Category: FEATURES

CITY ELDERS: Why Christians Must Be Involved in Government

Written by Jesse Leon Rodgers

If you are like me, you have watched the downward slide in our nation against Judeo-Christian values and felt overwhelmed at what has taken place in our courts and schools. In the last fifty plus years we have watched the following:

June 25, 1962 in a landmark case Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court decided the sanctity of prayer and word of God were no longer necessary or welcome in the public education system of the United States.

January 22, 1973 that same Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a child would no longer be safe in the womb of its mother. The sanctity of life now gone.

June 26, 2015 the same Supreme Court decided in another landmark ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges that the sanctity of marriage would be removed from our courts and our laws in the United States.

California Senate SB Bill 48 targeted the purity and innocence of our children with government mandated public education training of our children in the history and substance of the LGBTQ community.

The Illinois Legislature passed House Bill 5596 which also targeted the purity and innocence of our children in primary school by requiring the schools to teach the history of the LGBTQ community to school children to create gender confusion.

What we are seeing is social engineering and secular humanism at its best. How has this happened? Because we believed the lie that as Christians we were not to be involved in government and that pastors and Christian leaders were not allowed to speak out about these important issues. We stepped back and went silent. And this has been the result. We can no longer remain silent.

Jesse Leon Rodgers speaking at City Elders meeting.

We must recognize that government funded and government subsidized public education has been the greatest adversary of faith, family and freedom for a generation.

The Humanist Manifesto states blatantly that their desire is to turn the public education classroom into their sanctuary. The teacher is their high priest, secular Humanism, Dialectic Materialism (Marxism), Evolution and Atheism is their creed and our children are the worshippers in their new religion of secular humanism.

Has the vision and strategy of secular humanism worked? You bet. Over 80% of the children of evangelicals jettison their faith in their first year of college. These numbers are not sustainable. If we want to remain a free country, if we want the United States of America to remain free for our children and grandchildren, then the men and women of God across this nation must stand up to be collective in their efforts and we must do so right now.

That is the goal and role of City Elders, a non-profit organization with a model to position Christian leaders/elders to work alongside government officials across our nation. We are already seeing this happen as this model is implemented in our state.

Who are city elders? They are proven Christian leaders from the sectors of the church, the business community and civil government, who when they convene constitute the spiritual governing council of a city or community.

They are local leaders whose personal lives are guided by biblical principles and governed by Judeo Christian values and who are committed to the exaltation of Jesus Christ and the practice of his lordship in every sphere of life.

We need to return to the concept of city elders who in biblical days guarded and governed the cities at the city gates. It was the watchmen on the wall and the elders at the city gates who were the first line of defense against attacks, invasion or intrusion of any kind and their responsibility was the protection of the inhabitants of the city including their own families.

The mission of City Elders is to govern the gates of the city spiritually, politically, and economically so that life is protected, liberty is defended, Christ is exalted and families can flourish.

This is a national network strategy being implemented currently in Oklahoma in over forty of our seventy-seven counties. Can you imagine the transformation if this model was implemented in every state of our nation?

We have already surrendered far too many civil liberties and religious freedoms. We have watched as our own government has been commandeered and weaponized against Christians. The public education system has been infiltrated and militarized against the family, Judeo-Christian values and biblical world view.

It’s time now for the people of God to arise and take their position in the gates of the cities across this nation as we move back into government rather than watch from the sidelines.

For additional information or to become a part of City Elders go to: https://cityelders.com/

ABOUT: Jesse Leon Rodgers is the founder and president of City Elders, a reformation model of city and state governance that trains up and empowers Christian elders how to govern the gates of the city spiritually, politically, and economically.

He is the chairman of the Oklahoma Watchmen on the Wall Network; the pastor’s network of the Family Research Council, Washington, D.C.

Rodgers’ unique role with the Family Research Council and City Elders has positioned him to influence government officials from the local municipalities to the White House.

Elsa Isn’t the Only One Who Can “Let it Goooo!”

Written by Kim Thomas

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

When you hear the words, “let it go,” it would not be surprising to learn the popular Disney ballad from the animated film, Frozen, comes to mind. The song, “Let it Go” became one of the top 10 songs of 2014 and quickly following its release, had children of all ages belting out this catchy tune at the top of their lungs. Frozen tells the tale of a fictional character, Elsa, who is born with magical powers of ice and snow. When faced with her own emotions of anxiety, stress and anger, she loses control of her powers and unknowingly thrusts her kingdom into eternal winter and unintentionally freezes her sister’s heart. To avoid further harm, Elsa creates an ice palace where she isolates herself away from all others. But the story does not end here. By the time the story unfolds, Elsa learns that the harm she has caused is only undone when she shows love and compassion for others.

