After Robber Attacks Him, Philly Pastor Turns the Other Cheek

Pastor Robert Cook
Pastor Robert Cook (Courtesy)

Nearly two days after Rob Cook's wife shot a man fighting for her husband's wallet with an enhanced nail gun outside their Philadelphia home, the bruised pastor turned what the devil intended for evil to good by preaching three weekend sermons on spiritual warfare and forgiveness at a church youth retreat.

Cook, recovering Saturday from a blow to the head, traveled with wife, Stephanie, and son, Christian, to Delaware, where 40 teenagers from a peaceful Amish community church were waiting for him after seeing and reading news reports from Philadelphia about the shooting and injuries to the pastor who was their guest speaker.

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.

His head still pounding Friday night, the opening of the youth retreat, Cook was a no-show.

So the youth persevered in intercession for Cook, who was without sleep or medication for 24 hours.

A best-selling author and former youth group leader, Cook received 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 in custody after Stephanie Cook shot him in the right leg with a Ruger .22 caliber revolver outside their Philadelphia home and nearby church. An investigator called the shooting "justifiable" and 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.

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 state park where the youth retreat was held, Cook publicly forgave the suspect and expressed support for 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 thankfully 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 go 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 said he relates 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 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 Friday as the youth group from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 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 a.m., 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 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 opportune, 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 said.

"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 said.

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 said.

"I'm a guy that lives it 24/7."

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