the flames of hell and sent on a path to heaven. And my job on this earth was to ‘save people’. I’ve been really grateful for the theologians who have helped me expand my understanding of salvation to realise that it is much more than the forgiveness of sins, but it extends to all of creation and that we are ‘being saved’ as we live each day in the reality of God’s kingdom and under the rule of the king – Jesus.

I’m not a person who particularly likes being told what to do – or made to conform for no good reason. But when I think of the world as God intends where there is love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness and so on, I want to live in that reality – so I will bow the knee to the way of the kingdom in the conviction that God knows better than me. And quite frankly there is great joy in living in the way of Jesus – of knowing that I can trust his judgement on everything, (even if I can’t always trust my discernment in hearing him…)

These days when I am speaking to people who aren’t Christians about the faith, I ‘lead’ with the ‘gospel of the kingdom’, of there being a God who loves his creation and wants the best for it and has a plan for how that can happen – how we can return to the better plan. The cross is at the centre of this, but it is not the circumference. The gospel is far grander and more beautiful than Jesus dying for my sins so I could go to heaven.

These days it is the ‘gospel of the kingdom of God’ that inspires me and forms my imagination of how life should be lived in this world.

4. Faith is both beautiful and mysterious (but not very systematic) – This is core because the longer I am alive and the more I read the scriptures, the more questions I have forming in my mind. Yet, while questions form, I am also deeply convinced of the goodness of God and his greater plan for his creation so I find myself regularly living in moments of tension where I read a passage of scripture that once was so ‘clear’ and now it is puzzling.

I listened to a recent podcast with Richard Rohr and Brene Brown as they discussed ‘second half of life’ issues. They made the point that in church we are trained to explain rather than explore and as a result the place of mystery has been replaced by what is often a rather dull and hard to believe explanation of something beautiful and mysterious. Maybe we were never intended to explain faith in short concise statements.

For an example of a case in point consider 2 Kings 2. In this crazy narrative we have Elijah rolling up his jacket and parting a river with it, then his disciple, Elisha requesting a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit (can you actually do that?!), followed by a whirlwind taking Elijah ‘up into heaven’ and then the story that always reminds me to be nice to prophets, where a group of young men mock Elisha’s bald head – so he calls down bears from the forest to maul them (42 of them to be precise)… There is so much to ponder in that chapter – so much that is puzzling – absurd even! As I read the scriptures each morning I find myself journalling my questions more than my observations or learnings and it is the questions that stir me. Over the years I have ‘learnt’ a lot – and much of it has been good – but I don’t feel I was well trained in how to sit with curious parts of scripture and to be ok with not understanding all of it.

Seriously thoughb – what’s the deal with the bears!?

I have a clear memory of being 19 years old and attending a series of mid-week Bible studies at my church where a supremely confident teacher gave us completely authoritative answers to absolutely everything that we wanted to know about, even the most complex of passages. After one of the meetings I chatted with him personally in the carpark before heading home. I asked ‘can you tell me – is the Bible like poetry where everyone can read it and make a different interpretation, or is there only one true reading of each passage.’ He cleared that up for me straight away by letting me know that for every verse there was only one correct way to read it.

While I don’t subscribe to a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of reading of scripture where every and any interpretation is equally valid, I have benefited more from appreciating beauty and mystery in recent years than I have from needing to nail rock solid certainty at every bend.

5. Faith is inherently communal – I have written about this plenty.

There simply is no such thing as a solitary Christian who doesn’t see the need to be part of some expression of church. The New testament letters are all written to communities, instructing them in the way of faith and in how to live together as the people of God. So when someone says ‘for me faith is just very personal – between me and God’ I have warning lights flashing. This isn’t the faith the Bible speaks of.

Having been in church for nearly 60 years now there is a part of me that feels like I have ‘been there done that’ and if I never went to church again I feel like I’d be ok. Hmph… I guess what I wouldn’t be able to observe is the difference in my own behaviour and thinking as I move away from the people of God to ‘do my own thing’. I may ‘keep my core beliefs’, but that assumes that faith is about intellectual assent to a collection of ideas. As if… While there are some ‘core beliefs’, the real test of faith is in how it is lived out each day. I keep saying ‘there is no theology exam for heaven’, yet with so many theologically anal Christians nit picking over doctrine, you would think this was the case.’

