Over the last 300 hundred years there has been a series of Christian awakenings that have taken place in America and then spread throughout the whole world in many ways. After the reformation, and the bloody and gruesome years of Christians killing one another because they thought they had a corner on the market of God’s interpreted gospel, we see a great awakening of the church break into history.
The “city on a hill” Puritan dream collapsed in the mid 18th century (1700’s) and God burst into our history with this great move of His Spirit under such men as Theodore Frelingheisen, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Samuel Davies. The gospel was preached with boldness and love, prayer was central to the Christian life, and lives were changed and brought under the obedience and Lordship of Jesus Christ because God chose to move and the church exposed the lies of the day. This period of time is called the first great awakening, which took on many different forms.
A second great awakening during the early part of the 19th century broke out after the death of the first great awakening under such men as Henry Ward Beecher, Asahel Nettleton, and Charles Finney who called people back to Jesus, His gospel and submission to Him in the midst of a church that had been overtaken by the story of the day, rather than God’s story. This awakening led to great transformation and heart change that brought about obedience to Christ in daily living and a heart for prayer.
A third great awakening brought new life in the mid to late 19th century after the second great awakening died off. This awakening, like all the rest were birthed in fervent prayer (1857) preaching of the gospel with boldness and love, and a commitment to the true story of the world, not the story of the day. We see this awakening burst into history through men such as D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday. This particular awakening carried into the 20th century under men such as William Seymour who was the leader of the Azusa Street Revival in 1906.
A fourth great awakening yet took place in the mid 20th century (1940-1960) which brought the new revived evangelicalism that had previously died after the third great awakening because of Christian liberalism and fundamentalism that stopped believing and living out the core of the gospel. So guess what God used to ignite this fourth great awakening? You guessed it… the prayer and the preaching of the gospel with godly confidence and love. Men such as Billy Graham and David du Plessis were key figures in this great awakening.
According to church historians, there hasn’t been another awakening in the church that is equal to any of the previous four in the last 300 years. If there were to be any movements that would be equal to awakenings in America over the last 300 years, we would have to go to China, nations in Africa, South America, and certain parts of India, but not in America. Why is that? I have a few ideas of what could be our problem in America, things that I’ve observed as we have planted Kineo over at 37th Ave and Camelback.
The beginning and end of each of these great awakenings are similar to varying degrees. They all began with a growing unrest with the culture’s status quo, the culture’s false stories that have won out over and above God’s story, and the church retold and lived out God’s story in a fresh new way. These awakenings usually ended with the church growing comfortable and lulled to sleep by the culture’s story that in-filtrated the church and became the more dominant story and the church didn’t know it.
We are on the heels (by 40 or 50 years) of the fourth great awakening and the church is ripe for another awakening, but something powerful has been standing in the way, and the church is still having a hard time noticing it. It’s because every culture has a story that is the dominant story that directs life. It’s the true story you think you are living in.
The great thinkers of our day call our culture “postmodern”, some even say “post-Christian. Post means “after”, so our culture is after the modern era right now. The modern era made science and reason THE god, the god that was placed in the ultimate position over and above the God of Scripture, and eventually in the modern era, many believed that we have killed God because we do not need Him anymore… we have science and reason that can answer all our questions now.
A modern mind would say that industrialization (build systems to grow business) was what the world needed and anything that went against this worldview was oppressive. Well, the gospel didn’t disagree with industrialization, but it did say that it wasn’t the answer for a utopian society. So the gospel (and Christians) were minimized and viewed as narrow minded and ignorant.
In the last 40-50 years, the modern way of thinking has been refuted by “postmodern” thinking that realized there was no “one true” story that was true for the masses. Rather, everyone has their own truth. This is called relativism, that has led our culture in a selfish pursuit of pleasing ourselves because our story and our need is real and true for us, so it’s only right to get what I want; which is where consumerism (your way right away) and individualism (it’s all about you) has come from.
This understanding of the world has so permeated every part of our culture, even the church, and is now expressed in the way we live our lives (Chuck-E-Cheese, entertainment, comfort, leisure), build and run our churches (building or business), and conduct businesses (for individual profit to fund our habits often to the neglect of the needs around us).
