There is a fascinating passage in Ephesians chapter four:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
(~Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV)
The idea is that God places certain gifted individuals to sharpen and upgrade the rest of us. The outcomes in these relationships tend toward a dramatic increase in unity, knowledge, maturity and stability. We grow up to a point of love where we really love, not just telling people what they want to hear… but setting the broken bone when needed. If we don’t get this right, our works of service are of diminished value.
These equipping gifts and their influence are the very foundation of our ability to speak the truth in love. As Timothy Keller pointed out throughout his career, only love will try to avoid hurting the beloved at all costs - and only truth can be harsh and cold while being completely correct. Only when we have both do we find a depth of meaning and real relationship that lasts.
So, starting with apostle (and their biblical examples of Peter, James, Paul…) what can we say about this gift?
- Apostles will be great at starting things
This gift will tend to serial entrepreneur endeavors. They will see the opportunity no one else sees and they will get it started in some form faster than anyone would believe. They will be excellent at beginning and adjusting on the fly. And they will have to resist the urge to stay with the new work too long. The new faith organization they begin will be exceedingly vulnerable in the beginning; this is the nature of anything new. They will tend to be quickly pulled to the next new thing so leadership development and transition planning will be paramount for their success (and sanity!)
- Apostles will defy normal demographic boundaries
This one is really fun.
These guys will have connections with churches from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Mexico City, the local Farsi community and will be teaching a class of Chinese immigrants English, using the Gospel of John. It will be bananas! They will be surrounded by a storm of very weird intersections, pretty much all of the time.
Things that would normally be a barrier for connection, communication and stability related to culture, language or particular ethnic expression will be all but a non-issue for the apostolic gift.
Their connections, while incredibly diverse and chaotic, will feel like the most natural thing in the world, and God will kick open doors for them.
Something to consider here is giving them excellent second level support. Here’s what I mean by that in terms of direction:
Why is God connecting this particular group with our Apostle?
What do they need? Or what opportunity for something amazing do they represent?
Because of this gift, they will make excellent cross cultural missionaries - leaving behind a leadership network of indigenous and trained ministers in their wake. They will also spark unusual connection between need and resources - so look to jump in and help where you can!
- Apostles will be highly attractive to a variety of people
When they start something, they will almost magically have 20-50 people who will appear to help them or be a key part of the new group. Leaders will want to support them (and sometimes, exploit them for their own agenda). New leaders will find great work to do as they grow and develop. People looking for purpose and calling will be pulled into orbit almost by default. Again, this is really fun and we should look to support the Apostle in downstream effort to stabilize, fund and train the new wave of people.
- Apostles will be overloaded with opportunity
Make them take a day off and be unavailable. They’ll be more effective with a true Sabbath to power down than without one. But they will feel tremendous pressure to talk to one more person on the day that they really need to just spend with their family and friends.
This is the dark underbelly of the amazing ability to see and connect cross culturally. The reality is that there is a ton of heavenly opportunity around us all the time, but Apostles will be unusually connected to see it and do something about it. If they can find a balancing idea… something like, “we can’t do everything, but we can do something” it will help greatly.
Resist the urge to process them to death to reduce the chaos. They will flourish with the blank, undefined, open page.
- Apostles will have unusual gravitas, and will often be local in activity
Watch them in a group of leaders. When they speak, everyone will stop and listen, perhaps without even knowing why. And to be sure, they make excellent national class leaders with corresponding gifts of administration and experience managing groups of people.
The thing to remember (with say, Paul as an example) is that of lot of their activity will be most fruitful in the mode of the small business owner, “boots on the ground” sense. They will roll into a city, walk around, talk to some people and get a lay of the land. Then they will form a plan and people will appear to help them flesh it out. Sometimes this will be Peter on Pentecost with a huge revival of thousands that jump-starts the work in a generation.
But more often it will be tent-making and helping the small church core get going over a period of months to years. They will be the warm and personable “Mr. Mayor”, the guy who knows everyone, who everyone loves, who will have a meaningful conversation with a guy at a stop light with his window rolled down. They will comfortably hang with the corporate execs and the janitors coming in for the night shift to clean. The apostle will be extraordinary in making one to one connections with people, so be careful to keep that opportunity for connection as a key part of their weekly set.
