Cabin 17: Row, Row Your Boat

fish

I just updated this chapter, greatly expanding it. Enjoy!

By the time the morning clouds were burned away by the midday sun, I was good and hungry for lunch. Jesus suggested we head to the lake to catch our meal.

“Jesus, I’m no fisherman, but my brother is a pro and he’s told me the fish bite best in the morning and evening, but high noon isn’t the time for fishing.”

“Well, can your brother walk on water and raise the dead?” Jesus replied with a wink. “With God anything is possible (Matt. 19:26). How about you do your job, and I’ll do mine?”

Jesus handed me an oar and we sat down in a little row boat and pushed off from shore. The calm waters sparkled as the sun reflected off the surface. An eagle flew overhead, dragon flies hovered over some cattails, while ducks chased after their lunch in the lily pads near the shore.

“Jeremy, there’s a thousand Kingdom lessons to be learned in a 12 foot row boat. But you need to leave your limited earth-bound mindset behind if you are to understand and embrace the exciting, surprising nature of life in the Kingdom of God.” Continue reading Cabin 17: Row, Row Your Boat

ESSAY: A Theology of Suffering (2001)

This essay was my first attempt in college at grappling with the issues related to Theodicy, that is, the problem of reconciling the existence of an all-powerful, all-good God with the presence of evil and suffering in the world.  Like many, my first exposure to this issue led me to the more traditional view influenced by St. Augustine.  

I have since altered my views a bit — influenced by such writers as Gregory Boyd and Roger Olson. But there’s still much of value in this old essay, notably many great quotes from the likes of C. S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Philip Yancey, Billy Graham, Peter Kreeft and more.

I. UNDERSTANDING SUFFERING

Defining Suffering

Suffering—a basic human experience transcending race, age, gender, class, and religion—has been defined and understood by poets, musicians, theologians, mothers, and fathers alike.  No attempt fails to accurately express its essence, and yet no single attempt can be said to have exhaustively described the universal horrors of suffering.  Suffering takes a new shape and form with each new person and circumstance in which it shows its ugly head.

Thus, defining suffering is no easy task and necessitates a highly arbitrary process.  Putting suffering in a biblical context, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines it as “agony, affliction, or distress; intense pain or sorrow” and divides suffering into two types:

1) suffering that is “a result of evil actions and sin in the world as a consequence of the past fall in the Garden of Eden”, and

2) “suffering that is not related to past, but is forward-looking in that it serves to shape and refine God’s people” (Youngblood, 1995, p. 1207).

In other words, certainly much of the suffering in the world is perpetrated by humans themselves.  C.S. Lewis makes this clear in The Problem of Pain:

When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men.  It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork (Lewis, 1996, p. 79).

This essay is concerned with the second type listed above and attempts to understand the suffering of the innocent.  However, the first type will be inevitably dealt with shortly when discussing the origins of suffering.

Peter Kreeft in Making Sense Out of Suffering, defines suffering as Christ’s invitation to us to follow him to the cross and share his cross.  “Christ goes to the cross, and we are invited to follow to the same cross.  Not because it is the cross, but because it is his” (Kreeft, 1986, p. 137).

Mother Teresa also sees at the core of suffering an opportunity to share in Christ’s work.  When asked how a merciful God can allow the suffering of the innocent, Mother Teresa responded:

All that suffering—where would the world be without it?  Innocent suffering is the same as the suffering of Jesus.  He suffered for us, and all the innocent suffering is joined to his in the redemption.  It is co-redemption.  That is helping to save the world from worse things (Egan, 1994, p. 56). Continue reading ESSAY: A Theology of Suffering (2001)

Hope for Moody Pastors (Mark 3:3-6)

One reason I resisted being a “pastor” for so long was all the stereotypes I had in my head for what pastors are supposed to be like. My image always looked something like Mr. Rogers in a sweater and khakis. Warm, personable, emotionally steady, gentle and never, EVER moody.

I don’t know where I picked up that image of the pastor, but it certainly wasn’t in the Bible where God’s leaders are all over the map with their varying personalities and wild mood swings.

Moses’ temper tantrum (striking the rock) cost him the Promised Land. Jeremiah was depressed. Elijah withdrew and almost quit ministry. Peter was impulsive and often put his foot in his mouth. James and John had a violent streak earning them the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” John the Baptist was loud and abrasive, maybe wore a camel hair sweater but definitely not Mr. Rogers’ khakis. Paul was prickly and at times butted heads with others.

Ok, even admitting this diversity of characters, I at least thought I could count on Jesus to be the perfect picture of the unflappable, zen-like pastor who was always calm and collected. Or, could I?

