Last weekend, I experienced one of the most incredible weekends of my life. I am not kidding.
I went to the Youth Alive conference near Lancaster, PA. I had almost not registered for it, but God gave me some pushing to make sure that I signed up. Boy, am I glad He did!
I arrived on Thursday evening, and with some trepidation, headed for the door. I met up with a teenage guy who was just coming out. He stopped and welcomed me, and when he found out that it was my first time at Youth Alive, he took me inside and explained what was going on. “Dude,” he told me, “this is going to be an amazing weekend. God is really going to do some amazing things.”
Wow. Not, “Dude, you’re going to have so much fun here.” This guy was excited because of what God was going to do. This was sounding good already!
The first evening was spent in singing, a drama from the host church youth group, and a talk about surrendering to the will of God. One great point that the speaker made is that God’s will is not like a map that, once you miss a turn, you’ve missed the route completely. Instead, God’s will is like a compass that points us in the direction He wants us to go, and which will show us the way back when we mess up.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first evening, and I came back Friday morning with great anticipation for what God would teach me that day.
After a big breakfast, courtesy of the excellent cooks at Youth Alive, I sat down to wait for the morning service to start. Another guy came and sat down beside me. He told me that he had seen me that morning and the evening before, and that God had given him a message for me. I won’t share it here, but it confirmed what God had already shown me as well.
I didn’t know him from Adam; we had never met before. It was really neat to be prophesied over by someone who didn’t even know me. It was the first time I had received such a prophecy.
During the time of worship that morning, we sang the song “Power to Redeem”. The chorus says:
With breath that brings the dead to life
With words that pierce the dark with light
Only by the blood are we set free.
With mercy strong to carry shame
And nail it to a tree
You alone hold the power to redeem.
As we finished the song, Leroy Miller, pastor of the host church and moderator of the conference, stood up.
“Something is stirring in my spirit,” he said. “There are young people in this place that carry a tremendous amount of shame, and you can be set free from that. I could feel the presence of the Lord walking through this place—Jesus walking through and touching people.” He invited us to come forward and give our shame to Christ and accept that He had already taken it.
Due to years in spiritually abusive systems, I have carried a lot of shame. God has been healing me and taking that shame away, but as I went forward that morning, it was another outpouring of healing within my soul.
This was the first of several unscheduled healing times that would occur that weekend.
Leroy Miller preached on the Kingdom of God: defining the kingdom; explaining that it’s not just something yet to come in Heaven, but present with us now; and calling people to enter the kingdom and fellowship with the King.
After lunch, we spent the afternoon playing volleyball. Well, at least some of us did. Some people preferred to watch. Considering that we had 16 teams playing, that was probably actually a good thing. 🙂
Conrad Beiler was scheduled to speak on the Kingdom Principle of Holiness that evening. But when he came up to speak, he explained that he had been trying for a long time to prepare a message on holiness, but nothing would come. 15 minutes before the service began, God showed him that he needed to talk about adoption.
Conrad is originally from Honduras, and was adopted by an American family at age 3. Now an adult with a family, he recently went back to Honduras and met his biological family. He had a very interesting video of his trip to Honduras and the emotional reunion with his mom, two sisters, and brother.
As believers, we all have been adopted by God. Unfortunately, we often don’t really grasp or accept the full implication of what that means. The truth is that God has chosen us to be His sons and daughters, and made us joint heirs with Jesus.
Conrad pointed out, though, that we can understand truth with our heads, but until God gives us a revelation of His truth in our hearts, we won’t fully accept it. This was Conrad’s experience, and I can definitely relate. It is one thing to know that you are adopted by God, and quite another to actually believe it with your heart and live in that truth.
Conrad gave an invitation for people to accept Jesus as their Savior, and several people responded and were born again. Then he gave the invitation for us to come forward and claim our true identity in Christ and ask God for a personal revelation of the truth. I joined a number of young people together at the front, and while I can’t say that I received any great revelation from God, I do believe that God did a work of healing within my soul and drew me closer to Him.
After a time of prayer together, Conrad felt God leading him to pray for people’s physical healing, and the service shifted once again, by the guidance of God, into unscheduled territory. Conrad prayed specifically for things such as long-time back problems, injured ligaments, and food allergies, as he felt led by God.
It was an incredible evening. After a snack time, we talked, played games, and finally straggled out the door. I got back to my motel after midnight.
At about 4:30 in the morning, God impressed on me that I needed to ask for the opportunity to speak on sexual abuse. God began showing me what I should talk about: that sexual abuse affects numerous people; that victims are not to blame; that sexual abuse does not make the victim impure.
