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Category: Surrender

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.


Will we ever find utopia in a broken world?

IMG_1201I just returned from a week in Helena, Montana.

It was utopic: silent mornings, sitting alone on a wide deck overlooking Hauser Lake; loud middays, talking and laughing with family under the big Montana sky; and brilliant evenings, watching the horizon erupt in a blaze of colors as the sun dropped below the western mountains.

The scenery was fresh and spacious. The air was tranquil and clean. And most important, I was out of the city.

The whole time I was there, I fought back dread of the day when I would have to return to the city where I live – Portland, Oregon.

But  before that day came, something worse happened. Shortly after the Fourth of July, the country exploded with violence, protests, and domestic terrorism. Two videos went viral, showing police officers shooting African-American men in St. Paul and Baton Rouge; then five officers were gunned down in Dallas. The nation cracked in two, and the schism spread wide. I knew—absolutely knew—the next several days would be filled with raging debates and groundless conclusions made from hundreds or thousands of miles away, based on a few seconds of unclear video.

Police-Car-LightsAnd I was not let down.

It was like wading through sewage. Before anyone knew the facts, hashtag activism erupted from those who weren’t even there. People spewed half-baked answers which they were sure would usher in a national utopia. Even Christians rushed to “out-compassion” one another with simplistic solutions, subtly accusing other believers who disagreed with them of being uncaring.

My Montana escape suddenly seemed so distant. Instead of being grateful for all of the blessings God has given me, I grieved over the tension and strife. I wished I could stay in Montana and never return to the city. But duties called, so I returned.

2016-07-15T005439Z_2_LYNXNPEC6D1N2_RTROPTP_4_FRANCE-CRASH-e1468556054591Then, more shocking events: On Bastille Day, a truck-driving terrorist in Nice, France, mowed down scores of people, injuring hundreds and killing over 80; and a college student was shot dead in the streets of Helena, Montana. The Nice attack was stunning in its unspeakable scope and depravity; the world reeled from the shock. But for me, the Helena attack was even more personal. Helena was my utopia, my retreat. And just like that, my little self-made haven crumbled into dust. I realized that even there, evil is present. Even there, tears flow and hearts cry out to God. Even there, despite my best attempts to get away from it all, none of us can escape a broken, sinful world.

In fact, as I write this (Sunday, July 17), even more tragedy has erupted in Baton Rouge, leaving several police officers dead.

So why do we all try so hard to find utopia? Some fight to create it politically, by working to pass laws and elect leaders they believe in. Others, like me, seek it by physically fleeing to some place we hope will be better (we all know that tired old threat, “If so-and-so is elected, I’m moving to ____!”).

But for Christ-followers, utopia is not the goal.

Jesus is.

Following Christ isn’t about “what’s in it for me” – it’s about being in an intimate relationship with Truth. And it seems that the closer we get to him, the easier it is to step into the brokenness with those who suffer.

During all of the violence and chaos, I did see something good this week. It was a video, apparently filmed the day after the shooting in Dallas, of people stepping up and hugging police officers. As one hugger turned to walk away, the camera caught his t-shirt message: “God must matter.”

Godmustmatter3That grabbed me.

The brokenness of remote Montana is no different than the brokenness of inner-city Portland. If Jesus matters in Montana, then he matters in Portland. And if I cannot be a Christ-follower here in my city, then I cannot be one anywhere.

If God does not matter—regardless of where we are—then all we are doing is fighting for a utopia that will never come, or trying to flee to a utopia that doesn’t exist.

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Paralyzed by perfectionism

In January, I set a goal to complete a rough draft of my next manuscript this year. For the last six months the subject has been rolling around in my head, and for the last two, I have been itching to get the project underway. The words are dancing on my fingertips, hovering over my keyboard. I feel emotionally and spiritually ready to tackle the topic that represents the next chapter of my life. Everything seems ready to go.

writers-blockBut I just can’t bring myself to actually start. Every morning for the last eight weeks, I’ve vowed, “Today’s the day.” But by late afternoon, with no progress made, that vow becomes, “Tomorrow’s the day” – followed by an evening of more distractions and other business – and the next day the whole cycle repeats.