As I thought about this story, I began to reflect on how too often, unbeknownst to us, we find ourselves battling with our own frozen or hardened hearts. A frozen heart may be the result of a betrayed friendship, a wrongful accusation, wounds from past abuse, or any other occurrence that has allowed bitterness to take root in our heart.

To protect ourselves from further injury, just like Elsa, we create a kingdom of isolation. Isn’t that just what the devil wants us to do? He wants us to believe that if we put up walls, keep score of the wrongs done to us, or even refuse to forgive others, we can protect ourselves from being hurt again. He encourages us to rehearse our negative thoughts until they crystalize like an icy blast that continues to freeze and harden the walls of our hearts. Instead of protecting us, this isolation can lead to loneliness, misery, regret, and grief.

Forgiving others who have hurt or wronged us may seem like an insurmountable task. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things we will ever do. It is also one of the most freeing. Lewis Smedes once wrote that “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

In Ephesians 4:31, Paul instructs us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”

In other words, Paul is saying . . . “Let it go!”

Scripture goes on to say, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.”

Forgiveness is not the same things as having a lack of boundaries or even restoring trust in a relationship. Forgiveness means giving up the right to punish the other person. Instead of appointing ourselves as both the judge and jury that convicts the one who has harmed us, we allow God to melt our hearts and let Him be the ultimate authority.

In Frozen, Elsa sings of freedom in “letting it go.” While this song is intended to be an “anthem about acceptance,” I would like to offer another perspective. When we choose to let go of the pain and hurtful memories of those who have harmed us, we too, can sense a freedom to move forward. No more keeping score.

If you don’t know where to begin with releasing the hurts and offenses from your past, begin by being honest with our loving, Heavenly Father. He sees, knows, and understands your pain. Ask Him to help you move forward by giving you His heart and eyes of compassion for others.

It begins with a decision . . . 

Here’s to taking that first step!

Mark 11:25 says, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”


7 Tips on Surviving the Holidays with Family

Here come the holidays! And with the holidays come opportunities (and sometimes obligations) to spend time with family members who have at one time or another been difficult to get along with, we don’t have much in common with, or have caused us pain. Family members seem to know just how to push the right “buttons” in us. Negatively anticipating these encounters can surely put a damper on and create stress for what could otherwise be a pleasant time of year.

This year, make a conscious decision to intentionally make an effort to go into the holiday season with a positive outlook. Rather than just “psyching” yourself up to merely “tolerate” or “get through” any family holiday gatherings, proactively make a plan on how to make this upcoming holiday season more enjoyable.

  1. Begin with an attitude of gratitude. Instead of anticipating all of the things that could go “wrong” or ruminate on who has offended you in the past, spend some time focusing on the things you are thankful for as well as the things that could go “right.” Take a moment to be thankful for the friends and family members in your life that love and support you rather than the ones who offend or irritate you. The things you focus on, you will find more of.
  2. Make a plan. Don’t wait until the last minute. Before any gatherings arrive, begin thinking about which family members you would feel most comfortable sitting next to, what you could talk about, and how to fill uncomfortable voids of silence if they arise. Think of questions you could ask and how you can respond if interrogated or put on the spot.
  3. Avoid topics that could quickly turn into touchy subjects. This includes anything that encourages strong opinions such as talking about religion, politics, or any other sensitive subject that could strike a nerve with someone. Ways to do this include graciously asking the other person to “agree to disagree on this one.” Change the direction of a conversation by asking a question about what is going on in the other person’s life. Most people enjoy talking about themselves or things they are interested in.
  4. Remind yourself, “What is in my control and what is not?” While you cannot control another person’s attitudes or comments, you are the one in control of your responses, attitudes, and actions. When feeling defensive, take a moment to breathe. Remember to “respond and not react.” Do your best to stay positive and hopefully, others will follow your example.
  5. If necessary, excuse yourself and take a short break. Go check on children in another room, offer to clear the table and begin helping with dishes, go to the restroom, or simply go outside and get some fresh air. Looking at a funny text from a friend or favorite picture can make you smile and help relieve anxiety or stress.
  6. Embrace family differences. Even when you don’t agree with someone, it is helpful to remind yourself to allow others to simply be themselves. Just like you want to be accepted, so do they. Someone else’s opinions and actions reflect only them and not you. Don’t try to change others and make sure you have realistic expectations of others.
  7. Make a decision to forgive those who have hurt you in the past. Harboring grudges from years gone by only robs you of your mental energy and peace. Be willing to admit to ways you may have also contributed to any misunderstanding. Empathizing with the other person and trying to put yourself in their shoes can help facilitate a willingness to forgive. It has been said that, “hurt people . . . hurt people.” Remind yourself of all you have been forgiven for and God’s willingness to forgive us in spite of our sins.


