Dubbed Christianity Today magazine’s 2014 “Book of the Year,” God’s Forever Family by Larry Eskridge is an historical look at the Jesus People movement here in America from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. I enjoyed the book, and remembering those events made me long to see a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit today.
Christianity has always been countercultural, and is often done best by those who aren’t restricted by the expectation of fitting in.
I was a bit young to participate in the Jesus People movement, but old enough to see the impact that the powerful work of the Holy Spirit had on our country in those times. Many of you will remember that the Jews for Jesus ministry grew out of that movement, and yes, we are mentioned several times throughout the book. I was especially encouraged to see this retrospective in this our Jews for Jesus 40th anniversary year. God moved uniquely and remarkably through some very unlikely people to bring about the salvation of literally tens of thousands of young people.
We are still enjoying the fruit of all that God accomplished in those few short years… but wouldn’t you love to see a similar movement in this decade? No doubt it would look very different today because so much has changed. But I would expect some similarities to the days of the Jesus People movement if we would be so blessed to experience another such visitation from God.
What seemed to mark this movement above all else was the unbridled, enthusiastic commitment to evangelism and personal witness of young people whose lives had been radically changed. They just couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, and their love for Him was contagious. If God were to bless us with a similar outpouring today I’m sure we would see a renewal of passionate commitment to tell others about Yeshua.
Personal witness seems to be so much more difficult for us today; our culture is characterized on the one hand by suspicion and cynicism, and on the other by an oddly illogical form of tolerance that insists we treat all beliefs as equally true and valid. But Christianity has always been countercultural, and, as in the days of the Jesus People movement, is often done best by those who aren’t restricted by the expectation of fitting in.
Even so, when it comes to outdoor evangelism, most people walking down the streets these days are either talking on their cellphones or plugged into their music. Does that mean we give up on street evangelism? No! We just need to work harder and look for ever more creative means to engage people with our message. (Pray for us as we endeavor to do that this summer on our street witnessing campaigns.)
The Spirit of God is still moving on people’s hearts and we need to stay in tune with what He is doing so that we might continue to fulfill the Great Commission in our day. Please pray for Jews for Jesus as we seek to continue on the cutting edge of creative evangelism. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if a whole generation of new believers was once more on fire to share the gospel? Let’s pray for that to happen, and also for the entire body of Christ to continue to renew our commitment to tell people about Jesus.
Another mark of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is captured in the book title, God’s Forever Family. During the Jesus People movement many chose to live communally in an effort to recapture a sense of what was happening in the early church, as recorded in the book of Acts. “Brother” and “sister” truly described what people wanted to be to each other. This commitment to God’s plan for sacred unity among His people was remarkable and contrasted so deeply with the profane unity illustrated in the book of Genesis. The story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) is evidence that not all unity is good or godly. When people unite in prideful power plays, this is evil and subject to God’s judgment. But though God divided and scattered the peoples of the earth in judgment, He intended to regather them as a family one day, under His banner of love. He began to reveal this great redemptive project in the very next chapter when he called Abram and said:
“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
But the Jewish people were not only a family through whom blessing would come. They were representative of THE family into which others would be welcome, adopted sons and daughters of God. That Jews and Gentiles could become one in Messiah was a mystery that was finally revealed in the gospel, “one new man,” God’s forever family through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:14-15).
The implications of this supernatural work of God were not lost on those in the Jesus movement. It seems to me that we in the church today would do well to recover and rediscover the joys and blessings of being part of God’s forever family.
It’s easy to have consumerist attitudes toward the church. We shop for the church that best meets our personal needs. Is the music good? How is the children’s program? Is the church convenient for us in terms of location, availability of parking, the times of the services? Is the preacher any good? Most of us don’t have the opportunity to choose our physical family. Perhaps we should think more in terms of family when selecting our communities of faith and worship.
We Jews for Jesus are so grateful to God for the forever family we have in our Messiah. Even when some of our own Jewish families turned away from us because of our faith in Jesus, we were embraced and loved by a much wider family of God. This unity, founded in Jesus, will never be broken. Because of Jesus, we can celebrate this supernatural reality and live our lives as part of God’s Forever Family. Imagine a new wave of that kind of spiritual family commitment in our day—that would be a mark of genuine revival and a special work of grace by the Holy Spirit to be sure.
Recently I attended a meeting of ministry leaders who were seeking to work together toward greater unity. One participant was an old friend of mine, Pastor Don Finto. Now 84 years of age, Pastor Don had been a genuine participant and leader in the Jesus People movement. Together we were reflecting on the blessings of what God did in those days. He knew firsthand. But he told me, “David, I’m not looking for a return to those days, as wonderful as they may have been. I believe even better days are ahead of us, and I hope to live to see those days myself.” I say amen. So may it be for Jews for Jesus and for the entire forever family of God.
Editor: This month’s “So What” is taken from David Brickner’s article, and it’s about “the conformity of Christian non-conformists.“