Skip to content

Category: Discipleship

Graduation Message to the Class of 2024, Helena Christian School

I had the honor to address the Graduating Class of 2024 on May 17. Several parents have asked if they could get a copy of my speech, so I am posting it here. Congratulations to all graduates! Cling to the cross in your future endeavors!

Photo by Aaron Bartosik

By nature, I am a storyteller. It is through story that meaning is best remembered and preserved. So tonight, permit me to speak to you through a metaphor.

Life is often described as a continual cycle of hills and valleys. At some point—perhaps like tonight—you find yourself atop a high mountain, overlooking breath-taking scenery stretching to the horizon. At other times, perhaps a few weeks or months ago, you stood in a valley, gazing up at the looming mountains around you, feeling too small and with too little energy to overcome them. 

According to this metaphor, if you reach a mountaintop, a valley surely will follow.

However, I don’t think this metaphor is quite accurate. First, it seems to cast us into a frustrating, endless cycle of mountains and valleys.  Second, the mountaintop experiences tend to be few and far between, and all too brief.  As grand as mountaintops are, imagine reaching a summit only to see before you another wide chasm separating you from the next one.

Tonight, I want to leave with a different picture. Instead of a series of mountains and valleys, I want you to picture an amusement park. An amusement park called “Life.”

At just a few years of age, you enter the park through no choice of your own. Immediately, you are overwhelmed by the bright colors, swirling lights, and cacophony of laughter, screams, and chatter. Eventually, your parents hand you off to others outside the family to be your guides. These are elementary-school teachers. With great skill and patience, they lead you through the kiddie rides. They build your trust and encourage you—even gently push you—to try new experiences while they lay the foundation for more challenging rides.

Eventually, these guides pass you off to another group—the middle school teachers. In a new section of the park, they lead you through being a tweener—a crazy, topsy-turvy world of the funhouse with contraptions which spin you around like a dryer and mirrors, in which you everything about you looks wacky and distorted. They teach you how to use your mind, and a strange new tool called logic. They help you take the simple data you learned in elementary school and start to process it. They help you learn to make the best choices you can with the information you have—and they hold you accountable for those choices, whether good or bad. 

Finally, these guides put you in a line to another ride, only this time they don’t hand you off to others. They just leave you there. This line is to a thrilling ride called “high school.”

This ride looks huge and terrifying. And you’re pretty sure much of the screaming you’ve heard since entering the park has come from THIS ride.

Four years ago, your turn finally came. You had no choice but to move forward, climb in, and strap yourself into the seat. With a tremendous lurch, your car slowly starts crawling forward. 

Forward and up. 

Way up.

You do not realize how steep and high it is until you start climbing that first hill. 

Anticipation, horror, and excitement build as the ground gets further and further away. Your stomach knots up. You clutch the safety bar until your knuckles get white. 

Suddenly, the car gradually levels out as you reach the top. You inhale for a scream as the car points almost straight down. With sudden exhilaration, you plummet. You can’t hear yourself scream.

This ride called “high school” is a rush. 

A fast, dizzying, thrilling rush.

For the next four years, there is no chance to react or even catch your breath as you race through a series of hills, corkscrews, and loops. Your life is filled with complex math formulas, research papers, debates, sports, dramas, spirit weeks, and the beloved final exam. Sometimes there are moments of uncertainty that stretch you beyond what you thought were your limits. Other times there are the great thrills of placing at the state tournament, scoring a plum part in a play, or standing before the school to give a speech.

These four years have been a blur.

However, now the car has slowed down and returned the station. The ride is over. The years of thrills, excitement, frustration, laughter—even the occasional meltdown—have finally come to a stop. The safety bar is released. You climb out of the car, wide-eyed and weak-kneed; with eyes wide open, you can do is look at the person beside you and gasp, “What a ride!”

And here you are, trying to catch your breath, staring out at a crowd of people who are here to celebrate your great achievement.

Take this moment. Catch your breath. Remember this moment. Be still. 

Because this is not an ending, but a beginning. 

In the months to come, you are about to climb aboard an even scarier ride in the amusement park called “Life.” For each of you, it will be one like you’ve never experienced. It will have even “twister-y” twists and turns you never thought possible. At some point, you might feel like you’re facing the wrong way, and you might be thrown from this ride, winding up in an entirely new direction. 

It is likely this ride will introduce you to new co-riders, not your fellow classmates here on this stage with you. It could even take you hundreds or thousands of miles from here. 

Just like the last couple of months, as you’ve suffered from acute and pathological senioritis, you will at times wonder whether or not you can make it through the next ride. 

But I am here to tell you: you will. 

Everything you went through up to this point—every athletic event, dramatic performance, science experiment, and research paper—has prepared you for the next ride you will climb aboard.  This next stage won’t be easy. It will have new challenges. And they will be different for each of you.

This ride is likely to include the joys of marriage, family, a satisfying career, and a life of service to others. I can attest that all of those things are great gifts. And I sincerely wish those gifts for you.

However, sooner or later it may also include a severe work challenge, an unwanted diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one. If God blesses you with long life, you may experience all of those difficulties and more. And I can attest that most of us do not naturally welcome such sorrows into our lives.

So I want to leave with you some important truths to take with you, and to cling to in your most uncertain moments.

First, remember that there is One who created this park. One who knows every facet of the park and sees things you cannot see. To this Creator, there are no surprises. He knows you and created you in his image. This Creator, whether you see him or not, has joined you on this ride. He writes himself into your journey and guides you with love and patience. He will laugh with you and guide you in the scariest moments. Your job is to trust him. Not only with salvation, but in every facet of your life.