So far, it’s been a frustrating year.

Initially, I thought my problem was procrastination: even with my task immediately before me, I kept finding excuses to do other things. But as the days trudge on, I am starting to think the problem goes much deeper than that.

In reality, I want to get started. I want to immerse myself into the subject matter, to get into the zone for an entire afternoon. I try to will the words to start flowing through my fingers and onto my blank screen – but with each passing day that the word count doesn’t grow, I get crabbier.

The heart is definitely willing. Yet whenever I open the file on my computer, I feel frozen. By what, I am not certain, but it is enough to block the ideas. I get so frustrated that I want to run away.

Finally I shared my struggle with a friend in my home community. Immediately she said she was familiar with the problem – and for her, paralysis was caused by perfectionism.

That resonated with me.

perfectionist-imagePerfectionism is that god-awful affliction which stifles innovation and strangles creativity. It’s stealthy: we seldom recognize it as the root problem, instead blaming our paralysis on everything else. It’s clever, trapping us with fear and pride: fear because we might fail; pride because we’re too proud to take that risk.

We fear we won’t do it right. We fear our efforts will be rejected, mocked, or brutally criticized by others, and our egos will be irreparably damaged. So we freeze.

In my case, I have subconsciously refused to budge until I can guarantee my magnum opus on the very first try. That is a tall order for even the best writers. No one gets it right the first time. So, because I can’t guarantee perfection, my fingers won’t move.

It is in this perfection-based paralysis that I currently dwell. Yet now that I know why it’s there, exactly how do I overcome it?

In the paralysis itself, I find the answer: Turn the stillness to advantage. Don’t despise the dead air; embrace it.

Dwelling in silence, especially with God, can be one of the most meaningful experiences we can have. The psalmist says: “Be and still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). This imperative conflicts with the very essence of American culture. We push goals. We reward achievements. We exalt  “busy-ness” to the point of burnout.

But the psalmist declares otherwise. Intimacy with God comes not through activity, but through stillness. It is in the silence—even paralyzing silence—that the still small voice often speaks. It is at this point that I must become aware enough to set aside my agenda for God’s. Perhaps he wants me to meditate more deeply on a scripture passage I am reading. Perhaps he has a more significant use of my time than writing the next great tome, or whatever my other goals are. Maybe there is something he wants to say to me.

perphictIn my case, God appears to be homing in on my idol of perfectionism. Instead of typing my first chapter, suddenly I am facing questions far more important in God’s eyes: why is perfectionism so important to me? How can I possibly think I could achieve perfection to begin with? Is this project for my own glory or for God’s?

Whenever I am stuck in paralyzing silence, I can learn to see it not as a failure, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to check my heart, and listen.

When God chooses to unblock the dam, he will—probably in a way I could never imagine. But for now, in the dead silence and writer’s block, I will listen.

The words at the edge of my fingertips will come soon enough.

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The Great Closet Collapse of 2016: Tips for when life caves in

Pretty sure this is what happened in my closet.

Last week, my closet collapsed.

For fourteen years, the shelving worked perfectly. It did its job like a real trooper. Then, without any warning, it just failed. The overloaded bolts finally gave way and ripped out of the wall, dumping the shelving and all of its contents onto the floor. My semi-organized constant now lay in a crumpled heap. In a moment, my closet went from constancy to chaos.

To make matters worse, I am not much of a handyman. Beyond a basic screwdriver, I don’t know much about building / fixing / repairing / installing things. So, after moving the mountain of debris out of the closet and into my office, I faced the added stress of not knowing exactly what to do next. A true handyman would know. But in my case, even if I can make a lucky guess about what might need to be done, I still have no idea how to actually do it.

This situation feels like a metaphor for my life. At times it feels like I am standing in a mountain of debris, in the form of change and disruption.

First, February is the anniversary of the day when my postgraduate dream died. Pain and loss sap me whenever I remember walking away from the university and leaving England for the last time. I love England and long to return – but I still don’t know how to make sense of what happened there. True, my life is incredibly blessed in so many ways, but that whole confusing episode still feels like a huge heap of you-know-what. I wish the heavens would open with a downpour of redemption to turn it all into something meaningful, but instead of a downpour it feels more like a dribble.

