I’m pretty sure middle schoolers can somehow smell your fears and peer pressure you into doing things that terrify you. Today, I was pressured into climbing trees and hanging in the air.
I’ve never been a fan of heights. For all 22 years of my life, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid them. Some of our middle schoolers are in the same boat as me, and some are not. This afternoon we had kids jump off of a 30 foot pole (with a harness, of course) without giving it a second thought. We also had kids muster up the courage to climb, only to get scared and come back down. Some were scared of the challenges, some were not.
But one thing we all have in common: fear. Whether it’s being scared of climbing a contraption 30 feet up in the air, or fear of failure, or being afraid of letting anyone see the real you, fear embeds itself within the human heart. Sin has caused us to live in fear, and it threatens to crush us if left untreated.
Today I watched kids experience fear, and I even felt some myself. I also got to watch God turn that fear into freedom.
It started on the adventure courses where some conquered fears, and others left feeling defeated for not mastering the challenge ahead of them. While watching some of our girls climb, I overheard one of the JH Ranch staff having a conversation with a middle school boy whom he’d just met:
Staff: “Hey man, you killed that challenge. Did you feel afraid?”
Kid: “No, I didn’t.”
Staff: “Why do you think you were able to be unafraid while doing something that was scary?”
Kid: “I’m not sure.”
Staff: “There’s a verse in Scripture where God tells us that perfect love casts out fear, it’s in 1 John. You were able to complete that challenge fearlessly because you’ve been experiencing God’s love for you, haven’t you? And his love drives out all our fears.”
With fear comes the opportunity for freedom.
For the kids who didn’t conquer the challenges they faced, God showed up. After one of our girls came down scared and crying from one of the courses, I got to sit and speak with her about a word the Lord had put on my heart:
Me: “How was that for you? Was it scary?”
Me: “Are you feeling like you failed?”
Me: “What was on your mind while you were up there?”
Kid: “I kept thinking about the staff guy yesterday who told us that God is our rope and that we can trust him, but I couldn’t stop being afraid.”
Me: “I love that you were thinking of that. Did you know that Jesus was scared once?”
Me: “He was. He was human just like us and experienced everything we feel. Before he went to the cross, he was crying out to God in a garden, afraid of what was to come. Jesus was scared. Hebrews 4 tells us that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he experienced them himself by becoming human and becoming sin for us on the cross. It’s okay that you were afraid. Maybe the whole point of you going up on that 30 foot pole was for God to meet you there and show you that he is your rope, and that you can trust him because he knows you and has been where you are. We can’t hold ourselves up by our own ropes, and fear helps us see that. God is a God who offers us the rope himself, and who is able to hold us up by it, in all of our fear and weaknesses, because he himself experienced fear and weakness, yet remained perfect.”
Kids are being given the opportunity to step out of fear and into freedom.
Later tonight, Connor continued his sermon series in John 3:17:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
He continued to explain that God gave so we would be saved, but he also gave so we would not be condemned. God came to save, because only he can. God came to lift the burden of condemnation, because only he can.
God came to free us from fear.
We ended the session by crossing from one side of the room to the other. On the first side of the room, Connor had us write down a lie—something we felt condemned by—and leave it behind, symbolizing our lives before the cross. We crossed to the other side of the room and wrote down the truth—the freedom God offers from the lies, the freedom he offers through himself. We crossed over into what life looks like after the cross.
God sent himself, and God is still coming. We draw near to the cross, as fearful and burdened and condemned, and we see our Messiah crucified. We see a God who “so loved the world,” who gives himself to burdened people, who gives freedom to fearful creatures. We see a God who draws near to us, and who invites us to draw near to him and find freedom.
God has drawn near to his children, and his children are drawing near to him in freedom.
How you can pray for us:
-for kids to understand and grasp and discuss the gospel: clear minds and open hearts.
-for kids and leaders to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
-intentionality for leaders with kids on our last day at camp. For discernment in what to say and how to love them. For kids to be softened and open up.
-for small groups: to become cohesive and transparent.
-for kids to be saved: to take one step closer to drawing near to God.
-for voices up front: Connor (continued clarity, boldness, rest, protection in proclaiming the gospel); worship team (Marc, Bria); camp facilitators (Aly, Jesse, Sky).
-for momentum going into this school year: that teams are unified, that strategies are made, that kids continue to connect with the church.