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The Way Home: James Merritt on why character matters in leadership

Dr. James Merritt joins me to talk about character, leadership, pastoring, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Merritt is pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga. He is the host of broadcast ministry, Touching Lives. This episode of The Way Home is sponsored by our friends at The Good Book Company, publisher of Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John Lennox. Show Notes Book: Character Still Counts: It Is Time to Restore Our Lasting Values Website: crosspointechurch.com and touchinglives.org Twitter: @drjamesmerritt and @touchinglivestv

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The Way Home: Justin Lonas and Jerilyn Sanders on COVID-19 and the economy

Justin Lonas and Jerilyn Sanders join me for a bonus episode of The Way Home. On Tuesdays we will be releasing episodes focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week was with with Jared Wilson on pastoring and encouragement during COVID-19.  Justin and Jerilyn help us think through COVID-19 and the economy. Jerilyn serves as the Director of U.S. Programs for The Chalmers Center. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Biola University and an Ed.M. from Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her position at Chalmers synthesizes several things: love for people, passion for training that empowers disenfranchised people, and a desire…

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Remembering the working poor in the time of Coronavirus

They have been the invisible people as I’ve moved around in my career: The people who have assembled and shipped my laptops, the factory workers who print, box, and ship my books, the Uber drivers who take me to meetings and speaking engagements, the flight attendants and baggage carriers who get me to my destinations, the waiters and waitresses, hotel workers who make my travel comfortable and seamless, the baristas who fill my cup every time I text someone and say: “Want to grab coffee?” For all of my career — over 20 years — I’ve had a job in…

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How to Find Peace in a Pandemic

I am, by nature, optimistic. Ask the people who know me best, and they’d all agree I tend to find the sunniest take on nearly everything, almost to the point of annoyance. But in this strange, uncertain season we are experiencing as the coronavirus ravages our communities and countries, I have been gripped, at various times, by palpable terror. One night in particular, I read a dire, worst-case scenario projection right before I went to bed and found I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and prayed all night, unable to find peace. Academically, I know all the reassurances I’ve…

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Honor Thy Father and Mother: Why Elderly Populations Have Value

All life is created in the image of God and worth our greatest efforts to preserve and protect, and He alone is the one who should order the length of our days. — Joni Erickson Tada When I pastored my first church, I was not yet thirty. The church was full of people much older than me. Scripture, of course, is chock full of instruction for young pastors and their respect for their more senior brothers and sisters in Christ, but I experienced this fully during my six years at that church. I sat at bedsides, reading Scripture and praying…

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How to Fight “Christian”

My pastor has a saying he repeats often. “This isn’t a 10,” he says, meaning that the issue we are discussing might be important but not ultimate. It’s a practice he’s taught me to use in my relationships—with my wife, my children, and my coworkers—in order to reduce friction. I don’t know that this is specifically what Paul had in mind when he was writing his epistles to Timothy and Titus. But in what many scholars believe are his final written words to the church, the apostle urges a healthy tension between courageous steadfastness on doctrine and a gentleness of…

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5 Misconceptions About Sin

Sin is not a word many people today use out loud. It’s rather uncool to call a particular attitude or choice a “sin.” For many it brings up scary images of angry preachers pointing bony fingers at people. But the Bible talks a lot about sin. So Christians who care about following Jesus and obeying His Word should understand what sin is. The good news for sinners—all of us—is that the gospel doesn’t just point out what is wrong with us and call it sin; it also points us to the One who came to bear the punishment for our…

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Are you slow to tweet?

“Be careful” was the cryptic text I received from a respected Christian leader and a close friend after a series of politically charged tweets I posted online in 2016. “I think most people agree with you, but you need to watch the way you tweet things. You could offend some people.” He was right. So I took it down. I hope I’ve learned a few things since then. My moments of incivility online (there have been more than one) underscore how easy it is to let our thumbs engage before our minds have caught up, to allow the passions of…

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For the Dignity of All

Not long ago I was speaking in Washington, D.C., at an event on human dignity and brought my daughter, who’d just turned 13. When the event was over, we had a few days to take in the nation’s capital. I wanted Grace to see as much as we could fit in, so I kept us on a pretty tight schedule. Then one day, as we were walking to the Washington Monument, we passed a veteran—homeless and holding a crude sign asking for money. We rushed by, but a few steps later my daughter stopped and said, “Dad, we should help…

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Halfway There

Just get ready,” a colleague whispered to me during a birthday party at work. “40 is great. 41 is … Well, you’ll see.” I brushed it off with a laugh. Turning 40 struck me as an accomplishment. Four decades appeared to be the perfect age—old enough not to be foolish and young enough to still have energy and ideas and a career that seems upwardly mobile. Whenever I read the profiles of young leaders, they seem to be in their 40s. Right? I’d always dismissed the idea of a midlife crisis—guys snapping and buying a Mustang, leaving their families, and…

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Three Things You Should Cut From Your Writing

If you want to improve your writing craft, cutting precious words might be the most important discipline you learn. You want to write in such a way that the experience for the reader is enjoyable. You don’t want to make them work so hard they give up after the first paragraph. So after you’ve written, give yourself some time and space and then come back and use your scalpel to cut.

