Christmas Humility

In case you are living in an isolated bomb shelter 100 miles under the earth without any form of communication the last few days, I am going to take on the role of Captain Obvious and point out that Christmas is tomorrow. However, the reason for celebrating Christmas doesn’t so obvious. Suppose you are an alien visiting earth with the intention of writing back to your home planet about our culture, you would be able to observe this madness we call Christmas and have a very good chance of not even realizing what we consider the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas would appear to be about shopping, about giving and getting presents, about getting together with family, about being stressed out and traveling all over the country, about overeating, about festive lights and trees decorated with shiny balls and other assorted things. But the true reason of Christmas is not among the obvious.

Like the way American culture sometimes misses on the true meaning of Christmas, we also have the tendency to miss and ignore one of the key traits that Jesus modeled for us to follow.
If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care - then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth - even those long ago dead and buried - will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, 11 and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father (Philippians 2:1-11 MSG).
One trait made the first Christmas possible, Jesus’ humility. I like to use illustrations from television shows, novels, and movies in my articles. When it came to humility, I struggled trying to find an illustrations in our culture of entertainment. Humility is not a trait that our culture exalts. We exalt individualism, vengeance, materialism, and independence. Just like our culture does with the meaning of Christmas, it does a good job of hiding humility.

Although there is Spider-Man. In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker struggles with being humble. He gave up his role as Spider-Man, threw his costume into the trash, and walked away thinking that he would never look back. But then came the villains. They forced him to either decide to let people suffer or to give up his plans for a normal life and return to the life of the hero. He had to put aside his own dreams of what he wanted out of life and do what was intended for him to do. He wanted to be a good college student, hold down a steady job, and win back the love of his life. There's nothing wrong with any of those goals; however, they were not what he was intended to do.

Spider-Man is an example of humility, putting aside your selfish dreams and aspirations - no matter how noble they might be – for the benefit of those around you, even when doing what benefits those around you isn’t particularly for your personal best interests. Spider-Man shows us genuine humility.

Yet Spider-Man is not real. It’s up to you and me to turn the fictionalized humility of Spider-Man or the genuine Christmas story showing the great humility of Christ into a living reality to those around us. We need to put our own dreams and aspirations aside, notice the needs of those around us, and act to meet those needs.

C.S. Lewis described humility in his book Miracles:
In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity...down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created.  
But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulder… 
In this descent and re-ascent everyone will recognise a familiar pattern: a thing written all over the world. It is the pattern of all vegetable life. It must belittle itself into something hard, small and deathlike, it must fall into the ground: thence the new life re-ascends….  
So it is also in our moral and emotional life. The first innocent and spontaneous desires have to submit to the deathlike process of control or total denial: but from that there is a re-ascent to fully formed character in which the strength of the original material all operates but in a new way. Death and Rebirth--go down to go up--it is a key principle. Through this bottleneck, this belittlement, the highroad nearly always lies"
Humility is a tough concept to grasp. Examples of it are not exalted in our culture. It's even tougher to live out. But the perfect example of humility was shown to us on Christmas morning over 2000 years ago. God, who has all power and knowledge, emptied himself of those things and took on the flesh, skin and bones of people like you and me. He humbled himself and put his security in the arms of Joseph and Mary. He lowered himself to our level in order to exalt us to His. That is the beauty of Christmas.

Jesus came so that people like you and me can become what we were intended to be. We can give up our selfish and fruitless dreams and aspirations, replacing them with the humility that Christ began to model on that Christmas Day thousands of years ago. If we want to make the Christmas story come out of hiding in our society, then we need to take the first steps as followers of Jesus and swaddle ourselves in His humility. We cannot grasp hold of what God intends for us and those around us if we continue to hang on to our own goals and desires.

