40 Days - Day 21

I felt strange at first, thinking about praying for something that I wouldn't even be attending or see any of the effects of, and for the first few weeks, I felt strange praying for Winter Retreat considering that I wasn't even going to be able to go myself. Since then I've realized that regardless, I'll still feel the repercussions of whatever happens there; I'll still be affected by those things. It's strange because lately I've faltered in more areas than I've ever faltered before, and I've slipped in all of these places in the past. Yet, now I'm slipping much more than I have before, and while before I had slipped in each of them separately, I now slip in each of them at the same time. It bothers me because all of it is coming right at a time when we should be at our highest, going into Winter Retreat. Frankly, I don't know what to think. I've spent so many nights praying for the best, praying about so many things, Winter Retreat included, and every piece of me wants to run in an entirely different direction. I don't know what this is. I don't know how to describe what this is. I look around at my friends and see the same things; some of my best friends, some of the people who I truly love and truly trust simply throwing their lives away, picking them up and throwing them out the window, and that hurts me more than I can put into words. It hurts me to know and to see that regardless of what I may say or what I may do they will persist to throw their things away. There's nothing that I can do but watch. My prayer has brought me one thing - these words: Don't Stop. So, I can only assume that there's a purpose and reason for whatever this is right now and all of the pain I'm going through. So much of me wants to simply withdraw and pull away, but the words given to me in my darkest hours have told me otherwise. I know that something big is going to happen this year at Winter Retreat; I can feel it, and I don't feel like I'm alone in this pain and suffering. I feel like there are many others, probably reading this right now who can relate, probably just solemnly nodding their heads along with this passage. Maybe I'm the only one who will come up front and tell people what my pains are, but we all have them. Still, I believe that we serve a God of Healing Graces; so my prayer this Winter Retreat is that whatever it is that you're going through, whatever issues, temptations, problems, failures, whatever pain that has been inflicted upon you, whether it's Satan, or as it so often is, just us beating ourselves up, that it may be healed.

“You see, Jesus didn't die just to take our sins away, He also said, 'Here, give me your worries too, I'll carry those too. Here, give me all of your pain, I'll carry that too.' Those things are simply too much for us to bear, and so Jesus came to offer to help us carry them.” -Nathan Oates

In His Great and Healing Love,
Jonathan V. Rarick


40 Days - Day 20

As I began to look through all these blog entries, I kept seeing this verse over and over again: James 1:2-4 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” NLT.

As I looked through these entries and saw this verse, it reminded me of a time in my life where this verse meant the most to me. Here’s my story:

As most of you know, my mom was diagnosed with cancer in my 6th grade year. I began to stuff all of my emotions and pretend like God was in control of my life. I continued all throughout 6th and 7th grade year pretending like everything was okay, and I was a perfect little Christian girl. My answer to everyone’s “Are you okay?” and “How are you dealing with this?” was either “God is so good!” or “I’m relying on God all the time!” However, inside my heart was screaming “NO ALYSSA! TELL THEM THE TRUTH!” I just had no clue how to let everything go to God. I didn’t know how to give it over to Him and let Him deal with it.

In the middle of my 7th grade year, after my mom’s cancer was over, I went into a depression. I wouldn’t go to school, I would cry myself to sleep every night, and still I was pretending that everything was okay to everyone around me. I eventually was so overcome with fear that I had to sleep with someone every night. I started going to a counselor, and I didn’t listen to anything she would say because I thought she had no clue what I was dealing with. After awhile of all this, my parents begged me to go to school, and I did. I got little sleep every night, and I my health was showing it.

Finally, Christmas break came along, and it was time to go to Taylors, South Carolina, my hometown. We go there every year so it was no big deal. Two nights after we had arrived I saw Amanda writing in her journal and reading in her Bible. I had nothing else to do so I took out my notebook and my Bible and began to write:

God, I need your help. I’m so tired of dealing with this. Just give me something to let me know you are there.

Immediately after I had finished writing, I opened my Bible. A note card slid out of my Bible and landed on the floor. There, written on the note card was James 1:2-4 in my hand writing. I still, to this day, do not remember writing that verse down. From then on, my life was going all uphill. I began to trust God with everything I had, and that made all the difference in my life.

