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 email@example.com 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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Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.