Second, this year is an election year, and I feel overrun by mindless mobs speaking of “revolution” and “making America great again.” However, for most of the candidates, I have less confidence in their vision than apprehension that they might make things worse. Information races by me in blips and flashes. Change bombards me by the nanosecond. Nothing feels solid or stable. Order collapses, just like my shelving. My head feels ready to explode and disappear, like a volcanic island erupting and slipping under the sea.

This year is also the year I’ll turn 50. At an age when many people start planning ahead for retirement, I still don’t know what to be when I grow up. Writing has been a great release, but it feels like I am risking everything on an unknown. My goal for 2016 is to complete my next manuscript by the end of the year. However, I struggle endlessly with distractions of every kind—most recently, the catastrophe in my closet and the subsequent mess in my office as I try to figure out a solution.

I crave constancy – but the more I seek it, the more I find chaos.

The trouble is, nothing on this earth is constant. Despite all the secrets of the universe that we think we have unlocked with our finite minds, life can still throw us a curve ball—an accident, a betrayal or rejection, a medical diagnosis. We can’t predict it. We can’t prevent it. Try as we might to avoid or prepare for it, life simply caves in. One minute the world is normal and orderly, and the next minute everything blows up. And with the threat of the cave-in always lurking just beyond our awareness, we simply cannot cling to any certainty on earth.

My head knows that, but my heart still wants to believe otherwise.

And now, just days after “The Great Closet Collapse of 2016,” I sit in my office, trying unsuccessfully not to be distracted by the mess. But as I survey it, I do have some tips which bring perspective to both my closet and my life.

Be flexible. During this season of Lent, I have been thinking about my heart which I have allowed to harden as a defense mechanism against unwanted changes in my life. Unfortunately, a hardened heart is not flexible. Under pressure, it doesn’t bend; it breaks. Likewise, people who are not flexible have great trouble dealing with unwanted change. But change, like a tsunami, is unstoppable: the more we resist it, the more rigid and brittle we become – and the more damage we suffer when it finally breaks us. Growth comes not from having our lives in order, but from how we respond to unexpected disorder. When the collapse happens and we find ourselves buried in debris, we need to just take a breath, get our bearings, and start considering the next step.

Mt St. HelensRemember that God is the only true constant. Silly me – putting faith in a closet. We live in a universe where stars die and mountains disappear. The ground is constantly moving beneath our feet—sometimes we don’t feel it, but other times it moves with such force that it destroys whole regions. Everything in the universe is changing all the time, and we can’t stop it. So if we seek constancy in any created thing, we will be disappointed, because nothing is constant except God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and he will never collapse under the weight of burden.

Find opportunity in the debris. For fourteen years my shelving served its purpose, and its collapse was another unwanted distraction—another problem I wish I didn’t have to solve. But after I cleared out the mess, I realized I had a choice – I could keep grieving the disaster, or take the unexpected opportunity to reorganize. For days now I’ve been staring at my blank wall, like DaVinci staring at the blank canvas that became the Mona Lisa. I’m considering the possibilities. Maybe I’ll reinstall the shelving exactly like it was. Maybe I’ll think of an even better setup. Maybe I’ll actually get rid of useless junk I forgot I had. In the same way, when life collapses we have a choice: focus on the tragedy, or find new opportunities in the rubble. When my postgraduate studies flamed out, God helped me turn that pain into a book to help others who have experienced failure. Countless others have also turned their pain into something beneficial. Opportunity is often buried beneath, and rises up from within, the brokenness of our lives.

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Breaking a hard heart

Recently my church offered a time of prayer for healing. As I waited for my wife, who was praying for someone, an elder approached me and asked if I myself needed prayer.

I thought I didn’t, but my heart knew. Immediately I said yes, and when I was asked what to pray for, the words rushed out: “My hardened heart.”

05-19-2011I realized just how badly my hard heart did need healing prayer. After a wonderful advent season, as 2016 began I had started to feel deluged by political speeches, social media debates, and “awareness” campaigns over injustices about which I can do little, except worry over how little I can do. At such times, my old patterns of cynicism, sarcasm, and apathy tend to start sneaking back into my heart. After all, my flawed logic assumes, if I act superior or uncaring, then all of the bad things can’t bother me.

