Superbowl halftime shows currently cost between $10 million and $20 million dollars to pull off. Based on averages, they cost around $1 million per minute. So, Rihanna’s thirteen minutes on Sunday? At least $13 million. Over 800 people were needed to produce and execute this fete of suspended and moving platforms. Months of planning, highly engineered, programmed elements with lights, sound, and effects… 80 dancers, 7 bandmembers, and Rihanna… haz-matty couture outfits, pyrotechnics, and one baby announcement… all to be bigger, better, and different than the years before. 67,827 people in attendance. 110 million people watching on tv. People changed forever because of it? Zero.
Regardless the money, the talent, the scale and scope… it all reduces to a few crews picking up trash on the forty and a trailing haze when the lights come back on.
I’ll leave the dissecting of the show to the countless others doing that very thing today. Knock yourselves out with song choice, choreography, vulgarity, costumes, etc. Whatever. There’s a lot I can’t speak to–but a live music performance? This is my world. And I thought it was flat. It was probably flawless and perfectly executed… and still just meh. How can that possibly be? Limitless resources, limitless creativity, limitless possibilities… and when it ends, a shoulder shrug and a return to the kitchen for more dip. The biggest night of the viewing year and we all end it feeling too full and still empty. Nothing about any of it sticks to your bones or changes anything on any grand scale. The Superbowl is given such priority in our lives, including canceled church and a possible holiday being considered for the Monday after, and for what? What is the lasting benefit of this worldly worship service?
On the other side of the country, there is an altogether different kind of crowd gathering and a different kind of reveling on the small campus of Asbury University, in Kentucky. Asbury University has around 2000 students and 150 employees. None are Grammy winners.
Now, I’m not there and I can’t speak to the authenticity of anything. I know you can manufacture “revival” as easy as Rihanna can lip-sync. It’s too early to judge the lasting or long-term fruit of what’s happening at Asbury, but we can sure evaluate what we are hearing and seeing now. On a Wednesday morning, a few hundred students gathered for a routine chapel service… and they are still meeting almost a week later. Students come and go, buses from other campuses around the country have started arriving… the curious, the skeptic, the devout disciple… all traveling some distance to see whatever this is with their own eyes. Sometimes a modest band plays, sometimes just one person sings… nothing rehearsed or programmed. It’s a lovely chapel but not stunning. There are no levitating platforms or lasers. People simply gathered for worship and Word last week… and decided to linger.
When true revival happens, repentance breaks out. Obedience breaks out. Unity breaks out. Order and peace break out. When true revival happens, it has nothing to do with planning, production, or programming. It runs purely on God’s presence and power, and usually burns bright enough to expose and consume any contrived or calculated manipulation. In His presence alone, by His power alone people are changed forever. There is no budget in the world big enough to buy true transformation or everlasting life. There is no headliner in the world that can bring the dead to life again or offer the opportunity to be new creations, to captives and criminals, to children of wrath and enemies of God.
We hold high our idols and events as unmatched–until they are topped the next year, and the next. But no matter how many people wander into the stadium enthusiastic and hopeful, no matter how many go through their good-luck rituals before turning on the game… half will leave disappointed. Friend, no one who encounters the Living God leaves disappointed. No one who comes enthusiastically and expectantly to HIS HOUSE, leaves dissatisfied. His record is unbroken. HE WINS EVERYTIME.
The further we get from the simplicity and sweetness of the Gospel, the more it takes to fill the void. The further we get from the TRUTH, the bigger the lie must be to replace it. In the absence of His presence, great and grand shows are orchestrated and offered as counterfeits instead. But eventually all fall flat. Nothing compares. If true revival is happening in Asbury, students will be changed, communities will be changed, families will be changed, generations will be changed. Because young people decided to linger in His courts.
The young people that we think require the lights, the look, and the loud to encounter the LORD? Don’t.
Stripped down will work just fine. Authentic encounters with the One True God require no trappings or trusses. He does all the heavy lifting. He keeps all the promises.
What if we pressed into confession instead of running from it? What if we welcomed repentance instead of resisting it? What if we traded boasting and pride for humility and holiness? What if we were less concerned with man high and lifted up and were more unwilling to be moved until we had bowed very low?
We were made to worship. We are always worshipping something, someone, in some way. But our current cultural “revival” has only yielded chaos, confusion, and pain. Healing for our land is just on the other side of humility. That’s all it takes. Humble ourselves before The Worthy King, instead of continuing to bow before inferior idols. See Him rightly, see ourselves rightly, respond accordingly. Gamechanger. He doesn’t want fans. He wants followers.