Sunday, July 28, 2013

Passion 2013: Session 1 - Can These Bones Live?

So I'm finally getting around to posting about Passion 2013. I know, I know...6 months is a bit long to wait for posts but being an intern is a very life-consuming job! It's been fun reading through my Passion notes again and being freshly challenged by scripture. (These posts are going to be a little long...I have a lot of notes from other parts of the conference/family groups)

Being at Passion this year exceeded my expectations in every way. Last year when I was watching from home, it felt like my heart was exploding from all that God was doing 247 miles away. Being there this year...I don't even know if I can put into words what it was like to be there. Just being there with 60,000 other college kids who are completely sold out for God was enough to bring tears into my eyes as I stood outside in the rain waiting to enter the Dome. I will never forget the sight of the Georgia Dome filling to the brim with believers...I'll never forget the sound of 60,000 voices lifting up the name of Jesus in worship...I'll never forget my family group...I'll never forget the silent walk or the candlelight service or the sound of 60,000 people shouting for freedom...those days will forever be imprinted on my mind as a day when I saw and felt God move in ways that I never have before. 

I wrote in my notebook (yep taking notes before it actually started...typical) "It's an army here." It's such a true the middle of this crowd of 60,000 people, I've never felt smaller...but at the same time it was so encouraging to be able to see and know that I'm not the only one...that there are a ton of people just like generation is here and we still love God and we want to make his name known in this world.

To start the conference off, Louie came and gave us a few facts...there were more people in attendance at Passion than there were at the Chick-fil-A Bowl(!!!) and there were 54 countries and 2022 universities represented in the Dome(!!!). We were also told that because of our generous donations of towels and socks last year, the homeless shelters in Atlanta donated 10,000 towels and 60,000 pairs of socks to Hurricane Sandy Relief because they knew we were coming back this year with more. Things have barely gotten under way this year and we'd already made a difference. 

Then, we were asked to get into triangles...groups of 3 people...and pray together. We spent time praising God, praying for God to be present among us, and for freedom and justice. We prayed that walls would be torn down, that people would hear the roar and know that Jesus is coming. What a roar too...worship was absolutely mind-blowing. Yes, it was loud...but when you have 60,000 people all singing at the top of their's gonna be loud...and I wouldn't have expected any less. Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Kari Jobe + more led worship each night...what is so amazing about these people is that they weren't concerned with performing or "doing it right"...they were concerned with worshiping God. I can't tell you how cool it was to see them back away from the microphone or dance around or just stand there and listen during worship. I am so grateful for men and women out there who are more concerned with God than anything else. 

Louie Giglio brought the first message of Passion. He opened by saying that we believe in the God who does immeasurably more...not just a little bit more but immeasurably more. More than we could ever ask or imagine...even when we can't see immeasurably more in our lives...he's still done immeasurably more and he will continue to do immeasurably more. God wants to do immeasurably more in and through your life than you could ever ask or imagine. All he wants you to do is go. 

He isn't just the God of immeasurably more during a conference but he is the God of immeasurably more in the context of your life. When we are foolish, God intervenes. This is very much what happened in Ezekiel. God intervened in the lives of his people who had been scattered into captivity by their own foolishness. We aren't thrust into captivity (spiritual, physical, mental or any other type of darkness and captivity) by someone else's decisions or actions...we fall into captivity by our own doing.  We are more foolish than we want to admit. It's easy to resign yourself into captivity...sometimes it just seems bigger than you can handle...depression, sin, circumstances...I understand...believe me. There are times when you walk into church and you just feel so out of place because you are bound up inside. When you are in captivity, when the darkness is consuming, it's because you've forgotten who God is. You've allowed your foolishness to get in the way of the truth about God. But there is hope in this...whatever has its grip on you is no match for the God of immeasurably more. He always intervenes...he always sends a voice into the captivity you are in. 

