Month: July 2019

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Eric said, 

“The thing that happened at LaFortune. Crazy things that can’t be explained that happened leading up to capturing Saddam, mathematically speaking, they just don’t happen.  They just don’t.” 

God’s purposes are mapped out.  He has a plan.  He sets us on courses that make no sense to us at times, because we can only see what we see in front of us.  When Jonah was told to go to Nineveh, we all know what happened when he decided to go his own way.  It’s quite a whale of a tale.  When God tells you to go—you just drop everything and go.  At least, that’s what Eric Maddox did.

The Call:

In 1993, Eric Maddox was a typical 21 year-old running through LaFortune Park in Tulsa when he came to a bridge.  He heard what he said could only be a call from God.  He was a bit stunned.  He looked around for someone to get verification on what he heard.  No one.  Did God really call him to be an Airborne Ranger?  He didn’t even know what that meant.  He left the park and drove straight to a recruitment office.  He didn’t know much about callings from God except that if you got one, you better follow through.

Eric was about to embark on his final semester at the University of Oklahoma.  Yet, he knew God was calling him to take this path.  He never imagined God put him on a path, leading him to be an interrogator for the United States Army.  He certainly never envisioned being the one who brought down the Ace of Spades, Saddam Hussein.  How could he have known?  His story is a set of God-led one in a million kind of shots.  God landed him right there, right where God wanted him to be.  (You can read the whole story in his book, Mission: Blacklist #1 if you want the full version.  You won’t put it down!)

When I was in school with Eric, I knew him as a kind-hearted, funny guy in class.  He was super smart—just the kind of kid who makes their parents proud.  He was one of those guys everyone enjoyed being around.  We hadn’t spoken in decades aside from reconnecting on Facebook.  So, as you can imagine, I was spiritually intrigued to hear his story BEHIND the story on Saddam.  The part I already knew was that he felt God had called him into the army running in the park.  The part I didn’t know—well, it was even better than I imagined.

In my lifetime, Saddam was the first foreign leader I really understood as a threat to America and certainly to his own people.  I spent many nights praying for him to be caught, praying for friends who were called into duty straight out of college one week, These guys and girls were sent into the first Gulf War with Operation Desert Storm.  War and evil became very real to me fairly instantly as Saddam dominated the scene as a true terrorist.  Like most Vietnam vets, my dad told brief stories of being in the Infantry from memories he didn’t care to live through again, but he survived that war; I hadn’t personally lived through the terrors, as our young men and women were sent into battle.  This war was right in my face.  So, needless to say, I really wanted (or maybe needed) to know the details of Eric’s experience in God’s part in bringing that particularly heinous terror to an end.  

When we started, Eric shared, “So, you know, I grew up in Sapulpa. I don’t think I was saved. I went to church and I didn’t feel any connection to God. When I went to OU, like a lot of kids, I didn’t think about God in any way whatsoever.  I did wonder what would happen when you die, but that’s about it. I used to run in the summers. While living with my parents, I’d come home from work all day and in the evenings, I’d run around LaFortune park.”  Eric continued, “I was heading into my senior year at OU.  So, I’m running in the park as usual.  Then, there’s this one area over a bridge.  I’m telling you, Teresa, I was told to go join the Army and become an Airborne Ranger. I didn’t know what an Airborne Ranger even was. I never wanted to join the Army. I had never shot a gun before; I know, I grew up in Oklahoma, but I had never done gun or army stuff.  I just stopped in my tracks and I looked over the side of the bridge. I was like, ‘Who was that?’”  Then he went on, “I stopped running; I went to my car.  I drove to a recruiter.  I told him, ‘Hey I think I’m gonna sign up to be an Airborne Ranger.’  He said, ‘You don’t wanna do that.’ I said, ‘I don’t think I have a choice.’  I had to wait the whole fall and enlisted just before Christmas.  I joined the Army as an Infantryman in 1994 and eventually graduated Ranger school.”  

So Eric stayed on his path.  By 2000, he was trying out for Delta Force.  It’s the highest level in the Army.  Every six months, they accept 120 soldiers to try out.  Eric said, “It’s a demanding process just to make that cut.  So, I made it; they sent me to the mountains of West Virginia for the final one-month try-out.  It’s treacherous.  I’m in these mountains, pushing myself beyond any kind of normal limits.  We all were.  Every day 6-12 candidates just dropped out with injuries, blisters, and so on.  These are the baddest dudes just to get there.”  He went on, “I’m going through this tryout and I’m 10 days in and my body’s just shot.  Every night there are 40-60 soldiers going to the medic to bandage feet and so forth.  Many hear ‘You’re out.’ The medic just won’t let them go anymore.  I went to him with these horrible blisters.  He says, ‘I’m gonna let you go one more day, but you’re not gonna make it.’”  

Eric was super frustrated. He worked really hard to get this far.  It was such an achievement to be admitted to the tryouts, let alone to continue to pass the tests day by day.  He said, “I knew it was bad. So, I go to my bunk and got on my knees and I prayed to God. I was like, ‘God listen. (Really? I just told God to listen?) I can’t do this. I need you to fix my feet clean.’  I got up the next morning and the blisters were gone. They were completely gone. I was like, ‘How’d that happen?  I’ve gotta be able to remember this.’ They were so gone that just to prove it to myself, I didn’t wear socks for the remainder of the tryout.  It was probably the dumbest thing I could do to hike through those mountains without socks.  After all that, in the final stages though, I didn’t make it.  I just kept thinking ‘Why would God fix my feet if He didn’t want me to be a Delta Force member?’”  It just didn’t make sense.  

Understandably, Eric was frustrated with the results.  He pushed himself beyond the limits most of us would even dare to think about trying. Why he didn’t make it just didn’t fit.  He struggled to make all the pieces come together.  It seemed odd that God told him to be a Ranger, fixed his feet during Delta selection, yet he never became a Delta Force Operator.  He finally had to put the puzzle aside and concentrate on what was next.

Eric moved past wanting to be a Delta Force Operator.  His path led him to an opportunity to be an Army interrogator.  Again, it was nothing he planned—it was more an opportunity that seemed afforded to him with his performance and intellectual abilities.  However, he really became engrossed in the intel side of things.  It makes sense if you know him.  He was always a super sharp student, involved in the gifted program in school, with a notable IQ.  Eric was truly crafted by God as a multi-faceted player with reserve strengths equal to the ones he usually had in play.  So, this road seemed a natural fit.  Eric thrived in the role and was doing quite well.    

Then, three years later, in 2003, Eric received orders to go to Iraq to join Task Force 121, the unit who was responsible for tracking down everyone on the “deck of cards.”  In this deck, Saddam was known as the Ace of Spades.  Then the terrorist/criminal targets went down from there.  Eric said, “I show up in Iraq and this task force is a legit group.  Like, I always wondered where they keep all the really bad dudes.  Well, now I know.  These guys had superior intellect and just pervasive mental perseverance coursing through their veins. They were all right there in one unit.  So, during my inbriefing, I had to ask my Commander, ‘Why did you have me come to do this?  I’ve never been to war before.  I’m a Chinese-Mandarin linguist?’  (That was the specialty they trained Eric in as he shifted towards becoming an intelligence officer.)  Then his Commander answered, ‘Well, you’re the only trained interrogator who is former infantry and graduated Ranger School.’”  “After that,” said Eric, “things happened that no one could explain that landed me with the right skills at the right time at what felt like a preordained meeting.”  

Eric seemed the perfect fit for an open spot needing filled in Iraq.  He stayed the course doing his best at what he was trained to do.  He said, “Because of my infantry background, they sent me on a raid into Tikrit, Iraq.  I’m supposed to be there one night and then they are sending me back to Baghdad. So, when we get done, the team leader is looking at me.  He had that ‘Where do I know you?’ look.  The Delta Force Operators hold their own tryouts.  This guy remembered I was one of the last guys in the tryouts.  He knew I could hang with the intensity of their missions.  So, he kept me there.”  At that moment, Eric didn’t pause at that moment to remember how God made it possible for him to make it to that final point at the Delta Force tryouts.  It didn’t start to piece together until later how God healing his feet prolonged him at tryouts—long enough for this Commander to remember him, remember his fortitude, and most importantly, to keep him in Tikrit.

In 2003, at the beginning of the war in Iraq, CIA Case officers led the hunt for Saddam Hussein through the use of paid local informants.  They never used prisoners to be the front runners for information.  They just wanted prisoners to admit their guilt.  Then, they put them away.   By the fall of 2003, the CIA determined that neither Saddam nor any of the other high value targets were in Tikrit, where Eric was.  So, they left the Delta Force team with just one CIA agent.

Operations were still very much alive in Tikrit, but with no high value targets, things were slightly less intense.  One afternoon, while training with the Delta Force Operators, the CIA case officer left with the group was firing a 203-grenade round.  Eric said, “It detonated a couple hundred meters down range.  Although the kill radius of a 203 round is only about 15 yards, a speck of shrapnel flew all the way back into the abdomen of the agent.  The guy said ‘Hey.  Something just happened.’  For precautionary reasons, they had a medic look at the case officer’s stomach to make sure it was no big deal, but the speck eventually required them to crack open his chest for exploratory surgery.  The event permanently removed the CIA agent from the theater of operation. 

With the freak accident, the Delta Force group called the CIA team and asked for a new guy.  Eric shared, “They said ‘Nope.’  They weren’t sending anyone else out to Tikrit, because they were certain no high value targets were there,” Eric went on explaining how random things once again turned into opportunity.  Now, because the Delta Force Team was no longer supported by the CIA, they asked if he could do anything to gather information from the prisoners in the interrogations.  “I told them ‘Absolutely.  I think I can.’ and that’s what I did. The rest of the story is in my book, but people don’t tie it in together as a God thing, but I knew.” shared Eric.  

Eric immediately started seeking valuable information from the prisoners with his interrogation technique.  He was strategic.  Formed relationships.  Listened.  It was really a detour from any kind of interrogation the Army was doing at the time.  Eric shared, “The funny thing is the guy who recognized me from the Delta Force Team didn’t even like me.  One of the Delta Operators liked me and we spent time together doing these interrogations; the other guy was the Deputy Commander, and he just did not like me.  I’m not for everybody,” Eric chuckled. 

As Eric kept gaining more and more interesting intel through the prisoner interrogations, he was using the translator all of the time.  Eric said, “We only had one translator.  We were preparing for a huge raid of 20 houses and we really needed an additional interpreter.  Fortunately, there was an interrogator back at Baghdad, who was also a native Egyptian, who of course spoke Arabic.  He was sent up to join us in Tikrit.”  When he arrived, the Delta Operator, who didn’t like Eric, requested that he permanently replace Eric in Tikrit.  He made a logical case that the native linguist would allow the team to preserve the energies of their interpreter.  Eric shared, “The team leader didn’t really like me.  He didn’t like that I was wasting his linguist.  He said he was going to trade me and keep this guy, because the Egyptian didn’t need a translator.  There was nothing I could do about it.  So, I was scheduled to leave for home that night.  I was done.”  That’s how things looked at that moment.

As tales of God intervening go though, this story wasn’t over yet.  Eric shared, “We’re on this last raid before I’m to leave.  That interrogator then has an accidental discharge of his weapon.  That’s when if you accidentally pull the trigger the gun fires.  I had never even seen one, but this interrogator had one.  It’s bad.” Eric went on, “They train you over and over to make sure that never happens obviously, but he had one.  They immediately sent him back to Baghdad and I stayed.”  Eric said humbly, “I’m not saying God just messed up this guy’s gun—but the odds of that happening, exactly when it did when my time was up—they are nearly impossible.  It’s just one in ten million or something. It’s just not gonna happen.  It’s just not.” 

