Lent, John the Baptist, and the Asbury Revival

Lent, John the Baptist, and the Asbury Revival

February 22, 2023

by John Partridge

Regardless of whether you watched the unfolding events at the chapel on the campus of Asbury University, particularly during this season of Lent, I have been struck by the similarities between the events unfolding at Asbury and the ministry of John the Baptist. As the weekly chapel worship service at Asbury continued well beyond its scheduled ending, the students stayed because, whether they could put a name to it or not, they didn’t want to leave the presence that they felt in that place.  In Christian circles, we would say that they felt the presence of God.  Reports say that they were called to a closeness with God, they felt the call of God upon their lives, and they felt a call and a need for repentance. 

That chapel service continued for the rest of that day, on into the night, and for more than a week beyond its scheduled time.  Students arranged to lead worship in shifts of sorts, not with an official schedule, but by choosing small groups of worship leaders from among those present as the Spirit led them.  The names of the worship leaders weren’t given to the press because they wanted God to get the credit.  If you knew who they were, you could find PhD’s bringing water to thirsty people in line, pushing wheelchairs, and guiding visitors to the nearest restroom.

Students and adults from nearby towns came first, then folks from out of state, and brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world.  They came to see, and to feel, this thing that God was doing and, by the accounts that I have read, they were deeply moved and came away changed, even if their visit was brief.  But of course, they weren’t the only ones that came.  Asbury’s campus was also visited by the media, the curious, by academics who had written about an earlier Asbury revival in the 1970’s, by “ministry professionals” with decades of experience, and some who were openly skeptical.

Within days, the academics, the skeptics, and the “ministry professionals” could be found online, critiquing Asbury, its students, the worship leaders, and everything about that event.  Whether you want to call it a revival or something else, it reminded me a lot of Jesus’ baptism.  John was admittedly more than a little odd.  He dressed in camel hair, ate locusts and wild honey, and wandered the countryside preaching a message of repentance.  But as odd as he was, people felt something in his presence.  People from across the entire region flocked to hear him, to repent of their sin, recommit their lives to following God, and be baptized as an outward sign of their repentance.

But mixed in among those whose lives were changed were the curious, the academics, the skeptics, and the “ministry professionals.”  The Pharisees then, as the modern equivalents are doing even now, insisted that this isn’t how God works, that John was doing it wrong, that the people were being deceived, and that certainly, as professionals, they knew better.  And yet, God didn’t choose to work through them.  God has always chosen unexpected, under-prepared, and often unqualified people, in unexpected places, to do unexpected things, and following paths that surprise us.

So, what was really happening at Asbury University?  I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but it seems safe to say that God was doing something, even if we can’t put a name to it, or explain exactly what it was.  After all, scholars and skeptics are still trying to explain what John the Baptist’s ministry was about, what he accomplished, and what God was doing through him.  I’m certain that books and countless internet articles will debate what happened at Asbury for decades to come.  But from my perspective, I think that we can all find comfort, reassurance, and a timely message for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. 

We are both comforted and reassured as we see God engaged in human affairs.  God has not abandoned us.  God still walks the earth and is still calling us to follow him.  But particularly in this season of Lent, just as we heard from the ministry of John the Baptist, we are reminded that God is calling us to repent of our sins and to recommit our lives to following God.  I’m certain that as you read about what happened in Kentucky on the campus of Asbury University, that you will hear the voices of the skeptics, the critics, and the “ministry professionals” proclaiming that they know better.  But I also hope that you will hear the quiet voice of God in these remarkable events as he says, “Follow me, and I will give you rest.”

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Life is Not a Show

Life is Not a Show

February 17, 2021*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                    Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21                        2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

In William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” the character, Jacques, declares that all the world is a stage.   The first few lines of this soliloquy begin like this:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts…

But despite Shakespeare’s insistence that the world is just a stage, our life is not a show that is lived for the benefit of other people.  In Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus cautions us this way:

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus is clear that although we might, as Shakespeare suggested, live our lives on a stage viewed by others, the only spectator that matters is God.  As we live our lives, we do not donate food to impress the people at the food pantry, or put money in the offering plate to impress people, or pray out loud so that people will think that we are religious, or holy, or somehow better than anyone else.  This isn’t an act.  Our lives are real, and our actions have eternal consequences.  Our goal should never be to look good, or to impress people, or to inflate our own ego, but always, and only to do the will of God.  Our goal is to be obedient and faithful and that’s all.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he amplifies this message of faithful living by saying this in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10:

5:20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul says that no matter what happens, our one, singular goal, is to get our hearts right with God, and to return to a right relationship with God.  That, my friends, is the entire reason that we set aside this season of Lent.  It is a time for us to reflect upon our lives and our actions.  It is a time for us to consider how we have been doing and consider the health of our relationship with God. 

Have we been as obedient as we could have been?

Are we as faithful as we could be?

Are there ways in which we can do better?

Are we doing things that make it harder for others to believe that we are following Jesus?

Or that make it harder for them to believe in Jesus?

Let us consider where we have fallen short and where we can do better.

And let us commit ourselves to using this season of Lent, to draw closer to God, to live in such a way that we look more like Jesus, to be more obedient, and to be more faithful.  Not so that we will look better to the people around us, but so that the people around us will see Jesus more clearly and be drawn closer to him because of the change that they see in us.

 All the world may be a stage…

            …but our lives are not an act.

Let us live lives that carry us into an eternity with God, and which draw as many others as possible along with us


Old Testament Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
    a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ULPY2qwgoek

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.