My latest article for our local paper’s Faith and Values page:
Many today think our world is a bleak place. Some claim it’s never been this bad.
Discouragement is natural when we look at the rise in non-Christian religions, fascination with the occult, and unbiblical political issues. Immorality is rampant, even among churchgoers. College campuses seem to be especially decadent locales where God is rejected. Many see the glass half empty or even bone-dry.
Last week, Billy Graham’s “My Hope for America” aired on TV. In an interview segment, Graham stated these times are not worse than others. “We’ve always had the problem of sin.” He asserted the issue is the way sin is broadcast now via television and internet.
When asked if there’s any hope for the future, Graham’s answer remains unchanged. “Yes, through Jesus Christ.”
The Bible urges us to take heart. We experience hope when we look to Jesus. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9)
Our nation has endured other periods of moral decline. In due time, revivals followed.
American revivals share a few common threads. First, people in dire need expressed their utter dependence on God. He answered and the Holy Spirit showed up. No person could have manipulated the results.
The earlier Puritan fervor had evaporated in both thinking and lifestyle by the 1730s, setting the stage for the First Great Awakening. Jonathan Edwards’ preaching is often credited with being the catalyst. But as a naturally shy man who published essays on insects, his charisma clearly isn’t what persuaded hundreds to repent when he called them sinners.
The Haystack Revival kicked off the Second Great Awakening in 1806. After the Revolutionary War, colleges were a hotbed of immorality and skepticism. At Williams College in Massachusetts, Samuel Mills and four other students gathered outside to beg God to do something. As a thunderstorm lashed, they took shelter inside a haystack. There they promised God they’d go anywhere He’d send them.
Second, American revivals began with young people on, of all places, college campuses.
When Edwards’ grandson, Timothy Dwight, spoke at Yale University’s chapel during the Second Great Awakening, up to half of the students were converted to Christ.
The Student Volunteer Movement, spanning 1888-1920, sent 30,000 of the brightest and best of a generation overseas. Birthed at Princeton University, it started with 100 Ivy League students committing themselves as missionaries. It quickly spread across America and to England’s top schools. These young people gave up lucrative careers, packing their caskets onto ships bound for China, India, or Africa.
Third, revivals thrived with one clear objective: taking the gospel to the world.
Every Student Volunteer knew their mission. Their watchword was “All should go and go to all.” Their hearts were inflamed by a goal that was tremendously difficult. Small ideas cannot do that.
Horace Pitkin of Yale wrote, “When we would run our daily mile in the gym or open air, we would say, ‘This will carry us another mile in China.’”
Our hope lives on today; it’s not relegated to a history lesson. God continues to be active in our world. It’s still true that “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
Today, college campuses are challenging places for Christ-following students to live out their faith. Yet there are many bright lights not being extinguished. Like diamonds on black velvet, they shine brighter because of the increasing darkness.
I get to witness some of those lights as a volunteer staff with Cru (Campus Crusade).
Matt, a resident assistant in his dorm, put together a program called “S’More about Jesus.” As over 100 students crammed into a small study room, they ate s’mores and listened as Matt outlined what makes Christ distinct. Several wanted to talk more.
Ben went on a summer project to French-speaking New Caledonia. He only knew “Bonjour” and “fromage,” yet God used him to introduce people to His Son.
As sophomores, Kaitlyn and Jennifer gave their lives fully to the Lord at a girls’ retreat. Today, these juniors impart their love for Christ to the students they disciple. Kaitlyn summed it up. “This has been the best year of my life.”
There is hope. Take heart.