That was the path that God put Eric on that led him to Saddam.  Eric said, “I have no question in my mind as to His involvement in my path.  The bridge at LaFortune.  My Delta Force trek with my feet healing, extending my tryouts and allowing me to be in the final group with this Delta Force Operator.  The odds of the piece of metal in the guy’s chest is like one in 100 million.  The accidental discharge on the exact right day, just before I was leaving that night—not impossible, but it’s just so unlikely to happen.”  Eric added, “Someone who isn’t a Christian might not pull those pieces together the same as I would—but I know God had a plan.”  Then, he paused, “I don’t know what the pinnacle is of your job (whatever job that may be), but if you’re an interrogator, tracking down the ‘Ace of Spades,’ that’s it.  You would think that would be the best moment you could experience.  That’s just not what happened.”

The Fall from Glory 

Political factions have a certain way of turning something incredible into something else.  Everyone has a stake in the game.  For many, the good of America falls further down the list than the betterment of self.  So, although most all of America heralded Eric as an amazing hero, many of those with intelligence acquisition skin in the game did not.  After all, they were the ones deemed with the task of finding Saddam.  They were also the ones who dismissed Tikrit as having no value toward his capture.  

In order to more effectively utilize Eric, he was immediately pulled out of the Army.  That move gave the government a lot more flexibility with interrogators. For Eric, it was a much better situation.  It paid more.  He was back in the States.  It certainly felt safer.  However, what he didn’t see coming was the world of competitive intelligence—the political factions.  The CIA, FBI, DIA, and all these groups with their own special interests were supposed to be responsible for tracking down the most wanted people in the world.  They just weren’t happy about the way things went.  An army interrogator was not supposed to find Saddam.  He just wasn’t.

They soon started with campaigns about how Eric just “got lucky” or was “in the right place at the right time.”  By Eric’s estimation, they were right in the fact that God had placed him there at the right time.  At this moment, these campaigns were detrimental to Eric’s demeanor.  It was frustrating to him, as he was feeling pretty proud of himself.  I understand.  I’m sitting here typing up the story in Starbucks and I want to explain to everyone sitting around how important what I’m writing is.  I almost just told the clerk when I went for a refill.  I had to stop myself.  So, I think I kinda get it.  It would be pretty easy to be feeling a bit high and mighty if I did what Eric did.  Even if I thought God got me there, which by the way, is how I know this story is happening. Still. It would be a minute by minute battle to keep myself in perspective.  

The factions were making comments to minimize what Eric had done.  They needed Eric to just have been lucky in order to maintain their positions as the authorities on intelligence that information.  From the government’s perspective outside these agencies, we just needed to do more of it.  So, they decided to get 30 of these interrogators and make them specialists.  Eric said, “The agencies though, were basically standing in the way.  They were not going to give over that power.  These struggles lasted until 2009-2010.”  While it was all transpiring, Eric continued with his struggles with pride.  They started to overtake him a bit.  He became a little bit obsessed with wanting to show his abilities to anyone he found.  He found himself spiraling a bit out of control.  His only bright spot in the middle of the spiral?  Reconnecting with his friend Heather.

Heather and Eric got married in 2008, which gave Eric a whole new sense of purpose.  He was still going through these struggles when they married, but Heather gave him a ray of beautiful light in what felt like a gaping hole of darkness.  He found himself experiencing a lot of angst and depression disengaging from such an intense set of battles.  The mental anguish from the political pressures was also intense.  He just needed to escape it a bit.

Heather and Eric had their sweet baby girl in October of 2009.  Eric felt he should want to stay.  He should want to be home, but he decided his best escape was to remain deployed. He was leaving just three weeks after she was born.  If he were overseas, he wasn’t in these pointless political struggles.  He could serve his country and find some form of purpose again or so he thought.  

Before his marriage to Heather in 2005, Eric was in a raid where an enemy hand grenade blew up in front of him. He took some shrapnel.  It definitely freaked everyone in his family out.  Eric shared, “So, when I was going out again in 2009, those happenings she had heard of haunted her. Heather was a little nervous.  She was a brand new mom.  The realization that I go on these dangerous missions kind of sank in for her for the first time.  Heather had known about it, but she certainly had never dealt with it.”  Eric needed deployed.  His wife needed him safe for her and for their daughter.  It’s a whole scenario most of us don’t experience unless we have loved ones serving in our armed forces.  I think if we did, we would appreciate our freedom a whole lot more than we do.  

Eric was now heading out, being deployed.  He said, “When leaving, I was super excited.  I’m in the Baltimore airport.  She’s in Oklahoma.  Our sweet daughter, Mary, was about 3 weeks old.  A normal person should be sad they are leaving, but here I am excited. I’m acting like I’m going to the north pole to see Santa Claus.  Things were just off. I was just off.”  The whole scenario ran the gamut of emotions for everyone involved.  Nothing was in sync.  Nothing.

A “Come to Jesus Meeting” with Another Type of Interrogator

Eric was boarding the plane.  He said, “Heather calls me right when I’m walking on.  She says, ‘So, I’ve gotta ask you.  Are you saved?’ And I’m like, ‘Are you talking about church? Yeah. I think I’m good.’  She’s Baptist. So, you can imagine a Baptist-minded woman talking to someone who is like ‘Yeah. I think I’m good.’ So, she says, ‘Eric Maddox. I’m serious.  Are you saved?’ and I’m like, ‘I think. I found Saddam.  What is God looking for?’  Then, she’s like, ‘Oh my gosh.’  I said ‘Heather I went to church as a kid. My mom goes to church every Sunday. You pray. I think I’m good.’  Then she says, ‘No. Are you, yourself saved?’  Then I answered her, 

‘Heather there’s a lot of screwed up people out here and I’m not one of them. I’m probably good.’ Then, she’s like, ‘Don’t get killed.  I’m going to send you a bunch of tapes.’ 

I’m thinking ‘I’m probably all square.  What’s God looking for?  I go to war. I like America. Doesn’t that count?’” he finished.  

When you hear a conversation like that, you start to think we need to be having it with everyone in our churches.  It’s a pretty common misunderstanding that God is looking for us to DO enough to make it in.  Many of us just think like Eric that we’ve done enough.  We’re nice enough.  We’ve walked enough little old ladies across the street, so to speak.  However, Eric quickly found out that was just not enough.  There was actually no amount of good he could do, not even tracking down a powerful enemy like Saddam Hussein, that would give him a pass through those pearly gates.   

Heather started sending Eric tapes from a Baptist preacher named Adrian Rogers.  Eric shared, “So, I’m over in Afghanistan and I’m listening to these tapes.  It wasn’t like they were just changing my life, but I thought they were pretty good.  Then, he goes into Ephesians, into verse eight, and starts talking about grace through faith and not good works and I’m telling you it was a revelation.  I was like ‘What? Oh my.’  It completely penetrated my heart.  It was so needed.” Eric said. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT says “God saved you by His grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

Eric was blown away by the concept of grace.  He said “I felt I was losing my mind.  I was in this cycle. All I wanted was to prove I was the greatest interrogator in the world.  I had become slightly arrogant.  I wanted to travel the world and tell people, ‘Give me the hardest prisoner. I need to know who stunk it up first and I’m gonna shove it in their face and break the prisoner with my interrogation techniques.’  It wasn’t THAT bad, but I’m a bad dude and when you get to be called interrogator, it’s kind of a cool title.”  

Eric continued, “You get to be with this task force; you can break anybody, and you do it in a way that’s smarter.  Well, it’s very consuming.  I couldn’t get away from it.”  

The more Eric contemplated grace, the more relief he found.  Eric shared “So, when I realized this verse, it was like this huge weight came off my shoulders.  I don’t have to do anything.  As a matter of fact, I can’t do anything.  And, God knows I’m jacked.”  (call out) He went on, “I knew I was screwed up.  I thought somehow these interrogations and this service to my country were going to make it ok and that I could get to heaven,” said Eric.  

“I had never heard this verse before. I told Heather, ‘Does anybody else read this thing?  This Bible?  This is incredible. This Jesus Christ, he’s just something else.’ 

So, from that moment on, Eric said, “I had a completely different look on life. I was different with Christ.  It’s way better. It’s not arrogant.  Then, I just kept thinking, it was great God chose me and pretty much handed this opportunity to get Saddam to me, but I didn’t do it.  He picked me.  I feel great He chose me, but I just didn’t do it.  It’s impossible.  It’s impossible that all of these things could have happened without God intervening.  There’s just no way.  God wanted me there.”  

Eric then moved into a new area of thinking.  He thought, “What I know more than that God landed me there on purpose is that God did not do all those things just so that I could find Saddam.  My gift is to talk, well, it’s my mom’s curse,” he chuckled, “but it’s my gift.  I’m excited to see how God will continue to orchestrate His plan for His Kingdom.”

Right now, Eric is on a journey with God.  He’s ready to understand how all this experience God gave him is meant to serve the Kingdom of God.  He shared, “It’s certainly how I pay the bills.  I have a gift and do know God gave me a purpose.  But, we are here to serve Jesus Christ and to grow His Kingdom—to serve people.  So, I’m ready to see what’s next.”


“One part of Eric’s Chazown 

(Hebrew for Dream)”:

Chazown is a Hebrew word communicating that we were each born with a dream or vision—our own Chazown.  Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life.Church has a book titled “Chazown,” which helps God’s people find their God-given dream.

Eric, like each of us, has a plan already crafted by God that he can be a part of if he chooses.  I found it ironic that Eric was so drastically changed by Ephesians 2:8-9, because when you continue the passage, into verse 10, God tells us, (NLT): 

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  

Planned long ago. Someone, who accomplished something high on the list of worldly victories, seeking how God plans to use that God-ordained accomplishment for the Kingdom of God.  That’s Kingdom perspective we all need.  Funny enough, God already has it all mapped out for each of us.  We just need to answer His call.

Eric shared “I know one part of God’s path is children with Down’s Syndrome. I’m completely drawn to them. When I’m around one, it’s all I wanna do and all I wanna be. If I could ask God where to put me—I hope part of His direction puts me on that path.  It would be helpful to my soul to support those amazing kids.”  Eric finished the interview with his hope for Down’s kiddos.  He said, “I need people to look at Down’s Syndrome kids and go ‘Thank God.’ I need parents to celebrate that super special baby.  One thing I know, if you get me on it—I’m just telling you…”  

Yeah, I can only imagine Eric. #GoDoBe


What’s Your Chazown?

When you put Eric’s story into a framework of God’s purpose and plan—it would seem from an earthly perspective, Eric had reached the ultimate worldly achievement being the guy who got Saddam.  After all—the “Ace of Spades” didn’t make the list of America’s most feared terrorists/enemies for nothing.  However, Eric’s mission?  He’s ready to see even further reasons God orchestrated this path for him.  He’s looking to follow into God’s Kingdom purpose for his path, his pursuit, and his victory.  Sometimes people mock this hero’s credit to his Creator for this path—but I agree with him.  I can’t wait to see where God uses him next.

What about you?  Are you pursuing God’s plan for YOUR life?  Are you actively seeking how he can use your experiences, gifts, and talents in the Kingdom of God?  You don’t have to get Saddam to have an equally fascinating story of God weaving together your experiences in a way to be used for his Kingdom. In fact, we all have the promise above in Ephesians 2:10 that He’s prepared these Kingdom works in advance for us to do.  In some cases, God might be using you before you even realize it.  In others, you may know exactly how God wants to use you, but you might not be answering “Yes. Here I am. Send me.”  Take it from Eric, who followed God’s orders before he knew much more than that God was someone you just obey.  Regardless.   

