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Revival Anyone?

On Wednesday, February 8, students gathered for a regular chapel service on the campus of Asbury University in Wilmore, KY. Students at Asbury are required to attend at least three chapel services per week, so on that day about 100 students gathered to hear the Assistant Soccer coach, Zach Meerkreebs speak on Romans chapter 12. At the end of chapel, Meerkreebs texted his wife that he had “totally whiffed”, that his message was his “latest stinker.” He told her that he would be home soon. But what he did not know at the time was that many of the students did not go home. Instead, they stayed, and prayed, and sang… Soon the word spread across campus that something was happening at the chapel, and the crowd grew.

By evening, officials on the campus decided that they would allow the students to continue meeting. Some students even dragged mattresses into the chapel to spend the night. At the height of the Asbury Revival, it would take 15-20 minutes to drive the three miles across town. The line to get into the chapel at one point was a half-mile long. The Salvation Army set up a mobile kitchen to feed worshippers as they waited to enter the chapel. The university set up portable toilets, a large screen on the lawn to simulcast the service and heat lamps for visitors. And the crowds continued to come. Officials refused to livestream the events off campus, but students streamed their own videos on TikTok under the hashtag #AsburyRevival with over 70 million views to date. What started as a regular chapel meeting continued for days, drawing not just the student body of that university, but people from across the country, yearning for a taste of what God was doing in Wilmore.

And that taste of revival inspired other campuses… Samford University in Alabama, Cedarville University in Ohio, Lee and Belmont Universities in Tennessee, and Baylor University in Texas… all while we watched in hope and amazement. College campuses in America today are primarily populated by what is called “Gen Z”, a generation know for its religious skepticism. Polls show that more that one third of this generation consider themselves “religiously unaffiliated”; 19% identify as either atheist or agnostic. As a college professor, I have come to affectionately call my Gen Z students “sweet pagans.” Most in this generation have not made an intellectual decision to turn away from the faith of their parents, but rather they have just slipped into the world with little care about the matters of the faith. By admission, most of the students who attended chapel on February 8th at Asbury University entered the auditorium that day because it was mandatory, not out of great expectation or a yearning desire for what God would do that day. But then God did something they did not expect. God inspired revival.

Revival by definition means to restore to conscious life, to renew, to bring rebirth. Religious revivals offer a moment in time when an awakening of faith and commitment moves through a community. We see such movements in the Old Testament record, like the time when King Josiah reinstituted the temple worship of Yahweh after many years of pagan worship (II Kings 22). In the New Testament times, John the Baptist inspired revival in his wilderness gatherings… then Jesus on the hillside as thousands flocked to hear his teachings… then the Pentecost movement of the early church when thousands came to faith in Jesus in the face of Roman opposition.

American history also tells the tale of many revival movements, from the First Great Awakening during Colonial times that inspired a resurgence of fervor within the church, to the Second Great Awakening in the 1800’s that inspired many outside the church to become part of a growing church movement. That Awakening led to a significant growth in the Methodist Church, from 20 churches in 1776 to more than 19,000 churches at the beginning of the Civil War. The Azuza Street Revival in Los Angeles, began in 1906 and lasted over 9 years, birthing the formation of the Assemblies of God- the largest Pentecostal denomination. Some of you might remember the Jesus Movement of the 1970s that inspired the development of contemporary praise and worship music and a move to more informal worship. Since its founding, Asbury University has known its fair share of revival moments in 1905, 1908, 1921, 1950, 1958, 1992, 2006, with 2023 now entering the annals of their rich revival history. Each revival offers a moment in time when God’s Spirit inspires faith in the next generation. If you watched the Super Bowl, you may have seen the ads under the campaign “He Gets Us.” A group of conservative, evangelicals has launched a $100 million campaign designed to make Jesus relatable to an increasingly unchurched culture. Their hope is also our hope- Revival!

Many of you have talked with me about the revival beginning on those college campuses. The news gives hope. Could it be possible that the generation that has walked away might come back to the faith? Many of us have children and grandchildren who have walked away, so this hope is very personal. Maybe, just maybe… But if all we do is watch from the sidelines, we will miss the opportunity that God is offering today. Revival happens not by passive observation, but by active participation. When God’s Spirit inspired 20 students in Asbury’s chapel that day to stay and pray, other students ran from classroom to classroom to spread the news about what God was doing. Then in true Gen Z fashion, students shared the news on their phones, causing the story to go ‘viral.’ You might not have Gen Z’s tech savvy, but I am wondering: When was the last time you shared the good news about what God is doing in your life? When was the last time you invited someone you care about to come and see what God is doing? Revival happens when God’s people get off the bench and begin to play the game. Where is God’s Spirit moving you today?

With you nudged by the Spirit to get off the sidelines,
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