We just laid to rest Billy Graham, only the fourth private citizen to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, his casket supported by the same bier that held Lincoln’s casket in 1865. Mr. Graham was given this honor because he profoundly shaped the spiritual life of our nation in the last half of the 20th century. Preaching a simple message of saving faith in Jesus Christ, his messages inspired millions to repentance and faith.
Our nation’s history has been largely written by repeated spiritual awakenings. In the 1730s George Whitefield preached in the colonies along with John and Charles Wesley. Benjamin Franklin made reference in his autobiography to the profound spiritual change that took place. He noted that “one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without psalms sung in different families of every street.” Orphanages were established. Princeton was founded to educate preachers, the same purpose for which Harvard and Yale had been formed earlier.
A Second Great Awakening swept America from 1790 into the 19th century. Millions came to Christ through camp meetings and revivals. Thousands of churches were started including Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and others. Much of the movement was led by young people under 25.
In the 1870s Dwight L. Moody teamed up with Ira Sankey to launch evangelistic meetings that swept the U.S. and England. The movement extended all the way to China through Moody’s connections with Adoniram Judson.
Without these movements of faith in Christ our nation’s history would have been written far differently. The moral and spiritual fiber of the United States has been paramount to its successes and achievements.
Someone once said, God has no grandchildren. Every generation is accountable before God. The faith past generations experienced will not sustain us. We must experience our own life-changing faith in Jesus Christ. While there is evidence of such movements in other parts of the world, especially in South America, Africa and Asia, the evidence of our own spiritual dearth is profound.
We are awash in an opioid epidemic never before known. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 90 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. Suicide rates have surged to their highest level in 30 years. Suicide tripled among girls age 10-14 since 2000. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2015 reported that 8.6% of youth in grades 9-12 said they made at least 1 suicide attempt in the past year.
Innocent men, women and children have been gunned down in our churches, schools, theaters and the open streets. Teenagers are demonstrating for change. They have never known a world without metal detectors and x-ray machines. Sexual misconduct and harassment is rampant with a list of politicians and celebrities too long to name. Abuse is widespread. Prejudice is rampant.
Who can doubt that this generation needs a Savior? Our nation and this generation are at a crossroads.
The challenge Moses issued in his day is relevant to every generation: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendents, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
Bill Tinsley has served as pastor, church planter and missions executive. In 2009 he launched the Tinsley Center, LLC to promote authentic faith that changes lives. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.