You might already be aware of your skills.  You might know exactly how they could  be used if you just said “Yes.”  If so, let this be a challenge to you.  No matter how great your earthly achievement, YOUR pinnacle that marks success, it pales in comparison to the work God has for you in His Kingdom, in HIS plan.  If you aren’t quite sure.  Don’t worry.  There are so many great methods.  One is in Pastor Craig Groeschel’s book mentioned above, Chazown.  The book is available on Amazon or you can participate in a Chazown experience at Life.Church.  Focus on the Family also has a great set of articles available at www.focusonthefamily.com with “Discovering your God-Given Purpose.”  The articles share everything from discovery, to setting up your goals, overcoming fear of criticism, to your purpose having eternal significance.

In my own life, I have found God’s purpose almost thrust upon me with this magazine.  It certainly wasn’t on my radar.  It wasn’t thriving in earthly financial value in a way that would justify purchasing it from an earthly perspective.  It’s a print magazine in a digital age. However, God has shown my husband and I great purpose in having a community publication sharing the message of Christ.  We see the magazines vacating the shelves across town all the way to Grand Lake.  We talk with random strangers, who contact us, touched by a message God had us write on.  

You explain to me a plan of how a girl ends up with an English degree, on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), a web designer/marketing/trade show person, managing marketing/events around the country/world and selling high end fiber optic networks to the biggest telecom companies.  That path doesn’t seem crafted.  However, from a Kingdom perspective if somehow God lands you with a Christian magazine, working on events with non-profits, selling some ads trying to help pay for it, and writing about whatever God brings my way – then you have an interesting set of experience. I’m more involved in His plan than I have been in such a long time. I could go on, but you get the idea.  I don’t get it.  I just know God has plans bigger than me and I don’t always NEED to get it.  I just need to follow through.

What’s His plan for you?  Find it.  If I’ve learned one thing, life is way too short to waste on things that won’t matter.  God has a plan.  Hop in it.  Fall in it.  Just get in it however you can.  If you’ve fallen out of it a bit, don’t worry.  God still can pick you right back up and plug you right back in.  After all, Philippians 1:6 NLT says, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” #GoDoBe


Maybe Heather Maddox’s inquisition also pierced your heart as you read?  Can you relate to Eric’s responses?  Have you ever felt you were “good enough” to make it in?  That other people being in church is probably enough to get you there? 

God didn’t write a plan for us that leaves us wondering.  We actually get to know for sure.  Romans 10:9-10 (NLT) says:

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.”

So, like Heather, let me ask, “Do YOU know Christ?  Have YOU, YOURSELF, accepted Him as your personal savior?”  If not, you can pray something like this:  “Father, forgive me as I know I’ve messed up.  I’ve been trying to get to you on my own.  I can’t do it.  I don’t even have to do it.  You came to me.  Sent your Son to die for me so that I could live.  I declare Jesus is Lord. I believe he rose from the dead.”  If you do pray it–reach out to your church and let them know!  If you don’t have a home church–email me at teresa@communityspiritmagazine.com and I can help you get plugged into one.

Written by R.A. Goodnight

DO YOU ENJOY YOUR FREEDOM OR DO YOU VALUE IT?

I spent most of 2007 living abroad in the Philippines.  Prior to leaving, I had to take a class that taught me important cultural and lifestyle guidelines: what I could and could not say, what I could and could not do, as well as where I should and should not go.  Even before leaving the United States, this was a new experience, as living here, most of us never have to give much consideration as to what we can or cannot say and do.  At least in 2007 we didn’t.

Once I was in the Philippines, I would attend weekly meetings with a security detail, as they briefed me on current threats I had to keep on my radar.  Each morning, when I returned to my hotel, I would be greeted by soldiers with automatic weapons.  A K9 would sniff me down and I would be searched.  My backpack would be emptied, as they checked for explosives or other weapons.  Sometimes I would be questioned; I even experienced the beginnings of a violent coup d’etat.  Could you imagine living in such an environment every day of your life?  You might not have to use your imagination. It is actually starting to happen here.

On the weekends I joined  with missionaries from Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. as we took the Good News into the shanties and the villages on the outlying islands.  In predominantly Muslim villages, we had to be cautious on how we shared the message for risk of violence.  During these trips I would witness utter poverty, victims of human trafficking, malnutrition and illiteracy.  When I returned at night my food, water and per diem would be depleted having given it to the children.  My eyes would be tired from reading the Bible to those who couldn’t read it for themselves, even in their native tongue.  Can you imagine having your family try to survive in conditions such as these?  Some are dealing with a few of these circumstances right here in the U.S.  

During these experiences, I remember a thought that kept going through my mind – “You are complacent, and you take for granted too many freedoms you have back home.”  I have experienced similar conditions and this same convicting thought in other countries as well.  Upon my return home, I always find myself thankful for the freedoms my family can enjoy.

All of us ENJOY our freedom, some of us maybe too much.  But, as you read this article, ask yourself – do I really VALUE, and not just enjoy, the freedoms that I have?  There is a difference.  If you do value them, what are you doing to protect and keep them?  Several of them are already being targeted.

THE CROSSROADS

It is an obvious statement, but the secular freedoms we have are not experienced in most countries around the world.  Despite their rarity, more and more of our countrymen are showing their disregard for the freedoms they were born into as American citizens.  With a few exceptions, most have never experienced life without the present degree of freedom we have; many have never had these freedoms come at a personal cost.  We must remember, these freedoms were not achieved by chance.  To the contrary they came at great cost.  The stark reality is we will not retain them if we do not give them the respect they deserve.  At this point in American history, “We the People” stand at a crossroads, struggling to make up our minds on which direction we should choose.  Do we move to the right or to the left? 

To the right, a path lies before us remembering and honoring things for which honorable men and women fought and died.  It protects the mainstays to freedom – our ability to believe as we choose, to worship as we choose and to have access to unbiased information.  If we choose the path to the right, we will retain our ability to select from among the people, the individuals that will respect our opinions and represent our will as citizens.  That path will allow us to have a say in our own lives instead of being subject to someone else’s agenda for us.   This path does come with costs though.

Regarding the costs of freedom, President Ronald Regan reminds us, 

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same”.  

Yes, to remain free we must be brave, willing to take a stand and to be involved in our communities.  It asks each of us, as individuals, to be willing to teach future generations the importance of freedom and sanctity in protecting it.  It requires sacrifice from each of us to be personally accountable and responsible for our freedoms.   Sigmund Freud stated, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”  

Perhaps that is why the path to left seems appealing to so many.  This path entices the population to a life without personal responsibility–a new nation where everyone can be and do whatever they want.  After all,  the government will take care of the rest.  It advertises with words such as equality and tolerance.  It even promises a release from accountability to financial burdens such as education costs, healthcare costs and mortgages.

But when we pull back the curtain and examine what is really being offered, we find frightening compromises.  The financial freedoms they promise will come at the cost of three inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  To achieve the world’s definition of tolerance and equality you will be asked to turn in your freedoms of religion, speech and press (as well as others).  That path asks you to renounce your allegiance to key elements of God’s word.  In its place, you will  bend your knee to man and fear.  There’s not enough time to get into all of the costs of socialism.  In many ways though, our country essentially become slaves to sin.

With the two paths having been identified, does the Bible give us any direction to consider on freedom and our responsibility regarding it?

FREEDOM AND THE BIBLE – 

THE GOOD

Throughout human history, we have seen God liberate His people from worldly governments 

such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Rome.  In most examples recorded in The Bible, humans (both men and women) played a part with helping God’s servants become free, as well as interceding on behalf of His people before the rulers of the time.  We have examples such as:

Moses and Aaron (Exodus 5:1,2)

Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:4,5)

Esther (Esther 3:8; 4:12-17; 7:3,4)

And Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1-7)

Understanding that neither God nor His purpose has changed, we can be confident that He still desires for His people to be free. (Malachi 3:6) Additionally, we should gain courage from seeing Him bless the efforts of those who work for the good of His people in the political spectrum.  But most importantly, we should understand that freedom is a gift given to us from God. (James 1:17) Knowing this, it only makes sense that He expects us to value the freedoms we have.  However, He will not force us to take it if it is not wanted.  He will take it away if we toss it aside.  Let’s discuss this more.

THE BAD

We find an important lesson that God teaches those paying attention in the story of Samuel.  The Nation of Israel had been liberated from Egypt; they were now in the Promised Land.  They had seen God take care of them in many miraculous ways.  But, after all He had done for them, notice what they asked Samuel to do.  “They said to him, ‘You are old…now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’” (1 Samuel 8:5) Yes, the Nation of Israel came to see little value in the freedom God had given them; they had lost respect for those that had sacrificed for them.  They wanted to be like the nations, like everyone else.

How did God respond?  He told Samuel, “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (1 Samuel 8:9 NLT) Samuel did as God directed and warned them of the political decision they were making; telling them that they would come to regret their choice. (1 Samuel 8:10-18) Even though they were warned, they proceeded anyway. (1 Samuel 8:19, 20) History shows that God was right.  Think of all the turmoil Israel went through due to many wicked kings and the decisions they made.  

What lesson do we learn from this?  

God may warn us against taking a certain political path, but He will not stop us if the people’s hearts are set upon it.  How wise it would be to listen to the warnings in advance.

Does this not remind us of today?  Many are clamoring for something different.  We are watching the divide begin to occur, some choosing the right while others choose the left.  Some of what they say might seem appealing to us, but we have been warned – by history, by true leaders bold enough to speak up and by God himself via The Bible.  We have been told, as good as it may sound, do not go down the path being pushed by the left.  But, He will not prevent it…even if we ultimately regret it.

We need to give serious consideration to which path and which leaders we are supporting.  We need to pray for those elected, as well as our fellow citizens, that they make the right choice as it affects all of us. (1 Timothy 2:1,2) While time remains, each of us should show we value the freedoms we have.  Do not allow them to be stripped away freely by the lunacy of the world.  We should be involved in the capacities each of us have been given, making it known that we choose God and His gift of freedom.

THE UGLY

Compared to the world in general, it should be crystal clear that each of us as American’s have been given a great gift in freedom.  The Bible, through Jesus’ words,  gives admonition to people who have been entrusted with such gifts, “For everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48 NLT)

Our gift of freedom demands our continued action.  Right now, we are being asked to protect the freedoms entrusted to us.  By our actions or our inactions, we will prove if we are worthy of what has been given to us.  There is a second scriptural principle that applies as well, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much”. (Luke 16:10) By no means am I suggesting freedom is a ‘very little’ thing.  What I am stating is this: if we want God to continue to bless us with more, to trust us with more, we must be faithful stewards with what He has already asked us to oversee.  For The United States of America, freedom is part of what has been given.

We must pay attention to this important principle, as there is an alternative outcome for those who are not good stewards.  In the parable of the talents, Christ issues a warning to those who do not value the gifts that God has given to them. (Matthew 25:14-30) He says, “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  And throw that worthless servant outside…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25:28-30) If we continue as a country to show disregard for the freedoms that have been given us, they could be taken from us all together.

We are the stewards.  As much, we must take a stand against what we are seeing happen.  Your current freedoms, and maybe even more importantly, the freedoms of the next generations are dependent upon your actions today.

SO, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

At the outset, I asked if you could imagine living in such an environment where freedom was limited or non-existent.  As each day passes, this country appears to move further in that direction.  Will you spectate while this is occurring?  Will you not have any involvement?  Being “neutral” in the issues of our time gives way to victory for the side you likely oppose.

