Lost. Reckless. Hopeless. Defeated. Destructive. Pitiful. Undeserving. Spoiled. Lazy. Incapable. Chaotic. Those are just a few of the thousands of derogatory words that people use when describing recent generations- millennials and generation Z. Oftentimes I fall into the lie of believing that each of these words is true about our generations and that we have little potential. It is so easy to get caught up in all the evil around us. To get caught up in what the devil wants us to think. He wants us to believe these things about ourselves- to declare them over ourselves. But I refuse to do so… not today Satan. Not ever Satan. Recently, from December 31st through January 2nd, I had the opportunity to attend the Passion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Though I was expecting God to move prior to the event, little did I know the magnitude with which He would do so. I left the conference in absolute awe of His goodness. I left a gathering of almost 70,000 eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds from over seven hundred universities and over eighty countries more confident than ever about the direction that our world is headed.
I came into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a rather sour mood because I had witnessed my OU football team get trounced by LSU just three days earlier in the exact same stadium. I was thankful to have that experience but was also so glad that I had Passion to look forward to following. As the conference kicked off at 8:30 P.M. on the 31st, I was already amazed at what God was up to. As my friends and I made our way to the "floor seats," I could not help but take a few minutes to gaze around at the rest of the stadium. It was not like the football game in which empty seats were scattered across the stadium. Of the seating made available, it seemed as if every single seat was occupied. I thought to myself, "What?! A world-class stadium completely full of young people hungry to learn about and worship the King of kings when they could be anywhere else on New Year's Eve?!" If I were to write down everything I experienced over these three days, I'd have a whole novel. However, I'll tell of some of the things that jumped off the page most when I think about our generation and the impact we can have on eternity.
We jumped into our first worship session and then Levi Lusko gave an outstanding message. Of all the things he said, I think the thing our generation can most apply is that "even though now yells louder, later lasts longer." The pleasurable things of this world are tempting because they yell loud right now, but when facing temptation we must think about eternity and how rewarding it is to deny ourselves to make Him known.
We then jumped into a late-night session, which was probably my favorite part of the conference. Hillsong UNITED led the way, playing some of the most well-known worship songs ever written as the voices of God's children echoed across the stadium. Then, as the clock approached midnight, a countdown went up on the screen. As billions of others across the world were pursuing the aforementioned temporary satisfaction around this time, myself and my brothers and sisters in the stadium were shouting the chorus of Good Grace at the top of our lungs as fireworks exploded both inside and outside the stadium. I don't think there are enough strong adjectives in the dictionary that I could use to describe this moment. You could immediately sense the power of the Holy Spirit and I left night one so encouraged about the outpouring overflow of wisdom that was going to leave the mouths of God's servants over the next couple of days. Much of that wisdom came in the form of simple truths proclaimed by the worship leaders who took turns leading the way throughout the week.
- Through the words "You're bigger than I thought you were," proclaimed by the Passion band, I was reminded that I was literally standing in the midst of a miracle. At the beginning of 2010, nobody other than God would have ever imagined this gathering was a possibility. I was reminded that God is bigger than you and I think He is. I think sometimes we need to be reminded of that as we trust Him to guide us in our everyday lives. When you don't understand why you're going through something, always remember that God sees what you can't because His thoughts and His ways are higher than ours.
- Through the words "Walking around these walls/ I thought by now they'd fall/ but You have never failed me yet," proclaimed by Elevation Worship, I was reminded that God has each of us in a specific place for a specific reason. Oftentimes our generation gets impatient. We want to have everything right now and get worried if things don't happen immediately. But perhaps we need to step back sometimes and understand that God is building our patience. When you feel as if you've been facing a challenge/problem for a long time, you must keep faithfully persevering day in and day out, trusting that God will deliver you successfully. If He's never failed you before, why do you think He'd start now? Keep walking faithfully day in and day out, planting seeds as you go.
- Through the words "If His grace is an ocean we're all sinking," proclaimed by David Crowder, I was reminded of how undeserving we are. We each individually fall short of His standard on a daily basis, yet with the ocean of blood that Jesus shed on the cross, we can wake up washed as white as snow if we confess our sins and repent. Too many times we abuse His grace and keep running back to the same sin time and time again. If we want to be a generation that fills the seats at the table in His Kingdom, we have got to humbly accept His grace and use our second chances not only to hold others accountable but also to go and spread the good news to all of creation.
- Through the words "O Christ be magnified/ Christ be magnified in me," proclaimed by Cody Carnes and Kari Jobe, I was reminded of the purpose of a Christian's life. Like a magnifying glass, we should be the vessels through which others are able to more easily see Christ. Furthermore, they should see us on fire for Him, just as a magnifying glass will set an object on fire if placed at the right angle. Also, during this worship session, the stadium's roof opened unprecedentedly, and you could again sense the power of the Holy Spirit as the sun shone through and as Hillsong says, "the wind [went where He sent it] and swept across the stadium.
- Through the words, "Every step a mystery, but I'm walking with the author," proclaimed by Sean Curran, I was reminded that each day we wake up is a gift and that we should not worry about tomorrow because it isn't even promised. If our generation wants to change the world we must trust God with today's challenges because He is the sovereign author of our lives and knows the best path for each of us. Our human nature causes us to worry about even the most minuscule details when we should instead lean on the Creator and One who has overcome any challenge we will ever face.
