I’m not sure why I’m writing this now. I could’ve written it almost anytime over the past 2+ years, but I’ve come to understand that timing is everything when you feel like you have something to say. With that in mind, I’m going to assume that this post has been delayed for a reason. I’m comfortable leaving the reasons in God’s hands.
For this to make sense, I need to give you some background. The last third of 2009 was rough. There’s no value in giving you the grizzly details, but I began my first, and so far, only major bout with depression. It was brutal…I wouldn’t wish the way I felt on ANYONE! It carried on into 2010, & it brought with it some pretty unexpected events, all of which God was conspiring to use to make me a better follower of Jesus. I can say that, because “hindsight is 20/20.” I certainly didn’t know it at the time I can assure you.
The most difficult part of this journey was in my life as a pastor. I have never doubted my calling to pastor teenagers. I can say that with great clarity. But, by January of 2010, I seriously doubted that I had any idea how to do it effectively. Translation: I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I had cobbled together a collection of resources, ideas, & strategies from people who seemingly knew what they were doing, but I could clearly see by this point that it just wasn’t working. This realization, along with other circumstances in my life, drove me to the place that I should have gone long before I did. It drove me to my knees. I finally said what I wish I’d said much sooner: “God, I have no idea what I’m doing, and I will not survive if you don’t show me how you want this to happen.”
That prayer took me to suburban Chicago where I met with an incredible group of people with the Willow Creek Church Student Ministry. They poured into me & inspired me toward a change that would completely reshape how we ministered to teenagers, and we set a new plan into motion. The details of that story are pretty interesting, and it was a pretty intense transition, but that story is for another time. It was a major change, for certain; but, it isn’t the change I want to tell you about here. So, let me tell you a story within that story…
In youth ministry, conferences are a rite of passage. Acquire The Fire, Winter Xtreme, & all kinds of others are out there, & over the course of time you’ll get to a bunch of them multiple times. I’ve been to a few, & I’ll get to a bunch more before it’s all said & done. But, in the summer of 2010, I felt oddly compelled to do something I hadn’t done before. One of the coolest things about this youth ministry I lead is that I have men & women who have graduated out as students who have chosen to remain with me as leaders. They serve in the band, A/V ministry, sound, food, & anywhere else I send them. They do it faithfully, and I am beyond happy to have them with me. During the course of an ordinary day at the church, I felt oddly compelled to go to Passion. Now, Passion is a gathering of 18-25 year olds held each year in Atlanta, Georgia designed to simply focus college-age students toward glorifying the Name & renown of Jesus. I’m not in the age bracket anymore, but there is limited space for leaders, & I kind of qualify for that as we have our own little “college ministry” going on inside of our youth leadership team. We were in our early stages of creating what 3SXTY, my youth ministry’s name, is now, and I felt led to take three specific students with me, so I took them aside one-by-one & posed the idea. I will omit their names to respect their privacy, but each signed on, & we set our plan in motion. I still don’t know exactly why God inspired me to choose those three guys. Only they know what God spoke into them during those days; I hope to know the whole of it someday.
Fast forward to January 1st. of 2011…the four of us arrived in Atlanta, and I quite frankly was totally unclear as to what my role was to be for the next four days. I thought, “Well, God, this is a conference for college students, so I guess I’m just gonna hang out.” Truthfully, I kind of had myself figured to have been called by God to be a glorified chauffer & this was all gonna be for the three young men that came with me, so let the “vacation” begin!
You don’t have time for me to detail those four days for you in a blog post. If you’d like all the details, we’ll just have to sit down & talk about it in person some time. For those who did the days following my return, I want to say thank you for letting me spill on you all that was bubbling out of me. You showed amazing patience & were so gracious in letting me work it all through out loud, and you deserve a medal for jumping on that grenade! But, for the purposes of this writing, I need to focus on one moment in time which altered the trajectory of my life, in my opinion, forever.
On the final day of Passion 2011, we entered Philips Arena with great anticipation. God had met with all 22,000 of us in such real & intimate ways. I quite honestly didn’t know what it was going to be like re-entering the real world. I’d never encountered God that way before, & I was so scared of losing it somehow. I’d been filled in a way I couldn’t explain, but you can’t stay in those places forever. It’s what happens when you take them back home with you that changes the world. During the course of the gathering–I could no longer call it a “conference,” the term didn’t fit or do what had happened justice, we had engaged in what was called “Do Something Now.” There were a number of global causes that had been chosen who were in need of funding to carry out such valuable acts as providing clean water to communities without, providing housing for people in unspeakable situation who would never be able to get a place on their own, as well as many others. A goal had been placed in front of this group of students which would fund the chosen causes of $500,000. Now, anybody who knows a college student knows that squeezing $5 in cold hard cash out of one of them is virtually impossible. The words poor & broke are synonymous with college students, right? But, here was an ambitious goal, & the leadership of Passion believed God for what he was asking them to do. So, here in the final session, we were going to find out the final total of what had been raised over our four days to put toward these causes. I have no way of putting the moment in context for you….I don’t have words. It was informed by every other moment that I’d had leading up to it, but when the total was read, I fell apart. We had raised over 1 million dollars for the causes of Do Something Now! I did the only thing I could do in that moment. I wept. Loudly, openly, viscerally wept. Joy was pouring out of me to the point that it almost hurt! I remember thinking as I had several times over the past three days, why am I so raw in this moment? What in the world is God doing to me? In that instant, I could hear the still, small voice that the Bible speaks of as clearly as I’ve ever heard it in my life. He said four simple words to me: “This is what’s possible.”
Those four words rocked my world. I mean the foundation of me shook! These college students aren’t that far removed from the students I teach. When this generation unites behind a cause with a purpose, nations, OUR NATION, will change! Up until that moment, I have to admit to you that I seriously questioned if there was any hope of seeing the generation I was teaching rise up for the cause of Christ beyond just a precious few. I realized that God was telling me not only that it was possible, but that IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN! I knew it….in the marrow of my bones, I knew it! I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same. Everything changed….
I sit here typing today, February 3rd., 2013, & I want you to know that the promise that God made to me that day….it’s happening! It was happening before I ever drove into Atlanta in 2011, I just needed to be shown. Each week that passes, I come face-to-face with one happening after another that screams, “I’M DOING A NEW WORK IN YOUR DAY…CAN’T YOU SEE IT’S HAPPENING?” Revival is here….an explosion is coming, and I can’t wait for it to blow! I hope we’re ready, because it’s gonna be HUGE!
I write this today, because I think God wants to use my story to inform someone else’s story. I don’t know who you are or what you’re going through, but I want you to know there is something, no there is SOMEONE, to hope in! He’s at work, & He’ll always finish what He starts. Believe Him for what’s coming & prepare to be blown away!
I also write this today, because I want to say a very public “thank you” to Louie & Shelley Giglio, the founders of the Passion Movement. I honestly have no idea if I would even still be doing this today were it not for this incredible work you’re allowing God to do in & through you, as well as the incredible people who work alongside you. God uses all of you daily to minister to me. I’m a 41 year old pastor of teenagers in Hawkins County, TN, but I feel so much a part of the Jesus Generation you’re lifting up, & I hope it’s O.K. that I consider myself in that population. I wish I’d come sooner!
To the three young men who shared Passion 2011 with me, I am honored to walk alongside you in this journey of faith. I hope you read this, & I hope you’re still being rocked by what God did in those days. It was just a beginning in many ways, but what a beginning it was! I love you, & I am so proud of each of you. Don’t let anything stand between you and what God has for you! We’re gonna change the world, fellas!
Thank you, Papa. I love You!