And what about our children and grandchildren?  

Can you imagine them afraid to speak? 

To believe? 

To learn the truths that God gives?  

Time is still on our side.  The ability remains for us to hold back what would transform where we grew up into something unrecognizable.  As Nehimiah said to those helping him rebuild Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14) 

If you more than just enjoy,  if you truly value what you have, then help ensure an inheritance of freedom for the next generation. Each of us must be responsible.  Each of us must get involved.  We must hold fast our stand with God and His views on freedom no matter how unpopular, and we must do our part to secure freedom for our future generations.   

#GoDoBe

Written by Teresa Goodnight, Thesis By Natalie Stitt Regent Preparatory – Student, Guest Author

Help Connect the Dots:  

God likes to display His mastery of His plans sometimes.  Without me, He literally just aligns things for the magazine that leave my mouth hanging open in awe of His intricately laid plans.  When we first laid out the subjects for this issue last year, we planned on talking about Freedom in July.  I immediately thought of Eric Maddox’s Saddam story and the story in LaFortune Park.  I wanted him in this issue.  In retrospect, I had no idea why he would be such a perfect fit. I reached out to him quite a while ago and he agreed.  There was so much of his story I didn’t know, since we hadn’t talked since high school.  It blew my mind as he pieced it together for me (and certainly you should buy the book!  I did.).  Interestingly enough, a few days before I interviewed him, God intervened with this next story.

We had a reader bring it to my attention that our Christian schools do not accept children with Down’s Syndrome.  I’ll admit, I thought she was not possibly correct.  Sure enough.  One by one, as I found a free moment, I called through my list.  I promised her I would look into it.  Not one.  My heart was breaking, as I understood her plea.  If you are looking for a Christian education for your child, then something like Down’s just shouldn’t stand in the way.  The reader said, “When I call, they tell me it’s a funding issue.  Then, I see stadiums or buildings being built.”  She continued, “One school even had a really large multi-million dollar donation made that completely changed the entire campus.  Yet they didn’t add a plan for Down’s children either.  So, I just think that’s something they all might say.”  

I was so shocked.  In fact, I say it out loud to people just to see their reactions.  No one else knows either.  I thought it must just be here.  Surely.  So, I checked with my sweet friend in Texas.  Her son, Adley is maybe one of the funniest kids I’ve met.  There’s not enough room to go into the air guitar singing he does in the kitchen.  I mean wow.  It’s so flipping hysterical.  But alas, nope.  He’s in a Charter School.  I just couldn’t believe it.  

These kiddos are a great fit in a classroom for so many reasons.  For one, it helps them to be a part of the world and to understand the world better.  For another, it helps students in these classrooms learn from these amazing kiddos.  Not to mention, can you imagine siblings attending different schools for this reason?  Wouldn’t that just break a child’s heart?  The last thing that child would need is something else to challenge them emotionally in life. 

So, it kept haunting me.  Finally, I was on my last call to find a school with a program—Regent Preparatory School in Tulsa.  I just knew they would have an answer I needed to hear.  When the woman called me back from the school, I told her the reason for my call.  She said something to the effect that this had been on her heart lately.  There was a young lady who did her senior thesis on inclusion for those with disabilities in the Christian community.  She said it was so moving that it had the staff talking in the halls.  Regent didn’t offer school acceptance for these students either.  However, she offered to connect me to the student.  She thought we would want it.  I couldn’t wait to read it.  I was hoping she would agree to let us publish it in the magazine.  We talked and she agreed.

I wanted to edit her piece in order to fit it nicely in the pages we had reserved. However, I couldn’t.  It was so well written as it was.  It was a testament to her heart and certainly to the education she received at Regent.  More importantly, if her premise was right—just publishing it might open the eyes of our readers causing change. She and I decided to do a two-part series with her piece.  We want to stoke the fire.  Then, we’re hoping we can find churches and resources by our next deadline for September to help us fan the flames.  Maybe we might find schools, who might say yes to stepping up to the call to make a difference in the lives of these kiddos.  

Then, God threw in a fun twist. Something on the heart of this Rockstar Army Ranger, the interrogator?  He wants to play a part in helping children with Down’s Syndrome.  How does that fit?  I don’t know. I expected his very cool story would get the magazine passed around from person to person.  It will get us more clicks.  More people will read and become aware!

In addition, I was introduced to City Elders, the guards seeking to govern the gates of the city.  These guys are intense.  Plus, they are recruiting pastors and business leaders from all over the state and nation.  They had agreed to be a big story in this issue as well.  As they take the magazine from county to county—this message will be spreading through the state of Oklahoma to pastors and Christian leaders.

If that doesn’t strike you as a bit of divine planning, then you should have been there when I read the student’s name.  Natalie Stitt.  It didn’t strike me immediately.  Then, I realized her beautiful heart and powerful thoughts were fathered by our Governor, Kevin Stitt.  (and mothered of course, by his lovely wife, Sarah.)  Most will read her story because it’s amazing.  Others will read it simply because of her name.  All those reading WILL be stirred by God in some way.  You can’t help it when you read it.  

I couldn’t have recruited this group myself with such interesting connections.  What’s God going to do with it all?

I have no flipping idea.  

However, I CAN tell you I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting on what’s going to be in the September/October issue.  It’s too much fun to watch without letting everyone in on God’s work.  He’s working.  He’s waiting for us to be a part of what He’s already prepared in advance for us to do. It’s beautifully majestic.

And with that introduction, I give you Natalie Stitt’s senior thesis.


The Image of God: a concept that has been discussed in theological circles for centuries; it is a factor that is common to all of humanity, and, specifically in the biblical sense, gives each and every individual on this planet inherent value that can never be taken away, but sometimes our vision of the image of God in others is obscured. Even in the church, we sometimes fail to discern this basic human gift. Last summer, I spent three weeks at Camp Barnabas, a camp for individuals with special needs. During that time I was introduced to Emilia. When I first met her, we instantly started talking about our favorite animals, our favorite places to go, and our favorite activities. Like me, she loves the outdoors, music, and spending time with her friends and family. She is bright, kind, and an amazing listener, yet, despite our lively conversation and blooming friendship, she faces completely different problems than I do, because of her physical condition. 

Emilia was born with a spinal defect, and was paralyzed shortly after birth, leaving her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. I could feel myself pitying her, and in my pity, I felt like I was doing good, but as our friendship grew stronger, I realized that there was no room for pity in our relationship. Pity is not wrong, but to truly be a friend to someone, there must be a basis of equality, a recognition of one’s intrinsic value, honoring the fact that they are made in God’s holy image. The ultimate end of a relationship with anyone, whether or not they have disabilities, must be established on this equality. Once I overcame my pity, I saw Emilia as she truly was, in her godlikeness. 

The Bible, although seemingly vague when it comes to individuals with disabilities, is the place where any theological inquiry must start, but first, terms must be defined. Expressions such as “disabled,” “handicapped,” or the recent “differently abled” are contemporary expressions used when addressing or describing an individual with disabilities. These terms, however common they are in the English language, do not appear in the Bible. Instead, the Scriptures use specific terms such as “crippled” or “diseased,” yet, however straightforward the texts are literally, the connotations are much harder to decipher. In order to have an adequate understanding of disability and its relationship with the Bible and the Church, we must examine both the Old and New Testaments, and the ways in which its adherence followed holy commandments. 

One helpful way to examine the Old Testament practices as they pertain to disability is through the lens of contemporary Judaism. Despite all of the curses that are often misinterpreted, Judaism is an extremely inclusive and welcoming community, and they take the rights of individuals with special needs very seriously (Jewish Values). Their mindset is not that of healing or charity, but rather an inclusive model that strives to follow the example of the Israelites in in the wilderness, a body of extremely diverse people serving under one God; in their eyes, Yahweh spoke at Mount Sinai because His people were gathered in unity. They believe that the “religious life of every Jew and the religious life of the entire community is deficient when not everyone is able to be present. That is why it is so fundamentally important that historically marginalized groups are treated with dignity, respect, and honor just like anyone else in the community” (Inclusion is a Jewish Imperative). 

The early Church adhered to Jesus’ commandment to “go out. . . and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” and blossomed as people of all forms grew in a community of love (Luke 14:21). As Jesus’ words echoed through their hearts, Jews and Gentiles, wealthy and poor, strong and weak, all partook in a community that strove to serve God and others. Having followed Jesus while he walked the earth, the disciples went out, sharing the gospel with all people, even those with disabilities, and they recalled Jesus’ teachings of providing for the widowed and orphaned, caring for the downtrodden, and bringing in those with disease and disability. Inevitably, as the Church grew, it became easier for it to be distracted from its original mission. 

Now, there is a disconnect. Within the Christian faith there are several different ways in which churches include those with special needs. To illustrate this fact, one must examine the sacramental life of several Christian denominations. Let us consider the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Baptist churches’ positions on baptism and communion. Who do they say is allowed to partake in these sacraments? The Orthodox policies for inclusion of individuals with disabilities seems to be extremely similar to those of the Jewish tradition. They embrace the “uniqueness and dignity” of each human being, and recognize them as bearers of God’s holy image, therefore, fully including them into the body of the Church by encouraging full participation in their congregation’s sacramental life (Orthodox Theological Perspective). 

In the middle, Catholicism is very quick to include, but not on the basis of one’s individuality in disability, but rather on the basis of salvation. The Catholic faith views the sacraments as playing an extremely important role in one’s salvation, so they do not like to take any chances. People, no matter if they are cognitively aware or not, are allowed access to the sacraments in a Catholic church. 

Finally, on the other side, Protestant traditions such as Baptists, hence their name, elevate baptism as an extremely vital choice in the life of a Christian. Although this is not wrong, it lead to the exclusion of people who are incapable of making a cognitive choice, due to their profound intellectual disability. The topic of sacramental inclusion of those with disabilities is an extremely complex and multi-faceted theological dilemma; I am neither qualified nor able to provide a solution to this particular problem. I am simply pointing out the difference in practice within the Body of Christ for the purpose of examination, while asking the question, “Where do people with disabilities fit in a place of worship?” 

For centuries, the Church has struggled to accept those with disabilities. They have been seen as vessels of charity, as objects to be healed, and even as witnesses to the wrath of God towards sin. These misconstructions have clouded the Church’s eyes to one of the greatest commandments, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4). Now, the ‘policies’ for dealing with those with special needs vary from denomination to denomination, but assuming that every church follows Christ’s example and welcomes everyone, physical accessibility of a church is common in the United States. Following the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties, the American Disabilities Act ensures anyone the right to enter any building. Although this may be a vital step to inclusion for one with physical hindrances, “rights cannot open up spaces of intimacy,” that is, the ability to enter a building does not ensure acceptance from the people inside the building (Reinders 43). In other words, true inclusion into a community of love cannot be accomplished by the mere ability to enter a building. 

Think of your church: how well is the special needs community represented in your congregation? 

One or two members, although much better than many congregations, does not constitute the diverse image of the Body of Christ as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians. In Oklahoma alone, about one in every six individuals has a disability of some form (Admin), meaning that statistically, churches with gatherings of six or more members, should have at least one person with special needs in their community (Religion in America). Yet, nationally, eighty to eighty-five percent of churches do not have any form of a special needs program (Five Statistics). This is because not enough people with special needs attend those churches to warrant such programs. 

