Asbury Revival: What To Make of It?

The Asbury revival has sizzled the internet with exciting sounds and images, and claims and counter-claims of an authentic spiritual outpouring from heaven. The debates generated seems to me to stem partly from semantics. When I am asked, “What do you think of the Asbury revival?”, I find myself at “PAUSE”. I pause because of there are a few definitions of revival.

The word “revival” carries a range of different meanings. In the United States, it can mean an organised series of meetings with the goal of awakening God’s people to the gospel and outreach to the unsaved in the community. To others, it refers to the awakening and quickening of believers who have grown cold, apathetic, and indifferent in their love for God and people. This can happen in private prayer, in a worship service, retreat or prayer meeting. For others, it has to be a prolonged, wide-scale outpouring of the Spirit that is unplanned, with definitive signs of the Spirit’s power and transforming activity, resulting in lasting spiritual fruit and social transformation.

The Asbury revival is unplanned, so the first definition is out. The second definition may be the closest to what has been happening at Asbury. For the Asbury revival to pass muster with the third definition, what is required is observation over a longer period, and this uncertainty is multiplied because the Asbury University announced a decision to end the revival gatherings on the 24th of February 2022. While looking at the Asbury University website, I chanced upon the term they officially used to describe the services: “spiritual renewal”. Interestingly prudent!

The Asbury revival began suddenly when students in the chapel service continued to pray on after the service ended. Repentance and tears flowed and the presence of God was unusually palpable. That service would continue for about 16 straight days of non-stop worship, prayer, confession of sins, repentance, testimony and social media uploads. It would draw an estimated total attendance of 50,000 to 70,000 participants, drawn from the university and all over the United States. 

Videos & Articles

Type in “Asbury revival” on YouTube and a list of videos and commentaries on the revival would appear. There are gainsayers and doubters giving their opinions with video titles like, “The Asbury Revival is not of God”, “Asbury revival is very dangerous” and “Fake Asbury revival worship is being led by Homosexuals and Queers”. There are other videos that feature warm hearted testimonies of believers who experienced a healing encounter with God in prayer. Then there are simple quick videos of scenes of the revival services. Lastly, there are those news reports by TV networks both Christian and secular. Two good YouTube videos I have watched are “Seven Days Straight at Asbury Revival” and a lengthier, heavier discussion “Is Revival Happening?”.

Google “Asbury revival” and you will see a list of interesting articles about it. The one article I would highlight now would be “The Aftershocks of the Asbury Revival” where the spiritual-socio-political factors that made young people ripe for such a move of the Spirit were described: a longing for deeper sense of connection with God and each other; political polarisation and social fragmentation including racial injustice; global pandemic, economic uncertainty and wars; the acute hunger among young people for hope, for the real, the authentic. 

Preach and Teach About Revival

If you are a pastor or preacher and you want to talk about revival to your church or audience to help them make sense of what has been happening in Asbury revival and in the Revival of 1972’s in Singapore, what would be a good text to use? There are quite a number of them that can be used for preaching or meditations:

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Ps 85:6

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. Ps 19:7

I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isa 57:15

The valley of dry bones passage. Eze 37:1-14

The river flowing from the temple passage. Eze 17:1-12

O Lord, I have heard of the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. Hab 3:2

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Eph 5:14

(If there are other passages you have used in preaching about revival do add a comment. Share the blessing with other readers).

Acts 2 : Distinct Features of A Revival?

The one passage that has the most insights and inspiration would be St Luke’s description of the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Here is a possible outline you can use. It is from two chapters of Arthur Wallis’ book titled “In The Day of Thy Power” (subtitle “The scriptural principles of revival”). I read this book and this in his Acts 2 outline listing and explaining the distinctive features of a revival. I hope this will be helpful to preachers and pastors. They can do it in a two-part or three-part series with invitations to the front to pray for revival in their souls, churches and nation.

