The Churchmare Before Christmas

It was the night before Christmas, when up at the church,
the preacher had arrived for a midnight search.

In his office among all the books and the notes,
he’d stashed his old sermons in some small plastic totes.

Christmas Sunday was tomorrow, it was almost here,
and the preacher was taken by that preacherly fear…

That he had no sermon for that Christmas Day,
that he had no words, and nothing special to say.

So he’d gone to the church in the middle of the night
despite the dark and the risk of frostbite,

to find and old story that he’d written a few years before…
It was about Silent Night during the First World War.

But he just couldn’t find it, in all of his files.
It wasn’t in his computer or in his office stockpiles.

Defeated and tired he looked at the clock; what would he do?
He had no sermon, and it was half past two.

And so, disappointed he sat down, in his brown leather chair,
and he bowed his head to say a desperate prayer.

But the church was dark, and it was warm and quite cozy,
and before he knew it, he was feeling a bit dozy.

As sometimes happens, when we last resort to pray,
we happen to fall asleep and wake up the next day.

And thus away he went into Never Never Land,
and lost several more hours in a way he hadn’t planned.

When he finally woke up and regained his sense,
he discovered that Sunday service was about to commence…

Everything seemed normal; the lights were all on, and all was in place.
So he just rose from his chair, and put on his best poker-face.

Then he took a look around, and he surveyed the room.
It was no longer dark and shrouded like a tomb.

It was full of brightness; it was calm and serene.
Annette and Carson had swept up the dust, and made it all clean.

There was the hand sanitizer placed by the foyer with care—
since the Spring of 2020 it was the same bottle that had been there.

The children had gone with Karlie and Kloe down the stairs,
to learn about Jesus, and to say their prayers.

Ben Jackson was there nestled, all snug in his pew,
after arriving at church early, to make good use of the loo.

But something was still missing, something was still wrong—
the thing that had made the Preacher, pry himself out of bed hours before dawn…

He had no sermon, so what would he say?
This was no ordinary service, this was on Christmas Day!

Well, Doctor Nicholas and the Wheats could tell with one look,
that the Preacher was sweating when he opened the good book.

The Nepotes, and Lunsfords, the Natale’s, and Sandy, and Alicia too,
the preacher looked at them and wondered, if they could tell… if they knew…

And what about all the others? He glanced all around,
but he was only humbled by all the smiles he found.

Mary Kay and Sarah were right where they always sat.
Vicki and Julia – across the aisle from where the Engle’s used to sit beside Pat.

At the piano was one of five people – (I didn’t know when I wrote this story)
if it was gonna be Grant, Terri, Carmen, Judy, or Lori.

Roseann was all ready to call out the first song,
as Jerry once did for the congregation to sing along.

George was smiling, with a twinkle in his eye,
I think he knew what was up, but he was too kind to ask why.

The Harpolds were there, in the second row on the right…
wondering if the Preacher was feeling alright.

They said hello, and they smiled as they usually did,
just like Karen, and the Cox’s, and Carson the kid.

Michael, Angie, and the Dickeys were all there in their pew,
as patient and faithful as Farmer Shew.

And back in the back like Ebenezer’s Stone,
sat Mr. Chet – sometimes with Kailynn, but never alone.

There was the Jukes’, and Ginni, and Jalen too,
and let’s not forget little Sylvie, the Christmas pooh.

But where was Jordan? He’d been here before…
we all missed him and his track suit of soft red velour.

But we also missed others, like old Jim Trout,
and some that were still with us, but they were out and about.

Where had they gone, what had taken them away?
Well, I don’t really know, but maybe we’ll see them again on Easter Sunday.

But, even though some were gone, new ones had come along—
little ones that to our Lord belong; they are weak, but he is strong!

There was the Methenys, and the Kelleys, and the Overpecks, and their brood—
who always came prepared with toys, and with food.

The Preacher was thankful for all of the people,
because to really have church you didn’t need a building or a steeple.

They had the main things – faith, hope, and love.
And they were thankful for all of their blessings from above.

But the time had arrived for the preacher to speak,
and with no message to give, he hung his head low, and was feeling quite bleak…

Then all of the sudden, from out in the parking lot, there arose such a clatter
that he sprang from the pulpit to see what was the matter!

Away to the window… (he didn’t fly, let’s be honest) he went slow…
This Preacher moves like a tortoise, as by now you all know.

But the sun was shining, and there was a sheen of fallen snow,
that gave the gloss of mid-day to the tombstones below.

When, what to his wondering ears did he hear?
It was Farmer Seth arriving on a brand new John-Deere!

He rushed to his pew, so lively and quick,
and right behind him, through the door came the 3rd Domenic.

But they weren’t the only ones arriving at church
causing Rhonda, and Brenda to jump aside with a lurch.

‘Here they come!’ Yelled Sue Weber, as she chuckled and smiled
at the little ones who ran up the stairs fast and wild.

Up out of the basement, like reindeer they came,
as Tim and Lori whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

Now, Cadence. Now, Leila. Now, Raegan. Now, Norah and Avery,
Tate, Jack, George, Henry, Hazel and Maizee…

But, in all the excitement, the Preacher had almost forgot
that he had no message… or so he thought…

And that’s when, without warning, he woke up and he found
that he had slipped out of his chair, and was lying on the ground.

The whole thing was a dream, thank the Lord for his mercy,
he had just fallen asleep and there was no need for controversy!

So, he picked himself up, and walked to the door,
but before he left, he looked back, and he thought once more…

How it made him feel dreary, and it made him feel bad,
but it was true; without people – this building could be really sad.

And more than that, it could sometimes be really scary—
in the dark, with the shadows, and the old cemetery.

It was the people who made this, into a place that was bright.
And without them here, even with lamps, there would be no light.

For the Lord to be here, it takes only a few.
That’s what he said, in the 18th Chapter of Matthew.

That was the message that this preacher would stress
when Christmas morning arrived in a few hours or less.

That Christ is with us, when we gather together, and invoke his name.
And it’s the Spirit that ignites, within us, a flame.

Whether it’s Christmas, or Easter, or Halloween,
or any of the other days that fall in between…

The Lord has come, he has died, he has risen again—
And all the host of heaven, has declared AMEN!

And this is the message we have all heard the same:
If we walk in His light, we are cleansed from our shame.

But if we ignore him, and decide to walk elsewhere,
The day will come; we’ll wake up, but we’ll be inside a nightmare.

And so that was the message, he’d preach on Christmas morn—
The story of Christ’s death, not just when he was born.

Then the Preacher went home, and he wrote it all down…
And he got up the next morning and he drove out of town.

He went back to the Church on that Christmas Day,
and his sermon had everything, he wanted to say.

Now, that sermon, was not the story I tell.
That message came from a much deeper well.

This poem is nothing much more than a tribute,
and I beg your pardon as I attempt to distribute…

But that is the story of just one Christmas, up on this hill.
There were many before, and there may be many still, if the Lord tarries, and if, it be His will.

You can also listen to this poem on Soundcloud:

Chapter 41 – The Empire Strikes Back

Chapter 41 – The Empire Strikes Back

Greetings from Echo Base, my fellow Earth people. In honor of Star Wars Day, I’m posting Chapter 41 of my new book – SACRED FILMS – for your reading consumption. May the 4th be with you.



The Empire Strikes Back

I was about a year and a half out from making my entrance into this world when the original Star Wars film was making its entrance into theaters during the Spring of 1977. As such, I was first introduced to the legendary saga through its second film The Empire Strikes Back that landed on the scene in 1980. Because the sequel was such a massive success it was re-released a few more times, and during one of these subsequent theater runs in November of 1982 my dad—through what can only be described in retrospect as divine inspiration—drove me to one of the small movie theaters in his home neighborhood on the south side of Indy. It was a crucial parenting move on his part, and it insured that my fledgling four-year-old brain would henceforth have all the creative fuel it would ever need to see me through the rest of my childhood and beyond. The film had a monumental impact on my development as a human being. I know that sounds quite dramatic, and maybe even a little disturbing, but there’s simply no denying it. I don’t have many clear memories left from when I was four, but I remember, most vividly, the experience of sitting in that theater and witnessing a green, two-foot-tall puppet raise a man’s spaceship out of a swamp using nothing but its mind. I had seen puppet shows at Vacation Bible School, to be sure, but all they did was talk about things I was too young to understand. Yoda, on the other hand, showed me something awesome, something powerful, something I would never forget. Even though he was only a puppet, he became real to me on that day.

