Today’s guest is John, John became really famous here in Tasmania when he was the first Tasmanian to climb Mt Everest and all the seven peaks. So that was all he could talk about for the next year or so.
It was all anybody wanted to hear.
I think there’s more to you than that so I’m excited to hear more about your life. John and Jo have four children, one of whom recently got married.
So how did you become a Christian?
I grew up in a Jewish family. So I was actually raised, not a religious Jewish family, more a cultural Jewish family. So I did my Bah-mitzvah, went to Sunday school. We heard all about God, but really in the sense of ritual and history. There was no relevance to your life today other than a whole pile of rules and traditions.
But that was pretty empty for me, and I think for a lot of people. And so it didn’t really mean anything to me.
About when I was sixteen I met a wonderful girl who was a Christian. We started dating, I stalked her was probably a more appropriate description. For those of you who know her, this is about Jo. Some people often wonder.
And basically we’d argue, because I like to argue, and she thought she was witnessing to me. And that didn’t quite work out the way she’d planned, and after a number of years she decided, ‘This isn’t going to work out. I can’t marry you if you’re not a believer, therefore, goodbye.’
So that was kind of the slap across the face that I needed. I went to work. I complained to all my colleagues about this crazy Christian girl who dumped me because I’m not a Christian. And most of them said words to the effect of, ‘That’s OK, you’ll find someone else.’ And one of the managers I had a lot of respect for said, ‘She’s absolutely right, shut the door and let me tell you why.’
So basically he explained, not so much the gospel to me, but he explained why it was important. And he said, ‘Look, Jesus makes some outrageous claims. If they’re true, they’re important. If they’re not true, who cares? But if they’re true, they’re important.’
So I kind of wrestled through that for a long time. And then decided, ‘OK, I’d better find out whether they are true.’ So I wrestled with mostly Old Testament prophecies. How do we know what the Messiah will look like? Because God started telling people about that hundreds and thousands of years before Jesus came. So what does that look like? What do we know about him? What’s his job description? All of those sorts of things.
So about six months of wrestling through the Old Testament and I became a believer in my head. I decided that Jesus was who God said. He fitted the job description. And in a way that pretty much nobody else can.
So that was where I first decided to become a believer.
And then a few months later, I don’t know how long we’ve got, but if we’ve got hours I’ll tell you the whole story.
So that’s when I became a believer in my head. Sometime after that I became a believer in my heart, when basically I was abseiling down a waterfall, in the middle of winter, with no wetsuit, on a flooded river, just outside Canberra. So what could possibly go wrong in that scenario?
And as I was at the bottom of the waterfall I nearly drowned. And I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to drown, I’m under the water, I’m not going to get back up, I’m trapped here.’ And I thought, ‘Oh well, there’s that Jesus thing, maybe he can help.’
So it wasn’t like a ‘Jesus, help!’ It was just as calm as, ‘Oh well, if you’re around, then maybe now would probably be a good time for you to intervene.’ It was very calm.
And I got spat out of the waterfall that I was pinned under, and managed to come back up to the surface and take a breath. And I realised that God isn’t just true in history. It’s not just something that happened and so what? I realised at that moment that he actually wants a real relationship with us, right here, right now in our lives. And that changed absolutely everything. So I would say that was the moment I got filled with the Holy Spirt if you what to use ‘charo [charismatic] talk’. Or that was when I really discovered, not just about God, but who he is. And we could start building a relationship then.
I have many questions. I think it’s interesting and wanted to comment on, there’s so many girls, but also guys I think, who go out with someone who is not a Christian, and who think that by going out with them, they can make them a Christian. What I find interesting about your story is, hey everybody, by dumping them that may be just the thing that you need to do.
When did you and Jo get back together in that process? Was it after you had made the ‘head decision’? I really wonder what she was going through while you were doing your searching?
She was pretty skeptical, I mean she knew I was searching because she was attending a Messianic Jewish group, like a synagogue, at the time. So she knew I was searching because I was talking with the Rabbi there, and a few other people from there, plus a whole bunch of other people.
And I think over probably a 6-month or 8-month period, she could see the nature of my questions was changing from just arguing for the point of arguing (which I still do) to actually he really wants to find out the answer here, and he’s wrestling.