Ezekiel 36:24-27 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
God sends a voice, he comes and he breathes on people who are made of stone. He gives us his living, beating, breathing heart in place of our dirty, rotten, dead, stone hearts. He wants to bring us back and cleanse us from our idols! He doesn't want us to be stuck in captivity anymore. 
Ezekiel 37:1-2 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
God brings Ezekiel to this valley where the ground is littered with bones. For us, the valley is the low place, the darkness and the downside of life. This valley was a literal valley...a literal valley filled with real bones. Not new bones...dry bones...brittle bones. "Dry" is when we are parched, desperate, desolate, weary, hungry. It means that death has come...and the after effects of death have come...when everything returns to dust. 
Ezekiel 37:3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
How's that for a question? Can these bones live? Seems kind of obvious...but God makes us think...he asks us questions to test our understanding of his sovereignty and power. Ezekiel's answer is right on point...only you know God...only you. God doesn't want us to figure it out ourselves...he wants to teach us something. He's not looking for our answer...he's looking for us to realize that we can't come up with an answer and that he's the only one who has the answer! We cannot solve any problem, rescue ourselves from captivity, come clean from addiction, be cleansed of sins, or raise ourselves from the dead on our own power...only God. You have to trust and believe that he knows the answer!
Mark 9:14-18 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 
This little boy is in captivity. His father has come begging and pleading for the disciples to cast the demon out of his child but they are not able.
Mark 9:19-20 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 
I love Jesus' response to this situation. I always imagined him rolling his eyes and "Are you serious right now? I can't believe you still don't get it!" I know that's not the case because that would be impatience and Jesus was I'm quite certain it didn't happen that way. But the thing to truly notice here is that the demon attacked the boy as soon as he saw Jesus. The demon knows he's going to lose as soon as he sees Jesus but he tries one last attack.

How many times have you ever felt called to do something or called to go somewhere or on your way to a conference or church...some place where you were going to meet with God...and it seemed like everything was going wrong and the sky was falling on top of your world caving in? Satan will do everything in his finite little powers to try to stop you from meeting with God and from obeying his calling on your life. Satan spins chaos into our lives when we see Jesus. But here is the good news...things can be going absolutely crazy...but Jesus can focus in that doesn't matter what is going on, Jesus is still laser focused into your world. God wins. 

Mark 9:21-24 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
There is no "if" with God. There has never been and will never be any "if" with God. He can do whatever the immeasurably more happens to be in your circumstance. The father's response is perfect..."I believe; help my unbelief!" That is the perfect prayer. I do believe you can do immeasurably more but help me in the areas that I don't believe it! Pray it...daily! God loves that prayer!!! He wants to hear our honesty in saying I believe with 1% of me but help the 99% of me that doesn't believe you! He can work with that!
Mark 9:25-27 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
He lifted the boy to his feet. That is the immeasurably more of the story. Look back to Ezekiel
Ezekiel 37:4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
Ezekiel knows the power of God. (Ezekiel 1:25-28) God is bigger than you could ever dream and he is coming here...saying to you "do you believe that I can do immeasurably more in your life and in your generation?!" Our only response should be "Oh, sovereign Lord, only you know. Help my unbelief."
Ezekiel 37:5-6 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
God did 4 things...he spoke his word to the bones, he breathed into the bones and caused them to live, he put tendons and ligaments back where they had been and covered them with skin. For us that means that we are to speak truth and life and scripture into our lives...into our darkness. It means that God heals what is broken in our lives...we can't count him out because he can do it! And when it's all over, we'll know. We'll know that whatever happened inside of you could not be done by any will know that He is the Lord and he has made you alive again in the midst of all the rubble and darkness. God is alive! Let your prayer become this: "I'm in the valley of dry bones - speak to me, breathe in me, reconnect all that has been broken and make me live again!"

