R.A.M.’s mission is to evangelize and revitalize the rural communities of America by sharing the truth and grace of Jesus Christ through His word and compassionate action.
“Really?!” I said.
Was I surprised? Caught off guard? Not completely. But I did have a big grin on my face. Why? Because this kind of stuff; this getting led along like a kid with his dad at the fair, not for sure where we’re going, but confident that “if my dad has my hand, wherever it is, it’s gonna be good,” is the kind of stuff that happens to me frequently.
The Spirit of God still leads us. Why else would He tell us to keep in step with His Spirit if He didn’t? He wasn’t audibly whispering in my ear that day, “Turn here. Go in there. Wait, wait, back up . . . “ But He did make sure that I thought to call my Dad who directed me to his cousin, who just happened to be the mother of the young man who grew up being best buddies with Bryce Marshall, to whom she directed me to inquire of, who . . . “well, I’ll be” . . . would be the preacher I was looking for! Coincidence? Chance? Random series of events? I guess if you are a Darwinian Christian.
Bryce Marshall is just a few years shy of 30. He graduated from SWOSU and returned to his home town of Carnegie to help his dad run the family business, the NAPA Parts store. It was a good decision, but not near as good as his decision to ask Margarite to marry him. Margarite met Bryce at SWOSU in Weatherford, OK. Like most men, Bryce married “up” when Margarite said, “Yes.” And Bryce stepped up when the little church in Carnegie where he grew up, no longer had a preacher.
Bryce doesn’t have a degree in Bible. He didn’t go to seminary or a preacher’s training school. But He loves God and he loves the people in his town. And he loves God’s word. While we were sitting in the back of the parts store that day he told me, ”I just try to preach from my own life and share what I’m learning as I try to follow God.” I think God can work with that. I’m seeing God work with that in Carnegie.
Bryce and Margarite have a son named Kohen. He’s growing up in the footsteps of his parents in a little town that is undoubtedly unknown to the vast majority of the world. But because of the faith of his mom and dad, he will grow up knowing a God who takes small things and makes them big and who takes notice of people who know He does. Kohen will hear the story of how his dad, the Napa Parts store owner, decided he better step up and let God use him for His purposes. He best let God make a preacher of him even if he runs a parts store.
Kohen will hear the story of how their dying congregation of 12 decided they’d been isolated long enough from other Christians and so invited some of the surrounding congregations to join them for a Sunday evening of worship and fellowship. They didn’t know what to expect, but they dreamed a little and asked themselves, “What if 50 people came? Wouldn’t that be somethin’!” They never imagined they’d have 100 pack in that night. As if that wasn’t a big enough surprise, they ordered sandwiches from Subway to feed 80. (Just to have a few extra for the 50 they dreamed of coming.) Even though a 100 people showed, they still had enough food. It wasn’t because someone was in the back of the fellowship hall cutting the sandwiches into smaller pieces. Nope. They just fed 100 with 80 sandwiches. Jesus must still be multiplying loaves. It’s God’s way of doing things – taking small things and making them big. Kohen will grow up hearing stories like this and knowing this God.
Kohen will hear the story of how this little struggling church with only one child among them (Kohen!) decided they should do something for their town so they invited some college students to come to Carnegie one summer and help them assemble some playground equipment for the city park. He’ll hear how his mom and dad and grandpa and grandma (when his church was really small, with just him as the only kid) put an ad in the town paper inviting everyone to bring their kids to the park and try out the new playground equipment. “Oh, and come enjoy free cookies and cool-aide too!” And he’ll hear how later that week when their little church with just Kohen as their token kid met for Bible study had 11 new kids show up!
I found the preacher. Not because I’m a super-sleuth or just a hair short of brilliant. No, I found the preacher because there was a young man in Carnegie who was willing and God works through the willing.
God has so much good to accomplish in our world gone mad. He’s made some serious investments and painful sacrifices to see it done. He starts small and goes big. In little, unknown towns like Carnegie with unknown people like us. (Unknown to the world, but not to God.) And it’s not a question of “if” or “when,” but “who?” Who will join Him in the redemption of the world and experiencing the unexpected? Bryce has. Margarite has. Kohen will. What about you?
For a few months as I drove past the Carnegie, OK turn-off on Highway 152, I would feel a strong inclination to hang a left and drive the 13 miles into town. Carnegie was not unknown to me. My dad had grown up there. His parents and grandparents were from there. My great-great grandfather, John Weaver, had owned and operated a grocery store in the town. When I was a boy my family would drive to Carnegie to attend the Weaver Family reunion at the Carnegie City Park. My memories of that reunion include a small hand operated Ferris wheel that we used to play on. It had two “baskets” opposite of each other suspended from arms of sturdy steel that 2-3 children could sit in. On the side of this playground wonder-ride was attached a large metal disc probably 8 feet across from top to bottom that spinning by hand would send the baskets loaded with children round and round, up and down on the Ferris Wheel. The faster you could spin the wheel the faster the Ferris Wheel would turn along with the stomachs of those in the baskets. That ride was one of the few attractions and memories I had of Carnegie. But it wasn’t enough to pull me towards the town that summer day I yielded to the growing inclination to visit Carnegie again. It was something much stronger than playground equipment.