The bracelets we got were programmed to light up in sync with the music and they added a spectacle to the worship that made it that much better. Seeing all of those lights shine was symbolic of the way we are to each shine our lights. These revelations in worship were not even close to all that God was up to. Seeing His servants proclaim His truths over and over again with arms high and hearts abandoned was an experience I'll never forget.
Looking at the schedule for day two was slightly intimidating when one noticed that the sessions ran from 10:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Running on five hours of sleep, we again made it into the stadium and got floor seats. The morning began in an interesting way as seventy-three-year-old John Piper spoke and was followed by twenty-two-year-old Sadie Robertson. The very wise and well respected Piper spoke about having a true desire for God and how it's not selfish to do so. The thing that most stood out to me and probably to many others as well was that if your relationship with Jesus consists of only you and Jesus, you probably don't truly have a relationship with Him. Of all things, this is what I felt most challenged by. I am absolutely certain of my relationship with Him, but oftentimes I get too consumed in worshipping and growing with Him in private and then not applying what I learned to live outside of the room. Our generation needs to be the one who pops the bubbles of solitude and takes Jesus out into our campuses, schools, jobs, etc. The rather soft-spoken Piper was followed by the radiating and more upbeat Sadie Robertson. She was able to relate to the crowd better than anyone else and brought a message that has reached the most people. She brought social media into the equation and noted that people were longing for peace, happiness [joy], love, and purpose, but were searching for those things in comparison as opposed to in the Bible. She continued to tell of Peter's betrayal of Jesus and how Peter did nothing to get back to Jesus but instead, Jesus came and found Peter. Our generation must flee from comparison on social media, which causes depression and anxiety, and instead, seek to find our purpose in Jesus and love others well.
After a much-needed lunch break, the afternoon kicked off with a message from Australian native Christine Caine. She was filled with such passion and delivered an extremely applicable sermon. She said that our generation needed to be like Isaac, who dug again the wells that his forefathers had dug but had since been filled with dirt by the enemies. We oftentimes stand around way too long thinking that someone else will dig our wells… that someone else will do the dirty work required to bring Jesus back to the forefront of our culture. The truth is that we all need to start digging our own wells today. How are you going to fulfill the purpose God has for you if you never start digging? Christine was followed by a man many would call the smartest in the room- Ravi Zacharias. He used his inspiring testimony to deliver an apologetics message on what it means to be a human. One of the coolest stories he told was one in which he was speaking at a conference and noted that the four absolutes (love, justice, evil, and forgiveness) have only collided once in all of history, and that was at Calvary's Hill as Jesus was subjected to death by evil people, loved us enough to serve justice in covering everyone's sins, and forgave even those who crucified Him. He continued to say that an atheist who had been questioning his meaning to living approached Ravi afterward and knew that he was supposed to find God that day. If our generation wants to make a difference, we must be able to defend our faith and gently be able to answer hard questions with the truth in hopes of showing others the Light of the world.
Before the next session, we were reminded of the Share a Light movement in which Passion partnered with Bible translating groups worldwide to help spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I was amazed to hear that there are still over 3,000 people groups who don't have access to any portion of the Bible. They noted that by 2033, each of these groups would have access to at least some portion of the Gospel. The next morning it was announced that over $1,200,000 dollars were raised by a group of stereotypically broke college students. To be able to see this kind of worship through giving was incredible. Louie Giglio, who founded the Passion Conference along with his wife Shelley twenty-three years ago, was the final speaker of the night. He tied everything together from the week, and ultimately challenged our generation to imitate the roaring 20s but only this time to roar like the mighty Lion of Judah who is coming back to earth someday. He challenged us to say goodbye to the stories of defeat in our lives. As the page has turned from 2019 to 2020, it's time for us to turn the page from defeat to victory, from more of me/less of Jesus to less of me/more of Jesus, and from quiet to roaring. Again the Holy Spirit was at work as emotional responses filled the room and as dozens of salvations occurred.
Unfortunately, I flew back home on Sunday morning and did not get to attend the last session. Yet, upon getting back home and watching session six online, the conference closed just as amazing as it began. Shelley Giglio spoke first and gave her testimony of how God used her unwavering love and trust in Him to bring her and Louie together. She then invited the whole stadium to kneel down in the presence of God and simply commit to surrendering to the Lord's plan. I so badly wish I were there; it was such a cool moment of surrender. Tim Tebow was the final speaker of the conference and brought an amazing message to cap it all off. Tim used his testimony to relate to the crowd as well. It was breathtaking to hear one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time, who had accumulated numerous achievements, tell of how all materialistic things will fade away but a relationship with Jesus would never. Tim has been through numerous challenges throughout his career but kept his faith in Christ through it all. At the end of the day, his message was as follows: we must have the same confidence in God on our worst day as we do on our best day. If our generation wants to make a difference for Jesus, we must believe that He's just as good on our worst Monday morning as He is when we conquer and stand on the highest mountains. Wow. What a humbling reminder and compelling challenge. To conclude the conference, all the singers/bands who were in attendance came onto the stage together and led a worship medley unlike any other. Passion 2021 will be hosted in Atlanta and Brooklyn, New York, and I hope to have the opportunity to attend. However, between now and then, I plan to see hope restored within this generation as we wholeheartedly pursue Jesus and seek to make Him the center of attention in a world that so desperately needs it in the midst of its crises.