Great Awakenings – Part 3: The Revival of 1857-58

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Once again, a generation passed away after the Second Great Awakening and once again America slipped into a deep moral decline.  The country was severely divided over the issue of slavery.  And prosperity reigned, as, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, it was easier to make money than ever before.

During the First and Second Great Awakenings, revival came from Britain and moved to America.  But the Revival of 1857-58 would start in America and jump the Atlantic to land in Europe.  The world was indeed changing and the influence of our young nation was taking hold across the globe.

The Revival of 1857-58 began in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people. 

The location was in downtown New York City and the person was a simple businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier.  He would be led by the Holy Spirit to start a lunchtime prayer meeting in the upper room of his Dutch Reformed Church.

  • Six people showed up at that first prayer meeting.
  • Fourteen showed up the next week.
  • Then 23.
  • Then it was decided that they should meet everyday over lunch for prayer.
  • By March of 1858, every church and every public hall in downtown New York was filled with people praying.
  • It was said that the hunger for prayer was so strong that the people preferred services of prayer over preaching.

***

The great student and professor of revival J. Edwin Orr described the Revival of 1857-58 this way…

“a reporter with horse and buggy” he explained, “(was sent) racing round the prayer meetings to see how many men were praying. In one hour he could get to only twelve meetings, but he counted 6,100 men attending.

Then a landslide of prayer began, which overflowed to the churches in the evenings. People began to be converted, ten thousand a week in New York City alone. The movement spread throughout New England, the church bells bringing people to prayer at eight in the morning, twelve noon, and six in the evening. The revival raced up the Hudson and down the Mohawk, where the Baptists, for example, had so many people to baptize that they went down to the river, cut a big hole in the ice, and baptized them in the cold water.

When the revival reached Chicago, a young shoe salesman went to the superintendent of the Plymouth Congregational Church, and asked if he might teach Sunday School. The superintendent said, ‘I am sorry, young fellow. I have sixteen teachers too many, but I will put you on the waiting list.’

The young man insisted, ‘I want to do something just now.’

‘Well, start a class.’ He was told.

‘How do I start a class?’ he asked.

‘Get some boys off the street but don’t bring them here. Take them out into the country and after a month you will have control of them, so bring them in. They will be your class.’

He took them to a beach on Lake Michigan and he taught them Bible verses and Bible games. Then he took them to the Plymouth Congregational Church. The name of that young man was Dwight Lyman Moody, and that was the beginning of a ministry that lasted forty years.

Trinity Episcopal Church in Chicago had 121 members in 1857; but by 1860 it had 1,400 members. That was typical of the churches. More than a million people were converted to God in one year out of a population of thirty million.”

***

After 1858, the revival would jump the Atlantic and would spark other revivals across England and Europe.  One of the most noted of these was the famous Welsh Revival.

The love song of the Welsh Revival was an early 19th century hymn called “Here Is Love.” The lyrics in the third verse beautifully describe the Supernatural movement of God during a Spiritual Awakening. “Grace and love, like mighty rivers, 
Poured incessant from above,
 And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
 Kissed a guilty world in love.”

 

Great Awakenings – Part 2: The Second Great Awakening

Awakening

In just one generation a nation can slide from Spiritual Awakening into spiritual darkness. 

That’s how long it took for the impact of the First Great Awakening to fade into distant memory.  Most people do not realize it, but following the Revolutionary War and the founding of our nation, the moral fabric of our new republic began to tear.  Drunkenness abounded.  Out of a national population of five million, 300,00 people were confirmed drunks and we were burying 15,000 of them a year.  Bank robberies were a daily occurrence and for the first time, women were afraid to venture out at night for fear of assault.

The situation within the church was grave as the Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining.  The Baptists had proclaimed that they had fallen into a “wintry season.”  One Congregational church pastored by the Rev. Samuel Shepherd in Massachusetts, declared that they had not seen one convert in 16 years.   The Lutherans were so bad off that they were investigating a merger with the Episcopalians.  All this while the Episcopal Bishop of New York quit to seek other employment because it had been so long since he had confirmed even one person.  The Presbyterians who were not any better off cried out against the ungodliness of the nation.

The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court at the time, John Marshall, wrote that the church in America “was too far gone to ever be redeemed.”  And people such as the likes of Voltaire and Thomas Paine declared that, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.” 

