From the Intern’s Desk: The Runaway Camper and the God who Chased him.

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“I promise you… I’m not going with you!” These words echoed through my mind as I stood beside my cabin. It was my first full summer counseling at a camp, and my first real day of being full-time staff. This small junior camper looked me dead in the eyes and defiantly promised me that he was not going anywhere. He had already run away a couple times today, and we had not even had dinner. I angrily stood there starving, sweating buckets, and anxiously awaiting this child to come to dinner.

“You cannot make me go!” He shouted! I stared at him feeling puzzled. “Why would you not want to eat dinner,” I asked. He would give me no answer. It soon became clear that, while I had no idea what I had done, this small junior camper refused to trust me. He once again stated, “I will not go with you.” I kneeled beside this small boy (a task that was easier said than done), looked him dead in the eyes and said, “whether you think you will or not… you will come with me.” I will never forget the smug look he gave me as he plopped down on a rock. I felt a cold chilling sensation as I realized, that while he would eventually come with me, we may be here all night. This seemed just fine with him.

I struggled counseling this child throughout the week. His refusal to submit to my leadership, and to trust my guidance left me infuriated. I spent much of my devotional time questioning God. I had ran out of answers for this problem. I knew he would run away again, and I knew I had to go find him. I could not give up on him, even though everything within me is screaming, “Let him go!” We were destined to play this sick game all week. Dozens of questions surfaced to the top of my mind, “Am I a bad counselor? Why does this kid not like me? Does God even care? If God sovereign, then why do I feel out of control? If God is wise, then why has he not shown me a way to deal with this. If God is loving, then why is this happening?”

I continued my dreadful first week. Around the middle of the week, I was finally able to relax during my counselor break. I was reading my bible, which did not seem to be helping. I finally broke down and prayed, “Lord why would you let this happen. I have done nothing, but try to serve you. You have put this impossible child in my care.” I can remember sitting there, internally criticizing this small child, and mentally doubting God. I then immediately stopped, and I realized the unfortunate truth. I was not trusting God.

At Prairie Flower Baptist Church, we recently finished a sermon series called, “We Trust”. I find that I often tremendously benefit from the personal study of God’s Word for a sermon. There is so much more that you understand, when you have carefully studied a text, for the purpose of presenting it to others. When I think about my experience at camp, I  am quick to realize that I did not practically believe three important truths about God.

  1. God is Sovereign.
  • This attribute of God is almost overstated in conversation, but is drastically understated in application. We will shout God’s sovereignty from the roof tops to defend a theological position, but we often fail to trust it in the depths of our lives. No matter your stance on theology, you cannot miss the fact that God is sovereign over His creation.
  • His response to Job is priceless in Job 38. Job has been tested beyond imagination, through the loss of his health, his wealth, and his family. Job questions God throughout most of the book. God responds to Job by returning the favor. He asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God is basically saying, “Start questioning me, when you have created anything.” God reminds Job that He made everything, and He is therefore sovereign over everything. The rest of the book of Job is God reminding Job of the simple fact that God is sovereign, and Job is not.
  • When facing this runaway camper, I eventually had to admit that this had all worked according to God’s perfect plan. If I truly believe God is all-sovereign, then I have to believe He is sovereign over the frequent disappearances of this troubled junior camper. The reality of God’s sovereignty, however, still left me questioning Him. The difficulty in trusting God’s sovereignty is not found in His ability to be sovereign, but it is found in the actions of His sovereignty. God can have control over everything, but if we do not believe Him to be wise, then we should tremble at His sovereignty.