I do appreciate plenty of people have been burnt by church and struggle to re-engage with the beast that bit them. Churches can do a lot of harm and PTSD is real. But there are many different expressions of the church, so my encouragement to the wounded is to try and find a bunch of people who are up for sharing the road with you – then join them and stick with them for at least a year. Give it a good shot and who knows – you may just be pleasantly surprised,

Unless we are in community we won’t be able to serve one another, carry one another’s burdens, forgive one another, encourage one another, rebuke one another… and so it goes on. There is never going to be a time in my life where I can say ‘ok I think I’ve done church… let’s do something else’.

6. My hope is in the death and resurrection of Christ – this is both the beauty of our faith and the ‘foolishness’ of it as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians.

I was reading that chapter again this morning and as I was reflecting I realised that I cannot easily ‘explain’ this hope in a logical way. The ‘mechanics’ of salvation are not able to be easily broken down into ‘4 spiritual laws’ or ‘two ways to live’. Sorry if those booklets were your go to for evangelism. I just don’t see it that neat and tidy.

I began to imagine myself explaining this some friends and I could see puzzled looks forming on their faces… This is a weird story we subscribe to right?… This eternally pre-existent God, created a world where people were given free will to choose how to live and many rejected him. He then sent his son (also him incarnate…) to die for the sins of the world and to be the means of salvation for all mankind… It was his death and resurrection that began the establishment of his kingdom – a kingdom that will come in fullness at the new creation

If you had never heard this story before it would be utterly absurd to you. It sounds like a sci fi or fantasy story! But I wonder if it wouldn’t also be ‘good news’ – that we are not alone – that life is not random and meaningless – but there is a good God who is in the process of restoring the broken creation and he invites us to join him in that.

As I have sought ways to make clear practical sense of this gospel I have felt like one of those gentiles for whom it is ‘foolishness’. There are times when I find myself wondering how I share this story with other people without them thinking I am off with the fairies. I don’t know if such a method exists, but perhaps it’s just a case of stating it simply and clearly – the inner workings of all of this is above my paygrade – but what I do know is ‘Christ was crucified and then risen again on the third day’ and this is the basis of my hope. Then we leave it to the spirit to do his work…

So there you have it – 6 foundational blocks of my own faith. As I said earlier, these are less ‘beliefs’ (in the intellectual sense) and more a product of my own experience of faith over a lifetime. I wanted to articulate the stuff that sits deep in my gut rather than the information stored on my ‘hard drive’. So if you read it and feel like there are some omissions then you’re probably right. There is nothing about the Bible, nothing about the Holy Spirit, or end times…

Chances are that God has been revealing different things to you and your list would look different to mine. But there you have it – the stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning…

So – tell me what’s on your list?…

What Runs Deep in You?

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the real, core, not negotiable stuff of my faith – the stuff that I have come to consider utterly essential and formative.

I know we have the creeds and statements of faith, but I’m not really trying to come from that angle. The question I am pondering is, ‘after 40 odd years of following Jesus what have I come to ‘know‘ deep in my heart as absolutely critical to the establishment of a strong and well formed faith.

I’m still mulling it around, but I feel like I definitely have a few things I could throw out there with deep conviction. And by ‘deep conviction’ I am talking about experiential knowledge that is affirmed by scripture, rather than simple theological assertion. These would be the things that keep me going, the things I come back to time and again to form my discipleship and these are things that I would fight for. These things help me make sense of faith when it seems beyond comprehension or even absurd.

So before I throw my list out there, try this yourself. It will take you a little while so don’t try and do it between now and reading the next sentence 🙂

What are the non-negotiable core elements of your faith – and base your answer around your experience of faith so far. Obviously the reflections of a 21 year old with limited experience of faith will be different to those of an 81 year old who has followed Jesus for a very long time. That’s ok. It’s a valuable exercise – to be able to articulate what is rock solid, immovable and that inspires you to keep going even on days you may feel like quitting.

I hear the word ‘deconstruction’ more and more each week – it is certainly ‘trending’ and i’m a big fan of people re-thinking and grappling with their faith. If you haven’t changed your mind on some aspect of theology in the last 20 years then you probably haven’t grown or been challenged! The outcome of deconstruction can be a more mature and robust faith – except where there no foundations to deconstruct.

