Category: FEATURES

Thesis By Natalie Stitt Regent Preparatory – Student, Guest Author

Here is Part 2 of Natalie Stitt’s senior thesis. If you missed Part 1 of Natalie’s article, check out the first half online at
www.communityspiritmagazine.com.

Just as ancients did, many in the Church today assume that disabilities are due directly to sin, and therefore have the overarching, if not sole purpose to be healed (Cross 317). Although this concept is visible in the Old and New Testaments, it is fundamentally a pagan idea: the notion that at any turn, a slight mistake could offend the gods and leave the sinner suddenly struck by lightning or turned into a cow terrorized the ancient world, and as Christianity spread, this idea was mixed with Christian thought. This concept of divine punishment heavily influenced both the early and contemporary Church (Moss).

In Jesus’ teachings, his disciples once asked, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:2-3). We tend to think that if something is bad, it is always divine punishment, but Jesus’ words in this passage should dispel any thoughts that disabilities are the results of God’s wrath (Yong 87). On the other hand, I do not mean to suggest that God is absent from the creation of those with disabilities; Scripture is very clear that there is purpose behind every individual, especially those with disabilities. When Moses confronted God about his speech impediment, asking Him to choose someone else, the Lord responded with, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). His response shows how purposeful each individual with special needs is: they are fully created by God, disability and all.

While it is folly to attribute disabilities to be direct effect of God’s wrath, sin might have something to do with the existence of disabilities, and for this, we must turn to Thomas Aquinas. When discussing physical impairments, Aquinas contends that disability, along with several other experiences that he deems “features of the human condition,” is not on direct account of sin, that is, divine punishment, but yet another manifestation of original sin in this world (Cross 318). The human condition does not only include disability, but all the ways that sin manifests in humanity: being prone to lie, having an addiction to alcohol, being born without the use of the legs, and having Down syndrome are all aspects that fall under Aquinas’s categorization (328-329). Despite physical appearances or mental abilities, theologically, there is no distinction between someone with or without disabilities.

In a sense, all effects of original sin are hindering in some manner or another: we are all disabled to a certain degree. I’d like to turn to Bach, a scholar of disability in theology: Both [disabled and not] are respectively created by God; both live in the fallen creation; both (as damaged creation) are dependent on the salvific deed of Christ; both are reconciled to God through Christ; both are members of the Body of Christ, both deficient and dependent upon others; both gifted with divine gifts, both expectant of salvation (Bach, as cited in Kunz, as cited in White 20).

In this light, the state of original sin unifies humanity, especially within the Body of Christ. One cannot treat a fellow sinner with contempt or arrogance because “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When Christians have a misconception of sin as it relates to disability, they see an individual with special needs as a mistake, if not a punishment, that requires healing. Nancy Eiesland, herself living with a disability, comments on the issue from experience: “our bodies have too often been touched by hands that have forgotten our humanity and attend only to curing us . . . healing has been the churchly parallel to rehabilitative medicine, in which the goal was ‘normalization’ of the bodies of people with disabilities” (Eiesland 244). She claims that instead of being welcomed into a loving and accepting community, she was merely viewed as an imperfection that needed healing and normalization.

Theologically there is nothing wrong with intercession for healing, but as Eiesland emphasized, one’s humanity and one’s disability cannot be separated for the purpose of healing, and healing with normalization in mind, is not without danger. In the gospel, it is very clearly stated that there should be no partiality in the Church (James 2): nothing about an individual should cause the church body to treat her in a better or worse manner. We are all defective, we are all broken, and we are all sinful, and no one is more or less than another. We should always keep this is in the forefront of our minds when we interact with anyone, with and without disabilities. The Lord does not bestow weaknesses or disabilities upon humanity in order to discourage them, but rather, through the relationship established on the cross, to make them perfect in his strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). Any suffering that we experience on earth should be a reminder for what Christ accomplished on the cross: he trampled Satan, and in death, gave us life.