Statistics such as these contradict Jesus’ teaching in the book of Luke, to “go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (14.21). Where are all of these people? Why do they not attend a church? In a 2014 study, George White asked these very questions in a survey of 166 people, from eighteen different denominations. The purpose of his survey was to get an internal view of the “current status of people with disabilities within the Christian community” (White 21). His questions ranged from general to specific experiences, all of them inquiring about inclusion and the barriers to inclusion in the Church. Many of the answers he received were both eye-opening and heartbreaking: of the 166 responses to the questions about the barriers to inclusion, 39.8% reported it to be on account of ignorance, lack of training, or faulty theology. Another 40.9% reported the attitude of the congregation as an inhibiting factor to proper inclusion into the church. 

Whether or not this general attitude is intentional, it has still proven to be a factor that inhibits inclusion. As his study continued, those surveyed also noted several actions that proved to enhance inclusion. In their experience, those had been with training, increased awareness, and welcoming attitudes, all of which begin in the heart’s ability to recognize intrinsic value above disability. When God breathed life into Adam and Eve, He instilled within them His own image, instantly bestowing upon them inherent value that is irrevocable; in some circles, people are referred to as “Icons of God” in order to preserve the scared nature of the term and the image they bear. Although this worth can never be changed, the original perfection that God created Adam and Eve with is marred by original sin: a consequence that reaches all of humanity (Hoekema 20). 

The term “Imago Dei” is something that is so often tossed about in theological discussion that it seems to have lost some of its potency, but it is not something to be taken lightly. When God created the world, he crowned mankind with His image, distinguishing them above all other creations, and instilling within them a value that would never be taken away. Christians understand that this term holds weight, and distinguishes humans above other creatures, yet, when topics pertaining to disability arise, the factor of the Imago Dei, and all that it pertains to, is sometimes forgotten. Humanity, in Christian theology, is predominately defined as an icon of God: it is the basis for the intrinsic value that all human beings possess despite status, intelligence, or physical ability. 

As humans, we innately desire community; the Church functioning as the Body of Christ should be the fulfillment of the communal need that God instilled within us, until we stand in His presence. If people with disabilities are made in the image of God, then they are fully human and share the need for community and relationship with the rest of the human race. Those with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual challenges, are individuals not only deserving of the love and support offered by a Christian community, but, because of their intrinsic value, they have every right to be a member of the Body of Christ. In order for these inclusive needs to be fulfilled, we must biblically redefine inclusion and reorient our hearts to view all individuals, with or without disabilities, as Jesus would.


THINGS TO PRAY ON:

• What is your atitude toward those with disabilities?

• Your church’s attitude?

• Your school’s attitude?


WHAT DOES INCLUSIVE LOVE LOOK LIKE?

If we aren’t expressing that love towards all, we might consider 1 Corinthians 13:1, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” Are there areas such as this, where you have slipped into becoming this loud, obnoxious instrument? Even the loud obnoxious cymbal can become an instrument of beautiful music.

Should you consider making a difference in your life/church/school to be more inclusive?

Stay tuned. In September, we will highlight some groups exemplifying the love of Christ who will give us some practical steps to becoming the full Body of Christ. As we know, God has gifted each of us and we each have a place in His body. 


Were you aware that all Christian schools we’ve checked from Oklahoma to Texas will not accept those with Down’s Syndrome?  I’m trying to imagine the face of the child not allowed to attend school with their brother(s) or sister(s). Is there a case for non-inclusion of these children? 

Should it continue?  Email 

downs@communityspiritmagazine.com and share your thoughts.


-Works Cited in Thesis 

Admin, Gardens. “Oklahoma Disability Statistics.” Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, 13 Aug. 2018. // Cross, Richard. “Aquinas on Physical Impairment: Human Nature and Original Sin.” Harvard Theological Review, vol. 110, no. 03, 2017, pp. 317–338. // Edwards, June. “Children with Learning Difficulties and the Sacraments.” Children with Learning Difficulties, 1994, pp. 70-81. The Way, 17 Jan. 2019. // Eiesland, Nancy L. “Sacramental Bodies.” Journal of Religion, Disability & Health, vol. 13, no. 3-4, 2009, pp. 236–246. // “Five Statistics We Can’t Ignore: Disability and The Gospel.” The Banquet Network, 4” Sept. 2018. // Greenberg, Ben. “Inclusion Is a Jewish Imperative.” My Jewish Learning, 8 Apr. 2015. // Hoekema, Anthony A. Created In God’s Image. 1st ed., Eerdmans, 1994. Print. // “Jewish Values and Disability Rights.” Religious Action Center, 3 Dec. 2015. // Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. HarperOne, 2017. Print. // Moss, Candida R. “Disability in the New Testament.” Bible Odyssey, 1 Oct. 2014, www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/video-gallery/d/disability-in-the-nt // “Orthodox Theological Perspectives on Disability.” World Council of Churches, 21 Oct. 2015. // Reinders, Hans. Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008. Print. // “Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics and Statistics.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public // Life Project, 11 May 2015. The Bible. New International Version. Biblica, 2011. Bible Gateway. // White, George. People with Disabilities within Christian Community. 2014. // Yong, Amos. The Bible, Disability, and the Church: a New Vision of the People of God. Eerdmans, 2011. Print


Written by Teresa Goodnight

Guarding the City Gates: City Elders Call to Action
Christian leaders.  Standing on the Bible.  Standing at the city gates.  Uniting across all 77 counties in Oklahoma.  Uniting counties across the country.  Re-establishing the role of the Church in civil government. Protecting us from anti-Christian agendas plaguing our country.  They are coming.  City Elders is to be a national network of Christian leaders governing the city gates establishing the Kingdom of God. 


Do I have your attention yet? It’s not just time to get ready.  It’s time to answer the call.


In just one gathering of the City Elders, I was ready to go.  Everything I heard was everything I longed to hear from anyone in the Church right now.  Anyone.  From guest speaker Congressman Kevin Hern to his counterpart Congressman Mark Wayne Mullin, they spoke Biblical truths, prayed with authority, and challenged the audience to stand on God’s word and to stop being silent.    

I was overwhelmed with excitement.  The City Elders President, Jesse “Leon” Rodgers, had not even started to speak.  I’ve been watching our freedoms erode in our silence; Christians are pressed into corners finding no ground to stand on.  Most don’t even want to stand.  The persecution has been heating up in America.  It’s been slow enough to desensitize us as the heat was rising; fast enough that we started to boil over in the pot with our freedoms going down in flames.  

When did we allow liberal agendas to enter our school shaping the minds of our children?  When did believing in God’s word make you subject to discrimination from operating your business in a city  or airport? When did Christian religious beliefs become grounds for blocking your businesses like Chick Fil A?  When?  

God gifted citizens of this country with inalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These are rights deemed given by God to human beings.  However, we are consenting to give them away.  We just sit in our rocking chairs in silence.  We lost a biblically based education system originally created at the hands of our forefathers.  We let our guard down.  We watched it slip away with barely a mention from most pulpits.  It feels like the guards, who were to be at the city gates, were on a break for the last few decades.   We let the walls around the cities God gave us fall down.

Before Jesse took the podium, he aired a video recounting some of the exact battles lost along the way in this war for our freedom in America.  In it, Jesse shared those fires lighting us up towards this boiling point when prayer and the word of God were removed from our schools.  He flashed blazes of heat from when the courts stripped away the sanctity of life with Roe V. Wade. Flames whipped around us as the sanctity of marriage was abolished in our courts. He spoke of states targeting the purity and innocence of our children to be trained in the LGBT community.  One by one, he highlighted the combustions leading us toward destruction. 

Then, the video shared how government funded public education is now the sanctuary for secular humanism and evolution—maybe the best secret weapon being used.  Honestly, it was a bit like watching him paint an explosive, verbal erosion of morality in America.  It was a battle plan connected in its core to remove God from our country.  Completely.  

In it, Jesse also shared the staggering statistic that over 80% of the children of evangelicals walk away from Christ in their first year of college. We shared this concern in our April issue, interviewing Dr. Everett Piper, former President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, (available online at communityspiritmagazine.com or on Issuu). 

The premise was really this:  If we want this country to remain free, then we must stand up and unify with a Kingdom purpose.

Why would Christians “Guard the Gates?”

Maybe you are asking why this freedom should really matter to the Church.  Why should you think about getting off of your sofa, tossing your weekly commercial free Netflix binge?  Well, that same freedom allows us to share Christ and follow the Great Commission.  It allows us to worship.  To pray.  To gather together in His name in His churches.  In other countries, we know people are imprisoned or killed for telling someone about Jesus.  They face the same kinds of punishments for gathering to worship or to pray.  Freedom should matter to the Church maybe more than any other people group out there, if we have any interest in worshiping our God and bringing people into His Kingdom. 

Jesse took to the podium and shared, “The premise behind the City Elders is based on the Biblical pattern of the fortified cities of Israel, who guarded and governed the cities at the city gates.  These leaders were the first line of defense against attacks or intrusions of any kind. Their responsibility was the protection of the inhabitants of the city, including their families.”  Jesse continued, “It’s a Biblical role that we, as the Church, have let go of.  We really have forgotten to keep up with our defenses.”  I listened as deeply as I’ve listened to anything in a long time.  I knew he was right.  I saw the walls down myself.  I saw them crumbling before me even in the last decade.  There was nothing I could do, but hang my head with others in the room, recognizing my own part in letting those walls be torn away. 

Jesse went on, “City Elders are proven Christian leaders from sectors of the Church, business community, and civil government, who when they convene constitute the spiritual governing council of the cities or a community. They are local leaders whose lives are guided by Biblical principles, Judeo Christian values, and who are committed to the exaltation of Christ Jesus and the practice of His Lordship in every sphere of life.  Their mission is to govern the gates spiritually, politically, and economically so that life is protected, liberty is defended, Christ is exalted and families can flourish.” 

If God doesn’t speak to you in that message, I just didn’t use the right font or something.  I couldn’t hold back my spirit wanting to applaud for the God who was calling us to rise up together and defend our cities.  Our freedom.  Our right to worship Him.  To follow Him.  It was incredibly overwhelming as I contemplated my part in the destruction (from my silence) and my potential to possibly be used by God to right the wrong.  With my four-year old daughter’s future at stake—my heart was burdened with the need to tell our readers about the hope God was providing. The calling God was instigating in spirits across the city in the hearts He dwells in.  My hope?  That you too would hear God’s call to support this group in whatever way God specifically might call you.

Unity with Kingdom Purpose

As a “Watchman on the Wall,” Jesse has had plenty of exposure in the political realm, making a mark for both religious freedom and the sanctity of marriage, family and life.  During the election in 2016, Jesse told then candidate Trump, “While you’re focused on building the wall, the economy, the military and decentralizing education, there is a corollary to what you are going to be doing politically that the Church must be doing.  The Church must get our spiritual walls back up.  9/11 showed us that the walls around America are down.  So, we have to start righting the foundation and building again.”  The City Elders are taking up that call to rebuild it.  They are going into our counties to recruit those called by God to be a part, whether as leaders or supporters.

Jesse shared he believes, “Education is key, as well as pure discipleship.  There’s got to be a brand new system of discipleship implemented.  The Sunday School systems have broken down.  Now, we put our children in children’s Church and there’s not the substance oriented foundational teaching that’s going on.  It’s piecemealed instead of systematic didactic teaching.”  Jesse went on, “What’s happened is America has become biblically illiterate.  The stats show it.  We’re having to start at the foundation.  Foundationally, we are talking about government, divine order. I believe that we are going to participate in what the Holy Spirit is doing in reestablishing the government of God in the earth, bringing the Church together and bringing civil government into one Kingdom context.”  

