Desperation

Do you know what it feels like to be desperate?

I was eleven or twelve and we were camping at Fish Lake, West of Nordegg. We kids discovered that the trail South out the back of our campsite led to a small, but much more fun lake. We had built a raft out of deadfall and were having a hoot. I don’t remember which of us came up with the idea that we could move the raft better if one of us got in the water with flippers on, but I was dispatched to run back to the campsite and retrieve them.

When I was dropped off on shore I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to put my shoes on for the few hundred yards to the campsite and back so I slipped my feet into my younger brother’s rubber boots which were two sizes too small and which my feet didn’t go all the way into. I ran, as best I could in the too small rubber boots and my red speedos (don’t laugh, all the kids were wearing them back then), back to our campsite and rushed in, breathlessly explaining to mom our plan as I grabbed the flippers and raced back down the trail.

In my hurry I missed the fork in the trail that stayed true and instead followed the one that gradually drifted away till I was headed much more west than south. When I hadn’t reached the lake in what I sensed should have been enough distance, my mind refused to believe it. I kept convincing myself that I recognized this tree or that bend in the trail and that any second I’d see the blue of the lake through the trees trying at the same time to ignore the growing hole in my gut that fear creates.

I finally saw blue but my relief turned to desperation when I broke into the clearing and realized I had come across nothing more than a large slough. I finally admitted to myself that I was lost. I even climbed a tree hoping to catch a glimpse of the lake I was trying to find, but all I saw was more trees. I think that was when I first yelled for help as loud as I could, “DAAAD!!”

Romans 8:15 encourages us to cry out to God. I don’t think most of us “cry” out to God. The original word is an onomatopoeic word imitating the loud cry of a raven. It means to scream, to loudly call out. If you haven’t ever cried out to God, in fact if you aren’t crying out to him daily, then you’re still on the trail convincing yourself you’ve got it under control and just around the next bend it will all come together.

When we get desperate we’ll quit relying on our own strength, cry out to God and allow his strength to work in us and then through us.

ps. – I’m assuming you’ve figured out I was eventually found.

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Worth The Struggle

Have you ever struggled with God? I don’t mean struggle against God, though I’m sure some have. I’m speaking more of struggling together with God to grasp what he is up to. Maybe it’s a hard teaching from the Bible you are struggling to understand. Maybe it’s an inexplicably unanswered prayer. Maybe a point of obedience that makes no sense to you. We don’t like struggle, but struggling with God through issues is actually a positive thing. If you struggle against God you’ll lose, but if you struggle with him there are tremendous blessings to be gained.

How does that work? On a basic level it can be compared to the relationship I had with my old mare. When she first came into my life she was already into her prime but hadn’t had much finishing put on her. Apparently a good part of her life to that point had been up in the bush of Northern Alberta around Conklin running with the herd belonging to folks from that community. The horses essentially ran free and when someone wanted to ride they would just ask around if anyone had seen where the herd was at.

When I began

 

 riding her you could get her to go, you could steer her if you pulled her head in the desired direction, and if you had enough space you could eventually get her to stop. She also had this rearing thing she’d do if she didn’t like what you asked her to do. But I liked the look of her eye and decided she’d be my horse. I started from scratch with her as though she’d never been ridden, and together we struggled for many hours.

But in that struggle we came to know each other, and she came to trust me. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do and wasn’t anywhere she wouldn’t go. She was the one I put my 2 year old son on to learn to ride, and the one I used to drag home the Christmas tree out of the bush, closing the barbed wire gate behind us from her back. Working together at a guest ranch we climbed up and down cliffs, crossed rivers, and led trail rides for Japanese tourists who spoke no English. With the crack of a whip we’d race along side the horse herd, gathering them for the day’s trail rides, and later I’d fire a pistol off her while we “held up” a bus of tourists. Over the years we’ve pushed cows through deep bush, open prairie and just about everything in between. We cut out calves, and then roped and dragged them to the branding irons. We even rode in the Calgary Stampede Parade.

None of this would have happened without going through a struggle together. Similarly, it’s in the struggles we go through with God that we really come to trust him; that we learn to know him. So embrace the struggle.

007Heading out in the evening for an overnight ride.Grandpa Berg's last ride 001This was my Grandpa’s last ride. (We switched hats) He was a pastor too but had worked on a ranch in his youth.Nina & The BoysOne of my favorite pictures, my boys and my mare.


