Pastor Joe’s blog from the 2012 Edge Jr. High Youth Conference
Day 4 –Just when I had it all figured out…
*Disclaimer to parents: I am leaving all of your children at the EDGE and bringing you home new ones. Please don’t be alarmed when you see these new students instead of your child.
How do I share about today? How do I put down in words how incredibly awesome and amazing God is? How do you capture life changing events on the page? When I have a chance during the day, I often jot down notes about what has gone on or things to remember to share when I blog that night. Most of the time I don’t need those notes because the events link together and I can see God’s fingerprints all over the day. I reflect back on what has happened and it just flows. Then there is today. I’m so overwhelmed at the moment that I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure I can adequately put into words what I just experienced…here it goes!
I’ve said before that there is something unique up here on the mountain. Let me give you an example…cell phone clocks! That’s right, cell phone clocks. I went to bed last night around 1am. My phone clock said it was midnight. My computer clock said it was 1am. I set my alarm for 550am and 650am (I needed to get up at 650 and since my phone was saying it was an hour early, I didn’t want to wake up late, so I set it an hour early for 550 and then another one just in case the time was right and it went off at 650 like I wanted). In the morning my alarm went off…at 550. And my phone read 550. And my computer clock read 450! How in the world does it happen that I went to bed with my digital clocks reading one time zone and woke up with them reading a different one?! Now, you might say “Joe, it was 1am. You’ve been on a youth retreat with middle schoolers. You are simply losing your mind.” While this is probably true, THIS CLOCK THING HAS HAPPENED BOTH NIGHTS HERE! There is SOMETHING special about this mountain.
Despite my clock issues, I made it up early and went to breakfast to have a quiet time. The dining hall opens early just for counselors so that we can eat and spend quiet time with the Lord before the students come in. I spent my time in prayer for our group and the day. God must have heard my prayers. The morning session set the tone for the day. Usually we have Wake up with Wayne and it is a time of energy and excitement to get the blood flowing and our hearts focused for the day. However this morning we started with Relaxation with Raz. Raz is the bass player for the band. Instead of standing and jumping and doing crazy energizers, Wayne had us sit down and relax. While the band used the synthetic instruments they had to play “spa” music (you know, that calming sound of the waves crashing on the beach with the sound of the occasional whale sound mixed in!) we sat and listened. Wayne began to describe the picture perfect scene of being on a boat tour and coming across this amazing Eagle’s nest and how most people didn’t get to see the eagle but if you were blessed you might see it. On this particular journey he had been blessed enough to see the majestic eagle and, as an artist and song writer he was inspired to write this song about this amazing experience. By now that music had calmed and soothed our souls and his story had captured us. We all sat on the edge of our seats, eagerly anticipating the work of musical genius that Wayne had penned after being inspired by this eagle. Strum. Strum. A broken chord. Strum. Wayne leans in and we all unwillingly lean closer with him. And then he approaches the microphone, pauses, and lets out the most awful, off-key, screeching imitation of an eagle you could ever imagine. CAAAAWWWWW! The whole auditorium erupted in shocked laughter. By the time he let the 2 nd peel of eagle screech go, everyone was roaring! The unexpected had caught us off guard and that would become a theme for the day.
The morning went great. The guys and girl’s sessions were awesome. Lunch was fine. After lunch we had church time. It was a great opportunity for our group to spend some time together. We took time to “honor” our rising 9th grade students and recognize their passage into the Sr. High world. They shared thoughts and encouragement with the group. It was a great time. The late afternoon found us competing in tournaments again. Colsen entered the ping pong tournament and lost in the semi-finals in a tightly contested match. Most of the girls joined together to play dodgeball and I think they had a good time. They got smoked but tried hard and were great sports about it! It was surprising how flat everyone felt late this afternoon. We really hit a wall. Everyone spent some quiet time in the dorms (both after group time AND after tournaments). Dinner brought our next unexpected twist for the day.