***

But it all began to change in 1792 as a Second Great Awakening descended upon our nation.

What happened?  Well, remember Jonathan Edwards?  The great preacher of the First Great Awakening?  He had written a little book in 1741 entitled, “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of all God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.”  Yes, that was the title!  This little book which was a call to EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER was re-discovered and then republished by a Scottish minister named John Erskine.

And a movement was sparked…

***

In Europe, men like Williams Carey, Andrew Fuller, and John Sutcliffe began a Union of Prayer across all sects of Christianity.

The church in America had its back against the wall.  So in New England, a Baptist pastor and man of prayer named Isaac Backus issued an urgent plea and a call to prayer for revival across denominational lines.  Like their brothers in Britain, a network of prayer meetings was formed which set aside the first Monday of every month to pray.

And then revival came!

***

But this spiritual awakening hit a wall when it arrived in the “frontier country” of Kentucky.  The outmost edge of our young nation was a lawless and irreligious land.  In this setting, one lone pastor, a godly man of prayer named James McGready, joined the call to monthly prayer…but he took it one step further.  McGready called for WEEKLY Saturday night prayer for the Sunday services the following day.  And then again he called for prayer on Sunday mornings prior to worship.

And then… one Sunday morning revival spontaneously broke out when 11,000 people came to church!

The Second Great Awakening had arrived and swept the nation.

***

It was out of this Second Great Awakening that the modern missionary movement was born, abolition of slavery was promoted, education for all was championed, as well as numerous other social justice causes.

It was obvious to the people of this movement that their only defense; their only righteousness; their only hope was Jesus. Oh God, show us today of our desperate need for You.

Great Awakenings Part 1 – The First Great Awakening

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When we talk about a Great Awakening in America most people don’t even know what that means.

It has been so long since our nation has felt the kindle of revival’s fire that we’ve lost our sense of even knowing what to look for.

So today, I want to take you back…back to the beginning of our nation’s spiritual foundation. And this beginning takes back to a point in time before we were even a nation, when we were still an outpost of the British Empire.

***

The First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s. Before the Revolutionary War. Before the Declaration of Independence. Before the Constitution. The church in America and Europe had fallen into a slump. A movement known today as The Enlightenment had infected the spiritual senses of both nations like a disease. Logic and reason trumped spiritual experience and reliance on God. Science as god was on the rise and the prevailing view was that it alone contained all the answers to mankind’s questions.

At this point of spiritual desperation within the church, three men were raised to prominence by the hand of God.

***

Within the colonies of New England a preacher named Jonathan Edwards became a voice crying in the wilderness. Edwards preached for a decade, fervently calling people to a personal experience with God.   He also appealed for unity among all Christians regardless of denomination or spiritual background. His was a message of salvation by faith alone in God and not of works. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of Jonathan Edwards as I will come back to him in part 2 of this blog series.

***

Another man called forth by God was George Whitefield. This British pastor became known as the Great Itinerant because he preached more than 18,000 sermons crossing the Atlantic between England and America multiple times. He was, without a doubt, the most famous preacher of his generation throughout the American Colonies. Everywhere Whitefield preached, mass media covered his every word and crowds would converge. The evangelical movement known as Methodism grew out of his ministry and served to shape the spiritual climate of America.

***

A final figure that rose to prominence and marked the First Great Awakening was John Wesley. This itinerant preacher from England boldly proclaimed the Word of God for 65 years and was the architect of the evangelical revivals of the 18th century.   It is estimated that John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles on horseback during his ministry as he preached over 40,000 sermons and wrote 233 books. Together with his brother, Charles Wesley, he penned 9,000 hymns. John Wesley became one of the great church planters of his century leaving behind 750 preachers in England and 350 in America.

Jonathan Edwards.

George Whitefield.

John Wesley.

The First Great Awakening.

As we consider the current spiritual state of our land today , crying out to God to awaken us again, one can’t help but wonder:

What if we had God called men like this among us today?

Men who would go wherever, and preach whenever, to whoever. Boldly and without compromise.

Oh, that God would Open Up the Heavens and show us His glory once again. To awaken all of us and to call forth some of us to carry the torch of the Next Great Awakening.

Let the Fire Fall

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I have never witnessed a great movement of God. Oh, I’ve heard about such awakenings but they have always seemed the stuff of a long ago time.