By that I mean, if you can’t articulate some things that are essential to your faith from deep in your gut – not from a spiel you read on the back of the church bulletin – then you are in danger. – serious danger You could very well jump on the deconstructing train and soon after find yourself sitting in a mass of theological rubble. And in that mass of rubble the Christian faith may appear weak, maybe lacking in substance and cohesion – but can I suggest a reason for that is perhaps you never really ‘got it‘. Perhaps a collection of ideas formed in your head about how life should be, based on what you heard in church. This formed your ‘theology’, but you never really came to a place of experiencing God in a way that seared those theological ideas into your soul and that gave form to your practice of faith. You were only ever grappling with theological constructs – splashing in the shallows.

But if you are able to frame your ideas from a place of real experience of God in partnership with real interaction with scripture, then I sense you will be articulating a faith that has come from the depths of your being and your own wrestle with God and scripture. Anyone can google the Nicene creed, or if you really want to raise the bar, the Westminster Confession 47 pages of bedside reading. (Seriously – can anyone honestly say they agree with and subscribe to all 47 pages of that document?)

I’ve been engaged in this exercise over the last few months and slowly refining my list. It’s an activity with a specific purpose. As we engage with other churches in an itinerant service capacity I would like to be able to say ‘this is who I am – this is what runs deep and has marked me.’

It isn’t comprehensive. I didn’t steal it from anybody else’s blog (nor did I use chat GPT to form it… ) Interestingly my list makes no explicit mention of mission, or worship or the Holy Spirit… and probably a lot of other stuff too now that I think about it… But that’s ok – it doesn’t need to.

So before i post my list of 6 core ideas that shape my faith why not take some time to form up your own. And hear it again – these aren’t well formed theological statements that you read in a Millard Eriksen textbook – these are truths that you have come to know personally in your journey of faith thus far.

Maybe just throw me one… let me know what really matters to you…

Tip – if you make a list and it doesn’t excite you or make you feel inspired then you might be thinking on the wrong frequency.

Love to hear your thoughts…

Please, Please, Please…


t’s been a while since I have looked at myself in the mirror after a shower and thought ‘yep – doing OK for your age.’ In fact for the last few years I have lived wifh the knowledge that I have been overweight and out of shape and that I had chosen to be ‘semi-ok’ with it. I say ‘semi’ because I’d look in the mirror and think some disturbingly aggressive things. I was not happy with my effort – my laziness and my willingness to accept a dad-bod as the ‘new normal’. And I couldn’t blame it on covid, climate change or Trump… It was just that I had a crazy obsession with food. So rather than face the reality of what I saw in the mirror I would look away again and go chow down another banana pancake.

It wasn’t good and while I got fairly adept at disguising my bulging stomach, I was aware that it was a losing battle. My legs were getting ‘thicker’, my biceps saggy and I was losing count of my chins. My ‘pecs’ were also in need of their first trainer bra

I would literally look in the mirror and think ‘get a grip you fat ‘expletive‘! Stop kidding yourself that this is gonna work out for you and one day you will be ok with it all.’ Then I’d walk away and go back to another day of indulgence, all the while wrestling with myself – cursing my dumb choices and losing – and losing – and losing again.

You know what you feel like if you ‘lose’ regularly and predictably? It’s not a trick question. You feel like a loser. And I could wrap it all in a pretty theological bundle that told me God loves me anyway and I should be ‘kind to myself’ – but somehow that just felt like a cop-out.

For a period there I simply ate anything I felt like… whenever I felt like it… And – no – I wasn’t working or exercising it all away. During that time I would have the odd surf and do a few days of physical work, but mostly I was snout in the trough gorging on whatever I chose and slowly getting fatter and fatter. (Is it still OK to say ‘fat’ or is it on the banned language list?)

It was lamentable and embarrassing. I began to understand why people just give in and accept that this is how it’s gonna be.


Pause there for a moment because I want to change tack. I bet you read that personal reflection right to the end and you’re probably still with me now wondering why I have paused mid-story.

I have paused because I want you to realise that we engage with stories. We like stories. We follow stories and we remember stories. Stories help us reflect on our own struggles. And no doubt some of you are reflecting on your own physical health – your own failures and wrestles.

Stories connect.

Have you ever heard a sermon that was ‘faithful to the text’, thorough and clear but boring as hell? The speaker had worked out the point of the text, distilled into several points and simply walked you thru the passage with no reference to real life.

Exegeting a passage, quoting commentators and explaining Greek grammar has its place, but generally speaking it is utterly un-memorable and liable to have a large slice of the crowd wander off mentally unless it is accompanied by some story telling – and not the stuff you find in ‘apprentice pastor’ illustration books.