But this assumption is not true; those things still do bother me. And so my heart unconsciously hardens. I build a wall against the world—a defense against watching humanity make one bad choice after another, with evil flooding in wherever goodness seems weak or absent. At times I‘ve tried to deflect my feelings with humor, but sometimes that can offend people too. So withdrawal and apathy seem to provide better protection from the overwhelming feeling that the world is spinning out of control.

I begin to see myself as a detached, objective observer, sitting above other humans and mocking them as idiotic Neanderthals. However, my passion and emotion always seem to slip out as sarcasm, passive-aggressive put-downs, and biting comments. Though I try to stuff it inside, I seethe until I reach a boiling point. Then, I launch.

Unfortunately, the sinful choice to withdraw and harden my heart has serious side effects. The heart, as strong as we think it is, cannot completely close itself off from others. It cannot create an unbreachable wall. We angrily try to make sure no more pain gets in, but we cannot prevent our own corrosive bitterness and aggression from leaking out.

I’m guessing this is not God’s intended modus operandi for Christ-followers.

After all, when Jesus approached Jerusalem for the final time, scripture says that he “wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42, NIV).

What brought on Jesus’s deep, unexpected emotion?

Simply put, his heart broke for the people.

In Jerusalem at that time, the Jews were hard-pressed on every side – taxed, abused, and marginalized in their own land by Roman occupiers. Seeking freedom from Rome, some Jews—one could even call them terrorists—issued stealth attacks against both the Roman oppressors and their Jewish collaborators. The city was in great turmoil and unrest.

But that wasn’t all. In addition to external oppression from Rome, the Jews also faced internal oppression from their own spiritual leaders, who had created a huge body of religious regulations governing every detail of life. Breaking just one small rule, intentionally or not, could lead to serious consequences and penalties – so everyone lived in constant worry and fear, trying to follow all of the rules. In about forty years, Jerusalem would be razed and its temple destroyed. And within a week, Jesus’s own fellow Jews, who would at first praise him as their king, would turn on him and kill him.

Yet his heart broke for them.

Me? Most of the time, I just want to shake my head in disgust and brush the dust from my shoes as I desperately seek a saner, less stressful life. “The world is going to hell in a hand basket,” I say to myself from my lofty perch. “Screw it. Let them. World, meet sin. Good luck. I will have no part of it.”

pulling stone heartBut I’m pretty sure my response is not the right one. I don’t need a tough, hard heart. I need a broken one—one that weeps for my city, my country, my world. A hardened heart wants to fight; a broken heart wants to heal. A hardened heart is selfish and stands apart to judge; a broken heart is selfless and jumps in to help.

So how can a hard heart be softened – or, better yet, broken?

Once I understood the process my heart took to become rock-hard, I realized that I cannot soften it through will-power. That’s what prayer is for. Only prayer and repentance can undo the damage.

In the last year, some political and spiritual leaders – even some Christian ones – have implied that praying is basically doing nothing. But these skeptics are blinded to the supernatural power found in prayer.

Prayer acknowledges our helplessness. It is a concession that despite all of our supposed knowledge, we cannot fix our problems but can only present them to a good and holy God and ask for his help.

Prayer includes our confession. It is an admission that we are—I am—responsible for breaking this world, which God created as good, and it forces us to see things through God’s eyes instead of our own.

Prayer restores our unity. It is an affirmation that I am not apart from the world God created; instead I am involved in it, both as part of the problem and as a living reflection of grace. And I definitely can’t reflect grace if my heart is hard.

Every heart must be broken. God can get us there in infinite ways—some very forceful and painful. However, having experienced some of those other ways, I do not recommend them. I think prayer is God’s preferred method.

Because becoming like Jesus requires that our hearts break over the world, seeing it the way he saw Jerusalem.

This is the world he died for.

This is the world he loves.

This is the world he invites me to love as he loves.

And that invitation to love starts with prayer.

