January 1st, 2013. The first day of another new year. I find myself in Section 133 in the Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta, Georgia. Why am I here? My purpose for being there had nothing to do with the Falcons, nor the Chick-fil-a Bowl game played the night before. I was there for the Passion 2013 conference.
I had never been to a Passion conference before. As a high school senior, I could barely sit still awaiting to hear from some of the greatest Christian influences that exist in this world. Passion is widely famous for its line of musical artists: Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill, Kari Jobe, Christy Nockels, Lecrae, Jesus Culture, David Crowder...the list is endless. However, I was also excited to hear from some of the greatest speakers around the world, such as Louie Giglio, Beth Moore, Francis Chan, Andy Stanley (guest prayer), John Piper, and Judah Smith. Wow. What an amazing lineup.
Four days. Four amazing days. Four spirit-filled days.
The conference opened up with the Passion worship team and then with Louie Giglio, head of Passion, speaking to a crowd of 60,000+ college-aged students. Louie set the tone for the week by proclaiming that, "God is a God of immeasurably more than we can imagine." He taught from Ezekiel 37, sharing about the story of the valley of the dry bones. But it wasn't Louie's message that got me thinking about experiencing God on new levels.
As special as Louie's message was, I found myself more intrigued with Francis Chan's speech the following evening. Francis shared several things, yet one of his strongest points came at the beginning of his sermon. For Francis, the key to experiencing God was simple. He shared, "If you really want to experience God, go and make disciples." You may have noticed that I bolded two parts of the statement, and underlined one word. Here's why. In Matthew 28:16-20 (The Great Commission), God's people are commanded to "go and make disciples." This saying typically is grouped together, but I have begun to view this as two separate actions. First, Jesus commands us to go. He does not tell us where or when, He simply says "go." For today's apathetic generation, the greatest problem is simply getting Christians to listen for (and to) the Lord's calling in their life to action. Woody Allen once said that, "80% of success is just showing up." Have you ever taken a minute to wonder exactly what would our world look like if we had a bunch of modern-day Isaiah's running around? Fair question. Let's dive into some scripture before we go any further.
By the use of one word, Jesus calls all of God's people to action. He is not asking for excuses or questions, but for immediate action based on full reliance and trust in God and His plan. He's looking to empower people. But not just any people. Only a willing people. 2 Chronicles 16:9 affirms, "The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." God does not call the equipped, He equips the called. Therefore, He is searching for those willing to answer the call. In his time, the prophet Isaiah was willing. Isaiah 6 is a passage in which Isaiah is called to do the work of God, and he responds faithfully and willingly. Isaiah records this for us by writing, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8). This is where we learn of Godly leadership: God called, and his servant answered with readiness and willingness. Isaiah desired to go do God's work. He had the urge to say, "Yes! Me, pick me!" Did Isaiah know where, when, and for how long he would be going? No. But he begged to be sent. Isaiah was willing, but are you?
The second part of Jesus' call to action involves two words, "make disciples". What does it mean to make disciples? I believe that too many people mistake this command for converting other people. Yes, the Kingdom of God is made to grow, but if those people aren't prepared to disciple, what good is it? Trip Lee wrote in his first book The Good Life that, "(paraphrased) The good life is more than just believing in God." What good is belief without action? Or better yet, without the desire for action? Too many "Christians" pray the prayer and then coast through life as if it was no different than the life they lived before. These "Christians" do not understand the power behind 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 where it is written, "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" The irony behind being introduced to the good life is that you must first die so that you may be born in Christ. Without death, there is no new life; death to our old selves, that is. There needs to be a life change. Change equals action. Understand this, there is no action that we can do to save ourselves from death, but there are a chain of actions that we can do to lead and influence others towards the good life because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, our actions do matter. The lives we live post-conversion do matter. Taking Jesus seriously matters! As like produces like, if you take Jesus seriously, so will others. However, if you do not, I fear that others may not either. You may be wondering, so what is the answer to the question, "how do you make disciples?" The answer is found in Matthew 7:20, where it is written (about disciples), "... just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions." Another translation puts it this way, "By their fruit you will recognize them." It is a skill to learn from others, but it can also be a dangerous one. While we all have our own intentions and actions, our 'fruits' do not all lead to the same place. Do not be deceived; but more importantly, do not lead astray. Discipleship is a gift of God. Invest in other people. Remember, at one point you were first invested in. Never forget where you came from!
Going out and making disciples can be challenging. God can call us to do immeasurable things, but He is with us. With that said, I have begun to embrace Francis Chan's perspective on life in terms of suffering on a yearly basis. He shared a story of how John Piper had told him he looked relaxed and it had actually irritated him because he didn't want to look relaxed. He proceeded to say, "I want the joy of knowing that I am doing something with my life, the joy of battle...It has been a rough year for me (last year) and I'm actually grateful for that. I come out of it and say it was a great year. It was difficult, but God has done amazing things, and man, was it good." I sat there at the top of the Georgia Dome in the 300's (known as the 'nose-bleed seats' to football fans) wondering how someone could possibly ask for suffering. It all goes back to being willing. Francis truly desired to experience God on a new level in 2012, and by battling constantly, he did.
I pray for a similar experience in 2013 that Francis had. Not that I would have some awesome emotional, physical, and spiritual scars to show off, but that God would humble me by slightly reveal his immeasurable self in new ways. I pray that my eyes would be opened to embrace suffering. Some of you may be asking, why would a loving God allow suffering on any of His people? God loves us too much to leave us unchanged, and without an adversary, our faith cannot be tested. God can be trusted. God's promises can be trusted. God's Word can be trusted. His enemy, on the other hand, cannot.
I struggle to wrap my head around 2 Timothy 2:13 where Paul writes about God by saying, "If we are faithless, he remains faithful -- for he cannot deny himself." Flesh says to repay unfaithfulness with unfaithfulness, but God is saying that no matter where we go or what we do, He is still here. Why? Our actions simply do not change the character of God. God is who He is...He is the I AM! Just as Hosea, a man of God, was called to marry a whore (Gomer), and then called to him to buy her back after she abandoned him, God's desire is for us to come back to Him. With that said, I am coming back to the heart of God.
"All my hopes, all I need, held in Your hands! All my life, all of me, held in Your hands! All my fears, all my dreams, held in Your hands!" - "Sovereign" by Chris Tomlin.
2013 has already shown me challenge and comfort, and I know there is more to come. So whatever happens in 2013, I resolve to: 1) run to God first with my successes and failures, 2) trust in His faithfulness, even when I lack faith, and 3) go and make disciples. Part of going and making disciples has involved this calling that has urged me to begin writing a book. I won't go into full details, but I have made it a goal to finish it this year.
Let 2013 be the year that God shakes your world. Through comfort, through suffering; through success, through failure; through encouragement, through discouragement...God whatever comes my way I will trust you. Your plan works everything for good (Romans 8:28), so I trust Your plan.
God, Allow me to experience You immeasurably on new levels this year.
What does your 2013 look like? What are you asking (in prayer) for God to do? What are you doing to experience God on new, immeasurable levels?