So let us, those who claim to follow Jesus, not fight for the world to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in the ways that it is currently being fought. Let us not argue in courts for or against certain nativity scenes. The world celebrating the true meaning of Christmas will be a natural byproduct of the people around us seeing and deciding to follow Jesus. Instead, let us fight against our own selfishness and pride so that the world may actually see Jesus' love and humble example in the lives of those who claim to follow Him. Not just at Christmas, but during every day of the year. It's the least we can do in response to the great love of God and His mindshattering act of humility that we celebrate during this season.

At Christmas time, the story of Jesus should cause us to face a moment similar to that of Spider-Man. We can look around us and see that this world desperately needs Jesus. And the story of our Lord and Messiah in a manger over 2,000 years ago should tweak our hearts to realizing that we need to humble ourselves in whatever way necessary. We need to put aside our own dreams of what we want out of life and do what God calls us to do. This world needs us to live out the humbling nature of the Christmas story every day of the year.

Like A Skateboard

There was a skateboard that appeared in Mike's office a week or so ago. What I have noticed is that people just want to stand on it. They'll come in. Start talking. See the skateboard. Then they will stand on it. I've found myself doing it many times.

I thought of sitting that skateboard in the lobby on a Sunday before church and seeing how many people would just get on it before the worship gathering. Due to safety concerns, I didn't do it, but I bet kid after kid would come in and just get on the skateboard until their parents told them not to. Some adults would too.   

There is something appealing about a skateboard. You just want to get on it. In a similar vein, we, those who claim to follow Jesus, need to be living in such a way that others will want to join in on what we are doing.

I grew up in a Christian family but gave up following Jesus for a period of time in high school. I didn't like church. I didn't like God, although I would have said that I didn't believe He existed. And I started pursuing the ways of the world while finding lots of trouble. I went to college ready to party. I was roommates with my high school partying buddy. And then, at college, I got into the wrong crowd, a bunch of Christians. One of the people would just go around town and clean the restrooms of businesses for free to show them love. These friends would organize a car wash to clean other students’ cars without any donations being accepted. They would hand out hot chocolates on cold days to students walking to and from class for free. It was strange. These people were crazy.

But instead of just complaining about the world, they were working to make the world better.

In a way, they were like a skateboard that I just found irresistible. They believed in Jesus and worked to bring His will here on earth as it is in heaven. Instead of being a church that was obsessed with having the right appearance; they were a group of people focused on having the right thoughts and actions. They didn't just believe in some teachings to get to heaven. They believed and worked to help heaven break through here to earth, even in the darkest places.

That's the way that we are to be when it comes to following Jesus. Yet that isn't the impression the world gets from us. They don't think of love when they think of Christians; they think of judgmentalism. They don't think of grace; instead, they think of hate. They don't think of people who make the world a better place; they think of people who just resist change.

It's these bad, yet often deserved stereotypes that we have to live with when we claim to be followers of Jesus. Yet we must, like my friends were in college, work to change this if we are going to actually follow Jesus' command to make disciples. 

We may have turned what should be a life-changing relationship into a personal blankie that we snuggle with; one that is all about making us feel good. Instead of "Going", we expect people to come to church rather than love them where they are. Instead of "making disciples", we expect to be spiritually fed without giving back. Instead of "baptizing", we water down the message of the gospel and do not encourage complete life change. Instead of "teaching", we expect a specialist to do that. And in making these mistakes, the world is going to hell around us, literally and figuratively.
Our life together as brothers and sisters in a church should be an example to the world of the way relationships are to be. We can’t change the whole world, but we can be a light in the darkness. We can be the salt of the earth. We do that, not by becoming the world, but by being different in the world in how our relationships with one another are filled with love.

Jesus taught,"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

Notice that Jesus didn’t say, they will know you are Christians by your belief statement. Nor did he say that they would know you are a Christian by the church you attend. It’s not something about you individually. People will know we are a Christian because we, fellow disciples of Jesus, have a love for one another that surpasses the love that people have for one another at the bar, at a place of work, at college, at school, or anywhere else. 