So I think her prayers were changing from vague, ‘Lord, one day, please get him saved’ type stuff to ‘Lord, now he needs to see you, now he needs to find this, and he needs to understand this, and he needs to see your plan and how it unfolds over history.’ So she was very much part of that journey. We weren’t dating again, but she was very much part of that journey. And we probably had the same discussions we’d had a hundred times earlier, it was just that this time I was listening.
And how did your parents cope?
Look I handled that really well. So I was about 18 or 19 at the time.
I’m laughing because of the expression on John’s face.
For the benefit of the camera (laughs).
So I told them pretty much in the same sentence that I’d become a Christian and that Jo and I were engaged. So none of this easing in gently-type stuff. It was literally both barrels, straight away. So yeah they took it about as you can imagine.
When your little baby child suddenly says they’re getting married, it’s like that scene out of Father of the Bride, where they hear you and see you as a five year old still. And look, they had all sorts of reservations about it. They thought, two young people, it’s never going to work. And my sister was actually going through a divorce at the time, and if it didn’t work for her, it’s not going to work for you …
So Jo and I have now been married for 28 years. My sister’s marriage was about 13 or so. So we’re well past that. And even now, my parents begrudgingly have to accept that Jo was actually a really good choice.
So yeah, they didn’t take it well.
They haven’t come to the Lord?
No. So we’d better hurry, Dad’s 96 now, and Mum’s nearly 86. So we’re still praying. It’s only been 30 years for them so that’s still early days.
Well, considering the amount of time before that. Yes.
And sadly, there’s a bit of history there too. God says to Isaiah in Isaiah 6, go and tell the people, but guess what? They’re not going to listen. And it will be right in front of them and they won’t see it, and they’ll hear it but they won’t understand. And sadly that veil that he talks about is still around.
So if anyone listening to this is witnessing to Jewish people. It takes a lot longer than it does for most other people groups, and it is really hard work, and it does require, I think, God to lift that veil. And I’ve heard Rabbis talk about the Messiah and they’re talking about what he’ll look like and you’re just like, ‘How are you missing this? You’re describing stuff, you’re literally describing Jesus, and nobody else. And how could you possibly miss that?’ It’s like the pantomimes—‘It’s behind you!’
Cool. What do you do for a job?
So I overheard Nathaniel, our son, talking to his friends when he was about 16 and the usual question of, ‘What does your dad do?’ And Nathaniel said, ‘I’m not sure, but he seems to swan around the world having cups of coffee with people in hotel lobbies. Which, upon reflection, was remarkably accurate.
A few years later I took him on a road trip with me and he actually came around and saw what I did, and I asked him afterwards, ‘was that good?’ And he said, ‘Oh it’s awesome, it’s awesome, I got so much a better idea of what you do.’ I said, ‘Oh so what is it you think I do?’, ‘I still have no idea.’
So my daughters are convinced I’m a spy because I travel a lot at short notice.
What I actually do is, we run a bunch of different businesses. So some of those businesses, we own and operate regional hotels. So that’s what’s currently getting me travelling around. We used to do real estate development in India. We’ve got an IT company and we do a whole bunch of other weird stuff.
Just international man of mystery is the call sign.
I remember when I was a kid I had this real desire to know what happened in an office. And I’d ask people. And that’s the response I’d get, ‘Ah, don’t worry about it.’ I’d be like, ‘this mystery thing that my dad goes and does.’ Robin Legg was his secretary and I’m just like, ‘Tell me what happens!’ I’m getting the idea now.
It must be good because you spend so much time doing it.
I can’t actually stand an office and I’m not very good at paperwork, despite being an accountant. I’m an accountant by training but I’ve never actually worked as an accountant.
So it’s more people management?
Situation management. So all my early days I was actually doing insolvency in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. So that was a fun time to do insolvency. A lot of the corporate work we do at the moment is crisis management. But not, ‘My IT system burnt down.’ It’s more, ‘Oh dear, my banking system burnt down.’ So a lot of our specialism is in finance and things that we haven’t really needed in Australia for some time, but we may do one day.
So how does your faith show in that kind of work?
I think a lot of people tend to split faith [and say] I have my secular life and I have my sacred life. And they’ve taken the instruction, well, it wasn’t really an instruction, I think they’ve misunderstood the separation of church and state. The idea of that wasn’t to stop the church polluting the state, it was to stop the state polluting the church. And I think these days we understand it the other way around and we try to interpret it in that way and it just doesn’t work.
Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Give me your Sundays and maybe Wednesday nights or maybe Friday nights.’ What he says is, ‘I want everything.’
