I caught the first 2 hours of the “Just Give Me Jesus” revival at the New Orleans Arena Saturday morning. Perhaps 5,000 women and a few men made up the audience. Babbie Mason brought the crowd to its feet as she opened with “God Bless America.” Then, to my surprise, Anne Graham Lotz stepped out and began this one-day revival.
The reason that surprised me is that I was expecting the singers to be something of a warmup act for her. They would “entertain” for an hour or so while the crowd was assembling, after which Anne would appear. I found myself wondering if she was even in the building. I was so wrong.
“Lord, you are our Rock,” she prayed. “In our storms, our floods, our devastation. You are our Comfort in our pain. Our Wisdom when we don’t know what to do. You are our Lord.”
“How many are here from Texas?” she asked. Women across the arena waved and clapped. “How many from Alabama?” Some in front of us and a large contingent seated together near the front clapped and stood. “From Mississippi?” Ditto. “Louisiana–from outside New Orleans.” Another large group. “And from right here in New Orleans?” The biggest group.
“I want you to think of that woman who met Jesus at the well. John chapter 4. She had slept late that day. She was probably depressed. She was doing her chores later than normal. When she arrived at the well, Jesus was there. The Bible says Jesus HAD to go through Samaria. He had a divine appointment with this one woman who was troubled and depressed. He asked for a drink and she was shocked. He said, ‘If you knew who was speaking to you, you’d get your focus off secondary things.’ She did. That day she embraced the living Lord, and went into town and told everyone about Jesus.” Anne added, “Some of you know what it is to be depressed and troubled. To not feel like getting up and doing your chores. But I want you to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is here for you. He came for you, as though you were the only person who would be present today.”
“Today I’m going to be challenging you to go out and tell everyone we can have joy in New Orleans because of Jesus.”
The co-chairs of this event are Vicki Watson, wife of Pastor Dennis Watson at Metairie’s Celebration Church, and Lisa Wiley, wife of Bishop J.D.Wiley of New Orleans’ New Life Cathedral. Vicki told the group, “We’ve had a spirit of corruption and violence, of murder and wickedness. We’ve been called the big easy and the place where hell reigns. But we’ve been praying for God to transform this city into the place where Heaven reigns. Since Katrina’s devastation of a year ago, God’s people have been coming to this city, bringing hope, help, and healing. We have seen thousands come to faith in Christ.”
Lisa prayed, “A year ago, Katrina was stirring things up. Ever since, Lord, you have been stirring things up for good. Katrina lasted only so long, but you are forever. In spite of the tragedy, you are faithful and just.”
Anne introduced Fernando Ortega who led the group in worship. “I was cleaning up the house and came across his CD. I did not know who he was. I was about to throw it out, and then I saw that he had autographed it. I thought if it means that much to him, the least I can do is listen to it. I did, and God fed my soul through this man.”
Anne Graham Lotz knows about stress. The unknowing might think she and her siblings lived a life of ease being the children of Ruth and Billy Graham, and that life has been smooth for her. However, the road for each of these offspring has had its share of potholes and detours.
In one brief period, she said, all three of her children were married. Her son came down with cancer just before his wedding and had surgery. Her husband’s dental office burned. Her mother had five life-threatening surgeries. And Hurricane Fran hit their part of North Carolina. Major stress.
“It stripped me of everything,” she said. “The cry of my heart to God was, ‘I’m not asking for a vacation and I don’t want to smother my pain with pills or liquor. Just give me Jesus. A fresh touch from Him.”
As the audience applauded that, I sat there thinking that outsiders do not have a clue. They think such a prayer is asking for fanaticism, some kind of hyperemotionalism, as an escape from the realities of life. That is so far off it’s not even funny. More of Jesus means more balance, better vision, stronger inner powers, a clearer sense of identity, a calmness in the midst of the storm. And who would not want that?
“I arrived in New Orleans last Tuesday,” Anne said. “We went immediately into St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward. My heart was broken for you all over again. Thursday we went past the convention center. It’s the first time I’d seen it since we saw it on television last year. Hundreds were lined up, you recall. They’d gone there thinking they’d find help. They sat there for days with no help coming. I wanted to put my arms around them and give them a cup of water and tell them somebody cares. As I prayed, I seemed to see the Lord as he gazed up the world’s suffering humanity, starving for the Bread of Life, thirsting for the Living Water. And I saw God get up off His throne and come down to earth into the body of a baby. He went to the cross. He gave His life for you and me.”
“We saw the large X’s on the houses, put there by the rescuers. And occasionally we saw a TFW. I think that means Toxic Flood Waste. If God examined us, He would see TFW on our hearts. It’s called sin. Only the blood of Jesus removes it.”
“Today, I want to tell you the story of the cross,” Anne said. Then she outlined the messages she would be sharing after lunch and into the late afternoon. “I want you to stay all day,” she said. The program was scheduled to end at 6 pm. “Right now, I want you to relax. Just sit back and listen. Jesus is here to meet with you alone.”
In the message which followed, she sketched the story of the arrest and six-fold trial of Jesus, followed by His crucifixion. At each point, she connected the story with her audience.
Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of His closest friends. “Have you ever been betrayed? By the government? By your city? An insurance company? Did your husband walk out on you? Did your employer fail you?” She said, “Jesus understands the pain of betrayal.”
Peter had been sleeping when he should have been praying. “Ever done that? You wake up and don’t have a clue what the will of God is. Peter grabbed a sword and swung for the nearest head. Jesus rebuked him. Don’t you understand that I intend to go to the cross?”
They bound Jesus’ hands. The hands that touched and blessed, that created the world and made His executioners. “Are you bound? Jesus was in the will of God and he was bound. He knows how you feel.”