Our relationships with one another are to be a shining example to the world of what life in Jesus is supposed to be like. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What is your reaction to Jesus? Is it to love one another? Is it to take seriously his teaching to go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them?

We all need to surrender more and more of our lives to Jesus. So do that. Go. Make disciples. Baptize them. And teach them. You, as a follower of Jesus, are uniquely positioned and gifted to do just that. The Holy Spirit is here with you to strengthen and encourage you to do that. You are uniquely positioned in the life you have to be Jesus where you are at. Don't let the life Jesus made you for pass you by any more. We were all made for so much more. 

god of Me

This week I did something I had been putting off.

I have traveled to Liberia a few times on mission trips and have a friend in Liberia named Wilfred. We call each other once in a while. About a month ago, he called me and told me that his community had been quarantined due to the ebola virus. They were not supposed to leave the house except to get food or water.

Anyway, I felt God convict me to send him some money.

And then I thought of the things that keeping that money could bring me. It could buy me some video games. A trip to a waterpark for my family. It could be buy me some meals out to eat. It could buy me this, and it could buy me that.

Because it was all about me.

Yet God kept telling me that He wanted me to do something for Wilfred. And I delayed. And delayed. God tried to convict me about how much I spend on cat food compared to someone I consider a friend in Liberia who lives in desperate need of some money. I wasn’t buying it. I wanted to use that money on myself (or my cat).

But then I had to start writing a message for a Gods At War series at church. In that series, We talked about the god of pleasure and asked where do we go for comfort? We watched a video with the woman dealing with the god of love and asked where do we go for completion. We talked about the god of money and asked where do we go for security. The god of power and who has control of our lives. Finally, we are on the god of me. This really is the god behind all the other false gods we have talked about. The god of me. Who do we worship? Ourselves? Or God?

As I worked through these thoughts preparing for this message, I couldn’t possibly write, asking you to no longer worship yourselves, when I was wanting to disobey God and worship myself and keep the money that I felt prompted to give to my friend . So I wired my friend the money that God laid on my heart to send.

But this struggle I was going through - this struggle to worship ourselves -- is nothing new to humanity. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, had this to say.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,  treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV) 
That's quite a list. Paul's warning was just as relevant in his time as it is today. People will become lovers of pleasure, proud, and lovers of money. But the big, first one encapsulates them all -- they will be lovers of self.

We have this innate desire to worship something, and we all too often direct it toward ourselves.

Unfortunately, churches often conform to the pressures of society and morph the gospel into self-worship. Instead of churches being places that call us toward radical discipleship, encouraging us to consume differently, encouraging us to love the unlovable, encouraging us to strive for holiness, our churches dangerously teeter to becoming bastions of the self-help, motivational culture that America is inundated with. We go to church to feel good, rather than be encouraged to sacrifice. We like the warm fuzzies of worship rather than encountering God and being transformed during worship. And as soon as church fails to do what we want it to do, we're out. I think someone once said, "Ask not what you can do for your church, ask what your church can do for you."

It’s sad that our most popular Christian celebrity in America has transitioned from being Billy Graham, an evanglelist - someone focused on reaching the lost, to James Dobson in the 80s, a self-help psychologist, then on to Joel Osteen, a motivational guru.

I want our celebrities to be Mother Teresa, Shane Claiborne, or, even Billy Graham again. All the people that model sacrificing their own lives to living out this radical life of Jesus in our world. Maybe even better, I want our celebrities to be the unknown heroes in the local churches who are serving their church family and their communities day in and day out without any stories being written about them or any attention being given to them. These unsung yet essential heroes are made when people like you and me decide that we are going to follow Jesus rather than our own selfish desires. When we realize that following Him and being part of a church isn't about me; instead, it's about God. 

The world tries to steer us back to it being about me, and it infiltrates church teaching too. We want to hear that the gospel is about us, but this is not the gospel that Jesus taught.

