In 1998, while a college student at Union University, I traveled to Texas with a group of about 200 other Union students to attend Passion 98. This was a gathering of college students over New Years who wanted to learn more about God and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Alot of my friends were going, in fact, many had attended Passion 97 (the first of all the Passion Conferences) so it sounded like a cool thing to do. I was also a Junior in college at the time and thought that a time of refreshment with the Lord would be good to re-energize my spirituality.
Small bit of background on me, I was raised in a home of Southern Baptists, “walked the aisle” to “ask Jesus into my heart” at age 7, followed immediately by baptism, rededicated my life to Jesus many times throughout my time at youth camps and other youth group activities at my church, then at age 18, I decided that I didn’t really “mean” it when I “asked Jesus into my heart” at age 7, and asked him to be my savior and Lord of my life, also followed immediately by baptism. Proceeded to attend a Southern Baptist university and got my college education in the land of believers. So going to a conference to “re-energize” my spirituality had alot of implication in light of the context of my story.
So I went to Passion 98 with few expectations, largely because I didn’t have any idea what to expect. I had gone to church conferences throughout my time in junior high and high school, so I assumed that going as a college student would be more of the same:
Convincing (Convicting?) delivery of a message about sin, driving home points that I fall short of living the good Christian life, tearful and emotionally charged re-dedication of my life to God, mounting excitement among this mutual decision amongst my friends, and subsequent “mountain top experience” that would get me through the spring semester.
Passion 98 was nothing like that.
I remember like it was yesterday, sitting with my dear friend Shannon in the front section near the stage singing worship songs for 20-plus minutes (had NEVER done that before) along with ‘Sons and Daughters‘ (anyone, anyone?) and learning about what it means to ask God to give me a PASSION for Him, His Name, His Fame and His Glory among the nations of the world.
This was not at all what I was expecting. The truth is that I didn’t even know TO expect it. These were such new and foreign concepts to me. I had never considered such things in my entire experience of spiritual formation (see aforementioned description).
But for the first time, I found myself challenged by teaching from the likes of Louie Giglio, Beth Moore and John Piper — keep in mind I was only nineteen (turned twenty the next month) — and these people were talking about things that completely redirected my spiritual path.
Louie talked about Isaiah 26:8, “YES Lord! Walking in the ways of your truth we EAGERLY wait for you, for Your Name and Your Renown (FAME) are the desires of my soul.” (this verse is the Life Verse I had inscribed on a ring in Israel, my long time readers may recall the story.)
Beth talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Piper revealed the most uncomfortable truth of all, Philippians 1:21, “But for me, to Live is Christ. To die is Gain.”
As a 20 year old college student, born and bred in the Bible-belt, my pretty little head and heart were rocked by these teachings. I honestly couldn’t wrap my mind around them. I tried, I tried ever so desperately. But spent the better part of my Junior spring semester contemplating what this all meant, especially in the context of my being a college student trying to figure out what to do with my life. I will say this, all the talk of missions and the nations prompted me to dedicate the summer of 1998 to missions, working as the Communications Coordinator for a traveling missions team in the Carolinas through the North American Mission Board’s World Changers program.
So when registration for Passion 1999 was announced, it was curiosity and thirst for clarity that moved me to sign up for round two of this thing called Passion. And once again, I spent New Years in Texas with an even larger group of college students, gathered to hear from the same spiritual giants and hoping to make more sense of what they had to say in 1998. I came home from that gathering with a copy of Desiring God, my “Thirsty” journal and an unwavering sense of calling that God wanted to use me to spread his message to the nations. I had no idea what that looked like, but looking back over the last decade, I believe he has and is using me for his purposes in this way, only it looks much different that I thought it would.
After I graduated from college in 1999, I worked for a while as a TV news reporter just outside of Atlanta, where I attended Northpoint Community Church and 7:22 and got to continue under the teaching of Louie and Andy Stanley. The irony of this is that, after my time with the missions gig the summer before my senior year, I was offered a job after graduation doing promotions for the group, that was based just outside of Atlanta on property adjacent to Northpoint Community Church. I accepted the job, but at the last minute I turned it down to pursue my reporting dreams. And as it turns out, I still landed in the back yard of Northpoint Community Church as a reporter in the neighboring Cherokee County. I am thankful for this time in Georgia for many reasons, that I will save or another post. Just note that being in Atlanta allowed me to continue down the same spiritual path of learning that had begun in my heart at Passion.
As it turns out, the reporter gig wasn’t really my thing and I moved back home to Memphis… just in time to learn that Passion would be coming to Memphis in 2000 for its annual conference. It would be called One Day and would be held at Shelby Farms. I immediately signed up to volunteer both for the event and to help man the World Changers booth in the exhibit area. There was no way I would miss Passion in my hometown, now three years running.
