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Bringing Love to a Knife Fight

Bringing Love to a Knife Fight

I was getting into my car, recently to go to work when the phone call came from a young man. I will call him Braden. “Pastor Chad, I am stranded at the McDonalds, and my pastor who is here with me has to leave soon,” he said.

The call came through a messenger app, which is typical. Youth that I haven’t seen in years will often find me on Facebook and make the free internet call when they are in trouble. I told him I would come to pick him up.

When I pulled up and saw him, he looked like he had been beaten up, like he had been in a bad fight. His pastor was from southeast Oklahoma. We talked briefly, exchanged cards, and he was on his way with a four-hour drive back home.

Then the story started. Braden had been at home when his mom was getting home from cancer treatment. She was delirious from her medication, and her boyfriend started beating her. Braden pleaded with him to beat up on him instead, to no avail.

Braden finally stepped in and took the abuse. He is tall but skinny, maybe 130 pounds and no match for a grown man. After beating him, his mother’s boyfriend cut him across the face and hand with a pocket knife, requiring several stitches.

Braden is a senior in high school, but he is also 18, so I was told the police declined to press charges, calling it a mutual fight between adults. His pastor took him in over the weekend and then delivered him to Oklahoma City where he has some relatives.

It took me a little time to wrap my mind around his new reality as a homeless adult and what I should do for him. Like a lot of youth we work with, he had extended family and friends who would let him couch surf in the short term, but Braden was making excellent grades and had already started the process of applying to colleges. I could see that in the next few hours he was going to make some decisions that would shape his future.

His mother allowed him to leave with his clothes, social security card and a photocopy of his birth certificate. He had no ID, no driver’s license and no money to take care of himself. His best prospect was a distant cousin in east central Oklahoma, who was willing to take him in if he stayed in school and got a job. His cousin agreed to come to pick him up after he got off work at 5 p.m., so I had the day to do what I could. My task list was long but critical. Get him an I.D., a bank account that I would fund, a working phone, enrolled in school and a safe place to stay.

He couldn’t get an I.D. card or driver’s permit because he lacked an original birth certificate. To get a birth certificate, he needed two forms of I.D., and he only had one. It is a frustrating loop that young people in poverty face when they have little parental support. You need transportation, money and lots of patience to get the government to recognize you. Most kids end up on foot, working with cash and facing many closed doors.

We figured out how to get his birth certificate ordered online, but he couldn’t open a bank account without it, so I bought him a pre-paid card at Walmart with $200 on it, and we got his phone activated.

I fed him lunch, and we headed out of town, waiting for his cousin. On the way, I called his previous high school and talked to the school counselor. I explained his situation and asked if we could come visit her. She agreed and told me what to do to get him enrolled at the school district offices as a homeless adult. Braden had been a member at a Baptist church in that area, so I called their youth pastor and explained his situation and asked to come by.

A short time later, we were at the church, and his pastors were waiting for him. They knew him well and were prepared to step in and care for this boy. As we were leaving to go enroll in school, the outreach pastor said to tell the principal that “you are one of my guys.” He also informed us that the school counselor is one of their Sunday school teachers.

We got him enrolled at the district office and went to the high school. The principle was outside when we pulled up and immediately recognized Braden. He ushered us into his office and called the counselor in.

They gathered around Braden and took great care of him. They wanted to make sure he had food, clothes and a stable place to stay. He left school on Friday in southeast Oklahoma, and he started school in this new community on Tuesday. It reminded me of the promise from Jesus that He will never leave us or forsake us.

As we left the school, his cousin was waiting outside in his car. He was a handsome bright-eyed 20-year-old who is working in the oil fields. He gave me a firm handshake and said, “I want to thank you for bringing Braden to us. My mother is closing on a new house this week, and we have an extra room picked out for Braden to stay in.”

Braden gave his heart to Christ at Mission OKC, where I serve as pastor, when he was still just a little boy. As his mother moved around the last few years, he had made a point to get plugged into a local church. As I drove away, I thought about how God saw this terrible day coming when Braden would be beaten up, separated from his mother, lose his home and would be thrust out into the world on his own for trying to protect his mother. Yet it was clear that there was a hedge of protection around him.

