A Memorable Camping Experience
Plop! Plop! Plop! There was an intruder in my tent. I had forgotten to zip up the tent door, and we had left a bag of mixed nuts in the tent. It was now pitch dark and I did not have my torchlight with me. I waited.… Plop! Plop! Then curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see who or what was the visitor. Gingerly, I crawled into my tent to retrieve my torch light, expecting any moment to have a furry animal pounce on my face. But alas! Or should I say, ‘thankfully,’ it scurried away between my legs without so much as a thank you for the nuts which two pastors had taken time to mix.
That was the first night of a rather memorable camping experience.
It was the bi-ennial EPC youth camp. There were about 60 campers. But this was the first time it was organized as tenting camp. The venue was Maria Island (pronounced Moriah), off Tasmania. The theme was "Renewed Minds, Transformed Lives" based on Romans 12:1-2. I am thankful that the 5 addresses were very well-received, judging at least from the very kind words of gratitude that the campers wrote in a scrap book that they gave me.
It is my prayer that the Word sowed will bear fruits in the weeks, months and years ahead. It is my prayer that at least some of the young people (i.e. from age 13 to 30) would have their eyes opened to resist the chocolate molding machine that the world is. It is my prayer that they would be content and happy to dwell within the fish tank of the Word of God, rather than flopping around on the table of the world to experience the ‘freedom’ of the fish out of water.
But for me, the camp was not only a time of rest and reflection. It was a time of rich learning and reminders too. Let me share 7 things that struck me.
First, I was reminded of God’s covenant faithfulness as I beheld the young people. Many a Reformed or conservative church in the United States, in United Kingdom and in Australia are not only dwindling in membership, but losing their children to the world and to worldly churches. The EPC,—I believe on account of the strong emphasis on the doctrine of the covenant,—have been able to retain most of the children. It is true that many of them have not made profession of faith; but it is also true that there is a hunger or at least a willingness to learn. They played hard. They are quite uninhibited in laughter and play; but they knew when to be serious and to attend to the Word. Will PCC have faithful and dedicated youths in 7 or 10 years as our flock of little lambs mature? Let us pray on the basis of God’s covenant mercies and let us continue to tend to the flock as belonging to the Lord, calling upon the little ones to live as they should, as lambs not as kids.
Secondly, I was humbled by the hospitality and love that was shown me, especially by Ps Connors. He was still recovering from his spinal operation. He really should not be at the camp. But he went partly out of love for the youths, and partly to ensure that I was well taken care of. I write this not to flatter. Ps Connors will be embarrassed if he reads what I am writing, but I feel we must learn from his example as he must have learned from the example of our Lord (cf. 1 Cor 11:1). This was clear once we reached the campsite; for I got to use a tent which allowed me to stand within, whereas Ps Connors used a tent that required him to crawl in. I was humbled. He is more senior and much taller than I am, and he has a problem with his back; but he would not give in to my suggestion that we swap tents. And not only so, but he insisted on doing all the cooking and washing, and he would have done so, had I not put my foot down! Oh may the Lord grant us that we may learn likewise to lay down our lives one for another daily that we may all experience as I did for those few days, the blessings painted in Psalm 133.
Thirdly, the clear night sky which we could enjoy once again reminded me of God’s promises to Abraham: "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them:… So shall thy seed be" (Gen 15:5). It can be quite discouraging when we look at the church today with its dwindling numbers. But do we forget that God has elected a great number of the "children of promise" (Gal 4:28; Rom 9:8)? Will these not be found in our families if we serve the Lord faithfully? Will these not be found amongst those whom we are enabled by God’s providence to invite to seek the Lord with us: "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39)?