As Winter Retreat approaches, I believe that we should pray for those people. I think we should pray for those people who are struggling in their life, but they are just too scared to admit it. We are all struggling with this feeling of being alone or that God isn’t there, but I truly believe that if we all pray continuously for this Winter Retreat, all of us will finally realize that we aren’t alone.

Alyssa Baldwin


40 Days - Day 19

“The LORD is great on Zion, exalted above all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name: holy is God! O mighty king, lover of justice, you alone have established fairness; you have created just rule in Jacob. Exalt the LORD, our God; bow down before his footstool; holy is God!”

Psalm 99:2-5 TNAB

Hey guys, hope you all are having a great holiday! This time of year is usually a time to give thanks for what you have. This is also a time to give thanks to the Lord for the gift of life.

I grew up as one of those kids who had to go to church because my parents said I had to. I didn’t really understand what the Lord meant to me or if He really existed for that matter. Two years ago, I joined the Student Ministry at The People's Church in Spring Hill.

If it wasn’t for all the support from the other students, as well as Todd and all the other adult leaders, I would still be one of those kids. Ever since I joined this youth group, I have grown so much in following the Lord. At Elevate this year, I officially gave my life to Christ and to let him lead my life anyway He wants to.

This Winter Retreat is all about prayer. For this Retreat, I pray that we all can go more in depth into our Lord’s message. I pray for everyone’s health and safety over the holidays. I pray for our guest speaker, as well as all of our volunteers, for making all this possible. The Lord gave His only son to give us eternal life. I think that deserves some glorification of our Lord. God is all powerful and mighty, and we should want to bow down and worship at His feet.

Happy Holidays,

Tyler Smith


40 Days - Day 18

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light;" and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day" Gen. 1:1-8 NRSV.

Everyone knows that passage, backwards and forwards. We’ve been taught it since we were old enough to talk and walk, sometimes even earlier. Yet, most of the time we read this and don’t think twice about what we just flew through. I even admit to not thinking much about it when I read it.

I think I was at Crash when I first heard this analysis of Genesis 1. The writer of Genesis, along with God of course, chose their words carefully when they wrote this. “While a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Now most people don’t even catch this mark in the writing. Again, I’m definitely not the one who originally stated this, but I will restate it because it will lead to a big point in a second.

When Genesis was written, the Hebrews were, if I’m not mistaken, under control of a Middle Eastern kingdom. I can’t remember who, but it will make sense of why I’m saying this at this point. In the Middle Eastern creation myth, water was viewed as the instigator of all chaos on Earth. In this view, the writer of Genesis used this to show that when God created the Earth and separated the waters to create the “dome,” or land, He had complete control over chaos.

So here is where I can tie all of this in. A lot of you may not know that I have had a real crazy past couple of months. From surgery that ended my football season to a lot of craziness and hoopla mumbo jumbo, I haven’t seen much outside of the craziness and chaos that has basically taken complete control of my life. I never meant it to, but when you deal with the same things over and over again every day, it tends to find a way to slip in and take control of your life. I know that I’m not the only one who has had to deal with this; so this is why I write.

This Winter Retreat is about prayer. When I heard that I thought, “Wow, that’s really simplistic.” Now that I think about it, it might just be the one thing I need. In a life full over craziness and chaos and water: God is the only one with the ability to take control of my chaos. There aren’t many things that we can have complete control of. You can’t control how friends may act or treat you. You can’t control unfortunate family situations. Heck, we can’t really control how thumb joints decided to bend and pop out of place and tear your Ulnar Collateral Ligament. The one thing we can control, however, is to let God take control of our chaos, whatever that might be. I’m still learning to do this as well.

So my prayer for all of us, as well as myself, is to let God take control of our chaos. While everything may not make sense to us, God is just waiting to separate our waters and let the domes of land to emerge.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas.

In Christ,
Zack “Zoosee” Flowers


40 Days - Day 17

"Go and do the same." - Luke 10:37 NASB

I am currently reading Red Letters by Tom Davis. I bought the book on a whim one day in Borders. The book is subtitled "Living A Faith That Bleeds." The above passage from Luke is the lead-in to the 1st chapter, which speaks of a living gospel. The book does a fabulous job of making me want to change out of my pajamas, empty my piggy bank, and get on the next plane destined for a 3rd world country. Red Letters ignites the fire in my soul to change the world.

