Sunday, June 15, 2008

Youth Camp: Revision Party 2008, Being Pwnd by Proverbs and the Afflictions of 2 Corinthians

It appears that the occupational density of my registered place of residence will revert to normal for the next week or so. Hooray own bed.

Youth camp was fairly brilliant. Most of the campers were due for exams after the school holidays so it was a revision party of sorts: the campers clocked in hours revising but also had time to explore a relationship with God, play games, take all sorts of silly photos of themselves, tell dumb jokes, tease each other and of course, eat constantly. The senior campers ("scampers") made good use of the sports facilities at Prince George's Park Residences on the fringe of the National University of Singapore campus. Fully worth the S$80 per pax camp fee, I say.

Hazelnut Chocolate Spread and Wholesome Bread for Breakfast
Some mornings, there was good old bread and spread for breakfast.

Cheese Omelette for Breakfast
Other mornings, the lovely scampers got enthusiastically creative with the trays of eggs.

Vietnamese Pho and Spring Rolls for Lunch
The wannabely-named Foodgle Hub food court supplied lunch, which was for the most part quite passable. Except for the bland Chinese store.

Dinner, happily, was home-cooked. And the dessert was a real highlight:

Raspberry Pavlova for Dessert!
Behold the raspberry pavlova.

Banoffee Pie for Dessert
Behold the banoffe pies. "Not as good as the ones at the last camp," said a repeat camper,"the bananas you used this time aren't as sweet". What gourmand monsters of the future are we moulding?

Pound Cake and Brownie
Behold the lemon pound cake and brownie for breaks between talks and studies.

Scampers Playing Cranium
The scampers indulged in board games and basketball during revision periods, and even came up with a new game involving scoopball scoops, old tennis balls and Flingo bibs. Excellent. And better yet, the bright eyes that got wider and wider as their place in biblical history dawned on them progressively as we worked through Vaughan Robert's God's Big Picture.

An example of one series of dumb jokes:
"How do you put an elephant in the fridge?"
"You open the fridge door, put the elephant in and close the door."

"How do you put a giraffe in the fridge?"
"You open the fridge door, take the elephant out, put the giraffe in and close the door."

"One day, all the animals had a meeting but the giraffe wasn't there. Why?"
"He was still in the fridge."

"One day, Tarzan was swinging around in the jungle. He went over the crocodile-infested river, lost his hold on the twine and fell into the river, but he wasn't eaten by crocodiles. Why?"
"Because the crocodiles were at the meeting."
*Major groan*

Wide Game: Making Ice-Cream
The wide game went well for once this year. I've been progressively dumbing them down through the years and this one was so juvenile that I was afraid it would be too boring, but surprisingly, everyone loved it. The highlight apparently was getting to make their own ice-cream: imagine high girls shrieking, "Oh! This is better than Ben & Jerry's! Now that I can make my own ice-cream, I will never buy Häagen-Dazs again!" Meant for the game to demonstrate (1) chemical reactions in a pleasant yummy way - the cola geyser with Diet Coke and Mentos, and the endothermic reaction present in adding sodium chloride/salt to ice to make the ice-cream; and (2) how to live wisely in the world - first, knowing/checking where one should be heading before setting out (one group was on a bus to the far end of campus because they hadn't read the clue properly) and secondly, relating properly to one's neighbours (I was careful not to mention that this was a competition. Making the ice-cream required the co-operation of both teams. The initial reaction from the first team was, unfortunately,"Quick! Hide our clue! Don't let them see it!" and that from a leader no less. One hopes he was merely playing the devil's very persuasive advocate.).

Evidence that Studying Took Place!
Oh and, erm, here's evidence that there was actually some serious studying going on. And serious snacking too.

Am glad for the encouragement of 2 Corinthians at the ARPC church camp (videos and audio here) that directly preceded youth camp. I'd been struggling to understand the Book of Proverbs, going at it late into the Shanghai and Malaccan nights to no avail and feeling terribly pwnd.

Drive from Malacca to Singapore
It wasn't until the late night drive back to Singapore after church camp, amidst the "unflappable!", "unsqwackable!" banter, the shameless making of matchmaking plans and the exhaustive run-through of everyone's ipods, that the truth of 2 Corinthians occurred to my rather dim mind. But it wasn't really till I was driving home, too tired to read directional arrows, after youth camp that the same truth shone in a little further.

Pwnd by Proverbs
No Bible-believer would ever expressedly claim that we contribute anything to God's work. We mouth the right doctrine that the harvest is God's, but we actually think that our seed-planting and watering skills are what make the crops grow. Or I realised I did anyway. After sweating over Proverbs for 2 whole weeks, I was exhausted and burdened to the point of tears by the responsibility of having to teach God's word which I could scarcely understand in the context of the whole Bible. What's wrong with me? I asked, am I going mad? What was wrong was that I'd always assumed (but would never have admitted) that understanding God's word was dependent on my own intellectual capabilities. But how could a sinful mind understand Scripture? Only through the revelation of God through the Spirit.*

We are jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7), the cheap disposable crockery of New Testamental times. We bits of almost-nothings really like to collect little scout badges and hang human accolades around ourselves when in fact, we are nothing fancy, nothing special.

Said the apostle Paul:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8 - 12)
The weakness and brokenness inherent in our fallen humanness is no obstacle to the treasure of God's gospel. The fragrance of the gospel and the salvation of others does not depend on us but on the efficacy of God's work. Paul doesn't lose heart when he is afflicted, persecuted and struck down, because it is the gospel which contains power not he. In fact, the weaker he is, the stronger the word (2 Corinthians 4:7), for no man can both give the impression that he himself is clever and proclaim with honesty that Jesus alone is mighty to save.