Second, remember there is an enemy prowling around in this park doing everything he can to keep you from progressing to the next ride. He will try to lure you over to his rigged game, promising you great prizes at far too high a cost. He will show you an easier way through the park with far less effort. On face value it will seem like a good deal, but if you follow this enemy, you will quickly find yourself frustrated, lost, and in danger. Even though God created this park, it became corrupted by the enemy, making us to believe we humans can run it ourselves, without him. Because the park has been corrupted by the enemy, remember that life doesn’t play fair. It will throw you curve balls. It will broadside you. It will jerk you around like a rag doll. We live in a fallen world. This is why you must cling to the Creator. He’s bigger than life, more importantly, he’s far bigger than the enemy trying to pull you away from your journey.

Finally, remember this amusement park isn’t just about riding the rides. It is about helping others find their way. Whether your next steps take you on to college or into the workplace, never stay exclusively inward-focused. There are others on the ride with you. Others who are lost, confused, without hope. Love them. Serve them. Don’t become so focused on your journey that you pass them by. Jesus calls you to “make disciples.” That requires relationship. Be ready for whomever God brings your way. Your own experiences can help to guide them. Be the servant to others that God has prepared you to be. Ministry just doesn’t happen at church or on the mission field. It happens every time you walk out your front door – and also behind that door, in your own home.

I pray your years at Helena Christian School have helped prepare you for your journey through this park. Now you are ready to navigate it on your own. In Christ, you’ve got this. I leave you finally with this: always—always—cling to him when you need him most, and represent him to others when THEY do. 

Eventually, you will climb off this exhilarating, frightening, and exhausting ride. And if you stick with him through it all, at that time the Creator and Redeemer will greet you, hold you, look into your eyes, and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Helena Christian School Class of 2024, I congratulate you. I love you and I am so proud of you.

And don’t forget to stop by and let us know how you’re doing.

Leave a Comment

Betraying Jesus

An excerpt from the chapter “The Betrayer” from my book Losers Like Us

Was Judas Iscariot predetermined to betray Jesus? Was he placed on this earth solely for the purpose of selling Jesus out? After all, as the syllogism goes: Jesus is God; God is omniscient; therefore Jesus is omniscient. At some point, Jesus had to know that Judas would betray him, so it appears safe to assume that Judas lived only to betray the Messiah and, if so, that he also stood beyond redemption.

But that doesn’t ring true either. It seems to fly in the face of God’s character and of Jesus’s mission. Although I have no qualifications to judge such things, this smacks of injustice to me.

Another difficult question is, why did Judas do what he did? Was it his inescapable fate? Scripture says he did it because “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). Similarly, Jesus at one point said directly to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23). If both Judas and Peter experienced being taken over by Satan, then why did Peter go on to become a powerful follower of Christ, while Judas went on (as is traditionally assumed) to eternal damnation?

Why did Judas betray Jesus? Was it jealousy? Judas was not part of Jesus’s inner circle, made up of Peter, James, and John. Perhaps he thought he should be.

Did he just not connect with the others? Judas was from Kerioth in Judah; he was the only disciple who was not a Galilean. Perhaps he felt subtly excluded or persecuted. Perhaps three years of feeling like an outsider was enough to provoke him.

Did he betray Jesus because of his own guilt? Scripture says that Judas, as treasurer, was stealing from the ministry (John 12:4–6). Guilty people often act defensively and heap blame on innocent bystanders to deflect attention away from their own wrongdoing.

Or maybe, like the other disciples, he truly believed Jesus was the Messiah and just couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t setting up his earthly kingdom. Maybe he called in the authorities to force Jesus to “make his move,” either in the garden (perhaps with some supernatural display of power) or in open court.

Scripture says:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matt. 27:3–5)

The strong implication is that Judas was truly shocked by Jesus’s sentencing. I think Judas expected that Jesus would somehow rise up and vanquish his accusers, rather than receive a death sentence that, for reasons unknown, he chose not to fight.

This possibility is not so far-fetched. Simon the Zealot probably had similar hopes of revolution in following Jesus, and even Peter used swordplay to fight Jesus’s enemies (John 18:10). Maybe, like virtually all Jews at that time, Judas fully expected that the Messiah would lead a revolution and was just trying to help it along.

Judas’s true motivation for betraying Jesus is a mystery known only to Judas and to God. At any rate, when Jesus is condemned, Judas is “seized with remorse” and kills himself. And with remorse like that, surely there is hope for repentance.

Isn’t there?

For some, it’s a very tricky issue.

Maybe this is why we prefer the simplistic, one-dimensional interpretation of Judas: it’s just easier. Digging deeper opens a tangle of theological questions that can polarize the body of Christ. And while this chapter might seem to be doing just that, it is not my intention. Instead, my purpose is to reflect on the life of Judas Iscariot, chosen personally by Jesus to be his disciple.

It is strange to think of Judas as a disciple when he is seen solely as Jesus’s betrayer. The gospel writers seldom mention Judas outside of his betrayal and never mention anything positive that Judas might have done.

In a way, this makes sense: the gospel story centers on Jesus. The gospel writers couldn’t possibly include everything that happened in those three years, so they focused on what mattered concerning Jesus. And what mattered concerning him with Judas was that Judas betrayed him.

