(Disclaimer: This post is long. Really, really long. It's mostly an overview to help me remember some specifics about four days where I saw and experienced passionate worship, teaching, giving, and service in the name of Jesus. I invite you read and catch a small glimpse of what happened at Passion 2012. And if nothing else, be encouraged - very encouraged - that there is a generation of 18-25 year olds that are passionately pursuing Jesus.)
"Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desires of our hearts." Isaiah 26:8
Passion Conferences are built on this verse. Passion's ministry aims to empower and enable this generation - the 268 generation of 18-25 year olds - to rise up to and follow Jesus without inhibition. To make His name famous. To put action to our worship of Him. To desire His truth and claim it for the power that it is.
Grady and I had the privilege to join 29 other college students from our church and attend Passion 2012. This is our third year going and it just keeps getting better. And bigger! This year Passion was held in the Georgia Dome for a crowd of 45,000 people. Forty-five thousand generation 268ers that came from every state and 30 countries to worship Jesus.
Our trio of vans made its way from Charlotte to Atlanta without any problems, and we enjoyed passing and honking with several other vans along the way that were en route to The Dome as well. (And, given that my last few road trips have been with three children under the age of five, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly time goes when conversation happens on an adult level and no one whines for more snacks, about dropped crayons, or for potty breaks.)
Thirty one people with thirty one bags - wait, more like fiftyish bags because we all know that multiple shoes and coats and accessories are a must - plus sleeping bags and pillows and coolers... that's a lot of stuff to quickly claim, organize, and haul to various rooms. Especially when several other groups are simultaneously doing the same thing in the same small lobby.
It's all in perspective. Crowds can frustrate and annoy. But, crowds can also motivate and excite.
Knowing that I was waiting to use the restroom, waiting to find a seat, waiting to get a meal, waiting for an elevator, waiting to enter a building, waiting to exit a building, or waiting to make a purchase was, most of the time, okay because I knew I was waiting along with 45,000 other people doing the exact same thing for the exact same reason. Crowds of people smashed together in one small section of Atlanta for four days because we all wanted to increase our worship, build our faith, and strengthen our relationship with Jesus.
Monday evening began with Louie Giglio setting the tone and sharing the theme for our time together this year: Freedom. He taught from Luke 7 and pulled from the account where Jesus brought a dead man to life in a seemingly "random" encounter. The dead man was on a stretcher being carried out of the city to his grave when Jesus met the processional and told the dead man to get up and live again.
- True freedom is taking what is dead and bringing it to life. The goal is radical change and only One Name can offer that change.
- Jesus was willing to touch death and speak to it; he didn't hide from it. When Majesty steps into our mess, he's not concerned with what He isn't supposed to do, only with what He came to do.
Application: Jesus came to intersect me on my way to my funeral. We each have a different stretcher bringing us to a different funeral, but we all have access to the same Jesus that offers the same freedom for all of us.
Moore spoke from Luke 8 about the woman with the issue of bleeding. I've heard this story countless times, yet she somehow taught this story with a freshness and a perspective I hadn't fully considered before. The following are several high-level points worth sharing:
- My need isn't an interruption to His plan or timing. I am incapable of going unnoticed by God. This is true freedom because I cannot hide from Him!
- The story of the woman with the issue of blood loses its power if it loses its discomfort. We don't like to talk about her issue because it's private and it's embarrassing. Similarly, the healing I most often need is from something intensely private that I don't want shared. Jesus doesn't care about privacy; he came to offer public freedom.
- The bleeding woman was socially, emotionally, physically, and relationally unclean, yet she couldn't defile Jesus. I, too, am unclean because the whole world system around me messes me up every single day. But, I cannot be unclean enough to mess Jesus up! Jesus makes me clean instead of me making him unclean.
Chan spoke from various Bible passages with his main point being: Truth is in the Bible... The Bible is Gods power... God's power strengthens my faith...I need to read and know my Bible for a strong faith.
Over and over again, Chan asked, "Do you take the Word of God literally?" He gave examples, shared stories, and read verses to help us understand that we can - and we must - take God's Word literally.
Forty five thousand 18-25 year olds listened and followed along as God's Truth - His words - were read directly from the Bible. For almost 40 minutes, 45,000 people sat in silence while God's Truth was shared without interruption, without visual stimulation, and without human insights and perspectives.
Think about that. For a good portion of an hour, 45,000 people were impacted by just hearing God's Word. No music to compel. No video to suggest. No images to lead. Just God's words. I'll wage a guess that a majority of people in that arena have never taken the time to read God's word out loud for that long with such intention and purpose.
This simple exercise spoke volumes in teaching that we don't need outside props and outside helps to read and glean from God's Word.
John Piper spoke Wednesday evening and, try as I may, I won't be able to capture a glimmer of what he shared. It's almost like when Piper speaks, you stop what you're doing and listen. You listen intently. You listen fully. And then, when it's all done, you walk away overwhelmed and anxious to hear the message again so that you can pick up a few more pieces from what he said.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas I can share from Piper:
- Seeing and savoring the supremacy of Jesus Christ frees me from the slavery of sin to the sacrifice of love. This provides me with a "why" for my purpose of living for the glory of God: inward in my soul, and outward to set me free. The root of my dying need is private; the resulting fruit of being made free is public.
- Coming to faith requires a resurrection. It's a gift and not something I choose. Before the gift of freedom I am a slave to sin. After accepting the gift of freedom I am a slave to Christ.
- Freedom is desiring the supremacy of Christ. The goal of every slave to Christ ought to be the pursuit and intention of being so in love with Him that I can do anything I want and it accords with His will.
He used that phrase to point out that there is no holding pattern to do something significant for Jesus Christ. I don't have to wait in order to fully participate in the purposes and plans of God. Age? Doesn't matter. Education? Doesn't matter. Location? Doesn't matter. Relationships? Doesn't matter.
What matters is that I am fully committed to seeing Jesus famous and doing all I can to make his name spread right now. God is a page turner. Where I am today is a page on the timeline of where He wants me and what He wants me doing. I must be intentional and passionate about spreading His name today before I am concerned about how I'm preparing to spread His name later.
Before and after each session, we participated in fresh and passionate worship through singing. I watched people cry over the truth exposed in the words of the songs we sung. I watched people lift hands in surrender to God as they sang words with power. I watched people dance and jump with radiant smiles as they relished a unique chance to praise our Jesus.You cannot imagine what it's like to hear 45,000 voices singing to God Almighty. Forty-five thousand voices praising the King of Creation. Forty-five thousand voices worshiping Jesus our Savior. Forty-five thousand voices adoring the only Freedom Provider. It's an experience I'll never forget.
Chris Tomlin, Matt Redmond, Christy Nockels, Kristian Stanfill, Charlie Hall, David Crowder, Hillsong, and Lecrae were all in one place, for one week, for one purpose: leading us before God's throne in honest worship. These powerful bands with amazing talent pointed our hearts and minds to the cross and the freedom it offers.
More than just teaching and more than just worship, Passion aims to connect participants with a peer community to help process what is taught and provide a form of relationship and accountability for going forward. Every morning to begin our day, all 45,000 of us met in various Community Groups, based on coordinated wrist band colors, around the Georgia World Congress Center.
Community groups are still quite large - maybe one to two thousand per group. Within each Community Group, then, are smaller groups of 10-12 people, called Family Groups. Family Groups are where intentional discussion and processing happen. It's kind of a rubber-meets-the-road facilitation process. After an intense day of teaching and worship and growth, we closed our day back with our families in our Community Groups.As can understandably be the case when thousands of people are randomly assigned a wrist band color and family group, the likelihood of all group members connecting and forging deep relationships is unlikely. Surprisingly, however, when I asked several of our students what they most appreciated about their Passion experience, they replied with an excited, "My Community Group!"
What does this tell me? Students may or may not leave Passion with a new best friend. Students may or may not leave Passion with a group that offered a safe place to unpack what was taught. But every single student did have the opportunity to offer friendship - intentional, Christlike friendship - with countless other peers. There were some students that came to Passion not knowing who Jesus was or what true freedom looked like. But students that cared enough to invest in their Community Group had an opportunity to show care and concern and love and friendship.
And that's powerful. Really powerful.
More than just teaching and more than just worship and more than just Community Groups, Passion takes a loud stand on bringing action to our worship though intentional efforts at justice and love. For example, months before Passion, students are encouraged to purchase new towels or socks to donate to area homeless shelters in the city of Atlanta.
The thought being that 45,000 God-loving people should not descend on Atlanta for several days without leaving a positive mark in the name of Jesus. Donating towels and socks is a simple, but concrete way to do just that. During Passion 2012, 33,880 towels and 170,250 pairs of socks were donated to area shelters!
Our eyes were opened to the fact that 27 million people today are slaves, which is more than any other time in human history. Read that again: more than any other time in human history.
The number is staggering, but it's easy to see it as just a big number and nothing more. Listening to terrifying stories and seeing horrific pictures helps put a face to that big number. And when I have faces in my mind - faces of exploited children, helpless bonded labor slaves, and abused women - I'm motivated to do something to help.
Here is what Passion 2012 says about the purpose and the results of the Do Something Now campaign:
"Beautiful worship happened at Passion 2012, both in song and in deed. You came ready to Do Something Now and in fact you DID SOMETHING amazing.