Jesse stressed, “This effort is not about being just multi-denominational.  It has a Kingdom context in the Church’s role in relation to civil government and how the Kingdom of God operates.”  Jesse added, “Unity movements have failed in the past because they were unity for the sake of unity, just for the sake of the Church. The purpose for the unification of the Church is a Kingdom impact.  So, the Church must have a Kingdom context for it to have its significance, purpose, motive, goal, and Modus Operandi in check.”  Jesse continued, “The Kingdom context is civil government, the Church and the family.  There’s more to it but these are the fundamental institutions that are divinely ordained and have their origin in God himself.”  

God’s Leaders on their Knees

Jesse recently attended the national pastor’s conference in Washington D.C. with other members of the City Elders, as well as hundreds of pastors from across the country.  They all reported gaining an understanding of today’s political and policy issues we are facing.  Jesse said, “The best part of the conference was that the prayer was just so powerful. God’s leaders gathered together and praying in Washington D.C. to redirect our nation back to God.”  

While in this particular City Elders meeting that day, Congressman Hern burst into the room.  He had been across the street interviewing on the radio about the devastating floods.  God prompted him to head to the Doubletree, where he knew the City Elders were gathered, and request prayer for our city and for these people whose lives were upside down.  Those kinds of leaders, requesting those kinds of prayers, agreeing with us that God is in control both in Heaven and on Earth—we need more of those.

While in D.C., Jesse ran into Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education.  Jesse shared, “She is possibly the most important figure in the Trump administration for the purpose of the restoration of education. Education is the number one issue. Abortion is critical.  All of the agenda and points of battle are important, but education is the foundational issue, because the secularization of America is the result of a secular humanist education system.  So, to have a Godly, praying woman in that post, working with President Trump is key.”  Jesse then added, “We will be inviting her to Oklahoma.  We will have a symposium on the reformation of education before the year is over.”  Again, those kinds of leaders, praying, seeking God for His direction to lead our nation back to Him.  Those are what we need.

Jesse also mentioned with excitement, “Congressman Hern and Congressman Mullen are going to help us invite President Trump to Oklahoma.  We are going to invite 3,141 county seats from across the nation to converge on Tulsa to cast the vision of City Elders being established in all counties across the nation.  At some point that meeting will take place—either this year or next.”

In closing, Jesse said, “The City Elders are here to rise up in Christ, guard the city gates, and protect our freedom and families.  We are rising up to say ‘You will not bring these things against Christ into my city.  Not on my watch.” 

Jesse “Leon” Rodgers and his lovely wife, Tammy, have served as pastors, evangelists, resident missionaries in South East Asia and as Bible College instructors. He is a graduate of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary where he received his post-graduate degree.  Jesse is the chairman of the Oklahoma Watchmen on the Wall Network; the pastor’s network of the Family Research Council, Washington, D.C. and the Founder of “City Elders” a Reformation Model of City Governance.  His unique role with the Family Research Council has positioned him to influence government officials from the local municipalities to the White House.  He is a sought-after conference speaker, with a heart to teach others to reign in this life, by the power and authority of our Lord, Jesus Christ. 


“Freedom Removed”

In Genesis, Adam and Eve gave up their freedom.  They had it all.  Everything.  With one choice, God took it all away from them.  Generations to come sought to gain it back only to have those who had it no longer appreciate it.  In many cases, they worshipped false Gods and turned their back on the God who had provided the freedom.  In Exodus, in the story of Moses, the Israelites had God’s power leading the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom.  They trembled in fear when they saw the Egyptians coming.  These are the same people being led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Then, God splits the Red Sea, gets them to the other side, and closes the sea back upon the Egyptians pursuing them.  You would think they would be thanking God for their freedom over and over.  For a short time they did.  But, when they were crossing the desert and found no food, they were once again pining to be slaves in Egypt.  God gave them manna, flatbread, they found each morning to feed and nourish them.  Did that calm them into worship?  Yeah, ok.  I think it lasted like 5 minutes.  

Just a short time after all of these things, when Moses is receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, where were they?  Worshiping false Gods made of gold that they crafted while he was up there getting direction from God.  We are taught these stories from the pulpit.  

We shake our heads in disbelief that they could so quickly forget God and what He did for them.  But, here we are.  We’ve prepared our children so little that Satan trips up 80% of them in their freshman year?  Abortion is so horrible, we’d just like to not talk about it?  How long will our weakened platform of freedom remain in tact?  How long will God allow us to be like the Egyptians worshiping our false God’s of our relaxed and slightly selfish lives, while we ignore the state of our union?  It’s really difficult to say.  That said, looking at Biblical references, I fear we might not be too far from the end of His rope.


When the flood waters were coming up, so was the power of God to move through His Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.  We spent days talking with flood victims, as many just needed a friend to hear “their” story.  Story after story, we were heartbroken.  However, what we saw above the heartbreak? God moving as His Church was moving.  We were simply BLOWN AWAY at the way the churches of Prattville and Sand Springs mobilized as a force of power and relief for the flood victims.

You may have heard, as the news repeated over and over for Prattville/Sand Springs to check out “www.ChurchthatMatters.com,” who had organized a website with resources available to the flood victims.  Pastor Rusty Gunn of that church said, “www.Sandspringsfloodrelief.com is a site we set up to compile information for flood victims regarding resources available to them. It is a one stop shop for them.”  However, in talking with Rusty—we found there was much, MUCH more to the story.

“Sand Springs is blessed with an incredible network of local churches. We work together on a regular basis.” said Rusty, “So, when this crisis hit our city, it was only natural for us to come together. The pastors of the Sand Springs Local Church Network meet every month to plan ministry projects together such as a huge “Back To School Bash” at the end of the summer, our city’s downtown Halloween event called Boo on Broadway, or a thanksgiving meal where 2,000 hot meals are delivered on Thanksgiving Day.”  Rusty said, “We have a community-wide Thanksgiving worship service, the National Day of Prayer, and more.”  I was really blown away.  We’ve been hot on the trail of what the Church could look like if we united as we felt God has called us to do.  We were all talking about it, but these guys have been doing it for 20 years.

“We also meet a second time each month at City Hall with our city manager, mayor, and other leaders who join us periodically to pray over our city together” shared Rusty. He went on, “Our local church youth ministries also unite regularly for events, serve days, and a Spring Break local mission trip where the groups serve around our city together during the daytime and then have worship rallies at night.  We rotate between different church facilities each night.”

For Rusty, he felt it was this ongoing relationship and partnership that made it easy to come together at this time and be the Church.  He’s not wrong.  Their movement as the Church was really astounding.  I witnessed it.  I felt it.  I was drawn to it.  I went back to their facilities over and over. I haven’t spent that much time in Prattville for a while.  I think I have been craving such a unification that I just needed to be right in the middle of it.  It gave me a place to go help families right where they were.  

Another thing that really helped, Rusty said, “I had been certified through FEMA’s NIMS (National Incident Management Systems) back in 2009. I have not really used much of that training since then, so I am certainly no expert, but I did know that we needed to take one of the approaches suggested by FEMA in a situation like the flood in our city.”  Rusty continued, “One of the approaches is simply a commander of sorts to take charge and make decisions. The other approach was to form a response team or committee. This was a much better option for us, because of the great cooperation we already have in our city. So, we called together a meeting of all of the local church pastors, city leaders, a state representative, and the superintendent of our schools, along with  disaster relief organizations who were beginning to make their way to our city including The Red Cross, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, and Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.”  Rusty shared, “The meeting was amazing and the support and cooperation was evident. We nominated and elected the Sand Springs Flood Response Team. It is made up of four local church pastors, a city government leader, and our school superintendent. This team also had connection with state government leaders and county leaders.”  I couldn’t believe that the activity I admired that was being rolled out at City Elders was already in full force in action right here in Sand Springs, OK!  They were nailing it, honestly.

Rusty had the mission statement down perfectly for their churches.  They were being the Church.  He stated, “Our local churches are not just churches IN Sand Springs. We are churches FOR Sand Springs. We mobilized this way because this is what the church does. We come together under the banner of Christ to be His hands and get to our neighbors.” Rusty went on, “We know that what we have in Sand Springs is unique. It is special. God has brought it together over many years. We do not take it lightly nor take it for granted. Pastors over 20 years ago prayed in our city specifically for what we are seeing today.”  I believe they prayed for it. I’ve prayed for it—quite recently in fact, but I didn’t really understand how beautiful it would be until I saw it in action.  Then, I couldn’t get enough of it.  

As far as the flood, it’s been really rough on this group.  Rusty said, “The most difficult part is seeing our neighbors hurting and knowing, even with the great cooperation and the great accumulation of people from our churches collectively, some are having to wait for a long time to get the help they need.”

Rusty continued, “There are so many stories from this, but one in particular is a man name Chester who is a military veteran. His wife had passed away not too long ago and then the flood filled his home with water destroying almost everything he owned. He had already been facing depression after the loss of his wife, but this really set him back. When our team encountered him, he was ready to just give up on life. He wanted to light a match and just let the house burn with all of his remaining belongings and he literally did not want to live anymore. Our team went in and did mud out on his house, carried all of the damaged property out and got the home ready for contractors to come restore it. Another part of the team just ministered to him, built a relationship and shared the gospel with him. He prayed and surrendered his life to Jesus and was saved. He was in our church’s Worship Encounter this past Sunday and was so full of joy he was beaming and smiling from ear to ear. His neighbors have commented to our teams that he is a changed man.” Now isn’t THAT what it’s all about at the end of the day?

“The unity of our local churches through this has strengthened my belief that we really can see our city transformed for the glory of God one life at a time. The impact on the affected neighborhoods, on government agencies, and even on disaster relief organizations has been talked about all over town. This will truly be a legacy moment for the churches of Sand Springs in this season. Pastors and other individuals from other communities have commented how unique this has been to see. I do believe we have set a great example of what churches can do if we lay down our preferences and pride and humbly serve, not caring who gets the credit other than Jesus.”  Rusty—AMEN BROTHER!  AMEN.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  #GoDoBe

Ongoing Needs

The ongoing needs will be here for years to come. People who had income disruptions, people who will be waiting for FEMA and insurance claims. The seventy five percent who were uninsured for floods will not recover for a very long time. We still have families with continuing needs from the 2015 Tornado that hit the same area.

You can help.  Reach out to these guys to see exactly what needs they have.  These are people who are displaced, who will not be back in their home for maybe into next year.   

Written by Teresa Goodnight

My four-year old daughter was in awe of Captain Marvel.  The show was much too old for her, but I had wanted to take my 17-year old niece to inspire her.  When I described the show over the Bluetooth in the car—my kiddo insisted it was a movie for her.  I decided to comply and took them both. 

I’m not a superhero junkie, but Captain Marvel exemplifies an oppressed person with amazing power.  Because she was convinced by the world she lived in that she was less than she was, her strength was buried by lies.  She was imprisoned by rules crafted to control her, as well as emotional manipulation used to dominate her.  When she finally realized the truth and shed the deception, she set free the strength and power suppressed inside of her.  When she did, the whole theater about flew out of our seats with excitement. 

Seriously.  

Does her power being minimized by her world remind you of anything today?  Are you seeing Christians being pressed back into a corner?  Told our beliefs in the Bible aren’t correct?  Told we need to modify the Bible to fit the culture today?  Sound familiar at all? 

This morning at the City Elders meeting, I heard a description of who we are meant to be as the Body of Christ, the capital “C” Church.  It painted quite a picture.  Being in the midst of some of the most devastating floods our state has known—we can see firsthand the power of the force of water.  I can see it in the movement of the risen rivers.  Their immense forces were set free a bit, but still controlled by the flood gates and levies.  We were reminded that when the river starts to show its real power, we are forced to step back and get out of the way.   