Kim Thomas

ABOUT: Kim Thomas is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist and I have a private practice, There’s Hope! Counseling.  I am a monthly co-host on KNYD Oasis Network Radio.  I am married with a blended family.  I’m a mom of 4, mother-in-love to 2, and stepmom to 3 kiddos, and a dog mom to Rae.  Contact info is (918)277-0777 or www.thereshopehere.com

Student Impact: Special Needs Aren’t That “Special” At All

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Let’s cut to the chase. Kids with “special” needs are looking for love, social encounters, opportunities to grow, and education. There’s nothing “special” at all on their radar. They are looking to grow their relationship with Christ just like the rest of us. These students and their parents want exactly what the rest of us want—a place to belong and to be a part. As the Church, and certainly as Christian schools, we are going to have to do some rethinking of our position here. Could it be that we’re simply not paying attention to what we are not paying attention to in the area with these children of God? There’s a gap. One group in Owasso decided to do something about it.

Pretty little girl with pigtails, smiling

Julie Paul and a group of families and professionals launched King’s Grove School, a classical Christian private school for persons with special needs, this year in Owasso, Oklahoma. They started with 11 students, who are receiving an incredible opportunity to experience Christian classical education in an environment coupled with physical and occupational therapy. From my assessment, their program is possibly akin to Regent Preparatory School except that it’s moving at an appropriate pace and setting for their unique learners.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Julie, the Executive Director of King’s Grove. God has been challenging Community Spirit and our readers to think about the missing links in opportunities for those labeled with special needs in our existing structures. So, I wanted to get a peek inside the heart and souls breathing life into these amazing, but often overlooked souls. They challenged me right where I sat to even further rethink my own views on those with special needs.

“This is a program that hasn’t been tried before in our state.” Julie said. “ The three pillars of our school are Curriculum, Therapy and Community all built on the foundation of glorifying God in all we do while sharing the Gospel and making disciples of ALL men. We’re using a nationally recognized classical Christian curriculum specifically designed for special needs. We integrate therapy throughout every school day. We have a full time physical therapist and occupational therapist on staff. Next year we plan to add a speech therapist and an additional OT and PT aide.” Julie went on, ”We wanted a pilot group of families willing to help us begin this year, so, we self-selected for this first group. Within the design of community at KGS is the need for partnership with families to ensure a successful education for our students.. The Lord says the family is the primary teacher in the child relationship and we desire to come alongside families with special needs to help them in the areas of academics and education while they remain the primary source for life instruction for their children.”

Several similar schools have begun within existing schools on the east coast according to Julie. However, at this time, King’s Grove is a stand alone school and they decided to up it a notch with their integrated therapy specific to academics. This method allows the students to have access to having their sensory needs met within their daily school routine. King’s Grove wants to help families raise their children in Christ in their school the same as any other Christian school—even though that includes a few things not always found in a normal school.

 So far, the feedback has been fantastic. I don’t know how parents could be anything but overjoyed. In just the small amount of time I spent at the school, everything I saw was truly magnificent. I saw their faces. These kids were thriving. It was so beautiful to see them in an environment tailored specifically to grow them into who God created them to be. There’s a sense of purpose to every encounter. “That’s not by accident,” according to Julie. “The student program is designed around purpose in everything they do.”

Julie knows firsthand the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. She and her husband’s eight-year old son went to public schools for a day before they realized the environment wasn’t right for him. He’s non-verbal and on the autism spectrum like so many students. So, she started homeschooling him with this specifically designed curriculum. She quickly realized her path was going to be bigger than just focusing on her son. Now she can offer him, and others, the Christian education she and her husband want for him, while he gets to experience socialization at the same time. When I walked by him in class, it was easy to see he was in his element. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Giving these incredible kids a way to be their best selves? I could see their joy, as they had instruction with a teacher engaging them on whatever level they needed to be drawn into the experience of learning.

Students and teachers at King's Grove

The sensory rooms at King’s Grove School is one example of a simple way to meet these children’s needs. Any parent who has a child with sensory issues understands the need for some downtime to regroup. It can make the difference for the entire day if they just have room to regain their composure. Sometimes being in a classroom setting for too long can become a bit overstimulating. Sometimes the child needs a safe place to go and sort of catch their “sensory breath” if you will. It’s a simple technique that could easily be employed in every school with children who can experience sensory overload. It’s just one of the ways King’s Grove works to lead the way with instructional care fitting the needs of the students that attend there.