In the 1500s, John of the Cross wrote,
    "Endeavor to be inclined always:
    not to the easiest, but to the most difficult;
    not to the most delightful, but to the most distasteful;
    not to the most gratifying, but to the less pleasant;
    not to what means rest for you, but to hard work;
    not to the most, but to the least;
    not to the highest and most precious,
    but to the lowest and most despised;
    not to wanting something, but to wanting nothing."
    —John of the Cross
Prior to writing this, John was working on reforming the church. Unlike the Protestant reformers, John was working on changing the church from the inside. This was known as the Counter-Reformation. Yet the reform attempts didn't always bode well for the reformers, especially for those pushing change away from institutional bureaucracy to genuine spirituality. John of the Cross spent nine months imprisoned for his reform efforts. He wasn't released though; he escaped. Yet he didn't remain silent. He went right back to attempting to implement the needed reforms. In the face of opposition and suffering, he continued pursuing Jesus and His kingdom.

Like John of the Cross, when we realize that following Jesus isn't about us and our individual happiness, we are willing to suffer for the cause of Jesus. It's the god of me versus the God who came as Jesus.

Paul touches on this in his instructions to Timothy, which we began reading earlier. Paul, while writing his second letter to Timothy, was facing dark times. He was in prison in Rome and appears to have lost hope for his earthly prospects. And, as we will read, he knows his time is short; he believes he is going to die. (And he was right. Tradition holds that he was beheaded during the reign of Nero.) But at this point he was being deserted by many of the people he converted (2 Timothy 1:15) because who wants to associate with one who the State is going to execute. At his first defense, nobody even stood by his side to support him (2 Timothy 4:16). It's from that place of loneliness, of seeing his candle burning down and being abandoned, he wrote this:
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,  my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,  while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  [new slide]  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-17 (ESV)
Following Jesus isn’t about me. It’s not about me getting what I want. It's about giving up everything for what God wants. Jesus modeled that in giving up his life through dying on the cross. Paul modeled that through giving up his life through being a martyr. That's what we have in this passage--Paul reminded his protégé to stay strong even in the face of persecution. We have the faithful throughout history who have done likewise. Yet we somehow think that following Jesus means that everything will get better and there will be no suffering in it for us.

It may be unpopular, but things may not get better. Many of you know this all too well. Someone you love dearly may have or suffered through Alzheimers. It's not going to get better on this side of the grave. Or maybe you or someone you love is suffering through a debilitating disease. It's not going to get better on this side of the grave. I don't know all of your stories, but I know that in a group like this some of you have experienced tragedy all too much. Things don't always get better. Sometimes they get worse. Tragically worse. But, it's true, it may get better, but I don't think we're implying when we say "It will get better" that we may have to die to receive the better.

Yet we want the better. And we want it now. This is the message of the god of me. This is the gospel of America. We think we deserve the better, especially if we're trying to be faithful to Jesus.

The idea that "things will always get better" just shows how inundated we are with concepts like the health and wealth false gospel in Christian circles. But the truth is that it may not get better. The situation you are currently struggling with may not get better. You may be sick, and it may lead to death. You may work hard and not prosper. But even if things don't get better, even if we don't get wealthy, we still serve a worthy King. A king who is worthy to serve whether or not things get better for us individually.

We don't worship God because of the presents; we worship Him because He is worthy. And when things are going well, we celebrate. We know things won't always be this great, but that doesn't mean we should ruin the good moments by worrying about their end. Celebrate the moment of beauty if that is what you are experiencing. Celebrate it without worrying about tomorrow.

And for those of you who aren't living in a moment of celebration, remember that He is there with you. He offers a supernatural comfort and peace where there should be no comfort and peace. He knows suffering intimately. The crazy, yet true, Christian belief is that something beautiful can come out of our suffering. Even in our darkest valley, God is still worthy of our worship.