The first step towards inclusion must begin with how we view individuals with special needs. In the New Testament and especially in the examples set by Jesus, diversity was obvious: men and women of all different backgrounds were unified as they worked to further the kingdom of the Lord. Jesus’ image of the Church as a body emphasizes unity over difference. Jesus even commanded that his followers “go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (Luke 14:21). He did not say “open your doors and let them come” but rather “go, and bring them in” (White 12). Later the Apostle Paul elaborates on Christ’s teaching concerning inclusion; in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 he says that: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Painting by Natalie Stitt

As Paul states, there is unity in diversity: “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The unity that Christ instituted in the body of the Church was not motivated by a mere embrace of diversity, but it came from seeing each and every individual as a bearer of the Imago Dei; their value was nothing that could be proven, displayed, or won, it was instilled through God’s breath of life.

In today’s culture, where we base a high priority on rationality and intelligence, a hierarchy of humanity and, consequently, of disability, has been constructed from the measure of one’s intelligence and has been deeply ingrained within our society. People, Christian or not, usually view a neurotypical individual as on a ‘higher level’ than an individual with Down syndrome, and likewise someone with Aspergers is ‘rated higher’ than one with a profound mental disability. Although life on earth functions on the basis of classifications such as these, there is no tier of humanity even hinted towards in the Bible. “The value of a person, in God’s sight, is not measured by his or her knowledge and accomplishments. The value of a person is ultimately in the realm of love” (Edwards 73). People have no justification in classifying their fellow humans on any basis other than the love that the Father has freely given. It is for that love that Jesus came to earth as a man and died on the cross: it wasn’t for the intellectually qualified alone, but also for those that the general population has consigned to a lower category, perhaps irredeemably so.

As stated above, there is no theological difference between a completely dependent individual and you or me. The Church may not openly classify people on the basis of intelligence, but they do make classifications as to how much charity an individual requires, which is based off an assumption of a caste society. Charity, when properly motivated, should only prove to be beneficial to society: believers, as commanded, should always reach out to those in need. An issue does arise however, when an individual is stripped of their personhood and viewed as an object of charity, which is almost always for the satisfaction of the giver. It typically happens in one of two manners: in some cases, an individual with special needs is given special treatment, condescended to as if they are a child, or ‘helped’ by a member of the congregation. Although these actions in themselves may not appear malicious, they can be degrading to that individual’s inherent value, and in some cases, that individual can detect the air of false charity. The so-called ‘giver’ in this situation feels like a saint, a perfect benefactor to a person, whom they deem to be less than themselves. On the other hand, the misuse of charity may take place between an entire congregation and those with disabilities, not just between one member and another with a disability.

In many cases such as this, the Church will ‘invite’ an individual with special needs into their congregation and present them as their ‘special’ member. It gives that specific church a more diverse appearance and also makes them feel as if they are helping those in need. Although this situation, like the last, appears to be an honest attempt at inclusion, the heart is nowhere near the right place. Both of these situations stem from a selfish desire to be seen as good, not to simply fulfill the commandments and do good. Christians, as fallen and selfish beings, must always be reminded that works, for the sake of the good and not for the sake of self-satisfaction, without recognition are the most fulfilling way to show love; in Matthew it is written, “be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Charity, when properly motivated, should only prove to be beneficial to society: believers, as commanded, should always reach out to those in need. An issue does arise however, when an individual is stripped of their personhood and viewed as an object of charity, which is almost always for the satisfaction of the giver. 

The most vital aspect in the repositioning of the heart is love. Love, as has been perfectly demonstrated by the Father through Christ, is one of the hardest yet simplest things we need in order to include those with special needs into the Body of Christ. In I Peter 4:8, it does not say, “love those who are convenient to love,” but rather “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Loving is not something that is convenient or easy: Christ’s death on the cross was the opposite of those things. There is no better way to truly experience love, than when the object of your affection becomes unlovable (Lewis 118). That is not to say that individuals with special needs are unlovable; in most cases they are quite the opposite, but oftentimes they have no way to reciprocate the love given freely to them, just as we have no way to earn or repay the Father’s love.

There is no better model to admire here than Christ (Hoekema 22). Theologians have dissected the defining aspects of humanity over and over, but just as a scientist can break down an element only up to a certain point, there is a baseline which theologians cannot proceed past. Humans, as centuries worth of philosophy displays, are complex and unique creatures layered with desires and flaws, but each and every human being is made in the holy Image of God. Whether it is acknowledged or not, this intrinsic value is something that can never be added to or subtracted from; it places all humans, despite race, gender, socio-economic status, intelligence, and physical ability under one category: children of the living God.