The best news is...God has already done immeasurably more...he sent his son. Jesus is here to free you from bondage! He breaks chains and tears down walls! He gives freedom to the captives and life to the dead! Don't forget that sin didn't make us makes us dead. DEAD. But Jesus, and only Jesus, makes us alive again! Hear the voice from heaven that is intervening into the foolishness, darkness, captivity and death. Pray with honesty...ask for help with whatever part of you that doesn't believe. He can make your bones live again. He can make your dreams live again. He can make your heart live again. He can heal you of your wounds. He can rescue you from addiction and slavery and sin. He can restore your memories. He can. The same God who conquered the grave dwells in you. Speak Lord, the valley of dry bones is listening now.

What a start to Passion 2013. God had exceeded my expectations the split second I walked into the Dome. That's all it took. Even better than that, he continued to blow my mind minute by minute for the rest of Passion...and even more than that, he's still continuing to do immeasurably more right now in my life. I love that Louie said we didn't go to Passion to huddle up in a circle, we went so that we could explode back into the world sacrificing whatever needs to be sacrificed in order to spread the Gospel. I love that there are 60,000 people out there praying this "I believe you can do immeasurably more through me. Give me eyes to see the immeasurably more you want to do through me." I love that Andy Stanley came to Passion and prayed over us. I love that we, as a generation of young people have the ability and the opportunity to start the End It Movement to raise awareness about modern day slavery. God is working...God is moving...God is speaking. Are you listening?

I also have to share about community groups...ORANGE CG all the way! (We love you Freddy T!) Every morning and every evening, Passion broke down into "small" groups of about 5000 people called community groups. Each of those groups broke down into groups of 8 people...called family groups. Each group would spend time talking about the message, helping each other process what we'd heard, and praying for one another. My family group was the absolute best. I couldn't have asked for better people to spend Passion with.
Zachary, Casey, Me, Maddie, Cassidy, Emily, Jason and Charity. 

Passion 2013, Session 1

I feel like I could spend forever thinking about what exactly to say about my experience this year at Passion 21013 and probably a longer time writing it out. So in the interest of saving time and keeping my words unrehearsed, I'm just going to keep typing and pray that God will give me the right words to adequately convey how incredible it was.

Being one person in a sea of 60,000 people was the most humbling and exhilarating experience of my life. There was so much power in the thought of so many people driven both together and out toward the world with the purpose of glorifying and magnifying God and fighting for His purpose of bringing freedom and hope to a dark world. 60,000 of us stood as one, proclaiming the majesty of God and praying for revival and it was beyond words. Worship in the Dome was a force I'd never encountered before. There truly is something about thousands of voices praising God with one voice and it only grew in intensity when the worship leaders stepped away from their microphones and stopped playing their instruments. Worship really was all about God and we were continually coming to Him and thirsting for more of Him and that was incredibly powerful. And I must admit that even now, six months after Passion 2013, I'm still having bouts of worship withdrawal, especially as I sit here listening to the Passion music and thinking of just how great worship was.

My favorite experience from Passion 2013 happened on the last night of the conference hours before we even entered the Dome. There was a group of 20+ students who barely even knew each other in the World Congress Center. We were just worshiping. Someone had a guitar and someone was at a piano, another person was drumming on a ledge and we were all just playing and singing along to different worship songs, some that we'd been singing throughout the conference, others that were from the year before. It was a very simple, but very powerful act of worship that continued to grow as more people joined in. It was so honest and pure, but just as intense as a main worship session. I really wished at the time that Louie could have seen it because it was too powerful and spontaneous. It was just just a beautiful overflow of loving God. Passion was truly a raw, beautiful picture of what our lives are to look like, pouring all of our means, words, and actions, pouring our whole selves, into the worship and the mission of Christ.

Louie Giglio really set the tone of Passion 2013 with this first message. He told us that Passion is about speaking out and bringing freedom because of the spirit of God showing up. It's not about 60,000 college students coming and staying in a nice little Christian bubble; it's about 60,000 Christian college students exploding out into the dark world of the spiritually dead and praying that God would breathe life into all the peoples of the Earth. God wants to do immeasurably more in our lives and in this generation than we can ever imagine.

