God’s On the Move

Four years ago, God revealed to me that He was going to move in Arizona and that somehow I would be a part of it. Last October, while I was fighting for my life in the hospital, I was completely helpless and dependent on God. He healed me there and reminded me that it was this posture of humility in which He would move and that it’s only in Him that we live and move and have our being. 

 

Our prayer for camps this summer was for God to move in us and through us — move in a way we’ve never seen before and take us to a place we’ve never been. Here’s a preview of how God moved in our four weeks of youth camps this summer. Behind every number is a person and a story for God’s glory.

 

Decisions for Christ: 497 

Baptized in the Holy Spirit: 386 

Heard God’s call on their lives: 557 

Received divine healing: 331 

STL offering: Over $10k

 

Image

Photo Credit: Bethany K. McGrath

 

God is on the move in Arizona and awakening young people around the world. Would you pray with me for God’s kingdom to advance as students share their faith and demonstrate the gospel around the world? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment and share how God is moving in your life.

Undiagnosed

Almost a year has passed since the day I was appointed to become the next District Youth Director in Arizona and that my wife and I would be packing up to venture out to the desert. I’m humbled to reflect and be a part of what God has done already in and through Arizona Youth Ministries in 2013. There have been moments of stress, fear, and anxiety, but they’ve all been overcome by God’s grace, strength, and peace. When my faith is weak, He proves Himself faithful. Where I’ve lacked, He has supplied. He has allowed me to bear the responsibility of leadership, but He loves me enough to not let me do it alone.
 
 
Last month, I came down with an extremely high fever, followed by flu-like symptoms. I’m rarely sick, so I thought whatever ‘bug’ I had would just pass. My symptoms became worse over the next four days, and I finally went into urgent care. From there, they sent me to the emergency room for further testing. After an EKG, spinal tap, chest x-rays, and multiple blood cultures, they ruled out meningitis and sent me home to follow up with a hematologist because my blood platelet level was extremely low. They said it was just some virus and I should start to feel better.
 
 Image
 
That night, I had another 104 degree fever, and all of my symptoms became worse (severe migraine, body aches, joint pain, stiff neck, leg cramps, rash). I had to cancel a speaking engagement the next day and go into the ER again. This time, they were more serious about my symptoms and admitted me to the hospital right away to put me on an IV and start me on antibiotics and morphine. The Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine Doctors were concerned I had a tick born illness such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever because of my recent travel to South Carolina. A disease such as this can be fatal if not treated within two weeks from the time of infection. After only a couple days on the antibiotics, I was taken off of them because my liver enzyme levels were dangerously high. (An average range is 7-55, and my levels were up to 460.)
 
 Image
 
If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you know all too well how difficult it is to get rest with the nurses waking you up every couple hours to draw your blood or change out your IV. I was blessed from all the prayers and support we received during this uncertain time. Bethany won the wife of the year award just for sleeping on that tiny hospital bed in the corner of the room for a week. Her strength and faith through this situation was miraculous, and I’m so grateful for her love for me.
 
After a week of blood tests, ultrasounds/x-rays/CT scans/MRI, and too many hospital meals, my liver enzyme levels dropped enough for the doctors to consider me stable and ready to be discharged. Although my symptoms persisted and I had not received a diagnosis, I was able to go home with pain medication and referrals for outpatient testing and appointments with five different specialists. This was a frustrating and painful process, but I was glad to be home. Bethany doesn’t like driving, but she drove me around to all my appointments.
 
Image 
 
Although I still do not have a diagnosis to this day, my symptoms have improved greatly, and I am back at work. There is a lot of uncertainty in this whole situation, but I recognized quickly that this was an attack from Satan on my life. I’m not one to call a demon behind every bush, but I know this was spiritual warfare, and the enemy wanted me dead. Many people were praying with us during this time, and I believe God answered those prayers. I believe God has healed my body, and He allowed me to go through this for a purpose.
 