So everything we are belongs to him and he’s paid the price for that and he’s entitled to it. And it’s a gift we give, it’s the only thing we can give, willingly back to him.
I think a lot of people try to split those things and for me there’s no separation in that. Being in the secular world allows me to access people that professional ministers could never go near. Because they have to deal with me, that’s part of the business, they either work for me, in which case they really have to deal with me, put up with me, or they’re our suppliers or people we have relationships with. So that gives me an ability to access those people in a very natural way and be able to bring Jesus to them.
Because they’re probably never going to walk into a church of their own free will. That’s most of Australia these days. An incredible number of people don’t know anyone who knows Jesus anymore. It used to be true but I don’t think it’s true now. On the census more than half of Australians ticked the box saying, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian’ but what they mean by that is radically different to what I mean when I say, ‘I’m a follower of Jesus.’
So I think it’s really important to be in the secular world. When we think our ministers are called to full-time ministry, the answer is, ‘No. We’re all called to full-time ministry’. They just serve in a different way. I think that’s true for all of us. That’s our job.
So do you find that you have deeper conversations with people?
Sometimes. I think it’s like anyone, you end up with a spectrum of responses and that changes over time depending on what they’re going through in their life.
I love climbing mountains, and one of the things I’ve discovered is the best time to talk to people about Jesus is on the way back down. Because they’re a lot more relaxed. They’ve finished with it. If you try to get them on the way up …
And I think that’s true in every part of life. You’ve got to find the right moments where the Spirit has opened a softening in their hearts and they’re ready to hear. I think if you get that wrong it’s ‘pearls before swine’ and you can give the best Gospel presentation you’ve ever given, and it goes absolutely nowhere because the timing’s not right.
And that’s why you can’t set up a cup of coffee and say, ‘Let me tell you about Jesus.’ It takes quite some time to get to the point where you might be able to do that.
It’s the building of relationship, it’s the showing of integrity in your work practices, and all that.
If we’re doing it right, and I frequently don’t, but if we’re doing it right then we should be shining Jesus’ light, a lot like the manager that was in the right place at the right time to have the right word to me when I was ready to hear it. He probably said fifty other things that I’d completely missed before that. It was when he was in the right place at the right time.
One great story on that, we had a friend and I were both fairly full-on Christians, we were working in a big accounting firm, and our department had 34 people on the internal telephone list. We were just a small department in a much bigger company.
Once a week we would sit down and pray for everybody on that list for opportunities. And within three years, by the time my friend went off to Bible college, three had become Christians, we’d had meaningful conversations with all of them except the Head Honcho and he was really hard work. We’d both tried and he was hard to access and we were too far down the food chain for him to pay any attention.
And then, I think it was when his wife had just died, my friend had gone to Bible college, and I was sitting on an airplane coming back from a meeting with him, and he said to me, ‘You knew Craig pretty well.’ Craig was the other guy.
I said, ‘yeah.’
He said, ‘I just don’t get why he left a promising career to go and join the church and become a minister.’
So we got our opportunity in.
About six months later I called up Craig and said, ‘We got him.’ The last one on the list.
So he didn’t become a believer but he was ready to hear the word at that time.
And I think what’s so cool about that story is the prayer that went into it beforehand. Because I just see that all the time, if you’re not praying, it can’t happen. You’ve got to pray in, first. And then be listening.
Absolutely. There’s stuff we can do and we’re told to do. And there’s stuff we can’t do and we’re told we can’t do. And understanding the difference will save you a lot of frustration. So if you’re trying to force it in your own timing, or when the person’s not open to it, it is literally going to be, at best the seed will be scattered, but it’s most likely to be pearls before swine.
But when they’re ready to hear it, it’s totally different. So what changes that? The Lord does. And that’s really the Holy Spirit. And if you can pray that into people, say, ‘Lord I want those opportunities. I don’t have to give them ten points of the Gospel all at once, I just have to get one thing across to them.’
Quite often I think we go for the slam dunk, and we’re looking for the close, but our focus then becomes on trying to convert people, rather than disciple them. What we’re really trying to do is disciple people. And that’s maybe a distinction we forget sometimes.
So you mentioned mountains. What do you enjoy about climbing mountains?
Mountains are awesome. First of all, up until recently, no mobile phones or internet connection on them. So it was actually a really great way of getting away and getting some really good quality thinking time.