I was proud of my brothers and sister in Christ and proud to be a Christian as eight believers from three cities locked arms around Braden without missing a beat to save this young man from a devastating fall. He may have been hurting, but he knew that he was loved. I pray that it is a formative example to Braden that as Christians we are called to do whatever it takes to help those who are hurting and that one day he will be ready to take up his role to do the same.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know if facing abuse, please seek help through law enforcement and know anyone can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Jesus Wants Your Guns

Jesus Wants Your Guns

This morning as the nation woke to find that terror has once again struck our homeland, the pundits, the preachers and everyone in-between are looking for answers to the question “What are we going to do?” In response to a 2014 shooting, Geraldo Rivera said, “The 2nd Amendment, the provision that gives every American the right to keep and bear arms, is blind and stupid,” but what does the Bible have to say about this issue?

In making another point, Jesus uses a common sense example of how a man defends his home. He said “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house” (Matt 12:29). As a father of four and a former Marine, I know exactly what Jesus means. If any man wants to come and plunder my home, he would be wise to disarm and disable me as his first priority, otherwise his success is doubtful at best.

However, having everyone hunkered down, locked and loaded does little to bring resolution to our nation’s current terrorist threats. In prayer meeting last night, one of our elderly ladies asked me “Pastor, is the government going to come and take our guns away?” I was wondering how many guns this 79-year-old widow had, but I responded that I thought it was unlikely.

Disarming this nation would, in fact, be counter-productive. Those who threaten our nation with violence have made clear that they plan to subdue the world with violence against families in shopping malls and public places. This has been the plan of every dictator and evil king in history; use violence to subjugate more and more people. Taking away our guns would just make us more vulnerable to that plan. So how do we get out of this circle violence?

The headline of the Daily News this morning read “God isn’t fixing this.” However, the Bible tells us that God does have a long term plan to rid this world of violence and evil. Just as in the days of Noah, God will once again use His own wrath to cleanse this world of unrighteousness.

Isaiah tells of this time. “The earth is defiled by its people they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth, its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.”

Just like with Noah, God will remove His people, and those who remain will either turn to Him in repentance, or they will be burned up in God’s holy fire. God is going to deal with the evil that covers this earth today. He will bring peace to his people, and we will return to in habit the earth with Jesus as our king in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 2:4 “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

In that day we will have no desire for our guns anymore. There will be no thief coming in the night. There will be no armed terrorist killing disabled adults. Jesus will be our king, and the King’s decree is that the violence is over. We will melt down our guns, tanks, swords, spears and any other weapon of war and we will concern ourselves with agriculture just like Adam in the garden.

So what is the short-term plan? What are we going to do today? Jesus is the ultimate answer, but what are we going to do today? The answer is that, as believers, we are limited to the tools that God has given us today; while they are not perfect answers, they are powerful tools nonetheless and underutilized.

First and foremost is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These terrorists were raised here in America. How many Christians neglected the opportunity to share the Gospel with this young couple? This young man worked at the facility he attacked; how many Christian co-workers did he have?   Who was praying for Syed and Tashfeen? We bear responsibility when we neglect to share the Gospel with those around us.

Our second tool is prayer. We are directly connected with the God of all creation. We need to pray for peace, pray for protection and pray for the lost.   Just as in the days of Noah, we are preaching to a generation on the brink of destruction. We need to pray for the lost, including those who practice Islam.

Our third tool is our government. God has given us our government for our good and protection. Regardless of what you think of our government, they are hard at work trying to stop these kinds of plans from coming to fruition. We need to pray for our leaders and become very involved when they fail to protect our citizens.

Even so, we know that we will continue to walk among those intent on evil until that glorious day when Jesus asks us to round up our guns, lay them down and live in perfect and wonderful peace forever.

The Day The Lights Went Out

The Day The Lights Went Out

It has been our tradition to take a short vacation after Christmas, since we have so much going on with the church and family, before and during the holidays. This year we went to stay with relatives in Ft Collins, Colo. for a few days. It was a great trip, but the drive was 12 hours each way. We got back Thursday night, and I knew I would need all day Friday to prepare my Sunday sermon.