But what else do we know of their relationship during the rest of Jesus’s ministry on earth? Was it a purely professional relationship, with Jesus needing Judas strictly for his leadership abilities and accounting skills as treasurer for the disciples, or for some other assets not named in Scripture?

I don’t think so. I can’t imagine Jesus limiting his interaction with Judas to financial reports given during occasional business meetings.

Remember that Judas—and I can’t repeat this enough—received a personal call from Jesus to join the disciples. When Judas first answered that call, he was not a traitor. He traveled with Jesus and observed Jesus’s ministry. He watched Jesus heal cripples, cure lepers, subdue demons, and even overcome death. He saw Jesus calm a violent storm. He saw thousands flock to Jesus, and he helped distribute a miraculous meal to them from one small boy’s lunch. He walked with Jesus for three years, talked and laughed with him, prayed with him, and listened to him teach. Even after Judas conspired with the religious leaders to betray Jesus, he sat with the disciples at the Last Supper as Jesus washed their feet in a silent act of service. He was just as much a recipient of grace as Peter, James, and the rest.

And I believe he was just as much a friend to Jesus as they. I believe that Judas and Jesus loved each other. After all, the Gospels say that Judas betrayed Christ—not sabotaged or tricked him, but betrayed him. Betrayal is unexpected treachery from a trusted friend. That is what makes it so painful: it is committed by someone close to you, someone into whom you have poured your heart, your life, your love.

In the movie Braveheart, the story of Scottish hero William Wallace, Wallace finds his army being slaughtered by the English. Frantically, he signals his reinforcements to come help him, but instead they desert the battlefield before his eyes. In desperation, he breaks away, commandeers a horse, and gives chase to the king of England.

But a knight cuts him off.

Wallace, knife in hand, overpowers the knight and rips off his helmet.

It is Robert the Bruce, Wallace’s close associate and fellow freedom fighter. He has turned against Wallace to support the English.

At the moment Wallace realizes that he has been betrayed, the light drains from his eyes.

He rolls back on his haunches and lies down as if to die.

The king’s guards quickly surround and arrest Wallace, who offers no resistance. The fight, the passion is gone.

This is betrayal. This is what Jesus experienced. Unlike Wallace, he never gave up, because he knew how the story would end; but even knowing that could not lessen the pain of betrayal.

Did Jesus know in advance that Judas would betray him? He certainly knew at the Last Supper because in Scripture, when the disciples ask who will betray him, Jesus says it is the one to whom he gives the bread and then gives it to Judas (John 13:21–26).

Yet at the same time, several factors here indicate that Jesus is reaching out, encouraging Judas to turn from his treacherous plan and be restored.

First, tradition says that during the Last Supper, Jesus, acting as host, seated Judas at his right—a place reserved for the guest of honor. It may be only tradition, but tradition often is based on ancient knowledge that has since been lost to us.

Second, during the Last Supper, Jesus performs an extremely intimate act of love and service by washing the feet of his disciples (vv. 3–5). Scripture says that all of the disciples were together at this time, so Jesus must have washed Judas’s feet too.

Third, though Jesus announces openly to all the disciples that he will be betrayed, the subsequent dialogue between Peter, John, and Jesus appears to be more private:

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (vv. 21–30)

Scripture does not reveal whether the other disciples heard Jesus say that he would give the bread to his betrayer. However, I believe they did not. The reason I believe this is that John, reclining against Jesus, asked his question in an intimate way, and I believe Jesus answered it intimately as well. It is possible that only the disciples nearest Jesus, such as Peter and John, heard Jesus’s remark. I believe Jesus kept this conversation semiprivate, so as not to alienate Judas from the group. Remember, Peter betrayed Jesus not once, but three times—yet he was restored. If Judas were to turn back to Jesus later, as Peter did, then Judas would need the other disciples for healing, forgiveness, and accountability.

Fourth, in the midst of Judas’s betrayal in the garden, right after the fatal kiss that told the Romans whom to arrest, Jesus says to Judas, “Do what you came for, friend” (Matt. 26:50). Jesus calls Judas “friend.” I am certain this was not a sarcastic dig to exacerbate Judas’s guilt, but rather a tiny glimpse into Jesus’s immense love and grace for Judas, even in mid-betrayal.

Thus, in these examples—inviting Judas to the place of honor at the table, washing Judas’s feet, keeping the revelation of Judas’s betrayal semiprivate, and addressing Judas as “friend”—Jesus is showing grace to the one who has already sold him out.

I wonder what kind of eye contact might have occurred between Jesus and Judas that night, as Jesus washed Judas’s feet, handed him the Passover bread, and received his treacherous kiss. Did Jesus extend a look of grace, communicating that the Son of Man had come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)? Did Judas look away in shame?

I hope so. He handed over my Savior to be tortured and killed, so I hope he suffered crushing regret. And according to Scripture, he did. That’s why he went out to an empty field and committed suicide.

Sometimes I feel a macabre pleasure in imagining Judas’s worthless carcass rotting in a lonely place. But then I think, how many times have I, like Judas, greeted Jesus with a symbolic kiss of betrayal? How many times have I betrayed my Savior?

Well, that’s just silly: of course I’ve never betrayed Jesus.

Then again, I’ve never been in a position where I was tempted to do so. I think once in grade school I got cold feet and denied being a Christian. Except for that, I have lived pretty openly about my relationship with Jesus. Acknowledging Christ in public has never been a matter that could possibly end my life, as it was for the disciples that night.

And yet …

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds his listeners that the law of Moses says don’t murder. Now most people, throughout history, have had little trouble obeying that law. I can honestly proclaim (rather proudly, too) that I have never killed anyone. Ever.