I have a belief that I can learn from anyone – no matter how dreadful their communication style and method. But I remember one morning in a country church where I actually found myself surfing Facebook after around 5 minutes. I literally couldn’t bear it any more, and I was distracting myself. I felt for the man speaking, as this clearly was not one of his gifts.

This post is not for people wrestling with their weight issues. (although I will finish the story later for those who care to read on) It is for pastors and teachers in various spaces and it is a plea

Please be interesting… Please be engaging… Please help us to understand how scripture connects with life. And do it by telling stories. Have you ever noticed how a crowd of people change when the presenter says ‘lemme tell you a story…’ And if it’s a personal, humorous and even self disparaging story, then even better.

So (if you’re still reading) please please please if you’re going to communicate something as important as the Christian faith then spend the time to connect stories to truth so that people actually listen and absorb. I remember when I was 18 and doing volunteer work for YouthFor Christ. We were taught that it was a sin to bore a kid with the gospel and we were trained in a way that took that to heart. No boring talks – ever… It is a sin…

Jesus told stories – all the time… Mark says ‘He never taught anything without using a story.’ (Mark 4:34) Surely that is enough to give us a steer!

And yet so much Christian communication still feels like a laboured walk thru a mash of theology and history text books as they relate to the Bible.

If you’re a preacher and see yourself in this post then get some help – a coach who can help you see your own life as fertile ground for stories. It may not come naturally at first, but practice observing and reflecting and actually telling stories. Then watch the difference in an audience when you begin to tell a story.

Got it?

Tell more stories because people tend to absorb truth thru story.


Back to my unfinished story. (Did you skip the middle section of this post?)

In November we took off on holidays for two weeks with my old mate Stu and his wife Carolyn. What struck me was that my friend who had never had a lean build for all of his adult life was now in very trim shape. He had somehow shed the bulk that he had carried for so long and he looked great.

It was actually an inspiration – the kind of inspiring that I needed to kick-start me beyond another new years resolution or mere good intention. And alongside the inspiration (if Stu can do it then surely I can too…) was the need to a) admit that I ws failing b) seek some help to learn about diet and just how many kj I was pumping into my body each day c) Start again

Anyone know what it’s like when you have ‘tried’ and failed many times? Yeah- it’s hard to believe that this time will actually be the one that sticks.

I heard Stu say ‘Hamo – you just can’t outrun a bad diet.’ And that resonated as what my plan had always been. Eat big – exercise bigger and the equation will balance. Not any more… In reality it probably hasn’t worked for 20 years or so. I was probably eating so much that I need to run a daily half marathon just to stay in shape.

When it’s November 28th and you’re looking down the barrel of a trip to Bali (cheap Asian food!!! yeah!!), Christmas and new year parties then it is tempting to say let’s start Jan 2… Let’s be reasonable… But truth be told there will always be something to hold you in the pattern you are in.

So I decided to try again starting Nov28 – cynical about my potential success – aware that I have failed so many times here, but knowing I just had to focus.

Three months later after daily exercise and just getting to grips with the actual kilojoule content of the food I have been eating I have managed to get back to a much healthier place. This week I finally managed to get a ‘7’ in front of my weight down from 91 kg. And yes it’s noticeable in how I feel in myself and about myself. But what really caught me off guard was how it impacted my surfing. I had been feeling old and kooky for a while now, struggling to paddle in, struggling to pop up, struggling to take the drop… And even when I did I felt like I was losing my balance easily. I think that extra 12kg was doing more damage than I ever knew. The two surfs I had this week both came easy and I noticed the difference significantly.

So it’s nice to be healthy again, but I ‘feel’ about food like an alcoholic would about grog. It would be so easy to go on a month long bender and undo it all. It is a temptation that is always there and I doubt I will ever beat it completely. But I hope that having done some learning and having put in the hours to get fit, maybe this will be the final battle of this magnitude.

That may not sound super-optimistic – but I feel like I know myself well enough to be aware that I lie to myself and justify things at times, when in reality I just need to call it and stop trying to kid myself.

So this is not a celebratory cheer. (I may cheer in 5 years time so hold all applause until then.) Rather its a recognition of a small beginning that I hope will be the new pattern for life from here on.


