By Steve Rees, Special to ASSIST News Service
PHILADELPHIA, PA (ANS – September 22, 2016) — Nearly two days after Pastor Rob Cook’s 38-year-old wife shot a man fighting for her husband’s wallet with an enhanced nail gun outside their Philadelphia home, the bruised pastor was able to turn around what the devil meant for evil, by showing that God had turned it to good, by preaching three weekend sermons on “spiritual warfare” and “forgiveness” at a church youth retreat.
Cook, senior pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, PA., while still recovering from a blow to the head, last Saturday traveled with wife Stephanie and 12-year-old son Christian to Delaware, where 40 teenagers from a peaceful Amish community church were waiting with great anticipation for him after seeing and reading news reports from Philadelphia about the shooting and injuries to the pastor, who was to be their guest speaker.
Also, along with their pastor, the youth from rural Pennsylvania began to wage “spiritual warfare” — a common theme for the Philadelphia pastor — by interceding for Cook, whose head was bloodied and bruised by his assailant’s nail gun on Thursday (September 15, 2016).
However, with his head still pounding on the Friday night — the opening of the youth retreat — Cook was a no show.
So, once they heard about this, the youth persevered in intercession for Cook, who was still without sleep or medication for 24 hours.
A best-selling author and former youth group leader, Cook received such an outpouring of love and prayer from teenagers who had never met him and from adults he’s served as pastor.
Following the incident, a 66-year-old male is now in custody after Stephanie Cook shot him in the right leg with a Ruger .22 caliber revolver outside their Philadelphia home and nearby the church. An investigator called the shooting “justifiable” and at the time of writing, the suspect is awaiting formal charges by prosecutors.
Before the shooting, Pastor Cook fought the man, who was holding what appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun and demanding his wallet. With 12-year-old son Christian Cook at his father’s side, the unidentified black man slammed what turned out to be a modified nail gun, into the back of Pastor Cook’s head.
But then, Stephanie Cook fired the gun at her husband’s command after the suspect turned on her.
The three had just returned from a Steven Curtis Chapman concert on the eighth-month anniversary of another son’s suicide.
Before packing the family vehicle for their weekend trip to Cape Henlopen, a beachfront Delaware state park where the youth retreat was to be held, Cook publicly forgave the suspect and expressed support for the Philadelphia police.
“I want you all to know we serve a God of forgiveness. Because He is our example, we forgive others when they wrong us, even if they don’t ask for it,” Cook said.
“This includes the man who attempted to rob us. He is not beyond salvation. Jesus can change him, just like he changed me. We forgive him and we have no ill will toward him.
“However, there are consequences to sin and this man is finding that out now,” said Cook, adding that the suspect, like one of his former youth group members who pulled a gun on the pastor, is welcome to attend his church if and when he’s free.
The pastor, who is a popular writer of teen devotionals, said the experience provided him new-found appreciation for both gun ownership and law enforcement in American cities, many of which Cook calls “war zones.”
“I’m thankful I live in a country where we have the right to protect ourselves,” said Cook, who fortunately wasn’t carrying his Glock .40 caliber pistol due to the concert, and because “it would have blown off the suspect’s head” had he used it in self-defense.
After the incident, Cook said he experienced some of what police officers must feel doing their jobs, simply wanting to complete their shifts safely so that they can return home to family and friends.
“I want to express appreciation to the brave police officers who did an outstanding job. Sadly, all officers are judged by the actions of a few,” Cook said.
More now than ever, Cook says that he can relate to officers who make split-second decisions about peoples’ intentions — either innocent citizens or potential criminals.
“The man who attacked us had a fake gun, but we didn’t know this and were not willing to bet our lives on it,” Cook said of the shooting, which occurred next door to the 90-year-old church where he serves as senior pastor.
“My wife shot him. We are alive. We cannot expect officers to act any differently. Point a gun, real or fake, you are risking your life,” he said.