Fourthly, I am reminded in a rather unique way of how the cares of the world often rob us of rest in the Lord. For, there were a few nights when the wind was blowing so strongly the tents appeared almost ready to fly away. In those nights, it was almost impossible to sleep due to the noise of the tent walls flapping in the gale. The only way I could sleep was to use the earplugs (which Ps Connors had thoughtfully provided). There are no spiritual earplugs. We are not called to shut ourselves out of the world. But are we not taught to look to Christ rather than to the wind and the waves? And are we not taught to come apart and to rest in prayer in the Lord? Unless we take deliberate steps to ensure we rest in the Lord, our souls will have no rest. Unless we set apart a time to seek the Lord each day we shall find little rest in this busy world. This daily appointment, however, must be so arranged that we have, – for the short duration at least, – little reasons to be distracted by the cares of the world
Fifthly, I was reminded of what a great privilege we have as New Covenant saints compared to the Old Covenant saints. For Maria had a few beautiful mountains, and the organisers of the camp had planned some hikes for the campers to climb the mountains. For prudential reasons, I decided not to go for the hikes. But those who did go described the view and experience as fantastic. What I saw from a distance and was awed by was just two-dimensional compared to the three-dimensional experience the climbers had. They saw that the mountains were not as it appeared from the campsite. In order to climb up to the peak, they had to go up and down several other peaks, and walk through valleys and ravines; and only finally get to the top of the mountain at the end of the track. I did feel a tinge of regret that I did not go for the hikes. But as I studied Zechariah 14 to preach for the following Lord’s Day, it suddenly occurred to me that my experience of enjoying the mountains from a distance was the experience that Zechariah had as he beheld in a vision the things that would happen in New Covenant days. Zechariah saw the mountain ranges of the New Covenant from a distant. He speaks of the peaks that he could see. He gives a beautiful description, but he did not have the opportunity to walk up to the mountain peaks. We, who live in New Testament days, on the other hand have the tremendous privilege of being on the hike. We can see now the details of some of the things that Zechariah describes, and we can see more clearly the final mountain peak that we are headed for. What a privilege!
Sixthly, I was reminded of God’s sovereignty in our lives and that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9). For on the scheduled last day of the camp, we were prevented from going home because a gale started blowing overnight. We had all taken down our tents and our belongings were carted to the jetty. But the wind was so strong the jetty was almost overwhelmed by the waves! There was no way the ferry could have docked. We could not get back as planned! "We would be delayed one day," said the boat operator. "Prepare for two days" warned the rangers. Thank God all the campers took it cheerfully. There was not so much as a murmur or complaint. But I was somewhat caught off guard, for the day before, expecting to be back in Launceston, the next day, I had called my wife to chat with what remaining battery power I had on my mobile phone. Had I put to practice what I knew and reminded myself that I would only be home the next day,—"if the Lord wills," I would have reserved some battery power at least to send a message to my wife! Thank God that Ps Connors was better prepared than I was.
Finally, the episode with the wallaby or possum (I do not know), taught me the importance of making sure I do not invite unwanted guests into my heart. I am not of course, talking about wild animals, or even about persons. I am talking about sin and worldliness. I must take heed that I do not entertain seeds of worldliness in my heart, for that will surely attract the world to forage in my heart. If I entertain covetousness in my heart, I will be cultivating a love for the world. May the Lord grant me help to fill my heart with that which repels rather than attracts sin! "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Ps 119:11). But I must not stop at filling my heart with the Word. I must obey the Word cheerfully. So I must ask the Lord to change me by His Spirit, for the apostle Paul does not say: "Be ye not conformed to this world, but be yet conformed to the Word." Had he said so, he would be advocating formalistic legalism. No, no; he says, "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:1-2). A transformation from within is needed if I am to resist the pressure of the world to conform unto it. So I must pray that the Spirit of Christ will ever fill me and change me so that more and more I will be ready for the day when I will strike tent to return to the mansions of my heavenly Father which Christ my Lord has prepared for me. W
"Let us not foolishly imagine that our minds can be satisfied and filled with worldly vanities, nor greedily effect and seek after a greater measure, when we are not satisfied with a less, supposing that the access of quantity may bring contentment; seeing the hunger which we feel in our hearts proceeds not from want of earthly abundance, but because it is unnatural nourishment for the mind of man, so that it can no more satisfy our souls’ hunger, than it can satisfy our bodies to feed upon the wind" (George Downame).