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.
Last week in less than 5 hours we got 8 inches of rain in Newcastle! 8 inches! And the fact is, it wasn’t the first drenching we’ve had this year. God has been dropping the moisture on us for a while now. There’s more coming this week. Walking across my yard is like walking on a wet sponge. Squishy. For me, all this rain is a picture of what “full” looks like. I am struck by the power of John’s description of Jesus in contrast to Moses in the first chapter of his gospel as he introduces Jesus in such powerful, soul-piercing, illuminating statements starting with, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God “ to “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” to the climactic statement, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Like rolling thunder, John delivers Almighty God from the holy sanctum of heaven’s throne room and His filling the boundless universe, into our godless, fallen world to awaken and deliver us from our captivity to sin and corruption. Moses preceded our great introduction and awakening to the Son of God by bringing the Law with its exactness and unbending truth of God’s holiness and non-negotiable boundary between sin and righteousness, holiness and defilement. The Law was our necessary correction to show us we were incapable of forging a perfect obedience that could save us. Moses brought us the Law so that we could see with painful clarity our desperate situation before a holy God. And then the Lord of Hosts distilled into the virgin the holy seed of the Son and brought into our dark world the Incarnate Word, our Deliverer, Savior, Jesus, full of truth and grace. Full. Overflowing. Saturated. The living flood of God’s refreshing deliverance from our drought of unrighteousness. Our sin was so deadly, so devastating, it would take a deluge of grace and truth to bring us back from our sentence of death. I am so grateful He opened the heavens to rain down Jesus on us, God with us, Immanuel!
Thank you Jesus for the largeness of your being that you could hold the fullness of divine grace and truth. Thank you for being the truth we must know and embrace to find life again. Thank you for showing us the truth about God, ourselves and how to find reconciliation between the two. The truth sometimes cuts like a knife. Deep. To the heart. The cut stings, but the balm of your grace heals the wound and we are made whole; in our hearts and in our union with you our Creator. Yes, Father, thank you for the fullness of both grace and truth in Jesus. Sweet Reign of God. Oh how You have filled us to overflowing!
“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.”