I am currently sleep deprived, sore, and have hardly any voice at all. Usually these symptoms are either very bad, or very good. Today, they're very good because they are a result of having just returned from a week with 150 young people passionately seeking God. Neo hosted our annual youth retreat called Soulfire. This year the theme was Arise. It was a powerful week filled with incredible moments of God showing His glory and changing lives. I don't have the time (or energy) to go into every detail, but while the week is fresh on my heart and mind I wanted to take the chance to write down some general memories of everything that happened and I figured some others would appreciate reading them as well.
MONDAY: It was quite a sight seeing 150 young people gathered at COL with bags in hand. It looked a little like this.
The energy and excitement in the room was palpable. As we departed, I think everyone knew it was going to be a good trip, we just didn't know how good.
As we arrived and announced sports teams and cabins, it was quickly apparent to me that this was the best group we'd hosted yet. About 75% of them were first time attenders and they were just so ready for what God had in store!
Our first night service started with a bang. We usually begin every night service with prayer time and within the first few moments there was a miraculous healing for an injured ankle, and God began to move on the hearts of people living in shame and regret. He poured his love out and we kicked off our service with powerful (SWEATY) worship. Our first speaker was Juan John who preached "Arise in Your Faith." Such a powerful word that stirred us all up to believe that God could and would do big things. Here's my favorite quote from his teaching.
"You can either stay in the boat and fish like you always have, or get out of the boat and walk on water with Jesus" -Juan Auffant
That night students boldly walked the ailse to accept Jesus as Lord and everyone else in the room began to ask God to give them bold faith and expectation for the supernatural. Perfect beginning to a great week!
Tuesday: Our morning sessions were probably my favorite part of the entire trip. We've been working very hard this year at Neo to raise a strong core of student leaders and this week they had the chance to unleash! 3 of our Neo Soul students preached and I cannot quite put into words how incredible each one was. They weren't just good for their age, they weren't just good for their first time preaching, they we're as good as anything I've ever heard! Tuesday morning Franko preached "Arise from the Old Life." His testimony of God's radically saving grace in his life was so powerful. He preached such solid and sound theology that I was left speechless. He spoke not from knowledge, but from experience as well and his honesty allowed us all to step into a fresh revelation of God's grace. Here's my favorite thing he said:
"You definitely can judge a book by it's cover, just look at the author. Is Jesus only writing a small portion of your story or have you allowed Him to take your old life and make it the prologue to what He wants to write?" -Franko Cintron
After Franko so boldly preached about leaving the old life, we had dozens of students decide to be baptized and the sincerity of those baptisms is something I will never forget.
Tuesday afternoon (like every afternoon) was filled with all kinds of games. We have all sorts of sports and games that the teams compete in resulting in a lot of fun for everyone.
Tuesday night, Amanda brought the Word. "Arise From the Ashes" was one of the most convicting sermons I have ever heard. It challenged me so deeply about my attitude towards difficult situations. She urged us that we must be people of sacrifice and realize that if we want the fire of God to burn in us we must not hold back anything.
"For the fire of God to be bright, something of significance has to burned on the altar. God will bring beauty for ashes. Whether those ashes come from you sacrificing, or from the grief of some kind of loss, He has a way of using them for His glory." -Amanda McNeil
The inner healing that took place in the room that night was indescribable. God truly did give us beauty for ashes.
Wednesday: This morning session was incredible! The worship team lead us to such a sweet atmosphere of adoration and then I had the honor of introducing our next student preacher, Jaclyn. Her sermon "Arise in Your Passion" was one of the most motivating teachings on passion we could've asked for. If you know her, you know she lives a life of passion. Everything she does is wholeheartedly to please God and people can see it on her. She was so honest about the challenges she's faced representing God in her school including discouragement, rejection, and fear. But she really challenged us to rise above those things to love Jesus so passionately that they don't matter anymore!
"The season you're in is not an excuse to give up your passion for Jesus. Obeying him is always a win win, it's not about how people respond to you, it's about being obedient to share who Jesus is!" Jaclyn Swyers
The day brought a fiercely competitive volleyball tournament and the always-disgusting fear factor challenge. That night God totally took over in a time of worship and ministry that was based on Psalm 68 "Let God Arise and his enemies be scattered." In that time of worship, God's love cast out all fear and I know that we all stepped into a new level of victory. John and Nikki, our worship leaders, along with the entire Neo band, set the atmosphere for God to do HUGE things! Where else can you worship for 3 hours and still want more??
Thursday: The final day of Soulfire was the perfect finish. Hank kicked off the day as our final student preacher of the week. He preached "Arise in The Kingdom" and taught about serving in the house of God. I have never heard some of the thoughts on servant-leadership that Hank presented. He lives servant leadership in such a way that God really gave him some great revelation.
"The devil is most scared of you when you're serving God even when you don't feel like it. If you aren't using your time and energy for God, you're working for someone else." -Hank Link
We completed our sports spectacular that day with a final round of games, the team board game, and the finals events. All the teams were fiercely competitive but in the end, Black Attack won by just a few seconds!
That night's service was just absolutely unreal. We were SO blessed to have our senior pastors with us. Pastor Amy prayed a prayer that unleashed such a powerful move of God and Pastor Jeff exhorted us with a word that's still churning in my heart! I am convinced I am the most supported youth pastor in the nation because I know my pastors' hearts are set on raising a young generation of believers and they have created space for that to happen.
"Stop running from your past and start pursuing your future." -Pastor Jeff Smith
I had the honor of closing the week out with a teaching that'd been burning in my heart since we started planning Soulfire called "Arise and Shine." I challenged the group that Jesus, our Light, has come so we must arise and shine. We've got to live our faith in a real and tangible way!
"God is not a secret to be kept so we never have the right to keep His love private."
The night ended with people acknowledging their individual callings and that it was time to lay aside lives of compromise. We want our love for God to burn like fire and to end it all, we proclaimed we would begin to do so now!
Amanda and I are so proud of the Neo staff, Neo Soul student leaders, and all the Neoites. Youth ministry is when the youth do the ministry and this week we watched an army rise up. We are excited about what's to come (especially Neo this Monday!). Everything that God did this week is going to move forward into what he wants to do next. I know I speak for all of us sunburned, hoarse, sleep deprived folks when I say we are SO ready for it!!!
That's an extremely brief recap but like I said, I wanted to write it down quickly. There's so much more that happened not to mention the tons of funny stuff about the trip! If you have a significant moment you'd like to share or a funny memory or some #soulfire2012probs I would LOVE to hear them! For example:
No matter how a student would answer me when I asked how they were doing, I'd always tell them they were dehydrated and needed to drink more water. #Soulfire2012probs Headache? Dehydration. Stomach Ache? Dehydration. Sleepy? Dehydration. Feeling Good? Dehydration. I was not about to let someone pass out on my watch!
So, do you have any moments, memories, or probs to share? Comment below! And to all who weren't able to attend, I pray your blessed by the account of what happened but ore importantly, impacted by the change we are bringing back home with us!