The Home Crowd

There is an interesting story in the Gospel of Luke about Jesus and his home town crowd – Nazareth. Jesus grew up here. Everyone knew him as ‘Joseph’s son’. After reading the Scripture in the synagogue one Sabbath, people were surprised by how well Jesus spoke. But before you knew it, they were angry with him and drove him out of town. Some even wanted him dead. Ah, the home crowd!

What and who is your home crowd? What is your relationship with them? Do they applaud you or control you? Are you living for their approval or for the audience of one?

Here is a poem I wrote recently about the home crowd based on this story about Jesus.

Ah, the home crowd
Once a kid always a kid
Never let you grow up
The carpenter’s son
A prophet without honour

Familiarity 
Ordinariness 
Just another day
Nothing ever changes
Everything’s still the same 

Missing God
Right in front of you
Not just another day
Something new breaking out
Can you see it?

Time to slip away
Leave the crowd behind
They just don’t get it
Some never will
On your way, Son

Internal security
From another place
Got your approval
No need for applause 
All is grace 

Find open hearts
Ignore closed minds
Leave the angry ones
Can’t help everyone
Go to the hungry and thirsty

[Based on Luke 4:16-30]

God’s Love for Me

One of the most well-known Jesus stories is his interaction with a Samaritan woman at a well, as recorded in the Gospel of John. This woman had come to draw water from Jacob’s well. She was alone and it was midday. This was probably due to her ostracisation from her local community due to her many broken marriages and the fact she was now living with someone who was not her husband.

During their conversation, Jesus said to her, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water” and then, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”

I love that metaphor of an artesian spring, gushing fountains of endless life. What we long for is not ‘out there’ nor is it something we need to work for (like using a bucket to slowly draw water from a very deep well). It’s right ‘in here’, inside of us and it is a spring in which the water is already flowing. There is nothing we need to DO. Only ‘receive’. The initiative is God’s, not ours.

Jesus paints a vivid picture of God as a generous, giving God. Do we know this? Really know it? Even to those of us who know we are not worthy? Just like to this woman, Jesus offers us fresh, living water – a free, unearned gift of grace, quenching or satisfying our inner thirst.

My prayer for you today is that you will know God’s love for you deep inside. Drink it in and drink deeply. There is an endless supply of LIFE available to you right now. You will never lack. ALL you need is right inside of you – a generous gift from God.

Here is a poem I wrote about God’s love recently …

Feel the overflowing love
The energy of life
Coming my way
From the heart of God

Giving, reaching
Pouring out
Pouring in
God’s love

Goodness and mercy
Pursuing me
Everywhere I go
All the days of my life 

No need to fear
God’s presence promised 
Creator, Redeemer
Maker, Father

Created for His glory
Formed by him
Made by him
Loved by him 

All things working for good
God’s purpose and plan
Providence at work
In all, through it all

I am God’s beloved
Precious in his sight 
Worth more than the world
Called by name

I am loved

‘God’s Love for Me’ by Mark Conner

Praying

I came across this short poem about prayer this week. I found it quite profound.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway into
thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Mary Oliver, Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver

Welcome to Spring!

Welcome to the first day of Spring! At least here in Australia where I live. This last week I spent time walking along Melbourne’s iconic Yarra River. Wildflowers were bursting into bloom everywhere. Here is one of the photos I took on my phone.

Wild flowers in bloom along the Yarra River in Melbourne Australia.

I then crafted the following poem. I hope you enjoy it. Most importantly, I hope you find increasing levels of love, peace, and joy in this next season of your own life journey.

Spring is here
Sun shining
Birds chirping
Flowers blooming 

Seasons turn
Winter is gone
No more cold
New life 

Come outside
Into the light
Fresh air 
Breathe it in

Possibilities
Opportunities
Dreams
It’s time

The past is gone
Let it go 
Today is here
Embrace it fully 

Gentle movement
Agile motion
Feel the wind
Time to sail

Out from the shore
New horizons 
Adventure time 
Excitement for sure 

Seeds planted long ago
Coming to life
Starting to sprout
Out of the dark

Resurrection
Transformation 
Change
Metamorphosis

Stories to be told
Songs to be sung
Festive food
Time to dance 

Welcome to Spring!