However, imagine the waters from all of the rivers and lakes rising so that you could no longer identify the origination point of the water.  Imagine those smaller entities flowing together as a massive, powerful force, sweeping across the land.  The power of those waters would be definitive as a body but really unidentifiable as a specific source.  They would just be the massive floodwaters—full of strength, unleashing their power.  

The question at the meeting?  What if the Body of Christ approached God’s work for the Kingdom with such united strength and power that it could only be credited to that capital “C” Church?  (as opposed to church x or y or denomination a or b). 

It’s a concept that seems a bit foreign to us, as the size of communities has grown to give thousands of smaller church groups their own form of a “kingdom” inside of the Kingdom.  However, looking at the Bible, we read the smaller church groups addressed from the same leadership of the Church.  They were all very much a part of the Capital “C” Church but were grouped together to spread the word and to disciple as smaller groups.  Since there were fewer of these smaller groups in the disciples’ time, it was much easier for them to know in their core that they were part of the larger unified Body of Christ.  The Bible clearly points to the disciples and Paul as those charged with leading that capital “C” Church.  Paul went from church to church with guidance and direction, which was put into the Bible to give that same guidance to each of our churches today.  

The Bible is full of books written specifically to the churches by the governing authorities put in place by God.  My favorite, Romans, was written to the churches in Rome by Paul.  Peter writes his book First Peter, as a letter to the Jewish Christians who are spread around the Roman Empire.  First and Second Corinthians; Paul writes to the churches he planted in Corinth.  Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians are all written directly to churches or groups of churches in a geographic area.  It was quite clear these churches were very much a part of the Body of Christ.  They were teaching and training while being a part of the bigger picture.  They were growing the Kingdom of Christ and not just their specific churches.  These letters were also assembled into the Bible, God’s word.  That alone gives that stronger unification as their role was in the capital “C” Church.

As instructed, that Church spread throughout the world doing exactly what God instructed them to do.  

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 New Living Translation (NLT)

Lip Service to the Capital “C” Church 

With those smaller entities growing (some quite massively) in size and being separated by greater distances, the sense of simply being a local governing entity of a group of Christ’s followers became lost in the shuffle.  Don’t get me wrong.  We like to say it.  We speak of being a part of the bigger capital “C” Church, but we honestly move about in our own affairs with very little time to pull our thoughts out to the original Kingdom entity created in the New Testament.  The result?  The separation of church and church and The Church.  

Sure, there are different worship styles, prayer styles, preferred worship times, places, and spaces but at the end of the day, all of the Christian churches are the Body of Christ.  We are united, as one, on God’s word.  We are inseparable by the adoption as the Children of God through the sacrifice God made of His Son Jesus Christ for the WHOLE world. 

We are all sinners saved by grace.  People who have messed up in one way or another and were separated from God by those mistakes.  People who have accepted that Jesus Christ died and rose again, paying the price for our mistakes.  By accepting his gift, we all became united as Children of God, the Body of Christ. We have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us, full of power, full of might, to advance for the Kingdom of God.   Together, we are HIS capital “C” Church.

No Division in the End 

It’s certainly not going to be a divided house in heaven.  God’s Kingdom will most definitely unite, but what if God is waiting on us to come together now?  What if we went back to the roots of THE Church to find the position of “our” church in that Kingdom?  Wow.  We would transform into THE CHURCH, the Bride of Christ.  We would operate in such a way that we know the Gates of Hell (the powers) could not prevail against us—just as Christ said they would not.  We would be a mighty force sweeping across this land, coming into the power of God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us.  There would be no levy, no flood gate, and no dam that could stop us.  Not one.  Can you even imagine it?

Back to the Avengers

I’ll circle back to the Captain Marvel story to bring it all together.  She finally found who she was and came into her incredible power bursting out of the control of those who tried to put her in a box. 

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:14-20 (NLT)

More than we might ask or think?  There is so much power promised to the children of God in just those 6 verses than we can even imagine? Hmmm.  As we cower back, we slip into a comfortable place giving away our freedom, surrendering our God-given powers.  We have yet to break free and rise up as a force to be reckoned with, who will not be shoved into a corner.  With all of the thousands of churches around the world, it’s time to go back to the Bible and remember who we are.  We are the children of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  With that identity comes great power–”more than we might ask or think.”  Can you imagine every church finding God’s power inside of us?  What would that even look like? I can imagine quite a bit. So MORE than that?

So, hold on.  

Imagine even greater things with me.  

After all, God says it’s more than we can even think of.  As incredible as Captain Marvel’s day of awakening was–in the last Avengers, I can draw a parallel to the Body of Christ, the Church that might blow you away like it did me.  In the end of the movie, each of the hundreds of superheroes realized they were not meant to do this battle alone.  They couldn’t win.  They discovered a plan set in motion long before they knew there would even be a war of such great proportion.  

The bigger, more popular hero guys we know and love were losing the battle.  It was nearing the end.  Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, with a force of might—“they” showed up.  “They” being the rest of the united heroes in the land.  They combined in their fullest forms and power to defeat their ultimate enemy.  You could see each one playing a critical part.  When they converged—there was that mighty feeling that this war was over. The enemy would be defeated. You just knew.

Rest assured, I’ve read Revelation.  God will unite us as a mighty force with heaven and earth in the end.  What a day that will be.  However, what I read in the Bible calls us to remember that unification and who we are today.  I don’t think we’re supposed to wait.  We are in the battle right now.  On some fronts, in our great country, we are losing, but my heart almost explodes with excitement to think of what a force we could become if we united as the Church of God.  Can you imagine?  United, with His power working in us that is more powerful than we might ask or think? did you read what I just thought of?  More powerful than even that??? 

It would far surpass any unification of the bodies of waters into a massive force.  It would eclipse any show of power in the Avengers.  I can’t sit still even as I’m typing this as the excitement of just a hint of God’s power rises up inside of me.  That power by the way–it is already inside of any of us following Christ.  It’s just sitting there, masked by confusion, deception.  It’s shackled by chains put on by others or even by ourselves in some ways.  Satan has us in some sort of trance with the things of this life, but it is RIGHT THERE. Whatever way you want to think about it–it’s right there.  It’s RIGHT THERE WAITING.  God is waiting.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.” Ephesians 6:12-13 New Living Translation (NLT)

“And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” Ephesians 1:10 New Living Translation (NLT)

May each church find its strength.  May it rise up to take it’s part in the Kingdom, God’s capital “C” Church, the “Body of Christ,” whichever name He gives for that unity that you want to use.  Because, when we do come together, when we do put our stake in the ground and draw our line in the sand, we will come into that Kingdom of God as His Children and the Gates of Hell WILL simply NOT PREVAIL against us.  They won’t win.  

Come on. 

What are we waiting for?  #GoDoBe

Written by R.A. Goodnight

 “So Christ has truly set us free.  Now make sure that you stay free…” Galations 5:1 (NLT) 

At this time of year, Americans celebrate the secular freedoms that were won at a great price, as well as the birth of The United States of America.  Since 1776 until now, we give honor to all who gave, as well as for what they have achieved.  

It is of no doubt that our secular freedoms are of great importance.  But our spiritual freedom should not be overlooked, as it far surpasses the freedoms we have at home.  I would summarize the overall theme of The Bible as ‘The King and His Kingdom’.  From Genesis to Revelation, God reveals to us who The King will be, how The Kingdom will be established and what it will accomplish for us.  And in two words, what it will achieve is ultimate freedom–freedom from sin and death, freedom from slavery to supernatural forces from which only one man had the power to save us.  And, the same as our secular freedom, our spiritual freedom came with great sacrifice; it came at the cost of another’s blood.

Understanding what it took to redeem us, we should use our lives to show that we value the price that was paid.  How can we do this?  One way is found in our opening verse.  There It states, “Now make sure that you stay free.”  What did Paul mean when he wrote those words?

HOW TO STAY FREE

In Romans chapter six, Paul helps us see the relationship between God’s grace through Christ sacrifice, sin and spiritual freedom.  In verse 14 he tells us, “Sin is no longer your master…Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14 NLT) How great our God is for providing us a release from the power of sin in our lives.  But there is a catch.  Even though freedom has been provided for us, it is up to us to avail ourselves of it.  Paul goes on to say, “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free…does that mean that we can go on sinning?  Of course not!  Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey?  You can be a slave to sin…or you can choose to obey God.” (Romans 6:15, 16 NLT) God wants us to be free; He took the first step by providing the path to freedom.  But it is up to each of us to become and remain free by choosing to accept Christ and obey God and not our sinful tendencies.

It is interesting that Paul uses the words “make sure” that we stay free in Galatians 5:1.  We don’t just trip into freedom.  As Paul helps us see in the spiritual sense, freedom is a choice.  It requires action from us to ensure our freedom remains intact.  When we make active decisions in our life that protect us from temptation, we are “making sure” that we stay in the freedom God has given us.  Freedom is not passive; it requires us to be deliberate in our life choices.

THE FREEDOM KILLER

In a world controlled by Satan, there are many sin’s that can compromise our freedom and enslave us as men.  Today, one of the biggest freedom killers among men is addiction to pornography.  Notice some of the recent statistics regarding pornography use among Christian men:

(Barna Group – https://www.barna.com/research/porn-in-the-digital-age-new-research-reveals-10-trends/)

• 57% of pastors say they have struggled

(Barna Group – https://www.barna.com/the-porn-phenomenon/)

• 64% of youth pastors say 

they have struggled

(Barna Group – https://www.barna.com/the-porn-phenomenon/)

• 45% of Christians admit pornography is a problem in their home

(Focus On The Family – https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/pornography-and-virtual-infidelity/virtual-infidelity-and-marriage)

• 16% of those Christians say they are trying to quit but have been unable

(Barna Group – https://www.barna.com/research/porn-in-the-digital-age-new-research-reveals-10-trends/)

How can we consider ourselves free if we are unable to break free from something that entangles us?  What steps can we take to become free or to remain free?

WAYS TO MAKE SURE

One of the first steps to help gain control of any addiction is to identify your trigger.  If you have ever been able to speak with someone battling an addiction, most will tell you of some external trigger that causes them to struggle with their addiction.  Some examples of such triggers could be:

• Stress

• Depression

• Guilt

• Marital problems

• Even boredom

Once you have identified your trigger(s), you can begin addressing the underlying issues driving you toward your addiction.  For example, if boredom is your trigger (common to younger Christian men) then find something wholesome to do with your time.  Volunteer in your church, take up a hobby or even fill your down time with prayer or Bible study.  Fill the voids and remove the boredom.  The same tactic would apply with other triggers.  Find a wholesome ‘de-stresser’, talk with someone about the depression or focus on your marriage with your spouse as opposed to fueling the problems with an addiction.  The addiction is a symptom; address the underlying reasons behind the symptom. 

An accountability partner can be of immense value as well.  A fellow Christian man, someone whom you can talk to and be honest with, can be a powerful ally when temptations are high.  When feelings of stress or guilt occur, talking to another man in Christ can help you get through those moments when we may feel weak.  Technology can also serve as an accountability partner.  Software such as Covenant Eyes helps provide support while we take control of the addiction.

Do not underestimate the power of prayer.  Philippians 4:6 (NLT) advises us, “In every situation, by prayer and petition…present your requests to God.”  Take your struggles to Him and identify them by name in our prayers.  Remember, we can accomplish all things through Christ. (Philippians 4:13)

THE IMPORTANCE OF REMAINING FREE

Losing our freedom will eventually lead to spiritual inactivity or even death.  Along the way, it will limit our effectiveness at helping anybody else attain freedom in Christ.  How can we lead others to freedom if we ourselves are a slave to sin?