So there we are, sitting eating dinner and all the sudden I hear “Joe Slack!” and look up to see Mike Wolcott from Trinity Pres. in Harrisburg standing in front of me. Needless to say, looking at someone who is supposed to be 11hrs away can throw you for a loop if you aren’t ready for it! After a couple of seconds of shock and surprise I remembered that Mike was in Chattanooga on a mission trip with his students and that they were getting a tour of the college and a chance to eat dinner there. It was nice to say hi and see a friendly face from home. We chatted for a few minutes and enjoyed the fact that there were now 30 people from Pennsylvania at Covenant College! As Mike was walking away to sit down with his group I pulled him aside and asked for some extra prayer for tonight because it was commitment night and I thought that some of our students might be on the verge of making various commitments to the Lord. I had NO idea what I was asking for at that point…but the theme of the unexpected continued.
As we walked out of dinner I pulled one of the girls aside to chat. I wanted to know what was going on in her heart (she had been one of those in tears the night before) and what God was teaching her. As she shared a little bit I felt God tugging on my heart so I looked her straight in the face and told her what I thought was REALLY behind the tears. Oops. Back came the tears. But not hurt tears, the tears of conviction. The tears that come when God gets ahold of your heart and you aren’t sure what is happening but you know He is working and you know He is real and you know He is changing you. We talked for a little while and I had a chance to encourage her and find out what was going on. I was surprised that this young lady was where she was…with the questions and uncertainties that she had—not because I doubted that they were there, but rather I doubted that God was choosing this week to address those issues in her heart. Her comments and behavior to this point had not indicated that God was rocking her world…yet He was. We rejoined the group just in time for the students to engage in their nightly lawn party and the counselors to go to our counselor’s meeting. As I left the group of youth, I whispered in another girl’s ear a challenge to be a leader through the night and to help everyone else with the night. As I walked down the hill to the counselor’s meeting, I felt an overwhelming sense that God was going to work tonight. Boy did I underestimate Him!
Our evening session was all about a presentation of the gospel and a chance for the students to respond. Wayne played, Marron spoke and God’s spirit showed up. Marron instructed all the students to go outside. As they left, they were given a sheet of paper and a pencil. On one side of the paper they were supposed to write whatever it is that they needed to talk to God about. On the other side of the paper they were supposed to write one of three things down: I want to follow God (first time commitment), I’m not ready right now to follow God (not a believer and not becoming one right now), or I want to follow God more deeply (I’m a Christian but I want to grow closer to my Lord). They were supposed to write one of those (not the comment afterwards; that was my addition for your benefit) and then place their paper at the foot of the cross and come back inside. All this was done in silence and individually. Once everyone was back in, Marron gave a gospel challenge and had everyone bow their heads. Then he asked the students who wrote down that they wanted to follow Christ to stand. All afternoon and all evening I had been praying for our students and several in particular. I timidly raised my head in hopes that God had broken through and they were standing. To my surprise I saw 4 of our students standing! (we only brought 11 with us!) Marron then asked for those students who stood to go down the hill to the other room to talk about the decision they had just made. A couple of our students sat down and didn’t make the trek down the hill, but two of them did! Nicole and I got to go down with them. I was in AWE as I stood outside the chapel and watched teens and their youth leaders pour out. They just kept coming! We went down and Marron led the students in a prayer to accept Christ and talked about the decision they had just made. It was really encouraging to hear him talk to the students about being new creations and how the old has passed away and the new has come! I’m not sure which I enjoy more…the youth pastors who are sobbing with their students or the ones who are grinning like goofballs from ear to ear because they are overwhelmed with joy! What a glorious picture! (in case you were wondering, I’m a grinner!).
After that brief time we made our way back up the hill to join the rest of the group. They were having a Holy Ghost party and celebrating all of the new brothers and sisters in Christ that joined the family tonight! There were over 100 first time professions of faith (and I know that we had at least 1 in our group that wasn’t counted in that number!). Once we had sung and danced and celebrated for a bit, we broke off into our church groups to debrief the night. God is surely good and He did an amazing work tonight! I went off feeling excited and relieved and encouraged and thinking about how amazing God is…but don’t forget: I REALLY underestimated Him tonight…
We got to group time and started having people share what was on their hearts. It became clear almost immediately that a theme started to develop. After a few people had shared, I was curious and had the students all bow their heads. I then asked them to raise their hand if they had made a first time profession of faith tonight or if God had somehow gotten ahold of their heart completely for the first time tonight (this included students who were already believers who’s hearts were radically altered tonight). I expected to see a few hands go up…I never expected what came next. Every single hand went up. EVERY ONE! I told them to keep their hands up and raise their heads. An awkward second of silence was met with giggles and sniffles as the students realized that all of their peers were raising their hands too! I can’t even begin to put into words the thoughts and feelings around that circle at that moment. It was incredible. We talked for a long time as a group. People wept openly because of what God was doing in their hearts. People wept openly because they were weeping with their friends and comforting them. We laughed. We shared an incredible experience together. We talked about our hopes and our fears. It was incredible. Like I said earlier…I REALLY underestimated God tonight. Wow.
