Don’t Fight the Wilderness Romans 12:1-8 October 27, 2019 What is the nicest compliment you have ever received? Was it…
nice apartment or nice house.
nice haircut or nice outfit.
that was a great meal that you made for us, thank you very much!
your children look just like you.
you are such a good worker.
you have a heart of gold…
For me, the nicest compliment I have ever received was when someone at church said, “You have changed so much since you started here! What a difference!”
For some of us, change, or the thought of change is a very scary thing. But if we stop to think about it, we all are constantly changing, or at least, adapting to change. For instance, when a teenager moves out – away to college or university – the teenager is often changed by the experience of being out in the real world on their own, sometimes for the first time ever. By having to cook, clean, do their own laundry, and get themselves to and from class on their own, they may often start to appreciate how “good” they had it at home.
And as for the parents of that teenager now looking at their empty nest – the parents might be thinking “Hmm. Maybe change isn’t such a bad thing after all…!”
For me, one of the most transformational experiences of my life was when I was a teenager – the summer I was 17 years old. It was an 8 week program that turned out to be the best job and the worst job I ever had. It took place in a remote area of north-western Ontario, and it was the Junior Ranger program that was operated by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The Junior Ranger program hired 17 year old students to do manual labour jobs in Provincial parks all across Ontario. The Junior Ranger camp that I was assigned to was at Pakwash Lake Provincial Park, about 500 km northwest of Thunder Bay, near a little village called Ear Falls. The entire region consisted of dense evergreen forests, cool freshwater lakes and rugged Canadian Shield rock. And the northern lights were spectacular there! It took me 2 full days to get there from Stratford on the Ontario Northland train.
Our Junior Ranger camp was a clearing in the bush that housed thirty six 17 year old girls. Can you imagine – thirty six 17 year old girls? In some ways I guess you could say it was kind of like a young UCW group! We lived in old construction trailers that had been converted into primitive bedrooms. In the yard, there was a double-wide construction trailer dining hall, another construction trailer that served as a recreation hall and an old wooden shack that was used as a bathroom & wash house, as well.
Looking back on this experience, I wonder why each of us decided to apply for this summer job. We were all from villages, towns and cities that were scattered across Southern Ontario. None of us had any experience living or working in the wilderness. What were we thinking? Were we crazy? Were we looking for adventure? A new challenge? What kind of work would we be required to do? We were all completely out of our comfort zones. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever signed up for something and then thought, “What the heck am I doing here???”
We had no idea what the next 8 weeks would have in store for us. But one thing was for sure, we certainly were not there because of the money. The pay was a whopping $10/day plus free room and board. Maybe we had all made a huge mistake coming up here. Only time would tell.
For orientation the first day, one of the local residents – a nearby neighbour – gave us some puzzling advice, which was – “don’t fight the wilderness”. What did that mean… “don’t fight the wilderness”? Well, I think what he meant was, if we were going to survive the summer, we would have to adapt TO the wilderness, and all that it was. We would not be able to CHANGE the wilderness. We could only let the wilderness transform us by changing the way we thought about it…. We wondered what he meant by that….
So, what kind of work did we end up doing? We were assigned different tasks each week. For instance, for the first week, my crew of 6 girls spent all day, every day, planting 1 foot tall tree seedlings in forest fire burnt-out areas. Now I know that doesn’t sound too bad, but it actually was really miserable work. We were out in the middle of nowhere; the ground that we had to plant in was extremely rocky, rough, and scattered with burnt tree trunks; the sun beat down on us all day long; we were completely drenched with sweat, the salt stung our eyes; and the black flies and mosquitoes were ruthless, continuously biting us even after heavy applications of insect repellent. I can remember rubbing the back of my neck and then seeing my fingers covered in blood from the black fly bites. Our backs ached, our legs ached. We were completely exhausted by the end of the day. “Are we having fun yet??” I’m so glad we only had to do that job for a week!
“Don’t fight the wilderness!” that local fellow had told us. “Let the wilderness transform us into new people by changing the way we think about it.” We still wondered what he meant by that….
