“We are the circumcision of the Spirit! Yes, we are the circumcision of the Spirit . . .” And so we belted out the worship song as we drove through the forest covered hills of northern Alabama.
Annika held a walkie talkie that allowed us to hear John Smart and his wife in the car ahead of us, as he led out the worship song, and we followed along. Our boys laughed and giggled in the back seat as our voices rose.
We had met John and his wife just a few days ago. He pastored a tiny rural sabbath keeping congregation. They were not Messianic, but were very open to new truth. What impressed me most about John was his tender hearted humility. Though a towering man of over 6’2, with muscular arms, the broken heartedness with which he preached was obvious to anyone who listened to him for more than just a few minutes. It was safe to say that I instantly liked this pastor as soon as I had met him.
On sabbath morning, we pulled up to the small building. The thick Alabama forest blotted out the Spring sun overhead, and I remember thinking that this place looked more like some sort of 19th century cottage, than a modern day house of worship.
Inside, hundreds of drawings covered the walls -- pictures scrawled out by toddlers and small children. Families sat together, and I was immediately drawn by the way this place did not divide the families up like so many churches do. It was clear the children did not go to some separate pre-school church, but sat with their parents. In fact, the whole place felt more like a home than a church.
John, his grey eyes matching his greying hair, stood behind a simple wooden pulpit. Annika and I quickly took our seats, holding our boys on our laps.
“And on this sabbath morning, we have special guests with us. Daniel and his wife, all the way from Oregon. They will be doing some open air preaching on the campus here in Birmingham next week.”
Several people smiled at us as babies cried, children laughed -- making both of us feel right at home.
“And in honor of our guests, I’d like Daniel to give us a Word this morning.”
I stared in wide eyed surprise at Annika. I hadn’t expected this at all. My wife smiled at me and took Isaiah out of my lap, balancing both our boys on each of her knees.
Not prepared with a sermon, I decided to preach on what Yah was placing on my heart even as I began walking toward the pulpit. Gripping both sides of the wooden surface, I asked everyone to turn to Zechariah 14. I spent the next hour, painting a vivid picture in the minds of my listeners -- YahShua ruling and reigning from a glittering Jerusalem, the nations flowing up to Jerusalem every year on the Feast of Tabernacles, the rebellious countries suffering from crippling drought, and Sukkot being celebrated by every tribe, tongue and people.
My listeners had only been keeping the sabbath day, and knew next to nothing about the Hebrew Feasts. I wasn’t sure exactly how the congregation would receive the message. But I had nothing to worry about.
That afternoon, as we walked across the gravelly parking lot back to our van, several people shook our hands, smiling, thanking me for the message and asking many questions about the Hebrew Feast Days. Once again, it was so thrilling to find the pure hearted ones, eager to learn more.
The following day, we arrived at the TV station studios in northern Birmingham, Alabama. This was a local TBN affiliate. As I sat in the leather chair, showered by bright studio lights, a man and his wife interviewed me about my open air preaching. I spoke out the very scripture that even then was being placed on all the newsletters that Mark back in Portland was printing out for us each month -- Malachi 4:5-6.
“The scripture speaks about Elijah the prophet coming just before the coming of the great and dreadful day of YHVH. Then it speaks about the hearts of the fathers being to turned to the children and the hearts of the children being turned to the fathers. I think this passage is talking about how the anointing of Elijah will fall upon many believers in the last days, and that this will result in the hearts of the fathers (the Torah and the Jews) being turned to the children (Christians) and vice versa.”
“And how does your ministry accomplish this, Daniel?” The male interviewer asked.
“Well, we go out to various college campuses and start exalting the Word, open air preaching. So far we’ve had incredible responses on every campus we’ve visited.”
As I began to talk more and more about the nature of my open air preaching, it seemed that the interviewers were getting nervous and wanted to end the show. Afterward, as we left the studios, I shrugged my shoulders and thought -- well, at least it got out there in tv land and maybe blessed someone.
