The courage of my friend, Chuck Thomas
On an early Friday morning, I finished chapter twelve of my book project, printed it off and headed to go visit my dear friend, Chuck Thomas. I tell two stories in chapter twelve: one from the life of Chuck and one from the life of the Apostle Peter. I couldn’t wait to read the finished chapter to him. I hoped it would bring him some cheer, as he rested in a hospital bed.
But before I arrived, Chuck passed away. He went home. I’m glad I was able to read it to Chuck’s family and I’m glad I’ll be able to read it to Chuck someday too (if God allows my book into heaven). I decided to share an excerpt from chapter twelve with you, so that you could be inspired by Chuck, a man of great courage.
Chapter 12: Courage
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”
(II Timothy 1:7)
When I first came to Tulsa, the wise counsel and gentle spirit of Chuck Thomas drew me to him. His sweet wife, Anita, passed away after a long, discouraging illness. If his wife’s illness was the final exam of his vows, he aced it. He loved her in sickness, until death parted them.
Chuck prays for my family every day. I sometimes wonder if God answers to Chuck’s prayers keep my family afloat during difficult days. Chuck also hungers for God’s Word. He daily dives into it, pen at the ready.
Last year, while Chuck was recovering from surgery, he told me a story that I’d never heard. I asked if he could write it down for me, so that I’d remember.
While in Bible College, Chuck was invited to preach at the First Christian Church in Gotebo, Oklahoma for several Sundays while they searched for a new preacher. Chuck accepted the interim position and drove to the small town the following Sunday.
Chuck noticed that the church (both the building and the people) seemed split down the middle. Each side had their own communion table, and each side had Elders who separately prayed and served their half of the congregation. This strange division bewildered Chuck and Anita.
A friendly family invited them over for Sunday lunch. After eating, Chuck asked about the obvious division. To his surprise, the family knew there was a division, but they didn’t know why. So they got on the phone and tracked down the answer from their grandmother.
Many years earlier, the congregation voted to install new carpet. Half of the congregation wanted blue carpet, but the other half wanted rose carpet. The dispute led to a split church. They put blue carpet in half of the church building and rose carpet in the other half. Families stayed on their carpet, and only shared communion with their like-minded friends. Even after the carpet was updated, folks kept to their sides.
One church. Two bunkers.
Chuck’s a mild-mannered guy, but God whispered for him to pick up his prophet’s staff. With trembling hands, he obeyed.
Chuck had already planned to preach on the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6, the following week. He narrowed his text to one line of Jesus’ prayer: “Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive our trespassers.” He pleaded with them to forgive anyone needing forgiveness.
The next week he preached about forgiveness again.
And the next week, again.
After the third consecutive forgiveness sermon, the Elders decided it was time for a chat. They asked him why he was spending so much time on that one specific phrase from The Lord’s Prayer.
Chuck conveyed his anguish about their unforgiving attitude. He said, “If we won’t forgive those who offend us, God won’t forgive us. I feel compelled to keep preaching this until y’all forgive each other.”
The next Sunday, things were going as usual. The people took their places, and Chuck slid Forgiveness Sermon Number Four into his Bible. “Here we go again,” he thought.
But when it came time for communion, hearts yielded to the Spirit. One of the Elders, with tears in his eyes, wailed, “Wait! I can’t do this anymore.” He walked to the other side, extended his hand and asked one of the other Elders for forgiveness.
The other Elder did not offer his hand. He embraced him with both arms.
People in the congregation started doing the same thing. Forgiveness was requested and granted. Tears flowed. Joy erupted.
By the time people returned to their seats, it was almost lunchtime. Chuck pulled his sermon notes out of his Bible and tossed them on the pew. He walked to the pulpit, read the Lords Prayer and dismissed them with prayer. And for the first time in years, they went home in peace.
Chuck’s eyes paraded his delight, “Can you believe that I would be such a brash kid? Can you believe I’d do that kind of thing? But it was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Chuck wasn’t brash. He was brave. He stood in No Man’s Land. He risked making enemies from both bunkers. He spoke truth. And he did all of this with a loving, gentle spirit.
Great courage is required to help people out of their bunkers.