Ash Wednesday, 2011

2011. Last night I received the external mark of penitence with the imposition of ashes: the sign of the cross placed on my forehead. I was reminded:  “Dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

After the imposition of the ashes our congregation knelt and we confessed sin.  The rector then spoke over us forgiveness and absolution from sin. We then celebrated the Great Feast of Thanksgiving. I received the Eucharist and returned to my seat.

While others in the congregation went forward to receive the Eucharist, the choir and congregation sang hymns and choruses. It was during this time that the organ began to play “Just As I Am”.  Immediately I recalled the Greater Chicago Billy Graham Crusade I had attended in 1971.

The Crusade took place in Chicago’s huge convention center, McCormick Place.  The convention center at that time was the largest indoor arena in the United States.  Over 18,000 people gathered for the event held during May & June of 1971.

With other members of my church, I attended the crusade as a counselor.  This crusade was an event I will never forget:  massive crowds of people, thousands of voices singing, Cliff Barrows leading songs, George Beverly Shea singing solos, the Crusade Choir singing How Great Thou Art and of course, the preaching of Billy Graham. At seventeen years old, I was awe struck. I had never seen so many people come together for Christ.  It was foretaste of heaven for me.

Around that time, many of my friends and I were involved in the Jesus People movement in the Chicago area.  Our simple message during the crusade: “One Way” and “Tell Billy Graham: ‘The Jesus People love him.”

At the end of Billy’s message, an invitation was given to come forward.  The choir began to sing Just As I Am.  Hundreds of people then came forward to receive the Lord into their hearts. There were people of all races and walks of life. Billy would say to the crowd, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

As one of many prayer counselors, I talked and prayed with those who came forward to receive Christ. Many decisions for Christ were made that day. Many lives were forever changed that day.  I was changed by the power of the Gospel.

The Good News of Jesus Christ, “the Jesus Revolution”, is at work in me now, just as I am – dust.

Just as I am, without one plea, 
but that thy blood was shed for me, 
and that thou bidst me come to thee, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 
 
Just as I am, and waiting not 
to rid my soul of one dark blot, 
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 
 
Just as I am, though tossed about 
with many a conflict, many a doubt, 
fightings and fears within, without, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 
 
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; 
sight, riches, healing of the mind, 
yea, all I need in thee to find, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 
 
Just as I am, thou wilt receive, 
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; 
because thy promise I believe, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

Just as I am, thy love unknown 
hath broken every barrier down; 
now, to be thine, yea thine alone, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

- Charlotte Elliott

Life’s Compilations

baptism

Today I purchased a compilation of George Harrison music. The disc has all of his classic songs that I favor. There hasn’t been an album like this is in the past so I went ahead and paid $13.99 less 10% for a treasure trove of good music. Playing Harrison’s My Sweet Lord brought back memories of my senior year in high school. I will always cherish this time in my life for its spiritual richness.

 The song My Sweet Lord was released in November of 1970. The next spring of 1971 I was in my final semester of high school. At this time the Jesus People movement was in full tilt. About the same time the Evangelical Christian church was embroiled in the liberal theology debate including the challenge to the doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy. I believe the Lord got things moving with the Jesus People Movement. He moved His Spirit among the young people in order to bypass the talking heads of doctrine, heads often stuck in the sand about life as a Spirit-filled human being. (More about this another time.) Nobody won the theology debates. Each side took their theology and returned home to their churches claiming their own inerrancy. Of course, at the time, the release of the song My Sweet Lord was just another abomination to the theologically ‘correct’ group of people. George Harrison sang about Hare Krishna while the Christian “Hallelujah” was sung by the background singers. This Gnostic synthesis inflamed the torches held up in search of heretics and heretical teaching. Many Christian teenagers though, singing this song, wanted to see the Spirit of God move among the stodgy churches. These teens were soon brandished as rebellious teenagers ready for stoning. At least that was how their elder’s words came across. I know. I was one of the teenagers.

 When we as teenagers sang the words to George Harrison’s song My Sweet Lord we exchanged Hare Krishna for “Jesus, Jesus” and “Lord Jesus”. We understood that Jesus and Krishna were not at all equal, they were not the same. We knew that Jesus was God and that Krishna was basically man’s attempt at finding a god they could use to sanction their lifestyle.

 I along with many other local teens followed the Jesus People Movement which started in California (another heretical state of mind!). We joined other local groups of teens in the Chicago area. We went to Jesus Freak concerts, 2nd Chapter of Acts concerts, Andrae Crouch concerts, Jesus People Rallies, Bible studies and prayer meetings. I went to a Larry Norman concert in Wheaton, Illinois at the Dupage County Fairgrounds. Along the way we listened to Sammy Tippet, Hal Lindsey (author of The Late, Great Planet Earth) and many, many others speak. There were many teens who became followers of the Way. We baptized them in pools, ponds and lakes. The Spirit of God was moving in a tremendous way among the youth. Sadly, the elders thought it was another fad like Sonny and Cher or just a childish departure from the solid Biblical truth they had their foot down on. These elders often sought to quench the fire. But the fire lived on. It lives on in me.

 Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father, except through Jesus.

 One Way.