The incident dominated television and Internet news on Friday as the youth group from Lancaster, Penn. headed north to Delaware. Teenagers began praying for the pastor they’d never met, along with his wife and son, even as Cook’s image and words were broadcast repeatedly from 3:30 am, Friday through Saturday.
Seeing a bruise, the size of an egg on television and camera crews camped out in front of Cook’s home, Pastor Matt Carter thought his guest speaker might not show up at all for the youth retreat.
“I determined that the devil wasn’t going to stop us from doing what the Lord told us to do,” said Cook, who accepted Carter’s invitation in August to “wake up” his youth group from rural Pennsylvania, where horses, buggies, barns and wheat fields stand in stark contrast to the “war zone” in Philadelphia.
Carter said he knew that Cook was the person to wake up his “comfortable” youth group; He just didn’t realize that the back of Cook’s head would be his sermon illustration.
“I don’t waste anything that God brings into my life,” the 48-year-old pastor said, including the opportunity to forgive a former youth group member who had pulled a gun on Cook after he came “high” to a meeting.
The teenager was invited back to the group, and later Cook provided a job recommendation for him. Today they are friends.
Cook sees spiritual lessons from the recent physical attack, which he shared with the youth and intends to preach to other audiences.
“I’ll tell you my guard was down because this guy was acting like he was handicapped, so I didn’t expect to be attacked,” said Cook, who most times carries his gun and intends to replace his wife’s using a $100 gift from a friend, even though Stephanie Cook’s weapon will be returned when police complete their investigation.
Prowling like a roaring lion, seeking to devour its prey, the devil also attacks at inopportune and unguarded moments. “He comes when we have our guards down, spiritually.”
Knowing the devil’s mission is to steal, kill and destroy is important, Cook said. To fight this spiritual battle, you need weapons of warfare, both offensive and defensive tools that God’s provided.
“I grabbed the gun and everything, but I wasn’t alone. I had someone in a better position — a higher power if you will –intervene on my behalf. In this battle, it was Stephanie with her gun,” Cook said.
In spiritual battle, it’s the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God that the warrior wields effectively against the devil who comes as a roaring lion, he added.
“Just like you put Scripture in your heart. You never know when God’s going to bring it to mind, but you’re prepared by storing it up,” Cook said. “Being prepared for battle, alert and on guard are paramount, too.
“We were prepared. When Stephanie and I bought our guns three years ago, we said ‘let’s hope we never have to use them.’ Something we prepared for three years ago just saved our lives,” Cook stated.
Stephanie Cook is recovering, too, not from a physical wound but an emotional one that, three days later, she admits unexpectedly crept up on her: fear.
The couple, who plan to install enhanced security at the church, are reminding themselves that they’ve not received a spirit of fear from God, but a spirit of love, power and a sound mind.
“I totally understand that we’re in a spiritual war and that the devil is going to attack constantly. Believers need to have their spiritual armor on and bullets — the Word of God — in their faith guns.
“And sometimes believers might have to use physical guns, like my wife,” Cook stated. “I’m a guy that lives it 24/7.”
Copies of Cook’s devotionals for teens — Regener8 and Illumin8: Straight Talk For Street Smart Teens — were free for any of the 40 teens who wanted copies of the former youth pastor’s books
Photo captions. 1) Robert Cook, senior pastor at St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, pictured outside his Philadelphia home, where the violent attack took place. 2) Rob Cook posing with his wife and son in an eerily prophetic photo. 3) The armed robber had added a gun rail from an assault rifle and a pistol grip. 4) Rob Cook pictured in a junk yard, signifying how he has been working to salvage the lives of young people. 5) Amish children with their horse and buggy. 6) Steve Rees.
About the writer: Steve Rees is a freelance Christian journalist who loves the church and writes about how it engages the culture and works toward fulfilling the Great Commission. He lives in Longmont, Colo. and attends Resurrection Fellowship, a nondenominational, missions-driven church that honors all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the five-fold ministry offices. The church is in Loveland, Colo. Rees, formerly worked as a newspaper reporter and was among the first journalists to write about Promise Keepers before it spread nationwide from Boulder, Colo. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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