John Joseph on How Bill Maher, Donald Miller, and John Piper Led Him to Christ

John Joseph for Christianity Today Magazine at his home in Cheverly, MD, on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. Photo by John Boal

John Joseph is lead pastor of Cheverly Baptist Church in Bladensburg, Maryland. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


I was a typical American kid, until I wasn’t. In high school, life revolved around sports and popularity. Then, after high school, I took a scholarship to play baseball at Virginia Commonwealth University. By the end of college, most people were ready to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Not me.

My life got further out of control with each passing year. The weekend parties of my freshman year became weeklong parties by my senior year, as casual drinking metastasized into alcoholism.

With no direction and no aspirations, I took to the streets. And over the next five years, my life spiraled out of control. A college friend with whom I regularly smoked weed connected me with his dealer, and I began selling drugs. To supplement my income, I started working in the restaurant business as a waiter and bartender. This enabled me to keep partying all week, besides supplying an instant client base.

It also introduced me to cocaine. And cocaine stole my soul. As soon as I was introduced, I was hooked. I partied so much that I got fired from multiple bartending jobs. Then I started selling cocaine. I became a monster—a liar and a thief. I used everyone and everything to serve myself. I didn’t care who I hurt.

It almost came to an end one summer night in 2005. I had just returned to my row home after making a few sales. Pulling into my parking space, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw a black Crown Victoria screech to a halt. I figured I was about to be robbed, killed, or arrested.

As I made a beeline toward my back door, I heard someone yell for me to stop. I pretended to be on the phone. He yelled again. I turned around to see a man clad in a black leather coat and jeans. I told him I didn’t know who he was. So he whipped out a giant chain from under his sweater, revealing a gold police badge. He told me we were going into my house together and that I needed to open the door. I tried to hide that my hands were shaking. As soon as I turned the key in the lock he said, “All right, we’re cool.”

He explained that there were reports of someone starting fires in alley dumpsters in my area, and he wanted to make sure I actually lived there. What he didn’t realize was that just inside my back door was a table piled high with cocaine being readied for sale. I celebrated by doing a ton of cocaine.

By this time, constant partying had become a way to avoid the gaping hole in my soul. I couldn’t keep a job. I had driven away everyone who cared about me. I was miserable. And, to make matters worse, I didn’t know how to stop.

Trying to Change

I decided to make drastic changes, and in 2007 I enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. And although boot camp gave me some much-needed structure and discipline, it couldn’t change my heart. That became painfully obvious when, after reporting for duty in Oregon, I fell back into the same way of living and began struggling with depression and anxiety.

Then God put Art Thompson in my life. Art was a young skater-kid out of Northern California who had just joined the Coast Guard. Art loved Jesus, and he loved me. He faithfully shared the gospel with me, always making a point to say, “Jesus loves you, bro.” He regularly invited me over for dinner with his wife and daughters, during which he described how Jesus had changed his life. He also invited me to church, and although I never went (because I was usually too hungover), he never stopped loving me. Art had a serious joy that I wanted in my own life. I just didn’t know how to get it.

In March 2008, I was re-stationed (to California). And despite the change in scenery, the same problems with drinking and drugs followed me. But this time, so did God. He put a couple more Christians in my life, one of whom put Donald Miller books in my hand. One in particular, Blue Like Jazz, struck a chord. It made me desire a relationship with God like never before.

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Source: Christianity Today