The Sovereignty of God: “When the day of Pentecost arrived…” (verse 1)

Spiritual Preparation: “they were all together in one place” (verse 1b, 1:14)

Spontaneous Working: “…there came from heaven..” (verse 2)

God-consciousness: “…a sound like a mighty rushing wind…divided tongues as of fire appeared to them …” (verse 2,3)

Anointed Vessels: “…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (verse 4a)

Supernatural Manifestation: “..began to speak in other tongues ..” (verse 4b)

Divine Magnetism: “…the multitude came together…”(verse 6)

Apostolic Preaching: “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted his voice” (verse 14)

Supernatural Blessing: “…there were added that day about three thousand souls” (verse 41)

Divine Simplicity: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (verse 41-45).

To read the full script of Wallis’ exposition of this text go HERE and HERE. I trust this has been helpful and if you have anything you would like to express about the Asbury revival feel free to comment. The comment box you need to click on is below the title of this post. 

If you are curious about a definitive Singapore revival go HERE to watch a video done by Salt & Light about the Revival of 1972.

Share this:

Read More →

The Preaching Style of Bishop Robert Solomon

Preaching style has to do with the preferred ways a preacher uses to communicate truth with his audience. This includes verbal as well as non-verbal communication; the way the talk is organised, structured and presented, and the way the preacher’s personality comes through.

Besides reading scores of books on homiletics since seminary, I find it fascinating to observe and learn from the way other preachers preach. There is much to glean, and some discoveries are useful to weave into one’s personal preaching style.

On 27th November 2022, Bishop Robert Solomon was the guest preacher in World Revival Prayer Fellowship, my home church. He is a well-known former lecturer and Principal of Trinity Theological College, and had served as the Methodist Bishop, and is a prodigious author of many books.

I have read his book, “Till Christ is Formed in Us”, a book gift from my good friend Seng Chor, who had invited him a few times to speak about spiritual formation to the men’s ministry in Holy Grace Presbyterian Church. I always wondered what kind of preacher he was. Some write well but preached ineffectively. Others preached well, but wrote poorly. By the end of the sermon, I was convinced he excels in both, a rare combination indeed!

It was the first time I heard him preach. He connected well with the church and I was so moved by his message that I went on to listen to him on YouTube. There are things I observed in his messages that the most experienced preachers need reminders of.  We preachers can constantly grow in our wholeness in Christ, and hone our craft of preaching, by imitating the good we see in other models who preach what they faithfully live out. I here offer my observations of Bishop Solomon’s preaching style. 

First, his presentations are in a conversational tone. He preaches like he would talk with anyone, but with an enhanced tone. He does not have the dramatic preaching tone of revival preachers of old, nor the booming thunder of evangelists like Billy Graham and Reinhard Bonnke. His manner of speech does not grab the attention. Rather, the conversational tone gradually draws one into a circle of trust. The listener would feel like he or she was listening comfortably to a friend, feeling relaxed and open. There is sufficient variation in the tone of his voice not to sedate you into a daydream. He does not read from the manuscript, but he refers to his notes occasionally. He is stationary most of the time, keeping guard of the word, standing behind the pulpit, a cameraman’s dream. 

Second, he takes pains to preach the real meaning of the text. Isn’t this what every preacher is supposed to do? He preaches the truth in the context of the passage and the whole book. He explains what verses his truth, insights are drawn from, clearly basing them on the scriptures as the source of authority. When required, he explains the cultural practices of that time and the historical context and draws rich insights from them. Occasionally, he dips into the original Greek text to highlight a truth. He is well-read, with theological breadth and depth and a grasp of what’s happening in the society and world events, and he constructs a bridge in “between two worlds”, to use the sub-title of John Stott’s well-written book on “Preaching”. 

Third, his sermons have a logical outline that can be followed even though he does not use power-point. He is probably one of those who does not believe in using power-point in sermons. He is orderly and disciplined and seldom veer and meander from his main outline. He shows how the different points relate to the central truth he was delivering.

Fourth, his sermons have substance and interesting insights. He does not squeeze, or force, or stretch scriptures to come up with fanciful angles and fresh interpretations. His words are deliberately plain, unvarnished of theological terms, but effectively conveys the truth. Solomon is no Spurgeon, whose sermons are rich, with every sentence containing a flourish: a turn of phrase, a metaphor or simile or image. These days nobody preaches like Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers. Maybe, I would make an exception of Peter Chao of Eagles Communications. I think, Obama did speak in this grand oratorical style though.