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Why I am already giving up on 2016

20130704-defeat-chess1When things are beyond our control, we tend to “give up” in one of two ways. The first way, which does little good, is to appear to give up by saying, “I’m done” – and throwing up our hands in disgust. The second way, which I recommend, is to truly give up.

Let me explain.

In 2015, I tried the first way.

I immersed myself in the news, trying to get my mind around the emerging crises of city riots, global terrorism, leadership vacuums, and the uneasy feeling that we may be headed toward another world war.

I couldn’t discuss these issues on social media, because the response there is always character assassination from angry people with pat answers which they (wrongly) believe will solve everything. So I internalized my concerns and frustrations. But that choice led to worry and despair. Many nights I couldn’t sleep because my mind raced with headlines, talking heads, and complete nonsense I had heard during the day.

Finally, I defiantly told the world (well, at least, my little world): “I’m done.” Done with the chaos that appeared to multiply with each passing day. Done with not being told the truth, or being told that the truth doesn’t matter. Done with the idiocy of social media. And definitely done with elections –all of the posturing, defending, promising, accusing, and denying.


I threw up my hands, gave the world the finger, and plunged my head into the sand. I chose ignorance over awareness. I pretended that since I couldn’t see or hear all the madness, it had disappeared.

On the surface, this approach had some merit: it gave me a moment of peace.

Unfortunately, though, the harder we try to ignore something, the more we think about it. Announcing “I’m done!” can never change the soul. Inside, I was still as uptight and stressed as ever.

So my moment of peace was an illusion, because it never healed my inner turmoil. It didn’t eliminate my frustration and anxiety, or their cause; it only drove them underground. My mouth said, “I’m done” – but my heart continued to pump vinegar. The fire – the fight – was still there. I was just denying the problem, yelling, “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!” with my ears covered – and then washing my hands of the whole situation.

But in doing so, like Pontius Pilate, I missed the Truth himself – standing right in front of me.

I realized that, despite every attempt to withdraw and hide, I was still overwhelmed by the vitriol, the violence, the threat of war, the lack of direction, the uncertainty in the world. No matter what I did, I could not escape the insanity all around me.

At about that time, 2015 ended and 2016 began.

So I decided that in the new year, I would work on trying the second approach: truly giving up.

I would quit fighting. Raise the white flag. Tap out. Accept my total helplessness to affect world events. Understand that the issues before us have no simple solutions, no easy answers.

Truly giving up doesn’t mean washing my hands of the whole mess, but rather admitting it’s out of my hands. Embracing my inability to fix things. Acknowledging that there may be no earthly solutions at all.

3985490626_4ece1bf58aTruly giving up may seem like a hopeless response – but it is not, because it shifts my focus back to the Creator of the universe. And staying focused on him is the most hopeful response there is.

Since 2008, when “hope” was used as a campaign slogan, the word has lost its power. Just as in every other election, we placed hope in a finite man who made many promises, but things didn’t get better. In fact, one could argue that they’ve gotten worse. And now we have a new batch of candidates stepping up to the plate, again asking us to place our hope in them.

But by truly giving up, I am choosing to place my hope in God, who is far bigger than any candidate or cause.

When I do that, my peace returns. When I focus on Jesus, the Prince of Peace, I find peace that can’t be quashed by parliamentary procedures, executive orders, or judicial override. Peace that can’t be won or lost in an election. Peace that can’t be stomped out by terrorism.

Then I don’t have to work so hard to ignore all of the unraveling going on around me. I don’t have to fret, stress, or worry over it. Instead, I can give it up to a Creator who thoroughly understands every problem – and holds every solution.

And he is GOOD.

So that is why I choose to give up on 2016.

In other words: surrender.

Take it, Savior. It’s all yours.



Is Daniel an exception to the “loser” rule?

It was a great question from someone on Facebook.

In my book, Losers Like Us, I illustrated how – excluding Jesus – everyone in the Bible had faults and sins just like ours, and therefore they were all losers like us.

Then came that Facebook question: What about Daniel? Was he an exception?

I had to think about that one.

