“Pray that whenever I open my mouth words come to me to proclaim the word of Christ fearlessly and boldly as I should.”
The last message of Passion 2012, delivered by pastor and founder of the Passion Movement Louie Giglio, was much more of a challenge than anything else. Ephesians 6:19 was the text he used to drive his point home, and his sermon had three main points: first, don’t wait for the future to do something amazing – wake up and start living now; second, seek to find inspiration and joy in the everyday events of life instead of being discouraged by adversity, challenge, struggle, loss or even death – Louie used the example of his father dying seven years earlier to illustrate beauty that can come out of loss – and lastly, to live boldly and pray that every time you open your mouth you would proclaim the name of Christ fearlessly as Paul did, and as we now should.
So, I left the Georgia Dome and 45,000 of my new friends to take off on a plane back to Chicago, where the world and the second quarter of an intensive masters program at Northwestern University was waiting for me. After I said goodbye to my twin sister, I headed for my terminal at the Atlanta – Hartsfield Int’l Airport (incidentally, where Justin Bieber first met his manager Scooter Braun ), and as I walked I prayed: “God, would you please be with the people who will be sitting next to me on the plane today? I’d really like to be able to talk with them and build them up in Christ if you’ll give me the opportunity.” And I shot up a few more prayers as I sat at the gate and on my way down the jetway.
…Then, fate!!!!!!! I sat down in my seat and waited, and was eventually approached by two men, a dad and his grown son who must have been about 35. They stopped at my row and began to throw their cases into the overhead bins, and the dad said, somewhat tersely: “Where do you want me to throw your case, son?” and the son responded, with a bit of disdain and a sigh, “I don’t care, dad. Just throw it up there wherever it fits.” And the cases went into the bin, and I looked up at them with a smile and was met with nothing but blank stares. “This is us,” the dad said. “Oh!,” I responded. “Let me scoot into the window, you guys can have the aisle.”
And I scooted over as they began to argue about who was going to sit in the aisle seat. Uh oh, I thought to myself, are these guys really the answer to my prayers?? This should be fun…
As soon as they got all settled, the dad said, “Hey, son, I’ve got that book up there – want me to –“ and the son turned and snapped, “Dad, I refuse to talk to you about two things on this flight: religion and politics. I do not want to hear anything else about that Catholic book.” Another exasperated sigh, then, “How long is this flight, anyway?”
“You know, you could have flown out of a different airport,” the dad said.
“Don’t be ridiculous, dad. It’s just this flight, then what, an hour drive when we get to Chicago? I can probably make it.”
And I decided I’d had enough of their bickering and decided to interject.
“So, are you guys from Atlanta or Chicago?” I asked with a smile.
They both turned to me simultaneously and looked at me like I was an alien for a second or two. Then the son got his bearings and told me he was from Hilton Head Island and his dad was from Macon and they met in the middle in Atlanta to travel to Chicago together. I then tried to find some common ground and asked if the guy was a golfer.
“I play occasionally, but I also work a lot – I’m a carpenter,” he said.
“That’s awesome,” I said, then, in spite of myself, I exclaimed, “So was Jesus!”
At that, he laughed out loud and said, “Well, that’s quite the comparison…”
And the dad chuckled and looked over from his aisle seat rather smugly.
“That’s just what this guy needs! A little religion in his life.”
They then asked me where I went to school and what I had been in Atlanta for, and I was able to tell them I was at the Passion Conference at the Georgia Dome and was now on my way back to school at Northwestern University in Evanston. Much to my surprise, it turned out the dad had lived in Evanston for 20 years in his earlier life, on the SAME STREET THAT I LIVE ON NOW!!! So, after we had a few good laughs, we got to talk about the Evanston park district, good toboggan hills, ice skating ponds, and Chicago life in general. I also told them about my family in Minneapolis (they’d spent some time there), and my twin sister attending Pepperdine Law School in Malibu – it also turns out their family had lived in Ventura at one point and they were very familiar with Malibu Seafood, the Malibu Country Mart and Zuma Beach, all staples for most Pepperdine students – CRAZY coincidences!!! (or, a God-ordained plan for a two-hour plane ride?? ;P)
When we got around to talking about the Passion Conference I had been at in Atlanta, I was able to tell them how it changed my life. Not only was it was attended by 45,000 of my peers, I said, but we were able to raise $3 million to combat human trafficking worldwide. I told them how awesome it was to see my generation getting outside of themselves and living for Jesus. They were impressed, and asked what kind of church I went to. I told them I had been attending an ELCA church with my family for a while, but attended a non-denominational one now, and that my mom used to be Catholic, but she wasn’t anymore. The dad chuckled at that and said, “Sounds familiar – this guy used to be Catholic too,” gesturing at his son next to him. He went on to tell me about a book called “Rediscovering Catholicism” that he was reading about how important it is that the world begins to rediscover the heart of the Catholic church. Then, the son shifted awkwardly in his seat.
“This conversation is edging on religion, dad,” the son said matter-of-factly.