I made it to the office a little early, took care of a few items for the church and began settling into my study routine. The last thing that needed to be done was to take the rent check to the office for the apartment the church uses as my office. On the way back, I was headed upstairs when a young man who does maintenance called out to me and asked if I was the one associated with the church. I introduced myself as the pastor and we began to talk.

He said he wasn’t sure why but something within him told him to stop me. He gave a brief description of how things were not going well in his life. He said he had never been very religious. I suggested to him that God was moving in his heart to cause him to stop me to talk. I said I would be delighted to counsel with him and offered to take him out to lunch or meet in my office.  He took my card and said he was going to stop by my office when he had some free time on property.

I returned to my office upstairs to pray for the young man and got the sense that I could have said more. I wished I had said more.  About 15 minutes later while sitting at my desk reading commentaries, the power suddenly went out.

I knew the electric bill was paid, so I went out the front door to see if any other lights were on in the complex.  As I opened the front door, the alarm system chirped “Front Door Open”.  “Interesting,” I thought as I started checking other light switches. It seemed that power was on everywhere except my office. I went downstairs to the church and got some extension cords to run into my office and got everything back up shortly.

When the office opened at 12, I called to put in a work order. Usually these things can take weeks or months to resolve, but 15 minutes later a knock came at the door. It was the young man coming to fix the lights. The circuit breaker was on for my office, but one part of the circuit was not working. We decided it had to be an outlet that was bad.  He went to take out an air freshener when the lights briefly came back on.  “What good luck,” we both said. He left to get a new outlet and was back about 10 minutes later.

As I was waiting in the dark, I joked with the Lord “Are you sending angels to mess with the wiring in my office?” The young man returned and he said he had been talking to his wife, whom he described as being “not religious.” He told her about our meeting this morning and how he had then been called to my office on a work order. He asked her if she thought it was an accident, to which she replied, “It doesn’t sound like an accident to me.”

I confirmed to him my belief that God was pursuing him this day. A former Jehovah’s Witness, he had decided very young that he wanted nothing to do with them. We began sorting through what he believed about God. After a time, he was done with the repair, and the lights came back on.

I asked him to sit down, and he did. We talked for a while, and I shared the Gospel with him. Finally, I told him that he could pray today and ask God to forgive his sins and he said boldly, “I want to do that.” Afterwards, we talked about baptism and some of the first steps he can take as a new believer. He left having fixed my lights, but walking a little taller as a new man.

For me, any price is worth paying to have front row seats when God is moving in someone’s heart, leading them to Salvation. Thank you Lord that you pursued us all, even if it means turning out the lights for a little while, so we can discover the true light of the world.

Where Is The Breakdown?

Where Is The Breakdown?

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul did not have a clue about the needs of the Macedonian people, but God clearly saw their needs. He gave Paul a vision to dispatch him to the scene. It is hard sometimes to look out over a world that seems in every corner to be in dire need of Gospel ministry. It can be overwhelming to feel that compassion for people well up inside of you and try to narrow your focus down to “that one.” It is clear that Jesus has called us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, yet there seems to be a breakdown somewhere.

“Josie” came to church last Sunday and said to my wife, “Miss Anna you would not want to be me today. My mom has been locked in her room all day, and I haven’t eaten all day” She eagerly ate a cheeseburger and was hungry for her Bible lesson. She is a friend of our daughter Ruby, so Anna invited her over the next weekend to have a sleep over. She and Ruby stayed up all night playing dress up and had blueberry pancakes in the morning. When it was time to go home, it was obvious she did not want to go.

When Anna got her home she went in to check with her mom if she could stay another night, and her mom gave her a nod, so she came back with Anna.   A few hours later, the call came that her mom wanted her to come home and didn’t remember giving her permission to go back.

When Anna went to drop her off, the apartment was without furniture, and the mom who works nights was just getting around. The track marks on her arms were very obvious, and Anna’s heart broke at the thought of leaving Josie there. It is a scene we have seen played out time and again.

Just like the Macedonian man, I know that God sees Josie sitting in that empty apartment. Not just her, but all across our city and state, children are in terrible circumstances waiting for someone to come and bring relief.   Once you have seen them with your own eyes, you begin to wonder, where is the breakdown?   Is the answer that we need more government programs? Does Josie need to be more literate, or does she have even more pressing needs?