For centuries, people with disabilities have faced discrimination and contempt, even in the Church. Their intrinsic worth has been overlooked, and consequently, they have been ignored, they have been refused access to the sacraments, and they have even been marginalized from God-ordained community that the Body of Christ is to provide. An individual’s value, whether they are at the cognitive level of a toddler or of a genius, is nothing that can be added to or subtracted from: it rests solely on the basis of God’s breath of life, his holy image (Lewis 116). It is something that spans across all of humanity; every individual must be treated with the utmost respect: if they are not, not only is their humanity marred, but the sacred image of the Lord is defiled. This factor should dispel every air of discomfort, indifference, and most certainly pride, and should establish and enforce full inclusion of those with special needs in the body of the Church. In all of your future interactions with those with and without disabilities, always remember Jesus’ words, “let all the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

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.

Our Governor’s daughter has a beautiful heart. However, if you just read the article and don’t take action, you just might break it. Natalie prayerfully prepared her thesis hoping God would use it to impact our community . . . to change us. We have an opportunity to become different, to do things differently—in our churches and our schools. Both entities of God’s Kingdom need to reconsider our positions to make sure we’re in alignment with the challenging words of this teenager. I challenge you to think about what your next steps could be to help make amazing life altering changes to our ministries.  Then #GoDoBe.

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Natalie Stitt’s article has already touched so many. We’ve had families thanking us for approaching the subject both for schools and for churches. It’s opened my mind beyond where God started me. I pray with this little story God inspires you to move into action. It’s really that simple.

Forming a ministry for those who are differently abled is incredibly difficult. Right?

Wrong.

Few things could be further from the truth. Our two-part series with Natalie’s senior thesis challenges us all on our role as the Church (and as Christian Schools) to go into the community and seek out those with disabilities to bring them to God.

Job 29:15 (NLT) says, “I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame.” The Bible is full of references to God’s heart for those with any kind of physical or mental needs. However, many of us have unknowingly created a world where they don’t seem to belong. Does that even sound right when you read it? Not in a Church called to reach the least of these, it doesn’t.

There are scattered churches in our area, who have made wonderful efforts towards reaching these souls for Christ. However, as Natalie referenced in her thesis, the needs of those with a handicap of some kind aren’t really “special.” They have needs just like any of us—to be loved, included, cared for, part of the Body of Christ. So many people believe a lie Satan puts in their minds that ministering to those who are crippled in some way is difficult. Eastland Assembly is one church who has proven otherwise for 26 years now.

“Eastland’s ministry started with puppets at Hissom Memorial Center (a residential training facility for mentally disabled children).” shared LaDonna Harper, who now has the reigns for the ministry with her husband, Al Harper. She went on, “The church launched the ministry with Jason Couch, one little member. It grew quite quickly by word of mouth. It has been steady ever since.”

Jason was an autistic boy. He was also the pastor’s son. If we think about the newfound awareness for autism we have these days—it’s better than it was, but still very misunderstood by most. So, 26 years ago, it was really a shot in the dark to begin this ministry. LaDonna said, “Since then, we have 150–170 people each Sunday who attend the service. That includes caregivers. We have about 100 people or so with special needs, but we also have the 75 or so caregivers. That’s a captive audience, because the caregivers bring them to ­services at their request.” LaDonna continued, “Most of the ministry on Sunday mornings for the service is done with songs. You talk about pure praise. It is just beautiful.” When she mentioned the caregivers attending services, being fed the Gospel, it even further opened my heart as to why this ministry is so critical to a church in their efforts to reach the world for Christ.

LaDonna said, “There are separate services but sometimes we bring both groups together with our regular service. Those in the 0–21 category attend the regular children’s and teen programs. They would have someone from our church with them full time if they needed someone from the church or they might have their own caregiver. The adults have their own class.” In Eastland’s program, the parents get a needed break with their children being so well cared for in the classes. Just a little extra attention really ministers to the entire family when you think about it. All parents know parenting is incredible, but a little break goes a long way. When a child has a disability, that can be even more true. It’s really a ministry to so many different people when you think about it.