That was only the very beginning of my own personal Star Wars adventure. A week or so later, I received my first action figure—a 4-inch imperial snowtrooper—as a gift from my parents. That was only a preview of the influx of Star Wars toys I was to receive a month later on Christmas morning. What followed in the next few years, with the release of the original film on television and VHS, the release of the third film Return of the Jedi in 1983, and the wave of merchandise that accompanied all of it, was a cornucopia of psychological building materials for my imagination. By the time I was ten I had the original trilogy memorized line by line. Every Christmas, birthday, and trip to the Greenwood Park Mall, saw my collection of Star Wars toys continue to grow. Mr. Rogers had taught me the basics about how to conjure up the “land of make-believe.” My Star Wars toys gave me the raw materials to actually do it. My imagination was constantly running free with new adventures that I made up in my mind, given life through massive toy battles that spread across the house, often spilling out into the backyard. Even in deep snow I would haul my figures out into the yard and re-create the Battle of Hoth in front of the whole neighborhood (who were nestled warmly in their homes and didn’t care of course). By the time I was a teenager the mythological bedrock of Star Wars, and the story that unfolds through The Empire Strikes Back in particular, had helped to shape a great deal of my view of the world. The only influences that rivaled anything close to the profound effect it had on me were the love of my parents, and their devotion to Christ, the Church, and the Bible. My parents were never the type of people to be overly critical of things, and they definitely didn’t analyze and scrutinize movies the way I do—but still, their intuition concerning what was truly good or bad was always spot on. They could sense whether something would have a positive or negative effect on us kids, and whether or not the messages we were absorbing through the movies and the shows we watched, as well as the books we read, would conflict with the truth they were instilling within us through God’s word. And they did adjust what we were exposed to according to their perceptions. They were much stricter in this way when we were really young, but as we grew older they allowed us the freedom to discern these kinds of things for ourselves. I’m grateful for their parenting skills in this regard. Many of the other kids in our church had parents who tried to teach them that anything that wasn’t produced by Christians was inherently evil and should be avoided and shunned. My parents never bought into this unfortunate fallacy. Instead, they taught me to look deeper when it came to movies, shows, books, and music. They taught me to dig for the meaning inside these things, and then to judge for myself whether something was beneficial, uplifting, and had redeeming qualities to it—or not. Instead of teaching me only what to think, they taught me how to think. And I’m continually grateful for this, especially in regards to Star Wars, and the messages it contains within its depths. Because the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how much of the Star Wars story is timeless, how much of it reflects the deeper truths of humanity, and how it depicts a spiritual realm that, through fantasy, provides a symbolic abstraction of the reality we actually live in. More on that in a bit…

When George Lucas brought the original film to life in the late 70s, no one knew it was going to be the massive success that it very quickly became. When it was clear that the film was well received and profitable, the corporate tycoons came for their piece of the action. But Lucas had the foresight to side-step their attempts to own him, and to control his decision making for the next two movies. He broke from the Hollywood machine, established his own production company, and proceeded to make The Empire Strikes Back with his own money. His deft maneuvering paid off, and the result has gone down in history as the most successful independent film ever made. We can’t fault the man for building one of the most successful brands ever, and then cashing it in for 4 billion dollars a few decades later. But, for those fans like myself noticing the differences between the Star Wars that was, and the Star Wars that is—this is the reason. Individual creativity, ingenuity, and hard work produces different results from corporate greed, political agendas, and lazy writing. If the Star Wars fan base is truly as divided now as the internet would have us believe, this is why.

Alright then… enough about all that. On to the important stuff.

The Empire Strikes Back is a powerful story. It’s not just the greatest of all the Star Wars films that have been made, and it’s not just one of the greatest epic fantasy movies ever made, but it’s one of the greatest films ever made. It takes the viewer through a vicarious journey with its heroes that has been described by psychologists, philosophers, historians, and sociologists as a “monomyth.” Many of the films I’ve written about in this book, and countless others that I haven’t written about, make use of this formula to some extent. The Empire Strikes Back is a nearly flawless depiction of it. This formula, sometimes referred to as “The Hero’s Journey,” was popularized by the late literature professor Joseph Campbell through the publications of his research. His ideas were studied, surveyed, and adapted by Lucas when he began constructing the backbone of the Star Wars myth. The main theory underlying the existence of the monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey, is that the human race, since its earliest beginnings has been telling and re-telling the same general story throughout time. This general story takes on new characteristics, produces tributaries that spin off of the main tale, and is clothed in different guises depending on what era it’s being told in, what culture is telling it, what the religious beliefs of that culture are, and where, geographically speaking, these cultures reside—but it’s still all the same story underneath its external trappings and layers. If understood correctly, that same general story (or the things about that story that are always the same across time, culture, belief, and geography) can be extrapolated and clothed in an infinite number of ways to produce “new” stories on top of the original monomyth. The result is that we end up with The Lion King, The Matrix, Robin Hood, and of course Star Wars (to name some recognizable examples). All of these stories tell the same general tale with different outward appearances. Christian writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien made use of this formula in their writings as well, but they also believed, as do I, that the common general story, or source of the one great monomyth at the heart of all stories, is the one that God has been telling since the beginning. In other words, the main story that the human race cannot help but keep trying to tell comes from the one original story that’s shared by all—the true story that has been given voice and form and finality in the word of God.

Think for a moment, about the journey that Luke Skywalker takes through A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Luke’s main goal is to answer one simple question—who am I? His search for the answer to this question leads him to discover many other things about himself, about his family, and about his environment. He learns the nature of good and evil, he learns how to cope with loss, how to recover from being wounded physically, how to recover from being wounded emotionally, what it means to sacrifice your own needs and desires for the needs and desires of those you love, how to deal with power, how to stand against injustice, and how to speak the truth. The main lessons that Luke learns in The Empire Strikes Back revolve around how to overcome temptation, and how to connect with the invisible, unseen “force” behind the creation, cohesiveness, and sustenance of the entire universe. The Force is a nebulous, undefined, impersonal deity of sorts, but it’s this vagueness that allows it to be appreciated and understood by many different kinds of people who believe in very different deities—including the Christian God that we recognize through the person of Jesus Christ. After all, we’re talking about a fictional movie narrative. It’s not meant to communicate truth to us directly, but only to provide us with a backdrop upon which we can shine our own beliefs in a neutral way. All art does this to some extent.

When Luke goes about connecting himself to the power of the Force, it requires him to develop faith and discipline. He has to learn how to see past the physical realm, and into a spiritual world that is invisible, yet ever present. This is something that Christians should be able to understand and relate to in some way. Overcoming temptation is another thing that Christians can find resonance with. For Luke Skywalker, overcoming the “dark side” requires him to face temptation in the most visceral way possible. When we catch up to him in the climax of the film he’s a broken man. He has nothing. He stands completely alone, backed onto the edge of an abyss, beaten down, maimed, and compelled to accept a truth about himself that cuts through him more painfully than Vader’s lightsaber. And the only way out is to accept Vader’s offer of power and authority and become evil in the process, or to plunge to his death and remain good. Luke’s choice to fall to his death rather than betray his conscience opens the doorway to redemption. He experiences grace in an immediate way, being rescued by his sister Leia, which enables him to extend grace and rescue his father in the next film. It’s a brilliant story of redemption.