Daniel_in_the_lions_den_by_Wincent_Leopold_SlendzinskiThe book of Daniel is set during Israel’s captivity in Babylon (in the 500s BC)—yet it mentions elements of Greek culture which did not exist at that time, and it is written partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic (a later language). For these and other reasons, many scholars believe that someone else wrote Daniel’s story long after his death, just as Moses wrote the patriarchs’ stories long after their deaths. Also, some scholars believe Daniel was not a real person and the book of Daniel is just an allegory which was written to encourage the Jews, perhaps during the oppressive reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV (about 165 BC).

I can’t say exactly when or by whom the book was written, but I do believe Daniel was a real person because Jesus calls him “the prophet Daniel” (Matthew 24:15).

From the beginning, Scripture presents Daniel as a man of great character, and never accuses him of a single flaw. As a captive in Babylon, he walks a fine line: with great humility he submits to his captors, yet with great courage he refuses to obey their pagan demands. When Darius, the Babylonian king, decrees that those who pray to anyone other than him will be fed to the lions (Daniel 6:7-9), Daniel continues praying to Yahweh every day, in front of his window, just as he always has (a respectful “neener neener”). His trust in God is complete. And when he is thrown to the lions, God shuts their mouths (Daniel 6:22) to save his life.

With a bio like that, it’s hard to find fault with Daniel. So the question about whether he still qualifies as a loser gave me pause.

Yet I conclude that, yes, Daniel was a loser. I say this not because I feel superior to, or critical of, Daniel – but because he was human, and therefore a loser in the sense of being a sinner. Thus he is not an exception to the rule.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog (2015/06/17), “Can we be sinners but not losers?”, only Jesus lived a sinless life; all the rest of us, including Daniel, have been sinners and therefore losers. And as long as we live on this earth, sin is with us even though we have received grace and salvation (I John 1:5-10).

But there is another, more personal indication that Daniel was a sinner / loser: his response to the presence of holiness.

In Daniel 10, a man appears before Daniel. But this is no ordinary man. This man is ablaze with fire, shining like polished brass or bronze (v. 5)—just like the man seen by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:27) and John (Revelation 1:13-17). John identifies this man as the risen Christ (Revelation 1:11, 13, 17).

Yet Daniel, Ezekiel, and John all respond to this man in the same way: they fall to the ground (Dan. 10:9, Ezekiel 1:28, Rev. 1:17).


Because unholiness cannot coexist with holiness – just as darkness cannot coexist with light. In the presence of God’s perfect holiness, I believe Daniel falls to the ground because of his own sins and impurities, even though they are not specified by name.

Yet Daniel lived a life full of faith and power, whether he was defying a maniacal king or facing down a den of hungry lions. He was both a sinner and a saint—at the same time.

All of us, including Daniel, are sinners and therefore losers. Only when we acknowledge our guilt and brokenness can we begin to understand the healing power and significance of grace.

As the life of Daniel shows us, following Jesus is not about totally conquering all imperfection, all of the time; instead, it is about surrendering our imperfection to God, while he builds his kingdom in the middle of it.


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Three words only the smartest people can say

Current events can be hard on one’s mental health. Reports of terrorism, racism, and other insanities flash across our TV and computer screens faster than we can follow. We’re only a decade and a half into the twenty-first century, yet already so much has changed that we hardly know how to make sense of it.

But it doesn’t matter; we don’t have to think for ourselves because there are others to do that for us. For every headline in traditional and online media, there is an endless parade of experts proclaiming an endless parade of sure-fire solutions.

Some of these people are really smart.

But the more I read, watch, and listen to them, the more I believe this: if their confident solutions were given the free rein they desire, the crises would not be solved but in fact could be made worse.

Cynical? Perhaps.

Still, it got me thinking: why do so many of us listen to them?

I think our hunger for such content goes deeper than simply seeking support for positions we hold dear. I think it’s because, dating all the way back to the Enlightenment (~1600s–1700s), our western society has put more and more trust in human reason and effort until we’ve come to believe we can fix virtually every problem. Over time, this belief has led to increased research and knowledge and, in turn, more and more people claiming with certainty that they have the answers to every ill: Solution A will end this problem; Solution B will end that one.

Yet hardly anyone among them—or among us, their listeners—ever says, “I don’t know.”

Would that be the worst thing anyone could say? Why are we so afraid to say it?