I grew up in church attending the yearly revival meetings that were religiously scheduled in the fall and spring. When I was a kid these revivals started on Sunday and lasted the week. By the time I was a teenager the, now once a year, revival was a four-day affair running from Sunday through Wednesday. I was actually saved at one such revival meeting in the spring of 1984. By the time I was in college many churches had moved to the “one day revival” format, which was usually a very special Sunday. Today, you don’t hear much about revivals anymore and my kids have never attended one.

I also grew up in a time when every couple of years a “crusade” would roll through town.

These larger revival type meetings were designed to cross church and denominational lines and were held on neutral ground. A well-known preacher of the day would come to town and it was a BIG deal. I can still remember when Bailey Smith would draw a packed arena at Harper Stadium in my hometown of Fort Smith. When I was 16, God moved in my life in a powerful way one evening of that crusade. I had a deep and significant moment of rededication to God’s call on my life.

But all of these kinds of meetings have gone the way of history. The reason is fairly simple

People quit coming.

Period.

***

Revivals and crusades became a part of the church calendar and were held as a matter of rote. Sure, they served to build the body and people usually were saved, but I can say, looking back, that I never witnessed a move of God such that it spread like wildfire. Without exception, when the last scheduled meeting was held, the revival/crusade was packed up and things went back to business as usual around the church or around town.

As I sit in the middle-years of my life, I find myself more and more longing to see, just once, a move of God so significant, so profound, that it literally shapes the landscape and culture of our world.

***

Today, a book is being released by Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid. I was privileged to receive an advance copy of Firefall 2.0 about a month ago. It has blessed me mightily. As I have been a part of two major prayer gatherings of pastors this year led by Dr. Ronnie Floyd, my heart has been attuned to spiritual awakening in a new way.

Firefall 2.0 has come at the perfect time.

I truly sense that God is doing something in the hearts of pastors and laypeople. There is a growing longing to see God move. A growing sense that only in a move of God will our nation and culture find healing. No politician or political party can deliver this to us.

And so what McDow and Reid have done are a few things:

  • They have reminded us. We forget so easily. God constantly was telling the Israelites that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was His way of reminding His people of who He was in their past, and is in their present, and what He will be about doing in the future
  • They tie the distant past to the immediate past. In part one of Firefall 2.0, McDow traces the great moving hand of God through the text of the Scripture itself. Reid reveals the touch of God through the course of modernity in part two. Together, the reader sees the continuity of God’s involvement in the course of human affairs throughout all of history. The reader is left with the distinct impression that God is not far and in fact, poised to do something new and fresh, perhaps, very soon.
  • They deliver to us a sense of expectancy. McDow and Reid write from a strong desire to see God move yet again. As Reid says, “During revival, we recapture the wonder of God.” I love that line. Spiritual awakening is not about me or my church or even my city. Spiritual awakening is about God. Plain and simple. It is about a recovery of the preeminence of God Himself over all of His creation and the worship of His creation back to Him.

***

Much has been said and written about the demise of the church in western culture, about the reorientation of mores and values.

It is so easy to come away thinking that we have slipped too far. That we have moved beyond even the hand of God. But this is not so! Reid’s exposition of the modern moves of God from the First Great Awakening though the Jesus Movement informs and inspires.

We are not too far-gone.

In fact, we may be just in the right place for the next great awakening.

What A Day…

Last week, over on my personal blog, I published a post on why The SBC Needs Ronnie Floyd as its next president.

Today, I had the privilege of sitting with Pastor Floyd, his family, and other Cross Church staff as votes were cast. After over an hour of waiting for the count, it became reality. Dr. Ronnie Floyd is officially president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention. He will begin serving his term today at the conclusion of this year’s annual meeting.

As I sit writing this blog post, it is late Tuesday evening and I am reflecting on all I witnessed today pre- and post-election.

I will tell you that “tension” is an understatement as to my feelings during the vote count. I was fairly confident Pastor Floyd would be elected, but you never know until you know. Once the vote count was read and his election was confirmed, there was a surreal moment of “wow, it really happened!” Followed immediately by a feeling of “what now?”

The “what now” was a collective exhale, followed by Pastor Floyd’s wife, Jeana, leaning over to give him a kiss. I was then able to step over to shake his hand, tell him how proud I am to work with him, and that I am now officially praying for him in a new way.