But then Jesus closes the trap: If anyone is angry with another in his heart, he is guilty of murder. And if anyone thinks lustful thoughts, he is guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:22, 28).

This teaching blurs the line between murder and not-murder, or adultery and not-adultery.

Or betrayal and not-betrayal.

So, if you do x in your heart, you have betrayed Christ. But what is x?

It might be different things to different people. Though I am totally open about my Christian faith, I realize that there are times when I still betray Jesus.

If I keep others from seeing Jesus in me by not being Jesus to them, isn’t that a form of betrayal? Yes. I betray Jesus when I refuse to show him to others, when I avoid loving the “least of these” (Matt. 25:44–45), when I fail to pick up my cross and follow him (Luke 14:27). Therefore I am just as treacherous as Judas Iscariot.

I think we all are.

Judas did not commit the unpardonable sin, and he was not the only betrayer. Peter openly denied Christ three times, and the remaining disciples—all but John—abandoned Christ during his trial and hid while the brutal sentence was carried out. They all deserted him when he needed them most.

This too is betrayal.

So why single Judas out as the villain? Is it because his actions, unlike theirs, led to Jesus’s death? Or is it because Judas killed himself before the resurrection—before Jesus could physically say, “I forgive you” and restore him to fellowship?

Does Judas’s suicide disqualify him from redemption?

Does this mean there are limits to God’s grace?

Asking such questions, instead of merely accepting the one-dimensional view of Judas, may stir up controversies, disrupt doctrines, and tear dogma to shreds.

It’s easier to accept the “passion play” Judas and make Judas the unequivocal bad guy. Problem solved.

But the standard passion play scenarios, in replacing Jesus’s true archenemy (Satan) with a human substitute, inadvertently create an impassible chasm between the sin of betrayal, which we all commit to some degree, and the saving grace of Jesus. And if Scripture truly shows Judas as an irredeemable villain, lost beyond hope, then I am beyond hope as well. I desperately need to know that God’s grace is greater than all my sin—even if I, like Judas, die at the wrong time, before God has a chance to extend it properly.

I guess I am tipping my hand here by giving Judas the benefit of the doubt. I would like to think that I will see him in heaven, restored by Jesus and reconciled to the other disciples.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, and I can already hear the theological debaters spooling up to launch their standard arguments.

However, such debate misses my point.

The ugliness and severity of Judas’s act only forces us to ask: Do we truly believe that God’s grace is deeper even than this? Do we truly believe that forgiveness is available to all sinners who earnestly desire it? Do we truly believe the gospel?

The other disciples, betrayers all, apparently regretted their sins, found forgiveness, and were restored.

Judging from his suicide, Judas apparently regretted his sin as well. Was he forgiven and restored also?

We don’t know that he was.

But we don’t know that he wasn’t, either.

I can’t reflect on Judas without also reflecting on the power of grace. Grace and Judas are inseparably intertwined in my mind.

Strange as it sounds, only after writing about Judas did I realize just how much I needed him.

Leave a Comment

Campus revival and the critics who follow

During my years in seminary, I wrote a research paper on revivals in America.

Now, I don’t mention that to pretend that I am somehow a world expert on revivals. Simply put, the subject intrigued me. I bring up that paper because of an observation that came out of it while doing the research: it appears that most—if not all—major revivals in America came out of the Christ-following youth.


Many attributed the First Great Awakening to Jonathan Edwards, but Edwards attributed the start of the Awakening to the youth himself by observing the happenings at Yale University in 1741:

“This awakening was at the beginning of that extraordinary religious commotion through the land, which is fresh in everyone’s memory.  It was for a time very great and general at New-Haven; and the college had no small share in it…The students in general became serious, many of them remarkably so, and much engaged in the concerns of their eternal salvation.”[1]

Later, following the American Revolution, college campuses fell into great moral decline. Lyman Beecher described what he saw:

“College was in a most ungodly state. The college church was almost extinct. Most of the students were skeptical, and rowdies were plenty. Wine and liquors were kept in many rooms; intemperance, profanity, gambling and licentiousness were common.”[2]

Doesn’t that sound a little familiar today?

Four students at Hampton-Sydney College in Virginia came together to pray. An outrage ensued and the student body went nuts. However, the college’s president, John Blair Smith, invited those students and anyone else to pray with him.

More than half the student body showed up in the President’s parlor to pray with him. Timothy Beougher states that this revival in Virginia “marked the beginning of the Second Great Awakening.”[3]

Then there was the Haystack Prayer meeting at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1806. Five college kids met in a field to discuss and pray for the spiritual needs in Asia. A thunderstorm moved over, and they took shelter behind a haystack. Out of this impromptu prayer meeting came what most believed to be the start of American missions.[4]

In 1970, a revival broke out at Asbury College that lasted eight days. It had such an impact across the nation that even Billy Graham made it the basis for a thirty minute radio program.[5]


This brings me to what is currently happening today in Wilmore, Kentucky. A similar revival appears to be breaking out during a chapel service at Asbury University which, as of this writing, has been going on for roughly two weeks—several days longer than the 1970 event.

Following the chapel service on February 8, a handful of students remained behind. During that time, one student confessed some of his sins to the others after which, one witness stated, the atmosphere changed.[6]

The event has been going on non-stop, 24 hours a day, filled with confession, prayer, worship, and the word of God. What has been going on at Asbury has attracted national attention and thousands of Christ-followers have swarmed the area to witness and participate in the events.

