A Hot Air Ballooning Adventure

Back in 2014, Nicole and I had the opportunity to be part of a tour of Turkey and Greece. It was a fascinating experience and we loved exploring the history of these iconic places.

One of the highlights was a visit to Cappadocia in central Turkey. Cappadocia is an ancient name which means ‘land of beautiful horses’. Most people who live there are farmers or merchants. This area was once the homeland of the ancient Hittites (19-11th century BC). The biblical character, Abraham, bought a burial site here from Uriah the Hittite. There are also church buildings here in caves dating back to as early as the 2-3rd century AD, with frescoes from the 11-12th century AD. This World Heritage area is magnificent, with fairy chimneys and pillars, river valleys and cliffs, all shaped by volcanic eruptions and erosion over the centuries.

An optional extra on our tour was to get up at 4.00 am one morning to go hot air ballooning in the Goreme Valley. Confession time – I am afraid of heights! So I quickly put that option out of my mind. But then another tour member told me about their experience of hot air ballooning in the Yarra Valley and how amazing it was, so … [gulp] … I decided to go for it.

As it turned out, there were about 100 hot air balloons taking off that morning. Each hot air balloon was attached to a large basket for passengers which held up to 24 people. I stood right in the middle! After a gentle launch, we gradually ascended to our target of 500 metres high but ended up going 1,000 metres above sea level! The trip was incredibly smooth and peaceful, and the views were breathtaking as we saw the sunrise across the horizon (see the brief video below).

This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and sensational experiences I have ever had in my entire life. The thrill, the exhilaration, the views. It was surreal. I am so glad I did it. Yet, to think that I almost missed out on it … because of my fears.

To me, this experience, and the pictures I have to mark the memories, speaks of adventure, freedom, risk, moving out of your comfort zone, letting go, and soaring to new horizons.

May this year be one of pushing through our fears and the barriers in our minds to experience things we have never dreamt of.

P.S. I took the photo above on my iPhone (using panorama mode) from the hot air balloon, as well as the one on the front page of this web site. For more information on hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, visit the Tour and Leisure web site.

Welcome to 2019!

Happy new year!

I hope that you had an enjoyable Christmas season and that the new year has gotten off to a good start for you.

Nicole and I have been living back in Melbourne since late May 2018. We thoroughly enjoyed our 18 months living in the Sunshine Coast but decided to come back to be near our family, especially my ageing parents. Rene Conner, my step mum, passed away on 4th October last year at age 89. She lived a good and full life. My dad, Kevin Conner, turns 92 in a few weeks time and has been living in an aged care home for over a year now where he is well looked after and where friends and family can visit him regularly.

It’s hard to believe that it has almost been two years since I finished up as Senior Minister of CityLife Church. This change was a big one for me and a huge step into the great unknown. As difficult as transitions and liminal spaces can be, I can attest that endings make way for new beginnings. I am thoroughly enjoying my new life and the vocational contributions I am now making in coaching, training, speaking, and writing.

Last year, I wrote three new books: Money Talks, How to Avoid Burnout, and The Spiritual Journey.

I have been encouraged by the feedback I have already received about how helpful these resources have been to so many people.

If you haven’t visited my web site for a while, let me remind you about these pages:

  1. My 2019 speaking schedule (updated regularly).
  2. Videos of messages I have given, including everything I spoke on at Bayside Church last year where I am part of the teaching team with Pastor Rob Buckingham.

Also, here are my most recent BLOG posts:

If you want to make the most out of this year, by setting some clear goals that reflect what has value and meaning to you, then I highly recommend “Your Best Year Ever” by Michael Hyatt.

Finally, may 2019 be full of memorable moments, meaningful contribution, and dreams fulfilled. Remember to live simply, laugh often, and love deeply.

How’s Your Spiritual Journey?

As we near the end of another year, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on our lives. There are many metaphors and images through which to do so. One of those is through that of a journey. A journey usually has different sections, hills and valleys, twists and turns, and a few surprises along the way. That sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it.

On a journey, it is helpful to have a map of the terrain and a guide to give us a few pointers of things to look out for along the way. I’ve put together such a map for the stages of faith often experienced in the spiritual journey. This outlines what often happens for people, not what must or should occur. 