Today I noticed and appreciated the little episode in Mark 3:3-6 where Jesus going about his ministry….and we see him breaking my Mr. Rogers-like pastoral mold. For fellow church leaders, its refreshing to see that even Jesus faced some very irritating ministry moments and difficult people. (I have a perfect church, but I’ve heard other pastors have difficult people.)

Let’s take a quick look and I’ll offer some off-the-cuff leadership insights at first glance. Continue reading Hope for Moody Pastors (Mark 3:3-6)

Cabin 20: Ice Fishing

Then immediately behind me I heard the creaking hinges of a door swinging open, and turning around I saw Jesus standing in the doorway of a little wooden ice fishing shack.

“Are you up for some more fishing?” he asked.

As I walked over toward the shack I noticed I was still dressed in sopping wet shorts and t-shirt. The angel song had raised the temperature, and a seasoned Minnesotan could tolerate shorts at 50 degrees — unless they’re wet.

“Come inside, and stand by the fire and dry out your clothes,” Jesus urged.

Over the door was a plaque with the verse:

MY SOUL LONGS FOR YOU. DEEP FROM WITHIN ME MY SPIRIT REACHES OUT TO YOU.

ISAIAH 26:8

I stepped into the ice house and just like the Father’s cabin, the inside was larger than the outside. The ordinary 6×8 ice house from the outside became a full service arctic spa on the inside with hallways and multiple doors.

I was immediately struck by the mouth-watering aroma of pan fish on a griddle. Jesus was preparing the lunch we had caught, or rather received, just before the winter storm interrupted our pleasant boat ride.

After a most satisfying meal, Jesus brought me down a hallway into a large “fishing room” where I saw probably dozens of holes drilled in the ice, and a someone seated on a bucket by each hole with a fishing line dangling in the water.

“Should we see what’s biting?” Jesus asked, again with a wink.

“Remember, Jeremy, what the ice and water represent. We are not fishing for walleyes or sunnies today. We’re here to see the kinds of things your soul yearns for, the things your heart chases after like hungry fish chasing a minnow.

Gulp. I had never felt this exposed before, as I looked at a room full of God’s servants all peering down into my soul through holes in the ice like eyes through a magnifying glass.

Continue reading Cabin 20: Ice Fishing

Cabin 19: Footprints in the Snow

The wind was steady and the snow was blinding. I could barely see my own outstretched hand as I shuffled through the deepening snow. My bare legs were now numb from the cold as I plowed through drifts nearly up to my waist.

Jesus’ footprints were barely visible and disappearing quickly. I had to keep moving. I found myself running, stumbling, falling, getting back up — again and again.

My numb shins began to burn and itch from the prolonged exposure. My eye lids were nearly frozen shut. I had to keep peeling off the frosted flakes in order to keep my eyes on the trail Jesus was blazing.

Worse than the cold wind and blinding snow, was the deafening silence I was experiencing. Snow has an insulating effect, a way of dampening the sounds of around you, until all you can hear is your own breathing and your own thoughts.

And the last thing I wanted in the world right now was to be left alone with my own thoughts.

“Jesus!?” I had been yelling out continuously, but I hadn’t heard his voice for probably 30 minutes — which felt more like 30 hours.

In the ripe silence my thoughts grew louder. Have you ever listened closely enough to your thoughts to discern they often take on different tones? At one moment they had the voice of a scared child crying out for help:

Where is he leading me? How much further? I’m cold. I want to go home. Please slow down, Jesus. I can’t keep up.

The next moment my thoughts had the sneering tone of the Accuser:

This is all your fault! You brought this upon yourself! You should just lay down, close your eyes and fall asleep into peaceful oblivion. 

Then the voice of truth again:

No, follow Jesus’ footprints! That’s all I need to do. He will guide me through this.

But the snow only increased and the tracks were beginning to disappear. A huge blast of wind came suddenly, and I found myself stumbling forward, face first into a drift. In the few seconds it took to gather myself, I had somehow lost my sense of direction. Which way was I heading? My cold, numb muscles struggled to pull me to my feet.

When I finally stood up and looked around, the footprints had completely vanished.

Continue reading Cabin 19: Footprints in the Snow

Cabin 18: Frozen Waters

A couple summers ago, I wrote about an imaginative trip to The Father’s Cabin to spend the weekend with Jesus. I wrote out of desperation, from a spiritually dry place, in hopes that the creative writing process would force me into a real conversation with Jesus. It worked!  My soul was nourished as I spent time chatting with Jesus, riding shotgun in his car, walking with him in the woods, fishing with him in a boat, planting with him in his garden, dancing with him in the rain, and imagining the kind of room he goes to prepare for me out of love. 