My Top Ten Fund-Raising Tips

Are you passionate about a particular cause? Do you want to make a difference in the world? Then you could use some money. It’s commendable to have a vision for a better future but without provision not a lot happens. But asking for money is not for the faint-hearted. It’s never an easy exercise.

Over the years I have helped to raise a lot of money. Millions of dollars to be exact. Money for local community work, buildings and facilities, and overseas aid. The more money you raise the greater the potential impact can be.

My Top Ten Fund-Raising Tips

1. Have a compelling cause. People need an inspiring vision to give towards. They need to know why they should give and what outcome their generosity will achieve. Without a sense of urgency about the need, it will be difficult to motivate people to give. Engage all the key influencers in creating and agreeing to this cause. Work to create as much ownership as you can. That way you will have solid base of support before you even start.

Of course, it is vital that you believe in the project you are presenting to other people. You need to know deep inside that it is worthwhile and that it will make a difference in the lives of people. In fact, you need to believe in it enough to invest your own personal resources into it. Lead by example in your own generous giving.

A project name or tagline can be helpful. We called the first building project I led “Building Our Future”. It was all about making more space for each ministry of the church. This included expanding the auditorium, the foyer, the children’s rooms and the cafe. A later project we called “The Story Building Project.” Buildings don’t change peoples lives but what happens in them can and does. We were making room for more stories of transformation to take place. Another fundraiser we conducted had the stated purpose of starting one hundred new churches overseas. Be creative in how you present your fundraising project. Make sure it comes across as inspiring as possible.  

2. Choose an achievable financial target. Make it a stretch goal but not an unattainable goal one that will only discourage people. Most churches or organisations can raise an amount equal to one to two times their annual income over a one to two year period. It is better to under-project and then over-perform. Don’t set the bar too high only to have everyone feel like they failed in their fundraising efforts.

3. Break the financial target down into achievable steps. Create bite size chunks so that each person can see how they can make a helpful contribution. For instance, a million dollars can seem like an insurmountable amount of money. I can feel beyond reach in the average person’s mind. Yet, if 500 people gave $19.24 a week for two years, then you would raise over a million dollars. Some may not be able to give this much while others could give much more. This sort of breakdown makes it doable. It is amazing what a group of people can do together when they rally around a common goal.

4. Teach people how to give. Present creative ideas for where the funds could come from. For instance, people can give of what they already have set aside in savings. Or they can earn more money and give from the profits. I know of a single mother who rented out a bedroom. A teenager mowed lawns to raise money to give towards a worthwhile cause.

People could sell some of their assets. I know of a person who sold a block of land and gave the proceeds to a worthy cause. Fundraising provides an opportunity for people to consider sharing what they have with others. People can have a garage sale or put some unwanted items up for sale online. I know a pastor who sold his boat and gave the proceeds to his church’s building fund. Another idea is to go without something. By reducing expenses, a person can then give some or all those funds

5. Share stories along the way. Stories inspire people. Celebrate the wins. We don’t give to get but often when people do give, God blesses their lives. Share these stories as encouragement for people to keep giving in faith.

6. Keep reinforcing the vision. Don’t over-vision people. But make sure they hear the why behind what you are doing enough to keep the momentum going. After the initial launch of the project, it is easy to become caught up in the details of the project. Keep helping people focus on the long-term results the project will achieve.

7. Keep people informed with the progress made. Accurate and up-to-date information is important. Inform people of the progress made during the fundraising journey. 

8. Make adjustments along the way. We make our plans but rarely does everything go exactly to plan. Observe the process. Listen to people’s thoughts and feelings, then make any needed adjustments. That might be to the process itself, the strategy you are using or even the end target.

9. Right-size your expectations. It is good to have faith and optimism. But we need to partner these important qualities with wisdom and reality thinking. Aim for the best you can but work with what you have. Placing your expectations too high sets you and others up for disappointment. 

