So last week, I did some house-cleaning and said that I could only post once a week in 2013, and now this week I have found myself with almost 10 pages on the subject at hand and have given Dan the week off. Go Figure.
To avoid any unpleasantry today (that comes tomorrow), I'm only going to speak hypothetically -- I'm not going to speak about anyone in particular, but about someone you probably know. I'm imagining a young person either in college or college-aged, and this person spent last week in the Georgia Dome with about 60,000 other young people his or her age. Now, when you mentally conjure this person up, I suspect you think of someone who looks like Rupert Grint, or Matt Chandler, or Angus Jones, or Elle Fanning, or Jennifer Lawrence, or Emma Stone. Not a lot of you imagining single mothers, or young adults with learning disabilities, or lower-middle-class kids who had to take a week off from work to come. Which, let's face it: that's how we want to imagine the church to be. We want the church to be full of people who are the aspirational versions of ourselves, and in some sense that is actually a good thing. It means we haven't stopped believing that the church, somehow, is supposed to be better than real life.
But this kid I'm hypothetically speaking of: he's like 90% of the guys his age on the inside regardless of what's on the outside. He's mostly-empty. I mean: if the average life expectancy of a person in America is roughly 80 years, he's only finished about 25% of the game -- and all of that under the right-minded protection and benefit of his parents. He probably doesn't understand what it means to have some skin in the game (namely: his own). Or else she's like 90% of the girls her age -- who look like they are women, but they simply have no idea what it means to be a woman. She may have been convinced by somebody someplace that what it means to be a woman is that you have to make sure that you don't think there are any men who can do something you can't do -- even if she is self-aware enough to know that there are certainly things that women can do that men can't do.
So this hypothetical person is in a peer group which decided to go to Passion last week. Somehow s/he came up with the $219 plus another $200 for rooms plus another $200 for food and whatever it cost in transportation to get there. I mean: John Piper was going to be there. Francis Chan was going to be there. Christy Nockels was going to be there -- I'd go to Georgia to hear Christy Nickels sing. Lecrae and Crowder were going to be there. And this is how it was billed:
At the heart of it all, Passion exists to see a generation stake their lives on what matters most. For us, that's the fame of the One who rescues and restores, and the privilege we have to fully leverage our lives by amplifying His name in everything we do.And for a kid like the one I described, above, that sounds like a really great place to go to try to see what it is that could happen to me if I "trade in small dreams for a place in the story God is writing". It's a pretty serious thing to "stake their lives on what matters most."
Last year, our US gathering drew more than 40,000 students and leaders from around the world to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. We were blown away by God's presence. Shattered and rebuilt by His Word. Challenged to the core. Repaired. Wrapped in love. Awakened to raise our voices for those who have no voice.
In January 2013, we are returning to The Dome. Honestly, we want to see the place filled. Not for the sake of numbers, but as a symbol of a new generation...a new wave of Jesus followers who are trading in small dreams for a place in the story God is writing around the globe.
So this kid goes to Passion, and stays for a week, and receives a lot of encouragement and emotional enhancement which, if he's honest, he doesn't get at his local church. And he's with other kids who are getting the same thing -- that's what they all say, and there's no reason to doubt them. Some of them even Tweet stuff like this:
60,000 college students, representing 2,022 universities, from 54 countries worshipping the 1 true God. #Passion2013 twitter.com/TweetingThomas…
— Thomas West (@TweetingThomas_) January 4, 2013
I have tears in my eyes as I reflect on the power of God's presence in the Georgia dome tonite. #GloryofGod #Passion2013
— Kari Jobe (@karijobe) January 4, 2013
Tonight @lecrae is preaching and @johnpiper is rapping! You wont want to miss it! #passion2013 :)
— Frank Gil (@Pastor_Tank) January 3, 2013
Yeah, OK, maybe not as much on that last one, but you see my point: there's a very positive buzz about the things which mean a lot to this demographic -- and, if we are honest, to ourselves as well. We want whatever it is we are doing for Jesus' fame and Jesus' name to make us, if I may be so bold as to say it, feel something -- and not like we have the flu, either.
So this hypothetical young person goes to Passion, and gets a very real sense of his or her feeling that Jesus filled the Georgia Dome, and that Jesus is amazing when John Piper or Judah Smith talks about Him, and he or she comes home sincerely believing they had an experience which ought to change them.
This young person feels like what Jefferson Bethke tweeted the first night of the event:
Now look: I like Jeff Bethke. I like any clean-cut kid, but especially one who is sort of famous for being clean-cut in spite of hardships. And we all know how Jeff got famous, right?
No? Wow, the internet has a short memory.
See: Jeff got famous because he was trying to make a right-minded point about the distinction between "religion" and "Jesus" (or perhaps: right faith in Jesus) -- even if he had to walk some of the ill-considered stuff back in the two weeks after this video went thru the roof. And he was there, at Passion, with Lecrae and Piper and Crowder and Chan and 59,999 other people, and he made a tweet which, when the hypothetical kid I am talking about read it, caused a feeling of good tidings and great joy, if we can borrow the phrase.
So for this hypothetical young person, he or she came away from Passion with a rather broad feeling of being part of something larger than themselves. And to this feeling, they have attached a lot of words -- either because of the talks they heard, or because of the conversations afterward: "worship," "faith," "spirit," "movement," "unity," etc.
Now look: fair enough. I am willing to say that to some extent, something happened at the Georgia Dome that felt amazing to those present. It felt amazing for the week in which it happened.
But when I read Jeff's tweet back on New Year's Day, here's what I tweeted:
And I ask it for only one reason: Jeff is famous because he wanted to draw the thick black line between Jesus and Religion -- and I find myself in full agreement with that objective. I find myself fighting that fight in my own life on a daily basis.
It is a completely fair question -- and I think the answers are useful to all kinds of people, and not just the young person who found himself or herself filled with something which looks and feels pretty good.
So how would we know? We'll talk about that tomorrow.