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Jerry Falwell, Jr., Donald Trump, and the Crisis at Liberty University*

January 29, 2016

*Note: title may be designed to ignite people’s fondness for negativity /controversy.

I was hosted this past Wednesday by the incredible David Nasser at Liberty University for what he called a “One Day Revival.”

Liberty 1

I was privileged to stand in front of nearly 12,000 students and proclaim, “Revival Part 1: Seeing God for Who He Is” from Isaiah 6. More than half the students returned for the voluntary evening session, “Revival Part 2: Seeing Myself for Who I Am,” a truly incredible day—more on that in a minute.

Let me just say, what God is doing at Liberty University is absolutely mind boggling. What must be more than $500 million of buildings under construction, with a similar amount completed since my last campus visit three years ago—just a massive wow—with 3,600 freshman alone and nearly 10x the applicants for each of those spots. The quality of the vision, the incredible favor of God upon all they are trying to build and be . . . just astounding. But then this, as I made my way to Liberty, the announcement rolled out that Jerry Falwell, Jr., had endorsed Donald Trump for president, and the internet was blowing up with a plethora of opinions on that decision.

As a pastor, I don’t endorse candidates. Last week, I spoke at a caucus event for Dr. Ben Carson in Sioux City, Iowa, but I was very clear before accepting the invitation that my speech would be biblical, direct, and non-partisan. See if you think I hit the mark. My point is that I don’t think pastors should be endorsing any particular candidate, so they don’t alienate the members of the congregation who see these non-eternal issues differently. Further, I don’t believe ‘who a Christian should vote for’ is nearly as obvious or simple as some of us try to make it. Read More

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Preachers, a President, and the Damage Done By Equivocation

December 08, 2015


For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? (NKJV)

Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? (NIV)

The context of this wonderful verse from 1 Corinthians 14:8 is the spiritual gift of tongues. Whatever you may believe about that personally, the passage is clearly stating that words spoken with understanding will always be more powerful than words that carry no understanding. Read More

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A Compelling State of Affairs

December 03, 2015

Leaders don’t spend a lot of time on things that are going well. Leaders look for underutilized resources, for new talent. They are constantly on the search for what could improve—and into that, they are speaking a compelling state of affairs.

The subject of leadership is so massive in importance, we dedicated two days this week to training our pastors, staff leaders, and future church planters in an offsite Leadership Bootcamp. Here is a clip from the close of our first session, which illustrates the point above. I hope you find it helpful. Read More

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Happy Birthday, Luke

November 22, 2015

Today our oldest son, Luke, turns 30 years old. Happy Birthday!

Dear Luke:
I remember the first time I heard you sing — of course, we had sung kids’ songs together many times, but you were really singing . . . In was the summer of 1998 on family vacation, and you were in the back seat belting out the words to Chris Rice’s “Deep Enough to Dream.” Everyone stopped singing to hear the wonderful voice God had given this adolescent, and we all marveled.

James_LukeOn your 30th birthday, I want to talk about the deep, unspoken dreams that I have had for you. Now having three amazing sons of your own, you are in a better position to understand the dreams I have had for my firstborn son. In and around all the laughter, teasing, and immense fun we have together, my dream for you has only been for you to worship God sincerely, love our family loyally, and stand with me personally.

I really must praise the Lord that you continue to surpass my dream for you in each of these. Your passion for worship appeared while you were in high school, first fiddling with a guitar on Monday night dinners when Andi came over. The voice and guitar were put to great use for many unseen years in children’s church and youth group, refining your heart and preparing you to stand before His church. It has been awesome to see the Lord grow you beyond worship leader, to leader of worship leaders, visionary and tireless servant for Vertical Church Band, and cheerleader for other worship leaders across our fellowship of churches and beyond. Your mother cried tears of joy as she read the book your amazing wife Kristen put together from friends, coworkers, and neighbors who have been impacted by your testimony of faith — you truly love God “with a pure heart and sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

I don’t see how you could be more loyal to our family. In the toughest of times, with cancer, crisis, or catastrophe, in every season you have been faithful to your siblings and your parents, and our extended family on both sides. Read More

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Unapologetic Preaching and Raising Your Voice

October 30, 2015

“And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power…” (1 Corinthians 2:4).

Preaching—true biblical preaching, heralding the message as Scripture commands—is becoming less and less common as the anti-authority, “God is my life coach” spirit of the age becomes more and more common. Read More

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A Shot in the Arm (and 5 Other Things)

October 15, 2015

Time to freshen up the blog, as we bring our busy fall ministry launch season to a close. Here are just a few touch points, to connect my heart with yours and get current . . .

Love, love, love the men who have come with their families for several months of training, before they launch out to plant the churches that will take this wonderful missions effort beyond the 150-churches mark, worldwide. These guys are so hungry, and I had maybe the best time ever up at Camp Harvest with them and our pastors a few weeks ago, concentrating our preaching training into a two-day period.

1 Camp

Very excited about the upcoming Harvest University starting Sunday night, and the first-ever Harvest U outside Chicago, on October 25-28, near Toronto with our Canadian Harvest Bible Fellowship partners. The purpose of this event is to connect our wider church family around the world with the principles of Vertical Church. We offer impactful worship/preaching sessions, as well as very practical ministry training workshops.


“The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” is our church’s soon to be released feature-length film. It was recently screened in L.A. by the film’s producers and received great reviews. This motion picture, set to release nationwide in 2016, will be exclusively previewed each night of Harvest University. It is not the typical Christian film, as it’s targeted to impact Christians and non-Christians alike. The movie’s premise is a child star turned bad boy in adulthood, who is forced to do community service in a church to avoid jail time. His introduction to the subculture of evangelicalism is awkward, hilarious and, ultimately, life changing. Please pray with us about this exciting outreach.


I interrupted the fall preaching schedule with a two-part series called Signs of the Times in the New York Times. I had been so burdened by the encroaching darkness of our current moral climate that I wanted to bring some understanding to our people about how such decline is predicted in Scripture. We studied, in Mark 13, the ten things Jesus said would precede His return with the goal of raising our sense of personal urgency in the Lord’s work. (Watch “Signs of the Times in the New York Times, Part 2”.) I know that abuse of prophecy passages has made it popular to to shy away from such teaching, but I think it really helped our people process some of the massive cultural shifts we all have been seeing.

I recently came across this spoken word piece in my wife’s Facebook feed and was so proud of our Tara Stutes, who committed it to memory and shared on one of our campuses with great impact.


I have cut back on my travel by more than 90% and can honestly say I only wish I had done it sooner. I have been consciously saying “no” to things I know will drain me and de-prioritize our own church family—and frequently saying a glad “yes” to stuff that had gotten crowded out. I have loved preaching on Wednesday nights at our Rolling Meadows Campus, then remaining in the area with Kathy so I can lead a Thursday morning small group for about 20 young leaders on the same campus. Soon, I will have done this for 10 straight weeks (unthinkable by my 2012 travel standards), and I am so grateful. This discipline of personal discipleship has been so integral in my own growth as a believer, I can’t believe I ever let the demands of ministry draw me away from this personal priority.

photo 2 SG
– Photo cred to Pastor Dave Learned, who co-leads the group

Let’s be “unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Your brother in Jesus,

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