10. Celebrate what you acheive and give thanks to everyone involved. Small wins and achievements matter. Every dollar counts and makes a difference. Be grateful for every person who gives and every amount of money that comes in. That’s good news, whatever way you look at it.

I’ve read books about fund-raising. I’ve attending training sessions on how to increase giving. I’ve talked to successful fund-raisers about their experience. In the end, you learn most by doing. Go ahead and ask for money for the cause you are passionate about. Some people will say ‘no’. But others will say ‘yes’. Your invitation provides them an opportunity to do something meaningful with their resources.

All the best with your fund-raising!

These tips are from one section in an appendix on the subject of fund-raising in my recently released book Money Talks: Finding Financial Freedom. You can purchase this book now from WORD in Australia or from Amazon.com.au in eBook format (or visit the USA Amazon site).

Last week I participated in a webinar with Steven Fogg from Generous on the subject of “How to Create a Culture of Generous Givers in Your Church”. If you missed it, you can watch it online now. I am sure you will find it helpful, esepcially if you are a minister or church leader.

A Map of Life’s Journey

In a few months time I will be 58 years of age. As I grow older, I find myself reflecting more on my life. Where I’ve come from, where I’ve been, where and who I am now, and where I am going. I also observe other people in their own journey as they seek to make sense of this amazing gift called ‘life’.

I read a few intriguing personal news items these last few weeks (see more below). After doing so, I sketched out the following stages as a sample map of life’s journey. Here is what I observe.

1. Construction

We all grow up in a context – a family, a country, a village or tribe, a set of values, and for many, a religious belief system. This is the ‘construction’ we emerge within. There are shapes, lines, borders, and boundaries that we learn to live and move within. Other people created this construct for us. Often they are the influential people in our life or our environment. It’s what we inherit we when start out on our journey.

2. Conversion

At some point, as we grow up, we start to find ourselves. We determine what we believe and what is true for us. For many people, there is a sense of conversion, where we embrace our world because it works for us. This conversion may be dramatic and at a specific point of time. Or it may be less spectacular and more gradual in its emergence. This is where we identify with who we are, based on the construct we have grown up within.

3. Questions and Doubts

[NOTE: There are people who stop after the first two stages mentioned above and they are content with those experiences … for the rest of their lives. They never doubt or question. Life and faith works for them. They can also tend to view people at the following stages as ‘backslidden’, ‘apostate’, or never ‘saved’. After all, where you stand determines what you see.]

For many other people, questions and doubts emerge. They start to critique the construct they have grown up within and even their conversion experience(s). This often occurs as a result of meeting other people who live outside of their construct and from hearing stories of other worlds and other world-views (belief systems).

For those who have grown up within a Christian environment or construct, the questions frequently centre around perplexities such as the existence of hell, why there is suffering in the world, the exclusivity of the Christian faith, the reliability of the Bible, the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, and the marginalisation of LGBTQIA+ people.

4. De-Construction

As a result of the questioning and doubts, many people start to de-construct the world that other people handed them. They begin pulling out some of the Jenga blocks other people gave them. Even those passed on from parents, teachers, and authority figures. After a while, the construction starts to sway and some of the blocks topple … and for some, the whole construct comes tumbling down to the ground … with an almighty crash!

5. De-Conversion

Some people move into de-conversion after a time of de-construction. They don’t believe what they used to believe. What was once true for them isn’t true anymore. They would be hypocritical to continue to declare allegiance to the construction that no longer feels like home to them. They have changed. They have moved. Reason has triumphed over past faith.

Recent examples of people who have arrived at this stage of de-conversion include Joshua Harris, a best-selling Christian author, and Marty Sampson, a well-known worship leader from Hillsong. They are not alone … or new. Consider the intriguing de-conversion stories of people such as Charlie Templeton (peer to Billy Graham), Dan Barker and John Loftus … if you dare.

Other people skip this step altogether and move from de-construction straight into re-construction.