Let’s take Chuck-E-Cheese for an example. You get $10 in tokens to get as many tickets as possible to fuel the need for your child to get a cheap thrill of buying a toy that costs 50 cents that will break within one day. Then the kid will get upset and want another toy that costs 50 cents to make or not even care in some cases because their options are so great. “Darn you Chuck-E!” says the parent, but they never see the god of consumerism and individualism that has controlled their decision making. This is consumerism and individualism at it’s finest. It can be summed up in two words:
“I (individualism) want (consumerism).”
If we were to take this one step further, materialism is fueled by “I want” because it takes money to get what we want. So “I want” therefore “I work to make money” so that “I can get what I want” has controlled our culture, even Christians.
It seems at times that we believe the answer to everything is material:
– Give money to the poor and they will get better by good programs.
– Send money to the missionaries and they can reach the lost.
– Build good facilities and then we can be established.
– Get better resources then people will be reached.
– Get economies to flourish in the poor communities, then they will thrive.
Now, while all these things may be necessary eventually, and “very good”, they are not the answer as we have seen over the last 50 years. What’s missing? Well, what did we see in the first four great awakenings? A discontentment with the cultural status quo among believers that drove them to prayer, righteous living, and a re-telling of the gospel story with a new godly confidence and Christ-centeredness that spoke against the subtle idolatrous story of the day. Christians radically altered the way they lived.
We need another movement today that is thoroughly Christ-centered and Spirit-filled. The life cycle of all movement, churches, schools, and people go through the same process: birth, growth, maturity and consolidation, and death or decline. We are in decline or death in many areas of Christianity in America namely because we have bought into the individualistic, consumeristic, materialistic idolatrous story that has lulled the church to sleep. We need to live by the tune of a different story.
The only thing that can interrupt the above mentioned life cycle is God’s grace to the church that is given by the power of the HS and is usually poured out on those who aren’t just calling on the Lord with their lips, but with their obedience to Him (1 Peter 3:12). We need a renewal that brings about a new heart for prayer and for obedience in our daily lives. How can we wake up from our comma?
We need to know the true missionary story of God, believe it and live it out!! This is the only story that can rival the other stories of our culture in such a way that will dismantle the strongholds and bring about another great awakening in our day. Here’s the story:
CREATION: God created man and woman in His image (vice regents) and likeness (sons/daughters), meaning that we are to be kingly servants of God in this world as well as His children who rule and have dominion over this earth in such a way that they display the beauty and worth of God. He placed them in the middle of Paradise…the Hebrew word for God’s original creation and plan is called “shalom” (universal peace and flourishing, the way things are supposed to be).
God created: How have you usurped God’s role in being the giver of all things? How did you get to where you are today? Hard work? Faithfulness? Blood, sweat and tears? We must identify where we have retold the creation story with our lives in a way that says, I say God created, but I really believe I created, or money crested, or wars created, or capitalism crested, or America created.
FALL: But something terrible happened! Man let their kingly role get to their heads and thought they could dethrone God and totally went against what He had established. At that moment God’s shalom was shattered into pieces and man waged war against God and shalom. But God wasn’t going to let the brokenness of shalom prevail because He loves us and He loves shalom.
Mankind sinned: How have you been lulled to sleep with your role in all this mess? Where have you placed wrongful blame? Where have you not taken responsibility? What do you see as the problem that needs to be fixed that makes you out to not be the worst part of the problem? Abusers are the problem? Wars are the problem? Irresponsible consumers/stewards? Bad economy? My marriage is the problem?
REDEMPTION: What happened next is God called a people who were not a people, blessed them, gave them a new name, a new place to live, and a new purpose to be alive. This new people (who we are going to call Israel) started with Abraham, whom God made a promise to, that He will bless Him “SO THAT” he will be blessing to all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12-17)
God blessed these people, and over the next thousand years or so they grew in number as free people and as slaves. God redeemed them out of slavery and gave them precepts that would help them live a shalom-like life. Before He gave them the specifics, He told them that He wanted them to know why He was doing this. He wants them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).