As well as the critics.

Shortly after Asbury started attracting national attention, critics began questioning Asbury’s legitimacy. Criticism ranges from it being too emotionally-based, to quibbling over definitions of revival, to been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt and nothing has changed. Of course, we can’t forget the cries of this revival being based on bad theology or even heresy.

Because, after all, what would a potential movement of God be if it were not attacked and brought down by the people of God? That has been going on since the time of Jesus’ ministry.

What is going on at Asbury? Clearly something. Through confession, prayer, and worship, the name of Jesus is being lifted up (John 12:32).

However, before attacking or questioning the events, perhaps everyone should take a breath and wait before claiming to speak for God.

Is there a campus revival—or at least something of God—going on? Yes.

Is Jesus being lifted up, drawing all to himself? Absolutely.

Are lives being changed? Very likely.

Will some of those lives drift off once the intensity or emotion wears off? Probably.

Is Asbury the beginning of a third Great Awakening? Too early to tell.

Because it is too early to tell, the rest of America should be praying for Asbury, not analyzing it.


Asbury 2023 is happening within Gen Z, a generation criticized for its googling knowledge, not thinking for themselves. Gen Z is depicted as detached, screen-addicted, and non-committal. They don’t believe in absolute truth, and they are walking away from the church faster than any generation before it. They drift from place to idea, locking on with whatever best tickles their ears.

But Gen Z is also deeply depressed and hopeless. The level of mental illness is epidemic. Teenage suicide in 2023 has risen at an alarming trajectory.

Criticism is not going to help them.

Only Jesus can.

At Asbury, a group of Gen Z came together completely on their own and experienced God in ways few will understand. Members of a lost generation found something to latch onto—Jesus.

Could God be reaching out to this generation? I think so. It’s happened before.

And this is a generation that desperately needs to meet him.

The body of Christ needs to step back and ask ourselves why we pray for God to send revival only to hyper-analyze it when it comes.

Let’s wait and see what happens at Asbury.

And pray that the flames of that university spreads to all of Kentucky, to the United States, and to the ends of the earth.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England,” The Works Of Jonathan Edwards (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), Volume 1, 423..

[2] Timothy Beougher & Lyle Dorsett, ed., Accounts of a Campus Revival:  Wheaton College 1995, (Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1995)

[3] Beougher & Miller, p. 34.

[4] “The Haystack Prayer Meeting, Accessed 2/19/2023.

[5] “Asbury Revival Blazes Cross-Country Trail”, Christianity Today, March 13, 1970.

[6] DeSoto, Randy. “Carlson: Asbury Revival ‘Amazing,’ People Turning to Spiritual Life to Counter Evil in the World”Independent Journal Review. Western Journal. Retrieved February 19, 2023.


Following Jesus in a wild world of relativism

I often look at the world around me with bewilderment and wonder whether I the one missing something.

Am I just not getting it?

Surely, I can’t be the only one connecting the dots between the current reality and insanity.

I don’t claim I am the only sane person in the world. I just have trouble understanding it.

And that has occasionally boiled over into frustration.

Recently a major paradigm shift has increased exponentially with each passing year. Symptoms include inconsistency, slippery definitions, construction of truth narratives filled with blatant yet unrecognized contradictions, and lack of self-awareness. This shift is happening institutionally, culturally, and even individually.

It’s everywhere.

Before the 118th Congress met, news broke that Republican Congressman-elect George Santos of New York had lied about pretty much everything on his resume: his ancestry, education, employment, charity work, etc.

His response: “This will not deter me from having good legislative success. I will be effective. I will be good.”[1]

How will he be good—when he is an outright liar? In a courtroom, when a person gets caught in a lie, everything he or she says before and after loses all credibility. Why hasn’t this guy bowed out?

Several years ago, around the 2016 election, I talked with a Trump supporter who knowingly passed on articles and posts that were either suspect, or totally made up. When I questioned this, he shrugged. It didn’t matter what was true. It only mattered that Trump got elected.

The other side (one famous past example was then-senator Harry Reid) also has been caught doing exactly the same thing.

In 2022, the United States’ economy entered into a recession based on the definition of the word used by Democrats and Republicans, journalists and economists, as well as the most in the business communities for nearly 50 years.[2]

Yet suddenly the administration — widely blamed for causing it — changed the definition. Thus, apparently, the financial struggle of many Americans is all in our heads.

Last year, the president himself claimed gas was five dollars a gallon when he took office, apparently to take credit for bringing it “down” to $3.39 at that time.

But in truth, gas documentably averaged $2.39 per gallon the day he took office, and its skyrocket to over $5 per gallon was clearly after he had been at the helm for a full eighteen months. [3]

What is incredibly disturbing is “fact-checkers,” self-proclaimed gatekeepers of facts, are nothing more than partisan stooges. In several cases, Snopes, a long-time legitimate source for rebuffing urban legends and conspiracy theories, fact-checked many articles from the Babylon Bee, a satirical site that actually makes no effort to hide it..

A “fact-check” page fact-checking a satire site whose motto is “Fake News You Can Trust”?

And we’re suddenly confronted with, out of nowhere, dozens of new genders, each with new made-up pronouns.

To question this makes you the bad guy.

My favorite example of a world gone mad was when journalists, who for years defended the “moderation” of conservatives on Twitter, screamed “fascism” when Elon Musk bought Twitter and in turn started moderating them.

It made me wonder how they somehow could not see the irony.

Every new day seems to outdo the previous ones.