Christmastime excites me: the lights, the food, the family, the gift wrapping, the seasonal drinks at Starbucks - especially the seasonal drinks at Starbucks. I like the feeling in the air and the experience of the holidays.

However, the thing I like the most about Christmastime is seeing people bless others out of the goodness of their own hearts. This makes me smile.

I was listening to 88.7 the other day in my car, and Jeff from the morning show was sharing a story about a bank in North Dakota. The employees at this bank get a Christmas bonus each year of a thousand dollars. However, there is a catch to this bonus! The employees must spend every penny of their bonus on someone ELSE. The workers of this bank are given a video camera and sent on their way. They must help a family in need, a single mother, or give it to a soup kitchen. They are required to document the experience with the camera.

As we enjoy Christmas Day and the holiday season, my prayer for our youth group is to give and bless out of willingness, not out of obligation. Even as the holidays wind down, Christmas lights are put away, and the ugly sweaters from grandma are "conveniently forgotten," I still feel the challenge to bless those around me who are struggling in some way. Just because the fever of helping others out during the holiday season dwindles away, we still need to fuel the fire of servitude. The mending that takes place in the lives of those who are helped is incredible, but I never grow tired of the peace and blessing that rains down on MY life; it's a feeling that I will always remember.

I come to you on Christmas day, the day that your Son was born. I thank you for sending Him for me. I thank you for the incredible blessings that you have placed in my life, and I thank you for the opportunity to use those blessings to reach out to those in need. I pray that you ignite an urgency in the youth to serve in Your name, Lord; I pray that we are a living gospel, and we "Go and do the same," like it says in Luke. I pray that as Winter Retreat comes closer, you soften hearts so they are willing to abandon and cry out to You. I pray that You continue to anoint the leaders and staff of the youth group, and that you bless them with wisdom and guidance. I know that You have a plan for our time at Winter Retreat, and I pray that the youth group, as a whole, is willing to drop worldly ideas and follow You without a second thought. You are a Mighty God, a God that can move mountains and cleanse the deepest wounds.
I love you Daddy!



40 Days - Day 16

“Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
Psalm 100:2-3 ESV

My prayer for this Winter Retreat is that we simply come prepared and that our hearts and minds are focused on the right things. I always seem to hear people pray that God will show up during certain events. That isn’t the wrong way to pray or anything, but I try to look at it another way. God is everywhere. God is ready to do wonderful things in all of our lives. He wants to move in miraculous ways, but I believe we get too worried about Him just being there that we almost forget to be completely ‘there’ ourselves. Obviously, we are physically ‘there,’ but most of the time, our hearts and our minds seem to wander. I pray that this year we will be prepared. I pray that this year we will allow God to move in us. I pray that this year there will be no distractions. I challenge you guys to start preparing now. God has a plan. He is going to do something, but we must be ready to be used.

Stephen Winn


40 Days - Day 15

In his beautiful yet terrifying sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards declared, "If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it."

Yet so many of us ask the question, why do bad things happen to good people? I believe this is altogether the wrong question to be asking given the reality that we live in a world where sin is manifest around us, in us, and through us. The more reasonable question to ask is why do good things happen to us bad people?

Looking at life through this biblical lens, we begin to see that everything good in this poor fallen world is yet another example of God’s overflowing mercy and abundant grace. Praise the Lord who holds back His wrath from us undeserving people! Is not our endless praise and thankfulness due to Him if for no other reason but His unspeakable greatness?

Even Christ’s example of the correct way to pray begins with praising God’s holy name saying, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…" (Mathew 6:9 ESV). All throughout Scripture, believers are commanded to praise the name of God (e.g. Revelation 19:5). Furthermore, Hebrews 13:15 says, "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name."

In his masterpiece, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas A. Kempis quips, "Oh, that we had nothing else to do but to praise the Lord our God with our whole heart and mouth! Oh, that thou didst never want to eat, nor drink, nor sleep, but couldst always praise God and be employed solely in spiritual exercises! Thou wouldst then be much more happy than thou art under the necessity of serving the flesh. Would there were no such necessities, but only the spiritual refreshments of the soul, which alas, we taste too seldom."

Therefore, my prayer is that we would be a people who praise, glorify, uphold, worship, and thank God the Father Almighty, the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth.

May we echo the words of Christ in Mathew 6:9-13 (ESV) praying:

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Praise the Lord!
Kory A. Lewis