For the second week, we were each given rubber gloves, wire brushes and jugs of bleach. What’s that for? Well, we were told to go to certain rock outcrops and use the wire brushes an bleach to scrub the moss and lichen off the rock outcrops. What? Why would we have to do that? Well, we were told that the geologists wanted us to do this so they could come and take photos of the rock outcrops…. Seriously? Yes. So, we scrubbed all day, every day for an entire week. We definitely earned our ten bucks a day doing that!
“Don’t fight the wilderness!” that local fellow had told us. “Let the wilderness transform us into new people by changing the way we think about it.” Hmm.
The third week we were assigned to kitchen duty. Kitchen duty! Thank God! No more black fly bites!! I was never so glad to be assigned to kitchen duty in all my life! And so the summer continued on …
In spite of, or maybe because of the gruelling and tedious work in less than ideal conditions – over time, we Junior Rangers began to realize that we were, in fact, changing in many ways.
We were changing physically: we were getting stronger muscles, we were getting more endurance and we were getting great t-shirt tans & lots of freckles. We were becoming extremely comfortable wearing our hard hats, work gloves and steel toed work boots week after week. And we were becoming more skilled at using our tools and equipment.
We were changing mentally, as well. Despite some personality conflicts within our crew, we developed trust and respect for each other. We were becoming more at ease with the wilderness and with all of the discomforts it presented. As we worked, we grumbled and complained less and less. We started to sing songs, tell stories and crack bad jokes with each other more and more. We discussed plans for our futures after high school to distract ourselves from the gruelling, tedious, and exhausting work and to help make the time go by more quickly.
“Don’t fight the wilderness!” that local fellow had told us. “Let the wilderness transform us into new people by changing the way we think about it.” We were starting to understand what he meant by that….
We weren’t just individuals anymore, we were becoming a family, a community. We were all changing and working together for the benefit of our entire crew… for the benefit of the work we had to do.
We weren’t fighting the wilderness anymore. We were grateful for it. We were grateful to be there… We were grateful to have this once in a lifetime experience in this remote, rugged and beautiful land. The wilderness that we were experiencing was the land of God’s creation. The land of dense evergreen forests, cool freshwater lakes, rugged Canadian Shield rock and the spectacular northern lights.
We had left behind the behaviours and customs of our Southern Ontario world and we were transforming into new people by changing our thoughts and adapting to our wild and wondrous surroundings.
Being aware of our surroundings and letting God transform us into new people is what apostle Paul was talking about, as well. He gives us advice on how to live together as a Christian community in a world that tries to lead us all astray.
Apostle Paul warns us, “2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
I wonder what apostle Paul means when he says, “2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world.” Perhaps he was referring to the common tendency in our culture to constantly compare ourselves to others, to judge and criticize others, and to strive to keep up with the Jones’. Sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it.
But Paul cautions us to be careful, and be aware – and question our culture and the ways of our world. What do we see around us? Do we live in a world of justice and kindness? Are people treated with dignity and respect? Are their needs being met? Do we have genuine care and concern for each other or are we keeping score?
And it’s interesting that apostle Paul says “let GOD transform us…” instead of “let US transform ourselves…”
As much as we might like to, we CANNOT transform ourselves… only God can transform us. The song we sang earlier today said the same thing, “[God] makes all things beautiful in [God’s] time.”
And churches, by their very nature, are places of transformation. The songs, prayers, and Bible stories are all intended for us to think long and hard about what our culture says, and what God says … and for us to consider if there is a disconnect or not.
In many cases, we, as people of a community of faith, ARE called to be counter-cultural… we are called to act AGAINST the current culture.
When the culture says hoard money, our faith says be generous and give your money away. When our culture says be self-centred and only look out for yourself, our faith says help others, help those in need. When our culture says you are alone, be very afraid, our faith says do not be afraid, for God is with us. We are never alone.
When we see the people around us changing and growing and improving their lives, it inspires US to change and grow, as well. It inspires us to take risks; it inspires us to try something new! A ripple effect happens. And we can trust God to be with us all the way.
There is a saying that goes, “Maybe we are not where we need to be yet, but thank God we’re not where we used to be.” Thank God we are growing and changing. Thank God it is possible to grow and change. Thank God we are on our way.
For me, the nicest compliment I have ever received was when someone here at church once said, “You have changed so much since you started here! What a difference!”
What is the nicest compliment you have ever received…?