I think it’s because doing so is admitting we have limited knowledge and power—an admission which flies in the face of our “can-do” American humanism. Even our Christian culture claims that we can do all things “through him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13), as if that verse were about our own achievement and not about Jesus. We desperately fight appearing ignorant or helpless by offering an opinion on every subject, even if we truly don’t know anything about it.

Our national motto seems to be: Better to say something stupid with certainty than to say nothing at all.

Yet this attitude runs counter to God’s ancient wisdom, which states, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Proverbs 17:28). This proverb contains a truth so deep and enduring that it’s been reworded many times since; one paraphrase is, “Better to shut your mouth and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”*

Indeed, it takes great courage and wisdom to say, “I don’t know” and really mean it. For public personalities, doing so surely would be the end of their interview invitations from the media – but such a refreshing change to the rest of us.

The more I thought about this rhetorical device of admitting we don’t know, the more I began see its merits.

It’s disarming. In the marketplace of media attention, a quick, strident “rush to judgment” tends to get more reactions – and ratings – than a slower response which has been thoughtfully considered and verified. This reality encourages media personalities and their guests to react to each situation more quickly and stridently than to the last one, even before any facts are known. Such reactions can spill over into the general populace and stir up conflicts among neighbors, coworkers, close relatives, and members of the body of Christ, often based on speculation rather than truth.

However, saying “I don’t know” tends to defuse tension, nip quibble-matches in the bud, and open up more honest and meaningful discussions about the issue at hand.

It’s authentic. We invest much time and energy in trying to present our best faces to the world. We put on masks (in social media, these masks are called “profiles”) and try to sound intelligent, insightful, and confident. We don’t actually have to be these things; appearance is good enough.

But saying “I don’t know” rips off the mask. It indicates that our own views probably have no more merit than anyone else’s, and invites others to express their views in return. It takes the focus off of the self and affirms the old saying that the more we learn, the more we see how much we still don’t know.

It’s vulnerable. Human reason and scientific inquiry are just as fallible as anything else: although they can and do greatly increase knowledge, they still can’t unlock every last secret of the universe. Try as we might, as long as we are on this earth we will never fully understand the mind of God (Isaiah 55:7-8), nor will we ever solve all of the heart-breaking problems in the world. The root source of these problems is sin, and the only solution is the one who has conquered sin.

So saying “I don’t know” is a reminder of our smallness, our need for God—individually, culturally, and globally. It takes vulnerability to admit that we still can’t fix everything; we still don’t know it all.

So what should Christians do? Should we say “I don’t know” in the sense that we abdicate from the public forum altogether?

Well, not necessarily. Especially if we feel a specific leading to do so, I think it’s good to be informed about, and involved in, what is happening around us—seeking God’s wisdom as diligently as possible, and sharing his grace in any way we can.

But even more, it’s critical to remember that Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36, NIV). We are citizens not of earth but of heaven, and eventually any wisdom we espouse will fade in the light of his truth.

Therefore, I suggest admitting, to God and to each other: “I don’t know.” Because we really don’t. We may know how to do some good, but we don’t know how to permanently end racism, terrorism, or poverty. We don’t know how to stop all violence and evil. We don’t know how to heal a broken world.

Only God does.

I’m not saying we should give up on trying to solve problems, nor am I saying every attempt to take action is always wrong.

I’m only saying that before we do anything else, our very first step should be to fall on our knees and pray, “I don’t know” – a step we should repeat frequently, even if (and especially if) we try to take any specific actions to help.

This three-word prayer is by far the wisest, most effective first response to every problem—because it opens us up to God’s wisdom instead of our own.

That’s why it’s three words only the smartest people can say.


* This sentiment is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain. However, according to, the first documented variation of it appeared in 1907, “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer, page 29, Moffat, Yard & Company, New York (“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it”), while other attributions of similar sayings – including those naming Lincoln or Twain as the original source – lack substantive documentation

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Embracing surrender

surrenderDo you know that old song, “I Surrender All”?

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give.
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my precious Savior,
I surrender all.

As Lent comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “surrender,” and what it means to truly surrender my life to Jesus.

More accurately, I have been trying hard not to think about it.

