Off we Go!
Dear friends and supporters,
For many of you this will be out of left field, for others, it will be old news. I am going back to the preaching ministry, hopefully full time. As many of you will remember, back in the early 80’s I went on the road for two school years, but then suddenly left the ministry in 1982. I dropped off the face of the earth as far as preaching goes. There is a story behind my disappearance.
When I went to Penn State in 1977, I purposed that I would live by faith so as to not be a burden on the believers. The Lord instructed me that I was not to take any money from governments or churches, to not accept money when I was preaching. The only thing I was allowed to do was to tell the Lord my needs and then to be quiet and trust the Lord for my provision. I lived this way from 1976 until 1982 and the Lord provided.
In 1983 I decided to go on the road and to travel to other campuses around the country. Well…. My finances did not keep up with my greatly expanded expenses. I lasted for two years, but then in 1984, I was forced to a decision. I was in debt and could not meet my obligations. I did not think that it was a good testimony, so I made the very difficult decision to take a leave from the preaching and build a financial base. I wanted to continue to be able to not burden the believers.
I wish I could say that I met with success. But those who know me know that is not the case. With that goal in mind I worked diligently for 24 years. In the process I started three companies, but I never hit the bull’s eye. I had my ups and downs, and worked very hard. At one point, I raised close to a half a million dollars to finance a startup product I had written. But the Lord has not seen fit to bless. If only I had spent that money on ministry. Hindsight will drive you nuts.
When I hit 60 years old last year, through much agonizing prayer, I came to the place that I knew I had to admit failure and get back to preaching at any cost. I deeply, deeply regret the many years I wasted trying to provide for my ministry. But in reversing my decision of 1984, and vowing to return to what the Lord called me to do, I had to reverse my decision not to be a burden on the believers.
This is the first of many newsletters I will be sending out. (I apologize for it’s length. I am trying to catch up.) I will not ask for support often, but I do want you to know that I am asking for it now. For those of you who supported my efforts in my preaching days, I am asking you to prayerfully seek the Lord about supporting my ministry as part of your tithe.
For those of you who have known me via the CMUSA bulletin board, I served you for years without expecting anything in return. Now the time has come for you to return the service. Please help me with my ministry expenses.
For those of you, my special friends, for whom I have been a help and a resource for close to three decades, now I need you to be my help and resource. I have sown into your lives without hesitation. Now is my time to reap. All of you who have borrowed tools, money, cars, trucks, trailers, front end loaders, and any of my many other things, remember that I was ALWAYS there for you and never turned you down.
You who have stored stuff in every nook and cranny on my property (without any charge) so that I now don’t have space to store my own stuff, remember me now that my need is rising. To all those to whom I have ministered over the last 32 years, I freely and unselfishly given to your needs. My hope is that my example in service will inspire you to do the same.
Honestly, I feel like I am under a death sentence if I do not return to the preaching. I must get back to the front lines to live out my few remaining years. With all that said, even if I must lose all, and am forced to put those I love out on the street, I am returning to the ministry. My trembling is that I can not see any way that I can do what is required of me if you all do not step up and respond to my request.
My last employment ended on December 31, 2007. I have been without work or any prospects since. When I saw this employment coming to a close, I decided that come what may, I was going back on campus.
From the end of March till May, I traveled and preached with Jed Smock. We preached on a number of campuses in Missouri, Kansas, and Ohio. It was very good to be back on the front lines. I did not keep a journal during that missionary trip, so please accept my apology for not being able to give a full report. Many exciting things happened, but alas, I didn’t write them down. The only reason I mention my first trip at all is because once again my expenses exceeded my support. My shortfall for the two months on the road was about $3,000.
From July 17th to the 19th, I spoke at and attended the SOAPA conference in Virginia Beach VA. I spoke on a subject that has become very dear to me, i.e., the growing preaching movement is the harbinger of the Lord’s return. After each teaching session, we would all go to the board walk and preach in groups. It was almost as good as being on campus. The crowds though consisted not only of young people, but of all ages.
The reactions were much the same, with many pleading for sin, others getting highly upset that we were “dishonoring Jesus”, and still others getting physical against us. At one point, the police showed up on their crowd control horses and dispersed the crowd. It was great. I had never been in a situation where the cavalry was called out.