6. Re-Construction

Now, a time of re-construction begins. It’s time to build a new world with what truly has meaning, value, and truth to us. We begin to think for ourselves. We choose to be authentic about what we believe, apart from what others have told us we should believe. This new construction may include some aspects, beliefs and values from our past. These are now seen from a new perspective. It also includes new things that weren’t part of our past at all. This can be quite scary … and liberating.

Summary

I am still learning and researching this. I am listening to other people’s stories and reflecting on my own life journey. This is not a linear process. Life is far more circular, unpredictable, and random. Nor is it everyone’s story. Not everyone goes through each stage on this map. Nor do they identify and understand each stage. But someone does.

A few final reflection questions:

  1. What stages of this map of life’s journey do you identify with? Where have you been?
  2. Where are you now?
  3. Have you ever had questions and doubts about your inherited construct? How have you processed these? Were you given permission to lean into them or were you shamed for experiencing them?
  4. Where do you see the other important people in your life right now?
  5. How do you handle or cope with people at different places than you?
  6. How can we better truly listen to and understand other people’s stories more deeply … without judging or trying to ‘fix’ them?
  7. What emotions does this discussion about a map of life’s journey evoke for you? It is resonance, dissonance, fear, anxiety, annoyance, anger or excitement and hope?

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. If you can’t see the Comments section, click on the title of this BLOG post then scroll down to the bottom off the page.

ORIGINS: Genesis Re-Visited

The book of Genesis is a narrative of the origins of the world, but in particular the family of Abraham. Three major world religions trace their roots back to Abraham – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The first 11 chapters cover what is often referred to as ‘pre-history’: from the beginnings of the universe through just after Noah and the flood. The rest of the book tells the story of Abraham and the eventual birth of the nation of Israel.

Back in 2013, I helped to lead a series of messages called ORIGINS, drawing themes from these early Genesis stories. You can read a summary of three of these messages, including a link to a podcast of the messages as follows:

  • ORIGINS: Genesis. In this message, I share an introduction to the book of Genesis, helping us understand and apply this ancient text to our lives today. 
  • ORIGINS: Creation. Science and faith, dinosaurs and the big bang. These just a few of the kinds of questions people come to book of Genesis for, hoping to find some answers. In this message, I takes an in-depth look at the story of creation, which clearly shows us who created the world and why. 
  • ORIGINS: Noah and the Ark. In this message, I look at the classic Sunday School story – Noah and the Ark. Humans fail to be faithful covenant partners in God’s world resulting in chaos and destruction but in God’s mercy he promises that “never again” will there be a flood that destroys the earth. 

Sometimes it helps to look backward before you move forward, so you live your life from a much bigger perspective. I love the idea of an ‘ancient future’ faith. By going back to the beginning, we can glean some amazing insights about God’s original purpose for this world, all of which are incredibly relevant for our lives today in the 21st century. History really is HIS-story and you and I are called to play a significant part in the unfolding redemptive narrative. As you explore some of the early stories in Genesis, I hope that the gift of hindsight creates in you a fresh vision (foresight) of who you truly are. 

How to Create a Culture of Generous Givers in Your Church

Over these last few years, I have been coaching quite a few pastors across Australia and a few overseas. It’s a privilege to come along side these church leaders from different denominations and contexts and offer them encouragement and advice in a wide range of aspects of personal ministry and church life.

One of the most common questions I am asked it about church finances and especially how church leaders can raise more money for the vision they have for their church. Because of this, I was excited to be asked by Generous to participate in an upcoming webinar on “How to Create a Culture of Generous Givers in Your Church”.

If this is of interest to you, join me as I share practical ways that pastors can inspire their congregation to be more generous in every area of their lives and to contribute financially to the vision of the church.

Check out the Facebook video below …

Why not sign up now!

Mid-Year Update from Mark Conner

Hi there. I haven’t blogged for a while so I thought it was time for a mid-year update.

Can you believe we are into the second half of 2019!? Time sure flies, and more so as you get a little older. I turn 58 years old in a few months time and I often wonder where the years went. It seems like yesterday I was only 20 years old! With more of my life behind me, it definitely makes me consider what is important and what has meaning for me. Simply being ‘busy’ or accumulating more stuff or becoming more ‘popular’ quickly looses its significance. Family and friendships become more meaningful. So does reflection and contemplation. How easy it is to be living in the ‘fast lane’ without ever thinking about your life and its overall direction. Doing work that makes a genuine difference in the lives of people also matters more.