But the harder I try to ignore it, the louder it repeats in my head: surrender.

What does it mean to surrender? The dictionary says “surrender” means “give up.” But give up what?

I think surrender means giving up three things: pride, freedom, and control—even control over one’s own life.

In military terms, surrender can be an act of cowardice. For dedicated soldiers on mission, surrender is not an option—because it means the loss of those three things, and also possible death to the physical body.

jesus holding up a manIn spiritual terms, however, surrender can be an act of trust. For dedicated Christians on mission, surrender is the only option—precisely because it does mean the loss of those three things, and also certain death—in this case, to the sin nature.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I am great at the act of surrender. I surrender to worry. I surrender to anxiety. I surrender to my flesh, my ego, and my emotions.

In fact, I can surrender to almost anything except God.

But look at Jesus. According to Scripture, on the last night before his death he does nothing but surrender.

First, on his last night with the disciples, he kneels to wash their stinky feet (John 13). It’s mind-blowing—the Creator of the universe, disrobing and performing the lowliest, filthiest act of service.

110631988Next, he surrenders his freedom. Facing arrest, torture, and execution, he prays in agony for another solution, even sweating drops of blood through his skin (Luke 22:44). Yet he ends with: “…not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39, 42). As I’ve tried to make that my daily prayer, I’ve found that almost immediately I start adding qualifiers: “Your will be done, Lord – but I would really appreciate it if you would…” Giving up one’s freedom to the will of God can be much, much harder than it looks.

Finally, Jesus surrenders control. Without resisting, he allows himself to be taken captive and subjected to a series of impromptu trials, a brutal flogging, and death on a cross.

That ugly, blood-stained, wooden behemoth of a cross.

In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul quotes a first-century hymn describing this voluntary transition from glory to servanthood:

[Jesus], being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Jesus’ surrender to crucifixion forces me to rethink my own issues with surrender. He gave up everything to win the battle against sin and death. Sometimes I can barely win the battle against a Snickers bar. Oddly, I’m willing to surrender to Jesus for salvation, but not for the daily details of my life. For that, I surrender only part.

Jesus alone surrendered all.

So what can we do to move toward surrender? Here is what I think, and try to do – better on some days than others.


  • Understand the reasons behind the resistance. Instead of just confessing areas of known resistance, go deeper and examine what drives them. For instance, since publishing my first book I worry about whether people will like it or buy it, and whether I have any more good ideas in me. These are areas over which I have little control—yet I still worry. So I have to ask, what exactly do I fear? I admit I fear failure—but exactly what kind? Or maybe I’m afraid God will leave me stranded—but in what specific ways? Am I afraid I might end up alone and in poverty, or what? I think we should examine and question each worry and fear to find its driving motivation, because I believe those underlying motivations are where Jesus wants to set us free.
  • Focus on the cross. Our struggle to surrender to Jesus is one of the very reasons he was nailed to that cross. It always happens: five minutes after I say, “Yes, Lord, I surrender,” something comes along that causes worry. And then I surrender to that, instead of to God. I give in to my anxiety. But the cross is for everything—our yielded parts, and our unyielded parts too. If we don’t get that, we will beat ourselves up every single time we fail to surrender. Without the cross, we might as well quit before we blow it again.
  • Remember that the initial surrender to Christ is a good enough start. If you are a Christian, you have said “yes” to Jesus Christ. That is a huge start, and it is a big deal—even if you, like me, tend to keep worrying and trying to control the uncontrollable. Once we’ve said “yes” to the cross, Jesus graciously keeps working with us in each problem area of surrender, no matter how much we resist.

Victory - Surrendering to the cross of JesusThe thought of deeper surrender to Jesus has really been a battle within me during this season of Lent. But I think the fact that I can’t get it out of my mind is proof that it’s an area Jesus wants to enter.

In fact, the above passage from Philippians ends with this promise that he himself will help me to obey:

“Therefore, my dear friends…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

So once again, I look to the cross this Holy Week and nail my struggle onto its blood-stained wood. Today, I am surrendering everything I can. Tomorrow, he’ll invite me to go deeper and then, as scripture promises, help me to follow.

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