Being a Christian and following Jesus, isn't about things getting better for us. That may happen. It often does. That seems to be the normal experience. I've seen crazy, unexplainable blessings come to people who start giving and are blessed in return. Who start serving, praying, and being part of a church family. I have never seen anyone give their life over to Jesus and not experience a sense of purpose and a better life in the here and now. God does bless radical faithfulness. But we serve a savior who was executed, along with most of the apostles who followed Him. Being a Christian is really about humbling ourselves and serving others--being Jesus' hands and feet in this world because His hands and feet were nailed to a cross for us. It's about being Jesus to everyone around us. It's about following the example that Jesus set and living that life for others. That little baby born in a manger in Bethlehem was going to face a lot of pain, discouragement, obstinate people, and death in His days here on earth. Who are we to think we deserve differently? Our suffering, when we ditch the god of self, is where we can join our Savior.

Research shows that the happiest aren’t those with most toys or those who are served. Those who are happiest are those who are willing to give up their possessions and time to take care of others. We were created to love others.  ( &

And, most importantly, we have the example of Jesus. He gave up his life for us. Setting the example that the will of God often breaks into this world through suffering.

The god of me says that we shouldn't suffer. That false god is to be avoided at all cost. This false god says that when we suffer, we are out of step with the will of God. But we know that the false gods of this world do not deliver. I want to show a clip that will reiterate that point.

I can't embed this video, so go and watch this Tom Brady video at CBS News.

If the false gods of this world could deliver, Tom Brady would have the answer. Money. Fame. Pleasure. Supermodels. Victories. Being the best in the world at what he does. He has had it all in the world’s eyes.

Yet the current rings don’t satisfy. The next one will be the best. Eventually, the next one will never come. And he will still have that hole in his life that needs an answer.

I wish that all of you could totally have the pleasures that you desire. I wish that you could attain the pinnacle of everything that false gods can deliver like Tom Brady has experienced. For on that side of attaining all that the earthly pleasures you desire -- when you have all the wealth, fame, and security that the world can provide -- you would be sitting there with Tom Brady and say “I don’t have the answer.” Because those things, although good and useful in their proper place, can never satisfy.

Now, I haven’t been given the opportunity to sit down with Tom Brady  and have a conversation with him about this. Maybe he will run across this. I doubt it. But if I could bend his ear, I would share with him that Jesus is the answer. It may seem overly simplistic, yet I know it's true. I know that because when I was lost and pursuing the ways of this world, my life was hollow. I was empty. But then I encountered a group of Christians who were living differently than the world around them. They weren’t living for themselves. They were living for Jesus. And through their example, I gave my life over to Jesus and became satisfied. Where I was blind, I could now see. Where I was empty, I was full. Where I was lost, I was found.

So I can't sit down with Tom Brady and tell him that Jesus is the answer, but I can share that with you because you have taken time out to read this article and get this far. Jesus is the answer.  He said so Himself.

Jesus said,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. John 14:1 (ESV)

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

"And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." John 17:3 (ESV) 
It’s decision time. All these false gods of the world are competing for your attention. Including the false god of yourself. And Jesus is here whispering amidst the chaos, “Follow me.” Not just for your benefit. Not just so you can get to heaven. But because he has a better plan for your life. You can be part of his plan for this world, of making right the wrongs, bringing hope to the hopeless, bringing justice to the suffering. You can be part of His kingdom and His family.

You're a sinner. So am I.

You're a sinner. So am I.

Here is the thing. God loves to restore us. He is all about taking our mistakes and shaping us into who He has destined us to be.

So he will take us and restore us. He loves us even in the midst of our sin.

And when we sin again, He will do the same. This doesn't mean that we should just freely sin. But even in the midst of our sin, Jesus died for us. He knew we were sinners when He did that.

Before we sinned today, we were already sinners. We will still be sinners tomorrow. Yet His love in unchanging and unwavering.

He still hears us. We are not alone. He is with us. He still loves us. He still has plans for us.

More Than Clones

I'm not Andy Stanley.

That's probably obvious. I'm taller, younger, and weigh a lot more.

