Three other times in America’s history we faced serious tensions tearing our nation apart. Providentially there were divine interventions as well. In the 1700s when 50 percent of the people wanted to remain loyal to England, God sent the First Great Awakening; in the 1800s with abolitionists advocating the end of slavery, the Almighty released the Second Great Awakening; and, in the turbulent 60s out of heaven came a youth explosion focused on Jesus!
In the midst of a very turbulent and discouraging time in our nation’s history, God intervened in a supernatural way during a five-year period from 1968 to 1973. A grass- roots spiritual movement burst forth on the scene with a soft explosion that revolutionized millions of lives. It was called ‘The Jesus People Movement.’
Not long ago, Christianity Today magazine selected their annual “Book of the Year” award. They chose God’s Forever Family – The Jesus People Movement in America by Larry Eskridge. It boldly proclaims that “The Jesus People Movement was one of the most important American religious movements of the second half of the 20th century” and that it “must be considered one of the formative powers that shaped American youth in the late 1960s and 1970s.”
Rewinding the Tape
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The 1960s were disturbing, unsettling times of cataclysmic change in the United States. President Kennedy was assassinated; prayer and Bible reading were banned from public schools; the “British Invasion” played a major role in bringing rock ‘n roll, unrestrained sexual activity and drugs to our shores; the Gay, Women’s Lib, Anti-War and Black Power movements exploded on the national scene; and, when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated amidst student riots and burning cities, Time magazine declared 1968 as the “knife blade that severed past from future.”
Rebellion and cynicism abounded. A hippie and drug counterculture blossomed as America’s youth were seduced even as they are today by the radical gay agenda and secularists. I know firsthand because I was there pounding away on my drums for a Cleveland rock band called The Lost Souls. Like scores of confused youth, I was lost and in need of God’s saving grace.
Then something unexpectedly happened. Smack dab in the epicenter of California’s Haight-Ashbury hippie subculture, the Holy Spirit began drawing bummed out and disillusioned young people to a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ! Only God knows how many people and for how long they had prayed for this divine intervention.
Scores of naïve youth who had grabbed their love beads, put flowers in their hair and fell in line behind Pied Piper Scott McKenzie for a “Summer of Love” in San Francisco were suddenly being radically converted and set free from drugs, sexual immorality and deception.
New converts began enthusiastically pointing their one-way finger heavenward and hitting the streets to tell others about a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. They were baptized – many in the ocean! They swayed to new forms of music and found themselves gathering informally in coffee houses where they shared testimonies about the living God.
God imparted a burden among young people to reach their generation and it happened before the social media phenomenon! He instilled in them a hunger for His Word, evangelism and genuine community. There was spontaneity and a simplicity that characterized the come–as–you–are gatherings. New and innovative expressions of art were displayed through Jesus newspapers, posters, bumper stickers, T-shirts, jewelry and buttons. Rock and folk music creatively communicated their beliefs and new identity to curious crowds.
Influential ministries like Calvary Chapel, the Vineyard, Willow Creek, Jesus People USA, plus outdoor Jesus festivals like “Cornerstone” “Creation” and the Florida “Jesus” festivals as well as the entire Contemporary Christian Music industry and Jesus Music radio all trace their roots back to this incredible Jesus People visitation.
Musicals that continue running to this day, Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell were birthed. Leaders like Steve Strang, Greg Laurie, Mike Bickle, Dr. Michael Brown, Scott Ross, Bob Weiner, Lee Grady, Che Ahn, Lou Engle, Rick Joyner, Arthur Blessitt, Phil Keaggy, Andre Crouch, the late Keith Green plus scores of others recognize how God called them in or around this season of unique blessing.
I was converted in 1969 in the Jesus People outpouring. In the Nation’s Capital I aligned with a dedicated woman named Lydia Little and dozens of young adults who had been radically saved in this season. Starting with a handful in her home, a ministry was launched that in a few short years grew to over 2000 primarily young people meeting weekly just 15 minutes from the White House! Every week, people got saved, filled with the Spirit and healed.
Cars lined the streets outside the facility and people arrived early in order to get a seat. A United States Senator, a son of a Supreme Court Justice and a young evangelist named Sid Roth sat in the crowd.
A publisher challenged me to write my story which I did in the book Clap Your Hands! When it became a quarter million bestseller, I knew I was truly a part of something supernatural.
In 1972, Campus Crusade for Christ held a massive event in Dallas called EXPLO ’72 and 85,000 Jesus People attended the five-day event. The Saturday all-day closing concert drew a crowd estimated at 180,000! Billy Graham came, as did Johnny Cash.
The Jesus Movement Captures National Attention
In June 1971, the Jesus People phenomenon landed on the cover of Time magazine which featured an eight page, positive report.
In his book, Larry Eskridge cites a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, an article in Newsweek as well as coverage in Life magazine. Here is how he stated it:
In many ways, the advent of the Jesus people must have seemed like an oasis in the desert of several years worth of distressing news about the younger generation. The Jesus movement had, as one article put it: ‘an uncommon morning freshness, a buoyant atmosphere of hope and love along with the usual rebel zeal. A love that seems more sincere than a slogan, deeper than the fast-fading sentiments of the flower children.’ For adults buffeted by several years worth of bad news about the sexual revolution, the rise of the drug culture, the generation gap, the domestic chaos and violence surrounding the civil rights movement, and the seemingly intractable nightmare that was the Vietnam War, both over there and on the home front, the Jesus People were a refreshing bit of good youth news.
Here’s the deal: the Jesus Movement was an authentic visitation from God. There’s no question we are reaching a tipping point and a place of desperation in our land. May we pray like the prophet Habakkuk did in his day for a fresh visitation from Almighty God before the clock runs out.
“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).
Larry Tomczak (Website) is a best-selling author, cultural commentator, 40 year board member for Intercessors for America, and public policy advisor with Liberty Counsel. His new, innovative video/book, BULLSEYE, develops informed influencers in 30 days (see The Bullseye Challenge). Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.
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