When I was climbing in Alaska we were there for about four weeks. I read through about two thirds of the Bible. Didn’t have time to finish it off. And I was praying for about six to eight hours a day. I just don’t get that at home, and I don’t get that in my normal life. I don’t think most of us do. So I love that bit about it.
I love the physical challenge of it.
I love being out in God’s amazing creation. That can be the back garden, but in the back garden we don’t get the ice crystals that you can see up on the mountain. You don’t get the staggering beauty that comes in the mountains.
I can get that in mountains, I can get it in rivers, it doesn’t matter where, but I do like high places.
You like the challenge as well?
I love the physical challenge of it. A lot of people think, ‘I couldn’t possibly do that.’ And the answer is, ‘You probably could, it’s just it’s a lot of hard work.’
A lot of that comes down to, are you prepared to put in the work? How well do you plan? I like that. I’ve got a seven-year goal, rather than I’m trying to work out what I’m doing tomorrow. So it’s nice to actually work towards a bigger goal. And then think, ‘Gee I don’t know if I can actually do that, but let me find out.’
Most people already assume that they can’t do it so they stay on the couch and they never actually give it a go.
Despite all the pain I’ve put my body through, I’ve never had my body fail yet. So I’m still well back from the edge of what I can physically do.
Actually, that’s not quite true, I got sick on my last climb and had to stay in bed. But apart from that.
Yeah that was a shame.
Well it was yes, but that’s OK. It was still pretty beautiful up there and still a great experience.
So I always tell people that Moses went up the mountain to talk to God, and Jesus went up the mountain to be alone with God, and therefore I’m going up the mountain to be with God. To some extent that’s true. You discover things about yourself and about depending on the Lord in a high-stress situation that you probably won’t in regular life. But for some people, their high stress situation is their regular life. There are plenty of people who have climbed much bigger mountains than I have, just not physical ones.
When did you start climbing?
Actually climbing, about seven years ago, or eight years ago.
So it’s not a childhood thing?
Well I’ve done outdoor stuff all my life. I grew up in Scouts and learnt all the ropes (haha). I learnt about climbing and did a lot of abseiling, a lot of canyoning, a lot of quiet technical abseiling.
But we, my son and I were invited on a medical clinic in India, and we went three years in a row to help out some doctors, with crowd management, and entertaining the children in Nathaniel’s case. We went up into the Himalayas and did a series of medical clinics in remote villages as part of a trek into the base camp of Kangchenjunga (which is the third highest mountain).
And I’d heard about climbers, I’d seen the photos, and I’d never really got it. And we got to base camp at Kangchenjunga at the end of this valley that we’d been helping people up, and just stared up at the mountain. Just up. Wow. That’s big!
So that’s where we thought maybe we should give this a go.
So Killimanjaro seemed like a good idea, so we started with that. And then realised we’d now done two of the seven summits so we thought maybe we should have a hack at some others.
So basically one big climb a year and occasionally one and a half.
I think you’ve probably mentioned some already but I had my question written down so lessons about climbing, or lessons that you’ve learned from climbing, that we can apply to our lives if we’re not climbing.
I think everybody climbs. One of the questions I love interviewing people with, when we’re looking for senior staff (it doesn’t work so well with junior staff), you say, ‘When did you do something you thought you couldn’t do? And what happened when you got to the other side of what you thought you couldn’t do?’
And that’s a very true analogy for climbing. You think you can’t climb it, and then you realise it’s about just taking the next step, never mind the big picture, never mind the huge mountain in front of you, just keep taking the next step until there’s no more next steps to take, and you’re on top.
It sounds easy, but that’s an awesome metaphor for life.
Now some of those steps, as you step up, you slide back down. And that’s very true on mountains, they’re often slippery, they’re often covered in soft snow, or scree, or things like that. So you step up, slide back down, and sometimes you slide back down more than the step you just took.
I think that’s an awesome metaphor for life as well.
A lot of people really, we struggle in our faith, and some days we go, ‘Wow, that’s awesome, I’m on cloud nine, I’ve just had twenty minutes of awesome quiet time and I’ve read the Bible and all that sort of stuff.’ And that’s great, but not all days are like that.
And I think some days we disappoint ourselves. As Paul says, ‘We do what we know we ought not to do, and we don’t do what we know we should.’ And that’s like the sliding back down.
So I think there’s all these metaphors in climbing that are actually really good. And help you maybe understand a bit more about life, but also about your faith and where that’s coming from.
There’s a teamwork thing too, I’m guessing?
