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Monday, January 25, 2010

Missed it by a Hair

For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. Luke 7:47 (New American Standard Bible)

Back in the 1970s I was fortunate enough to witness a great spiritual event of God’s grace that fell on a generation of seekers. It was called, for lack of a better name, the “Jesus Movement.” In the mid ‘60s young people put off with the impotence they saw in their parent’s lives and conventional Christianity rebelled against standard collective norms. They took up lives of what they called “freedom” from the constraints of hypocritical society. They grew their hair long, grew beards and checked out and turned on. Their mantra was “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.” It only took many of them just a couple of years to find that the freedom to “do their own thing” had brought them hurtling headlong into a solid wall of loss. Some hit that wall and were broken and some had enough sense to see what that lifestyle was doing to them and they put on the breaks. These kids had been given up on by society and were deemed unworthy under any circumstances.

The most heartbreaking part of the story is many mainline denominational churches had given up on them too. As these young people began to be led to Jesus they embraced Him as Lord of their lives. Wanting to follow Jesus they began going to some of these churches still with beards, long hair and casual clothes. Many churches turned them away because of the way they looked and many Christians, myself included, had a very low estimate of “Hippy Christians.” Fortunately in my part of Southern California there was a pastor in Orange County whose compassion for them was enormous. He told them they would be welcomed and received warmly at his church. Within the first couple of years so many young people who came out of the hippie movement and met Christ were a vibrant part of his church. There were so many of them they continually outgrew their buildings finally pitching a large circus tent on the church property in which to hold services. That tent held around 2500 people and was full to standing room only practically every night. One day my brother, Gary, said “Ken, you need to come down to Calvary Chapel and hear this guy Chuck Smith.” I groaned inwardly. I hadn’t joined the hippie movement but I was burned out on denominational inflexibility. “Gary, I don’t know. I’m really burned out on churches at the moment. I don’t know if I can.” His excitement over what God was doing is what caught my interest. So I went one Thursday night to see for myself.

I remember it was the winter of 1970-71 and it was cold in the tent. There were huge red kerosene heaters around the tent to keep the chill off. But what I saw that night totally floored me. With my crew cut hair and “establishment” clothes I stood with about 2500 bearded and long haired men and girls with flowered clothes, headbands and beads and got my attitude readjusted. During the worship time hundreds of these kids stood with their hands raised with tears on their cheeks praying and praising the God who had forgiven much. One picture I have burned in my mind is one guy who wearing a spotless white Nehru Jacket (look it up) with hair almost to his waist had his arms raised glorifying God. I wish I could have taken a snapshot of that for truly one picture was worth a thousand words. Jesus was rescuing and redeeming thousands into new life and a new direction. Many of those young men became pastors and many of them are still pastoring today. Jesus Christ had once again thwarted the plan of Satan to destroy a generation and many of that generation I saw rejoicing in their redemption that night and many nights to come.
I often need to recall those nights in that large tent when I come across someone who looks unkempt and coarse. Like Simon the Pharisee I tend to go to the conclusion that I am better than others who are not like me even to the point of recoiling from their touch. Surely this was total proof to my legalistic mind that Christ came to save sinners of whom I was the worst. Many of us did not reach out to these lost sheep in the beginning missing it by a hair and a beard or two. I am glad that God’s grace continually breaks in wave upon wave upon the human race and that grace does not tell apart high rank or low rank. When it comes to God’s saving love and grace He is no respecter of persons. Thankfully, those waves of grace break over an establishment guy named Ken Evans, too.