In one episode, I was addressing a group of teenage girls. Several of them admitted that they were having sex. I tried as gently as I could to inform them that having sex outside of marriage makes one a “whore” in God’s eyes. It did not phase them. It was like BB’s bouncing off a tank. But little later one of the girls called me a fat old man.
I responded by saying, “You ought to watch out there, you’re getting a little chunky yourself.” Wellllllllllll… That was the unforgivable sin. For the rest of that night and the next she hectored me to try to get me to say she wasn’t fat. In all honesty I did not even call her fat. I just said she was getting a little chunky, you know those lumps of fat that bulge out over top of the waist bands of jeans.
Not only that night but the next, she belabored the point. At one point she was almost in tears because of the blow to her self-image. It made me think about how twisted things have become when a girl would not even blink over being told she was a “whore”, but be brought to tears over the thought that she might be 2-3 pounds overweight. Sheeesh. Oh the torture of this culture directed against young girls.
One night, when I finished preaching, a young man approached me and I took him aside from the crowd. He said that he had heard me from his hotel balcony, and was convicted of his sin. Exiting the hotel, he sought and found me. He told me he wanted to repent and be saved. He had just become sexually active with his girlfriend, and when he heard me preaching against fornication, his heart was deeply pricked.
I lead him the Lord’s prayer and gave him some “startup” instructions about attending church, prayer, Bible reading, and resisting sin. He understood that the commitment to Jesus was a turning away from all sin. He prayed that in his repentance prayer.
At one point one evening, when I turned over the crowd to another preacher, a 30ish man and his wife came up to me. Their eyes were like saucers, wide and incredulous, as they drank in the spectacle being played out before them. They were both Christians. He worked for the FBI.
“We have never seen anything like this!” he said to me. “This is amazing”, said she.
His wife was flitting from one small crowd to another like a bee gathering nectar. When she would return to her husband, he would say something like “C’mon honey we need to get back to the kids”. But she would flit off to the next small group. He couldn’t drag her away.
During this time, I was explaining the dynamic wisdom of God revealed in the preaching. He understood every word and was visibly moved by the starkness of how what I told him was supposed to happen as a result of preaching, was happening before his eyes. Both he and his wife were involved in ministry in their home church. I expect his church heard an earful when he returned from their vacation.
The only dicey time for me came when a kick boxer got very upset and was doing the macho hand clench and chest push routine. I looked him squarely in the eye and said to him, “Go ahead, beat me up. That will surely show everybody what a great macho man you are by beating up on a feeble fat old man. That will REALLY boost your street creds”. The crowd laughed good and loud. He backed down.
On the last night on the boardwalk, one crowd of teenagers was standing around me heckling and mocking. I warned them that one of the instructions in the scripture about public preaching is to shake the dust off my feet if they will not hear. This set the crowd off even more, as it usually does. One of them asked what it would mean if I did. I told them that it would be better for the cities or Sodom and Gomorrah than for them in the day of judgment. They continued to mock, so I shook my feet.
Our whole group went up to the street paralleling the beach for a pick by one of the brothers in a van. We were standing there for few minutes when two teenage boys came up to me almost trembling. One asked me if whether the thing I had done (Shaking off the dust) applied to everybody there or just to some.
I asked him “Why, are you concerned about your eternal life”? They both said in unison in trembling voices, “Yes” I said to them that I would pray and that it would not apply to them. Then I warned them that they still had to seek and find the Lord or they still would go to Hell, but it would not be because of what I had done. They were comforted by that, and I continued until our ride arrived to exhort them to seek God and to forsake their sins. When I saw the great fear on their faces, I was so moved with compassion for them. If only more would sense the dread, the terror of the Lord as a result of our preaching.
One last thing about the conference. I was extended an invitation to go over to India to preach the gospel in a series of meetings at the beginning of next year. This trip will cost me about $5,000. I have given my tentative acceptance of the offer, but now I need to raise the funds to actually go. I was also invited to go to Kenya for the same thing. That trip, though, is still very much up in the air.
Would there be a couple of you who would be impressed by God to support my India trip? If so, when you send a donation, please indicate that. If I can not raise the money, I will take that as an answer from the Lord not to go at this time. I feel in my spirit, nonetheless, that this is a trip that I will make. I also am believing for great fruit on the trip.