This took an interesting turn as I was writing it. We can inspire leaders to lead. We can give permission for leaders to speak deeply into our lives and influence us for the good.
So my question for me and for you is this.
What can you do to help, encourage, and respond to the Apostle in your life and orbit?
Eyewitness accounts, while still a primary source of evidence in legal proceedings, are notoriously problematic. The act of witnessing something can be subtly altered by a number of factors: confirmation bias, the post-event misinformation effect, and the state of the particular witness before, during, and after the event can all have some impact to testimony.
We forget things, we may, without bad motive, align misattribution to a story we tell about our own experience. We may hedge, or rationalize, or edit, based on things we stand to gain or lose related to the stories we tell.
And people lie. (Insert eye roll here).
And yet... and yet. All of known history is based on eye witness accounts. We experience events, we recount those events, we make stories of those events. Sometimes we write those stories down... and related to momentous individuals or occurances we sometimes have great interest in telling those stories accurately and well. To say that, "history is written by the victors" is incomplete. History is written by those who think the lesson of generational events is important. Sometimes those lessons are tragic, or a recounting of savagely epic and tragic defeats. The victors, as it were, just have more of a say in what history gets copied and passed on.
Isn't it interesting, in light of the philosophy of history, and the axiomatic truth that eyewitnesses can be out to lunch... that Christianity, in regards to the advent of biblical literature, has a stunningly good answer to this problem? And what is this answer we ask?
In folk tales and in oral traditions there are surpassing versions of stories. If you look at something like the Arthurian Legends, they have a fair bit of inconsistency in their tellings. Are we looking at the Latin Chronicles, Le Morte d'Arthur, the Allerative Morte Arthure, T.H. White's The Once and Future King, or the anonymous Gawain and the Green Knight, or the myriad other sources of Arthur and the knights in his orbit? Do most people know that Lancelot was a late addition with heavy French influences? Do most people know that Arthur, in his earliest legends, is much closer to Rome than to the Medieval era? Gwynevere or no Gwynevere? Round table or no round table? Holy Grail Quest or no such mention? Is Arthur holding England together or marching off to Rome? It depends of what Arthur author you ask.
Don't misread me. I adore the Arthurian Legends! I would be the very first to argue that these tales have some consistency, and highly significant parallel themes. But, even in my positive bias, I am forced to admit they are slices of great stories that do not form a cohesive whole. Rather they are versions; written takes and retakes that served different roles in expression in different times.
In the Hindu tradition, you'll find similar slices of the story of Rama and his many adventures. Or of Paul Bunyon and his Big Blue Ox. It isn't that the different versions of major cultural stories exist, and that the Bible does this too, but my argument is that the Gospels take this in a radically different direction.
Christianity is unique in its New Testament Gospel approach. Never, in the history of humanity, have there been four major biographies, all accepted as canon, very early on, of a major historical religious figure. There aren't four related but independent accounts of the life of Buddha, or Mohammed, or Joseph Smith or any other spiritual progenitor. With this, as in so many cases, Christianity stands alone.
There are three things about the multiplicity of the Gospel narratives that I find compelling and further evidence of divine influence.
1. That They Exist at All is Incredible
Who, on reading the book of Matthew or Mark, would immediately think to write it again? Who, after reading, Matthew AND Mark, would think, that's pretty good, but let's write another one, just because. Who would encourage John to take yet another swing after the Beloved Physician puts pen to papyrus?
Also note that they came so early. If you research the most scholarly acclaimed biographies of Abraham Lincoln, they were written in the last 20 years. More than 100 years after he lived.
With the advent of the Gospels, we have to start with: these four biographies exist, all of them standing at the pinnacle of all biographies ever written in terms of depth and scope and influence. From a human perspective, this is not a normal strategy. You would want a single story, and you would want that story to continue unchanged as much as possible (like the Koran, only being kept in its sacred form in its original language). You wouldn't want to confuse the narrative with a well intentioned second, third and fourth version.