One Day 2000 is when I first heard Piper preach about Don’t Waste Your Life. Click here to listen to the sermon he gave that day. Forever moved and even more convinced that God wanted me to step out in radical faith and take a big risk for Him, the year 2000 turned out to be the year I would follow God’s leading to spread his message to the world.
God’s plan to use me to spread his message looked a little like this: working on Capitol Hill. I am not sure how effectively I even accomplished His purposes in me during that time. But I know it was He who got me my job with the United States Senate and allowed me to move up the ranks from Staff Assistant to Press Secretary in a relatively short period of time. There was no way I was connected enough or qualified enough to have pulled that off on my own. But by His grace, I had nearly 8 years working among the most powerful people in the world. I may not have been as strong of a vocal witness as perhaps I could have been, but I believe God used me despite my own weaknesses.
Smack in the middle of that time, God used my experiences at Passion 98, 99 and One Day 2000 to, at long last, take my faith to the nations… specifically, Guatemala. I signed up for my first international mission trip in 2003 and served at a Compassion International school in Santa Clara Guatemala, once in July and again in October 2003. My teachers during this time were Frontline teaching pastor Ken Baugh, Beth Moore by way of the “Breaking Free” Bible Study and John Piper by way of “Let the Nations Be Glad.”
I mentioned at the beginning of this story that I walked an aisle at age 7, decided that it didn’t stick and did it again at age 18, but as I look back on my life, it was 2003 that I really started walking with the Lord. Jesus was Lord of my life already, but this was the year I made him Lord of my lifestyle (two different things I think). And at the end of 2003, I attended a New Years Eve party in D.C. where I first laid eyes on the man I would marry.
My direct connections with the Passion movement did not entirely fade away after 2003. I continued to be moved by the worship songs born from the Passion conferences. I attended a few Passion road shows in DC, and even got to meet Louie at one of them! I continued to follow the movement online through blogs and Facebook. Then I began to meet some college students through my church’s college ministry who were going to Passion conferences and sharing stories of life change. I felt encouraged to see Passion continuing to make an impact and even a bit nostalgic as I heard similar stories of spiritual discovery and trail-blazing that are natural results of Passion.
I continued to pursue God’s call to spread his message to the nations. I participated in and led mission trips around the world to places like Indonesia, Kenya, Argentina and Brazil. I visited Israel on a prayer and vision trip with an organization whose mission I passionately believe in and support.
But the one thing that I pursued since 2004 that has had the most significant impact on my spiritual walk is the practical pursuit of taking my thoughts captive and being transformed by the renewing of my mind through learning about and developing an understanding of my brain.
I know that was a sharp turn out of nowhere but stay with me because it all connects. In 2004, I sought counseling to help me heal from issues of anxiety and depression stemming from early childhood abandonment and attachment issues. In this endeavor, I began to learn ALOT about the science behind what makes our brain work. This new information, including the great news based on relatively new research proving the plasticity of our brains and that we CAN change our brains and our brains can form new neuropathways, is the single most freeing discovery of my spiritual walk. The Bible says that the truth will set you free, and the truth I have learned about myself, and my responsibility in the Biblical act of being renewed has come in large part through the clarity I have received through my own personal study of the brain and my commitment to ongoing counseling. If the thought of combining brain science with spiritual truth makes you uncomfortable, check out my doctor, Dr. Curt Thompson’s new book “The Anatomy of the Soul” on his website www.beingknown.com. I am certainly no expert and can certainly not enter into any sort of apologetic discussions relative to these issues (so please don’t attempt to engage me in that way in the comments section, as I wont engage you on that level, but point you to someone who can.) But I can testify to the tremendous impact understanding the brain has had on my attempts to take my thoughts captive, be transformed by the renewing of my mind, and ultimately begin realizing and enjoying the truth of Galatians 5:1,
“It is for Freedom that Christ has set us Free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I have long hesitated, yet simultaneously, long desired to “go there” with this topic on my blog, but something has happened over the course of the last week that has prompted me to testify to God’s work in my life in this area, especially as it relates to Passion.
It was at Passion conferences as a college student that I first began to learn that I needed to actively take my thoughts captive and actively seek transformation by the renewing of my mind. It was through praying that God would give me a PASSION for him like the passion he has for me that fueled by faith and my courage to follow God where he has led me, to DC, to Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Kenya and Indonesia, into marriage, and eventually into the depths of my own understanding to FIND HIM THERE.
The Psalmist says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Every time God has led me anywhere, I have always found him there. This trust, faith and courage were planted in my heart through God’s word first shared and continually reinforced by what I learned starting at Passion 98 and continues to this day.