I'm not Craig Groeshel.

I don't have those muscles.

Nor am I like any other leader. I'm not as refined as some. I can't speak as well as others. My vision casting skills pale in comparison to the greats.
And that's okay.

Okay, I may be a lot like Rob Bell in writing these one sentence paragraphs, but please don't tell anyone that I'm like Rob Bell.
Here's the thing. We fly out to conferences. We go to workshops. We hear incredible messages. We get inspired. But then we make the mistake. The big mistake. We try to become like the one who has inspired us. We try to become clones of the popular national speaker.
This year at Exponential in Orlando, I heard one of the most fascinating stories from Choco de Jesus. You have to hear it yourself some day. He shares how he ran and biked 180 miles to raise money to buy a farm that would provide a safe place for recovering prostitutes. It was a story of hope, of disappointment, and of great inspiration. God touched me greatly in hearing it.

The great thing about Choco's story is that I wasn't inspired to duplicate him. Who would want to run or bike 180 miles? That's just crazy. And it made me realize how I strive to emulate these "rockstars" of the Christian faith.

But I only emulate the easier things.
I take on this trick or that program. I think this strategy or method will transform my church. But it doesn't.

And it's all wrong.

We can look at Andy Stanley's or Craig Groeshel's models of being the church in their communities and be amazed. We want those kingdom results. We want to impact our communities for God like that. So we come home, digest our notes, and try to duplicate their church in our communities. But I am really convinced that North Point and Lifechurch are the way they are, not because of the systems they have, rather, it is because of their giftedness and all the other great people they have surrounded themselves with.

Then we see someone like Hugh Halter doing something different in Denver. Ooh, I want that different church too. Community. Life. Bring it on! And so we jump tracks and try to emulate that church too. Yet have you heard Hugh Halter speak? Adullam can't be duplicated because Hugh Halter can't be duplicated.

We unwittingly play the role of the mad doctor Frankenstein and create the Frankenstein Church. A church that is a patchwork of all these other exciting churches who are relevant in their communities and local context. Yet they are often out of place in ours making our churches about as productive as Frankenstein's monster.

There is this fine line between being inspired and trying to duplicate. We are each individually and wonderfully made. God is working on us to become the pastors and leaders that He planned for and called us to be. Yet we will not get there trying to duplicate others.
We will only realize our true ministry potential when we mix the practical training with a genuine commitment to grow in Jesus. He is the one we are to try and duplicate. He is the one who knows what the church should look like lived out in our local contexts. He has the power to make it happen.
How would Jesus reach my community? What would Jesus do with the resources He has provided me with? Who would Jesus love and how would He love them?

Whether or not this is what we get from the Stanleys, Groeshels, or others, this is really what they have wrestled with and figured out. Likewise, this is what we need to wrestle with and figure out. Our communities need the church Jesus is calling us to shape.
How can I lead in my location like Jesus would? How can you lead in yours?

More Than Fine and Dandy

Don’t confuse “God being on our side” with “everything will work out fine and dandy” here on earth. If we are following Jesus, we are involved in something greater than just our temporal comfort and safety.

And a song. It's folk and punk but with a point.


To sit down and share a conversation with Lee was an experience. He was one of a kind. I always intended to sit down with him and have him tell his story in his own words, but I never got around to it. This is my recollection.

Disclaimer about oral history: I don't believe that Lee is one to exaggerate, but the story sure seems like he may have. I think it is more of Lee having been an incredible person combined with him having lived an interesting life. This is his story, as told by him and recollected by me. It may not be 100% accurate. That's the way it is with oral history. There are details I would love to have asked further questions on, but this is what it is. Due to the nature of the story, I do not share Lee's last name. Other parties don't need to be identified.


Lee was brought up in different times. A segregated south. He would go and play baseball with his friends down at the field. When time for a water break came, his friends would go across the street to the gas station to get a drink of water. Lee would have to go home because he wasn't allowed to drink with the white boys.

