Written by: Jay Heilman (9/14/2023)
When most music fans hear the name ‘Cory Asbury’ it’s common to think of the song “Reckless Love”. After all, the song was not only a smash hit upon its release in late 2017, but it had managed to dethrone another popular worship song in Hillsong UNITED’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”. “Oceans”, was one of those songs that I wondered, “will this ever get topped?” After all, it had not only saturated churches around the world during Sunday morning worship, but in my honest opinion – had worn out its welcome. Yes, I said it, it was played too much. So, in came a new worship anthem from an artist, who aside from his time in the worship collective Bethel Music – was still unknown to most music fans. With the release of “Reckless Love” (co-written by Asbury along with Caleb Culver and Ran Johnson), a new worship chorus of the times rang out, proclaiming the words: “I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away / Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.” As the song picked up momentum and echoed throughout churches world-wide for some time, it managed to bring Asbury from not only a member of a large worship group – but now to a household name.
September 15th brings on the release of Asbury’s latest offering, Pioneer (through BEC Recordings), and marks his fifth solo record released since his debut in 2008. In all honesty, I sadly, was not all too familiar with his work aside from the above mentioned, “Reckless Love”, so when I sat down to listen to Pioneer, I discovered something I wasn’t expecting. These songs were different. They were not at all what I was accustomed to hearing from Asbury. Here I was, all of these years having really only listened to “Reckless Love”, sang it in church myself, not even realizing that his sound and direction musically, was a far cry from what I had pigeon-holed his music to be. Asbury as a singer, as witnessed throughout the record, very much has a country-flare to it as does most of the tunes on this record, musically. But, one thing I noticed right off the bat, is the songwriting of Pioneer was way less worshipful and even more raw and personal – reflecting on life lived.
Imagine my surprise when I hear the opening of the second track, “The Promise Is Still the Same”, I was taken back and was like, “Whoa. Wasn’t expecting this.” From the opening acoustic intro to the chorus, my attention was peaked as Asbury goes into a chorus admitting that God doesn’t want to hear “I’m sorry” or what we cannot do. He wants to see us fulfilled in our lives, but only through Him. Whether we are preaching, praying or playing a guitar – His promises remain the same. Sometimes, it’s good to hear a song like this that simply reminds us of that.
As I listened on, I realized that many of the songs on the record reflected on Asbury’s own life and struggles he faced growing up. I went on to find, through my research, that him and I had a few similarities. We were both born in October (although I am 5 years his senior); we were both born in Fort Lauderdale, FL. How about that? But after hearing the song, “My Inheritance”, I realized that we also shared the same kind of father. I grew up with a father who was physically, verbally and mentally abusive, often times giving into his vices of booze and drugs – leaving me wonder often “Does this man even love me? Does he even care?” The earthly father described in the song had many similarities to my own. “I didn’t get forgiveness for the smallest of things / But I got who he was and who I didn’t want to be / God I’m thankful for the beauty in the mess / I wouldn’t be the man I am today / I guess that’s my inheritance.” As the song goes on to say, I too am thankful and grateful that I had a Heavenly Father that made up, in leaps and bounds, for all where my earthly father had failed.
“These Are the Days” is another song as a father, that I could relate to. Raising five children has had its challenges of course and while I have tried not to take for granted the time I have with my kids, I know life gets busy, and it can happen. As a widow, I have grown to learn to appreciate the time I have even more with my children. Because in all honesty, you can blink and they are grown up and on their own. “So tell them bedtime stories, give ‘em a kiss goodnight / Darling, before we know it, this old house will be quiet / I know we’re tired now, someday we’ll laugh about it / Let’s slow it down and raise a glass / ‘Cause these are the days that we’ll want back.” Amen. Enjoy your children while they’re young. Yes. But I would take that one step further and remind people – don’t ever take your spouse for granted either.
I remember coming across a Facebook video that Cory had posted featuring an unplugged version of a song called, “Kind”. As I sat there and listened to the words of the song, I begin to realize “Whoa, he’s singing about me! He’s singing about the struggles I have faced and experienced first-hand in the past two years!” I had lost my wife Shannon in September 2021 to COVID, who was only 37 years-old at the time of her passing. She was a believer in Christ, and one of the main reasons I am the man I am today. I credit her for leading me to Jesus as well.
As you can imagine, my family and I were absolutely devastated and heartbroken. Shannon and I had been together for over 18 years, married for 16 of those years, and had had and raised 5 children together. At first, I was in denial. Then I asked, “Why God?” With my questions not being answered, the denial turned to doubt, and doubt had turned to anger. So, as I sat here listening to the opening verse of “Kind”, I heard the words “And for all the prayers I’ve prayed, I still wonder if He’s real / And if He is, how is He choosin’ who He does and doesn’t heal?” Wow. That slapped me right in the heart! Asbury had managed to write and sing something that I was very much feeling personally. I just sat there and wept, continuing to listen as the song went on and into the chorus… “I’ve tried to run from Jesus, I’ve started holy wars / I’ve tried the patient waitin’ and the kickin’ down the doors / I’ve cursed His name in anger with my fist raised to the sky / And in return, all He’s ever been is kind.” Again, wow.
The closing track, “Until We Meet Again” is another great reminder of not taking life, or people, for granted. In the often-quick flow life can bring, we can easily lose sight of that. Forget the non-eternal things that don’t matter and instead focus on the things that truly mean something eternally. “Until we meet again / And I know you’re in good hands / The road may wind, and the river she bends / But I’ll hold you in my heart / Until we meet again.” Seek love, not money. People, not things. Like the old saying goes, one day you might not truly realize “what you have until its gone.”
In closing, I am so glad that I gave Pioneer a chance and listened to it. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy it, but its overall message was one that I needed to hear. I needed to hear that I wasn’t the only one experiencing heartbreak, confusion, chaos and a host of other feelings in life. Even aside from the fact that country-sounding music is not my normal ‘go to’, it left me feeling at peace. It left me realizing by the end, that we all go through life scathed by things. If anything, Asbury’s new record taught me, it’s truly understanding and yearning even more for God. It is true, that we are a part of this messed up thing called life. Apart from Him, we are nothing. Pioneer went a long way in letting me know, that even in my despair, God still had purpose for me. Even in all my pessimism, anger and resentment, God still loves me. He loved you. To re-highlight the last bit of the chorus of “Kind” – “I’ve cursed His name in anger with my fist raised to the sky / And in return, all He’s ever been is kind.” The Lord was there the whole time, just as He promised (Deuteronomy 31:8) – and it took one Cory Asbury and his record Pioneer, to point that out to this writer. Two words, Mr. Asbury – “Thank you.”