There is. Who you go with is a massive, like a big rule for life, and a big rule for [climbing]. So if I hang around with the wrong people all the time, the odds are on, I’m not going to change them, they’re going to change me. So particularly we look at our kids and say, ‘You’ve got to watch who you’re hanging with because you think you’re having a positive influence on them, but more likely they’re just going to change your view and drag you away from the Lord.’
So there is a danger in that.
I have climbed with the wrong teams and I strongly suggest you don’t do that. We were both unsuccessful, and it wasn’t a fun trip.
We’ve had other trips where it was unsuccessful but it was still good.
We’ve had other trips where it would have only been possible because we had a great team.
One of my climbing friends said, ‘Some days you put into the group, and some days you need to take out from it.’ And it’s true. If you’re having a bad day then somebody else carries a bit of your luggage, that makes a big difference. Other days you’re feeling strong and they’re not so you carry a bit of theirs. That teamwork can make a huge difference.
Absolutely. So you’ve talked about praying for six hours on the mountain climbing. Are there other times apart from on mountains when you feel close to God?
Um … I’m too busy to, most of the time.
I think we often get overruled by our feelings and I think that can be quite dangerous. I think the love we’re called to have for Jesus is the same love I think we’re called to have in our marriages. And I think a lot of people have this idea of, ‘I have to feel in love’. The command is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and so on and that’s actually an instruction, not a feeling. The Bible talks about different types of love and there’s three different Greek words for it, and one of the Greek words is agape, which is a committed love. It’s a love that is an act of will, not just a feeling. It’s not an emotion, it’s an act of will.
I think we often expect to feel on cloud nine all the time, and as somebody pointed out, there’d be no mountains without valleys. So you really need to put those two things together and say, ‘I may feel like I’m close to God, but that’s a feeling, I need to push in to God regardless of whether I feel like I’m close to him or not, and I need to make a conscious decision to do that.’
And sometimes that means overruling what the world says and not being like the rest of them. And sometimes that overrules how you’re feeling, ‘I don’t feel like it, I’m so tired.’ Yeah, that’s probably when you need God more.
And sometimes you come under spiritual attack as well. So I think all these things are screaming at you. ‘Go a different way.’ And that’s the time when you most need to press in to God. It doesn’t matter whether you feel like it. I think the feeling comes sometimes afterwards.
What’s one thing about God and Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
It’s the only thing.
I think that’s one of the Sunday School questions where every answer has to be Jesus.
It’s Christianity isn’t about what you do, it’s about what God has done. And you’re not reaching out to him, he’s reached out to you. And he’s made that possible through Jesus.
Great analogy of, I go to a restaurant, I eat a fantastic meal, but I’ve got no money, and Jesus comes along and picks up the tab. And that’s kind of what we do with our lives. We don’t follow God’s way, if God’s completely holy and he’s like the white sheet, and we come along as a black speck. We can’t be close to him because our black spec will make the white sheet not white anymore. And so the only way we can come close to him is if we’re basically bleached white and that’s pretty much what Jesus does.
So we think we’ve got to earn it. We can’t. The Bible makes that really clear.
We think we’re entitled to it. We’re not. What we’re entitled to is to be a black speck. And to continue that.
Jesus is absolutely the thing that changes it. What we do with it after that gets really tricky because I think we often aren’t very good at following Jesus. And we forget the basics and we don’t continue to grow and learn. And we just stagnate.
So seek Jesus always.
If you don’t know him, definitely seek Jesus.
If you do know him, keep growing that relationship. It’s like any relationship, if you don’t talk to your wife for six months, it’s probably not going to be a good relationship. So why do we expect any different with prayer?
Do we pray to God? Do we do that regularly? We’re told to do it without ceasing. That’s an awful lot. But do we do it really regularly?
I caught myself the other day and thought, ‘I need to pray before every meeting I go into’. And I’ve just been doing that in the last week or so. It’s amazing what a difference it makes!
Who’d have thought?
So it’s really basic stuff that we just forget to do. We think, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll deal with that on Sunday’ or ‘I’ll pray on Sunday’ or ‘I’ll go to Wednesday night prayer meeting’ or whatever. But it’s an all-the-time relationship, and if you don’t invest in that relationship, it’s probably not going to mean much.
That was a very long answer, sorry.
No, no. It was a great answer.
Well that’s the end of my questions.
Thank you very much for sharing with us John, that was great.