This isn't in any way a critique of biblical scholarship that tries to textually chase back passages to a proto-text "Q" that was used by all of the synoptic authors. Without getting into the weeds of Markan or Mathian priority and the byzantine labrynth of two source speculation... there is something we can say about the generation of the Gospel authors and their accounts with extreme confidence.
It is simply this:
They knew about each other, and they knew each other's writings and work.
It is impossible to come to any other conclusion. They literally knew each other. Mark and Luke were both companions of Paul and all four Gospel writers would have had strong connections to the ongoing work of the early church in Jerusalem. They were also in direct support of the missionary journeys of Paul and the other epistles and early writings that served as encouragement to the first generation of churches. As brilliant as the first Gospel accounts were, they would have been celebrated. And we know from the sheer number of manuscripts that they were a hit. The logical thing would be to check "Jesus life story" as "done" and move on to the next thing. But that isn't what happened.
Instead the Holy Spirit moved on these early Christ Followers to write it again. And again. And again.
Not because they didn't get it right, but because it would add to the depth of the story and the foundation of the expression of God's love to us through Christ in a way that is deeply moving and needed for the richness of insight that God knew we would need.
2. They are Remarkable in Their Message and Vision
The aforementioned biographies of Lincoln are:
"Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005)
"Abraham Lincoln: A Life" by Michael Burlingame (2008-2019)
"Lincoln" by David Herbert Donald (1995)
All of these biographies are quite different in focus and scope. They agree that Lincoln was a great man, a great President and in Hegelian terms, a World Historical Individual. Beyond that, they are wildly diverse in terms of style, in approach, and in key themes. Goodwin focuses tightly on Lincoln's political acumen and his cabinet as the key to his success. Burlingame goes into meticulous detail of the life of Lincoln outside of the political arena, showing how the man in his formation eventually played out on the world political stage. Donald plays it straight with a balanced and scholarly approach to life, then to Presidency.
My point is that the Lincoln biographies are wildly different works, with wildly different points of interest and influence. They will often disagree about Lincoln's primary formation and motivations. They continue to write because Lincoln hasn't been adequately captured in some sense. But somehow the Gospels are not in this vein. Even with distinct authors and features, they maintain a clarity of focus which is extraordinary. They all point the same direction, using very similar styles, stories and points of view. They all portray the same Jesus.
Instead of divergent tales that occasionally overlap, they are more like different eyewitness accounts of a single event.
3. The Differences of the Eyewitness Accounts in the Gospels is Singular and Compelling
When one eyewitness reports an amazing story that defies belief, we frown and investigate. We look for corroborating or discounting evidence. The narrative of a single witness may even be viewed with suspicion even with a complete lack of any facts to dispute their story. We may listen. Their single report will often be enough for action and futher gathering of evidence, or may become a lead to eventually bring all the facts together.
If four eyewitnesses tell exactly the same story with no variation - the conclusion among experts of evidence is that they have colluded with intentionality. They all agreed upon a story, rehearsed it, then recited it after the fact. It actually lowers the credibility of the eyewitness account instead of raising it. Too much agreement will increase the value of other circumstantial and fact finding mechanisms.
But if multiple sources each independently give an accounting of events from their point of view, with subtle differences in perspective, in emphasis, and in expression while maintaining decisive agreement on the key facts and events... that account is given the most weight a piece of evidence can own. It's a slam dunk. It rings true, because it is true and the Gospels fall into exactly this kind of multiple eye witness account. The differences are tiny and helpful and easily explained, the larger themes are resonating in agreement.
The Four Gospels bring us a mutlifaceted story of the life and work of Christ which becomes credible in a way that no early historical document can (or ever will) match. How can this book be meaningful in the first century and under the level of scrutiny that biblical texts undergo still be meaningful today? How can these books speak to provinces in the Roman era, then to every generation since then, then continue to speak to us?
God is involved. I don't have a better explanation.
That's why the Gospels, along with 10,000 other neon signposts, has convinced me that the Bible, as God's Word to us, is necessary... and it's the real thing.