Here are some of the stages of faith:

  1. Awareness – this is where we discover or recognise the reality of God. Everyone ‘wakes up’ at different times and in different ways.
  2. Growth – here we start to grow in our faith, often aided by being part of a faith community, spiritual experiences, and spiritual exercises. 
  3. Contribution – here we discover our life purpose and start to live it out with fresh intentionality.
  4. The Wall – sooner or later our faith doesn’t work as it did in the earlier stages. Often due to a crisis, a challenge, a loss, or disappointment and pain, we start to experience questions, doubts, and uncertainty. 
  5. Surrender – if we courageously refuse to deny that the wall exists or to defect on our faith, we can end up with a much deeper faith by surrendering to God in new ways, even when we don’t understand why we experienced our time at The Wall.
  6. Paradox – at this stage we embrace the mystery of life and become comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty and even contradictions.
  7. Love – at this stage we realise that life is not about us but about God and others. We lose our life only to find it again.

A few observations: 

  • This is not the end. Hopefully, we continue to move on to a greater awareness of God, as well as further growth and contribution. Inevitably, we will spend more time at The Wall and come to places of fresh surrender.
  • The spiritual journey is often more random than ordered, more cyclical than linear.
  • God is present and at work in each stage and our goal is not to try to control our growth experience but to draw closer to God in each season.  
  • Various stages may be fuzzy and even overlap. We may also re-visit stages at times in no particular order.
  • There are no set formulas for spiritual growth nor can we always know exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. Unfortunately, we also can’t control the length of time we may spend in a particular stage or the time we spend transitioning from one stage to another. 
  • The most important thing is that we are more connected to God and we are becoming better people every day. That’s the ultimate goal of the spiritual journey.

Some questions:

  1. Where do you think you are now in your own spiritual journey and why?
  2. Where have you been in the past? What stages do you recognize or identify with?
  3. What are some insights for relating well to others who may be at a different stage than you?
  4. What sort of activities or experiences might be most helpful at each stage?
  5. In what ways can entire families or communities of people experience various stages of faith together (e.g. grief, joy, or awareness of God)?
  6. Many churches focus primarily on the first three stages of faith. How can church leaders better equip and prepare people for the full journey of faith will all its nuances and diverse experiences?

If you found this BLOG post of interest to you, here are some further resources that will be of help to you:

  1. Check out my new book on this topic: The Spiritual Journey – Understanding the Stages of Faith. It is available from WORD in Australia and Amazon worldwide (in paperback and Kindle formats).
  2. Watch the videos of a two part teaching series that summarises this material, which I gave at Bayside Church in Melbourne recently (see part 1 and part 2).

All the best on your own spiritual journey!

Discovering Your Life Purpose (Part 2)

As you take time to discover your life purpose (see part 1), here are a few ideas to help in your exploration:

Your Desires

Ask yourself:

  1. What do you enjoy doing? 
  2. What do you get excited about?
  3. What energises you?
  4. What makes you angry? What annoys you? For instance, if you get irritated by disorganisation maybe your gift to the world is to help create a little more order. If you get ticked by the boring and the predictable maybe you are the one to bring some creative freshness and innovation to our world. If you are upset by injustice, maybe you are one of those called to champion a more just society.
  5. What do you desire?
  6. Who are your heroes and the people you admire? Maybe they are mirrors of the kind of person you are to be.

Your Abilities

Abilities are the natural talents or skills you were born with or acquired through education or life experience.

  1. What are your strengths? 
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What is your best contribution?
  4. Where are you most effective?
  5. Are you musical, creative, planning, building, organising, team building or good with finances?

Continue reading “Discovering Your Life Purpose (Part 2)”

Discovering Your Life Purpose (Part 1)

Take a moment to think back to when you were a child (for some of us, that is a little further back than for others!). Question: “What did you want to be when you grew up?” Maybe you dreamt of being an astronaut or a scientist or a movie star? We all had ideas of what the future might be. Sometimes those dreams become a reality, while at other times they don’t. Some of us are really clear on who and what we want to be. Others aren’t quite sure or our desires change over time.

As a kid, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had a neighbor who had lots of pets so early on I wanted to be a naturalist. I built myself a wooden ‘run’ in the backyard where I kept a few long-necked turtles and blue tongue lizards as pets. But after they either escaped or died, I lost interest in that pursuit. Then I wanted to be an architect. I was really good at three-dimensional perspective drawings but my handwriting wasn’t that neat. Then I wanted to be a cabinet maker. But after a week of work experience while in high school at a cabinet making shop, the fascination of that career died, mainly due to me spending hours sweeping up wood shavings up every day!

During my studies, I dabbled in many different jobs – working for a building renovator, a bookbinder, and a printer. Then eventually I ended up working in jobs involving music, youth work, and ultimately in various church leadership roles.