Fifth, Bishop Robert Solomon connects well with the church audience because he explains and applies the truth with examples, analogies, illustrations, stories, and practical ideas of how to practice the truth he was expounding. He has a good sense of humour and he is able to help local believers laugh at themselves and the way they behave in church and in ordinary life. He is never harsh in his critique of Singaporean church life, values and it’s witness in the marketplace. He gently reproves. He uses humour to disarm. He provokes by handing us the mirror of the word to make us think and feel more deeply. This is an art, it is not easy to do.

I have written enough. Maybe those who have heard more of his sermons and messages, his congregation members or students in seminary, can contribute their observations with their comments. I am sure many have been blessed by his preaching ministry. Please feel free to share your observations or how you have been blessed.

By the way, the sermon Bishop Robert Solomon preached in my home church can be accessed directly at the 1 hour 8 minutes mark of the video HERE.

Share this:

Read More →

St John’s Chapel: a missional family church

It was early Sunday morning at St John’s Chapel, and I was warmly welcomed by Revd Tang Wai Lung, the experienced priest who was newly appointed to lead the English congregation. He showed me around the lovely church sanctuary with parquet flooring and three-pointed arches that led your gaze upward to God. He showed me a set of four plaques that was preserved from their old church building in Jurong. He informed me that St John’s Chapel was originally a church plant initiated by Revd William Gomes and Mr Cheok Loi Fatt to reach out to farmers and villagers in Jurong in 1872.  By 1884, a church building was erected and a congregation established. The church was missional right from its birth. Thankfully, true to its DNA, St John’s Chapel has remained a strongly missional church that encourages all members young and old to sign up and embark on mission trips every other year. When the government took over the Jurong building for redevelopment, St John’s Chapel moved to St Margaret’s Secondary School, and has been there since.

Two pleasant surprises

I had two pleasant surprises before the service began. I met an old friend, Boon Sing, whom I knew from the Christian fellowship in Mindef, while doing my National Service. I recalled how we memorized verses and prayed together. The second surprise was that he was in the traditional choir of the church and they sang a lovely “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”. Why did the song at the prelude and this song moved me? The Lord was reminding me of his presence in the meeting.

Preaching the good news

I was asked to preach a gospel message and I had only one thus far and I have preached this five times before. I still had to sit before the Lord in prayer, hovering over the script, and making minor modifications and improvements. It took time for me to warm up to the new faces in front of me, but as I proceeded, the delivery of the message got better and better. I was glad that people responded to the invitation to pray in the front, for all the kneelers in front of the stage were occupied. A period of prayer ensued and I prayed that these precious seekers of God would be rewarded with real answers to their prayers. While I have been praying for souls to be saved through my preaching, there was no response to my invitation to non-Christians present to follow Jesus. Strangely, I was not discouraged about this. I trust God to anoint his word and let it germinate in its time. 

A missional and family church

After the service, I had refreshments at the school canteen with the priest Revd Wai Lung, and Canon Barry Leong, the acting vicar, and my old friend Boon Sing. I found it amazing that Barry had to oversee three churches in the past, and is currently overseeing two churches for the time being. He said the secret to doing this is to have the right people in place and to trust them. After he left to go to attend the service of the other church he was overseeing, I continued to chat with Wai Lung and we talked about the Revival of 1972, different church polities, the culture of St John’s Chapel and other Anglican churches. He told me besides its missions emphasis, St John’s was a family church, a close knit caring community, which gives deliberate intention to include all generations into its activities, whether it be games, church retreats, or ministry. I thought these qualities are wonderful strengths for smaller churches to have. My observation is that the quality of community closeness fades as the congregational size enlarges. So this is the strength that small churches can cultivate and leverage, and be different from big churches.

Well, this was a visit and ministry I enjoyed. Taking on speaking engagements while you are still pastoring, is different from doing them after you have retired. With retirement, you are well rested, you have more time and space for God to move your heart and prepare yourself, and you are able to preach with more energy, restfulness and grace.