2. God is Wise

  • My trust in God’s sovereignty would not have any basis unless He was infinitely wise. Jerry Bridges describes God’s sovereignty as, “Good judgement or the ability to develop the best course of action, or the best response to a given situation.” This was my given topic to preach at PFBC. God’s wisdom is what directs His sovereignty. Not only does God have control over all, but the choices He makes with that control are always the best.
  • When studying God’s wisdom, I was reminded of Mordecai in Esther. Haman wickedly plots against the Jews. In fact, he hangs gallows that were meant for Mordecai. Mordecai had every human right to question God’s wisdom, because he could literally see the instrument of his own death. Haman failed to realize that God is infinitely wise. The Lord intervenes, using a Jewish girl named Esther, and the result leaves Haman hanging on his mortal enemy’s gallows. Who could possibly orchestrate this? The answer is Mordecai’s infinitely wise God.
  • I doubted God’s wisdom at camp because I could not see how God was using this child for my good, and I failed to understand that He did not have to use it for my good. This situation certainly did not have to work out for my good, but by God’s grace it definitely did. We cannot observe the full wisdom of God in this life because we do not see what He sees. We, like an ignorant child, constantly nag Him, and question His authority. We fail to understand the full depth of His mighty plan, not only in our life, but also in others. His infinite wisdom is displayed throughout all of creation, as it says in Romans (Rom. 8:28). God’s wisdom does not refrain us from questioning His judgement, however, it will make us look pretty silly on the Last Day, when He reminds us that He had control the entire time.

3. God is Loving

  • God is all-sovereign, and infinitely wise. He has control over all things, and the decisions he makes are always the best, but if He were not loving, then we should cower at the sight of His sovereignty. We should tremble at the thought of His wisdom. When Pastor Dave preached on God’s love, he gave three thoughts on a God who is sovereign and wise, but not loving. 1. God would be Powerful, but scary. 2. God would be knowledgable, but Helpless. 3. God would be Divine, but Distant. We have no hope, in this life, if the God we serve is not a loving God.
  • The best example of God’s love towards man, was the cross. 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God’s love was so incredible, that he was willing to send His only son to die for our sins. If God loves us enough to make His son endure the cross, why would He not love us enough to protect us from this situation? Our difficulty is that we do not see what God sees. We sometimes do not understand that  the most loving thing God can do for us is to put us through this trial.
  • God’s love for me, in dealing with the runaway camper, was deeper than I could have ever known. He did not stop loving me, as I sat on the metal chair questioning His sovereignty. His love did not waver, as I continued using my own wisdom in the counseling of this camper, instead of kneeling before my Savior begging for His wisdom. It did not cross God’s mind to stop loving me, while I laid in bed questioning how a loving God could allow all of these events to take place. He continued to love me in spite of my doubt, and His love made all the difference.

The biggest challenge in counseling this child was coping with the fact that he did not trust me. His disobedience in refusing to follow the group reminded me over and over again that he had absolutely no confidence in my abilities to take care of him. I could spend all day lobbying for his trust, but until he made the personal decision to trust me, I could not help him. In the same way, God was waiting on me to finally give in and trust Him.

My experience with the runaway camper is small in comparison to some of the real tragedies that people face. When I was in the moment, my trial seemed earth shattering. I now look back and realize it was relatively small. God has also given me grace to be able to look back and see the benefit of dealing with this trial. The growth that took place in my ability to counsel, because of this situation was far greater than any of the pain I endured during this situation.

The best encouragement I received was from a fellow full-time staff member. The boy ran away again during a camp game. I immediately began to chase after him, when this staffer stopped me and said, “I’ll chase him this time. You go find your guys.” At the end of the day I did not need someone to tell me what I was doing wrong. I needed someone who was going to “bear the burden” of this camper with me. I am thankful this staffer and several others were willing to stand up and chase this camper with me.

God does not promise us in this life that everything will work out for our good. He does promise us that He will walk beside us through our trials. What escaped my mind was the fact that, while I was chasing this boy, God was running too. He was following me as I desperately searched the camp ground. While I was chasing this camper, God was chasing me. He was begging me to trust him. I failed to understand that I was running from God, and he was petitioning for my trust. I am grateful that I have an all-sovereign, infinitely wise, and loving God, who chases me when I fail to trust him. Alistair Begg offers this hope to the parent of a runaway child, “Here is a word of encouragement to every parent of a runaway child. God is greater than even their rebellion. You are not alone in dealing with a runaway. Your gloriously sovereign, infinitely wise, and ultimately loving God is right beside you. He will chase your runaway child.

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