“All right,” the dad chuckled. “Let’s talk about something else, then! How about the weather? How about…”
“What are you guys going to Chicago for?” I asked.
There was an awkward pause, then the son turned to me and said they were traveling to a funeral.
“It’s hard, you know,” he said. “It just sucks to see a good guy like that die.”
“It was a really good family friend,” the dad said. “Helped us out a lot. Great guy, great family, great kids. That’s the inspiration, that he’s got some great kids behind him.”
“We actually lost my mom a couple of years ago,” the son said thoughtfully. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dad’s eyes welling up.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Is it just you then? Or do you have siblings?”
And we got to talking about their family and the dad’s children, then conversation gradually deteriorated and the men began to talk about the mechanics of the plane wing we were sitting next to and I checked out as I began to think about how crazy it was that a man from the street I live on in Evanston would sit next to me on the plane and be interested in hearing about the conference I had been to. Not only that, but religion was a major component of our conversation, and they were on their way to a funeral – WAIT!!! – they were on their way to a FUNERAL!!!, I thought to myself again and again. Funerals had been the main theme of the opening and closing messages at Passion this year, and I had just this morning heard a beautiful sermon from Louie Giglio about proclaiming the name of Christ fearlessly and finding hope and inspiration in loss, even in loss as monumental as death! So I prayed as we circled over Lake Michigan and began our descent that I would somehow muster up the courage to “preach” to these two men next to me who were somewhat tense, sorrowful and on their way to a funeral service of a dear friend.
And I thought for a little while, contributed some “Mm hmm” and “Okays” to their conversation about plane mechanics, then finally decided to dive in.
“So, it’s kind of crazy that you guys are on your way to a funeral…our message this morning was all about finding hope and inspiration in loss, even in death,” I said as they looked over at me intently. They were actually paying attention!
“The founder of this conference, Louie Giglio, is a pastor, and he lost his dad several years ago – his dad actually was the designer of the Chick-Fil-A logo. He had to leave Texas, where he had a hugely successful ministry, to come to Atlanta to help out his mom when his dad got sick, and when he died, was in Atlanta with no job, no ministry, no nothing.
It turns out that, had his dad not gotten sick, Louie probably would have never moved to Atlanta. Out of his dad’s death, he realized he wanted to start up another ministry, but wasn’t sure what kind – and he ended up starting these Passion Conferences. So, even though he lost his dad, he is now able to minister to hundreds of thousands of college students every year at these conferences. Because Christ died and was resurrected, we have this same hope – that we can find hope in loss and know that all things work together for those who love God.”
As I glanced up after my mini-sermon, tears were definitely falling from the dad’s eyes. “Oooh, crap,” I thought to myself, but kept going anyway because the coolest part hadn’t even happened yet.
“And then, when Louie when he walked out on the field of the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl that was being hosted at the Georgia Dome where the Passion Conference would be held a week later, he stepped on the Chick-Fil-A logo at the 50-yard-line. As he stood on top of the logo his father had designed so many years ago, he realized that, in this same place one week later, there would be 45,000 college-aged students and volunteers uniting in the name of Jesus – brought together by a vision borne out of Louie’s loss of his father years earlier. So, somehow, Louie found himself caught between his dad’s legacy of the Chick-Fil-A logo and the dream borne out of his loss – the place where 45,000 believers would be attending the Passion Conference a week later.”
And I was finished with my sermon.
“That’s really cool,” the son said.
And the dad was still crying a little bit.
“You know, I actually had a twin sister…She died when I was 8,” the son said.
And I basically fell out of my seat. “You know I’m a twin,” I said. “I love my sister very much. I thank God every day for the blessing it is to have her.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a cool thing.”
And as we prepared to leave the plane, the dad said how great it was to meet me, and said he would be looking for my name on the bylines.
“What’s your last name?”
“Althoff,” I told them. “Unless I get married sometime soon…it might change, haha!”
“What!,” the dad exclaimed. “Nobody out of Northwestern should change their name.”
We laughed, I told them I would be praying for them, wished them well, and we went on our ways.
Needless to say, I was extremely happy to know I’d gotten up the courage to bring up the gospel and good word of Christ’s resurrection – especially because, now, I’m finding myself taking my own advice in dealing with Grandpa Bob’s passing Friday evening.
God has showed me so much about trust over the past six months. Little things like a fulfilling plane ride last week are only small pieces of a larger whole that I’ve been incredibly blessed to experience. Not only do I believe in the power of prayer, but I’ve found faith and hope in the midst of loss. Also, I’ve been prepared and taught through conversations, first-hand experiences, devotions, sermons and Bible verses over the past six months how to treat death not as something to fear, but rather even more reason to put your faith in Christ’s resurrection. Grandpa Bob’s funeral will be this weekend in St. Louis, and I’m finding myself re-living my past over and over again, remembering all of the good times we were able to enjoy together and maintaining my trust in God Almighty – all I know is, Grandpa Bob would want me to keep smiling, so I do, and trust that, even in the midst of sorrow, all things work together for those who love God (Romans 8:28). If Grandpa’s life was so good while he was here, how much better must it be in heaven?