I may not know all that God is doing in this season of my life, but I do know He did not leave my side. The Great Physician had the answers when the other physicians had none. He gave me peace and comforted my family through this trial. Though I may have had trouble standing, I know His Word did not. His promises are true, and I held on to every one of them. As I read the Bible in the hospital bed, God reminded me that Jesus took on all my infirmities and healed every disease when He died on the cross. 
I’ve learned a lot through this illness, and I understand to a greater measure when Paul says he rejoices through suffering. God doesn’t grow us when we’re on the mountain. He takes us through valleys and wants to stretch our faith and trust Him to not take us out of it, but through it.
 
Image
 
I’m grateful for God’s physical healing, but I’m even more grateful for Him saving me from the depths of sin and that my hope goes far beyond what is mortal. Whatever circumstance or trial we may face in this life, we have the hope of eternity through Jesus Christ our Savior. I’m ready embrace the next season God takes me into because He’s going with me. God is doing a mighty work in Arizona, and I’m humbled to be a part of His great and wonderful plan. 

What I’m Believing in Prayer for Arizona Youth

After the first few months of being in Arizona, I’ve made it a priority to ask a lot of questions. When people ask about my vision for the youth of Arizona, I honestly tell them that I don’t know. This early on, it would be ignorant for me to believe I have all the answers or should ever expect that I will.

 

Not having a clear vision will not hinder me from seeking God and addressing the burdens He’s compelled me with. I am keeping my ear to the ground, listening to each conversation with a sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit is speaking.

 

I’m encouraged by the quality our leaders, leaving each conversation thankful that we have leaders who sincerely care about their students and desire to honor God. When God works, He operates in unity. God is already working and stirring hearts of students in the presence of God. I’ve seen a thirst for revival in the Church and a much-needed awakening of this generation.

 

With much opportunity comes much opposition. My heart breaks for three key issues in the Arizona youth culture, but I offer three focused prayers that I’m inviting those reading this to pray with me. I’m careful to note that before I share my concerns, I’m not writing out of fear, but a conviction in my spirit of what I feel God is showing me. I write in broad generalities within our district and not to any specific leader or church in mind. I’m writing with the understanding that what disheartens us today can become tomorrow’s greatest opportunity. God is building His Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 paraphrased)

 

1. This generation is biblically illiterate. 

A recent study showed that Phoenix was the 8th-worst “Bible-minded” city in the country, and only 17 percent of residents know their Bible well. A seasoned theology professor at one of our Assemblies of God universities said he’s concerned each year by the biblical ignorance of incoming freshmen. We’re living in a day when God’s Word is unfamiliar, much like that before the reign of Saul. 1 Samuel 3:1b “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” When God spoke to Samuel, as a young man, it was Eli that taught him God’s voice. We need more Eli’s in Arizona. Despite his weakness as a leader, God used Eli to point a young man in a direction that would change the course of history. I pray for leaders who commit to preach God’s Word and live it out with integrity. 

 

2. Satan has the largest youth ministry.

I’m reminded of Jesus in Matthew 9, when He sees the crowds. His heart is filled with compassion, seeing they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore, pray for to the Lord of the harvest, for Him to send out workers to the harvest field.” (v. 38) Today, Assemblies of God churches have 25% paid youth leaders, 50% volunteer youth leaders, and 25% have no youth leaders at all. Is it fair to say we need to raise up more leaders? Please pray with me for God to send more workers.

 

3. We’re running out of time.

Though we do not know the hour of Christ’s return, we know creation and culture is revealing signs of the end times. Jesus is coming back for His Church, and we must have a sense of urgency and passion for the mission of seeing lost people saved. Our prayer should model that of Paul in Romans 10:1, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” It is God’s will that none should perish, but people perish every day without hearing the gospel message of Christ’s love and plan for salvation. 