So there’s a story and if I were telling it to a crowd I would not shy away from the rawness of it and the reality of what was in effect a food addiction – the Bible calls it gluttony.

In terms of how it would fit in a bit of biblical teaching? There are so many angles. Here are a few:

– 1 Cor – The body is a temple – treat it as such

– Hebrews 12 – throwing off the sin that so easily entangles. (Gluttony is a sin – just a socially acceptable one)

– James 1:23 speaks of the man who hears the word but doesn’t do what it says is like a man who looks in a mirror and then goes away and forgets what he looks like. The point he makes is that you have missed the point of what the mirror is for.

– A message about fasting. While on holidays I said to Stu ‘I hate fasting. I get hungry and h-angry!’ Said in jest – but true. I fasted one day for 3 whole weeks before quitting… I couldn’t get the point of it. I just dreaded the day arriving. Then one day as I was doing some praying and reflecting I sensed God saying, ‘I would like you to hunger for me like you currently do for food.’ That connected. So I began fasting again, this time with a greater sense of purpose beyond simple self denial. Its a learning curve for me.

I could go on, but you get the point. And hopefully my story might help it stick.

If you’re gonna talk to crowds of people and actually hold their attention, as well as communicate truth to them then you must tell stories.

And yes – stories have the danger of being narcissistic and self indulgent, so make sure you check your heart as to whether the story is more about you than about what God wants to say. While boredom is horrible so is listening to someone rattle on about themself with only a wafer thin connection to the actual point.

Why I’d Do It All Again

Following on from a rather depressing post regarding the lack of emerging pastors and Christian leaders I found myself wondering if I would do it all again if I had the chance or if I would stick with teaching or maybe go a bit harder in the business world.

And the answer is an unequivocal and enthusiastic ‘yes!’

Of course the question is ‘why?’ If so many emerging leaders are not seeing the local church as a setting in which they can express their gifts and capacities why might any of us consider doing it all again?

‘The Call’ – ah the mysterious ‘call’… What do we mean by that? For me, by the time I was 18 I was concerned that we lacked good quality leadership in our churches and I found myself listening to cassettes about leadership development and discipleship. (Howard Hendricks for those who remember!)

I had a deep discontent both with how things were done internally and how we went about mission. This was all prior to any local church ministry work. I worked voluntarily for Youth for Christ in ‘Campus Life’ clubs, alongside people of the calibre of Stuart Wesley and Mark Wilson. We cut our teeth in parachurch ministry, but eventually we all found our way into leading local churches. I sense ‘the calling’ started there, but by 22 I was convinced my teaching career was all but over and I was going to be a missionary. I had thought that meant overseas in the Philippines, but it turned out my own backyard was the mission field.

I sensed ‘the call’ building over my life so that by the age of 40 I would have rather led a church with no income whatsoever than given my life to any other job. Even now I cannot explain how deeply I feel the call to both local mission, church planting and local church leadership. Its one of those ‘if you know then you know’ things. But I imagine it will be with me until he day I die. I certainly hope it will be.

Alignment of Abilities – in short I had skills and gifts that were useful in a church setting. I can lead people, communicate well and help organisations and communities get healthy. I even enjoy it.

I know I could use those skills in settings other than churches and probably make a lot more money, but I genuinely love the local church and I love the sense of mission I carry with me each day. My ‘future orientation’ means I am often looking to new and next, which is very much needed in communities that so easily focus on nostalgia and now.

It would be wrong to have a bag of great tools and not use them.

The Challenge – I realise some people probably want a quiet life, a decent paypacket and minimum of fuss in their job. I would be so bored… I find joy in figuring out and implementing processes that help people grow in faith and churches grow in their understanding of their missionary calling. I can do other stuff – but this is where I choose to invest my focus as its where i have done the most learning.

I’ve enjoyed a restful summer, but right now I’m chaffing at the bit to get into a new challenge! We are hoping to join with a country church later in the year and help them consider ‘where to from here?’ and that excites me.

I look at the challenge in front of us to help churches get healthy and to see missionary work done well in our culture and I begin to get tingly… This is what I live to do…

Calling, gifting and passion all align. Sure, the pay is not always amazing, but that’s one reason I keep a bivo job ticking away on the side.

Work is Meaningful – I weigh caravans and fit diesel heaters in order to make some $$. It pays well, but it does lack a little bit of the significance that goes with helping people find their meaning in life and take their place in the world.

