Bones, Armies, and Pacesetters
Speaking at the camp you got saved at is a surreal experience. I never expected to have this opportunity and when it was postponed due to 2020, I half wondered if I ever would. Yet, there I was at Pacesetters 2021, praying and preparing myself to speak on at the Wednesday evening service when something unexpected happened in my spirit. I felt God leading me to ditch my lesson notes and preach from Ezekiel 37.
I wasn’t so sure if that would be a good idea.
But how did we get here? How was it that I got the opportunity to teach at Pacesetters student leadership camp? It was February of 2020, weeks before the lockdowns, when I tagged along with Glowing Heart (the ministry that puts on Pacesetters every year) on their DNOW weekend in Ruston, LA. At the time, many of the Glowing Heart members were part of the college ministry I led called The Spring. I wanted to be there to support them and see them minister.
My connection to Glowing Heart goes even deeper than that though. In high school I attended Pacesetters every summer from 2010 to 2012 as a student. God used those camps in a mighty way to save me, shape me, and focus my calling. When I graduated from high school, I joined Glowing Heart as their videographer and webmaster. From freshman year to my junior year, I served God in Glowing Heart. It was a formative experience.
Rob Loftin, the son of Glowing Heart founder Henry Loftin, is a close friend of mine and we had the chance to hang out a lot during the 2020 Ruston DNOW. We talked a lot about ministry, the future of Glowing Heart, and Pacesetters. He mentioned that they were thinking of finding a new teacher for Pacesetters. This was news to me. The previous speaker had been a staple of the camp for over 20 years. But now, Rob was thinking of going in a new direction and figured a new speaker would help with that vision. I didn’t volunteer myself, but by the end of the weekend, Rob floated the idea of me being the speaker.
After more discussion and some “try outs” I was offered the opportunity to speak at and write the material for Pacesetters. I was thrilled by the chance to not only speak, but also write. During my time in Glowing Heart, I had the opportunity to co-author (with Rob) the DNOW material we used my final year. Since then, I’ve written many bible studies, but it was exciting to get to use those writing muscles again in this context.
The goal of the 2021 camp was to train students on how to read, interpret, apply, and teach scripture. In other words, I would had the chance to teach a crash course in hermeneutics to high school students. To accomplish this the material used the book of Philippians as the text in which the students could apply the interpretive methods. Each interpretive method or principle was covered in the morning and evening service teaching times. In this way, the students would learn a method, see it in action, and then do it themselves later that day. It was pretty much a dream come true to get to write on and teach this at Pacesetters.
Needless to say, the 2020 camp did not happen. However, I was able to take the work I was doing for 2020 and use it for the 2021 camp week. I put a lot of work into each lesson and had specific goals in mind for what I wanted the students to learn. At each session that week, things were going well. The students were engaged, learning, and discussing their take aways after using the methods. It was exciting!
And so we come to the Wednesday service I mentioned above. The lesson was to be on the person of the Holy Spirit and how He helps us interpret scripture. It was set to be one of the more complicated/in depth lessons of the week, but I had confidence that the students would get it. I had done a ton of research, had a lot of notes, and the white board was all filled out with the basics of trinitarian theology.
As the last two songs were sang in the lead up to the teaching time, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to abandon the lesson.
He was bringing to mind the story of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. We had been singing songs about this story all week and the story kept being referenced in my driving to and from the camp. The Holy Spirit was making it clear to me that this wasn’t a coincidence. It was preparation — just not the kind I was used to.
I’d been praying for the students all week. Spiritual battles were happening. But it was just the middle of the week. It wasn’t when camps traditionally have the big come to Jesus moment. Then again God doesn’t operate on our time tables and likes to defy expectations.
I was trying to understand what the Holy Spirit was saying in that moment. Did he want me to integrate this story into the lesson tonight? Was it to be a special invitation around this story? Or was it something for later in the week? And that’s when the chorus to the song, More Like Jesus was sang:
If more of you, means less of me, take everything.