As I said in my disclaimer at the start of tonight’s blog…I’m leaving your student here at the EDGE. None of you are getting your child back. The student you are getting back is changed. You are getting a new creation back!! Every single student on this trip encountered God in a powerful way! I’m not sure how that makes you parents feel, but I’m terrified! I’m not sure what to do. I’m not sure what happens when we come home. I’m not sure how to handle what just took place. God just turned my world on its ear! 11 students just had their lives radically altered. Every single student felt like they would be leaving this week radically and completely different. I haven’t had a chance to sit down with the students and figure out what God is doing in their hearts. I haven’t had a chance to process through what just took place. I haven’t had a chance to seek God’s face and His will going forward. All I know is that everything is different now and I LOVE IT! I love it! I love the fact that God is doing something special up here this week. I love the fact that I get to be a part of what is happening. I love the fact that I get to be along for this ride. Thanks for giving me this chance by trusting God (and me) with your student this week. I’m still not completely sure that tonight actually happened.
You may be asking yourself why I haven’t mentioned by name the students who stood up to make a profession of faith. That is because it is their news to share with their parents, not mine. We rejoice with them and want to celebrate with them but I don’t want to be the one who tells them…I want them to get the joy of sharing that with their family first so you will all just have to wait Its 1am again and my clocks aren’t showing the right time…maybe God has another amazingly unexpected day in store for us tomorrow.
- The hearts of the students. Saftey as we travel to and from the water park tomorrow.
- The morning after syndrome…the natural letdown that comes after a mountaintop experience.
- That God would continue to rock our worlds and show us new and surprising things. For sleep.
Day 3—You can choose your actions, but you can’t choose your consequences…
This morning started much like last night ended…with a sense of joy and eager anticipation. So much happened today it is hard to remember all the way back to this morning! Breakfast was easy and uneventful. Everyone made it up and seemed to be in good spirits. Wake up with Wayne (or worship leader for the week) was a blast and then we went outside for a devotional time. It was neat to see hundreds of youth sitting around spending time with the Lord. After our devo time the guys and girls split up for guys and girls time (so apropos isn’t it?!). The guys are learning about purity and the importance of the things we put into our minds and the girls are learning about where they find their value. Both talks led to some fruitful conversations. After lunch it was off to Water Wars. There were five stations involving slippery tarps, mud, water, and fun. One station was a giant slip and slide. Another was a silly obstacle course. A third they named murder ball. Basically it was just run down a hill, slide on a tarp, wallow in the mud, and try to get the ball back up the slippery tarp and hill before anyone else does. There was also a tug of war. The tug of war was fun but VERY muddy. The final station was called crack the egg. This involved the counselors getting lubed up with vasoline, linking arms (and is some cases legs) to form a counselor egg in the middle of a slippery tarp. When the work crew said GO the students had to try and “crack the egg” by pulling us apart and off the tarp. The guys went first and let’s just say our egg never got cracked! I’m not sure how we managed to stay together considering there were times when about 40 middle school guys were pulling at only 8 or 9 counselors…but we won! It was a blast. We took so long that the girls almost didn’t get a chance to go…but when they did, wouldn’t you know it? The counselors won again! WOOT! While this was a blast, if you check out my facebook you’ll find a picture that shows the unfortunate by-product of an intense game of crack the egg…hair loaded with vasoline!
After water fest we went back to shower off and change into dry clothes for tournaments and the Edge has Got Talent auditions. The guys went to the main gym for 3 on 3 basketball while the girls went to the chapel for EGT auditions. Both Bailey and Mikayla sang songs for an audition. We don’t know yet if they’ll make it on to the finals or not, but I heard that both did a great job. We are SO proud of them for having the guts to get up and try out! Hopefully in a couple of nights I’ll get to share with you that we have a winner…but we’ll just have to wait and see! The guys also did quite well. In fact, they met a guy named Sam and they joined up to come in 2 nd place for the whole tournament! WAY TO GO JONATHAN AND COLSEN (and Sam!). It was great to see them learn to play together as a team and get stronger as the tournament progressed. I was proud of the sportsmanship and effort they put forth. They did AWESOME!