With some nervousness and trepidation in my mind, I headed back to Youth Alive for another great day. We heard several testimonies from people who had been healed the night before. A couple that I remember were a man who had been healed from food allergies and chronic back pain, and a guy whose torn ligaments in his right arm had been healed. It was really neat to see how God had answered our prayers.
Two young people spoke that morning.Tiara had been in an accident and nearly died. She definitely held our attention as she told how her iPad fell out of the truck and started playing comforting music as she was pinned beneath the truck; how God read Psalm 23 to her and assured her that she wouldn’t die; how God kept her breathing despite both lungs collapsing and her skull being broken in two places that usually would cause someone to stop breathing; and how God healed the damaged nerves in her left arm after the doctors said she would never be able to use it again.
Brandon told his story of struggling with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) throughout his teenage years. He faced inordinate guilt that wouldn’t go away, and feelings such as coming up to a doorway and having the thought: “If you walk through that doorway, you don’t love God.” He eventually found freedom by realizing that God knew his heart and he didn’t have to accept these thoughts and feelings; that they weren’t true.
We had a great volleyball tournament in the afternoon. (No, my team didn’t win.) Leroy Miller very generously brought in an ice cream truck and footed the bill for everyone (275-300 people) to get ice cream. Thanks so much, Leroy!
After supper, Ron Yoder, youth pastor of the host church, preached on purity. Given my experiences with purity culture, I was nervous about this session and what might be taught. And I will admit that it was probably my least favorite part of the conference. My biggest concern was that Ron promoted non-Biblical “Keys to Purity” such as taking a year to prepare for marriage before dating anyone, rather than emphasizing the need to follow God’s leading and walk in the Spirit to avoid the lusts of the flesh and do the right thing at the right time.
I do want to give Ron credit, however, for not teaching purity in a “sex is bad, don’t even think about it or the opposite gender” manner that was typical of purity culture. There were no bad analogies about chewed bubble gum or tape that had lost its stickiness. The session was not nearly what I feared it might be, and there were definitely some good points made.
We were dismissed to go enjoy a snack. Several people had indicated a desire to be baptized, so a couple of staff members set up a large watering trough and filled it with water in preparation for the baptisms. Some young people played games; others sat and chatted together. I wandered around shooting pictures of the group.
Different people had told me that, usually, Saturday night was the best part of the whole conference. This particular year, the scheduled Saturday night speaker had canceled at the last minute, and the late-evening slot had been left open for God to fill as He saw fit.
About 9:30 PM, Leroy Miller came to the front and asked for our attention. And that’s when, for me, the most surreal part of the conference happened.
Shock and Awe
“Tonight, all Hell is breaking loose,” Leroy told us somberly. “The message this evening was on sexual purity, on purity in many different aspects. Right now, we have a young lady out in the driveway who is possessed with a demon. And there were a couple young men in this conference who had sexually abused her.”
We all gathered together to pray for deliverance for the young lady. After several minutes of prayer, Leroy asked for a handheld mic, and said he wanted me to share.
I had spoken to him at noon about what God had placed on my heart, but so far, it had not worked out for me to speak. Leroy later explained that he had not felt a release from God for me to do so. Now, we knew why.
Leroy asked a lady in the group to come forward. “This is just amazing,” he said. “Do you know each other?”
“He comes and talks to me earlier,” Leroy said, indicating me, “and says, ‘The Lord is laying something on my heart to share with the group regarding sexual abuse.’ A few minutes ago, she came to me and said, Leroy, the Lord is laying something on my heart to share with the group related to—what do you think?—sexual abuse. So what’s the Lord trying to teach us tonight?”
Leroy asked me to share first. I shared what God had given me: that 20.5% of people in society at large have been sexually abused; that this is impacting the church as well; that sexual abuse victims ARE NOT TO BLAME for their abuse; and that sexual abuse and immorality distort the picture of Christ and the Church. I led the group in a prayer of healing for those who had been abused.
I passed the mic over to the lady who had come forward. “This stuff is real, folks,” she said brokenly. “I stand today as—once a victim, but I have found freedom in Jesus.
“I carried so much shame,” she continued. “But when I met Jesus, and He took that shame, there was so much freedom. And I began to see who God was, not an angry God, but someone who loved me.”
She explained that God had told her about six months before that she needed to share about sexual abuse at Youth Alive. “I just feel like God wants me to declare that there is freedom, there is victory from this!” she said. “If you have been the victim, and have not experienced freedom, I beg you to come to Jesus and give Him that guilt and shame.”