I’ve been studying the Psalms of Ascent since August of 2010. I am taking my time and working through each Psalm and associated lesson with determined intentionality and I have been absolutely AMAZED at how God has used the Psalms to teach me over the past 5 months. I am using a study guide by Beth Moore, so I am again sitting under her teaching during this deeply personal and spiritual time. I have simultaneously, over the course of the last 2 years, been studying more about the brain, through reading “The Anatomy of the Soul” by Dr. Curt Thompson; “Parenting from the Inside Out” by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Mary Hartzell, “Change your Brain, Change your Body” by Dr. Daniel Amen, and “This is Your Brain on Joy” by Dr. Earl Henslin.
My study of the Psalms of Ascent and of brain science culminated this week as God has been drawing very specific connections between the scriptures, the science, and my own personal life story. He is showing me practical steps I need to take to “sow the word of God” in my life and how understanding the chemistry and science of how my brain works will help me deepen my faith and not give up. I am still piecing together all that he is teaching me, but I do plan to share more about this on my blog in the coming months as I believe this is one of those transformational seasons of life that God is using to sanctify me and refine me in new deeply personal ways and this long, long story hopefully sets the stage for the things I will share in the coming year.
But now the connection between the brain and Passion.
I’ve been off work for the past week and have treated the time like a Pastor would treat a sabbatical, Ive spent more time alone this week, with my Bible and my journal, seeking the Lord as intently as I know how. As I have quieted my frenzied, multi-tasking, anxiety ridden, ADD heart before the Prince of Peace he has been teaching me great and unsearchable things I do not know. I’ve spent the majority of my time reflecting on the Psalms of Ascent, particularly Psalms 127 and 128, as well as considering how the patterns of negative and ungodly thoughts have dominated my mind, for as long as I can remember. And God is finally convincing me that this can change and showing me exactly what I need to do to make lasting change in this area of my life.
This morning, I remembered that Passion 2011 was broadcasting the sessions online at http://live.passion2011.com. So I turned on to catch the tail end of the live stream of this morning’s session. I log in and see none other than my favorite teacher, Beth Moore, wrapping up a session. I only got the last 10 minutes or so of her message but this is what I got when I tuned in:
She was trying to, at a 50,000 foot level, explain about the neurotransmitters and neuro-pathyways of the brain and what causes the synapses to fire and connect and be reinforced the way they are when we habitually thing the same thing, be it positive or negative, and how this has impact on our being transformed by the renewing of our minds. She was admonishing and encouraging and challenging the listeners to believe that THEY CAN CONTROL what they think and HOW they think about situations. She pleaded with them to believe that they can take their thoughts captive and MAKE them obedient to Christ:
2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Here was my teacher of nearly 13 years VALIDATING everything I believe God has been teaching me over the past 2 years, and more fervently over the past 6 months. Here are a few of the notes I made from the session. (Keep in mind, this was LIVE as played this morning at Passion 2011 for the first time so I was jotting these quickly, I will go back and relisten to the session once its posts later today!)
“It is harder than ever for this generation to quiet hearts and focus on God, all the multi-tasking and social networking and diversions of attention, it is nearly impossible to shut off every other voice and become completely still and focused on God.”
“We must memorize more than verses, but PASSAGES of Scripture”
“You don’t have to be controlled by the past.”
“Think a new thought about an old situation.”
“Think NEW thoughts about the old thing.”
“I hear many of you say you can’t change how you feel but I promise that you CAN change the way you THINK and that WILL CHANGE the way you feel.”
“Changing your MIND will change your HEART.”
“Luke 24:45, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
“Mark 12:30, “Love God with… YOUR MIND.”
What she said in those final 10 minutes is exactly what I have been learning through God’s word, understanding how the brain works, and my own journey through counseling. This is incredible to me that God would orchestrate such a unique and specific set of events, ideas, events and seeds planted for over a decade to set the stage for a major season of growth he is unpacking in my life today.
Thirteen years of Passion have culminated here today, at my kitchen table in my tiny little one bedroom apartment 10 miles from our nation’s capitol. God used something he started in me as a 19-year-old college kid to reveal confirmation and validation of life-changing, sanctifying truth. And by the enabling of technology, God used a sermon being preached in Atlanta to college students to encourage and spur on this (almost) 34 year old sojourner.
Praise God for using things like science and technology to reveal more of Himself and His truth to those He loves and who love Him back.
I am excited to tell you, after 3000 words of this testimony are written, that this is only the beginning.
Welcome to 2011. Its going to be a year of COURAGE at My Living Canvas. I can’t wait to share it with you.