And while I’m mentioning Leia, I should also point out that her character is proof that strong female leads can be portrayed in movies with grace, dignity, power, and intelligence—without resorting to militant feminism—and while still sharing equal screen time with the male leads. Just look at what Leia does in this movie: At the beginning, she’s running the entire Rebel base, bossing orders to the squadrons of pilots, organizing the defenses, planning the retreat, and putting herself in danger by not leaving until everyone else has gotten out of harm’s way. At the end, she’s engaged in a direct firefight with imperial troops, piloting the Millennium Falcon and rescuing Luke from certain death. Throughout the movie the Rebels are getting their rear ends handed to them the entire way, and Leia is the one holding them all together. And, just to top it all off and make my point—she does all this without sacrificing an ounce of her femininity, and while falling in love in the process. Leia’s strength and leadership are natural to the flow of the story. Everything she does makes complete sense, because her character is still serving the story that undergirds all of the characters. This is how to write a strong female character. In today’s over-politicized, movie making climate, this is becoming a lost art form. These days, it seems that people don’t know how to write strong female leads that fit within a good story. Crafting female heroes to fit the monomyth and serve a good story is entirely possible, as George Lucas and James Cameron showed us back in the 80s through the characters they wrote for Carrie Fisher and Sigourney Weaver. There are too many writers in Hollywood today that don’t understand this, and they instead alter the story to serve the female characters, functionally turn the females into men (so to speak), and then turn the men into complete morons. The male characters in the new Star Wars films are all one of four things: They’re either incompetent, evil, angry, or immature, and they all need women to show them the right way to be men. Anyway, I guess I just yearn for simpler times.

Most of these motifs, symbols, story structure, and underlying themes sailed completely over my four-year-old head that day in the theater back in 1982. I was too young to comprehend all these things. But the images and the story stuck with me. And in time, I began to understand why this movie was so important to me. It taught me truths about life; that good and evil are real, that they actually exist, that they are constantly at war, that our decisions are important, that the choices we make every day cause us to land in real places on the battlefield of life, that pride in our own abilities and knowledge can send us down a path that will corrupt even the purest of hearts, and that conversely, those who are enslaved to the darkest evils are never beyond redemption.

12 Thoughts for November 11

12 Thoughts for November 11

I was born late at night, on November 11, 1978, and it has taken me the entire 41 years since to learn these 12 things. I wish I had learned them all sooner, but at least I learned them.

1.  Do something kind for someone who can’t do anything for you—as often as possible. That’s the best way to keep yourself from turning into a jerk over the long haul.

2.  Drink more water. It’s what you’re made of, God made it for you, and where there’s water there’s life.

3.  Don’t be stingy when tipping your waiters and waitresses. They handle your food, they listen to your complaining, they’re on their feet all day, and they get paid crap. Five extra bucks is a small price to pay for letting a complete stranger know that you appreciate them.

4.  Spend more time with your parents. Talk to them, listen to them, make their lives easier if you can. They’re going to be gone one day, and you’ll wish you had done more with them.

5.  Get a dog. Keep it close to you. Their loyalty, their love, and their unwavering devotion cannot be adequately replicated by human beings, and they are remarkable testimonies of what we’re supposed to have for God.

6.  In the words of Brandon Flowers, “Smile like you mean it.” You only have so many smiles available to you. Don’t waste them.

7.  When you’re meeting someone for dinner, leave your phone in the car. You’ll survive without it for an hour or two, and nothing says, “You’re important to me,” like putting the rest of the world on hold.

8. Take Monday Morning by the gonads. If you have 6:30 AM Monday by the short and curlys, you’ve got the rest of the week too.

9.  The right girl (or guy) for you, is the person you can tell all your deepest secrets to without reservation. If you can’t be completely honest with that person, then they’re not the right person for you. If you can’t see yourself being completely honest with anyone, then you’re not the right person yet.

10.  Read or listen to the Bible from cover to cover at least once. There’s a reason why Jesus said that, “Man does not live on bread alone.” There really is nothing else like it in all the world. Also, there is more of them in print than any other book in existence, so they should never be hard to find.

11.  Be yourself, even if it’s painful, even if no one cares, and even if the whole world gets mad at you for it. There’s only one of you. God made you. He loves you EXACTLY the way you are. And no one else can do anything about that.

12. Learn when to shut up.


Candlelight 2013

Candlelight 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It was dark in the city of Indianapolis. Not in the whole city, of course…  But in the sanctuary of West Park Christian Church – All the lights were out. We were nearing the end of our annual candlelight service, and the forty of us who were in attendance were struggling to make a circle that went around the entire room—A room, that at one time, had held almost a thousand people.

But that was a hundred years ago. All the people who had built the church were asleep now – awaiting the final Great Awakening at the end of the age. In the meantime, they had left us this building.

It was a magnificent place, even now – despite the fact that parts of it were slowly crumbling into dust, and the ground underneath was making every effort to swallow it back into the earth.

The steeple still towered boldly over the tops of the houses—a beacon of light and hope that reflected nothing of the city around it. For the neighborhood where it was nestled had long since fallen into decay and ruin and this GREAT HALL which had once shined brightly for the people of the West Side was now being slowly digested and absorbed by the darkness around it. The darkness was relentless, persistent, it never slept, it only ever kept moving… it only ever kept growing… Only ever kept plotting the demise of the old church.

I suppose that was why we NEEDED these candlelight services each year. We needed to turn all the actual lights out—-for just a moment—-We needed to be immersed in tangible darkness. And we needed to watch the darkness slowly give way to the illumination of tiny flames popping up, one by one, until we could see who we were again… so we could remember who we are…  We needed this visual reminder of the responsibility that we had to, “Let our light shine..,” – As Jesus once said. I mean… after all… This is what we were taught – even as small children:


As we stood there in the candlelight of the sanctuary, someone said a prayer. Then we sang, “Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright…”  Then we blew our candles out, gathered ourselves at the door, turned the lights off, and shuffled out into the silent night.

There were three teenage boys following me to the car – the oldest in my youth group –Resident hoodlums who had grown up across the street from the church. On their better days they were the Three Wise Men… But on most days – they were more like Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

The four of us piled into the Mitsubishi.

First Stop: The Valero Gas station just a block away. It was Christmas Eve after all, and I wanted to make sure the boys had the proper amount of snacks before the long night of video game playing that was ahead of them. I had been at the church for just over year, and in that time, I had learned that an abundance of SNACKS was the KEY to Youth Ministry.

As we pulled into the station, the boys ran into the store to gather provisions while I fed and watered the mule for my long ride back to Hendricks County.

I was still thinking about the Candlelight service we had just left. Or maybe I wasn’t so much thinking about it, as much as I was feeling the effects of it. It had hit me in the gut just enough to get my attention—To let me know that there was still a purpose… Still a reason to keep these old rituals… Still a reason to gather, to remember, to sing, to pray, and to celebrate.

I needed the reminder too–

I sort of felt like I had been on auto-pilot this entire Christmas Season. It felt like Christmas was just happening on TV, and I was barely tuning in. My mom had died several months earlier, and this was our first Christmas without her. I hadn’t realized how much of my experience of Christmas had been the direct result of my mother’s unquenchable enthusiasm for the Holiday.

But I knew it now.

I was still lost in my thoughts when the boys reappeared from their treasure hunt inside the convenience store – each of them already munching away on cans of Pringles and gulping down that insidious, poisonous, diabolical, and glorious elixir – Mountain Dew.

As I finished gassing up the ride, we all piled back in so I could take them back to their homes…

And that’s when it happened.

We heard it before we saw what it was. And it took us a few seconds to realize that the horrible sound emanating from the other side of the parking lot was the sound of a woman screaming. She was screaming loudly—the kind of screaming that didn’t just indicate distress—but pain.

Then we saw her. She was running directly at us, and having covered the distance of the parking lot before we were able to comprehend what we were hearing and seeing… There she was.

She slammed her hands onto the hood of my car, begging and screaming for help. My immediate reaction was FEAR. I thought to myself – No way, lady – no way – I’m outta here—Whatever her deal was, I didn’t want to get involved. I wanted to pretend this wasn’t happening. I wanted to leave.

But I couldn’t do that

My entire job as a youth minister would be completely pointless if I did that. There were three teenage boys—Boys who saw me as a mentor—who looked to me as an example—waiting to see what I would do.

So I froze.

I was looking at the woman who was standing in front of my car, trying to decide what to do. She wasn’t that much older than me. But whatever she had been through – the world hadn’t been kind to her. It was obvious from her appearance that whatever trauma was happening to her that night had started years ago – and this was just one more stop along the train tracks of despair.