 

We are stronger together as the body of Christ to accomplish His mission. If we are to see revival happen in our churches and communities, then we must commit to serve together. You will hear me say my life calling more than once, but I’m compelled with a vision to activate disciples. I desire to serve the youth leaders of Arizona so that we can continue to build upon the rich legacy we have. This is why I’m passionate about Fine Arts: helping students discover, develop, and deploy their ministry gifts. This is why I’m passionate about camp and convention: giving students opportunities to encounter their Heavenly Father with friends. And this is why I’m passionate about giving to Speed the Light and sending students on AIM trips: challenging students to impact eternity by serving the heart of God in His global mission. This is a cause-driven generation, and we need to equip them with the cause of Christ, raising up the next generation of missionaries.

 

I believe in transparent, authentic leadership. I hesitated sharing this at first, but I feel in my heart I need to be transparent with what Bethany and I are giving to Speed the Light this year. We feel compelled by God to step out in faith as we challenge and encourage you and your students to give generously and sacrificially to Speed the Light. I say this with humility and faith that we pledge to personally give $10,000 in 2013 to get the gospel where it needs to go through Speed the Light. This will not be easy for us, but we believe in what God is doing through our missionaries and we are excited to celebrate in offering our fish and loaves to the King and watch in awe as He works wonders in our midst. He is faithful every time.

 

We’re praying and believing God for creative ideas and divine obedience. We felt God wants us to set an ambitious goal of $300,000 as a district in 2013. Our missionaries need the youth of Arizona to rise to the challenge and believe God for big things. I believe, with God’s help, we will equip our missionaries to preach the Gospel to a lost and hurting world. 

 

Will you pray with me and join this challenge to equip our missionaries whom God’s entrusted to us?

 

Romans 10:14-15 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.'”

Arizona Bound

Bethany and I will be moving in January 2013 to become the next District Youth Directors of Arizona. This is a move God has been orchestrating for years.

During our time in Missouri at Evangel University and James River Assembly, God has molded us and equipped us for the days ahead, as we continue our dependence on Him to start this next chapter in our young lives.

The support we’ve received already has been incredible. We are so very grateful for the people God has positioned in our lives over the past few years who have encouraged us, challenged us, and journeyed with us.

We’re humbled at the opportunity to even be considered among such spiritual giants in the faith. Tim and Ann Black built a foundation for us to build skyscrapers on, and the legacy my father and others left before us is seemingly insurmountable.

This burden on our heart for the youth of Arizona has been a growing conviction for over three years. I remember sharing my heart with Scotty Gibbons, the Student Ministries Director at James River Assembly, during my internship at the church. I said, “I have a huge passion on my heart for Arizona, and I feel like I will be part of a movement of young people rising up to fulfill God’s call on their lives – a mobile and active generation.”

Bethany and I couldn’t be more excited to serve in this great district. We’ve never felt such a peace about any other opportunity, and it’s undeniable that God is in this 100%. We welcome your prayers and encouragement, as this will not be a move without challenges. We understand that God’s thoughts and His ways are much higher than ours, and we know that this appointment is just the start of what God has in store.

Of course, we’ll find it difficult to leave our family, friends, students, leaders, and all the amazing people in Springfield, MO. We’ve made a lot of memories and friendships that we hope to build upon in the future. I’m so excited for the Black family and what God has in store for them. We’re believing that the best is yet to come for Arizona youth!Image

My Thoughts on #Kony2012

#KONY2012 only reaffirms this generation’s desire to be a part of a cause bigger than themselves. 

Social media shapes our culture. What’s #trending is ‘relevant’, but what’s relevant may not even be current. For a crime that has been going on for nearly a decade, we now have millions of ‘informed’ advocates who watched a 30-minute video and read a few compelling articles.

With the impact of culture today, it’s important for followers of Christ to fix our eyes on Him and His promises.

Jesus warned, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Mark 13:7)

Here are a couple things I’m learning through #Kony2012:

1. We need to be better informed.
“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” (Proverbs 19:2) 

My challenge is not for us to be more informed of this world, but be more informed of God’s Word. His purpose gives us knowledge and direction for the mission He has called us to here on this earth. 