PSU Week 1 – Aug 25-29
Classes started Monday. I missed Thursday the 28th because of rain. Today, Friday, doesn't look so good, but I will go out anyway. We've had great meetings all week. All the atheists are out in force to fight against us, but I have been able to break through with some science talks. Several times I have been able to beat the crowd into silence, metaphorically speaking. Once there, I have been able to teach rather than debate.
Wednesday, I was walking toward Willard building when I ran into a young man named Dimitri who had been in the crowd the day before defending his faith. He asked me if I was going over to the preaching, and asked if he could walk with me.
We discussed the preaching on the way. When we got there, he admitted to me that he believes the Lord is dealing with him to preach, but he came from a group called Disciple Makers who focused on friendship evangelism. He started to tell me their concerns that this method is not for today, that friendship evangelism is the way to go because it doesn't offend anyone. So I found a couple of chairs and sat Dimitri down and taught him for about 30 minutes some of the elementary doctrines of preaching. He absorbed every word and seemed to understand intuitively. Since he was a student, he had to leave to go to class.
Later in the day, around 6:30, I still had a crowd of about 30. He came up to me and asked if he could preach. With great fear and trembling, he opened his mouth and the Lord began to fill it. He preached for about another half an hour, engaging the atheists in debate and defending the faith. After he ran dry, I asked him how he felt. "Great!"
He has his feet wet now. He told me he is talking to some of his Christian friends to convince one of them to partner with him to find another place on campus to preach. I told him that Gary would let him preach. He thinks that he could find a half an hour each day to preach and not interfere with his education. But I could see that his heart is burning for the gospel. I hope he comes out today. I will try to get him to preach again and encourage him with more foundation.
Today was the Friday before a 3 day weekend. Things were quiet. Gary preached first, and I followed up around 3:20. Throughout the week I was able to draw a sizeable crowd each time I preached. But not much happened today.
Dimitri preached for the second time at the end of the day. Then he experienced what every preacher has. He felt condemned. I explained to him that every time I have preached, the enemy has attacked me with nameless condemnation. He JUST needs to resist it.
In addition to Dimitri, towards the end of the day three international students came up to enquire about the preaching. Two understood as I laid out the purpose and principles of preaching. One of them said he was interested in this kind of ministry. When I told him that CMUSA has trained people from all over the world, therefore CMUSA is an international ministry, he got very excited. My hope is that God will call him and send him to his home country.
Throughout the week numerous people came up to me and shook my hand and thanked me for my bold stand. In fact, two people who listened to me preach back in 1977-82 were in the crowd. Surprisingly I recognized them. One fellow was a believer and is still to this day. The other fellow walked up to me while I was preaching and asked me if he could introduce me to the crowd. His face looked familiar so I said sure. He told the crowd that I was the one who began preaching at PSU back in 1977. I was surprised to actually have two people from the good old days. I expect some of these students parents listened to me preach.
On Wednesday, I overheard one student excitedly say that the last three days had been the best preaching days EVER. I had to laugh.
I have acquainted myself with many of Gary's regulars. Atheists, Orthodox, and the sampling of varied Christians hung around till late each day that I preached. On Wednesday, I was out till a little after 7:00. I am going to see if I can extend the time of effective preaching as long as the weather holds.
The final piece of cake was that as Gary and I left campus, we came upon another preacher off campus on College Ave. I didn't want to interrupt him, so I just listened for a while. He was preaching holiness without compromise. I think his name is Jason. If I see him again I will introduce myself. It seems that over the last couple of years there have been three new preachers that have shown up either on campus or in town. These are independent of the several that Gary has introduced to preaching. Truly our prayers of a large army of preachers are coming to pass.
PSU Week 2 – Sept 1-5
Monday was a holiday.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are smaller class days at Penn State. We didn’t really get much going either day. I come out on campus later in the afternoon and don’t preach until the 3:20 class break or later. But even starting that late is not a problem. Gary Cattell always starts preaching at noon. I choose to start later and stay later so as to not compete for preaching time. Even though I pioneered the preaching at Penn State, the pulpit really is Gary’s these days. He has been faithfully preaching without a break since 1982.