It was a very cold night, but she had no coat on, no gloves, no hat—But the worse thing was all the blood. Her entire mouth and chin were covered in it, and there was so much that it had run down her neck and soaked the front of her shirt. It was all over her hands, her arms, and the side of her face where she had been wiping away tears. She was obviously hurt, and she was desperate for help.

I was terrified.

But I put the window down and asked her what I could do? She was sobbing, and she wasn’t speaking clearly, but I was able to understand that she wanted me to drive her to her dad’s house a few miles away. I almost said no. I almost told her that I would call someone for her, or call an ambulance. But she was crying uncontrollably, and all she could say was that she wanted to go home to her dad.

So I told the boy riding shotgun to move to the back…. And I told the woman to get in.

As she climbed into the passenger seat, I offered to take her to the hospital. But she said it wasn’t that bad—that it looked worse than it felt—that she had been hit harder than this before.

So I followed her directions…pulled up to the house she had pointed out, and waited a few moments until someone answered the door and she disappeared inside.

The boys in the back were silent for a few minutes after we drove away. And then one of them asked: “Why did you do that?”

I gave him the proper “YOUTH MINISTER” answer at the time… Something along the lines of, “that’s what Jesus would have done.” But the truth is, at the time, I didn’t really have a good answer. If those boys hadn’t been with me, I probably would not have helped that woman. I probably would have left her there. Who wants some strange person bleeding all over their nice clean car?

So I dropped the boys off at their homes, and then I began driving back out of the city—driving back to the safety and comfort of a home that was far away from this madness. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened that night.

And I’m still thinking about it five years later.

What was it that night, those five years ago?

What was it that filled me with so many fears?

-from a poor woman who had nothing but helplessness and tears.

These were the people that Jesus had helped.

These were the ones he pulled from the dust.

These were the ones who gave Him their trust.

That woman had scared me because her life and brokenness were all out in the open.

And the helplessness she showed on the outside

reflected something in me…

…something I didn’t want others to see.

That I was helpless too–

That my own heart was broken–

That even though my pain was much better hid–

I still needed a Savior just as much as she did.

But I had a place.

A place to run away.

A place with a wall to keep the darkness at bay.

Something to hide behind.

Something to protect.

Something that allowed me the freedom to deflect

the pain of lost people, out in the cold…

…the cries of a woman whose body had been sold.

It’s easy, so easy… to turn a blind eye,

or to judge these people with an indignant sigh.

Believe me, I know, I’ve done it many times.

I’ve acted like no one has paid for my crimes.

But someone has…

And we sing to Him here…

We sing without hunger, or coldness, or fear.

We sing for the Day when all things will be NEW.

When this darkness will pass and His light remain true.

The Light of the World

That’s the Savior we know.

The one we remember as we stand in the glow

of the candles we light, and the hope we profess,

in front of a world that knows only distress.

His name is Jesus,

and He is the same–

Yesterday, today, and forever He reigns.

And if we fail to follow His path,

To love and to serve the hurting people we find

Then it’s only because we too have grown blind.

* “For the world is sleeping in the dark…

which the Church cannot fight, if it’s asleep in the light.” *

It was dark in the city that night. Not in the whole city, of course…

In the sanctuary of the Christian Church – All the lights were on.


Merry Christmas.


*I stole this line from the late great saint–Keith Green.



CONFESSION TIME: Back in ’99 my old buddy Jake and I were District Managers for the circulation department of the Hendricks County Flyer. During the second week of that January the snow and ice moved in heavy, and made “scheduled delivery” of the Flyer (which was free I might add) utterly impossible. And when I say, utterly impossible, I mean that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker couldn’t have done it on Tauntauns. Sorry if you don’t get the Star Wars reference.williamsburg-hoth-1

But anyway, because we were lowly underlings – minions if you will – we received a pretty severe verbal lashing from the owner of the Newspaper when he passed through the back garage and noticed there were several pallets containing some 3,000 papers that had not been delivered (actual number was closer to 30,000 – he only noticed the 3,000). I think his words were something along the lines of “[Expletive]! Get these [expletive] papers [expletiving] delivered… I don’t [expletive] care how [expletive] dangerous it [expletive] is!” He really wasn’t that bad of a guy, he just liked to yell and probably drank a little too much. Whatever the case, his message was clear: get the newspapers out of the garage.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to move 30,000 papers in less than a day, but it’s not an easy thing to do, especially when the weather has intervened and severed access to most of the roads we needed to transport them. So after brainstorming for about 5-10 minutes, Jake and I conjured up a plan – an ingenious plan. We decided, that since it was impossible to navigate the deluge of ice and snow covered back roads and neighborhoods, most of which had not been cleared or plowed, we would transport the newspapers directly to the recycling factory in Indianapolis. We could load my parent’s Blazer full of papers and take them there using interstate 70 (which was clear) the whole way. We did that three times, finishing up sometime in the early morning hours.

Needless to say, we were exhausted. But we got every last one of those newspapers out of that garage.


When we arrived back at work the following morning (actually only a few hours later), and the boss saw that our garage was completely clear and empty of papers – he treated us to a grand breakfast and had one of the reporters take our picture and give us a proper salute in the following weekend edition of the Flyer. See photo above. The boss never found out what really happened. No one ever said anything. No one cared.

The moral of the story is this… or at least this is the lesson I’ve learned from it all these years later: There are good leaders, and there are bad leaders. The good ones do their best to see what’s really there, what’s really going on, to understand and make decisions based on as many facts as they can. They want the people they’re leading to grow into better people. Bad leaders, on the other hand, see what they want to see. They care about what things look like, instead of how things actually are. They want to stand on top of the people they’re leading so they can make themselves look taller.

Don’t worry too much about the bad leaders… it’s very easy to fool them. Just clean up your own garage and let them think whatever they want to think.

Christmas Hill

Christmas Hill

This is something I wrote specifically for my church. I read it to them on Christmas Day, but I also thought I would share it here.


For Dailey Chapel Christian Church

December 25, 2016

I stood silently in the entrance of the house. It was completely quiet, empty, and cold. The carpet had all been removed, the walls were bare, and the only light getting in was from the western side of the house, where the setting sun was casting its last rays through the glass of the patio doors. I glanced briefly out the bay window which looked over the backyard, overgrown and wild with what the last six months had done to it. An even layer of fallen leaves was spread over the entire yard. Only the larger rocks around the old fire pit could be seen peaking through the tops of the overgrowth. They looked like tombstones. The whole scene looked like Halloween. I shrugged it off and turned my attention back to the interior of the house.

Halloween hadn’t brought me back here – Christmas had. I returned to look for a few things that I left when moving the previous Spring – in particular, a small Christmas tree that was absent from my moving boxes. I thought perhaps it was still in the house, tucked into some corner of a back room, or nestled peacefully in one of the closets. But as I stood there in the gathering dusk, I could tell immediately that everything was gone.

The house was stripped clean. Only the stone hearth in the middle of the house looked the same. It stood resolutely, just it had for the three and a half decades that my family had lived here. The wooden pegs were still stuck into the mantelpiece – a reminder of where our Christmas stockings had hung each year. I tried to pull one out, but it wouldn’t budge. Those wooden pegs were going to stay there until Jesus came back.

And that’s when it happened. I felt something strange, as if someone else was in the house, hiding in one of the dark rooms, and waiting to sneak up behind me. I turned around slowly. Nothing. But I felt it. The Ghost of Christmas past – at least that’s what Dickens called it. It knew I was there – why I had come back. I thought I could get in and out of the house without disturbing it, but I had deluded myself. It had awoken while I was struggling to remove the wooden peg from the mantel. It didn’t feel intimidating or cause me to hurry on with what I was doing there. On the contrary, it was familiar, comfortable, and inviting. I felt drowsy all the sudden – as if the house was trying to lull me to sleep. But it wasn’t the house – it was the ghost.