God’s response to these needs has always been to send His disciples to the scene. The Hope of the Gospel, delivered by a disciple full of the Love of Christ is far superior to any other form of relief. Jesus leads us out of our comfort zone and right to the need, just like he did with Paul if only we are willing to listen and to go.

It can be a hard pill to swallow that God might want us to love a single mom, working at the Waffle House and living in an empty apartment with her two children. Being dispatched like Paul can be hard, sweaty, undignified work, but let us not imagine that our Lord has turned a blind eye to the needs of so many for the sake of our comfort. No, the breakdown is never in Him, the breakdown is in me. I would not venture to say where God might want to send you.   This I do know; He sees every hurting, hopeless life, and if you will pray and ask Him to send you, you might just find yourself being the answer that someone is praying for.




What if I don’t stop?

What if I don’t stop?

There is a pubic debate circulating recently over the patient-level use of the overdose medication Narcan.  The drug long used by EMTs and emergency room staff, immediately counteracts the effects of opioids such as heroin and has already saved more than 10,000 lives according to the CDC.

In recent days there has been a push to put this medication in the hands of the families of addicts to give parents and spouses a way to save the lives of their loved ones.  The drug is not addictive and cannot be abused but only seventeen states currently allow a third party, usually a parent or spouse, to get a prescription.

In a recent press conference, Maine Governor Paul LePage made a case against putting Narcan in the hands of families, stating that it was “an excuse to stay addicted.”  Perhaps he is right that some people will push the limits of overdosing, knowing they can fall back on the medicine.   However, for the many mothers who have saved the lives of their children who were not breathing after an overdose, the issue is a simple one.  There is no opportunity to learn a lesson or change your life if you don’t survive.

I believe the attitude of Gov. LePage is a very common one that insulates us from human suffering by taking away people’s human value and turning them into a “social issue”.  In the same way, pro-choice advocates also use rhetoric and vocabulary to deprive unborn children of their humanity.  They claim to be protecting women’s health and their rights, but the base truth is that people have been permitted to have personal priorities that trump the value of human life.  The elderly are not far behind in this slide towards dehumanization.  How long before life-saving medical treatment is severely rationed for those deemed “unworthy of treatment?”

I am proud to see the church in America taking on the battle for life on many different fronts, but could we be guilty of making calculated decisions on which people groups are “worthy” of being reached with the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ?  It is no secret that as our cities are aging and the once middle-income areas become areas of poverty, there has been an exodus by the church to the suburbs.  As a church planter and urban missionary, I have seen the shells of once-great churches left to decay in our urban areas.

I don’t see any malice in this flight whatsoever.  We all want our children to be in a new church, a new school, and a new home.  However, when will we take some personal responsibility for the vast mission field of lost people just a few miles in the rear-view mirror?  Like the abortion activist, will we devalue their eternal souls and say to ourselves, “These people can’t be reached.”  Or like those advocating to cut funding for medical treatment for seniors will we make a financial decision that it is “economically unfeasible” to reach the poverty areas of our community?

As with all social issues, the key to avoidance is to insulate yourself from human suffering.  Jesus has called His church to rescue people not just from human suffering, but from eternal suffering.

The people who come to serve on mission trips to help us reach poverty areas, often times tell us that it has been an eye-opening experience.    It’s not just the hardship they see that changes their perspective; it’s the tenderness of the children when a person comes to show the love of God to them.  I believe the key to restoring humanity and reaching people with the Gospel is to learn one person’s name.  The rhetoric and reasoning that insulate us loosens all power with a handshake and a name like Tyree, Jasmine or Christopher.

Martin Luther King Jr. in his final sermon preached on the Good Samaritan.  He stated that there were two questions on the road that day.  The priest and the Levite asked themselves “What will happen to me if I stop to help that man?”  The Samaritan asked “What will happen to that man if I don’t stop?”  If we are to fulfill the Great Commission, we must have eyes to see past the desensitizing social rhetoric that will surely bear no weight when we stand before our Savior and give an account for the number of our days.