Then another young lady asked for the mic. “God has been laying this on my heart to share, and I didn’t know what it would look like,” she said. “I am also someone who was sexually abused.”
She is engaged, and she felt like her purity had been taken away and she had nothing to offer her husband-to-be. Then God showed her pictures: that in each instance when she was abused, Jesus had placed Himself between her and her abuser, and He had taken her abuse.
“Nothing was stolen from me,” she said. “Everything has been restored to me. And in the same way, He has covered your body, your purity. I want to speak that over all of you who are abused: you are still pure! God repays everything that was stolen from you—everything. He took the abuse so you don’t have to live with it forever.”
I was amazed. I had wanted to mention the same sort of thing when I spoke—that sexual abuse does not make the victim impure. But I had forgotten it, thank God, and this lady had explained it much better than I ever could have. I was absolutely in awe of the hand of God that I saw moving in our midst.
Then Leroy Miller took a bold step. “There needs to be repentance before there is prayer for healing,” he said. He asked any abusers in the audience to come forward and admit what they had done.
One by one, ten men came forward and stood in a circle together. Leroy prayed over them, asking for redemption and cleansing. Then he had them turn around and ask for forgiveness of those around them. “From this day forward, may you be protectors,” he said.
Then we had a time of prayer for those who were abused. A number of people came forward and stood together as Leroy prayed for their healing.
We closed the evening with a baptismal service for several young people who desired baptism. By the time everything was done, it was midnight.
When I got back to my motel at 1:00 AM, I was still in shock and awe at how God had worked that evening. I hadn’t been entirely sure that God wanted me to speak, and for a while, it looked like I wouldn’t be able to do so. But God had called THREE of us to speak on sexual abuse, and had orchestrated the circumstances in a way that I could never have imagined. It was a huge faith builder for me.
The conference ended with a bang. Lael Barkman preached an excellent sermon on the Kingdom of God. He stressed the need for hearing God’s voice and receiving His words to us in order to understand and follow Him. One of the things I appreciated was his point that the King has the right to make rules for those in His Kingdom. “There should be no divisive doctrines,” he said. “We should all just follow the King!”
We ended with a lunch that included barbecued chicken and plenty of dessert. After many goodbyes to new friends, I headed home with joy in my heart over the weekend I had experienced. It had been incredible, from one end to the other.
Music and Worship
I want to make one note about something else from Youth Alive. Before each session, we had a time of worship that lasted for about 30-45 minutes. (I feel that calling the time of singing “worship” is a misnomer, because worship involves so much more than just singing and music. However, for the sake of clarity, I will use the terms used at Youth Alive.) The music was contemporary praise and worship music.
Five years ago, I would have either not gone to Youth Alive at all, or would probably have walked out during the time of worship. You see, I believed that all such music was of the devil, and I would have no part in it. To this day, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable with it, but I no longer fear it as I once did.
However, at Youth Alive, I experienced the Spirit of God moving through contemporary praise and worship music. I even felt God leading me to give a blessing to the young drummer—something that would have horrified me at one point.
Through the ministry of music, we experienced healing from shame—something that no one had planned, yet was done by God as we sang. Through the blessing of music, we joyfully expressed our freedom after healing from shame as we sang,
Glory glory hallelujah
You threw my shackles in the sea
Glory glory hallelujah
Jesus is my liberty
I’m going free
The theme song for the conference was “You Redeem”. As I look back over the conference, it’s amazing how prophetic it was:
…Freedom is here with us
Burdens will fall like chains
Beauty will rise from the dust
All that’s lost will be regained
You redeem, You redeem
You restore what’s been stolen from me
You reclaim, You release
You rebuild with the words that You breathe
Miracles will happen
Healing will come
The plans of our enemy ruined undone
Miracles will happen
Healing will come
Here in your presence lost in Your Love…
Miracles certainly did happen. Healing did come—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. The enemy’s attack Saturday evening resulted in a time of healing. Freedom came, and burdens fell.
Where is God leading me musically? I don’t know for sure. But I felt led to include this section in my report.
You Can Still Join In!
Well, sort of. Most of the sessions (except Thursday evening, unfortunately) were streamed online and are still available to download or view/listen online. Some quick links:
Saturday Evening (the segment on sexual abuse starts at 4:15:00)
In closing, I want to thank all of those who made Youth Alive 2017 happen: speakers, staff, worship team, activity supervisors, and last but certainly not least, the cooks! You were all very important, and I thank God for how He worked through each of you to bless us so much.