I didn’t have much time. The Sun was no longer visible, it was getting dark outside, and even darker in the house. I heard the ghost whispering then, renewing its silent attack on my mind. I tried to ignore it as I moved toward the back of the house, but it overtook me in the hallway. The spell it cast over my mind was immediate. I glanced into one of the bedrooms, and I didn’t see an empty room. I saw the bunk beds that were once there, years ago, and my brother and I being startled awake by Santa Claus yelling “Ho Ho Ho!” in the doorway – my dad in his favorite disguise.

Time to leave I thought

As I went back through the house I didn’t see how empty it was. I saw how full of life it had been. With each step I was moving in and out of time – three years ago, eight years ago, 20 years ago, and further into the past. I saw Legos spread across the floor, and VCR tapes stacked on the shelf next to the television. Longaberger baskets, porcelain houses from Charles Dickens’s stories, and strands of silver tinsel where everywhere. My grandmother’s nativity scene sat meticulously arranged on the living room hutch. I saw it all as if it was happening right now. I noticed the Christmas tree standing in the corner of the living room, freshly hewn from the pine tree farm we visited the day after Thanksgiving. The presents were there, piled high around it, and the angel standing at the top. I felt the warmth of the fireplace, and I heard the Christmas music playing softly in the kitchen where my mother was busy cooking a feast – I could smell the ham and the cornbread. I could see her smiling as she worked. I heard my dad’s voice, deep and strong, and excited as he yelled something at the ballgame on TV.

I saw others there too – aunts and uncles, cousins, great grandparents and friends – some long gone, some far away in other parts of the country, or other parts of the world. I saw my sister and I laughing as we emptied our Christmas stockings onto the floor, and then carefully placing everything back into them so we could do it again after we woke mom and dad up.

I pushed it all away and kept moving.

As I reached the back door that led into the garage, I noticed something that had been overlooked when the house was scoured. A small, wooden, hand-crafted harp the same color as the door still hung there securely in its place. It had been put there by my dad sometime in the early 90s, a final reminder of all the family trips we had taken down to Brown County each December. With a bit of difficulty I removed it from its fastenings as the small chimes rang chaotically – like they were protesting their removal from the door. I tucked the harp under my arm and then walked back out into the garage, and finally emerged in the driveway. I was back in the present. I was free of the spell the ghost had tried to cast upon me, but the effects of my struggle with it would take awhile to wear off.
Before getting into my car, I glanced at the house one last time. Then I turned and looked out at the neighborhood around me. It was silent, the only thing staring back at me were the Christmas lights from the other houses.

I knew this was it. There would no longer be any reason to return here. I stood there for a moment, thinking of the months that had passed since I left the old house. Getting out of there had been like waking up out of a very dark and depressing dream. Nothing but good had come of it. In the last couple of years I was there, the house had become more like a prison than a place of safety. And yet, even now, as I stood in the driveway, in the shadow of the bones that were left, a small part of me – deep down inside, wished that I could go back. I knew that would never happen. It wasn’t a logical thought… just an emotional one that was fading away.

“I was dying for some freedom, but now I hesitate to go – I am caught between the Promise, and the things I know. But these places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned, and those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned.” *

It may seem sad, but in truth there was a great peace that settled over me as I headed west. I remembered the words of the Lord: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 NASB)

All those Christmases at home, all those memories – they were seeds that had been sewn into my life. God had used them to grow me into the person I had become. The house itself was the embodiment of all that was good, and comfortable, and safe. And to keep growing, I had to let it go – I had to let it die, so that something new could be born in its place.

I had a long drive ahead of me. I had time to think – time to remember. Christmas was a really magical time of year – when I was a child – when I had only experienced a small handful of them. But after I had a good twenty or so under my belt, it didn’t seem as special anymore. As I got older it seemed like I had to try extra hard to make it feel like it was something meaningful. In more recent years, the main things I noticed about the Christmas season, was that the lines of traffic in town were longer, people’s tempers were shorter, and I had less and less patience in dealing with both.

Bah humbug to all of that – maybe Scrooge had it right,
or maybe it was the Grinch.
Maybe both of them – were only off by an inch.
The Christmas I knew was now gone into dust.
I had no more house, no more place I could trust.
But then I remembered The Story that was old.
The one that couldn’t be lost, bought, or sold.
The story that was there for hundreds of generations –
that could not be captured inside mere decorations.
The story of the One we celebrate in our songs,
the One who made right ALL of our wrongs.
I know that story, but what does it mean?
What does it mean when the light can’t be seen?
What does it mean when the last cards have been dealt?
When the fireplace is cold, and the joy can’t be felt?
What does it mean when the shadows are taller,
than the tree you looked up at, when you were much smaller?
What does it mean when the peace you once knew –
now feels trampled and trod by those dragons you slew?
What does it mean when you’ve said goodbye so many times
that you can write about it, and make up clever rhymes?
Rhymes to cover the pain you feel,
as you wait patiently for your heart to heal?
I’ll tell you what it means, I’ll tell you today.
I’ll tell you right now, in this room far away,
from the place I knew, and once called home.
It means that we’re all of us, destined to roam –
whether it’s now, or in years yet to come,
our true home is still North – that is, North of the Sun.
But still as we wait, and we travel this earth,
or even find shelter in the land of our birth,
the Lord never leaves us, he takes us along,
and He teaches us how to sing a new song.
He’s doing it now, as He did long ago.
He is teaching us how through the people we know.
And while Christmas comes only once in a year,
and can sometimes move past us without very much cheer –
I can tell you today, as I preach in this church –
that our King never fails us, if only we search – for His truth day by day –
And Hope for His return.
And if it is for His Kingdom that our hearts truly yearn –
He will give us new friends, and new family still –
like He has with me,
on this day,
at this church,
on this hill.


*this quote is from a song called, “Painting Pictures of Egypt” by Sara Groves

My Friend Billy the Kid

My Friend Billy the Kid

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. But it’s one that I have to tell.

The last year of my life was one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I hate to make the claim that it definitely was the most difficult, but honestly speaking, it probably was. I won’t go into all the reasons why, or the details, but a year ago this very week I was in a much different place. I had been struggling to find a job for some time, sending my resume to dozens of churches all over the place. After experiencing rejection after rejection, I broke protocol and sent some e-mails directly to a couple of the ministers from different churches that had rejected me as a candidate. They were kind enough to respond. It was pretty simple really – I wasn’t married. It’s too risky these days for a church to invest in someone in their thirties who isn’t married.

Side note: this whole Christianity thing was started by a man in his thirties who wasn’t married.

But that doesn’t really matter these days, because most churches (according to my calculations) are looking to get two for the price of one. That’s just how it is. Pardon my digression. I’ve since found a wonderful church that has never brought my singleness into question at all.

The point is – a year ago I was struggling. It got pretty bad. At one point my car was even repossessed. Then my dad moved to another town about an hour away. And I found myself alone, living in the crumbling house I had grown up in, no job, almost all of my closest friends very far away, in most cases living in other states and other countries. I had never lived alone before. There were a few times where I went an entire week without seeing another human being. Toward the end of the summer I came down with a bad case of pneumonia and there were several nights where I had to sleep sitting up in a chair so that I could breathe. I had a fever for an entire month. I honestly felt like dying. I’ve never been that depressed, that broken down, that hopeless. Climbing out of that pit was a miracle. It began with a simple prayer, “Lord, help me live.” And it continued from there, one small step at a time, generous friends helping me get my car back, seeing a doctor, getting a hold on my health situation, finding a new church that accepted me almost immediately, and beginning the process of moving out of my parents’ old house – a process that didn’t end until a month ago, when I finally moved out.

During this past year, through all of my ups and downs, I had one friend who was close enough to spend time with me on a regular basis. He was from my old youth group in Indianapolis. He was the oldest of all the students I had spent time with at West Park Christian Church during the two and a half years I was there. When I first met Billy he was 15, but we connected immediately over our mutual appreciation of video game history, comic book heroes, Star Wars, and junk food. He was a great student. And he was a great helper. And in time, he became a good friend. If I was Doc Brown, he would have been Marty McFly.