Then desegregation began. Some of the whites were not happy. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four little girls. Lee and his sister escaped Montgomery with their family to go north. He remembered being curled up and hiding in the backseat of their car as they fled town to what his parents hoped would be a better and safer life. It was different times.

He then found himself at a nice Lutheran school in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He became the star running back. Yet he tweaked his knee in the best game of his career.

He went on to the University of Miami in Florida (In Ohio, we clarify when we say Miami). There he had more knee problems and lost his scholarship due to his inability to play.

And the downward spiral began.

I would say there were three things that changed his life for the worst.

First, the knee injury. I didn't know knee problems until a few years back, but if you have never experienced a knee injury, they make you less mobile. Lee's knee injury was pretty serious in an age that didn't have the surgeries that we have. It led to him being less mobile than he should have been. This allowed the weight to be packed on easier.

Second, he married the woman of his dreams, who then died of cancer at a very young age. I can't imagine the heartbreak although I know people today who have experienced the same. She was his high school sweetheart. I think he spent the rest of his life trying to find another one of her.

Third, a drug dealer approached him after his injury. His dreams of playing football had been squashed by his knee injury. He didn't know what he would do, so he started trafficking drugs. Lee never justified the decision with me. It was just the choice he made. He started running drugs from the Miami area to the Midwest.

These drug days continued. He was in shootouts. He was in the car when two others were killed. He used his brilliant mind to master the trade. Money was easy. Living life was extravagant. Cars. Comics. Trips. Everything the world can offer was at Lee's fingertips.

The one strange thing about Lee is that he never used drugs despite selling them. He drank apple juice in a cup to have the appearance that he was drinking alcohol. To hear him tell it, it was a terrible, low sort of evil. He knew what he was doing was atrocious, yet he continued doing it anyway. He was selfish. During our last conversation, he told me that he wished he could go back and have more empathy for others. He was a changed man.

The change happened through a surreal Hollywood-esque drug dealing experience. He was making a run to pick up some drugs near the Mexican border. He had money. A lot of it. He had networked a bunch of drug dealers together to leverage purchasing power for a better deal. Using his incredible mind and skills to further his drug empire, he took off to the border with some friends.

They were pulled over by a cop. But this cop wasn't on the up and up. He was in cahoots with the drug lords down there. The cop confiscated the money and never arrested them. The money then went to Mexico. Lee and his friends desperately scoured Mexico, chasing lead after lead for two weeks trying to find the money. To no avail. Hundreds of thousands of dollars lost and no drugs to show for it.

Lee came back home and the other drug dealers understood. It's the risk of doing business. Except one. And that one was going to kill Lee if he didn't cough up the money. One thing led to another, and Lee's father mortgaged his house to give Lee the needed money. This led to a huge fight between Lee's father and mother, who then split up. She thought that Lee should face the consequences of his actions. Lee's father, understanding what the consequences really were, thought differently.

Lee used the money to pay back the threatening drug dealer. And he felt terrible. He didn't want to be in debt to anybody. He didn't want his dad to make that sort of sacrifice for him. So he put the drug business into overdrive. He started cutting corners. He wanted to raise that money back quickly. And he became addicted to the fast money.

Eventually, all of the corners cut caught up with him when the cops busted him in his mansion in Florida with hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money. He was done.  

He went to prison.

In prison, he beat up a guard and was stuck in solitary to rot. A janitor snuck him a Bible, and he started to read. He read and read. Having grown up Lutheran, he knew the stories. But in that cell, isolated and all alone, the stories intermingled with the Holy Spirit to transform Lee. He became a changed man. He gave his life over to Jesus. Having only known him during the years after this experience, I know that it stuck. It wasn't just a prison conversion that disappeared soon after getting back into society. It was life-changing for Lee.