Up until that day my work with RAM involved mostly the town of Cordell; another 20 minutes west of the Carnegie exit on Hwy 152. God had done some amazing things in Cordell as I witnessed people being saved and drawn into His Kingdom from divergent walks of life; teenagers to senior citizens to everyone in between were responding to the grace of Jesus. The church was increasing in its understanding and embracing of God’s will and mission. I had developed a good relationship with the congregation’s youth minister and was intentionally mentoring him to become the evangelist for the church. He had been reluctant at first to make the transition, but was slowly beginning to gain the confidence and desire to do it. The timing was right for me to start turning more of my focus elsewhere and unexpectedly for me, it began with that turn-off at the intersect of Hwy 152 & Hwy 58.
When I drove into Carnegie that day I went to the little building where I knew the church met. I had been in that building years ago, once again, back when a child. I remembered the painted mural of the Jordan River on the back wall of the baptistery, greens, blues and browns, trees, and leaves and water. I couldn’t enter the building to see if the Jordan still flowed behind the pulpit. I had heard conflicting rumors about the status of the Carnegie preacher. They had a preacher; they didn’t have a preacher. The door was locked and there was no car out front to suggest a preacher was still on the payroll. Now what? Who should I talk to in hopes of finding an answer to my question? I called my dad. He grew up in Carnegie. He would know who to call.
“Ask my cousin,” my dad informed me. “They live out on the west side of town.” “Thanks Dad,” I said and off I headed for my second cousin’s farm. When I pulled up into the drive of their place a woman stepped out on the porch to assess who the stranger was in her driveway. I quickly got out of the car and introduced myself as Doug Weaver’s son. That got me immediate access into her living room and within a few minutes we were in the middle of friendly conversation and my explaining why I showed up at her house.
“Well, if you are trying to find the preacher for the Church of Christ you need to speak with the Marshalls,” my cousin told me. “They own and run the NAPA store . They’ve been a part of that church for years. They’ll know.” “Thank you,” I graciously told her.
“Their son Bryce was our son’s best friend. They were joined at the hip! If you wanted to find one you only had to find the other one. They were always into something!” she told me with a smile. I thanked her again and got in the car and headed to the NAPA store.
The NAPA store sits on the corner of the main intersection of town. When I walked into the store I immediately noticed a young man at the counter. He was probably in his mid-twenties. His hair was cut short, nearly shaved. I noticed he had a small silver earring, not in the lobe but the cartilage of the top of his ear. That looked painful! I approached him with a smile and told him who I was and that I had been directed to this store where I could find the Marshalls and hopefully the answer to my question.
“I’m trying to find the preacher for the little Church of Christ here in town,” I said.
“You got a minute?” he asked me.
“Sure,” I said expecting some much anticipated direction.
“Come back in the back to my office.”
I followed him to the back of the building, in between shelves of NAPA car parts. There was no mural of the Jordan River on the walls. We ended up in a little cubby hole area with a desk and nothing much else in the room. He sat down in a chair next to the desk and as I sat down in a chair across from him against a brown-paneled wall he said to me, “I’m the preacher.”
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. “ – Acts 1:6-8
How many times did the disciples just not quite get it? How many times did Jesus think, “Guys, track with me.” How many times does He still think the same with us today?
This exchange occurred after Jesus had spent 3 years teaching about the Kingdom of God publicly (and who knows how many hours privately with His disciples) and climaxed with His crucifixion, resurrection and another 40 days preaching about the Kingdom of God. You would think that after all of this, of all the questions they might have put to Jesus next, it would not have been, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Why that question? Was anything sinking in?
But, they did. And I have to ask, “Are we any different today?” As recipients of God’s revelations, week after week, year after year, both from His word and His work in our lives, are we still asking the wrong question? Too often, like the early disciples, we focus on insignificant theological details that God has left unexplained and miss the obvious.
Like He did with His disciples then, Jesus is still refocusing us on the real issue; the legitimate need of the hour. The world is lost and needs witnesses who will testify to His saving power! We who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, have also received “power” in our lives that makes us legitimate witnesses of His saving grace. Today, let us resolve to be living witnesses; speaking and acting as people who are “on track” with God, asking the right questions, and giving the world the only answer worth dying for: Jesus Christ!