LaDonna explained, “We use the ‘Action Bible’ chronologically with the Bible stories. It looks like a comic book, but it’s amazing. We just go through it with them.” LaDonna said, “Sunday school at 9:15 and 10:00 service so that they can have their meds at noon. That’s about the biggest bit of advice we have, because everything else is just holding a regular kind of service. That timing gives them room to get back to their facilities and homes for the medication.”

One other tip LaDonna had was to skip the donuts. LaDonna laughed, “We used to have a larger Sunday school when I brought donuts. It did get them out of bed, but the sugar affects their behavior so much. That leaves their staff dealing with those impacts when they get back. So, we steer clear of the donuts now to create the right situation for everyone.”

LaDonna shared, “We have parties for holidays like the 4th of July and of course we have a big Christmas party. We give them gifts. Sometimes that’s the only gift they get. Many are wards of the state. They are aged from their early 20’s to 75 or so. Actually, half of our congregation has been here the whole 26 years.”

We give them gifts. Sometimes that’s the only gift they get. 

I was in awe of what LaDonna was doing. However, realizing she had ZERO training in special needs ministry or education was the biggest surprise. LaDonna said, “We decided to fill in when the team left the church to try to help other churches start ministries like ours. I would come in and sing, but I didn’t really think about being part of the ministry. My husband is an engineer. We just never thought about this ministry. It’s been an amazing journey. Most people that come see them in worship can’t watch without crying. My mother in law was Presbyterian and is now Baptist. She just sits down and cries at the service. It’s something to see.”

LaDonna shared, “There are many times when you go through struggles in life. Sundays are more like salvation for my husband and I. I know that Jesus truly is our salvation, but there’s so much love
in this service; it just gives you a peace
for the rest of the things going on in
your life.”

It’s quite beautiful and contrary to popular belief, quite simple. That’s really the message here. Of course, there will be challenges once in a while, like with any ministry. However, if your church isn’t doing it—then maybe God is calling you to be the one to get the ball rolling? Maybe? It may not be anything you’ve ever even thought about before reading this article. However, if you drop in on Eastland Assembly for one service and take a tour, it might ignite your heart with fire you never even knew were burning inside of you. God certainly lit LaDonna and Al with a fiery passion, equipping them with exactly what they needed to bless these families. #GoDoBe

LaDonna Harper invites people from other churches to come check out their services to get ideas and inspiration on what you might be able to do at your church. Their door is always open. She said, “I’m not worried if someone starts another ministry that we lose attendees. If the new location is closer to them, then it’s better for them. This is about what’s best for them.” Stop by one Sunday. See if this might be the God has prepared in advance for YOU to do.

Written by Teresa Goodnight

“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”

Proverbs 22:6, New Living Translation (NLT)

I attended a basics of Christianity class with my four-year old daughter at Jenks First Baptist one Sunday evening. It was fascinating to watch her listen so intently. I had the opportunity to explain our faith with the teacher as he went. The event moved me to tears, because outside of our Bible readings at home—that was the first time in her life that we had the opportunity to experience this kind of class together in a church setting. Why was that? It struck me funny. Why hadn’t we had that opportunity before? Was it not a good idea?

Before I finished my thoughts, I saw my daughter’s hand shoot straight up to answer a question. Honestly, I didn’t even hear the question. She must’ve been the youngest one in the class, but to my surprise—he called on her. I was a bit petrified. We didn’t discuss it. What would she say? Wow. She nailed it. I realized things we taught her before armed her with the answer like attending youth church, reading her Bible for Kids (It’s the YouVersion Kid’s Bible with activities—you have GOT to get the free app if you don’t have it for phones and tablets!) So, some of what we had been doing was working! It’s nice when that happens. However, the class really challenged me that I was not understanding how much “Jesus teaching” she was ready to absorb. She left wanting more of it. So did I.

Somehow, the way we do church separately, I was missing some great opportunities to strengthen her. It just never occurred to me. Part of that is because most churches keep everyone in the right box. Married. Single. Kids. Teens. It’s kind of a given that it’s a right thing to do to group together on these levels. However, it shouldn’t be the ONLY ways we are engaging with our kids during church I think. (case in point!)

