A Confused Glimpse of What a Revival Might Look Like

Originally published in September 2000.

One of the boys I was discipling died March 9, 2000. Frank Brinson IV lived the last year-plus of his life as a committed Christian who's faith and lifestyle affected everyone he touched. That is why his death has so moved me.

At Frank's funeral his family's pastor gave the call to the 1,300 who attended to pick up where Frank left off. The call was for all to pick up their lives and win like Frank did. The call to carry on and live your life with God's Grace. The call to become the legacy Frank has left behind but you need to be saved, to know God like Frank did.

As I've written, twelve hundred students committed to follow Christ at that funeral! In one day! Twelve hundred!! This is the stuff I've heard of for years. The stuff I've been praying for for years. Now with the internet, these are stories that are forwarded to me. Stories that you hear from conference speakers at youth ministry conferences. Now here I am actually living out one of those stories. A revival had hit my high school.

At least that is what all the stories I had heard told me it was.

Any visible signs of what happened lasted three days with a weekend in between. That was it. It took just three school days for the mourning to stop, people to forget Frank and what he stood for, and to forget the commitment they made at the funeral. It was the same old, same old at Gar-Field High School.

Not for all though. Some students made true repentant decisions to follow Christ. They have changed. They have grown and struggled because they have so much to turn from. They are not "changing the school" because they have so much in their own lives to change from.

Some others have honored Frank's death by getting a tattoo. I don't think that was the commitment they were called to.

For years I had pictured a "revival" (I use that term lightly--like everyone else) as a change in the school. It would be a change in the atmosphere, a change in the amount of disrespect, a change in attitude towards one another, a change in the sinful patterns. I didn't see it. It was the same old, same old.

At first I appeased myself that as with Christian youth, Christian behavior is not reflected at school. School has this bubble mentality. Even though so much time is spent there, there is the attitude that school has no part of real life (until you realize it is their number one stressor). It is seat warming until they get on with their real life but they need to do that seat warming well to get to that real life. So I appeased myself for a while that some things were changing in their other life.

That is until I started hearing about their other life. Students talk to me. Particularly the "bad ones." Three-fourths of those at the funeral are ones who talk to me. Why? It's not like I encourage them in their choices. It is a reaction followed by a blunt lecture or preaching if they really let me go. Are these youth so desperate for adult moral interaction?

From these conversations, I believe I can say that no part of this commitment seemed to take in their lives at all. It has seemed that the seed planted was mostly eaten by the birds, scorched by the sun, or choked by the thorns. It seems that none of it planted and affected their lives or the school?

So I really started wrestling. Maybe my picture of revival is wrong. When Peter preached in Acts 2 and three thousand were saved, how did that look the next day? Yes, the church grew, but how did it look? Did it bring about change? Was even the marketplace changed a little?

I have been learning that when God is at work on this planet, He has this pattern of using sinners. Even those "big" sinners. Those committing sins so far outside of sanctification that you would think God would zap them with lightening bolts.

Samson was a consistent womanizer. In fact, most of Samson's great victories came from these illicit relationships. Judges 14:4 says, "At that time, the Philistines were in control of Israel, and the Lord wanted to stir up trouble for them. That's why He made Samson desire that woman." It appears that God encouraged these sinful liasons. When he was in these compromising situations, the Lord's spirit always took control of Samson to do the mighty works. Not while he was repenting but when he was neck deep in it. Though Samson conquered many enemies with his strength, his finest motivations never rose above lust, jealousy and revenge. These were the things God used in Samson's life to judge the Philistines during a time when they were ruling over Israel. Yes, this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob chose to work this way instead of lightning-bolting Samson.

It could have been the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. Before the birth, God prophesied that two nations were going to be born through Rebekah. For Jacob to fulfill God's promise to Abraham, it appears he was purposely born second behind Esau. Yet it was the firstborn who was to receive the birthright and the blessing. Why did God work this way?

It was predicted at Jacob's birth by his name that we would be a "deceiver" or "smooth one" (as in slick?). And that is who God used.

To receive the birthright and the blessing, Jacob had to lie (of course, his "saintly" mother instigated). "Jacob went to his father and said, ‘Father, here I am.' ‘Which one of my sons are you?' his father asked. Jacob replied, ‘I am Esau, your first born, and I have done what you told me. Please sit up and eat the meat I have brought. Then you can give me your blessing.' (Where is the lightning bolt?) Isaac asked, ‘My son, how did you find an animal so quickly?' ‘The Lord your God was kind to me.' Jacob answered." Genesis 27:18-20. What! No lightning bolt there? Jacob dragged and manipulated God into this deception and God blessed it. History was forever changed. Maybe it was always to be Abraham, Isaac and Esau but Jacob changed that. Maybe not.

Jacob did not get much better when he was older and had a name change. He allowed his household to be full of foreign gods (Genesis 35) and his sons ran wild. Samson became a better man but that was when he was in prison. I'm all for prison ministry, especially for two of "my boys" who are locked up. Physically they may be in a bad place, but their souls have never been in a better place.

Solomon was a "pimp" and God never pulled back the gift of wisdom from him. David, "a man after God's own heart," also consistently showed an ego that would justify his actions. Eli couldn't discipline his sons, but was not removed from his priesthood until he was an old (and fat) man (at least some lightning bolts came). Peter's habits of the mouth didn't end after Acts 2. But he still became the first Pope of which the church was built on. I know my mouth has gotten me in lots of trouble with my pastor and it didn't lead to a promotion.

Does this mean that God condones these things? Certainly not. Does it mean that God can accomplish His purposes in spite of these things? Yes.

God uses sinners, open sinners as well as those in denial, everyday on this planet. These are the people He chooses to use. Who Jesus chooses not to use are the Pharisees, the ones who got it so "right." Jesus called them the hypocrites, the blind fools, all who they converted were twice as much the sons of hell as they were and they shut up the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. These were the ones who got it right. I don't remember hearing anything about the Pharisees changing the atmosphere of the temple other than ruining people's grateful hearts.

While He was here, Jesus preferred to be with sinners.

So God must be at work among all these "sinner" students. He must be using them and Frank's death to do a great work in their lives--and to also affect Gar-Field High School. The fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich said, "Our courteous Lord does not want his servants to despair because they fall often and grievously; for our falling does not hinder Him in loving us."

I do not know or I may never know the depth of how God is working upon these youth. I do know it is not what I want and expected to see. I've heard it said that we need to give God as many years to fix our lives as we took to screw them up. That means the next day or the next month would not show a drastic change at Gar-Field High School. It means that in the next day and in the next month, the drastic change that happens in that youth may be a time of holding a temper or going home when their group of friends start doing those wrong things. Those are drastic changes that will eventually seep into the school--if they don't graduate first.

(Disclaimer--if that supernatural move of God does flow and bring that true revival, the type I have been praying for and envisioning for years, all of this is thrown out the window.)

But if God uses sinners and not Pharisees, why do we strive to be good?

So we don't suffer needlessly from the results of our sins. Even if a situation is used by God, we still suffer the results of that sin. We are not exempt. I'm sure Samson's heart was broken. Jacob suffered shame and while Esau and he did make up, they settled apart in far away lands.

And I hope we don't want to be away from the presence of God. Judges 16:20 tells us further about Samson at the time when God stopped using him and the lightning bolt finally struck. "He did not realize that the Lord had stopped helping him." That causes me to tremble.

That time has the possibility of coming in everyone's life. My life. That causes me to tremble.