One of the remarkable things about Scripture is what I call the Consistency of Metaphor. Writers, commentors and theologians for thousands of years have commented on the consistency of the biblical text and while that is what I'm referencing here, the thought is more specific.
I'm taking "metaphor" in the literary sense, which is a statement of comparison between two dissimilar things to bring depth to an idea or description. This is one of the things that makes language beautiful, and that we can easily understand this is an incredible and noteworthy facet of language itself.
Let's take a page from the Bard...
All that glistens is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscroll’d:
Fare you well; your suit is cold.
~The Merchant of Venice, Act II, William Shakespeare
In context, this is a test related to the eligibility of Portia for marriage from The Merchant of Venice. The idea is that while Portia is outwardly beautiful, her true and lasting beauty is internal and not merely flesh deep as it were. The complicated idea Shakes is strikingly communicating is that a shallow appreciation and perception of beauty is like the ornate decoration of tomb. Pretty on the outside, decaying and worm-ridden on the inside.
In a handful of lines and with the comparison of people to tombs, Shakespeare elegantly leads us to the idea that the love of money is ultimately consuming, while the apprehension of virtue and character is of undiminishing value. This is the power of metaphor. The image expressed well can communicate directly, while still maintaining a nuance that brings immediacy to understanding even a difficult and multi-facted idea.
So with biblical metaphor. The pictures we receive from inspired text can open our minds and hearts to truth that is harder to get to by more direct means. The pictures, while necessarily incomplete, help us form a better connection with the ideas of virtue and God than we can get to through our own direct experience alone. This way of speaking can effectively lead us from the known to the unknown.
So, in the words of a favorite professor, "I never metaphor I didn't like."
Here's the amazing thing: the Bible is stunning in it's Consistency of Metaphor. Let me give you an example...
This is every mention of the word "shepherd" in the Bible. Check it out and skim the results. Two things here: first, sometimes a shepherd is a reference to the actual occupation of shepherd and sheep husbandry. Second, you'll quickly see that the idea of God as "Shepherd" has a lot of touches from the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms and the Gospels, along with the letters to the early churches in the New Testament. From there, you'll see numerous references to the idea of spiritual and political leadership as shepherding, with good shepherds being terrific, and the lack of a shepherd being very bad.
It's not that the picture of shepherd always means the same thing. It's way more complicated and interesting than that. It's that the metaphors will strongly tend towards a cluster of ideas that point in a singular and helpful direction.
And this works for any metaphor you care to look at. Bears, birds, trees, honey, water, fire, you name it - if you look at the pull of all the biblical references you'll find a wonderful consistency and direction to the figurative nature of the language.
Try if for yourself at biblegateway.com or any concordance of your choice! Pick a word, or phrase, or picture and look up every reference in scripture, read through them and ask the question, what do these things have in common?
To be fair, a part of this is the nature of language itself, and when a helpful metaphor emerges it tends to enter language and is repeated over time to communicate the idea it hits upon. Yet what I'm seeing here goes far beyond that simple durability of language. I am amazed at how beautifully this expresses, and expresses continually throughout the biblical text. Again, this is my opinion, but one that I'm very confident in: no one is smart enough to do this at this level. Even more incredible, is that this consistency is present, across multiple languages and generations, with over 40 different authors.
Pastor Christoph Römhild and researcher Chris Harrison, tracked this idea through a series of data pulls and graphical representations. A famous one is shown below - this is the direct connections of the bible referencing itself (i.e., one book quoting or referring to another book in the Bible). This happens specifically close to 65,000 times. It is the world's greatest self referencing hyperlinked text. With the multiplicity of the human part of authorship, this pattern of facts and Consistency of Metaphor lead me to believe that the Holy Spirit did in fact inspire the Bible, that it is in fact, God breathed...
And it's one of many reasons why I believe that the Bible is the real thing.
The Crazy Level of Symbology
One area of fascination for me is the nature of language itself.
Charles Hartshorne, in a wonderful lecture on this topic, commented that he believed that (in some sense) God was above language, the animals were below it and we inhabit this space in-between. And it is not to be missed that in orthodoxy it is primarily in the space of words and ideas that God speaks to us.