On both days, when I began to preach, I was able to gather crowds of 50-60 even late into the day. On both days I preached until 7:00pm. Gary normally has family obligations that require him to leave campus at about 4:30, but being a single man, I am free to stay as late as I want. The crowds are a little different on the off-day classes. They have been very lively, but not as aggressively anti-God as I have found on other campuses. The main topic all week has been the debate over evolution. I have found out that it appears that the creationist perspective has won!!
The evolutionists have changed how they define the word evolution. Now, they deemphasize that it’s origin was to explain the origin of species. Now they insist that all evolution is, is change within a species. Variability is what creationists have always conceded. But wait, perhaps we haven’t yet won. If you let them talk, eventually they will try to make the leap from changes and variations apparent within a kind or species to morphing into another species.
On Friday, I did not start preaching till after 4:00pm. But even then I got good crowds. The crowds settled down and the nature of the debate changed from aggressive to intellectual. I reasoned with and held the crowd until 9:00 pm. Imagine that! A crowd to discuss Jesus until 9:00 on a Friday evening. I hope some day to draw huge crowds right out of the bars.
The highlight of the week was on Wednesday as I walked toward campus to preach. A voice stopped me in my tracks.
I looked up into a familiar face but with no recollection of a name.
“John, John Harris”
Putting the face, the voice, and the name together, the memories flooded back of many long complex discussion with a PSU Philosophy professor. His first memory of me was that I gave him a Bible at a very black time in his life. He said it was that Bible that kept him alive during a horrible time in his life.
I met him later that night at the Corner Room for coffee. His testimony was a fine ointment on my soul. I told him of my journey away from preaching and back again, and he told me of his journey into and out of darkness.
Back in the early 80’s, he was a professor who was living with a woman professor. He taught philosophy and she taught humanism. One of her students confided in her and told her that she wanted to kill herself. John’s girlfriend tried everything in her power to try to prevent the suicide, but failed. The student took a shotgun into her mouth and pulled the trigger.
That death undid them both. They realized that both philosophy and humanism lacked the power to explain or to prevent such great evil in the world. It was shortly thereafter that I gave John the Bible. They started attending an Episcopal church and to look for answers in the church and for John in the scriptures.
The story continued with his girlfriend deciding to become a priest. She began to pursue ordination in the Episcopal church and as such attended a conference in Harrisburg. While there, an older still conservative man approached her and said to her “I understand you want to be a priest but you are living with a man. That just won’t do.” The remark did not convict the woman, but John came under great conviction.
The relationship broke up shortly thereafter. She went on to become a Catholic, marry, and become a ministers assistant. John on the other hand sank into a very deep and black hole. His depression soon placed in a mental institution where he spent 5 years. During this time, the Bible I had given him was his lifeline. In that black place he found faith in Jesus.
As we talked about his experience, I could see the fire of Christ in his eyes. He attends the Episcopal church because his father had him baptized there as a boy. So to honor his father, he still attends. But he rejects their liberalism, their “feel good” sermons, their lukewarmness. He told me he knows that my style of preaching is what is needed for the church to find it’s way in these last days. He believes in sanctification, holiness, and perfection. I remember him as a philosophy professor. The change was so dramatic.
I greatly rejoice over finding such fruit from my early years of preaching. Brought out of humanism and philosophy, through the valley of the shadow of death by holding onto his only hope for true joy, and sitting right in front of me beaming with the joy of the Lord. Thank you Jesus for your faithfulness.
My plans for the immediate future are in a state of flux. I am thinking of joining an old acquaintance and Sister Pat in the Philadelphia area next week. After that, I was thinking of getting out on the road to the west. My first stop would be the University of Pittsburgh. After Pitt, I think I will go into Ohio for a week to preach at Ohio State, Ohio University, Wright State, and perhaps one other school.
My goal is to be in Missouri by the end of September. Tentatively Jed and I are thinking of preaching the schools in Missouri and Kansas for a couple of weeks. From there I have to head down to Marietta GA to speak at the SOAPA conference the 15th through the 19th. After that, I thought I would preach in Georgia and South Carolina a little.
If any of you have travel suggestions, please let me know. My desire is to minimize my traveling expenses by staying with friends or family. If any of you can put me up for a few days, I would greatly appreciate it. If any of you have a contact that might consider putting me up, could you email it to me?