(can you believe we haven’t even made it through dinner yet?!)
After dinner on the lawn the adults had a chance to go worship and pray and be refreshed while we heard about the upcoming evening activities during our daily counselor meeting. While we were doing that, the kids had another lawn party with a game show. I’m told that Colsen almost won a One Direction poster for blowing up a balloon until it popped. While all this fun and bonding and near success in competition were great, they were nothing compared to what the evening session and after would hold…
Something was different about worship tonight. The energy and excitement were there… but something was different.
After a great time of praising God, announcements and a crazy skit, it was time for Marron to speak. He shared tonight about sin. We looked through a couple passages in Romans and read through the story of the fall in Genesis. Marron has a very unique and powerful perspective on things and the youth really seem to resonate with it. By the end of his talk, several of our students were openly moved to tears by his powerful talk. He did a beautiful job of portraying a young teenager’s view of sin and then proceeded to blast away at that wrong way of thinking by presenting a Biblically based view of sin. Every time you thought he was about to wrap up, he had another point that seemed to cut deeper and more true into our hearts. One thing that he talked a lot about was how we can choose our actions, but we can’t choose our consequences and how Satan (and the world) often shows us part of the picture, but not the whole thing. We see the “fun” of drinking or partying in the club with people, but we don’t see the emptiness of their hearts or the devastation that comes when they die on the way home while driving drunk. We see the “fun” of the gang lifestyle, but we don’t see the people who are killed or the families who are targeted as a result of that “fun.” He really presented a sobering view of the world and of how many teens look at the world. He used lyrics from popular songs that the teens resonate with to illustrate how the world only shows us part of the picture. It was very impactful. He talked about how “if we died and just ceased to exist (a view common to many young people) that living a sinful life wouldn’t be that bad… but we don’t just die and go nowhere, we die and go somewhere…FOR ETERNITY…either heaven or hell, but we go somewhere FOREVER.” That seemed to really hit home with a lot of the youth. After he finished Wayne and the band came back up for a couple more songs of worship that really drove us to the foot of the cross. It was powerful and awesome. From there we went out and had our small group times. Several members of our group were tearful as they left and went through their small groups. God is really working in their hearts! I can’t wait to see how He continues to peel back their defenses and continues to work in their hearts…I can really tell that the next few days are going to be HUGE in some people’s lives!
After our group time was done it was off to our EDGE After Dark event. It was called protect the light. Our group got a candle and had to protect the flame as we walked up the hill to the chapel. While we were walking, the work crew members were hiding and trying to blow out our light. Some used their breath, others had water pistols. Our kids had to protect our flame at all cost (and it cost me a hunk of flesh from my nose, kindly removed by my wife with her fingernail and some of the skin off my fingers as the hot wax from the burning candle was repeatedly sloshed onto my hands. When your light was snuffed out, you had to find another group nearby and get your candle re-lit. IT was great to see how the groups worked together to relight our candles, to protect each other and to work together to overwhelm the work crew. Once we got our lit light to the chapel, our group got a ticket that gave us free ice cream and we had an ice cream party on the lawn. What a perfect end to a LONG but sweet day! I’m not sure what tomorrow holds, but I’m sure it’ll be awesome!
Day 3 Prayer Requests
- That everyone would sleep well and quickly and wake up refreshed.
- That everyone would be open to the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in their hearts
- That the girls would continue to share with each other and “mix.”
- That the guys would be open to what God is doing in their hearts and respond to the challenge that His Spirit is issuing them in regards to the sin in their lives and their response to it.
- That the leaders would be refreshed and excited…this is an AWESOME experience and exhausting for the campers…but the added emotion of watching your kids go through it is extra tough as leaders.