A constant struggle during my time at West Park was never having enough volunteers to help with the kids, but Billy was always there, along with his younger brother Mitchell. They lived just across the street from the church, so they were always on hand to help out. There were many things I couldn’t have gotten done without either of them. Billy had just graduated from High School a year ago, and then moved in with Rob Wilkes (the senior pastor of West Park) and his wife Sue. Billy loved to hang out and watch movies, so about once or twice a month during this past year I would go pick him up. We would go to the movie theater, buy frozen pizza or rotisserie chickens from Wal-Mart, and then go back to the house to fight zombies in Call of Duty. He helped me sort through and pack away tons of stuff from my family’s old home. Every time he came to visit, I would put him to work, having him pack boxes and move stuff into the garage, or into the back of my car. He never complained. Not one time. Of course he tested my patience a few times, including an incident last September where I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke in the house. I soon discovered that Billy, who liked to stay up at all hours of the night, at some point had put tater tots into the oven and then fallen asleep in a chair while watching Dragon Ball Z or something. The house smelled like burnt tater tots for two weeks after that. But I couldn’t stay mad at the kid. Sometimes I would pick him up from where he worked at Penn Station East Coast Subs, and he would come out to the car with a huge smile on his face, along with a Philadelphia Cheesesteak and a diet Pepsi for me. He came over a couple of times in May as I was getting closer to moving out, and even though there was a ton of work to do, we still found time to watch all seven Star Wars films with online commentaries from Collider. You have to be a really special kind of nerdy geek to watch Star Wars while listening to commentaries of other people watching Star Wars… we had that in common. On Memorial Day I spent the entire afternoon and evening with Billy and his brother Mitchell – as we had done many times before, we went to the movies, and then followed up with a trip to BW3’s and Starbucks to top it all off. When I dropped them off that night, Billy gave me one of his signature smiles and told me to take care.

A couple of days later I got the call that he was gone. He had taken his own life.

I knew that he struggled with being depressed at times, but I didn’t know how deepIy it ran through him. I know that there have been a few times in my own life where I felt the darkness around me too much, and the only thing that pulled me back from the edge were those four words, “Lord, help me live.”

I don’t really know why he decided to do what he did, but I wish he knew what a good friend he was. I wish he knew how much I appreciated all his help. I wish he knew how rare it is for people to have a heart as big as his these days. I wish he knew how much we all loved him. I wish I had told him all these things. I wish a hundred other things had happened – anything that might have kept him alive. I wish most of all, I had told him how God used him to help me live.

Billy was one of the good guys.

Rest in peace brother. Thank you for being my friend.


A Brief History of the Curry House Posse

For those who are interested, the story of how the Curry House Posse developed into its present form is a tale of epic proportions that stretches across the globe and crosses the borders of three states.

For practical purposes, it all began in the Autumn of 2002 when Adam Coffman from Indiana, and Jeffery Gujjarlamudi from India crossed paths on the campus of Kentucky Christian University in the small town of Grayson in the Appalachian foothills. It was at this school that they slowly forged a friendship by sharing with each other the mutual struggles and experiences they each had endured as servants of Jesus Christ. Though they came from two vastly different worlds, they recognized in each other, the similarities that Christ had authored into their lives.

In those early days, the campus life at Kentucky Christian University was fraught with hidden perils and demonic oppression of all kinds. Thus it was that in a small corner of the guys’ dorm, Waters Hall, Jeffery and Adam began to fortify a place of refuge among the chaos and ruin that plagued the college grounds. In the midst of their work the two friends often found sustenance in that staple of college-life foods known to many as Ramen noodles. However, the pre-packaged spice packets that accompanied these sodium laden rations were ultimately unsatisfactory to Jeffery’s attuned Indian taste buds. And in a moment of divine significance, Jeffery remembered that his mother had imparted to him upon the day of departure from his homeland a small package of Indian Spices known as Garam Masala. Thus it came to pass, that sometime in the early spring of 2003 Adam and Jeffery received what can only be termed as a flash of divine insight, and combined Ramen noodles with Garam Masala and Chili Powder. And as the East met the West in that tiny pot of noodles, the gloom of their environment subsided briefly as the divine wind of change and revival blew in from the heavens.

Thus it was that an entire year went by which held many trials and adventures for the unlikely friends who labored under the darkening sky of a land lost in its own shadows. Tales of those times have been told elsewhere, but what is important to tell here, is that Jeff eventually imparted the ancient wisdom of curry-making to Adam, as it had been handed down from his parents Sam and Esther.

Eventually, now in another room of the same dorm, Jeffery brought forth a gift that had been carried to him by his parents upon a recent visit from India. This gift was a jar of Mutton Pickle, which is essentially a combination of fried pieces of lamb and tomato sauce preserved in an extremely potent mixture of heavily concentrated Indian spices. Just one small spoonful of Indian Pickle is enough to flavor an entire bowl of rice, which at this point had replaced noodles as the preferred form of carbohydrate. Jeffery would later share other jars of assorted kinds of Pickle (such as Tomato, Lime, Spinach, and Mango) that his mother had prepared for the growing number of people who began showing up to share in the food and fellowship that God had provided.

In the Spring of 2004, Jeffery and Adam met Kiel Nation, a young lad from the region of Lexington, Kentucky. During the next several months, and on into the following autumn, Kiel became the third member of the Curry House Posse which was at that time still in its infancy. It was at this time that Adam journeyed forth into the wilderness, as God had ordained that his time in the foothills of Kentucky was at an end. And so he set out for his homeland in Indiana, leaving Jeffery and Kiel to carry on the work that God had begun on the campus.

It was at this time as well that the Lord brought into their midst one Keith Doyle, a humble brother from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Keith moved into Jeffery’s room and the three brothers still left on the campus began to propel the sharing of food and fellowship to another level.

As the brothers, Kiel, Keith, and Jeffery began to meet and host more and more guys in the Waters Hall dorm; eventually the need arose to produce entire dishes of Indian cuisine. And so, in direct insubordination of school policy, the three would cook dishes of Vegetable Curry, Chicken Curry, Beef Curry, or variations of these and other ingredients each night throughout the week for whomever wished to come.

As a side note, Curry is a general term used to denote that ingredients have been cooked in a sauce of Indian spices. Common blends of Indian spices generically labeled as ‘Curry’ might contain coriander, cumin, chili powder, fennel seeds, cardamom seeds or powder, mustard seeds, turmeric, or several other variations of spices such as fenugreek, paprika, cloves, and cinnamon. Along with these spice combinations, onion, garlic, and cilantro are essential ingredients in almost every dish given the name Curry.

And for the next two years, the brothers continued the ritual of serving food in their rooms to those who came in search of food and fellowship. There were no regulations, no rules, and no expectations of any kind… only a desire to serve the Lord by serving others, and giving freely to others as Christ had freely given to them.

Engaged in many struggles these three brothers fought their way through a gauntlet of malicious principalities aligned against them. Yet through God’s provision they eventually graduated, and upon their departure from Kentucky Christian University, Keith went to live in Lexington, Kentucky, and Jeff and Kiel, now rejoined by Adam began attending Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, Ohio.

Throughout the fall of 2007, and the winter and spring of 2008, Jeff, Kiel, and Adam would voyage to the home of Gary and Janet Staats in Findlay a couple of nights a week where they would make Curry and attend the seminary. Because Dr. Staats and his wife are extremely hospitable people, they began opening up their house each Tuesday night for those at the seminary to come and enjoy the fellowship meal as well.

Alas, by the summer of 2008, the Lord had called these four brothers out of their homes in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, and directed them to reside in a house which he had provided for them on the main street of Findlay. And so it is, that these four brothers, doing only what their Lord has trained them to do over the years, continue to cook food and invite whoever happens along to join them in camaraderie.

And so, in this way, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” -Acts 2:42

Jesus Christ is God

I always look forward to those rare moments that come along where a random interaction with someone leads to a deeper discussion about something serious, or when a seemingly inconsequential series of events culminates into something that is extremely important, or when something that seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things, becomes the prelude to something with fundamental purpose.

