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An Appeal to My Generation

Not long after Ray Stedman passed away in the Fall of 1992, Sita and I visited his wife Elaine at her home in southern Oregon. For several years before Ray died, a small group of pastors, seminary professors, and Bible college teachers had been meeting with Ray and Elaine in their home along the Rogue River - trying to reach a consensus regarding some troublesome issues that were then vexing the evangelical church; e.g., demonic deliverance, the nature of the church, the mission of the church, sanctification, recurring heresies, etc. We gave ourselves the name The Rogue River Fellowship - not merely because we were meeting along the Rogue River, but because of the disparate make-up of our group - representing Pentecostals, charismatics, and traditional evangelicals.

After visiting with Elaine for several hours in her home, she invited us to Ray's grave site - and there on his grave stone was an epitaph she'd had engraved. It was drawn from 2 Timothy 4:7 - and it read, "He finished his course." Nothing else could have been more fitting. Ray had indeed finished the course God had set before him - and he'd crossed the line at full throttle.

What about you and me? It's not an easy task for Christians to finish strong. Ray once confided to me that of the many dedicated men who graduated from seminary with him, only two were at that time still in the race - still serving God. The rest had faltered and several had dropped out altogether.

Ray showed me what "going all out" means: his example inspired men my age to do the same.

 

And now it's my turn - my turn to finish strong!

Each generation needs a few men their fathers' age to finish strong - to finish with no regrets . . .

  • Not looking back wishing that they'd been a little less wild-eyed - a little less consumed - a little less obsessed with God.
  • Not looking back wishing that they'd been more balanced - more dispassionate - more pragmatic.
  • Not looking back wishing that they'd spent more time providing for their old age.
  • Not looking back in anger and resentment - holding on to injustices and offenses.

And it's now my turn to do for men and women my children's age what Ray Stedman and men like him did for men and women my age - finish strong. And if you're my age - in your late fifties and beyond (I'm 68) - it's your turn as well.

The last great revival that occurred in this country was the "Jesus Movement" - extending from the late 1960s through most of the 1970s. None of the so-called revivals that have occurred here in the United States since then - including the Brownsville Revival and the Kansas City Revival - has produced any actual increase in the Body of Christ - and that alone is the mark of a genuine revival.

Indeed, there's a whole welter of evidence indicating that the Evangelical Faith has been actually losing ground here in the United States since the 1980s. ("Dallas Morning News") Yes, there has been a signficant increase in the number of mega-churches, but only at the expense of smaller churches. In short, the so-called "church growth movement" spawned by C. Peter Wagner and others has produced little more than a "church shuffle" - with believers moving from church to church looking for better programs, better preaching, better music, a better "spiritual high." What's even more distressing is the continuing drain of our youth from the Christian Faith - a trend that began developing during the 1990s and continues unabated (see the following three articles (article #1, article #2, and article #3).

Sunday morning at some churches rivals the hype and glitz found at Disney Land - a momentary high that quickly passes and that fails to produce any kind of truly lasting change in the lives of believers. Glitz and glamor! That has become the hallmark of too many evangelical churches - with pastors frantically searching for more tinsel to hold their congregations together and keep them from slipping out the back door to a "glitzier" church on the other side of town.

Not so the Jesus Movement! It was far more than a "spiritual high." Far more than a charismatic carnaval designed to entertain the already committed, but wretchedly bored. Millions of souls were added to the kingdom. It wasn't just "signs and wonders" that characterized the Jesus Movement," it was the gospel - preached against the backdrop of the Second Coming.

I'm not playing down the miraculous. Indeed, the miraculous was everywhere evident; but for those of us who were actually "there," it was the gospel that dominated everyone's heart and mind. The gospel was preeminent. The miraculous followed the gospel message - confirming its authenticity, but never overshadowing it.

It has been almost thirty years since the Jesus Movement ran its course. And many of the men and women who led it - who spread the gospel message back then - who baptized new believers in rivers, on ocean beaches, in public fountains, and in pools and ponds - who lived in communes to husband their resources to keep it going - who sacrificed their homes and their careers for its sake - who, desperate to see the poor and dispossessed evangelized, put themselves and their familes at risk to raise up store front churches in blighted neighborhoods - who witnessed with their very own eyes the Holy Spirit validating the gospel message with signs and wonders - many of them, have settled down into "church as usual." The fire that once burned in them so fiercely is now little more than a few smoking embers. And some, like so many of Ray Stedman's contemporaries during his lifetime, have dropped out of the race altogether. Paul's heart-wrenching cry recorded in 2 Timothy 4:10 echoes through every generation . . .

For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world . . .

2 Timothy 4:10

Every generation suffers its share of "Demases" - men and women who draw back in the face of disappointments or the inevitability of costly sacrifice - or who simply wear out.

But it's also true that every generation can boast its share of "Pauls" as well - older men and women who have kept the faith - who continue to spread the gospel message - who continue to put themselves, their families, and their wealth at risk - men and women in whom the zeal of the Holy Spirit has not dimmed - men and women who have not capitualted to anger and bitterness or to cynicism and despair - who look forward each morning to the Second Coming and from whose mouth the cry of "maranatha" can always be heard.

There's a new revival wave building. I can see it out at sea through the eyes of faith - rushing toward the shore. And already God is raising up men and women my children's age to lead it. But they need men and women my age - your age if you're 55 or older - to encourage them - to counsel them - to inspire them - and, most importantly, to set an example.

I'm reminded of the surfers who gather each year at the north shore of Oahu to surf the Banzai Pipeline. Crowds gather at the beach as the surf begins to build - with the face of some waves measuring more than sixty feet in height. The younger surfers stand along the beach, boards in hand, mesmerized - paralyzed - wanting to swim out, but unable to muster the courage to do so. It's not until a few of the older surfers - men who have surfed the pipeline before - pick up their boards and begin to paddle out that the spell is broken. Only then do the younger surfers step into the churning waters to surf the pipeline.

And what's true of the Banzai Pipeline is true also of a genuine revival. The commitment, the cost, the sacrifices a genuine revival demands of its leaders - of anyone who wants to step into the swirling maelstrom it stirs up - all of it requires a courage that young believers can't possibly fathom - not until they see it with their own eyes - not until they feel its on-rushing power themselves. And what matters then is the example the older generation can muster.

There's a whole generation of young men and women God is raising up to lead this new revival. They yearn to revel in its power and to sense God's "every moment presence." But they're waiting for you and me to step into the waters first. Will we do it? Or will we refuse to stand to our feet again - remembering the wounds we suffered during the last revival - holding on to the "security blanket" we've pulled around ourselves?

Ray Stedman was one of the few older men to catch the last revival wave - and the example he set for my generation is beyond what words can describe. He was always there for us - always ready with a word of encouragment or sound counsel - always with a word from the Lord to keep us going.

It's my turn to do what Ray did for me. Is it yours as well? More than anything else, I want written on my grave stone what Elaine had written on Ray's: he finished his course.

 

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