Heartbeat: Finding revival in celebration & preaching
by JONI B. HANNIGAN

Article Date: Jan 31, 2014

It must have been what an old-fashioned tent revival was like.

Long days filled with soul-stirring preaching, hallelujah-shout-it-from-the-rafters singing, and even baptisms—celebrating, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

It has been a privilege to provide some coverage for the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference almost each year I’ve been at Florida Baptist Witness. As times have changed, so has the program—but what has stayed the same is the commitment of the folks at First Baptist Jacksonville to minister to pastors and their wives from across the country so that for a few days they can sit in a pew and be renewed and refreshed—and reminded to remember their calling, their first love.

Like Florida Baptists in churches across our great state–the members at First Jacksonville know how to welcome fellow laborers in the harvest.

The message was especially poignant for me this year. It’s been a long one. Without an executive editor at the helm these past months, and with only two full-time workers remaining, we’ve had much on our plates. The messages, the ministry, and the worship was powerful at Jacksonville’s 28th annual Pastors’ Conference.

And Sunday, as we traveled to Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville to hear John Sullivan, Florida Baptist Convention’s executive director-treasurer deliver a message on the church’s 50th anniversary—we were delighted to worship with another of Florida’s great congregations.

After listening to a parade of testimonies, witnessing multiple baptisms, and participating in a wonderful time of music worship, we were invited to eat dinner-on-the-grounds in a big white tent.

Revival. For sure, God spoke to me about revival and it’s not an old-fashioned notion to be relegated to a history book. It’s not about obsessing over suits or jeans, guitars or organs, pews or chairs. It’s not about buildings, or even how many people you have in them. It’s about Jesus.

More precisely, as Gary Crawford, pastor of Westside Baptist in Gainesville, said, it’s about the blood of Christ.

“The blood of Christ, that is our memorial,” Crawford said, talking about looking back, but also carrying forward the mission and ministry of the church. “[ I ]t can be delivered anywhere in the world by those who have been saved.” 

Across the state, Tim Tebow delivered that same message as the final speaker at the Pastors’ Conference where people of all ages and ethnicities gathered for the finale.

Joking about how he grew up at First Baptist Jacksonville and tried out for parts with the children’s choir—to include Superman, a judge, Goliath, and the butt of a camel—Tebow said early on he learned “we can’t make it about us.”

“It’s about loving God, loving people,” he said.

Tebow said because his identity is in Jesus Christ, that even after he was told he was cut from NFL teams two years in a row, he could remain strong.

 “I don’t have to live the roller coaster the world plays with my life,” Tebow said. “I know my identity.”

Absolutely. 

At the cross, at the cross. There is power, power, wonder-working power. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Clutching a well-worn Bible, flashing a tentative smile, Tim disappears while Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Jacksonville, and my pastor—asks the music minister to lead in one more verse of “Just As I Am.”

But wait, it’s not over yet—dozens of young people bounce to the front of the massive auditorium as the children and youth choirs join the adult choir for a final number.

A soloist leads in “Nothing but the blood” and I’ve seen nothing like it at First Baptist Jacksonville. People swaying, hands lifted, voices almost shouting. Glory. “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

I have long put down the camera and grabbed my husband’s hand. A woman in front of me snatches a hanky from her purse to wipe her tears. Beside her, standing on the pew, her young great-granddaughter beams and sings to the music, alternately playing games on an iPad.

Revival.

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