What about you? Have you paused to think about your own life lately, what you are learning and where you are heading? The clock tends to dominate our world – “what time is it and how much have I got done today?” In contrast, the compass is an important measurement instrument that so often gets neglected. It is more about direction than speed and it prioritises purpose over mere progress.

In the last 12 months …

My dad and step-mum, Kevin and Rene Conner, both passed away. They lived full lives and influenced a lot of people. I miss them both but I’m very thankful for their input and encouragement to me over the years. I’ve been putting quite a bit of time into ensuring my dad’s legacy lives on through his teachings. His web site has information about all of his books, a new podcast of his teaching through the years, and two new online video courses, which were his original ‘Key of Knowledge’ seminar that equipped hundreds of people around the world to study and interpret the Bible for themselves.

Nicole and I relocated to Melbourne last May after 18 months living in the Sunshine Coast. We loved our time in Queensland. It was a time to refresh, refuel, and re-calibrate after many decades of crazy-busy ministry leading a large, growing church. However, we missed Melbourne (even the rain … and the four season in one day!) and especially our family. In the end, for us, relationships trumped geography. After renting in the Blairgowrie area on the Mornington Peninsula for a year, we are now renting in Elwood – near the city and the Bay. What a beautiful part of our city.

Nicole and I recently celebrated 33 years of married life. Nicole is engaged in a variety of things at the moment, including teaching part time at Eastern College for their history subjects as one of their adjunct lecturers and she has also recently launched her own narrative therapy practice.

Personally, I am enjoying being part of the teaching team at Bayside Church for Rob and Christie Buckingham where I speak about once a month as well as speaking at other churches (including a few churches in Perth that I am assisting) and training events (see my schedule) and providing personal coaching to quite a few church leaders around Australia. I am thoroughly enjoying this new season of life and ministry. I sure don’t miss the constant pressure and burden of leading a large, complex organisation. For me, it’s all about a “a slower pace, a simpler life, and a smaller world”, which was why I decided to make a significant vocational change back in early 2017 (see “Time to Say Goodbye“).

Last year, I wrote three new books. I have another three books all ready to write but just need to allocate some time to do so. Hopefully, I’ll get started in the next few months. My new podcast is starting to gain more interest too (also available on Apple iTunes).

Well, that’s all from me with this mid-year update.

I’ll finish with a prayer for you from the apostle Paul … which I will be speaking on at Bayside this coming weekend as part of a message entitled ‘Finding Hope’.

UPDATE: Watch the video of this 30 minute message on You Tube.

Songs of Praise by Mark Conner

In my younger years, I was very involved in church worship music. I played the piano for church services, led times of worship, wrote songs, directed a choir, and did some studio recording work. Occasionally, when speaking at various churches and conferences today, I will go to the piano and sing one of my own compositions.

Here is a list of some of the songs I have written that have been recorded. Included below is an audio of each song, as well as words and music. I hope you enjoy them.

Jesus, I Desire to Know You More. This is a very personal song of devotion written in 1990. For the ‘Windows to Heaven’ studio recording in 2002 at the then Waverley Christian Fellowship, Carl Laurens sings and I play the keyboards.

Jesus, I Desire to Know You More

It Was On the Cross. After reading an article about how few praise and worship songs back in the early 1990s were referring to the work that Jesus did on the cross, I went straight to the piano and wrote this song quite spontaneously in a very short time frame. It was recorded as part of the ‘Be Strong’ album in 1999 at Waverley Christian Fellowship, produced by Keith and Cathy White.

Continue reading “Songs of Praise by Mark Conner”

Kevin Conner’s Legacy

It’s hard to believe my dear dad, Kevin Conner, is gone. He passed away peacefully just over 4 months ago. He had recently turned 92 years of age.