Today has been LONG but it has been AMAZING. Everyone got up, ready and loaded the vans easily. I can’t remember a trip where I felt this good on morning 1! We left the house and headed in to Kroger and that’s when the craziness started…the kids were turned loose in the grocery store to pick out their breakfast. Some immediately hit up the Starbucks inside the store before browsing the food selections. During our brief 20 minutes inside our group managed to spill a coffee, knock over a display of canned veggies (ok, that was me but it wasn’t my fault and the stocker apologized to ME for the incident!), and dropped a glass bottle of tea which shattered and sent tea sprawling all over the entry to an aisle. Fortunately, the staff was very kind and was quick to clean up the mess and was laughing about all the incidents. I believe that they actually enjoyed the energy and laughter that the kids brought to the store. We stopped across the street for gas after checking out and had an opportunity to share with the gentleman next to us the purpose of our trip and had a brief albeit encouraging conversation about God. Even the gas station attendant overheard our discussion and wished us God’s blessing as I got back in my car to drive off! The drive went well and easy to lunch. We saw a LOT of cops between Roanoke and Knoxville. I guess it was a good thing we weren’t speeding! Lunch was at the mall just past Knoxville. It was a good time and again, everything went very easily. We finished the last leg of the drive and arrived at Lookout Mountain Georgia right at 4pm (my goal when we set out in the morning!).
The EDGE is great. When we pulled up to the college there were Edge work crew directing us with signs right to where we should go. We arrived at the lower gym, the students piled out of the vans and were met by energetic and crazy work crew members who whisked them away into the gym for initiation. Nicole and I took the vans up to the main circle to unload the luggage and register. At the top of the hill there were more work crew people waiting to unload the vans under Nicole’s supervision while I went in and registered. What a great feeling it is walk into the room and to be greeted by name by the registrar! After checking in, getting all of our EDGE stuff and parking the vehicles in the appropriate parking lot, Nicole and I had a brief moment to catch our breath before the students (along with Linda and Josh) arrived up the hill. They had been playing games and enjoying their first few minutes of the EDGE under the guidance and direction of the work crew. They were certainly initiated!
Everyone grabbed stuff and went to our rooms. By the time we got settled and moved in, it was time for dinner. Immediately after dinner we went almost right into our evening activities. The students had a lawn party with a quiz game show with the work crew while the leaders had a moment to catch our breaths with the leadership of the EDGE. We prayed, praised, and laughed…the perfect recharge we needed cause at this point the kids were about to drive us CRAZY! The girls have just been non-stop energy and craziness. Colsen and Jonathan have been excellent and have been no trouble at all! (I’m not being sarcastic…it really is a tale of two cities with the guys and girls thus far!) Sitting in the counselor’s meeting was when it first hit me…
I am SO glad to be back here. I can feel God’s presence and Spirit already working. He has softened my heart and drawn me closer to Him already. As we praised God and prayed I couldn’t help but to become overwhelmed with His goodness. And then Todd introduced us to Myron, our main speaker for the week. He works in Memphis with at risk teens. He is a former drug dealer (don’t freak out parents!) who God has gotten ahold of and is using in powerful ways. He is partnering with 2nd Pres in Memphis to do ministry together. The youth from his program (mostly black, at risk teens) are going out with the youth group from 2nd pres (mostly white, upper middle class teens) to do ministry together around the city of Memphis. Myron shared that the racial reconciliation that the groups show when they are together is probably the most powerful picture of the love of Christ that they can show people in Memphis, given the history and culture that is there. I started to get chills as I listened to what God was doing and what Myron was planning to share with the youth this week. Then we found out that he and his youth write, produce and perform rap music that they use to share Christ with people. Why am I surprised when God does stuff like this?! I see it all the time! Here is our group…coming off a week of VBS where our theme was praising God with DJ Pray-z and we walk into a situation at the EDGE where we are seeing the very messages from VBS played out in real life in the ministry in Memphis. NOW I remember why I love coming to the EDGE…because God shows up BIG time here
We rejoined our students and went into the chapel for our first session. It was LOUD. I can’t believe the difference in our group from last year to this year in terms of their response. Last year our group looks terrified by the scene. They didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to let loose and just praise God and not care what was happening around them. This year was the exact opposite. Our group might have been screaming the loudest, to the point that kids from other groups were staring at us…and our youth didn’t care?! They were jumping and singing and clapping and praising God! As I looked around at our group and saw them all engaged and having a blast and loving every second of it, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the moment. Chills again. When Myron came up to share he testimony and talk to the youth, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know how our youth were going to respond to him…he is SOUTHERN. Now, that’s fine by me, but not what our group is used to. (I love the sound of y’all rolling off the lips of someone who can’t contain the joy he has for the lord and wants everyone to know about it! “Y’all are a great group! We are going to have a great time learning ‘bout God this week, y’all because y’all got some great energy!”) Myron had NO problem connecting with the group. In fact, there was one point near the end of his talk where he was silent for about 10-15 seconds and you could have heard a pin drop. Think about that for a second…we are in a room with 800+ middle school students AND IT WAS DEAD SILENT FOR 15 SECONDS! God has the attention of the youth already…I can’t wait to see what He does!