God’s Best Friend

I haven’t had a very good track record of keeping dogs for very long. My first puppy lasted all of a week. My next dog lasted two years before coyotes got him. My dogs have been stolen, kicked by a horse, and hit by a vehicle. Currently there is one that has survived about fourteen years but I think that’s mostly because when we moved here we had to give him to friends because our yard isn’t fenced.

The best dog I had was a border collie/blue heeler cross named Luke, who had one blue eye and one brown eye. He was so easy to train that much of it almost seemed instinctive. From the first time I whistled for him if he could hear me he came running no matter what had his attention at that point. I never had to teach him not to get into the garbage; in fact I never even had to clean up after him at all. Even if we were in the bush he always went off the trail to do his business.

I had gotten him as two month old puppy and very quickly a bond developed between us, so much so that he literally became depressed when I was gone on holidays. I left him with my brother for two weeks and he was convinced Luke was seriously sick, but he was his normal self when I got home. Sadly this was the dog I’m pretty sure the coyotes got.

Sadder yet, though, is that most people probably identify more with the bond between me and Luke than with the bond God longs to have with us. I have said before that God longs to be longed for. The relationship I had with my dog is a pale illustration of a far deeper, profound, and satisfying relationship we can have with God.

The challenge is how to develop that relationship; how to “practice the presence of Christ.” Here’s a suggestion someone gave that helped me. Find something in your routine that you do, or hear, or see a number of times during the day. Simple things like a favorite color, the phone ringing, school bell, or starting a new task, maybe even your dog barking. It can be anything, but let it remind you of Jesus’ presence with you. Breathe a quick prayer at these times. Something simple; “Thank-you Lord,” “Be merciful to me a sinner,” “Fill me with your love.” You will be amazed at where that simple practice may lead you.


The Desire to be Desired

Valentine ’s Day is coming up. I’m not typically one to make a big deal over it, but I’ve come to at least see it as a good reminder not to get lazy or complacent in romancing my wife. It’s important that I communicate to her how much she is treasured, how beautiful she is to me; how desired she is. For me saying ”I love you” is easy and natural and is a daily occurrence. But, without minimizing the value of that, finding other unique ways of communicating the same thing is valuable for both of us.
We like being desired. In fact it is such a powerful thing that advertisers tap into this longing and make billions trying to convince us that we will be desirable if we buy their product. Of course this is a lie and only leaves us hollow and empty. But in a committed marriage relationship it is wonderful and fulfilling to have our spouse make an effort to woo us and pursue and entice us proving that we are desired.
The Song of Solomon is an amazing account of what a healthy, Godly, Biblical marriage relationship is like. It is beautiful, and passionate, and intimate and full of expressions of desire for each other. Throughout both husband and wife try to allure and entice the other but also take pleasure in being pursued and persuaded to love.
For centuries it has been understood that the Song of Solomon is also a picture of God’s relationship with his people. Paul makes a similar connection in Ephesians speaking of Jesus as the groom and we as his bride. What I think we easily miss is that as much we value and are pleased that Jesus has pursued and wooed us he too derives pleasure from us reciprocating much as husband is pleased by the affections of his wife.
Many of us are uncomfortable thinking of, let alone speaking of Holy God in this way but that’s because we don’t fully grasp the profound nature of the relationship God literally desires with us. It is an awe inspiring thing to realize that I can bring pleasure to God; that God, though undeniably self-sufficient, desires to be desired. Let me suggest that during these next few days when there are so many reminders of “love” around that you allow those to direct your thoughts and desires to the one who is Love.


River Fishing and True Success

What does it mean to successful in God’s eyes? Is there any difference between that and what our culture understands as success? Not just in terms of money and stuff, but in everyday life?  How do you define success and does it match God’s definition? Let me illustrate God’s definition and see how it lines up with yours.

My whole family went on a horse packing trip up the Ram River for my parent’s 25th anniversary. After getting back to base camp one afternoon I decided to do some fishing. I grabbed my rod, headed down to the river and began working my way up stream.

If you’ve never river fished before, it’s different from lake fishing where you may sit in one spot for hours. On the river you’re constantly on the move looking for little eddies, and sheltered spots along the banks where the current gently swirls upstream. Once you’ve tried a number of casts into one hole and not had any response, there’s usually no point staying so you move to the next hole.

When I’m fishing like this time doesn’t mean much and ‘till I decide I’m done I’ve usually got a long walk back. Wendy didn’t realize this process and began to get concerned after I had been gone for a couple of hours. But Dad assured her everything was fine, having done the exact thing many times himself.