However, I honestly don’t think the world has simply gone insane or that the inmates are running the asylum.

It has more to do with the dominant worldview that has settled into the majority of the country: relativism.

This reality is what you get when every individual believes he or she has the authority to construct their own reality, their own truth.

Relative, the root word of relativism, is, relatively speaking, a harmless word. It means in relation to or in proportion to some else. If I tell a group to think of a “red vehicle,” all will imagine something different. Some might describe a red Ferrari. Others might think of a red ’69 Camaro. Others a red truck.

Further, each person might see a different shade of red: fire engine red, dark red, etc.

The definition each person comes up with when thinking of a “red vehicle” imagines it in relation to their own interests, culture, and preferences.

There is nothing wrong with that. Unless you apply it to everything and take it to its extreme: total relativism.

Relativism is a philosophy in which knowledge, truth, and morality are constructed in relation to culture or a particular context (geographical, historical, etc.). Truth is constructed according to these things.

And since truth and knowledge are constructed, the relativists believe neither can be absolute. Facts are not necessarily facts, and truth is simply created in a group, tribe, or mind.

Therefore, if I wanted to be a different gender or species, that is my truth, and no one can tell me otherwise.

Further, relativism is not about seeking that which is true; it is about constructing the narrative. It holds that all truth is created, so I can create any narrative I desire.

Thus, I am not accountable to an absolute truth which transcends all cultures and historical contexts.

This is now the dominant worldview in the United States.

And it is why nothing makes sense.

It is not enough for the Christ-follower to shake their heads in disgust (which admittedly I tend to do) or lament days gone by.

We must keep in mind that God is not surprised by America’s current condition. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God knew this would be the result.

And so did the crafty serpent.

To Eve, the serpent said: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). In other words: you will be like God. You get to personally define (construct) what is good and evil.

When humans get to decide good and evil, right and wrong, and even truth itself, you have the mess of relativism.

Yet this is the world the Christ-follower is called to reach.

Christians often try to combat relativism with reason and rational arguments. But this, frankly, seldom works. People who build their own reality couldn’t care less if they are contradicting themselves.

Relativism is full of contradictions. For example, if a woman says there is no such thing as absolute truth, she often has zero awareness that her statement is an absolute statement in and of itself.

Further, I could tell another that my personal truth says it is justified for me to steal. I am pretty sure he would protest if I went for his wallet.

But he would not connect the dots.

Satan’s temptation to be your own god and creating your own definition of good and evil is just too exciting to worry about any contradictions.

But we absolutely have to remember that Jesus died for relativists too. When on the cross he prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was praying it for them as well as me.

So how does a follower of Jesus live and function in this world that we’re also commanded to reach?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

Our job is to be Jesus to the world around us. We are to go to the scripture itself not to learn how to make the perfect rational argument against relativism (or other worldviews) but to teach ourselves how Jesus specifically interacted with the lost.

What does it mean to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39)?

How do I live the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) in responding to the relativist society?

What is my answer to the question “who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:25-37)?

How do I speak the truth of Jesus Christ to a lost world with love lest I come across as an obnoxiously clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)?

How can I help others by being salt that is tasty, not bitter, or a light that is guiding not blinding? (Matthew 5:13)?

These are tough questions that every Christ-follower must meditate on and pray about. This is how we navigate our respective roles in the Great Commission.

Make no mistake, we live in a relativist, post-Christian culture. That will not change. Christianity is now marginalized. For speaking truth, we’re considered crazy.. Gene Veith in his book Post-Christian wrote: “Those who would impose their morality on those who do not share it, those who demand conformity, and those who punish the dissenters are now the militant secularists. Christians are not used to being considered ‘the wicked.’ But we should probably get used to it.”

We must be sure of our priorities in the Kingdom worldview.

Fighting and beating the relativist culture isn’t our end game.

Making disciples in a relativist society is.




Leave a Comment

Dear Lord, help me not to be a jerk today!

This week, while preparing to teach in a new state, at a new school, for a new school year, I taped a poignant prayer to my computer monitor.

It wasn’t the masterful, insightful words of a Francis of Assisi, or Teresa of Avila, or even an average pastor on an average Sunday morning. It did not ask God to glorify himself through me, or to make me a better man, better teacher, or better Christian.

It was far more basic and less spiritual:

“Dear Lord, help me not to be a jerk today.”

That’s all. I wish it were something more profound, but the truth is – sometimes I can be a jerk.

There are a number of reasons my jerk nature erupts. Sometimes it’s because I just disagree with someone about something. Or I’m ticked off about the way something went. Or – here’s a big one – some authority over me (say, my employer, or my local government) implements a policy that I hate.

Most often, I become a jerk when I feel I am not in control. This is pretty scary, because when am I actually in control of anything? So opportunities always abound for me to be a jerk. I can think of too many relationship moments I have blown because – instead of being the approachable, trustworthy person I want to be – I was a jerk.

And I am a good one. I suspect “being a jerk” is one of my spiritual gifts, and I am sure it is in the Bible somewhere. I can be an aggressive jerk that picks fights over the silliest, most trivial things, or a critical jerk that tells everyone they’re off the mark. If my arguments are proven wrong, I am put to shame – but even if I am proven right and “vindicated,” what good is that if I’m a jerk about it?

I can also be a passive-aggressive jerk – being nice to people’s faces, but bashing them behind their backs. I can be gossipy, sarcastic, or just plain mean. It feels good, but it does not enhance my spiritual growth or build trust with others.

So I taped this prayer where I can see it every day.