I miss him. However, his legacy lives on in our hearts and lives … and in his contributions. Dad was a well-known Bible teacher. He wrote over 60 books, all of which continue to speak to people all over the world – in paperback format and many also in eBook format. Visit his web site for a list of all of his books, listed alphabetically and by category.

Dad didn’t only study the Bible, then teach and write about his insights. He loved to train others to do the same for themselves. His “Key of Knowledge” Seminar was attend by 100s of people and empowered them to do their own Bible research, interpretation and application. This week-long seminar is now available as an online course, with over 13 hours of video teaching, downloadable textbooks, and step-by-step instructions on how to apply the teaching. There are two parts:

  1. Methods and Principles of Bible Research.
  2. Interpreting the Bible.

Visit the links above to find out more and also to take advantage of some special deals on right now giving you lifelong access to these materials. These can be used by yourself or by a small group of people who want to do the course together. The first lesson in Part 1 is free, so you can see if this course is for you.

Thanks dad for your example and for your ongoing contribution to the church world-wide.

Seasons (Part 5)

One final reflection … (read Seasons Part 1 for background).

Endings Make New Beginnings Possible

Once Paul and his team had said their goodbyes, they were on their way … to Jerusalem then Rome (Acts 21:1), where he would spread the good news of Jesus even further, as well as speak to kings. Good days were ahead for him but none of this would have happened without the ending in Ephesus. Endings do make new beginnings possible.

Some chapters need to be closed before a new chapter can be written. Death is a necessary prelude to resurrection! Jesus’ life is a pattern for our life too. Some things must die so new things can grow. Endings can be opportunities for a new future. Today may be the enemy of your tomorrow. The tomorrow you envision may never come to pass if you do not end some things you are doing today. To get to a new level, a new tomorrow, or the next step, something has to end. What’s in your hand that you are holding on to that is hindering you from receiving the new things God has for you?

“True life success is doing the very best you can at where you are now then not being afraid to end that and take the next step. The endings and the great beginnings are somehow linked together. You can’t have one without the other.” Henry Cloud.

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Roman philosopher Seneca

“On the spiritual journey … each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around – which puts the door behind us – and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls.” Parker Palmer

It’s been just over two years since I made a major change in my life and vocation. It involved everything we have talked about – a significant ending, letting go of the past, and grief. But despite all of this and the adjustments it has involved, Nicole and I are loving this new season of our lives. We are experiencing so much joy. I am finding my new montage of contributions meaningful and fulfilling – speaking and training others, coaching people, writing, and spending more time with my family than I have been able to for so many decades. I sure don’t miss the constant pressure and burden of leading a large, complex organisation. I am so glad I recognised the need for change and had the courage to launch out into the great unknown. No regrets!

Final Comments

What is God up to right now in your life journey? Are you experiencing a new beginning, an in-between time, or an ending? What has ended for you? What needs to end for you? Are you “stuck in a moment”, feeling paralysed (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually), unable to move, comfortable and content with a certain attitude or outlook? Could Someone be calling you to stand up, take up your mat, and move to a new place?

Is there a new opportunity awaiting you that will only come after a door closes (an ending)? Is there something you need to let go of, that is hindering you from receiving the new things God has for you? Maybe it is bitterness, resentment, anger, regret, guilt, shame or grief. Is it time to move on?

All the best with the seasons of your life!

P.S. If you found this series of BLOG posts helpful, you might enjoy hearing the message I gave back in 2015 where I first shared these reflections. It is called “Seasons” and it is now available on my podcast.

Seasons (Part 4)

Here is my next reflection … (read Seasons Part 1 for background).

Endings Involve Grief

As Paul left Ephesus, not only were their final words and prayers, there were also tearful and painful good-byes, knowing they would never to see each other again. In the Message Bible, Eugene Peterson translates this moment this way:

“Then Paul went down on his knees, all of them kneeling with him, and prayed. And then a river of tears. Much clinging to Paul, not wanting to let him go. They knew they would never see him again — he had told them quite plainly. The pain cut deep. Then, bravely, they walked him down to the ship.”

Acts 20:36 – 21:1.