Accordingly, for those of us in leadership positions, it is important for ourselves and for those we lead that we remain free.  As husbands and fathers, how can we help our children or our families through trials and assaults on their freedom if we are choosing to be a slave to sin?

Stay aware; pay attention to our choices and make sure that you stay free.  Honor the sacrifice that was given for us, and do not lose sight of others we can help if we ourselves are free.  Never forget, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)


I would consider it a privilege to hear from any of the readers. Reach out to me, share your stories. man2man@omegaleague.com 

@omegaleagueman

Written by Mike Henry Sr. – Follower of One

Christ set us free. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed,” John 8:36 NASB

Freedom and Work

Do you feel free in your work? I mean do you look forward to your job or thank God for Friday’s? Do you feel empowered by your occupation or chained to your job? Work or situations we dislike can contribute to our feeling trapped in our work.

Studies I found online suggest as little as 15% or as high as 30% of the American workforce are engaged in their work. Trapped or disengaged employees go through the motions. They’re not present with energy. Engaged employees bring more energy, produce more, and stay longer. 

If you feel chained to your job, but you follow Jesus, are you free?

Freedom is ours for the taking because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. But many people, whether they follow Jesus or not, work chained into situations we dislike serving people we dislike. If Jesus made us free, why don’t we change? 

Could it be we fail to understand the freedom given to us by Jesus?

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13 NASB

Christian Freedom Looks Like Love

Paul suggests our freedom will produce a love through which we can serve one another. I often thought “one another” meant other Christians. When I first became a Christ-follower, I worked with people in the trucking and logistics industry. Many didn’t seem to follow Jesus. And most were from a different background and experience than me. Instead of even trying to understand them, I just decided I didn’t like them much. It’s easier to dislike someone than it is to get to know them. So, without seeing myself as the solution, I often chose instead to beg Jesus to get me out of that career in that industry. 

How often do you catch yourself hurrying to get out of your workplace? It is work, right? If the term “one another” in Galatians 5:13 means other Christians, it would be easy to follow this command. When I get around other Christians, I find it easy to serve them in love! If everyone I was around every day was “my kinda person” this would be much easier.

But what if Paul’s “one another,” meant everyone? The Greek word can mean “fellow man.” In the next verse, Paul references the 2nd half of the Great Commandment, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” Galatians 5:14 NASB. Paul seems to equate “one another” to my “neighbor”. And Jesus already said my neighbor is anyone and everyone, whether I like them or not. (See Luke 10:27-37.)

God’s Freedom

God created Adam free, but ever since that first sin, we have each given up our freedom as slaves to sin. Jesus purchased our freedom again when he paid for our sin on the cross. But we may still live like a slave to sin and to myself. The difference, maybe even the answer, is my willingness to serve my fellow man. God makes me free to do what’s in the best interest of everyone I interact with. Regardless of my situation, Jesus makes me free to serve others. And when I do, I get a new energy and a new passion. 

Want some proof? Pray for your coworkers for the next 30 days. Ask God to bless them and do whatever he knows they need for their best interest. And ask him to use you to bless them. Avoid the temptation to pray that God make them likable. Rather, get to know them better so you can pray for them better. 

Two Results

If you sincerely pray for your coworkers, supervisors, or customers, you will experience 2 outcomes. The first is that you will see God at work. God actively works in their lives already, but often we focus on ourselves and never see it. As we connect with Jesus on behalf of our coworkers and customers, we will see his miracles in our ordinary, daily life.

Second, we will experience Jesus’ freedom. He frees us to serve others. When we give our freedom away, it multiplies. When we keep it to ourselves, or if we deny the freedom and continue in sin, our freedom withers and dies. Jesus’ frees us to serve others. We gain new strength from God as we serve others and wait on him. And we see him working in everything we do. 

We receive freedom in our situation instead of freedom from it. Jesus’ freedom makes us free in any situation. And he makes our freedom visible as we serve others, too.

Take the Challenge

Does this sound too good to be true? Try it for 2 weeks and see what happens. Our Marketplace Mission Trip (www.marketplacemissiontrip.com) is a 2-week trial serving others at work. Each “trip” has produced miracles and energy in the lives of those involved. Whether you sign up for the “trip,” or you enlist 1 friend and pray for your coworkers daily, Jesus will show you the freedom he bought for you. Either way, you will gain a new appreciation for the freedom we have in Jesus.

Written by Andrea Stephens

The other day I wasn’t feeling so good/well.  I had just come through an intensely busy time at work that left me drained of energy. I had a dull annoying headache, and didn’t even want to go out for lunch with a friend—you know I don’t feel good when I don’t want to eat out!  Therefore, I declared it a sick day and stayed home. Well, while I was lying in bed feeling sort of sorry for myself, I started thinking about the word joy—probably because I needed some right then.  

I thought about some of hard things that happen in life that try to snuff out our joy.  We all know about some of those, maybe a broken relationship, being gossiped about, bills that are piling up, an illness, issues at work—the list is never-ending.  And then, there is the everyday stuff that tends to wear us down causing joy to leak right out of our heart; you know, things like laundry, making dinner again, picking up after the kids, cleaning the house, car trouble, yard work, and an endless list of errands.

We can easily end up feeling overwhelmed and anything but joyful.

Yet, in the Bible, Jesus talks about us having joy no matter what is happening around us.  Though some confuse joy with bubbly emotions that come when things are going their way, which is better defined at happiness.  Happiness is generally based on one’s circumstances which are ever changing thus sending emotions on a roller coaster of ups and downs. But joy, especially as a Christ-follower, is different.  Real joy doesn’t fluctuate.  It is not based on our current situations or feelings, but on something deeper.  Something solid.  

So how do we have that kind of joy?  A joy that is solid, steadfast and unshakable?

First, spending some time every day in the Bible and talking to God gets us started on our journey to joy.  That may sound like such a standard answer, but it is just the truth.  We are spiritual beings with a spiritual Father.  Intentionally connecting with Him through scripture reading and prayer is essential.  The quality of time is more important than the quantity.

Second, making sure we have a clear conscience before God is vital.  Dealing with guilt or shame over something will definitely steal one’s joy.  One of the things I appreciate about the program Celebrate Recovery (A Christ Centered 12 Step Program) is that it teaches people to end their day by asking God to show them where they missed the mark (sinned) that day—so they can ask God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9).  And when necessary, ask someone else’s forgiveness.  So, keeping a clear conscience before God, is essential to our having joy.

These first two are areas where Satan will try to trip us up.  He wants to kill, steal, and destroy—including our joy (John 10:10).  He wants busy and distracted from our time with the Lord.  He wants us feeling guilty and less than enough in our own eyes and the eyes of others.  Shame is one of the first things Satan used against Adam and Eve and he still uses it today to keep us hiding instead of walking in the fullness God has for us.  Let’s not let that be our story.  Let’s pay attention to protecting our time in the Word, prayer, and confession.

Next, choosing to focus our thoughts and lives on the truths in the Bible will provide the solid foundation we need to build our steadfast joy upon.  They are facts.  They are promises of God.  They are unchanging and unbreakable based on God’s inability to lie or break a promise.  Now that’s good news!

Though there are hundreds of promises we can find in the scriptures, here are just a couple to get us on the road to joy, deep joy which the bible refers to as inexpressible and full of glory 1 Peter 1:8 NLT “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you don not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”

Through faith in Christ Jesus, we have become children of God.

We have been adopted into the family of God and are co-heirs with Christ.

The Holy Spirit has sealed us for eternity—we are heaven bound.

This life, with all of its issues, is temporary but heaven is eternal. 

The best is yet to come. God is with us!  

We are never, ever alone. Never abandoned, never rejected, never

forsaken, never put on hold while God is busy doing something else.  He is actually in the trials of life with us giving us wisdom for our difficulties and strength so that we do not grow weary in our well-doing. 

God’s love is unending!  Think about it.  We have never lived one unloved day in our entire lives.  

Wow.  Every single day of our lives we have been loved and will continue to be loved no matter what.  Now that will make your heart happy!  

Jesus’ forgiveness is available for the asking! 

Scripture tells us that if we confess our wrongs to Jesus, He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  Instant gratitude and joy.

Jesus is praying for us!  Seriously.  

He is currently seated at the right hand of God and 

is making intercession for us (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25).  We so easily forget this awesome reality.  Jesus sees us, He knows the details of our lives, and He is speaking up for us to our Father.  He is our advocate, our mediator, our intercessor.  He understands us because He was human—He can help us because He is divine.

These are just a few of the truths found in God’s Word.  When we take time to close our eyes and meditate on one truth at a time, it will begin to infuse our spirits with a fresh joy—the kind of joy that is sustainable and never to be taken away, even on our hardest or most frustrating days.  Joy benefits us in many ways.  Most importantly, it gives us inner strength which is something we all need (Nehemiah 8:NLT “…for the joy of the Lord is your strength!)  Our joy will benefit others—those whom we are called to minister to as well as those we work with and live with.  

Let’s not lose sight of the joy that is ours when we keep the promises of God in the forefront of our hearts and minds.  We can do this!

Written by Teresa Goodnight

As a society, we have really opened up the door on “Free to Choose” in so many areas.  Many, I just don’t agree with on any level—but the beauty of America is that we offer those freedoms to our citizens.  Where it gets interesting is when freedoms are being pressed in one area, while they are being annihilated in another.  How can we decide a “woman’s right to choose” allows her the freedom to abort her child based on convenience on one hand and yet doesn’t offer a parent the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate their own child (the child btw they are trying to research every possible way to keep healthy and protected)?  How can one possess the freedom to choose to end life in one hand but not possess in the other hand the freedom to choose what they believe is the best path of protection?  So, I wanted to talk with some level headed doctors in the area to get their take. 

Broken Arrow Pediatrics specifically mentions in their advertising that they will work with families regarding vaccinations for their children.   They are also super clear they are 100% a proponent of vaccinations.  They believe vaccines work.  So, they are not by any means an anti-vaccination group.  That said, they also fully believe in the parents right to choose the best path for their child.  So, unlike many doctor’s offices that try to force parents to vaccinate their children in order to receive care—they choose a different path.  

Dr. Carl Pfanstiel said, “We would like to see children vaccinated, as we think it’s the best way to protect your children from these medical diseases. However, we fully believe that choice lies directly in the parents’ hands. 

There are a small percentage of children with specific medical conditions, which might contraindicate their usage.  These definitely exist.”  Dr. Pfanstiel went on, “Regardless, we still believe the parents get to choose what is best for their children’s health.  We don’t believe our forefathers expected medical professionals to ever deem themselves to have the right to some form of eminent domain over your children’s vaccinations.  We always offer the best medical advice we have.  For example, we suggest when to take something to reduce a fever, but many parents will choose to administer something like Tylenol at the first sign of a fever.  Others will let the fever run until 101 or 102 and then start treatment, as research indicates the fever is the body fighting the illness.  Parents painstakingly make decisions minute by minute to protect their kiddos.  

We are here to partner with them for the best possible care for their child.”  Dr. Pfanstiel continued, “That  said, we certainly don’t have the right to withhold treatment, because someone doesn’t agree with our medical opinion on a vaccination.  That sort of decision lies firmly within the parent’s rights.  We do think vaccinations are the best course of treatment though.”

Seems to me this group gets it.  There has to be a line in giving and taking away freedoms.  That line needs to stay within our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Once we start to give away these freedoms, we might find ourselves at a loss for how to get them back.