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A New Newsletter: One Little Word

I started a weekly newsletter. This will be a bit different every week. Sometimes some humor. Sometimes an excerpt of something I’m reading. Sometimes a fresh idea or some tips on writing. You can sign up here.  

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Don’t Swing for the Fences

For a lifelong Cubs fan, there was hardly a more thrilling player than Sammy Sosa. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that he played during the scandal-plagued steroid era. At the time, I was a giddy baseball fan, tuning into WGN to hear every thrilling at bat in 1998, when Sosa and Mark McGuire competed for the home run title. Sammy’s home runs were the stuff of legend and made tuning into a baseball game on a Saturday afternoon a community event. I still hear the dulcet tones of Pat Hughes in my head, “There’s a drive, deep…

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Embracing My Less than Spectacular Church

For nearly nine years I was on senior staff at one of the largest evangelical churches in the suburbs of Chicago. We were highly organized, and prided ourselves on excellence in all of our ministry outreaches. My drive to work every day was about 30 minutes, a commute that took me past many small churches, churches I then considered insignificant. As their tiny, sometimes run-down buildings sailed by, I would think, What’s the point of these churches? Is anything even happening there? Turns out God had a way of shaking me loose of my mega church arrogance. In a poetic…

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The Power of an Average Mentor

It was an inauspicious meeting, really. It took place in the corner booth at a Burger King. He, in his early 70s, a veteran pastor and church leader. Me, a young Bible college graduate and soon-to-be pastor. I was serving as a volunteer youth pastor at a struggling church in the Chicago suburbs and he was the interim, brought in to stabilize the congregation during a period of turmoil and decline. I wasn’t really sure why I called Bill and asked for a meeting. I told my wife it was simply to “get on the same page” with the senior…

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Abortion Meets a New Generation

As evangelicals who came of age during the culture wars, we’re part of a generation ready to move past the pitched left-right debates. The critiques of Christian political activism have held some merit: A hyper-focus on elections, voter guides, and strategy has often buried the gospel story. Sometimes following Christ has strangely looked like following an elephant or a donkey. We need the hope, optimism, and willingness of a new generation of evangelicals to get dirty serving the poor, fighting for justice, and eschewing party labels. Their wide-eyed engagement has awakened new interest in bipartisan horrors such as human trafficking,…

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The Church That Saved Me

When a church looks for a pastor, in most cases, it is looking for a leader who can revive its witness and vitality in the community. So I supposed Gages Lake Bible Church, a small, struggling church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, was looking for a human savior. And while we had some successes in the five years I pastored there—increased attendance, major structural changes, renewed vision, and leadership health—it wasn’t me who saved the church. It was the church that saved me. Of course I should begin with the usual Christian caveats. Yes, I realize churches don’t save…

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How Did Jesus View the Bible?

When I pastored my small, theologically conservative church, I could safely assume the people sitting in the pews on Sunday morning to hear me preach believed that the Bible they held in their hands was God’s Word. But what exactly does that mean? Enter Pastor Kevin DeYoung. His book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway, 2014) doesn’t break any new ground in the debates over inerrancy. Coming in at just under 140 pages, this is a quick and easy read. But that’s just the point.…

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Behold Your Mother

“Yeah, well, we’re leaving tomorrow for vacation.” This was the stunning response I received from the adult daughter of an ill and elderly church member when I called to let them know her father was in the hospital, hanging on to life. I wish I could say this was a rare exception, but I’d be lying. When I pastored a mostly elderly congregation, I was shocked at the cavalier attitude of their Christian children. These were otherwise professing, faithful, generous believers who, nonetheless, seemed dismissive about their parents. I’m not referring to the very difficult decision many face of whether…

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The Worst Ministry Advice I Ever Received

“Son,” the pastor whispered to me as he put his hand on my shoulder, “You need to listen up to what I’m about to tell you, because it will be the key to your ministry success.” I leaned in, eager to hear this crucial insight. “Don’t become friends with anyone in your congregation.” This pastor was only a few years older than me, but he’d grown up in a pastor’s home. He was scarred from the abuse he’d seen his father suffer and from his own experiences in ministry. To be fair, his advice did contain some bits of wisdom.…

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