Subjectively, from the very beginning, God walked and talked with us in the cool of the day. His voice came to and through the patriachs, the prophets, the priests and even a king or two. Even in this world of incredulite skepticism, if we pause, our bones remember.
Exhibit B would be the cathedral of holy scripture.
In that expression, we are told in the gospel of John that Jesus, as Incarnate, comes to us as "the Word" of God and the idea here is worthy of note. A huge part of His coming was the expression of the divine, in specificity, in a language that can be learned and understood. As Hartshorne pointed out, God meets us with words, in this case perhaps, the Word of words. Certainly there are mystical encounters of emotion, of dreaming, of visions and the ineffable presence that believers have experienced from the beginning as well.
But it is words that win the day.
It is the foolishness of preaching that still oddly serves us well. We dig and write and speak and sing and ponder as the "meta" meanings with Inception-like layers retain their sense of playful fun while losing none of their weight. We read God's word, in translated words, talking about the Word that came and lived among us with our words. Every level filled with meaning, packed with significance, even as the weakness of language points beyond itself to strength of the highest sort.
I don't know how you account for that outside of the simple acknowledgement that language itself, shares something like a divine nature. Also, this is why lying is a very big problem indeed.
Tying this back to the Bible, let me give you an example of what I mean. The depth and richness of figurative symbols that tie Hebrew Bible to the New Testament are incredible.
First, in Genesis 40:8-19, these are the dreams in prison from the story of Joseph:
8 They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” 9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” 16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”
Subsequent events happened exactly as Joseph foretold. Notice some of the primary images and outcomes of each dream:
Wine (along with vines, grapes and preparation)
Prominent number 3 (becoming 3 days)
Prominent cup, placed in hand
Prominent number 3 (becoming days again)
Bread as flesh, being eaten
Hanging on a tree
Does any of this sound familiar? It's not a stretch to notice that these are the elements of communion. And what is the Cross and the Gospel at it's heart but a Dream of Death and simultaneously a Dream of Restoration? The Bread that is broken, the Wine that we consume in remembrance, in the story of Joseph become the catalyst to bring redemption to the known world. 3 days? Remember Me!
Here's the thing. Genesis was written thousands of years before the Last Supper. As far as we know, Jesus or Paul or Luke never mention the dreams of Joseph as a direct tie to the early act of communion. This kind of figurative picture and connection doesn't happen only here, it literally happens thousands of times, in extraordinary consistency and clarity.
As someone who loves great writers, Shakespeare, Dante, Eliot and all the rest... I'm telling you that no one is that smart. And that would be assuming a single human mind with uncommon clarity of vision and focus. The reality is that the Bible was written by 40 different authors, over 1600 years, in multiple languages - yet the depth of agreement with foundational principles, unfailing direction and detail is impossible to imagine.
Ever try to get 5 people to deliver on a group project for a class due on Friday? Multiple that by a billion and you have the authorship of the Bible. The only way it works is if you have a single Showrunner Who is driving the train, even while a variety of authors are working pen to paper.
That's one of the reasons I believe this text is the real thing.
THREE NOTES ON ASBURY, PART THREE:
Short version, this is the real thing.
Pray for these folks.
Be slow to speak.
Be open to what God is doing in your context.
We made it to Wilmore, Kentucky on Friday, Feb 17th around 6pm and the revival had been in progress for about 10 days at that point.
They were starting at 10am and continuing until about 1am in the morning, with the room pretty much completely full the entire time. People would deliver short messages, surrounded by much prayer and worship. When we arrived, there were (guessing) 5000 people outside, waiting patiently to get in the room - with folks queueing in as others eventually left. Asbury volunteers were ushering folks in and out and were really sweet about it.
A couple of thoughts.
1 - It was really cold. Just below freezing to be precise and in a fit of shortsightedness we really weren't dressed for it. They had setup periodic propane heaters and volunteers from local churches and well wishers were handing out water and a variety of snacks. We waited for over three hours, slowly walking toward Hughes auditorium. You could hear the room singing well outside and it sounded heavenly.