This is God’s plan for God’s people for all time: To be a kingdom of priests (a people group who God blesses so that they can mediate God’s blessings to other people groups who do not know Him, because ALL the earth is His); And a holy nation (a people group who obey God and resist idol worship and are in the world to display the beauty and worth of God, yet create a counter-culture, a more attractive culture than that which the pagan world has created). You tracking with me?
So the rest of this story is basically a commentary on how Israel “can be” a royal priesthood and a holy nation and also “how they utterly failed” in living out God’s mission. We see Israel time and time again running back to their own vomit, prostituting God’s grace once they are comfortable, and only calling on God when times are bad, never taking a collective stance against the culture.
And then we have the fulfillment of all prophecy’s that God set in place from before the beginning. Jesus, the God-man, came to redeem man from His sinful state, crush the head of the serpent, and restore our broken relationship with God. The perfect life of Jesus, His death, resurrection and ascension sealed the deal for all who submit to Him! Jesus took what we deserved and gave us what He deserved!
Jesus is the solution: If we’ve been lulled to sleep by a different story than this, then we (even though we don’t say it with our words) believe that Jesus isn’t really the answer for us. If the problem for you (see above; the Fall) is the law breakers, then your solution is to take care of the lawbreakers. If the problem for you is your marriage, then fix it and get out of it and things will be better. Same goes with your job, the economy, your past, wasteful spenders, injustice, etc. We must believe and retell the true story of God and let this story tell us what’s true.
God is the creator and sustainer of all things and I am here because of Hid grace and because He has seen fit to allow me to be born in this country and this date and not in rural India 1250AD. I am the problem and my sinfulness must be exposed and God must do something on my behalf if I am to be delivered. So Jesus came and took my place. This story must be retold with words, actions, and conviction. This is the only story powerful enough to save and refute the idols of our day.
RE-CREATION: This must happen because there will be a day when Jesus will return to judge all who have not submitted to Him, and the true story of the world and will restore shalom and gather His people. This is the utopia the world wants, but most don’t know they want it or how good it will be. This is the final outcome, not world peace through capturing men like Kony, although he needs to be captured. Not globalization that seeks to brings wealth and food and good economy to all as the final outcome, although we need to labor in that manner. Jesus’ return and restoration of all things is utopia!
When that day comes, Satan will be defeated and crushed and thrown into the lake of fire for eternity!! There will be no more freedom for him to roam and steal, kill and destroy!! The presence of sin will be removed because God will glorify our bodies in the order of the firstborn Son, Jesus. A new heaven will come down to earth out from the old heaven, and God will make His dwelling place with man, and this whole earth will be re-created, shalom re-established!1 Romans 8 says us and ALL of creation are groaning and longing for this day. Christ’s return will so utterly undo sin and it’s effects, the whole universe will feel His redemption. Every nook and cranny that has been marred by sin will be renewed, remade.
But until that day comes, we are caught in the middle of post-resurrection Church era and pre-new heaven and new earth era, in the already not yet. This is the true story of the universe and we are to live in light of this gospel story of Jesus, not the gospel story of America, consumerism, individualism, etc.
Want to see the gospel grow and God’s kingdom expand and our generation be awakened? Want to see our generation live in light of the true story of the universe Want to plant churches that have the power of the HS? Start with you!
1) Grow up into your salvation (confess hidden sin, stop pretending, be controlled by the gospel story, not by the culture of consumerism, individualism, busyness, etc, and stop trying to justify yourself before God, live in your brokenness let Jesus justify you by believing what He did for you and let His grace be the motivation of all that you do)
2) Obey God’s word (that means you read it and know it and study it, you pray and ask for God’s Spirit to fill you with the grace to obey Him, you live your life among unbelievers in an honorable way as a holy priest, seeking to bless the sojourner, the widow, the poor, the outcast, you go when He say go, and you stay when He says stay; radical, sacrificial obedience)
3) Remain united (holy, living stones need other holy, living stones to make what God wants with His people (a spiritual house), we need each other and we need to stand together more than ever, we must be more united which means we must rally around Jesus’ death and resurrection and let other disagreements be secondary and non-divisive)
God help us as we pray for and live towards another great awakening for Your glory and our good!