All week I had been thinking of that line in the typical “take up your cross” kind of way. In that moment though, the Holy Spirit was asking me, “Do you want more of me at this camp? Are you willing for me to take your lesson and lead you?”
I nervously said yes and flipped open my Bible to Ezekiel 37. I ran back to Trent, who was managing the sound, and asked him for one more song so I could read over and pray. He nodded.
What happened next is honestly a bit of a blur. I read over the passage, but didn’t form any quick sermon outlines or notes. I only felt the confirmation of the Spirit. I don’t know what song they sang prior to me taking the stage (something I hadn’t done all week, as I wanted to be at the same level as the students). All I knew when I ascended the stairs was that God wanted to raise up these students from their dry bones and bring them to life. Everything in my Spirit was burning in me to read Ezekiel 37 to them, tell them this truth, and call them to depend on Christ.
As I began to speak, I felt the Holy Spirit lead me in a way that I’ve never experienced. It wasn’t like I had no control, but it felt like I was simply His instrument. I shared with the students that I had another lesson planned for the night, but I felt God leading me to speak on something else. I saw some widened eyes from the crowd. It was clear that we were all on the same wavelength: “where is this going?”
Spiritual battles had been happening during the week, and this moment was not devoid of it. As I was saying, “God has a message he wants to share with you tonight-” the mic cut out. The light was still on- it just didn’t work. So I didn’t use the mic. I simply raised my voice.
After some time, a replacement mic was given and I used that one to walk the students through the passage. I just read it and stopped at points as prompted to share what the Holy Spirit had to say to the students. As a result, Spiritual breakthrough began to happen in the students. Most of the campers came to the altar. They came to surrender, to lay down sin, and to be restored.
It was the first time that I’d ever given that kind of an altar call. Admittedly, most of my previous ones had been somewhat tinged with doubt in my heart. Perhaps to protect myself, I had told myself that “Well, don’t get too disappointed if no one comes forward. Who knows what will happen.” But this time, I didn’t have doubt. I felt the Spirit, I knew He was working, and I invited with confidence.
As I exited the stage, the band came back to play a couple more songs as students continued to pray at the altar. And as I got to the back of the worship center, I felt as though something like a blanket had been taken off my shoulders. Its hard to explain, but I think that during the speaking time, I was especially filled by the Spirit and then when He had finished, the Spirit “let go” so to speak. Not that the Holy Spirit left me or isn’t within me now, but it was like a “good job, get some rest” kind of feeling. I was out of breath, but I hadn’t been shouting. My legs felt wobbly, but all I had done was stand. People were encountering the Holy Spirit, and all I had done was say yes.
I truly cannot take credit for what happened. In myself I never would have scrapped a lesson I took so much time in writing. I like being prepared and taking time to study and craft. Yet, the Holy Spirit wanted to teach me something that night: it is always up to Him to bring the results. Real change happens when the Holy Spirit uses us as His instruments to reveal truth to those we minister to. Preparation, study, and lesson crafting are important! But without the Spirit, it won’t have the same lasting impact.
God could have used anyone that night. It’s not like I was especially eloquent or “the chosen one.” As Rob mentioned after the service, it was simply me saying yes that resulted in the movement. If I had said no, I would have taught the lesson, and no one would have known. But we all would have missed out on what happened.
What is it that you need to say “yes” to? Maybe it is something you don’t really feel prepared for, but feel the Spirit drawing you to it. For me, the experience was humbling and clarifying. I should prepare but I should also listen and be willing to go out on a limb when He calls. As I think about it now, I can’t help but wonder if all that study about the Holy Spirit was more about the Lord preparing me to be led like I was. Being faithful is about being faithful to prepare and faithful to obey even if it isn’t how we expected to obey.
At the close of the service before we dismissed for group time, I joked with the students that I had planned to teach them about who the Holy Spirit was, but it seems like He just wanted to show us Himself personally. It was truly incredible to be part of and I pray that the impact of that night will be felt for years to come in my heart and in the lives of the students there. I can’t wait to be used by God today — how is He going to use you when you say yes?