Interesting that the cold did not seem to be stopping anyone. We talk so much about barriers to connection in church stuff - having no good answer to waiting 3 hours in freezing temperature would be a non-starter in almost any other context. This is how hungry people are for something real.
2 - The people in line were really fun. We met a pastor and worship leader from New York who recently divided the city of Manhattan into 21 sections and his church walked and prayed over the entire city over 21 days. We met a seminarian, actually from Asbury, who is looking to plant a church in Hong Kong. His vision is to mobilize and encourage and be as strategic as possible for the next decades in the Chinese church. We met folks from Ohio, a lovely young lady from Texas and many others.
I just want to say that the people we met weren't crazy, or the lunatic fringe. They were smart, funny and real and we had a great time on the way to the meeting. I was deeply encouraged before we even made it inside.
All of the people we saw clearly felt drawn to what was happening at Asbury, and we were in the same bucket. Curious, hopeful, encouraged, and simply acknowledging that God was up to something here - just look around.
3 - The utter lack of production was really interesting. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE production things that make our lives a little better. I've done music with no sound guy and pro sound guy and pro sound guy is way better. But in the room, the music was basically one instrument, a piano or a guy on guitar and maybe one or two vocals in support. No drums, no bass, no smoke and mirrors of any kind.
The music was lovely, but it wasn't slick or polished, or canned in any way. That was intentional, the whole ethos of the movement is to get back to what's real and what is primary. In that setting the Asbury kids found that you don't need the wall of sound full band thing to support a revival of simple truth and repentance. This does not diminish my sheer enjoyment of wall of sound - that will likely continue for me - but in this context it was fascinating for that to be one of the things that wasn't "need to have."
This is hard to express. It wasn't ANTI drums, or ANTI technical... it wasn't quite Jack White pitching guitar effects into the fire... but the heart of the movement, in some sense, is to clear away all of the extraneous and just give God your whole heart. So the "how" of what they were doing was simple, to further support the "what." It worked. The room was really engaged and worshipping deeply.
It was more take off your shoes on holy ground, and less big show with lights and fog.
4 - Everything said was really grounded and biblical. The knee jerk is to write this off as kids, with the hair and the music and the phases and the flash in the pan. But everything we experienced from the leaders there in terms of what was said was stuff that right on the orthodox button. It wasn't clever, it wasn't emotionalism, it wasn't manipulative, it wasn't gimicky. It wasn't manufactured through process or strategy.
It was just deep and real.
5 - This is a revival of repentance and relationships. God spoke to me clearly about things I could be doing better, specifically related to my family. And I will do my utmost to follow through. I didn't get "zapped" as much as I got some needed insight into how to bless my daughter and my wife.
And if you consider for a minute, that's the deep magic isn't it?
I wasn't alone in that, tons of the stories of God moving were about forgivness and reconciliation with real people - it seems to be a big part of what's going on.
So for my money, Asbury is real, take that with a grain of salt - because I am not nearly as smart or as discerning as I would like to think I am. The things we saw were extraordinary, the people we saw were beautiful and real and the impact will go futher than you think, in really good ways.
God bless these kids and our generation!
If you have questions, or want to hear more, I'm happy to talk about it! Ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll look forward to connecting with you!
THREE NOTES ON ASBURY, PART TWO:
Why am I going to Asbury?
It's a good question. My answer is both near and far.
From the macro perspective, I've been praying about this kind of revival for more than 20 years off and on. If this is the launch of our Great Awakening, I'd like to see it with my eyes and hear it with my ears.
I mean, if you could hear Charles Finney preach, or wander down to sing with the mixed crowds of Asuza Street, wouldn't you want to go? Why would you not go?
Also, it's a decision that Karen and I made shortly after we got married. In my seminary degree from Southwestern, there was a wonderful man of God named Dr. Garnett Pike. He told us that he and his wife had agreed that they wanted to be a part of what God was doing - and to never resist the new thing that He might bring. That idea really struck me, so I pitched it to Karen and she agreed.
And here we are!
I want to support and encourage. I want to show up and pray and experience, and listen and sit and be quiet and sing and cheer and give and maybe write a bit.