I experienced one of these occasions this past weekend when I went to my cousin’s high school graduation party. After I walked in and helped myself to a fine brunch buffet, I sat down in the living room to chat with my older sister and my dad while we watched a slide show of my cousin’s life. There were several people milling about the house, and there was nothing really out of the ordinary at all. It was pretty much what you expect each year when these types of parties roll around. But within just a few minutes of my arrival, everything changed.

As I was sitting on the couch, discussing home remodeling issues with my sister, a guy from my home church sat down in another chair across the living room. I’ve talked with Rob before, and he’s a great guy who I’ve had a few good discussions with in the past. He loves to talk about God. I could tell as I was chatting with my sis, that he was waiting for a break in our conversation so that he could engage me in a discussion. Well, sure enough, as soon as I finished talking Rob began asking me questions. He began with the usual questions about school and what I was studying at seminary. When I told him I was studying theology and church history his eyes lit up and he immediately sent what can only be described as a barrage of theological questions my way.

Rob asked me some good questions, like who is God? And what is God’s name? I proceeded with a brief discourse about the trinity, to which Rob replied by asking me where in the Bible it talked about the nature of God. I quoted a few passages and then went on to talk about some of the erroneous views of Christ, as Rob asked me some more questions. The questions kept coming and the conversation continued into the next half hour or so. After we reached a point where Rob was sufficiently satisfied that he understood what I believed about God, he then informed me with a grin on his face that he did not believe in the trinity, and that he did not believe that Jesus was God.

To say that I was shocked at this information would not do justice to my internal reaction upon hearing this from Rob. I didn’t know what to say as Rob launched into a discourse that involved his misinterpretation of key passages in the New Testament. The whole time he was speaking, I kept thinking to myself, “is this really happening?”

Knowing that Rob was an influential youth group sponsor, not to mention a member of my home church, I couldn’t resist asking him if the elders of our church knew what he believed. He informed me that they did, and that they had told him they didn’t mind as long as he still believed that Jesus was the Son of God. I went home that afternoon in a haze of confusion, unable to make any sense out of the nonsense I had just heard from this guy that I really did have some genuine respect for, and to tell you the truth, I was even a little depressed by it all.  I felt kind of like I had stumbled into the bizzaro world from Superman, where everything is the complete opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the deity of Jesus Christ as part of the Trinity is a fundamental, basic doctrine of Christianity, and has been since the inception of the Church. This is also referred to as the Incarnation, which means that Jesus is God come into human history in the flesh. It is the foundation of our entire faith. The scriptures are not vague on this particular issue; they are in fact abundantly clear. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe that Christ is God, have been forced to produce their own separate mistranslation of the Bible in an effort to avoid the point that Christ is God. If Satan was only ever able to tell one single lie, somewhere at the top of his list would be the lie that Jesus is not God. Because if Satan can get someone to believe that, he can get them to believe absolutely anything. Let’s take a look at the scriptures, shall we?

Matthew 1:22 and Isaiah 7:14
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’”

Matthew 4:10
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Matthew 28:9
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”

Mark 2:5-7
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”

John 1:1-5, 14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 5:17-23
“Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.


Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.’”

Exodus 3:13-14 and John 8:57-58
“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them? God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”


“You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’
‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’”

John 10:27-33
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”

John 12:44-46
“Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’”

John 20:28-29
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

Acts 20:28
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Romans 9:5
“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

Colossians 1:15-20
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Colossians 2:8-10
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

Philippians 2:5-11
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

1 Corinthians 8:4-6
“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

Titus 2:11-14
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

1 John 5:20
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

Hebrews 1:8
But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’”

2 Peter 1:1
“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:”

Revelation 1:8 and 17-18
“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”

Likewise, the following sets of verses are places where the New Testament refers to Christ by the same designation used to refer to God in the Old Testament:

First and Last
Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12 – cf. – Revelation 1:17; 2:8; 22:13

Psalm 27:1 – cf. – John 1:9

Psalm 18:2; 95:1 – cf. – 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:6-8

Husband” or “Bridegroom
Hosea 2:16; Isaiah 62:5 – cf. – Ephesians 5:28-33; Revelation 21:2

Psalm 23:1 – cf. – Hebrews 13:20

Hosea 13:14; Psalm 130:7 – cf. – Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9

Isaiah 43:3 – cf. – John 4:42

Lord of Glory
Isaiah 42:8 – cf. – 1 Corinthians 2:8

In summation, there is this thing that we Christians believe called the doctrine of the Trinity, which in short means that there is one God, revealed to us as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

For anyone struggling to better understand the doctrine of the Trinity, I would recommend a reading of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, wherein he devotes several chapters to the subject. His discussion of the Trinity helped me a great deal at a time when I was searching for more clarity on this doctrine.

John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws – Refuted

Several years ago I was helping a friend of mine clean out his dorm room at the end of the school year. We were finishing up another year at Kentucky Christian University, and I was just concluding my first year as a resident assistant. Being an RA that year was my introduction to the world of formal/vocational ministry, and as fleeting a role as it was, it turned out to be an important experience for me. I was faced with many challenges during that time, not the least of which was learning to follow Christ even when my employers and supervisors were telling me to do the opposite. Throughout that year, and on into the next, I learned one of the most difficult but important lessons that I have ever learned… that Christ’s way of leading people is radically different from anything else that this world terms as leadership, that it is extremely challenging to follow Christ’s example in this area, and that at some point those attempting to follow his example will meet with opposition. Sadly, the opposition will usually come from other Christian leaders who have a warped understanding of what it means to lead.

So as my friend Jeff and I were cleaning out his dorm room that spring, I noticed a pile of books he was getting rid of and started to thumb through them. Among them was a book that caught my attention called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, with the interesting subtitle, Follow Them and People Will Follow You. I asked Jeff about it and he replied that he had never read it, but it was a book that he had been assigned for a preaching class he had taken that semester. I thought it seemed like an extremely interesting, if not extremely boastful title, and since the idea of leadership was fresh in my mind, I thought I would take a look. I mean, this book had been assigned reading for all the preaching majors, so there had to be something about it that was helpful to those in leadership. Or so I thought.

Well, that was several years ago now, but ever since then I have occasionally been reminded of the fact that it was, and still is, one of the worst books I have ever read. It not only epitomizes everything that is wrong with church leadership in this country, but it also sticks out as a perfect example of the kind of pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness that plagues so many Christian leaders today. Yes, just in case there is any doubt as to what I’m saying, this book is straight from the darkest pit of Hell.

To say that I’m going against the grain on this sentiment would be a gross understatement. The author, John C. Maxwell is considered by the masses (including those in church leadership around the country) to be the foremost authority on the topic of leadership alive today. The 21 Irrefutable Laws is considered to be Maxwell’s cornerstone book, and has sold over 1 million copies by itself. Maxwell is a former preacher turned leadership guru, and has been quite successful as the founder of several leadership organizations and consulting firms that cater to millions of people all over the world. His latest release, Leadership Gold, joins his other works that number over two dozen and have collectively sold more than 13 million copies. Despite whatever anyone might say to criticize the guy, his leadership philosophy will no doubt continue to amass the worship of millions for years to come.

With that said, I’m going to take a stab at this book. The 21 Irrefutable Laws, which provide the basis for Maxwell’s entire leadership philosophy, is probably, in my opinion, one of the most deceptive titles out there. In all seriousness, it could more accurately be described as, “The 21 utterly refutable illusions of witchcraft.” That probably sounds really harsh, but it is the unfortunate truth. If this was a purely secular book, and Maxwell was not a Christian leader, I would have no problem with the book at all. However, the main consumers of Maxwell’s ideology are Christian leaders and those in Church ministry; a fact that continues to perplex me beyond all reason, and compels me to say something, even if no one is listening.

First and foremost (to begin with the most obvious flaw), this book contains absolutely no mention of Jesus Christ at all. Not at all. I would submit, that any book claiming to deal with irrefutable leadership principles, should probably somewhere make mention of the greatest leader of all time – God. Considering the author is a Christian, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I don’t buy in to this idea that not mentioning Christ is a way to reach the unbelieving world… that’s just stupid. Getting a book about leadership, that makes no mention of Jesus Christ, from a Christian leader, is the same as getting a hamburger with no meat.