What could be more invigorating than walking with people as they walk with God and helping them tune into his frequency and follow his leading. Sure – a lot of church work is droll and tedious – admin can be a killer – but knowing that I get to do life-changing work is so very worth it. Last year we did a funeral for the dad of an old youth group leader and to see how that guy has lived his life since coming to faith in our youth ministry gives me more joy than I could ever express.

We have quite literally had people tell us ‘you changed our lives!‘ No one says that after I fit a diesel heater… and it would be quite sad if they did. We hope to keep being in the ‘life changing business’ for a while to come.

I mean what else would you do? Once you’ve walked that path it’s hard to not go back for more – not for an internal ego boost – but because in those moments of connection you know that you have been gifted to do the very work you are doing. It’s the idea of ‘flow’ – being in the sweet spot of life and it’s gooooood!

Personal Development – I guess this isn’t true for all pastors as the various scandals highlight, but for me this has been a significant benefit to my leadership roles over the years. I become a better person for serving in those roles. I am stretched, developed and challenged and I enjoy that.

Over the years I’ve had the benefit of being around some very good leaders and missional thinkers and it has only served to form me more fully. As well as that I have friends on the faith journey, some older some peers who take the time to invest in my life and as a result I am healthier and still trying to live more like Jesus each day.

I’m not sure I would have been able to approach this with the same intentionality in any of my non-church jobs so I am grateful for that.

It’s Flexible – tired of the 9-5? Considered ministry?!… It certainly ain’t 9-5 and for some people this means it’s not flexible – it’s just constant. If that’s the case then you are doing it wrong…

Sorry (not sorry) if that is harsh – but we are the ones in control of our lives and we need to be making the calls about where and how our time is used. I understand there are some not negotiables in church ministry, but if we simply see ourselves as always on call then life will go pear shaped very quickly.

To be flexible (ironically) requires some clear boundaries that give form to your life. For example you may work 4 days rather than 5 – because you would rather do 4 x 10 hr days that 5 at regular hours. You can go surfing when the swell is up and the wind is playing nice. You get to negotiate work and pay conditions with your employer, so maybe (as we did) you would take 6 weeks annual leave rather than 4 because you like to travel.

Flexibility is there – use it and enjoy it.

It’s Good for my own faith  – I know I probably learn more than anyone else in the church each week because I am paid to learn and then teach. I am also paid to participate in spiritual formation practices and to lead other people in this also.

If you are intentional and focused in what you are doing then you simply cannot avoid faith development – at least faith challenge if nothing else. Some would suggest you can’t ask difficult questions or rock the boat if your paypacket depends on it. I would beg to differ and perhaps this is where my bivo approach really gets some traction. My paypacket doesn’t hang on someone else’s willingness to part with their $$ and my need to conform.

I feel like a lot of people want to ask difficult questions in a safe place and that is one of the things I enjoy doing – partly to help people in their malaise – but also to keep building rigour and strength into my own faith.

And it helps me as I wrestle with my own God questions, challenges and doubts. As a leader I can’t look away from the serious questions and challenges of our time and I feel like it’s good to be ‘forced’ to engage and consider what is right and good.

It Has Been FUN! – Who would have thought the ‘F’ word would have been a reason for doing it all again? When I think back over 32 years of paid ministry as well as another 8 or 9 unpaid I can remember so many fun times with great people.

One of my favourite times was our youth leader meetings during the youth ministry time at Lesmurdie Baptist. For some reason the chemistry in the room was great, so we laughed probably more than I have ever done since!

But fun has been a major part of the equation for me. Being around some wonderful people, pulling off some crazy events, sharing some very significant times… It has been a privilege and joy.

So if you’re reading this and you are one of those younger leaders I am lamenting the absence of then these are my reasons for doing it all over again… maybe they might inspire someone to give it a shot for the first time. I have just read the intro to this book – but it taps into some of what I have been saying here. For me being in ministry was like all the planets lining up!

Local church mission and ministry has been more satisfying and life giving than I can express in words on a page. But you can’t approach it as a job or as a career. It is a vocation – a calling – and when you follow a calling you enter a space where your heart comes alive.

On Being Average

This year I turn 60 – which I learnt this week is the average age of pastors in western churches (Source – Carey Nieuwhof). It used to be in the 40’s, but now it has risen to 60… yew… where are all the younger pastors? Where are the crew in their 20’s and 30’s who we will look to as church leaders when we are even older and greyer?