Why weren’t there more opportunities to engage together in discipling our children hand in hand with the church? I wondered, have some of the churches forgotten (with me!) how much these kids are ready to absorb? Are there studies out there showing kids learn better in environments with their parents sometimes? Maybe we should mix more of these opportunities into their path on purpose?

In that short time, we took the kids from 0 to 60 on the “What’s this Christian stuff all about” gage. From Adam and Eve and the fall to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We tackled it point by point with a nice picture we drew together. Jesus was God’s son. We drew out on paper diagrams to show that no matter how good we are as men and women—that we fall short of God’s perfect standard. We talked clearly about God coming to us because we could never bridge the gap. We only connected to God through grace, accepting Jesus Christ as our savior. I’d bet that many of the parents learned (or were reminded) of a few things along the way as well. After all, those basics like salvation by grace and not by works are some of the things that trip us up most! My spirit was on fire with the concept that felt so new to me.

Then, just few Sundays later, we had a blended service at church for families. My daughter came into the service with us. She sang worship songs with us. I was so thankful to God—sharing worship with my husband and my baby girl. This moment praising God together was seared into my heart forever. When they played “Raise a Hallelujah” for the Fall’s Creek video segment, she sang loud enough to be heard for rows around us. Everyone around smiled. She fell in love with the song in the Easter play at Victory Christian Center. My husband has been very intentional about filling her with great Christian music, and it is working. This big people song pierced the heart of my little girl. She said, “Mom—I totally know why they used that song when Jesus rose from the dead that day in that play.”

As if God needed to poke me harder on the matter, during worship she whispered in my ear, “Mommy—I’m sorry I kicked at your arm in the car.” She was frustrated at something in the car, and from her car seat reached as far as she could with her foot to shove my arm. She had been immediately disciplined of course, but in the midst of worshipping our God—His Spirit was alive and active with her. She whispered again, “I’m not going to be mean anymore either.” She hugged me more times than I can count. I held her as the worship continued. We swayed back and forth in the presence of our almighty King together. It was such a beautiful moment of confession, repentance and learning in the presence of our God. My heart once again just couldn’t contain both my joy and my thoughts on why this interaction was so important.

When worship ended, with a blank piece of paper and crayons given to us at the door for her, she began to draw. The sermon began. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to her doodles. I looked down about 15 minutes later. There it was. She recreated the image from our basics of our faith lesson several weeks back. She drew the chasm between us and God with Jesus connecting it. She drew the cross. She drew the tomb. She even included the arrows going in and out of the tomb. She whispered to me and explained every bit of it. She didn’t need to explain it. I knew exactly what it was. I looked at my husband. Tears filled my eyes again. God had my full attention on the matter.

Watching God working in her heart and growing her into His child—it took my breath away. In some ways it boosted my own faith, watching the sweetness of Him moving in her in ways she understood. It felt right to be there with her. From here forward, I know these kinds of interactions need to be part of her world. They need to be part of my world. God absolutely wanted me to see all that He could do. He wanted me to experience a glimpse into what He experiences when we learn things, when we respond to His spirit, when we flat out nail it.

So, why am I sharing this story with you?

I was reminded in a beautiful way, one I won’t soon forget, how important sharing these kinds of experiences with our children can be. My hope is that by telling you about our experience, that you will seek out your own experiences like these. I don’t think they are always going to just happen. I think we need to be intentional with them. You can even help your church start offering them.

There is power in a basic discipleship class, teaching our children the foundations of our faith. It meant more doing it together—for both of us. She paid attention more. She was eager to show me what she remembered and learned. It was Jesus-centered discipleship with my baby girl. And, best of all? It was really simple to make happen.

What kinds of action steps did we take?

Well, we decided to dedicate a lot of space this issue to discipling our children. We sought out some examples of that kind of discipleship to share with you.

Other steps? We started a new LifeGroup (Bible Study) at our church inviting parents and children to take the journey together for 6-8 weeks. The focus? Discipleship 101 with our kiddos. It’s a great way to teach the children. It’s also a safe way to help newer believers to become solid in the basics of their faith with their children. It’s one easy way parents can grow with their kids in the basics of our faith in a safe, fun environment.