Whatever our story may be, one thing we ALL have in common is a desire to be useful. I have yet to meet a person whose aim in life was to be useless! Most people want to do something meaningful and significant in their life. They want to make a difference in the world. All of this is deep inside of us, whether we’re aware of it or not and whether we respond to it or not. As humans, we are hard-wired for a purpose. It’s in our very DNA.

Continue reading “Discovering Your Life Purpose (Part 1)”

Gone

None of us like to talk about death. It is an enemy that steals away the ones we love. My step-mum, Rene Conner passed away recently. It’s been hard for all for all of us, but especially for my dad. I was walking through their home a few days back – so empty now. A flourishing garden, but no one to care for it now. I sketched the following poem after that.

Just like that
Gone for good
Not coming back
Life is over

Sobering and surreal
The frailty of life
In a moment
It is no more

Memories
Moments
History
Relationships

What really matters?
What lasts?
What’s it all about?
What are we living for?

Left it all behind
Stuff and more stuff
Meaningless now
Of no use at all

The grief and the loss
The tears and the pain
Left behind
We still remain

A hole in the heart
A missing limb
Part of us gone
Never to return

Our life goes on
Each day a gift
No guaranteed future
Will tomorrow come?

Live to the full
Be in the moment
Give it your all
Only love lasts

NEW Book: “The Spiritual Journey – Understanding the Stages of Faith”

In December last year, one of my goals for 2018 was to publish three books. Well, number three was released a few weeks ago. It’s called The Spiritual Journey: Understanding the Stages of Faith. I am really excited about it as I believe this material will be of help to many people in their spiritual journey, whether seekers, beginners, or experienced travellers.

When you are on a journey, it helps to have a map of the terrain and a guide to help you along the way. In this book, I present such a map and seek guide people through the stages of faith that are common to the spiritual journey. This journey is rarely linear or in a straight line. There are many curves, twists and surprises along the way. Sometimes we seem to move in circles or in random patterns that don’t make sense at the time. Nevertheless, God is at work in our lives. Welcome to the journey of faith.

The book can be purchased from WORD in Australia or internationally from Amazon in either paperback or eBook format.

Here are a few endorsements:

Continue reading “NEW Book: “The Spiritual Journey – Understanding the Stages of Faith””

What Happens After Death?

Life is a gift – to be enjoyed and lived to the full. Yet life is uncertain and death is inevitable. In many ways, life is like a room with two doors. We enter through the door of birth and we leave through the door of death. There is a “time to be born and a time to die”. None of us knows the distance between those two doors.

Let’s face it, death is not something we like to talk about. Sometimes we live as if we’ll never die. No wonder, we are often unprepared for it (see my recent poem called Gone). The truth is, all of us have an appointment with death. No one escapes it. The last time I checked, the death rate was running at about 100%.

Some of the common questions people ask today are, “What happens after death?” and “Is there an afterlife?”

There has been some intriguing research done on near-death experiences. Of people who have been close to death, about 40 percent report a similar pattern: an experience of journeying through a tunnel, a burst of light, a feeling of being in the presence of a loving reality, quite often accompanied by a sense of being out of one’s body.

The last component sometimes includes a sense of being able to see one’s body from a vantage point beyond the body. A significant number of reports include details about what was going on that the person could not have witnessed from within his or her body.

This is very interesting, because if our consciousness and perception can even momentarily be separate from our bodies, then the modern linkage between the brain and human consciousness is called into question, and we have no idea what is possible beyond death. Just because a body stops breathing or a brain shuts down, doesn’t mean the person ceases to exist.

There are a wide variety of ways people have thought about this through history, including Christians and those of other religions. So, what happens after death – is it heaven, hell, purgatory, reincarnation, soul sleep, or nothing?

If heaven, are we the same person – or different? Will there be family reunions in heaven? Most funeral sermons suggest so. If so, is this good news or bad news? If you liked your family, this may be good news but if you didn’t, maybe not! Eternity with these people!?

The truth is that none of us knows for sure what happens after death. Of course, our beliefs are important but simply believing something doesn’t make it a reality.

Continue reading “What Happens After Death?”

Rene Conner Passes Away

Early last Thursday morning, my step-mum, Rene Conner passed away peacefully in her sleep at the Ringwood Private Hospital. She was 89 years of age. It was really hard to see her go but we are glad that she is now free from pain and discomfort. My 91-year-old dad found it very hard, as you can imagine.

Today we have a public thanksgiving service for her at CityLife Church at 12.30 pm Melbourne time.

UPDATE 21st October: You can watch the video recording of the service online at this linkI have summarised part of my message from the service in a post called “What Happens After Death?” and I wrote a poem recently called Gone.