Julie added, “If the student can learn better self-regulating skills overtime through therapy and with a break in the sensory room or outside—it creates a win-win scenario. Then, the student can regain needed focus and composure to go back into the academic environment for instruction.” She continued, “A natural and calm setting is essential for our students to thrive. We spend a good amount of time outdoors to meet general sensory needs and then use a program called the Sonrise Method within our sensory rooms to encourage socialization and calmness to their abilities and meet sensory needs indoors when appropriate. Instead of our students having unmet sensory needs and derailing their education time, they can come into this room for a few minutes or longer depending on their needs that day. It gives them some time where they are not thinking about academics but are still in a learning atmosphere. There’s purpose to the play, instruction or interaction. Every single part of our day has a purpose to it. “

Integration

Through efforts towards community, King’s Grove School hopes to help Owasso and the greater Tulsa area see the need for special needs persons to be truly integrated into their communities. Julie said, “There is a benefit to our families to give excellent education to our special needs students. Yet, if there is no community willing to accept persons with special needs into their daily lives our purposes fall apart when our students reach adulthood. Unless their families move away, these students will become adults here. As a community, and especially in the community of believers, we want all of our citizens to be thriving in service, fellowship and work where applicable. Our communities and churches will not operate at their fullest purpose and potential unless all of our persons are involved and valued. We do not need to retrofit the community. We do not need a different part for some and another part for others. We need to retrofit people’s mindsets to value the personhood God has designed in all individuals within their community and network for the purpose of His glory and the furthering of His Kingdom. We are to do this together as one body.” King’s Grove is teaching these students how to have a meaningful purpose in society. They are being discipled to serve Christ.

Julie said, “Students at King’s Grove aren’t just receiving an education. They are also receiving that needed discipleship to teach them how to be contributing members inside the Body of Christ. We see their giftedness for His good work daily. The fruits of the Spirit are being taught inside these classrooms along with the academics to help live them out. We are striving to walk alongside them in community, education and discipleship as God grows them into who He created them to be.” I agreed with her. These students were being taught how to fulfill God’s purpose for them—to do what God created them specially to do.

As a Christian community, as the Church, we need to be thinking about how to help them help us to fulfill God’s purpose in His kingdom.

How can YOU Help?

King’s Grove School is looking for persons to partner and champion their students and vision by adding volunteers to their school days and in securing a firm future to help more families through donations. 

KGS has a great first semester group of volunteers. They hope to expand their day to day volunteers for their students.  Julie shared, “We are looking for persons who want a life changing experience. Our volunteers spend time with the students in both academics and socially. Most volunteers come once a week. Our school day is only 9:00–2:30. Some volunteers come in the morning and some in the afternoon. We vet our volunteers similarly to the Little Light House and provide training to help our volunteers feel ready to be with our students. Most of our volunteers have never had any formal training or time with special needs students. They just want to come and have a great day.” She continued, “So many of our volunteers comment on what a happy place KGS is. One volunteer texted me after their first day and said, ‘ Julie, the school broke me today. After seeing the students work hard, love on each other and then praise the Lord during music through song and dance, well, I just had to praise the Lord.’ That’s what we mean when we say we want persons who want a life changing experience. Be ready. It truly is.”

Julie also expressed the great need for donations during this first year of school. Private special needs education hasn’t been attempted at great lengths because it is very expensive. The national average to educate a neurotypical student is around $8500/ year. The national average sky-rockets to $34,000 / year for a student with special needs. King’s Grove School keeps things simple and purposeful with curriculum, campus and supplies. However, the cost of personnel that includes two teachers to a classroom and professional certified full time therapists is expensive but absolutely necessary. “Class sizes are intentionally small. That is a non negotiable for us. It is essential to the learning environment of our students. We never want money to be a reason that families cannot attend KGS. We want families who will partner with us in our approach to Christian education. Because of this our tuition makes up only ⅓ of our operations cost. We rely on fundraising and private donations to meet our annual budget needs and will rely on our community to continue to support us financially as we grow to accommodate more families.” Julie added, “ Since June of this year, we have had over 200 requests for application to our school. The need is so great. Our families share part of that financial responsibility but we pray our communities will see that this is an opportunity for all of us to improve and add beauty and value to our society and daily life. Your investment isn’t just for them it’s for everyone!”