The story that we focused on throughout the conference was the story of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones. I had heard this story in Sunday school before, but had never sat down and thought about the intensity or the meaning behind story before coming to Passion. I'm extremely glad that the valley of dry bones was chosen as the focus and I believe it's one of the most poignant examples of the Gospel in the entire Bible.

We actually started off a little before the story of the dry bones. We began in Ezekiel 36:24. This passage takes place while God's people are in captivity in Egypt. They are worshiping Egyptian idols and doing these really evil things to each other. God is pretty fed up with it, yet decides to rescue His people and give them another chance. But Ezekiel 36:24-32 says:

For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel.
God saved His people who were spiritually dead, and breathed into them new lives and new hearts and lead them as a perfect shepherd. When we get into captivity (sin patterns, idolatry, or messy circumstances), it is because of our foolishness in forgetting who God is and who we are in Him. In this passage, God intervenes and into the mess, Emmanuel comes. And this is where we picked up in Ezekiel 37:1-3:
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
God showed Ezekiel a low, dark place with dry, desolate bones. There was absolutely no hope for life or joy there. It was a picture of physical death and spiritual death is the same way. Even if we don't outright see it's effects, we all know what it feels like to be hopeless, depressed, and spiritually dead to everything around us because we've all been there at some point in our lives. I'm talking about the disintegration of the soul, the point where the body has no fight left. This is the picture of hopelessness that Ezekiel 37 is essentially painting for us. It's where we were all walking at some point, spiritually, without Christ. Then God asks Ezekiel an interesting and kind of loaded question in verse 3. God asks whether or not the bones could live again, basically asking whether God could do anything, or if there are limitations to His power and ability to move and work through any situation. But God is not really asking us if He CAN do immeasurably more than we think He can, He is waiting for us to believe that He WILL.

In Mark 9:14-26, Jesus heals a boy that was possessed by a demon after all the disciples had tried and failed to heal him. It shows Jesus as someone extremely focused on God's power even in the midst of all the craziness that had to have been going on around Him in order to rescue the boy. He has that same focus with each one of our lives. Verses 23 and 24 of this story are interesting though, because the boy's father is actually questioning whether or not Jesus can heal his son. Jesus responds to him by saying that "Everything is possible for one who believes". The man then immediately tells Jesus that he does believe and asks Him to help his unbelief. Satan has a tendency to make last ditch efforts and throw the worst negativity and situations at us to prevent us from going and doing things to spread the gospel mission or prevent us from being in certain places, like Passion, where he knows that we will be in the midst of God's presence. He uses doubt to accomplish this a lot. This passage shows us that it doesn't matter that we may only have 1% of belief, God is still able and willing to work with the other 99% of us. It would be great for our prayer lives to say "God, I believe, help my unbelief". How much of a difference could that make in the way we live our day to day lives if God helped us to believe 100% that He can and will do immeasurably more than we could ever dream?

Looking back at Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel was basically saying to God, "Only you know if these bones can live, but help my unbelief". Louie then told us that during Passion 2013, we were going to be praying for four major things. We'd be praying for God's word to come to us, that it would bring us to life, that it wold repair us, and that God would restore our knowledge and belief the He is God and He can do all things.

God wants to heal something and bring life to something that no one else can do in us. God brings freedom to the captives of the Earth and He definitely brought it about in the four days of Passion 2013. I believe wholeheartedly that the millions of dried up bones in the valley of darkness in our 21st century world are going to see and walk and live again in our generation. There is going to be life breathed in to the spiritually dead and God will awakening and bring back souls to Him as only He can do. This is the mission given to us as Christ's followers, to proclaim and live out freedom and hope, to bring the message of God, who can and will do immeasurably more, into a lost and broken generation and to watch and take part in what God does through it next. Intervening into the foolishness came a voice and the valley of dry bones is listening now.