The rest of the night involved small groups (great discussions!) and the decades dance party! What a blast that was! (Check my Facebook for a picture of the guys dressed up and ready to go party!). We danced and sweated our way through music from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s before ending with a couple of current hits. The highlight of the night was almost certainly the moment when the girls all grabbed Jonathan (who was dancing but not quite enough for their or my liking) and pulled him into the middle of their bunch as they sang at the top of their lungs the chorus to “You’re Beautiful” by One Direction! (whoa-oh-oh, you don’t know your beautiful!) Completely embarrassing and completely wonderful!!! Jonathan claims he is gonna get me back for making that happen, but I’m pretty sure that deep down he loved it. After a brief group meeting to talk abou the schedule and the proper perspective for the week, everyone headed off to the dorms for bed (or blogging!). Tomorrow has lots in store, I’m sure.
I wish I could better capture what is happening and what it is about this place that gets me. I know at this point I’m rambling and need to stop. The best I can say is I’ve written “I’m SO glad to be here” three different times in my journal since arriving at 4 this afternoon…perhaps when you know you are in God’s presence, you don’t need to say anything else.
Day 2 Prayer Requests:
- That God would open the hearts of our students and speak into their lives. That the distractions would be minimized.
- That new friendships would be formed and strengthened. That everyone would get enough sleep and stay healthy!
- That the guys would find someone to join them so they can participate in the 3 on 3 basketball tourney tomorrow.
Day 1—Mburg to the Star City
Friday was a crazy day. Leading up to our trip we had the conclusion of VBS. There are always a TON of last minute details to take care of and things to do for a trip like this…and with VBS happening the morning of, that makes it even MORE hectic (that and the fact that I didn’t get to START packing until 12:15am on Friday!). The drive down to Roanoke went as well as it could go…it was an easy drive and we had little problems. It took Linda and Nicole a little bit to get used to driving the passenger van, but they adjusted. One of the coolest parts of our drive down was the storm we drove through. The driving was tense for a few minutes as the rains came down in sheets and so hard that we could barely see…but that was just for a few minutes. Before and after that period the late afternoon sky was lit with a dazzling display of God’s raw power—lightning. What a site to see the awesome force of God’s creation. It was a great reminder for me as we started on this trip as to just how miniscule I am in the grand scheme of things…and yet at the same time God’s provision and protection through the deluge reminded me of just how precious and valuable I am in His sight as well. What a picture!
We arrived for dinner at Firehouse Subs in Roanoke and met up with Jonathan Hill without problems. After a great meal (your kids may never want to eat at subway again!) we headed up to Mill Mountain Park which overlooks the city of Roanoke. The park is located on top of a mountain and contains the world’s largest man-made neon star. The star is lit up at night and is a neat attraction. It is also cool to look out over the valley and see the city below. Yet another reminder of just how big God is and how small we are in comparison. Up on top of the mountain there are also a couple of small play areas and a zoo. We didn’t visit the zoo, but did have a wonderful time burning off some energy at the play area. After that it was on to my parents’ house for the evening. Everyone had a good time playing games, being silly, making noise (a LOT of noise), and just enjoying the start of the trip. Bedtime couldn’t come early enough and everyone fell asleep quickly and easily due to our long day and being tired. I really hope that trend continues all week! As I lay in bed(on the pull out sofa in my parents’ living room!) I kept hearing God whispering “get ready!” I’m not sure what I’m getting ready for, but God has definitely given me a spirit of anticipation and excitement for what is happening this week. My prayer as I fell asleep was that God would be glorified in the lives of the students this week…