So Lee started following Jesus while his lawyer found a loophole in the case that got him off. Despite thinking the rest of his life was going to be in prison, Lee became a free man once again. Although his true freedom really began in prison, yet it was never totally realized in this life. His past decisions and experiences always seemed to have ripples that impacted the present. His health problems kept increasing, as many of us will also experience. Yet he continued to push more and more into his new life in Jesus.

I met Lee after he had found a job as a crane operator, and he would buy comics from my father's store. We became great friends. He loved comic books and history. He was like my clone, except for the drug dealing, insane variety of experiences, and having a brain that could squash mine. He would come in and take more time than I should give to a customer. We would talk about everything.

He eventually found another woman to love. They had two wonderful little children. She got mixed up in abusing drugs, which forced Lee to raise the kids while she was in prison. It's a tough world in the inner city. Hard, destructive drugs are so prevalent and genuine help and hope is so scarce. The slope down, when you hop on it, seems to be so much slipperier and go down so much deeper than I have experienced growing up in white, rural America.

Then tragedy struck Lee. He was providing a place to live for some recently released drug addicts. He was trying to help them get clean. To a fault, Lee would always see the best of people. He could see who they should be rather than who they actually were. He reminded me so much of God and the way He views us. He doesn't see us in the sin we are wallowing in. He sees us for who we could be.

Anyway, Lee had these two guys living with him, but he had to kick them out of the house because they weren't staying clean. That's what he did. That night, his house burnt down. Without insurance. A few days after the fire, I received a phone call from Lee. He was homeless, living out of his vehicle. His two little daughters living mostly with their mom. I didn't know where to send them for help.

I said that he could come live with us. Yet Lee was huge. Five hundred pounds huge. He had to sleep in our living room. His girls would go to bed in our girls' rooms, yet they would always find their way out to sleep with their dad. He would watch movies. He never quite understood me not having as much time to watch movies with him as he wanted. My life was filled with great conversations while also helping my friend lift his legs onto the couch so he could sleep. My wife was a supertrooper during this time. Our living room became Lee's room, decked out with an oxygen machine and other medical equipment.

I will never forget him making me watch John Wayne's Angel and the Badman. It's a movie that teaches nonviolent principles coming from the hero of the violent cowboy movies of the time. It will always be deeply connected to Lee in my mind. A man who came from a violent past, yet in the midst of that violence and chaos, he found peace.

Eventually Lee went to the hospital and moved on. To be honest, I had to ask him to move on. Despite loving him, his staying was too trying on my family. I felt terrible doing it. But Lee was so gracious and understanding. I thought, as my experience has been with many that I have helped, that when the help would stop, he wouldn't like me anymore. I feared that he would hate me for stopping to help rather than remembering the help. Yet that wasn't Lee. He loved me still.

I would visit him when I made trips into Fort Wayne. He lived in a rough neighborhood when he wasn't in the hospital. We would catch up and have conversations. His house was robbed while he was still in it, but he couldn't do anything about it as he laid there watching, barely alive. His health was failing fast. In and out of the hospitals. His love for his two girls never wavered. His hope for them having a good life kept him going. And his unrealized hope for their mom straightening out remained unwavering.

My last visit was five days before he died. I told him that I would be moving to the Detroit area and wouldn't see him as much. I brought him some comic books because he loved reading them. He always wanted to meet Stan Lee. We were going to make that happen in the next year at a convention. I guess we won't now. He made me make a promise to him if he would die, which I will keep; the same promise he had me make the visit before. He expressed his love, which I share in a different way, for Martin Luther King Jr. We talked Ferguson. We talked ISIS. We talked America. We come from two different worlds. We talked about his hopes, dreams, and the unwritten story ideas that he had. It was always good to spend some time with Lee.

I would be remiss to not mention the St. Louis Cardinals or the Fantastic Four in a story about Lee. So this is their brief mention.

May God grant that Lee's dreams be realized. Not the little dreams like meeting Stan Lee, but the big ones that he had for his daughters and their mother. May they find the peace and purpose that Lee desired for them.