What actions could you take? Whatever you do, don’t just put it off. I’m a full time mom with a high maintenance rugrat. What we put off until tomorrow—well, that tomorrow becomes next week, next month, next year. These kids are only little for so long. They only embrace such interactions with excitement for so long. If you need help? Send me a note at teresa@communityspiritmagazine.com and I’ll sign you up for a class we are putting together to teach others these basics in a way they can share them!

If you’re already engaged? Incredible! Send your tips on disciplining children to us. We’d love to publish and share more ideas! It’s too important for their walk with Christ to miss the chance while we have it. 

Written by Karen Hardin

If you are watching the political horizon, it is clear that our nation is in crisis. The two primary political parties have never been more divided. At the core of this battle is the determination to remove God.

Yet here in Oklahoma, something very different is taking place.

“We are getting the church and its people back into government rather than the silent posture we have taken over the years,” explains Jesse Leon Rodgers, founder and president of City Elders and chairman of the Oklahoma Watchmen on the Wall Network; the pastor’s network of the Family Research Council.

City Elders is a biblical, reformational form of city governance which is based upon the model of the governing elders of the ancient cities of Israel and the function of New Testament Eldership.

Jesse Leon Roders, Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Senator James Lankford, and Paul Abner

Over the past two years, Rodgers and his team have been working with leaders across the state and the transformation taking place has been nothing short of amazing. So far forty-two of the seventy-seven counties have embraced this new structure in which governing city leaders now sit at the table to work side-by-side with Christian leaders in their city to bring strength and transformation.

Who and what are city elders? “They are shepherds, civil servants and stewards,” Rodgers explained. “They are experienced, anointed and recognized leaders from the three primary spheres of God ordained authority; the Church, civil government and business.”

As Rodgers and his team continue working to introduce this model to every county in Oklahoma, they are already receiving requests to assist in other states as well. Why is this important?

“The truth is, we’ve been lied to that the Church and its people are to remain separate from government. It’s not in our constitution and it’s not in the Bible,” Rodgers continued.

Throughout the Bible, religious leaders took on the role to assist in the organization and governing the people and also interacted with governmental leaders.

When the task of governing the Israelites became too burdensome, Moses called upon the Lord who said, “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.’” (Num 11:16-17)

Daniel and Joseph of biblical days both served as advisors to government leaders.

And the Apostle Paul, as a religious leader of his day, referred to government laws and interacted with government leaders. (Acts 16:37, 22:25)

So as Christians how can we transform our nation? City-by-city. County-by-county. State-by-state.

According to Marc Nuttle, political consultant to Governor Stitt’s Campaign—

“We don’t need a revitalization plan. We need an infastructure plan. What we currently have is not sustainable. For example, in Oklahoma in many of our county seats, the government is the largest employer! Our constitution’s language is outdated and needs to be updated. Our school system needs to be reorganized and restructured to better utilize the funds available.”

Although Nittle was referring specifically to Oklahoma, this can be said for almost every state in our nation.

The reason our country is in crisis and on the verge of socialist takeover, is because the biblical example of Christian elders and leaders in government positions has been abandoned. When the Left introduced the false narrative of “separation of church and state,” sadly many bought into this lie, which is not only not in our constitution, but the phrase used by Thomas Jefferson was about protecting the Church and religion from the government, not the reverse. (For more on this go to: https://wallbuilders.com/separation-church-state/)

So as Christians how can we transform our nation? City-by-city. County-by-county. State-by-state.

So what can we do?

1. Pray.

2. Get involved.VOTE. VOLUNTEER.

3. Give. Prayer by itself is not enough. Faith without works is dead. We need to open our wallets and put our money where our mouth is. If there is a God-fearing candidate willing to put their name and time on the line to help bring about transformation, the least we can do is get behind them financially to help them.

4. Spread the Word. This is an area in which everyone can help.

How? Talk about upcoming elections. Be informed. Search out when elections in your local area are taking place. Go and take others with you.