Below is a brief eulogy of Rene’s life.

Continue reading “Rene Conner Passes Away”

Navigating the Storms of Life

Navigating the Storms of Life (JPEG)

Nahum 1:3. The LORD has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. NKJV

The book of Nahum is one of the 12 minor prophets found at the end of the Old Testament. Nahum lived in the seventh century BC during a time of great political upheaval due to the rise of the Assyrian Empire. His messages sought to encourage God’s people who were being oppressed by a seemingly invincible foe. The book opens with a song of praise to God for his power and justice. The spectacular manifestations of nature are symbolic of his power. Continue reading “Navigating the Storms of Life”

Stormy Winds

The-perfect-storm-michael-swanson

Have you ever been in the middle of a storm – a literal one or maybe a storm of adverse circumstances? I sure have – many of them and of all kinds. In fact, just over three years ago, Nicole and I were in the middle of what felt like a perfect storm. It was bigger and more fierce than anything we had ever experienced before and it was totality beyond our ability to control or navigate. There were headwinds blowing at us from multiple directions. Everything seemed to be shaking and we felt like we were in a spin of ginormous proportions. Continue reading “Stormy Winds”

Kid’s Humor (Part 2)

Children-laughing-together
I love kids. Especially their sense of humor.

No wonder Jesus loved them too. I love the story about Jesus and some children that is recorded in the Gospel of Mark (10:13-16) …

“One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them, but the disciples told them not to bother him. But when Jesus saw what was happening, he was very displeased with his disciples. He said to them, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.’ Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.” [NLT]

Here are some of my favorite kids’ letters to the pastor.

  • “Dear Pastor, I’m sorry I can’t put more money in the offering, but my father didn’t give me a raise in my pocket money. Could you have a sermon about a raise in my pocket money?” Patty (10)
  • “Dear Pastor, How does God know the good people from the bad people? Do you tell him or does he read about it in the
    newspapers?” Marie (9)
  • “Pastor, I know God loves everybody but he never met my sister.” Arnold (8)
  • “Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven someday because I know my brother won’t be there.” Stephen (8)
  • “Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday. Especially when it was finished.” Ralph (11)

Enjoy 🙂

Kid’s Humor (Part 1)

Laughing_kids
I hope you had an enjoyable Father’s day a few weeks back. It’s a happy day for many people as we take time to thank and honor our dads. But not for all. Maybe you always wanted to be a dad but it hasn’t happened OR you had an absent or abusive father OR maybe you didn’t even know your dad. That can be hard. May you know God’s comfort and strength.

My dad is 91 years of age now and he grew up in a Salvation Army boys home, never knowing his dad or mum. That was incredibly difficult for him but after he married my mum he tried to be the dad he never had to my sister and me.

When our kids were little, when father’s or mother’s day came around one of them was bound to say, “When’s kids day??” Of course, I told them that every day was kid’s day. I love children – their sense of wonder, their frequent laughter, and even their mischievousness.

I thought today I would post a few funnies from the kids of this world … enjoy!

Kid’s Doctrine – taken straight from Sunday Schools around the world:

  • “The first book of the Bible is the book of geniuses in which Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.”
  • “Noah’s wife’s name was Joan of Arc.”
  • “Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire by night.”
  • “Samson slayed the Philipines with the axe of the apostles.”
  • “Unleavened bread is bread that is made without ingredients.”
  • Moses went to the top of Mount Sianide to get the 10 commandments and the seventh one is, ‘Thou shalt not admit adultery’.”
  • “Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.”
  • “Jesus was born because Mary had an immaculate contraption.”
  • “The people who followed Jesus were the 12 decibels.”
  • “The epistles were the wives of the apostles.”
  • “A Christian should only have one wife. That’s called monotony.”

[Source: Unknown]

NEW Book Release: “How to Avoid Burnout: Five Habits of Healthy Living”

How to Avoid Burnout (Front Cover) copyThis year I set a goal of writing three new books. Early in the year, I released Money Talks: Practical Principles for Becoming Financially Free which has already helped a lot of people.

I am excited to announce the recent release of How to Avoid Burnout: Five Habits of Healthy Living. Continue reading “NEW Book Release: “How to Avoid Burnout: Five Habits of Healthy Living””

Ancient Celtic Christianity

C
Have you ever heard of ‘Celtic Christianity’ or ‘Celtic spirituality’?

It refers to the form of Christian faith that existed among the Celtic-speaking people of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales during the Early Middle Ages. Although, we don’t know everything we’d like to know about these people, we can glean much from their writings and the historical narrative of their era.  Continue reading “Ancient Celtic Christianity”