Judas confessed his sin but still went to hell. “He confessed to the wrong person. He confessed to the priest. Had he gone to Jesus at the cross, the Lord would have said, ‘Judas, I’m dying to forgive you.’ God has given Jesus the power to forgive sin.”
Anne led the audience through Jesus’ trials before Annas, the wiley old veteran high priest who was outraged at Jesus’ answers, before Caiaphas, the present high priest who was glad to hear Jesus admit he was the Lord, and before the Sanhedrin, the official ruling body that formally condemned him for blasphemy.
Meanwhile, Peter stood in the courtyard denying Jesus three times. At the last time, the Lord Jesus looked at him. Peter went out and wept for 3 days. The last earthy words Jesus heard from Peter was “I do not know him.” Anne said, “When have you denied Jesus? Confess it. Name your sin for what it is.”
The trials continued before Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again. “Are you rejecting Him? He went to the cross to forgive you. Come and tell him. If you go into eternity rejecting Jesus, there is no forgiveness. That’s it for you.”
Anne brought in the Old Testament story of Joshua’s defeat at the battle for Ai. God said to him, “There’s sin in the camp.” So, Joshua dealt with it. She looked at the crowd and said, “The church in America is defeated. It has very little impact. The problem is sin in the camp. We point out the social ills and the politicians, but God is looking at His people. He said, ‘If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, then will I hear from Heaven….” New Orleans needs healing. But before we see revival in New Orleans, the church–that’s you and me; I’m not talking about a building–must repent. Sin is buried down deep. No one else knows but you. Name it. Jesus went to the cross to forgive it.”
“In a few moments, I’m going to give you an opportunity to get up out of your seats and come like you were coming to the cross and confess Him.”
Jesus was executed, stripped, and nailed. Instead of cursing, He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
“If God can forgive those who nailed His Son to the cross, He can forgive you. You say, ‘If you just knew what I have done.’ I don’t have to know. He knows and forgives you. You have to forgive yourself. You say, ‘Oh, I can’t.’ Oh? You’re saying your standards are higher than his?”
As she dealt with the Lord being suspended on the cross those ghastly hours, Anne turned to Psalm 22 and read from this amazing text which seems to give us the very mind of Jesus while on the cross. “When I get to Heaven, I’m going to ask David what kind of agony he went through to write this.”
Jesus died on that cross beside the road leading into the city. Most people probably did not even notice. “Have you ever poured out your life for someone–and they don’t even notice?”
On that cross, Jesus thought of others. “His mother. And the dying thief. And yet He was in excruciating pain.” She added, “Some of you live with pain. Stop the pity party. I know you deserve one and I’d like to come to it, but that’s not the way to healing. Get up. Go out and help others. When hurting, put your focus on Jesus and on someone else in pain.”
Anne brought in the three elements that show the depth of the Lord’s pain and estrangement for us.
1) The nakedness. “He was stripped, His robe taken. The Bible says he became sin for us. He took my filthy garments of sin and gave me His robes of righteousness. You cannot earn it or buy it; it’s free.”
2) Darkness. At 12 noon, the lights went out. The worst Egyptian plague was darkness. Dark = the judgement of God. “I don’t want to come across as hyper-spiritual,” Anne said. “But I’ve never smoked a cigarette. So I’m very sensitive to the smell of it in a hotel room or a rental car. In the same way, Jesus never sinned, so He was sensitive to sin in the least.”
Katrina was not God’s judgment for your sin, Anne said. “Your sin was judged at the cross. His wrath was poured out on Jesus. Symbolized by the darkness.”
3) Loneliness. Jesus cried, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” He felt abandoned by God. He took our loneliness and separation so we never need to be away from Him again. Hebrews 13:5-6. Stop putting your faith in your feelings or circumstances. Put your faith in the word of God.”
“It rained yesterday. Some of us were coming out of the restaurant, and the one without an umbrella got soaked. God’s judgment falls like the rain. The blood of Jesus is like our umbrella.” She told how she watched a woman arrive at her church in the rain one day. “She was really wet, but under her arm she carried an umbrella. I said, ‘Why didn’t you open that?’ She said, ‘It was too much trouble!’ Some of us are like that. But only the blood of Jesus covers our sin.”
Anne told of a woman in Raleigh who was executed for murder. “She even murdered her mother,” she said. In jail, the woman received Christ as Savior. “She and I got to be friends. Before she died, she asked me for reassurance of salvation. I said, ‘Did you ever go to the beach?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Did you see the little holes the sand crabs make? And over here is a bigger hole which a child dug with a shovel. And across the way are the workers with large equipment dredging huge holes. When the tide comes in, what happens to those holes? They’re all filled. In the same way, the blood of Jesus covers all our sins.”
The last thing Jesus uttered from the cross was “It is finished.” He had done everything necessary to cleanse you and bring you into a right relationship with God. You do not have to go through all those rituals and traditions. Just come to Jesus.”
“When Jesus died, He gave His life. No one took it from Him. He gave it. When he died, He just refused to take that next breath.”
“The invitation is your opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to Jesus. The way to say ‘thank you’ is to receive Him for yourself. Why have you not done it already? It might be your pride or your doubts or maybe you never really understood.”
“I’m inviting you right now to get up and come to the cross. Right now.”
Fernando Ortega sang an invitation while we all stood. For a long time, no one responded. Then a young woman down front stepped up. Applause burst out throughout the room. Then a few more came, then more. By the time the invitation had ended, several hundred people stood across the front, making their commitments to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I gave my offering to my daughter-in-law Julie to put in the plate when it was passed later. I do want to be a part of this lady’s ministry.