Along with his son, Nick, and fellow staff members Andy Wilson, Buster Pray and Julio Arriola, we walked with Pastor Floyd over to the Baptist21 luncheon, where he was invited to speak publicly for the first time as president-elect of the SBC. He spent a few moments encouraging this packed-house meeting of next generation leaders, then leading the group in prayer.

Next, Pastor Floyd left to prepare for his first major press conference, to be held at 2:00 p.m. I was there as he did a masterful job of sharing his vision for the SBC – a vision of extraordinary prayer for spiritual awakening in our churches and nation. A vision of accelerating the Great Commission unto its completion in our generation. And a “Call to Columbus,” imploring every Southern Baptist leader of every association, state convention, entity, and church, to be in Columbus in 2015 for the Southern Baptist Convention as we make this a launching point for God’s next move among our convention of churches. It was a powerful statement, followed by Q & A with the press corps. He left this press conference to immediately do a private interview with our home state paper, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette. This became just the first of a series of media interviews the rest of the afternoon.

Following the evening session of the convention, we arranged for an impromptu reception in one of the convention meeting rooms. About 100 friends and colleagues joined the Cross Church staff team along with Pastor Floyd’s family. What a moment it was as Pastor Ted Traylor led the introduction of numerous friends, who rose and spoke words of encouragement to Pastor Floyd as he is embarking on the greatest leadership challenge of his ministry. Among them were: O.S. Hawkins, Ken Whitten, Vance Pitman, Al Mohler, Claude Thomas, Grant Etheridge, Frank Page, Tom Elliff, Jimmy Draper, and his son, Nick Floyd. To close our time was current president, Fred Luter, and Paige Patterson, who both led prayers of blessing over Pastor Floyd.

And so now it is nearly midnight. Day One in the books.

I said last week that the SBC needs Ronnie Floyd. Perhaps I misspoke. After today, I would say that the SBC needs what only God can do through the man, Ronnie Floyd. And so that will require prayer.

Much prayer.

Daily prayer.

Won’t you join me in praying for our new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Ronnie Floyd?

Because only God knows what tomorrow will bring.

The SBC Needs Ronnie Floyd

On June 10th the Southern Baptist Convention will gather in Baltimore, Maryland, and elect a new president.   There are three candidates as of the writing of this post. By my estimation all three are godly men, but one stands above the others in terms of being the right man at the right time. Dr. Ronnie Floyd is my pastor, mentor, and yes, my friend.

I have known Pastor Floyd since 1989 when I served at Cross Church (then First Baptist Church of Springdale) as a summer intern in the student ministry. After completing my master of divinity degree in 1996 at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, I moved my family to Northwest Arkansas and began a nine-year stint at Cross Church serving on the Shiloh Christian School and church staffs. Those years were formative as I observed Pastor Floyd lead Cross Church and began to form a mentor/friendship with him.

I have often said publically that I have learned more about leadership from Pastor Floyd than any other person in my life. I left Cross Church eight years ago to pastor my home church in Fort Smith, Arkansas, for seven years. In the last year of my tenure at Grand Avenue Baptist Church, we blew the doors off in just about every metric at which church growth analysts look. I won’t go into all the victory stories here and I will be quick to give God all the glory, but I will also say that any role I played as a leader and the pastor at Grand was heavily influenced by the leadership DNA I gained from serving with Pastor Floyd.

And so, I am now back serving with my friend and helping him from the pulpit as a teaching pastor and also leading our new Cross Church School of Ministry. I have been a Southern Baptist my whole life and I love everything our denomination strives for when it comes to accomplishing the Great Commission. So it is with great confidence and conviction that I can say that Dr. Ronnie Floyd needs to be the next president of the SBC.

At such a time as this, the Southern Baptist Convention needs:

  • A pastor who understands leadership and who has, himself, an accomplished resume of leadership within the church and within our denominational structure. The SBC can be very tricky to navigate. There is much at stake, and leading all our entities in a unified direction takes great skill. Dr. Ronnie Floyd knows the local church and he knows the SBC. No other candidate has been more engaged in both for extended tenures as Pastor Floyd. In short, he knows what he is doing.
  • A leader who can stand between the generations. A great challenge of our convention of churches is to draw in and engage the next generation of pastors and leaders. They need to know they are valued and that they are needed at the table. At the same time, we have a generation of leaders that have carried the torch well through rough waters and their legacy should be appreciated and insights sought after. Dr. Ronnie Floyd stands at a point between these generations. He has the respect of those who have gone before and understands the value of those who are coming forth.
  • A man who understands the times in which we live. The culture has changed. The culture is changing. The moral code of our nation is being rewritten right in front of our eyes and the local church has never been more on its heels related to these matters than now. God has gifted the SBC with some extraordinary leaders within our entity heads and what we need, right now, is an extraordinary president who can speak for our convention of churches while working in unison with our current entity leadership. Dr. Ronnie Floyd is that extraordinary leader.
  • A pastor who can steer our 50,000+ churches and missions to a point of extraordinary prayer for revival and spiritual awakening and who can elevate the Great Commission to its proper place of prominence and see its acceleration unto its completion in our generation. Dr. Ronnie Floyd is this leader.   I know of no other man who is more committed to prayer, spiritual awakening, and the Great Commission than he. These spiritual priorities have dominated his personal life and public ministry for more than the 27 years he has pastored Cross Church. And frankly, it is WHY Cross Church has become the church that it has.

So June 10th around 10:35 am in the morning will be a critical moment. A moment can define a season and a season can define a generation.

I am praying for my brother and friend, Dr. Ronnie Floyd. I am praying for him as God may be raising him up for the presidency of the SBC, and I will surely pray for the yoke that will be laid upon him should such become a reality.

Thirty Years of Walking With Jesus

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On Friday, May 16th of this month, while walking the streets of Seattle, Washington on a mission trip, I turned 30.

It was 30 years ago on May 16, 1984, at 8:30 pm CST, that Jesus Christ entered my heart and life and saved me to new life in him. I had been invited to attend a Rick Stanley Youth Revival at my church. It was pizza night and I had a ticket. Rick is the stepbrother of the late Elvis Presley. He had an awesome testimony of going from following the “king of rock-n-roll” to following the King of Kings. Rick was super cool and captured my mind and heart with his words that Wednesday night. I was 14 years old at the time and I have never been the same since that moment. So at the ripe old age of 30 (spiritually speaking), I’ve found some time the past couple of weeks in the busy-ness of ministry and family to reflect on these past 30 years of walking with Jesus.

I’m a list guy, so here’s where my thoughts have been as I’ve mused over this milestone “birthday”…

The closer I walk to Jesus the farther I find that I am from him. Yeah, I know it’s a cliché. But it’s true. I mean it’s really true.   I guess when I was 14 years old that if you would have asked me how close 30 years of walking with Jesus would put me, I would have thought closer than I feel right now. Oh, it’s not that I feel distant, but the reality of who Jesus is, how holy and wonderful he is, truly overwhelms me and I am struck with how far I am from being like him in all of this. So after, 30 years, I am still a sinner in need of a savior…daily.

***

Walking with Jesus is hard. Eugene Peterson wrote a book in 1980 called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Great title for a great book. The title resonates because it is so easy to live a Christian life of “short obedience” and to stray toward many directions.

I will admit that in the last 30 years my obedience has waned and my feet have strayed.

There have been seasons where I have obeyed my flesh and walked my own path. But I think that if my life were put on a graph that the trajectory would be up and toward my savior. It is my prayer that this would continue all the days of my life.

***

Thirty years of walking with Jesus requires walking with others. In short, we are not mean to walk alone.

I thoroughly resist the “private” spirituality devoid of the local church that dominates the faith patterns of so many.

I have enjoyed 22 of my 30 years with my wife, Julie. Wow, we have experienced so much together. She knows me and my walk more than any other. Other people have blessed my walk like my best friend, Steve Farris. My father, Bob. My son, Garrett. My mentors Chick Holland, J.B. Collingsworth, and Ronnie Floyd. There are so many others but the point is that, yes, walking with Jesus with others is necessary. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

***

I feel like I am only now beginning to truly understand what Jesus is up to in my life and in the world when we talk about his “salvation.” Sin is more devastating and than we ever thought, imagined or would believe. We, as humanity, are more desperate than we know. And Jesus is the great answer to this great divide.

Jesus is on the move in our world and in people’s lives in ways that would blow our minds if we were privy to all his workings.

And his kingdom is being born right in front of our eyes and speeding ever closer to consummation.

So those are four quick thoughts that have dominated me these past couple of weeks. There are many, many more. But as I sit typing this post, these have risen to the top.

May your own walk with Jesus be a long obedience in the same direction….

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