Talk about candidates and why you support them to your family, friends and those you meet. Be willing to engage in conversations, rather than remain silent.

If you would like to know more or get involved with City Elders, go to: CityElders@gmail.com or call (580) 320-7188.

ABOUT: Karen Hardin is an intercessor, author, minister and literary agent. She is called to exhort, encourage and help raise up the remnant. She desires to empower those who have grown weary so they can reposition to walk in identity and destiny. Her work has appeared in USA Today, World Net Daily, Intercessors for America, Charisma, CBN.com, The Elijah List, etc. For additional information you can contact her at www.prioritypr.org or www.karenhardin.com

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Matthew 25:34–40  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’  “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

In the church, we TALK A LOT about loving our neighbor. In fact, we talk about loving them like we love ourselves. Those are some pretty BIG WORDS. I wonder though, what good are words without action? I think they are like faith without action. Dead. I know, because too many times I have found myself thinking that someone else had it. That the needs I saw would be met by someone else. They probably were. However, how many chances have I missed to be God’s hands? God’s feet?

I’m a writer. I like words, but not this time.

This time I’m keeping it short. I’m asking you to get up and do something with me.

Matthew 25: 29–30 (NLT) “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness . . .”

With the families who lost everything in the floods still trying to figure out how to find solid ground to stand on, there’s a great opportunity to start putting your actions where your words are. Just read below what a handful of churches are doing in Sand Springs to help . . . and HOW MUCH IS STILL TO BE DONE. These Christians are pouring love all over the place and they need some folks to come give them some relief from the bench.

LOVE IS A VERB.

LOVE IS A VERB.

Here’s what it looks like.

A Requested Report from Rusty Gunn, Pastor, Church that Matters: Coordinators of Flooded Family Relief in Sand Springs

We have had a crazy busy weekend (and about 3 weeks preparing) out here with flood relief. We had a furniture/appliance swap meet where people were able to drop off donated furniture and appliances from 8–11 am and then flood affected families were able to pick up items from 1–3 pm Saturday. We had pallet loads of Tempur-Pedic pillows, makeup, toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, air dryers, pots and pans, coffee makers, and food boxes as well. We served over 100 families.

Then Sunday we had our church’s “Don’t GO to Church Sunday” where we had over 225 people out doing about 15–20 community projects. One of those projects was providing new bicycles for the flood affected kids on Sunday. Our kid’s ministry put on a brief kid and family program with a gospel presentation and then distributed 65 bicycles to kids who lost theirs in the flood. We fed the families lunch after as well.

Then at 2 pm we had our community “Back To School Bash” at Tulsa Technology Center’s Sand Springs campus, where we distributed over 500 backpacks filled with school supplies and had free haircuts, dental exams, eye exams, blood tests, food, games, etc. 

All that to say we are fairly exhausted at this very moment.

We have provided sheetrock with mud and tape, insulation, brand new refrigerators, dishwashers, stove/ovens, and cabinets for about 40 homes so far and the needs are still being realized just about every day. There is still A LOT of work to be done. I met a man yesterday who has not even begun his rebuild process. I met a family, whose children are in counseling because of the trauma from this event. People are having to try to rebuild the insides of their homes from the sticks up and at the same time try to maintain their yard work along with their full-time jobs. We have 2 cancer patients we are working with, who are also having to balance their treatments with all the work they are doing.

We are incredibly thankful to those who HAVE sent support, people, and resources. Victory Church has really been a huge blessing to us specifically! We are so grateful for the help we have received but just need more. Our own community is experiencing what is apparently known as compassion fatigue. So much still needs to be done.

It’s our turn.

Grab your wallet.

Grab your church, Sunday School class, your Bible study group—whatever group you can get to join you. If no one wants to come? Just grab yourself.

Let’s get Church that Matters (and the other churches in Sand Springs helping them) what they need. Let’s volunteer to join them in loving our neighbor . . . as ourselves. Email us at info@community
spiritmagazine.com or reach the church directly at info@churchthatmatters.com or call 918-512-1486 to offer what you have. Let’s help these amazing Christians feel supported in their efforts to love their neighbors and give them some love of our Lord and Saviour!

Make your LOVE
A VERB.

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.