I have been pondering this and I sense there are a few reasons we may not be seeing younger pastors emerge. Let me know which one you believe is most likely, or add your own ideas in the comments:

Pastoring – Youre Kidding Right? – They look at the pastor’s role and think ‘there is no way I want any part of that… They see the workload, the criticism often received and the increase in admin required does not enamour them. Perhaps the ‘job’ itself is not appealing as it once was? Certainly the ongoing decline in church numbers and the ugly public profile of the church post Royal Commission may further dissuade them.

Economics – Most pastors are ‘second career’ people (no – I do not believe pastoring is a ‘career’). By the time they sense a ‘call’ they have completed one degree and have accrued a significant HECS debt. Another 4 years of study is only going to double that. Housing is also a huge challenge. Many 25-35 year olds will already have purchased a house with a significant mortgage (if not a massive ‘ball & chain’ mortgage) so the idea of one (perhaps the primary) wage earner going back to study simply isn’t something they can countenance. If they aren’t handcuffed to their mortgage they are paying an exorbitant amount of rent in this current climate.

I sense many younger couples mentally take themselves out of a possible ministry calling because they have been convinced that it is good to be anchored to so much debt. I remember getting married and living in a 2 bedroom unit in a block that could almost have passed for a prison. It was low budget accomodation and we were ok with that because it was our first place. I sense there is an expectation among younger people that their home will be at least a 3 x 2 with a double garage, but preferably a good sized 4 x 2. Marketing works… and consumerism wins again.

Whose Asking The Question? – This week Neiuwhof raised the point that we no longer seem to challenge people to step up to ministry like we once used to. Maybe we need to return to this more intentionally. I know I have shifted significantly to the idea of equipping people for their everyday life and work rather than any kind of pastoral role, but I know I have also tapped a few people on the shoulder in the last year and said ‘how about it? Maybe you need to change directions…’ We don’t live in an era where there are many large rallies and gatherings where the altar call is made, so the ‘inspirational moment’ is not so much of a component in this. So perhaps we need to consciously identify potential leaders and engage them in considering the possibility early in life.

Getting Out of the Way – maybe some of us older pastors need to get out of the way. I’m a big follower of Australian basketball and right now we are seeing a changing of the guard. Patty Mills and Joe Ingles are aging and on the way out – they are past their best. The team still needs men of their calibre to help raise the next generation, but in different roles. Maybe some younger pastors aren’t emerging because we are standing in their path and restricting their vision.

I remember a few years back sitting in a room with our pastoral staff – most of whom were younger people and just feeling like the Spirit was saying to me ‘get out of the way. Let these people flourish!’ It was a call to step aside from the primary leadership role across both of our churches and to allow others to step up. These days I have no ambition or even desire to lead a church in a permanent senior pastor role, but I do want to offer what I have to help younger men and women emerge. If I can stand alongside someone and help them grow in confidence and capability then my next 10 years will be well spent. Maybe some of us reading this need to see ourselves in this light. Right now the problem is that there don’t seem to be too many younger people emerging to stand alongside.

Church Meh… Perhaps the inherited forms of church do not appeal to younger people and they aren’t sure if they have genuine permission to reshape it significantly. I wonder what church would look like if we set some broad parameters and then left them to create an expression that they believed was appropriate to their culture and generation. Nuiewhof tempered his language around attractional church this week by saying it had ‘peaked’ rather than it was ‘over’, but it still lives large in the imaginations of many of us who were part of it. What does a new expression look like – a church that will fit my kids and grandkids? This was a question we were asking in 2002. I’m not sure we have figured it out yet – nor am I convinced that we (older once) are the people to be answering that.


I sometimes ask myself ‘if I were 30 again would I jump back in and do it all over again?’ And the answer is an emphatic, unequivocal, resounding YES! I simply can’t imagine living a life without the joy of leading and serving a local community of people. The way my own life has been enriched because of the privilege of being able to pastor churches is not quantifiable in any way but I would not want to do it again any other way.

More recently I have made it an intentional focus of my life to look out for and encourage the younger, upcoming leaders in the hope that we will be passing the baton to them and cheering for them as they lead us on.

So if you are a younger person reading this and sensing that just maybe God could be nudging you towards a life in vocational ministry either full or part time, my encouragement would be to follow that leading and listen to the Spirit – maybe you will be leading us older crew in a few years time! And that would give me great joy!