If you are interested to know more about this church and its services, you may visit their website HERE. Other churches where I have guest preached in or visited can be read about HERE.

Share this:

Read More →

Of Mother’s Day Sermons and Preaching at Shekinah Assembly of God

It was a joy to preach at Shekinah Assembly of God on Mother’s Day. Blessed to return to in person worship and fellowship. I was told that they have moved their services to the Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium, along Outram Road. We seldom speak of Covid-19 positively, but thanks to it, they had a good, blessed rental arrangement and terms with the hotel management. The location and facilities suited their needs perfectly, to the praise of God’s provision. It reminded me of those days when the church I served had to sojourn from hotel to hotel, till the Lord gave us a resting place in Geylang.

I rejoice with all Christians and churches everywhere in Singapore. What a joy to be back to in person worship services! Yes, we had to wear masks but we were allowed to sing aloud! Certainly, we can worship without singing aloud, but it was good to be able to vocalise our praises again. I was blessed by the worship. I preached about “Real Faith” using the story of blind Bartimaeus to illustrate the four aspects of real faith. We could even have time at the altar for prayer and ministry.  I pray all churches everywhere will allow for 5 to 15 minutes at the end of the service, in front of the stage, for people to pray and to be prayed for. We should trust God to visit his people with a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit. It is time for people to return to intimacy with God and authentic fellowship with their church friends. Spiritual social distancing has to end!

My wife was also given the Mother’s Day gift package of two bottles of Scoop tea leaves. This is a generous church and Pastor Hock Cheng and his wife Camelia hosted us to a Japanese lunch at Great World City. 

The quandary of the Mother’s Day sermon

The Mother’s Day sermon usually lands the pastor in a quandary. The sermon has to recognize the importance and contribution of mothers, without forgetting the fathers (they will have their day weeks later). The quandary is that single men and women are also present in the church service, both young and mature, and they are important to the church too, but there is no Single’s Day. Maybe churches should initiate a Singles Day to celebrate these people’s freedom from anxieties; and extol their ability to give undivided attention to pleasing the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-35).

Ways to preach Mother’s Day sermons

I have preached quite a few Mother’s Day sermons. Some of these sermons focus on the important role, influence and virtues of a godly mother. This is usually the time people like Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, Jochebed (remember her?), Hannah, Naomi, Mary, and some lesser known unnamed female characters in the Old Testament and the gospels get the spotlight on Sunday. Other sermons deal with the more didactic passages like the famous (or infamous) Proverbs 31, that makes most mothers feel they are failed mothers or have fallen short of the glory of God. Other sermons compete with Reader’s Digest to give practical tips for mothers to upgrade their parenting skills. 

These are certainly a few ways to go about developing the Mother’s Day sermon. However, the pastor needs to be conscious of the brokenness, discouragement and stresses that modern mothers face today. They need encouragement, affirmation and refreshment. We need to point them to the privileges, blessedness and resources of mothering. We need to point them to the grace, wisdom and power of God available to them as they love and form their children into godly adults. No mother should have to leave the sanctuary crestfallen, feeling condemned and a failure as a mother. They should leave feeling assured of God’s forgiveness, inspired with fresh hope for the calling, and certain that God will faithfully watch over and work on their children, despite all their parental shortcomings and regrets.

Directed at mothers mainly

The pastor does not want half or more of the congregation feeling the sermon is largely irrelevant to them, so for such sermons he needs to use general truths and principles that are just as applicable to singles and fathers as well. For example, the pastor can talk about how Mary the mother of Jesus pondered over significant events that accompanied Jesus’ birth, and while mothers will find it specially relevant, it can be used to exhort the whole congregation to be more attentive and reflective about what God may be doing and saying to them through the significant events that dot their lives.

Directed at all God’s people mainly

The other way, which I prefer, is to preach a sermon that applies to everyone but with a few sermon applications and references towards mothers. This helps gain the attention of all God’s people gathered for worship, and defuses or reduces feelings of irrelevancy or being slighted. Such a sermon could dwell on the attributes of God, or kingdom virtues like faith, hope and love revealed through a biblical event, teaching or character.  I chose to do this in Shekinah Assembly. I preached about Real Faith and made a few applications to mothers.