King’s Grove Schools have several ways to donate. They encourage private giving and also are running a “GROW THE GROVE” campaign that encourages recurring monthly gifts of any amount. “Every single person in the greater Tulsa area can make a huge difference,“ said Julie. “Whether you donate $1 / month or $1000/month, you are impacting families and your own community. Two of our own students have donated their own allowance to their school. How beautiful is that? The Lord is using the smallest acts for the greatest impact to His kingdom.”

When I walked away, I found myself looking forward to more Christian schools in our area volunteering at the school as part of their own journey. KGS is looking for peer to peer volunteers to come on Fridays during their enrichment time to share in the non-academic experiences at KGS such as art, music and movement, with students their own age. I can already hear the stories from the students who went—thinking they were going to help and finding themselves walking away changed by these kids.

 I’m envisioning kids volunteering at the fund raisers and coming up with ideas to help fund King’s Grove. Every encounter shows me the gaps and the distance we have to go, but new foundations are being built. When God is through with the Church, I’m praying that He finds a community so fully integrated with these amazing students. As they journey into adulthood, I pray that He shines the light on it to help replicate this success throughout all of His work here on Earth. After all, He is the one who knew these children in their mother’s womb. He has certainly prepared works in advance for all of His children to do. 

Pray with me for God to move mountains to equip this school with the most integrated, fun-loving, people-loving students, volunteers and financial resources to make one GIGANTIC kingdom impact. Can you imagine? Hopefully very soon we won’t need to imagine it.


King’s Grove had over 200 families reach out to find out more. More will be trying to come. Right now they have nowhere else to go. There is no Christian school we can find offering an integrated program right now. Funding is always an issue, but now that we have someone making these amazing kids a priority, I think it’s at a minimum up to the rest of us to support them.

Do you want to be part of reaching ALL of God’s children: King’s Grove does not charge students the full amount needed to educate their children. It’s a ministry operating off of the donations, volunteerism, and hearts of people just like YOU! (yes YOU!). With the end of year “donation” season approaching—why don’t you add them to your list!

These kids are being left out on Christian education. They deserve to be educated with a Christian curriculum.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Will you help King’s Grove bring the opportunity to know Christ in their school environment? Let’s not stop them. Let’s give them everything they need to impact the world for Christ. Then, just sit back and watch.

Hop online at www.kingsgroveschool.com. Scroll to the bottom left side for both the volunteer and donate buttons. If God’s children are all a part of the body of Christ (and we know they are)—then when we aren’t bringing in and equipping those with special needs, we are essentially a body trying to operate without an essential functional piece. Can you imagine how well the Body of Christ will function when we’ve enveloped ALL of God’s children, equipped and joining in God’s missions prepared in advance for us to do together? #GoDoBe

Little boys drawing with teacher


Congressman Hern: Living out The American Dream

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Kevin and Tammy Hern

Meeting Kevin Hern:

I’ve had the honor to meet Congress­man Kevin Hern a few times. Each time, I find myself overwhelmed with the complete sincerity of conviction visible in his core. He’s a Christian. He believes in The American Dream.

The first time I met Hern, he was a guest speaker at a Christian dinner, where they were honoring Christian influential legacies. The second time, he came out on a hectic Saturday to support life and all the ways so many groups are helping infants, children and families in our community. The next time was a startle. He sort of burst into a City Elders meeting requesting prayer for the flood victims, because he knew the group would be meeting. He had just left a radio talk show and felt they needed immediate intercession. He was welcomed at the door, led the prayer and exited.

After that? I was surprised to see him speaking with flood victims over in Sand Springs, offering guidance and encouragement. He stayed long after the formal meeting was over talking with folks, who honestly just needed to be heard. He just shows up in places I would expect someone of his character to be. These places, these actions, they certainly don’t make the nightly news. However, they do make the cover in a magazine focused on finding Christians living out their faith in meaningful, inspirational ways in our community. He’s kind of the definition of #GoDoBe, our magazine motto.

So, I’m going to let his words, his story, speak to you as it has to me. We usually don’t get the chance to hear the story behind the man. Really, that story shares how the man was made—by God, for this purpose He prepared in advance for him to do.

Kevin shared,

“One of the things when you grow up and you maybe have a lot less than your peers have, a lot of times you don’t really know that. I think what’s different now than when I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, You didn’t have a lot of media outlets telling you that you were poor. You knew what you didn’t have compared to some of your friends, but you just weren’t told every day that you were not being treated fairly and it was wrong to be successful. I don’t ever recall hearing that being successful was wrong. They always kept you motivated to find somebody successful and try to emulate them instead of being envious of them.