When I pray, “Lord, help me not to be a jerk today,” I am thinking only of myself. Narcissistically speaking, this prayer is all about me, and me alone.
Sure, it always feels better to point out how others are being jerks and how they should stop. Sadly, I absolutely love doing that! But the whole splinter-vs.-plank-in-the-eye thing that Jesus taught kind of sucks the fun out of it. In fact, my desire to call out others for being jerks probably says more about my own jerk status than it does theirs.

So I can only discuss me being a jerk.

I don’t want to be a jerk. But the truth is, sometimes I can’t help myself. Giving in to my jerk nature is too easy, and at times I don’t even know I have given in until it is too late. I immediately regret it, but often the damage has been done.

Unfortunately, my jerk nature is yet another embarrassing symptom of my sin nature. It is a part of my brokenness. And no matter how I try, I cannot just wake up one day and get rid of it by will-power.

Instead, I must lay my jerk nature at the cross. I must give it to the one who has conquered all sin. Every day.

So this little prayer begins with “Lord,” establishing who I serve: my Savior, not my sin nature. It is Jesus who brings peace amidst the turmoil that triggers my jerk nature.

The prayer continues with “help me,” reminding me that I cannot stop being a jerk simply by my own effort. I need the power of the cross to overcome this sin. I must give my jerk nature to Jesus. To this day, I am amazed at his unconditional acceptance of me. There is no sin so big that the cross cannot cover it – and conquer it.

Then the prayer asks that I not be a jerk. This is the heart of it – what I want the most.

Finally, the prayer ends with “today” – a reminder that I need Christ’s power now, today, every day. Without the word “today,” I could be overwhelmed by all the days ahead of me, and also waiting a long time for help. I need victory today, not tomorrow.
And when tomorrow does come, my prayer will be the same:

“Dear Lord, help me not to be a jerk today.”

1 Comment

Love or shame: What’s behind your use of the phrase “love like Jesus”?

There’s a new mantra appearing across social media, admonishing Christ-followers to “love like Jesus.” But something’s been bothering me about the way this phrase is used, and I’ve been trying to figure it out. I think I’ve finally put my finger on it.

gunbibleHere’s what it is: I agree 100% that we should love like Jesus. Period. End of story. Triple exclamation point. But people are saying “love like Jesus” not to encourage one another toward true godliness, but to shame anyone who disagrees with them. They say it about everything from abortion to LGBT issues to the politics of poverty. And when they say it, they seem to mean, “Agree with my position on this issue, because I am sure Jesus would share it.” Therefore, if I disagree with their position, the implication is that I do not “love like Jesus” on that issue. So those who agree with them are “loving like Jesus” and those who don’t are just “haters” – leaving no room for dialog or dissent.

The problem is, we don’t always know what Jesus’s response to an issue would be. Or we see only one side of it.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26), he accepted her, reached out to her, and loved her. So some say we should “love like Jesus” by offering acceptance, including total agreement with everything people do.

But Jesus also called out the woman’s sin, saying: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true” (John 4:18). Jesus accepted her, but he challenged her about what she was doing.

Jesus is Jesus, and he loves people without ignoring the reality of sin. He always strikes the perfect balance between accepting, judging, loving, admonishing, and encouraging. And I do not. Try as I might, I struggle to find that balance.

But recently I experienced an example of the correct usage of “love like Jesus.” It happened while I was walking the dogs.

Now, it’s no secret that I feel constricted living in a big city. The car horns, the sirens, the sounds of violence and rage – it all seems so brutal to me. I long for wide open spaces, where people aren’t so tense. Whenever I get out of town, I can feel my pulse rate slow, my body decompress.

So when I hear people shouting and cursing at each other, as they so often do here in the city, it really gets to me. And that’s what happened the other evening. As my wife and I walked our three dachshunds around the neighborhood, we passed a yard with two other small dogs who started barking like crazy. We hurried by before ours could join in. But as we passed, a neighbor yelled from across the street at those other dogs, “Shut the f__ up!”

We were stunned at the outburst. We said nothing and kept walking even faster. But the incident soured my mood. I scrolled through my mental rolodex of snarky, sarcastic insults I could shoot back at the disgruntled neighbor. “It’s only 5 p.m.,” I thought to myself, “not the middle of the night or something. Dogs bark – that’s what they do. It’s no big deal. There are far bigger issues in the world. Why is everyone so explosive all the time? Why can’t they just overlook the small things?”

My wife noticed my silence and asked, “Why so quiet?” So I explained how I felt.

She paused a moment and then said, “Maybe we could see it from his point of view. Maybe it happens a lot—the neighbor’s dogs barking every time someone walks by. How could we love him the way Jesus does?”

My heart knew she was right. Loving as Jesus loves is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life. But my wife’s question did not shame me or make me feel guilty about my anger toward that man; instead, it simply redirected my perspective. I couldn’t stop him from shouting curses, but I could choose to understand the feelings and frustrations behind his rude behavior. My wife’s question helped me determine, despite my fleshly resistance, what it means to love others, one angry neighbor at a time. As Christ-followers, this is how we should encourage one another to “love like Jesus.”

The call to “love like Jesus” should never be used as a weapon to shame others into agreeing with me, or following my agenda. Except in a sermon or in a loving small group, the reminder to “love like Jesus” should be delivered one-on-one – and always with grace, not shame, in the context of discipleship.


Leave a Comment

The disciple who played second fiddle


This post is adapted from my book, Losers Like Us – Redefining Discipleship After Epic Failure. Download the eBook now for only $2.99! For details, see my book page.