My daughter is in a cycle where she is setting aside the faith of her parents and investigating what faith of her own looks like. In that context I wanted her to see this firsthand.
I tend to be more of a risk taker than my beautiful and talented wife Karen. She balances and grounds me nicely thank you very much. I'm more of the throw down the musket and go for the claymore too early kind of guy - whereas Karen is more of a "hey you probably want to be wearing pants when you go do this..."
To be sure, that is the sound of the unreasonable voice of caution, but sometimes I'll listen just to humor her.
I've noticed that if Karen doesn't pump the brake or ask for a conversation when I suggest something like this, it is often a clear sign that God is leading. So when I said, hey, what are we doing tomorrow? Would it be an option to clear our schedules, have you take a day of vacation to miss muster, blow off our daughter's classwork and drive 20 hours roundtrip for a few minutes in what may or may not be a revival in Kentucky?
And not having heard or read anything about Asbury, Karen said, "let's do it" and started organizing the trip. It was cool enough to even make me pause for a minute.
And the last, and perhaps most authentic reason I wanted to go and see for myself.
Hope. Simple hope.
The last three years have been tough. Between Karen and I, we buried three parents during (but unrelated to) COVID. And I've been desiring that God would show up in my life, in my ministry and in my family in amazing ways that haven't happened as I would have hoped, at least not yet.
Our church is such an amazing place in many, many ways. We were able to give away almost $300,000 during COVID which is incredible for a congregation our size. That work continues with local, national and global organizations. My writing and teaching have never been more prolific or focused. I feel like I'm better than I've ever been musically.
And at the same time, there is such a discouragement that seems to surround. Some of it is unfair and internal, but I often feel like Jeremiah in the rubble, or Isaiah and the good word, on mute. Like the guy you don't hear much about in the back half of Hebrews 11 who gets to be lion food or a nite lite for Nero.
I've been thinking about how church could be vibrant in the life of this next generation and that connection seems so very absent.
Until about 12 days ago.
I'm not looking for Asbury to fix me. I'm not looking for Asbury to give me 11 secret revival herbs and revival spices to make delicious revival chicken to light the next generation in revival fire, although if that happens, I'll get a little paper hat and giddy up. I will load all of you up with napkins and sauce.
If there are really thousands of students who are hungry for God, for what is real, in the center of the Gospel, who want to be a blessing to this generation and God in His power and sovereignty is in their midst...
I want to see it. I want to rejoice with them. I want to offer my deepest supprt and enouragment. I want to see the joy in their eyes and hear their song in the air. So off to Asbury we go!
So we took a road trip to Wilmore, Kentucky to see the Asbury Revival.
The TLDR version is, it's real.
Beyond that, there are thoughts and reflections I wrote on the way to and from the visit that I'll share here, in three parts.
Part One is me being equal parts hopeful and annoyed with the internet comment level criticism of a movement that is in it's infancy.
Part Two is why we went.
Part Three is what we saw when we got there.
THREE NOTES ON ASBURY, PART ONE
We just entered Kentucky and I'm hopeful about the events surrounding Asbury. Here are some stream of consciouness thoughts in no particular order... at the time of this writing, I haven't been in the room yet.
- Revival is not a bureaucracy or a result of systemic process. It's organic and surprising and part of the nature of it is that it is God-breathed. This is a feature, not a bug, or we would bask in how clever we are as we make a Tower of Babel of Revival right up to heaven with our man-made wisdom and effort. It's not that we can't be wise, or in any way organized - but we have to know that our own administration will never cause God to outpour.
- The response to Asbury has become a weird Rorshach Test. It tells me almost nothing about the movement itself, but it tells me a good deal about the people talking. "Why does the Asbury Revival look like my father being disappointed in me again?"
Most of the things I've read are from people who haven't been to see it - which is strange. And while I understand the hopeful permissiveness and the skepticism ranging from cautiously optimistic to shrieking troll level 11 - it is odd to me that people have trouble reserving judgment on something they clearly don't understand, or at least don't have enough information on yet to make any sort of informed call.