Today, it’s different than that. We have a lot of people, in Washington D.C. and even running for President, saying that if you’ve been successful you are an evil person. You’ve cheated the system if you’ve been successful. And the problem is, that’s an affront to The American Dream. The American Dream says you work hard every day. You take risks. You get knocked down. You get knocked down and you get back up and do it time and time again. You do and repeat. Then you change your focus. If your focus isn’t enough, then maybe you have your allegiance in the wrong place. Maybe you’re seeking money as opposed to this thing called God.”

Growing Up Kevin Hern:

“For me, it wasn’t media telling me failure was eminent, because I was really poor. It was basically you could tell how people looked at you. ‘You can never be successful.’—not because being wealthy is bad, but because you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. ‘You or your stepdad live on food stamps and you can never do anything. You’re going to be locked into this world of poorness and poverty the rest of your life.’ That was my life.

Ironically in Arkansas, where I grew up, the slogan for the state in those days was ‘The Land of Opportunity.’ The joke was that you had the opportunity to stay there and starve to death or get out of the state and do something. It was sort of a mockery of the state because it was so poor. And, we were in that world.

My mom and dad were married. Before I was born, my older sister passed away with spina bifida just after birth. I was born about 14 months later with a brother who came along 18 months later. We lived on military bases. At that time, my mom and dad got divorced around 1968 when he was going to Vietnam for the third time. She was young, around 20’ish, and decided she couldn’t do this military mom thing anymore. Losing my sister was a lot to bear. She lived a long way from home and a support system. So, she moved my brother and I to Arkansas. Once there, my mom married a man, who had been married three times with three kids from each of those marriages; she then ended up having three kids with him. That was my life.

My stepdad didn’t like to work. He was actually the first generation in his family not working; his parents were very, very hard workers. He figured out how to master the system of not working hard, and not working at all, parlaying it into getting food stamps back in 1969. Then, through my entire childhood until I left home in 1979, he continued his plan.

We moved a lot; he wouldn’t pay the rent. People thought we were in the military until they knew who we were. We would move from school district to school district and sometimes back to the same one in the same year. Because I was the oldest at that time of two brothers and two sisters—I was always the one who caught the brunt of it. I remember the embarrassment of going from grocery store to grocery store with my mom trying to buy certain things with food stamps and she couldn’t. Then, she would ask me to go back and put it on the shelf. I remember that very vividly. Maybe it was because of my memory of those times that I made a mission in my life that I would always work hard, earn money, and never be dependent on anyone—not my parents, the government or anyone else. I’ve never taken a dime from the government at any time in my working life.

It was very tough being home. In 7th grade, I worked. Since we never had any real cash from his lack of working, I would come home and give most of my paycheck to my parents and specifically to my mom. In 9th grade, he would buy trucks all the time and never make any payments. They would go back. Then in 1976, he bought a new Chevrolet pickup. Eight months later, I took over the payments on the family car as a sophomore in high school.

All I ever knew was working hard. We never went to church. We never said God’s name in a way you would want to repeat it. It was a pretty tough life. So, it was always about me. It was about survivability. I married when I was 21. We never went to church as a couple—maybe a few times. When the offering plate went by, you’d put a dollar in there just so people thought you were doing the right thing. It was about observing what people thought about you. Never the right reasons.

I had a lot of failures along the way. One of the things I tell people we should never get rid of are failures. Failures remind you. You just always remember all your failures. In comparison, I doubt you remember all your successes unless they were recent highlights—having a child or something like that. Most of the time, with the successes in businesses, I’ve just moved on, but I’ve learned a lot from failures. I think one of the failures of our government is they want to eliminate failures. It’s part of The American Dream: taking a risk, living outside of your comfort zone, failing and getting back up again and going on.

70 years of living that I’ve ever met anyone more honest than you or who works harder than you—ever. But I’ll tell you this: you’re surely gonna go to hell if you don’t have God in your life.”

What I learned was, if you look at my direction in life from the time it was early, and even through my first marriage, it was all about work, work and work. I knew nobody would ever outwork me. Even today, that’s my narrative—it’s about work. I’ll tell you that chasing that materialism, chasing that narrative, is wrong.

What I learned later in life, after my marriage failed, is that it was always about me. Even my first marriage, my first daughter with that marriage, I was about achieving something for me. I put myself on a pinnacle to own a McDonald’s franchise. I was not only working 60-70 hours a week in the restaurant business, but also working in businesses outside of that one to save up $100,000 to get my first restaurant. I was always in this mode of ‘I’m going this direction. Everybody get on the bus.’ You don’t realize when it’s going on. Your intent is not to hurt anyone, but that becomes your mission. You drift apart from family and things like that.”