By the end of youth camp, I was so tired out by the lack of sleep and early mornings, and with anxiety and with being angry at myself for being anxious and not relying on God, that I feared I was becoming rather slurry and incoherent during Bible studies. Those who presume to teach will be judged more severely (James 3:1), yet we know that no one is sufficient for the job (2 Corinthians 2:16b).

It is humbling yet liberating to know that despite our weakness and sinfulness, despite that person who pontificates about Bible truths so forcefully and eloquently yet fails to live them out in his life, despite that other person who thinks the world of herself and self-righteously judges and criticises everyone else and says "I cannot eat this stuff!" about food others slaved so hard to prepare, it is God's Spirit that penetrates and does his will in those whom he has called his children.

Sadly, our hearts and minds are so perverted that sometimes, even if we do not misuse this knowledge to jettison personal responsibility for working hard at understanding Scripture and growing in godliness, we think that our weaknesses and afflictions mean that we are more holy and we boast of our pseudo-martyrdom.

Yet even our afflictions are not opportunity for self-centred self-pity:
God of all comfort...comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:4)
When we are afflicted, it is primarily for the benefit of others, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been/are being comforted by God. It is not about sharing our experiences per se (ie, so that only those who have been afflicted with cancer can comfort others afflicted with cancer) but sharing how we have received consolation from God - that God's grace alone is sufficient for us each day.
...we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8b - 10)
In his grace and his love, God does tend to take away things we didn't realise we relied on - our family, friends, wealth, health, job, self-esteem - to make us rely on him alone. It is in times like that that we realise that we hadn't quite been dependent on God as we thought we had.
You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:11)
Again, we are sometimes so self-centred that we are unwilling to share our needs with others. We ask people to pray for us not as an act of self-indulgence but for their benefit - to prepare them to give thanks to God, not that we are healed by that God has kept us and persevered us in our affliction.

We may have experienced the mundane sort of life that does not lend itself to speaking engagements. We may never have experienced childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a close relative, the trauma of a broken family, nor a dramatic conversion from a life of crime and gangsterism and drug addiction. No one will ask us to tell our testimonies; no speaker will use us as sermon illustrations; commemorative books will not list us as "Warriors of the Faith"; Readers' Digest will not pay S$150 for an article on our insipid lives.

But our goal is not dubious fame amongst humans but to do our duty sincerely and honestly in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 2:17). Our goal is not an accumulation of Bible knowledge but growth in godliness, in Christ-likeness, so that even as we live in this life, we are being transformed daily into the image of the Lord, from one degree of glory to another, through the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

I pine for the Day that we shall look at each other and find all who'd trusted in him greatly changed so that we are all mirror images of Christ himself. But in the meanwhile, we do not lose heart, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with the believers whom we serve into his presence (2 Corinthians 4:14).

PS: There is nothing like a youth camp to be reminded how old one is: the lack of stamina, the lack of suppleness and the young campers who cannot conceive of an adult above 21 years who isn't a senior citizen. We could despair as our body breaks down and as we become less "relevant", but though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16 - 18).

PPS: The key to Proverbs is possibly Proverbs 22:17 - 19:
17 Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise;
apply your heart to what I teach,

18 for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart
and have all of them ready on your lips.

19 So that your trust may be in the LORD,
I teach you today, even you.
The ultimate aim of this collection of wise sayings is not so much to help us with day-to-day living as to enable us to trust in the LORD. How? By showing us a glimpse of the order of the created world that, according to Romans 1:18 - 20, ought to tell us plainly of God's eternal power and divine nature. See also Peter Sanlon's article on Proverbs 1:20 - 33 Knowing Wisdom, Knowing Jesus.

PPPS: I later discovered that the bottle marked "Vanilla Essence" in the fridge had actually contained calvados. This might have contributed somewhat to the craziness after the ice-cream-making.

PPPPS: This was the first camp I'd scored a proper bed thanks to the B. It was a Seahorse mattress and built exactly like a plank of wood. Am now a new convert to the technique of sleeping on one's back. This should greatly lessen the risk of, erm, cot death. And, I am told, wrinkles.

Edit (17th June): In a fit of youthful over-enthusiasm, one of the campers has started a fan group for the camps on Facebook and invited all his friends. He's also changed his FB status to say that it is better to be at the camps all the time. Some of the scampers say they have been suffering camp withdrawal symptoms. I expect the new heavens and new earth will be far better than anything we clay jars can offer in this fallen world. But to enjoy that people have to first come to saving knowledge of our Saviour.

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At June 16, 2008 11:05 am , Anonymous Claudia said...

You have posted an incredibly honest piece. Perhaps part of the Proverbs trouble was just being tired and too much at once. 2 a day works for me. (Proverbs that is) teens, I don't know. Noboru's site is:

At July 21, 2008 1:11 am , Anonymous shadow said...

Yes, possibly! Thanks for the comment! :-)

At May 04, 2010 3:46 am , Anonymous James said...

Well written!

I wonder if the reference to jars of clay is a reference back to Jeremiah, where God directs Jeremiah to watch a potter in Jeremiah 18. The point, verse 6, is that all things are in the hand of God. He is in control of all things, and can mould it as He sees fit.

The illustration is continued in Chapter 19 where Jeremiah has to speak to the people, smashing a pot - using the illustration that taught him, to then talk to the people.


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