The middle path is of course to use a variation of both approaches during alternate years. Whatever is written here applies to Father’s Day as well. I forgot to mention that it would be wonderful to make some truths relevant for non-Christians in the audience too, as they sometimes visit the church during such special days, but preaching with an evangelistic slant is another topic for another day. 

If you are interested in visiting the SHEKINAH ASSEMBLY OF GOD, their website is HERE, and I wrote about them in an earlier blogpost HERE.

Share this:

Read More →

The Joy Of Preaching Returns

It was a joy to preach to the “embodied” church again after mostly doing pre-recorded or online services in most of the last two years. Most of the members have begun to return to the worship gatherings since the government gave the green light and loosened restrictions recently. The timing was good too, for the holy week, Good Friday and Easter services. Most of us were happy to be back and to be able to chat after the service and have two hours lunch fellowship to catch up with people.

The young people have returned too and that is a great comfort to me. During the off and on, back and forth of constant change from online to in-person services, and vice-versa, young people got frustrated and tired. Restricting meals to two persons killed the joy of being with other young people. Now even five or more can sit around a table and have a meal in the coffeeshop or hawker center.

Rising enthusiasm

There was excitement in the air and people were generally enthusiastic about worship (now they can sing with masks on), and receptive to the message. Preaching to real people I know and not a totally online audience is refreshing. You are able to see how listeners are responding to what you are saying. You can sense whether you are connecting the truth with their lives, whether they were attentive or lost in other thoughts, eager or jaded, wanting more or saying with their body language, Please end. Preaching is not all about delivering all you have prepared. You can make immediate adjustments to the content, adding new inspired ideas or completely cutting off a whole main point.

During the Easter sermon I preached from Matthew 28 about the two Marys. I never intended to dwell on their devotion to Christ. In my notes were two main ideas: how God keeps his word and is trustworthy; and the different responses of people (the two Marys, the religious leaders, the soldiers who guarded the tomb) to the greatest event in history: Christ’s resurrection. I found myself speaking about the devotion of the two Marys. I ended up expanding on this line of thought as the Spirit gave me words to speak. A whole main point was added on the spot. It was a pleasant experience of the Spirit’s hand upon me.

This freedom to add and subtract is a healthy freedom. It is not a license to ramble. It gives space for God to inspire and lead me in surprising ways. This can be risky, but exciting. It makes me feel that God is actively involved in the delivery of the message, that he cares enough about his people to intervene to enhance and enrich whatever I have prepared.

Giving space to God

Two things help me to give space to God to move and inspire new thoughts in the sermon. One, I do not use powerpoint presentation. This way I do not feel a need to complete and use everything I have prepared. I can change the order, the content, and the length of the message without distracting the people listening to the Word. I have other reasons for not using presentation slides for sermons but it is not the subject here.

The second thing I do is to preach without looking at my notes too much. I have all the main truths, background information, illustrations, applications thought through, and the main stuff are in note form. I memorise the main points and the illustrations and applications that belong together with each point. I go over them in my mind, rehearsing them mentally. Then when I am on the pulpit, I trust the Spirit to guide the delivery. Some information I researched is unused, some I had read about but discarded, the Spirit brings to mind. I trust that what was subtracted was not meant to be heard, and what was added was meant for someone to hear. If I get stuck or got lost along the way, I go back to my notes and look at the underlined main truths to re-calibrate the route to the destination.

The joy of preaching

Preaching is more fun now that it is not so frequent and I have no other pastoral and administrative cares to attend to. I remember that when I was pastoring, a lot of good intentions, commitments and promises made to people and ministry got buried or neglected by other important and urgent tasks, by my own inner turmoil, or were simply forgotten. Usually I gave the highest priority to preaching preparation, including prayer. “Devote yourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word”, was the apostolic priority (Acts 6). I did not always succeed in this, because urgent ministry matters overwhelm important matters. If a funeral suddenly falls on your lap, or there is an administrative deadline to meet, I found my sermon preparation challenged. I no longer have these things to distract or harass me as I prepare my messages, praise the Lord!

Share this:

Read More →