She asked, ‘Kevin, Do you KNOW God?’

“After my divorce in 1992, I was going to pick my daughter up—60 miles from where I lived. My ex-sister in law, whom I had known for most of her life, said ‘We have a person we want you to meet.’ We think she’d be really great. Funny enough, that’s how I met my wife.

She was a strong Christian lady. She led her mom and dad to Christ at about 16. I was 30 and she was 28 when we met. I asked her out. She said, ‘I’ll go out with you, but I need to ask you about yourself.’ I said, ‘Sure ask me anything. I know everything. I’m a survivor.’ She said very quickly, ‘I need to know if you know God.’ I said, ‘Well sure. I know everything. Everybody knows who God is.’ At that time, I think I was thinking little g and she was thinking big G. Very quickly after that she said, ‘Are you a Christian?’ I looked at her pretty funny and she said, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘I’ll get back with you on that one.’ I said. I didn’t have a response. I think that was God’s way of saying ‘You don’t truly know who I am. You know how to spell my name, but you don’t know who I am.’

Probably the first time I had ever been challenged in my life to know who God is and check on my personal salvation—at 30 years old. Clearly, I was not on the right path. My priorities were really messed up. Again, it was all about me, me, me. That’s how I had lived my life.

Even that day my previous wife filed the divorce papers, it was a bad moment, but it wasn’t truly a bad day. I am an eternal optimist about moving forward and not dwelling on the past. I always tell people when they ask how I’m doing—’Fantastic.’ I remember walking into my regular convenience store. The person behind the counter asked me how my day was. I answered it wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had. That’s the only time I remember saying it’s not a great day.

Again, you remember these failures. I think it was God’s way of taking a situation, I would never say he would cause that situation, but taking the situation and using it. He takes our weakest moments, because that was the only chink I had had in my armor at that time. Then, taking that opportunity to say to me ‘We’ve gotta get you on a different pathway. Right now, what you’ve got . . . you’ve opened the door a little bit. Let me come on in.’

Think about it. The person you would never think would introduce you to God and lead you to salvation was introduced to me just three months after my divorce by my ex-sister-in-law, a person no longer in my family unit. She has now been my now wife of 26 years and a great friend since 1992. So, after I was sitting in her living room and she asked me if I knew God, if I was a Christian, and if I was saved—I turned to my grandfather for answers.”

Grandpa Sets Him Straight

“My grandfather was really the person who gave me my greatest joy being with him. I got so many opportunities to work hard, haul hay, things that seem kind of flippant today or irrelevant. He was the person who was always very supportive of who I was. He always went to church. My grandmother, in those days when I was younger, was sort of a reprieve from a less than exciting household with my mom and stepdad. Some would probably argue, she was the one who probably raised me my last couple of years when I was in school.

So, I went to my grandpa and grabbed him. I said, ‘I need to ask you a question.’ You remember these days and exactly where you drove. So I told him, I met this lady and she asked me these three questions. Do you know God? Are you a Christian? Are you saved? I have to be honest with you I have no clue what she is talking about. He said ‘I don’t think in my 70 years of living that I’ve ever met anyone more honest than you or who works harder than you—ever. But I’ll tell you this: you’re surely gonna go to hell if you don’t have God in your life.’ That was his direct quote. I said, ‘Well that’s pretty direct.’ He wasn’t a really educated man, and so that’s the first time in my life ever hearing him say that or even talking of that. I’d been around him a lot. You look back and you think he didn’t go to church a lot, but you don’t have to go to church a lot to know where your priorities in life ought to be.

My grandpa said, “I don’t think in my
70 years of living that I’ve ever met anyone more honest than you or who works harder than you—ever. But I’ll tell you this: you’re surely gonna go to hell if you don’t have God in your life.”

So that was Feb 1993. I had been going to church at Antioch Baptist Church for a few months by myself. You hear these stories all the time about people who are under conviction and that was me. There was a guy, Henry Horton, who was a pretty hellfire and brimstone kind of pastor from Texas. It was kind of God working on my heart—putting the right people in the right place at the right time in my life as He does.

In April 1993, I became a Christian. At that time, I was 31 years old. I was a guy who knew everything in life, who knew really nothing. I had lost everything at that time. I was living without rent in somebody else’s house. I was making $25-26,000 a year. I had a blue recliner. I had a skillet my ex-wife gave me because my grandmother had given it to me. (Plus, she hated the blue recliner.) In reality, April 1993 was really a start to a new life, at 31 years old, as a very young Christian.”