Question for ya: Name the three disciples in Jesus’ “inner circle.”

Answer: It’s got to be Peter, James, and John. They were close to Jesus at key moments when the others weren’t – for example, on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Now, think fast! Who was Peter’s brother?

Did you have to think for a minute? It’s Andrew – the disciple who lived in Peter’s shadow. All of his life, he played second fiddle to his famous brother.

How many sermons or lessons have you seen or heard about Peter? How many about Andrew? In fact, every single mention of Andrew in Scripture is phrased as either “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,” or worse, simply “Simon Peter’s brother.”

I rest my case.

Unlike Peter, who seems to be on every page, Andrew has only three main “scenes” in Scripture—bringing Peter to Jesus, bringing the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus, and bringing some Greeks to Jesus—but in each case, he is introducing someone to Jesus.

First, Andrew is a natural evangelist, but without fanfare. He hears John the Baptist point out Jesus as “the Lamb of God”—and Scripture says, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1: 41-42)

Here, Andrew announces the fulfillment of all the hopes and longings of the nation of Israel, down through the centuries, in just five words: “We have found the Messiah.” Compare this delivery to Peter’s long, expressive speeches (such as in Acts 1, 2, 3, and 4) and try to imagine Peter simply stating, “We have found the Messiah.”

Go ahead, try it.

And yet in this passage, it’s because of Andrew, the second fiddle, that Peter meets Jesus.

That blows my mind. Think of Peter—all his stories, all his drama, all his antics. Then consider this: if not for Andrew’s simple introduction, Peter might never have met Jesus.

The next time Andrew appears, he is again acting as a facilitator.

Jesus notes that the crowds following him are getting very hungry (John 6:5),  and Andrew responds: ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish….’” (John 6:8-9)

Think about it—would that little boy have offered his lunch to any other disciple? As I look at the disciples’ reactions to children at other times (Matt. 19:13–14; Mark 10:13–14; Luke 18:15–16), I imagine they might have said something like, “Beat it, kid! Jesus is far too important to bother with silly suggestions from a squirt like you.” Maybe Andrew thought so too but lacked the nerve to say so. Maybe the only reason Andrew brought the boy to Jesus was because he couldn’t think of anything else to do.

What matters is, he did it. And the rest of the Scripture passage reveals the miracle that followed: the feeding of the five thousand.

Andrew’s third scene confirms that, perhaps from his experience of living in Peter’s shadow, he has shifted gracefully to dwelling in the shadow of the Savior. In this scene, a group of Greeks ask to see Jesus, and Philip and Andrew deliver the message: “Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.” (John 12:22)

This passage reports that Andrew and Philip told Jesus about the Greeks, but not what they actually said. If the Greeks had made initial contact with Peter, I’m sure Peter would have been quoted—because in Scripture, Peter is always saying something quotable; his personality is just too big to keep on the sidelines. By contrast, Andrew seems content to turn people over to Jesus and fade into the background.

True, society may celebrate people with big personalities, and the bigger the better; but to many of us, they seem out of reach. Something about their bigness makes us feel smaller.

In Scripture Andrew, the shadow-dweller, does not have that effect on people.

Andrew is not intimidating. He is safe, trustworthy, approachable. People who want to see Jesus are attracted to Andrew.

Wouldn’t it be great if the same could be said about each one of us?

Think about other shadow-dwellers who have sparked great miracles and movements in the church. For instance, who introduced Billy Graham, the best-known evangelist of the twentieth century, to Jesus? Who mentored Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dwight Moody, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther King Jr., and scores of others in their spiritual journeys? Through research, we could find out—but they certainly aren’t household names. Like Andrew, each of them was a shadow-dweller who paved the way for someone greater.

Andrew reveals a pattern throughout Scripture and church history: somewhere behind every great spiritual leader, there is usually a spiritually sensitive shadow-dweller.

Just look at the ripple effects from Andrew’s introductions of others to Jesus:

  • Peter is presented in Acts as one of the great leaders of the church, standing up to the Jewish leaders who crucified Jesus and preaching to thousands throughout Jerusalem and Palestine (Acts 2:14–41; 4:8–17).
  • The little boy (John 6:8) becomes known throughout history as the one whose lunch miraculously fed five thousand people. We don’t know what became of him, but surely he was changed by this amazing event and went on to tell others.
  • The Greeks must have talked about Jesus to everyone they knew, especially if they were present to hear the voice that came from heaven immediately after they asked to see him (John 12:20–33).

All of these effects took place because Andrew, the shadow-dweller, stepped back and introduced others to Jesus.

LosersLikeUs1Andrew does not have Peter’s power to evangelize huge crowds (Acts 2:14-41), but he has the power to motivate Peter to get up and go meet Jesus in the first place. He has the power to make a little boy feel safe enough to offer one tiny lunch to Jesus. He has the power to welcome a group of Greeks—Gentiles—who might have been rejected by Peter (Peter had trouble with Gentiles, as seen in Acts 10 and Galatians 2).

Composer Leonard Bernstein put it this way: “I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm … now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony” [quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, Improving Your Serve (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), 24].

This forces me, as a shadow-dweller, to rethink my place in God’s kingdom. I may not be a charismatic shadow-caster like Peter or some of my prominent friends—but maybe I do have a key part to play, after all.

This post is adapted from my book, Losers Like Us – Redefining Discipleship After Epic Failure. For details, see my book page.

Leave a Comment