We experience grief anytime there is a loss in our lives. Even good changes involve loss – leaving the past behind. Grief includes a range of emotions: sadness, disappointment, frustration, and even anger at times. Usually there is process that includes initial shock, eventual acceptance, then letting go, followed by reaching out to a different future. We need to take time to be grateful and to grieve our losses.

Nicole and I have had to grieve many losses over the years – of some hopes and dreams, of homes we loved, of positions held, of opportunities, of communities and teams we have been a part of, of family members who have passed on, and of friends. Letting go of what is comfortable and familiar is not easy. There have been tears and some painful moments. It’s been incredibly hard at times … but that is part of this journey called life.

Henry Cloud encourages ‘metabolising’ endings for our benefit. We ingest life experiences like we ingest food. Keep what is usable to you and eliminate what is not. Talk it out, cry if you have to, feel your emotions fully, express them, forgive, then let it all go … after you have given it adequate attention (not denial). Only then will you be ready for whatever is next.

In his excellent book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, author William Bridges notes that it is often not the endings that do us in, it is the transitions. Transitions involve the emotion of change during the in-between times, like a trapeze artist hanging in the air! This can be exciting, yet frightening. In these liminal spaces, nothing is familiar or normal. [Some of you might be interested in a book Nicole recently contributed a chapter to called Neither Here Nor There: The Many Voices of Liminality.]

  • What losses have you had to face? Name them and go gently with yourself. All losses need to be grieved appropriately.
  • What has not changed for you? Identity the continuities.
  • In non-Western countries, they often take weeks or even months to grieve the death of a family member loved one. What can we learn from this practice?
  • Reflect on an ‘in-between time’ in your life where you found adjusting to change extremely difficult. What was most helpful during this time?

Read Part 5.

Seasons (Part 3)

Here is my next reflection on Paul’s transitioning from the city of Ephesus where he had spent the last three years of his life (read Seasons – Part 1).

Endings Require Us to “Let Go” of the Past

Moving on, required Paul to let go and the church at Ephesus to let him go too (Acts 20:36-37). Saying “good-bye” like this is never easy (Acts 20:25). They actually clung on to him, not wanting him to leave. Why? Because most of us don’t like change … unless we are initiating it. In fact, by nature, most people resist change. It’s difficult and we experience it as an unwelcome intruder into our life. We prefer to be in control and operate in familiar terrain. We tend to hold on to the past rather than let it go. But we can’t freeze this moment forever or go back to the way things were. Things change and that means letting go of what was.

Could it be that you are nearing an ending and coming to a time of letting go? Nothing lasts forever. Life is about growth and growth requires change. Not every problem can be solved. Not every chapter has a happy ending. Some things need to die so that others can be born. Resurrection life only comes after death.

Signs of a possible ‘ending’ nearing may include loss of passion, loss of motivation, or simply an unsettled feeling (restlessness) or a calling to something else. This requires much discernment, courage, a great deal of wisdom, and possibly some difficult conversations. Do you simply hold on through the current storm, hoping things will get better, or is it time to acknowledge an ending has arrived? To give up hope when there is victory in sight is a mistake but to hang on to false hope is a fantasy that can end in dismal failure. Admit it when more effort will not bring about a different result.

Henry Cloud writes,

Those with greatest difficulty abandoning things are often those unable to face reality. Understand the lifesaving virtue of hopelessness. Get hopeless about what will not work.

Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. With hope, we can endure almost anything. Hope keeps us going … and that is the problem. When it comes to seeing reality, almost nothing gets in the way like a hope distortion, in ether direction. Sometimes, people keep hoping in spite of a clear reality staring them in the face.

A desire without adequate grounds is merely a wish. Hope is not a strategy. In the absence of real, objective reasons to think that more time is going to help, it is probably time for some type of necessary ending.

If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging.

Get to the virtue of hopelessness by seeing that there is no reason to believe that tomorrow is going to be any different than today. You will finally have gotten to reality. It is hopeless to continue to do what you are doing, expecting different results. The right kind of hopelessness gets us on the right track.