Second, I would point out that the very definition of witchcraft—not bubble gum witchcraft that conjures images of jack-o-lanterns, broomsticks, and all that Harry Potter kind of stuff—but real witchcraft, in its most basic form, is simply nothing more than the art of learning how to influence, control, and manipulate people… or in Maxwell’s more digestive language, “getting people to follow you.”

Getting people to follow you has absolutely nothing at all to do with what it means to be a Christian, which by definition means being a follower of Christ alone. Moreover, the New Testament does not contain a single teaching about how to influence people and get them to follow you. It’s simply not a concern of the New Testament writers at all. The goal, the mission, the mandate, for anyone claiming to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, especially those in ministry and leadership positions within the Church, should always be to point the way to Christ and help people learn what it means to follow Him. Any book, philosophy, teacher, or lecturer which offers a way for you to learn how to get other people to follow you, is by its very nature, completely pagan.

To illustrate my point, I’ll proceed with a brief breakdown of the chapters in the book, the essence of what each one is teaching, and what the Bible has to say in contrast.

1: Law of the Lid – Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness

According to Romans 12:8, leadership is a gift from God, nothing more, and nothing less. With that said, a person’s level of effectiveness, in any endeavor, is directly the result of whether or not they are acting in accordance with God’s will. For the Christian, there is really no such thing as effectiveness; there is obedience, and there is disobedience.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” –Romans 12:3-8

2: Law of Influence – The true measure of leadership is influence

The measure of pagan leadership might be influence, but Christian leadership is different. In this chapter Maxwell quotes one of his favorite personal proverbs saying, “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following him, is only taking a walk.” My immediate response would be that Maxwell isn’t familiar with the Old Testament prophets, and especially the story of Jeremiah, who ministered and prophesied faithfully and obediently for somewhere around 40 years, with no one listening or responding to him in any significant way. The measure of a Christian leader is determined by how willing you are to obey God and serve others, no matter what it means, or what it might cost you.

3: Law of Process – Leadership develops daily, not in a day

Maxwell expounds upon this with the underlying thought that leadership is attained through goal-setting, and must be worked toward. This doesn’t line up with scripture either. God is the one who chooses and develops leaders, not through their own efforts at completing goals they’ve set for themselves, but through God’s grace and discipline. God may take years to develop someone into a leader, but it is his work, not ours, and he usually accomplishes this through suffering.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” –Hebrews 5:7-9

4: Law of Navigation – Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course

I submit that Christ is both the captain and the navigator, and it is our privilege to be members of his crew.

5: Law of Addition – Leaders add value by serving others

This is a recent revision that Maxwell has made, attempting to accommodate something resembling servanthood. However, again there is no mention of Christ. From Christ’s point of view, the purpose of serving others is to show them who Christ is.

“You call me `Teacher’ and `Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” –John 13:13-15

6: Law of Solid Ground – Trust is the foundation of leadership

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” -1st Corinthians 3:11

7: Law of Respect – People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves

In this chapter Maxwell generates the idea that leadership can be measured according to different levels. In other words, he says that there are level one leaders, and level two leaders, and so on, and that your position on this number scale determines who will follow you and who will not. The underlying insinuation that goes along with this kind of thinking is that our goal in Christian ministry is to engage in the pagan ritual of jockeying for a better position on the proverbial ladder so we can get above everyone else and have more people under us. This whole way of thinking is dangerous for any Christian. The result of following this kind of teaching is that a person develops a constant concern with how “strong” they are, and they inevitably begin to compare themselves with others. The Apostle Paul, in defense of his own ministry says, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” –2nd Corinthians 10:12. He later concludes, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” -2nd Corinthians 10:18

8: Law of Intuition – Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias

This is another good place to restate the point that Maxwell’s idea of leadership is not Christ’s idea of leadership. Christ’s definition of leadership is serving others with the knowledge that Christ is the leader. In that sense, anyone who leads from a Christian perspective must evaluate everything according to what God has said in the Bible and through prayer.

9: Law of Magnetism – Who you are, is who you attract

Again, it is a pagan idea that attracting people to us has anything to do with what it means to be a Christian, let alone a leader in the Church. Our mission is to attract people to Christ, which God does through us.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” –2Corinthians 2:14-17

10: Law of Connection – Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand

The problem with an idea like this is that you can’t really reach a person’s heart if your purpose in doing so is to get them to follow you. That’s called manipulation. It’s like saying to yourself, “Hey, I’m going to serve and love this person, so they will do what I say.” It may be true, that if you serve and love someone, they will be more inclined to listen to you, but the whole point is getting people to listen to God.

11: Law of the Inner Circle – A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him

Well, this almost sounds like it could be true, and that’s what makes it so deceptive. Think about Christ again. Was Christ’s potential determined by his 12 disciples? Of course not.

12: Law of Empowerment – only secure leaders give power to others

Wow. There’s some strong wording here: power. Maxwell is telling me that I actually have some kind of power, and that if I’m secure in my power, I can actually allow others to share my power.

“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” –2nd Corinthians 4:5-7

13: Law of the Picture – people do what people see

This is sometimes true, but not always. If I’m attempting to memorize a set of principles on how to get people to follow me, and those people start following me, then it is possible that they might, in turn, begin to memorize the same rules so people will follow them. I could be in trouble if that happened, because then they might go up on the leadership scale and stop following me.

14: Law of Buy-in – people buy into the leader, then the vision

God have mercy on me if I ever start to think that people need to “buy-in” to me.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” –Galatians 6:14

15: Law of Victory – leaders find a way for the team to win

I’m not sure that this can be construed in any way to apply to Christianity, but if it were, and the team was say, the Church, then victory has already been achieved for us through Christ’s death and resurrection. If I’m a Christian leader, and I’m seeking a way for the people I’m serving to “win,” my only course of action is obedience to God. I have to do what God tells me to do, and I have to encourage others to do what God tells them to do. But from a Biblical perspective, obedience to God often looks a lot more like losing than winning, at least in a fleshly sense. In this chapter Maxwell makes the statement that it is the job of a leader to make things better for the people. But Christ is our leader, and he says to us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” –Mark 8:34-36

16: Law of the Big Mo – momentum is a leader’s best friend

Maxwell’s main point here in this chapter is that momentum exaggerates things in positive ways. My question is this: if I’m a Christian leader, why would I want to exaggerate whatever it is that I’m doing? Why would I want to mislead people in any way? I’m not even sure what momentum means in terms of Christian ministry and leadership, and I’m definitely not sure about how momentum can be my “best friend.” It sounds to me like this is another way of saying, “If we’re growing, it makes me look better.”

17: Law of Priorities – leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment

In this chapter Maxwell states his own personal code for deciding what a priority to him is. He sums it up this way: Requirements, Returns, and Rewards… what he is required to do, what gives him the greatest return, and what is most rewarding. For the Christian, priorities are determined by God, and what it means for us to be obedient to him. I cannot imagine being in ministry, and thinking that my main priorities should be related to what I can get out of my position as a leader.

18: Law of Sacrifice – leaders must give up to go up

Sacrifice is an important part of being a Christian. But again there is no mention of Christ here. But also troubling in this statement is the notion that sacrifice is something I should do when it is beneficial to me.

19: Law of Timing – When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go

20: Law of Explosive Growth – to add growth, lead followers, to multiply, lead leaders

21: Law of Legacy – a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession

These last three laws finish up Maxwell’s formula for trying to be a leader. In the corporate business world, or in government, or in sports, these all might actually work… In fact, his whole philosophy is probably great for those sorts of things. But when it comes to the Christian faith, it is completely incompatible. And it burns me up to think that so many Christian ministers and Church leaders are buying into this crap. In the 21st Law, Maxwell states that, “there is no success without a successor.” There is no way you can apply that to Christianity. Christ doesn’t have a successor. And this just reinforces the idea that if you make any attempt to apply these “irrefutable laws” to the Christian faith, ministry, and Church leadership in general, what you end up with is a formula for replacing Christ’s role as head of the Church. While some of these principles might work, from a physical point of view, what are you really accomplishing as a follower of Christ, if all you’re doing is figuring out how to get people to follow you?

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’” –Mark 10:42-44