I wouldn't recommend the serious study of philosophy to most people, it has some real downsides in terms of internal life impact. But a very good thing from that work is the ability to have an internal "hmmm, I don't know what I think about that - I haven't really looked at it yet" bucket. A cosmos sized container of no opinion, which is as warm as a beautiful blanket and hot cup of cocoa in mid-winter.
- The Judas Argument. One of the most repeated criticisms so far says something like, "well, I'll believe it's a REAL revival when they start feeding the poor and move out with social issues."
Sigh. Three quick things here. First, generosity is right and good. But it's not the only right and good thing. Second, this has been going on for about 5 minutes now; settle down. Third, does it strike anyone as ironic that this was the exact argument given by Judas when Mary poured out the expensive perfume on Jesus in a stunning act of worship? That the people saying this don't realize this tells you everything you need to know about that idea.
And by the way, if you've said this, tell me - how much of your income do you give to the poor and to charitable organizations every month? How about over the last 12 days? If that number is less than 20 percent, I have a suggestion that I will refrain from sharing here for public consumption.
- A quick re-iteration of my most basic Theological assumptions:
1) God can do what He wants.
2) God is not dumber than Oprah Winfrey.
That's not intended to be a slam on Oprah, I'm fond of Oprah - but you know exactly what I mean by that.
- Emotionalism! It's all emotionalism! Wow. OK, most people who know me would not describe me as particularly emotional or empathetic. I'm not a sociopath, but no one is coming to me for advice on how to feel things. That being said, my response to the idea that this is emotionalism is: so what?
If that is ALL this turns out to be, fair enough, but it's way too early to say that at this point.
The Enlightenment is a serious two-edged sword. Science, literacy, medicine, cities, good. The reduction of human definition to the natural and rational, bad. The asssumption that we are primarily rational beings is only partly true. We are spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical beings and the path to human flourishing needs to touch all of those pieces. Jesus taught people stuff, and also wept and was kind to us, and spent a couple of miracles on food and drink, lest we forget.
It's been about 12 days since this thing started, and we've all had emotional states that lasted that long.
Grieving can take months or years, depending on situation and context. The squishy, dopey, "love makes you stupid" high can last for months, even years sometimes. I'm imagining a Babylon Bee headline in this vein:
MAN FROM ASBURY ON 130TH HOUR OF BEING GRUMPY FOR NO GOOD REASON
If a bunch of college kids had pulled a really hard and focused couple of weeks on a research project would we be shrieking, "Intellectualism! This isn't real! Their translation of the cuneiform is bogus and one sided!"? Yeah, probably not.
As a nation, we spent literally billions of hours on Stranger Things in it's first weekend. I certainly did my part. Why is it amazing that people would similarly binge the presence of God? I didn't see the internet rise up and tell kids to stop watching Wednesday to go spend some time in a soup kitchen instead.
- It occurs to me that this is the first revival in the era of social media. Or the 24 news cycle. Or the era of anonymous internet comments. So this really shouldn't be surprising. It's cool that the word got out early... and I suppose revival has always seen exactly this kind of criticism - just the timeline is compressed by our informational overflow at present.
- Birth is messy. Beginnings are rarey clean and polished. I remember being at a conference with Dennis Jernigan, a talented creative in songwriting, worship and books. He showed us his song journal and you know what? It looked almost exactly like the songs that I've written in first draft form. Notes all over the place, scribbles up the side of the page, things written, crossed out, written again. It's just the nature of things that are new. Imagine someone being in a delivery room saying, "That's not a real baby, there is blood everywhere! Listen to all the crying!"
- For my part, I want to assume the very best, until I can't do that anymore. What I've heard from firsthand accounts so far has been encouraging and I'm hopeful.
- This seems to be driven by college kids. Oh man, that is terrific - go get em. We should be giving these young men and women as much encouragement and permission as we can muster.
So here is my suggestion:
Pray for these students and the good people at Asbury who are trying to support and not smother what God is doing. Give them encouragement and the benefit of the doubt. Send them some cash to support the work and the eventual social spillover into good works. And don't be afraid to be part of the spread. The Gospel is an amazing idea and we are overdue for a generation level event.
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