Failure—a Stepping Stone towards Success

“In one of my lessons early on, I went to work for a guy just after the aerospace industry fell apart. It was right after I was married. He said, ‘I’ll help you get a McDonald’s franchise.’ and he never did. In 1991, he moved to Florida and I went to work for another guy. I was still married to my former wife. Then, this guy said if I’d work for him for two years, he’d help me get a McDonald’s restaurant. Then two years passed. Nothing. Then three years passed. Nothing. Four years passed. Nothing. I thought he was a friend. Then, finally I realized nothing was going to happen. It was very disappointing. I started looking and trying to get a restaurant. He said, ‘I hear you are looking—let me go fix these documents.’ This is five years into what was going to be a two-year deal. All in, it would be another ten years before I was going to get a restaurant. I didn’t do it.

So, because of this lesson, I have a guy who is working in my restaurants. I knew this fellow a month; I said, ‘Because of the lesson I learned from what was done to me, I’m gonna make sure it never happens to you.’ He’s gonna be a millionaire when he retires in a year or two.

I think this is part of the journey God has put me on since being saved in 1993—helping people be successful. I think some of the failures I had in my younger life, that God uses those. He set me up for an opportunity to run for Congress. I could not have done it had I not had a tremendous amount of success in business and experience working across different groups in an industry that’s extraordinarily difficult. The restaurant industry helped me build a very thick skin with folks who don’t always agree with what you do and how you do it. The world I worked in with national leadership at McDonalds, dealing with all ethnicities, every diversity group in America from coast to coast as well as a tremendous amount of experiences of real breadth in economic policy, tax policy, tariffs, insurance, the list goes on and on. I dealt with all of those things that really matter in congress. So, as a new congressman for about ten months, there really hasn’t been anything that I’ve seen or touched that I haven’t lived in my life.

The conversation of poverty is one I understand. You know you remember very vivid moments. I went through some training early on at one of the institutions just to get some policy background in 7-8 different policies. One was looking at the various income levels or socioeconomic levels in the country. Lower 1%, 10%, 25% and the list goes on and on. It is the Heritage Foundation, who is probably one of the largest think tanks in Washington D.C. I told these folks ‘I doubt that you will ever have many members or any members, who have actually lived in every one of those socioeconomic scales. Regardless of what anyone else tells you, it is much more fun and much more rewarding to live in the upper 1%. To know that you were in the lower 1% at the bottom and achieved all those scales and remember everything that you did and was done and the opportunities you have had? That’s what you want to secure.”

Helping Others Succeed

“This isn’t a zero-sum game in the United States of America. It doesn’t mean that the upper 1% exist because the other 99% have had to be pushed down and stepped on. You haven’t had to make everybody else look small so that you could look tall. I think that’s where we lose the narrative and we lose our way. ‘The only way I can succeed is if you fail.’ If you believe that everybody can succeed then you have a tremendous responsibility to help others succeed and that’s what I’ve done.

I’ve worked my entire life to help folks who thought they couldn’t do something to do something. When they were people who said ‘I’ve been told my entire life I couldn’t’ or ‘I can’t,’ well, that’s been a real motivator for me. When people tell me they can’t, I tell them ‘The only reason you can’t is because you think you can’t. It’s not because somebody else is telling you that you can’t.’ Because of that, we have McDonalds employees with high school educations making $60-70,000, $80,000 a year running multi-million dollar businesses. I think that God has put me in a position that I can have the opportunity to speak to folks. If I can inspire any hope—that it doesn’t matter where you came from— that you can be anything you want in this country, then I’ve won. That’s what it’s all about.

This is the greatest country on this planet. We have got to protect the opportunities for those successes. (CALL OUT) It doesn’t mean you will ever achieve everything you want to do. That’s what keeps you motivated. If someone is going to guarantee you success or outcome, you’ll never have that motivation to want to be something better every single day. It’s our job to better ourselves every single day. If I can inspire any hope—that it doesn’t matter where you came from— that you can be anything you want in this country, then I’ve won. That’s what it’s all about. 


So, what are you going to #GoDoBe today that someone told you you couldn’t do? That maybe you told yourself you can’t do? Satan is the great accuser trying to hold us down from all God has called us to be. God has prepared a plan in advance for you to do. So, the way has been made. All you need to do is step out from the lies and into the life God created you to live. So, again I ask, “What are you going to #GoDoBe today?”

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.