While hope is a great virtue, hope in unreality is not. Sometimes, hopelessness is the best virtue to have, because it can finally get you to the pruning moment.”

From his book “Necessary Endings“.

I found these insights incredibly helpful when I was processing my own decision to make a significant vocational change just over 2 years ago now. It was hard and uncomfortable. It took time to process and there was a lot of wrestling inside my heart and mind. Gaining clarity was a long process.

Interestingly, the apostle Paul took time to seek God and read his own heart. Luke tells us this: “We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot (Acts 20:13).” Although he had eight other comparison on his journey (Acts 20:4), Paul chose to walk alone on this segment of the journey. This was a 32 kilometre walk for him. Was it on this walk that he decided it was time to say a final goodbye to those in Ephesus and move on (see Acts 20:1 then verses 17-22)? Maybe he was preparing his final speech. Either way, he took time to breath in some fresh air under open skies in an environment of solitude and space for thinking.

Walking is a great way to reflect and think about our life. Solitude helps us to turn down the noise of everyone else’s opinions and the clutter of the many distractions all around us. Is it time for you to take a long walk and think about the season you are in and whether an ending is coming in some area of your life? Is there something you need to ‘let go’ of? Could it be an unhealthy relationship, a dead-end job, a home that no longer serves your needs, a ministry that no longer stirs your passion, or the security that hinders you from the adventurous mission God is calling you to?

Read Part 4.

Seasons (Part 2)

Here is my second reflection on Paul’s life and the transition of seasons he was undergoing in leaving the city of Ephesus (read Seasons – Part 1).

Seasons are Marked by Endings and Beginnings

Paul felt an urgency that compelled him to leave Ephesus and go to Jerusalem, though he was completely in the dark about what would happen there (Acts 20:22). In fact, he knew there were hard times and imprisonment ahead (Acts 20:23). What mattered most was to finish what God had started through him – letting everyone know about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God (Acts 20:24). While with the church at Ephesus, Paul gave it all he had (Acts 20:18-21). He was with them totally, doing is best, giving his all (Acts 20:26-27, 31). But now he knew his time in Ephesus was coming to an end.

I know the feeling. I served on staff of a large church for 32 years – 22 years as the Senior Minister. I gave it all I had. I did my very best. But in the end, I was tired … I was spent and ready for a change. I had said and done everything I could and needed to. As I reflected personally and discussed this with my family over a period of time, I sensed that an ending was at hand. It was time to move on.

Life’s seasons are marked by endings and new beginnings. In fact, life is a series of endings, in-betweens, and beginnings, all interconnected. Examples include family changes (getting married, becoming a parent, a marriage breakdown, sickness, aging or death), school changes (from primary to secondary to university), work changes (career changes, downsizing, mergers, acquisitions, promotions or a new boss), house changes (moving, immigration, relocation), church changes (relocation, changing demographics) and ministry changes (transitions, relational changes).

Henry Cloud is his helpful book book Necessary Endings says:

“Endings are a natural part of life – we either face them, stagnate or die. Without the ability to do endings well, we flounder, stay stuck and fail to reach our goals and dreams. Endings are crucial but we rarely like them. We naturally avoid them. That’s the problem. When endings are done well, the seasons of life are negotiated, and the proper endings lead to the end of pain, greater growth, personal and business goals reached and better lives. Endings bring hope. When done poorly, bad outcomes happen, good opportunities are lost, and misery either remains or is repeated … Endings are not failures or something to be avoided. Nothing lasts forever. Endings are normal. Life produces too much – more relationships, activities, clients, mentors, partners, strategies and stuff than we have time and room for. It it time for pruning? An ending does not mean you have failed. Avoid misunderstood loyalty and co-dependency. Insecurities and fears cause us to resist endings.”

The first half of life involves mostly beginnings. In the second half of life there are more endings and new beginnings. What endings have occurred for you that led to new beginnings? Make a list of them all. You’ll be surprised how many there are in life. What were these times like for you? What were the various feelings you had to navigate? How are you different now? What did you learn?

Read Part 3.