(Photo: Passion 2013 Conferences)
ATLANTA – Francis Chan, best-selling author of Crazy Love and Erasing Hell, founding pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif., and founder of Eternity Bible College, spoke to the 60,000+ attendees at the Passion 2013 Conference this past week with a message focused on the importance of making disciples and the reality that God is always faithful and trustworthy even when people are not.
"I want the joy of knowing that I am doing something with my life, the joy of battle," Chan said on Wednesday night. "It has been a rough year for me 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."
Evangelism and discipleship were key themes throughout Chan's message. "If you really want to experience God, go and make disciples," he told the students, admitting that he has sometimes been cowardly in starting spiritual conversations with strangers. "One of my biggest fears – maybe my biggest weakness as a Christian – is that I have a hard time going up to a stranger and talking to them about Jesus."
But as Chan started witnessing more boldly and intentionally, "amazing things began to happen," he shared, likening his journey to that of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16. "I began to experience God more than ever before. I've seen more answers to prayer, more supernatural things happen in my life."
Chan's desire to cultivate boldness in discipleship led him and his wife, Lisa, to start a church planting movement in the inner city of San Francisco. "We have church on Sunday afternoons, which consists of me speaking for 5-10 minutes, us singing for 5-10 minutes, then everyone going out for two hours and witnessing in lower income neighborhoods. After that we come back and share with each other what happened and how the experience was," Chan described, adding that he is also working to launch a nationwide discipleship movement.
The California pastor emphasized the essential role of the Holy Spirit in empowering believers, quoting from Acts 1:8, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you," and telling attendees that they must always rely on God's power to accomplish great things. "For those of you who say, 'I don't experience God,' my question for you is, 'Are you out there making disciples?'"
A common pitfall in the lives of believers is a lack of trust in God, something that often stems from broken human relationships, Chan said.
"Every year in my life I trust fewer and fewer people," he acknowledged, holding up his Bible. "It's been a crazy journey, but every year I am more and more sure about the words in this Book. God's promises – everything He has written in this Book – can absolutely be trusted."
Chan quoted several scripture verses from the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate God's pattern of faithfulness across generations. "If you are faithless, God remains faithful because He can't stop being who He is," Chan explained, saying that God never breaks His promises and always remains true to His attributes. "There is such a beautiful picture of this in scripture, and my favorite is from the book of Hosea, where God wanted Hosea to marry a whore so he could show Israel what it was like to be married to her," said Chan. "That was all a picture of what God does. He wants to buy us back, regardless of what we have done."
Chan warned against selective focus on scriptures based on personal expediency and expressed the need to balance God's love with His wrath, lamenting the fact that many Christians ignore certain parts of the Bible due to the way they were raised by their parents or their faith tradition. "Some of you trust God's promises of blessing, but you don't trust His threats of punishment," he said. "So often in our culture, we say we'll do something then we back off. But you can lean upon God's Word; if He promises something, He will come through."
Chloe Lorence, 18, of Fairfax, Va., who is currently a homeschooled senior, reflected that several examples from Chan's message resonated with her. "He seems to understand what it's like to struggle as a person, especially when it comes to trusting other people and projecting that on God." Lorence said, "The way the speakers open up about their own trials and joys really makes Passion attractive, and it's unlike any other Christian gathering I've ever experienced."