And then I stopped writing. The end of summer came, and as I launched into the fall of ministry, I left the story hanging with Jesus and I sitting peacefully in a rowboat on calm waters. Its been 2 or 3 years now, and its time to continue the story.  However, unlike last time, this time I am writing in the middle of a cold Minnesota winter, and that will shape the scenery and experiences of this second part of my adventure at The Father’s Cabin. I invite you to come along and join me!

Jeremy Berg, Midwinter 2017

(For the record, the popular novel The Shack never even crossed my mind while I was writing. Any similarities are completely unintended. My experiences and conversations with Jesus have originated from within my own imagination shaped by the Scriptures.)

Read Part One (first 17 chapters) in PDF form HERE

Read them all in blog post form HERE.

18

Frozen Waters

So, there I sat in a boat with my Lord, bobbing gently up and down on the calm waters of the ocean blue lake. The warmth of the midday sun on my neck, the fluttering of butterflies overhead, the sounds of June bugs all around. For a moment all was right in the world. Complete shalom.

Suddenly, without warning, a gust of frigid arctic air blew from the north, stirring up the calm waters into an angry tempest. The blue sky was replaced by a dark, ominous gray. The pleasant sounds of summer were replace by the angry howl of a whirlwind.

In an instant, like a great magician waving his wand, an arctic blast and blowing snow transformed the summer lake setting into a frozen, desolate winter wasteland. Green trees were now covered with frosty white snow. The blue sky was now a dull gray. The blue water was now a snow covered glacier. It felt like I was inside a snow globe that had just been violently shook.

Still sitting in the boat, now frozen solid into the lake, I turned to Jesus for some explanation and reassurance.

But he was gone.

Continue reading Cabin 18: Frozen Waters

Nic @ Night 6: A Summary

Reposted from 2012.

We have spent only a few weeks in our sermon series on Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. We could spend months exploring all of the rich treasures and profound theological realities found therein. But we must move on . . . move out onto the open road with Jesus in John 4 as we learn how to make and become disciples of the Kingdom!

In summary, here are some of the main points we have explored in this series (with verses in parentheses):

1. Like Nicodemus, we all must come and have our own personal encounter with Jesus (2).

2. Like Nicodemus, one can recognize Jesus as a great teacher come from God and still not be born again (2).

3. Like Nicodemus, one can be a religious leader and Bible expert and still not know Christ (1).

4. Some of us come to church/Jesus for the “big show,” wanting to be entertained (2).

5. Some of us are ashamed to go public with our faith, and so we come at night in secret (2).

6. Some of us are so desperate that we’d seek Jesus out at any hour — even late at night (2).

7. Jesus will receive us even when we come to him in “spiritual darkness” with doubts, confusion, prejudice, and blind spots (7,10,12).

8. Religion is often the greatest barrier preventing us from embracing Jesus (1). We must “beware of the yeast of the scribes and Pharisees.”

9. Jesus replaced/fulfilled religion with himself. Jesus is the new way to connect with God (e.g., new temple, incarnate Word).

10. Sin has placed a veil of darkness over everyone’s eyes that only God can remove (3). Continue reading Nic @ Night 6: A Summary

Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Reposted from 2012.

I brought in the car for a $25 oil change this week, and came home with a laundry list of significant repairs estimating over $3,550. The car has 200,000 miles on it — so we knew this day was coming. Nicodemus probably came to Jesus hoping for a simple religious tune-up — a new teaching to consider or an old teaching with a new spin. Like me at the car shop, Nicodemus found out he had a bigger problem to address.

Recently I had a serious steering alignment problem. My alignment was so bad that if I let my hand off the wheel for a split second my car would veer sharply to the right into the ditch. Instead of getting it fixed, I decided to just fight it for months by gripping the wheel tighter. Eventually my wrists began to ache from holding the steering wheel straight.

The Bible describes a world completely out of alignment with God’s will and purposes. Human sin and rebellion have jerked everything out of whack. If we simply leave things, people, nature, government, etc. to do what comes naturally, we’re all veering into ditches, colliding head on and driving off cliffs.

Religion steps in at this point and provides some guard rails to help keep us on the road and out of the ditch. God gave us his Law to show us the righteous path, the holy road, that if followed will keep us from self-desctructive twists and turns, reckless off-roading adventures.  But unlike my car’s steering, the misalignment of the human will caused by sin has no quick and easy fix. Continue reading Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life .

%d bloggers like this: