At the tail-end of our trip around the South, we were given the opportunity to attend the Passion Conference in Atlanta. Our dear friend, Sarah Ott, has been on its planning team for several years, and though it is predominantly focused on 18-25 year olds, she really encouraged us to experience this singular event. Though we get around pretty well, all things considered, maneuvering a massive venue, like the Georgia Dome, amongst 45,000 college-aged students could have been distracting, to say the least. Instead, Sarah so thoughtfully orchestrated our time there that we were able to pull up in our car, push the wheelchair about 20 yards to our seats on a club level directly facing the stage (THANK YOU SARAH!). With logistical distractions aside, we were able to fully absorb this breath-taking event, and needless to say, we were left speechless (well, almost...)
Passion was birthed out of a desire to call students across the globe to live for Christ now. Its touchstone verse, Isaiah 26:8, reflects this mission:
"Yes Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts."
Started by Louie Giglio and his wife, Shelley, in 1995, Passion has steadily grown into a worldwide movement that is truly shaping the "268 generation" to be a voice of hope and light in this world. This four day gathering was their largest yet (only to dwarfed by what seems to be coming next year as they open up the entire Georgia Dome for this event, which will mean around 90,000 attendees). The experience of worshiping the Lord in this context does not happen often, and the result was transcendent. The feeling of being so small while looking around that gigantic space, combined with the unifying, kinetic energy of nearly 50,000 people combined together in song and prayer and movement was an electrifying reminder of the power and necessity of throwing our small lots into this greater body of Christ.
This gathering felt a bit like a pilgrimage to some holy place. The sheer volume of so many like-minded believers in one place alone would have been worth the trip, but that experience was compounded by phenomenal teaching from some of the most Spirit-filled leaders in the contemporary Christian world, like John Piper, Beth Moore, Francis Chan, and Louie Giglio, as well as some of the most phenomenal Christian worship leaders, including Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, and Hillsong United (On a side note, it was so cool to re-connect with another member of the worship team, Kristian Stanfill, and his wife Kerri, who went to Samford with us. We were so proud to see how they have been used by Lord in such a powerful way. Check out his newest album here.)
A small recap of the phenomenal teaching...
* The opening sentiments from Louie Giglio were a call for the sleepers to awake and rise up. Focusing on Luke 7 when Jesus raises a man from the dead as he is headed to his funeral, Jesus acts as that same funeral interrupter in our lives--the very crux of the gospel--raising us from the dead as we are on the very road to our own funerals.
* Beth Moore followed up with the story of the bleeding woman healed in Luke 8, which is inserted inside the more well-known and very personal story of Jairus' daughter being raised up ("Talitha Koum" was spoken over Katherine by many people surrounding her stroke). Like this woman, our greatest need for healing is often the most uncomfortable, awkward, and personal secrets in our hearts. In comparison to Jairus' dying daughter, her infirmity seemed minor, but Jesus' desire and ability to heal her and us is not limited or finite--we do not go unnoticed by God in matters of our brokenness and pain. No matter how dirty we are, we cannot make Jesus unclean, and he came as flesh to be touchable by us!
* Christine Caine, founder of the A21 Campaign addressed the injustices of human trafficking and challenged us that we are in this world to allow our lives to be interrupted by other broken people in this world (John 17:15-18 & Luke 10:30). It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and it is only the freed who can rescue the captives.
* Francis Chan called us to be renewed and intentional students of the Bible, so as to gain discernment into the messages we are receiving every day, not only from the world but from others in the church. We must take God at His word in the first place, not just jump on the bandwagon after the fact or look for ways to justify our own desires through the Bible.
* John Piper gave an eloquent and thought-provoking meditation on the intent of our lives being to put the value of God on display for the world to see--"seeing and savoring the supremacy of Christ frees us from the bondage and slavery of sin for the sacrifices of love". Freedom in Christ is not about being brought to neutral, now able to choose good or bad, but true rebirth in Christ is about a new desire, one where our actions naturally line up with exactly what the will of God is for us. Desire not decision. Knowing that Christ is enough for us for eternity, even if we don't feel that way all the time now, empowers us to live our lives as sacrifices of love to Him.
* Louie Giglio ended our time with a call to action. Taking our experience of this holy mystery, being both quietly worshipful and noisily grateful, and communicating that mystery, of which we are ambassadors, to the world that needs to hear it. When Jesus interrupts our funeral, we cannot wait to participate in the purposes and plans of God in our lives.
Not to waste an opportunity for this passionate audience to connect these spiritual dots into real-life action, the overall theme of Passion 2012 was "Freedom". Certainly one of the most near and dear and yet most taken for granted aspects of our lives, this idea of our freedom in Christ was paralleled with the slavery that is experienced not only by those lost in a spiritual sense but by the 27 million people enslaved for labor or sex around the world, even in our own US cities. Right now, in our present day, that is the highest number of people in bondage to slavery ever in human history. Through strategic partnerships with numerous charitable organizations around the globe focusing on liberation and rehabilitation of the enslaved, "Do Something Now", the charitable arm of Passion, challenged us to raise $1 million toward the cause of freedom during the conference. In truth, this challenge was rather daunting as the predominate attendees of the conference were broke college students! On the final morning, the money was totaled, and over $3 million was raised! That's the kind of event this was, and it certainly seemed to foreshadow the type of impact this generation will continue to have when it is called to action for something greater than its own self-focused pursuits.
To further ingrain this experience and create a reminder of the fight for freedom in all of our minds, Passion, with the help of all the attendees, created a massive art installation on the outside plaza, comprised of every day items we all use, made by slave labor. These items, representing the way slavery has innocuously infiltrated all of our lives, were formed into a giant, 103 foot tall hand reaching up to heaven, reaching up for freedom.
The hand was silhouetted against the backdrop of thousands of white flags, cris-crossing the plaza, signed with personal messages from the attendees, another image symbolizing the only true freedom in surrendering fully to Christ in our lives. Chris Tomlin debuted a new song, entitled "White Flag", which was my favorite of them all...
"Here on this holy ground, you made a way for peace. Laying your body down, you took our rightful place. This freedom song is marching on...we raise our white flag, we surrender all to You, all for You. We raise our white flag; the war is over, love has come, your love has won." Wow. (look for it on the Passion 2012 album to be released in the Spring).
Passion executed this event as well as anything I have ever seen. From precisely directing and managing a crowd of 45,000 to and from small groups and lunches, to creating absolutely top notch and appealing content and graphics, music and teaching, they have figured out how to produce an experience that leaves a lasting effect on the heart of everyone who experiences it. Yet, despite this level of expertise, their focus on Jesus Christ is always at the forefront of it all. We invite you to pray for Passion as it continues to move as the Spirit leads, impacting this next generation in a way that we pray will ultimately impact the world as the captives are set free in every sense of the word. If you are in the Atlanta, Georgia area around January 1, 2013 (or even if you are not), we would highly recommend that you consider being a part of this deeply moving spiritual experience. We cannot think of a better way to have entered into 2012 than this, and we can't wait to see what God will produce in our lives as a result of it in the next 12 months. Thank you Passion!