Ask yourself this question: “How can God use me to have the most impact for His Kingdom?” Explore the answer to that question, and devote your life to study your mission field. If God is calling you to stop the terrors of Joseph Kony, then educate yourself in how to make the most impact in doing so. If retweeting has the most impact, by all means stop reading this and start tweeting.

2. We need to take action.
As we gain understanding of God’s mission for us and the people He has called us to reach, we must develop a course of action.

I admire the passion Invisible Children has to develop and implement a strategic plan to stop Joseph Kony. Christians should take notice and be inspired to not only be analysts but activists. Christians are very good at talking about changing the world. There are few who have the faith to do it.

I pray for a generation that desires the cause of Christ and becomes active in His commission. Will you commit to pray with me for God to send out workers into the harvest field?

Praise for Yesterday, Patience for Tomorrow

Before heading full throttle into this naturally fast-paced season, I can’t help but brag on God and reflect on the incredible things He has allowed me to be a part of already this year.

I am so grateful to be learning from amazing leadership and experiencing first-hand ministry at James River Assembly. God has unleashed His blessing on our student ministry, compelling us to emphasize on rescuing lost people this year (Proverbs 24:11-12). Between our three spring outreaches, three spring retreats, four summer camps, and our weekly services, God has already drawn over 500 students to make decisions for Him.

In His grace, God has opened the front door for these students, but we humbly accept the responsibility to close the back door and keep these students. It’s a difficult task, but God is helping us with creativity and strategic thought to help with the retention of students.

God has given me the opportunity to grow in my public communication this year. At age 16, God told me I would speak, and this year, He confirmed His call. It’s not easy keeping the attention of a couple hundred Jr. Highers on Sunday mornings and giving them a word that is tangible for their young lives, but God is helping me. I also spoke at my first youth camp in Arizona, and preached five times with a translator in Nicaragua. My most difficult message was a Wednesday night service at Realife. My dependence was completely on Him as I attempted to teach on the rapture and tribulation to nearly 600 Jr. High and High School students. God showed up, and 20 students gave their hearts to Christ that night. Now, that is humbling!

Through Speed the Light, our students have already raised over $30k, and we’re about to start our eleven-week fall drive. Last week, over 200 students signed up to be campus missionaries through Youth Alive, and we’re believing for God to bring in a harvest of souls this fall. Through much prayer and dependence on Him, we’re believing the best days are ahead of us.

I still don’t know what next year holds for Bethany and me, but I know that right now, we are completely in His will. We continue to be patient for the right door to open, but we will surely be active in what we know He’s called us for today.

Seven Years

It’s been seven years now since my dad died. I feel like so much has happened since then.

I went on my first mission trip without him, and I wasn’t able to tell him that I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. He would have loved to hear when God told me at an altar that I was going to speak, so I decided to major in communications, just like him. When I graduated high school, I received a baseball scholarship. He would have gone to my games. When I hurt my back and wasn’t able to play again, he would have assured me that it would all work out.

I wish he could have seen Bethany in her beautiful dress on our wedding day, and told me I married well. He would have cheered, “That’s my boy!,”when I walked the line for my college graduation. I took my first youth pastor position at James River Assembly, and he would have heard me preach my first sermon.

There are many moments I wish I could have shared with my dad. I often think about what he would do or what he would say. Although my dad couldn’t be there for me, I know my heavenly Father always was and always will be. There are times I wish so badly I could ask my dad a question, but I’m reminded of a God that is omniscient and loves to give good gifts to His children.

Seven years later, I’m understanding that my dad left me everything I ever needed, his legacy. It was perspective on life, and a decision to live each day to the fullest. My dad chose to create a new legacy for his family; a legacy fully committed to Jesus Christ. That’s the legacy I chose to live seven years ago, and that’s the legacy I choose today.