Meanwhile I had found a perfect hole, but I wasn’t going to be easy. There was a lot of overhanging willows and it was a challenge to get an angle that I could cast my lure where I wanted without getting hung up in the bushes or getting myself wet. But it was worth it. On just the second cast I got a big hit on my line and I landed a beautiful rainbow trout.

When I got back to camp the pride in my dad’s eyes as I describe my adventure is something I’ll treasure my whole life. But it really had nothing to do me catching a big fish. I could have fallen in the river and come back with a broken rod and seen the same pride. The pride was in seeing his nature and character and values reflected in his son.

That’s the success that God values; when he sees himself expressed through his children. Galatians 5 calls it the fruit of the spirit. The characteristics that are expressed consistently through a person’s life that spring from the very nature of God himself.


A Doughnut That Lasted 47 Years

I know about a doughnut that was eaten 47 years ago that still affects the person who ate it.

Neal, a man in his upper sixties, was visiting with a fellow who’s about five years his junior. The younger man has not had an easy path in life. Neal, a committed Jesus Follower, had met with this man on a couple of occasions. This man, I’m not sure of his name but for now I’ll call him John, was sharing with Neal what was for him a significant incident in from early in life that still affected him all these years later.

John was born into a very poor family that lived on the edge of a small village in Sothern Manitoba. He did not do well in school; with a grin he told Neal that he was the only student in the fourth grade with a driver’s licence. Having come from a very rough home John was a consistent disruption in the class and was constantly getting into mischief. He was certainly no stranger to the principal’s office or to the strap, but the discipline didn’t change his behavior.

The teacher for the grade four to eight class was a young man just out of university. He was only about five years older than John. This particular occasion, rather than send John to the principal’s office for the routine strapping, the young teacher instead told John to meet him at his car after school.

Not sure of what to expect, John arrived at the car and was invited to get in. They travelled to the next town, which was a little bigger, and stopped at the coffee shop. The teacher took John inside and bought him a coffee and a doughnut. John told Neal that it was the first doughnut he’d ever had. He couldn’t remember what they talked about, but the simple, caring act of buying a doughnut for a troubled kid had an impact that affected him to this day.

When Neal found out that the teacher’s name was Henry Banman, he began to grin. You see, Neal and Henry have been lifelong friends. As it turns out Henry, who now lives in Alberta, was going to be visiting soon, and Neal immediately began to plan a surprise blessing for his old friend.

When I heard that story I immediately recalled Jesus’ words in Matt 25:40. “Whatever you did for someone overlooked or ignored, you did to me.” What will you do this week that will resonate not just in this lifetime, but for eternity?

By the way, I heard this story from my Father-in-law, Henry Banman. He still buys people doughnuts, and meals, and occasionally even a vehicle.


Life Would Be Great If Only…

What would it take to make your life work? I mean what would have to change so that your life would be satisfying and fulfilling; so that you could be content? I’m not even talking about pie in the sky type of stuff like winning the lottery or something outrageous like that. Maybe it’s something simple like for your kids to start getting along, or even nobler, if they would begin to follow Jesus. Maybe it’s your own walk with God; if you could just stop sinning. Maybe it’s a career goal or a new career altogether. It could even be your health or if you could just lose those pounds and get rid of that gut then . . .

These things are what the Bible calls idolatry. Not in and of themselves, but when we depend on them or the acquiring of them for our satisfaction in life they become to us idols. Every one of us struggles with idolatry. Let me give you a personal example.

A while ago I was working on a course in counseling, not the psychoanalytical sort of counseling, but counseling that is based on relationship. I’m really sold on this approach and my goal has been to become certified to teach it.

Then I heard about a new ministry that aims to equip young men and women to be spiritual leaders. I was very impressed with what they wanted to do but here’s the really cool part: the training center is in Mexico on the Gulf coast! I began thinking how this counselling training would fit very well with what they are doing. Now to clear, this was nothing but a dream and even at that some years down the road, but you never know.

Sounds pretty good right? Nothing idolatrous about that. But I was sharing this idea with someone and he made the suggestion that maybe we should begin a training center like that up here in cold Alberta. (Ok, he didn’t say cold but that’s what jumped into my mind.) Immediately my stomach dropped and my heart said “Noooo! It has to be Mexico!”

In that moment I knew that I had allowed that dream to begin to become an idol.

So how do you not let good things become idols? The first step is to identify your idols and admit they are there. If you are a Jesus Follower your deepest desire is to find your ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. It’s there because he put it there. Confess your idolatry and he will help you restore your desires to their rightful priority.