* * *
“What are you doing, honey?” Annika asked as she stepped into our temporary bedroom at the Smart’s house. “Everyone’s ready to go.”
“I know, I just want to give Mark a call. See how things are doing,” I said as I quickly dialed his phone number on our cell phone.
“Shalom, Daniel! I’ve been enjoying all your reports. Sounds like you guys had a great Passover!” Mark said as I caught him up on everything.
“So, how are the newsletters going?” I asked.
“”I’ve gotten everything you sent me, and so far have printed out two issues since you left. Had a little trouble with some of the photos coming out fuzzy, but I managed to fix it.”
“Wonderful,” I said, biting my lip as I was preparing myself for the real reason I had called Mark. “So . . . have you checked the PO Box. Any donations?”
“No, nothing yet, Daniel. Sorry.”
As I hung up the phone, I sighed. Our original $4000 of savings was nearly depleted after just under two months of traveling, and I began to wonder if we would be able to continue this ministry.
“Daniel, don’t worry,” Annika said, reading my face. “Yah will provide. Let’s go do some preaching.”
That morning as we drove into the downtown metro area of Birmingham, seeing such restaurants as the Piggily-Wiggily, we knew this place badly needed Torah.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham was situated right in the heart of downtown which made finding a place to park difficult. We finally managed to squeeze into a paid parking space on one of the narrow city streets. As I reached into my pocket to withdraw a twenty, out came a hundred dollars.
“Honey? Did John give us some money earlier today?” I said in wonder as I stared at the hundred dollar bill.
“No,” Annika said. “Where did that come from?”
“I have no idea,” I breathed, holding the hundred dollar bill as if it were the most precious thing I had ever seen.
To this day I have no idea how that money got into my pocket. What was stranger, is the twenty dollar bill I knew for a fact was supposed to be in pocket, was not there. It was as if YahShua had done the miracle of the fishes and loves, multiplying the twenty into a hundred. I grinned from ear to ear. This was exactly the faith boost I needed after my somewhat depressing conversation with Mark.
Our boys in the double stroller, lunch provisions strapped to our backs, we met John as he was getting out of his car and headed toward a bench covered area in front of the student union.
“This looks like a perfect place to preach,” I said as I jumped on top of the bench. I began to preach on I Corinthians 6:9-11 and I John 3:6-11. Within 10 minutes we had the makings of a large crowd.
One hypocrite yelled out, “You cannot be a child of God unless you sin!”
“Oh really?” I responded. “Then why does the scripture say . . .” And I began to quote I John 3:9. “Either you are right, and the scripture is wrong, or you are wrong and the scripture is right. And guess what? The scripture is right!”
The hypocrite then yelled at me for judging. As the crowd began to grow around us, I turned to John 7:24, but before I could point out how YahShua commands us to make righteous judgments, a muscled campus police officer stalked toward me.
“Get off this bench now!” He barked at me.
I immediately jumped down.
“This all your stuff?” He growled. “Get it out of here!”
“Wait a minute, I thought this was public property. Can’t I preach here?”
The officer whipped out a baton and raised it threateningly at me. “Get out of here! This is private property! The whole campus!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew for a fact that this was a public university but standing before me seemed to be some sort of demon possessed officer, actually raising his baton at me!
“Are you going to arrest me if I continue to preach here?”
“I said get out of here!”
“I will leave if you are threatening to arrest me.”
The officer’s fists burned white as he clenched the baton even tighter. “Yes, I will arrest you if you do not leave! You can preach on the sidewalks, but not here.”
I nodded and started collecting my things. “Okay, fine, I’ll preach on the public sidewalk.”
We moved 50 feet away toward University Street, the main drag that sliced through the campus. At least now I could continue to preach and avoid arrest from this demonically crazed officer who obviously knew nothing about the laws of the land.
As my wife and John settled into our new position, I began to preach once more. Within two minutes, the same officer and a very arrogant female cop approached us.
“Look, you’ve got to leave!” She yelled at us, her face livid. “We’ve gotten several complaints from students. Leave now, sir.”
“Well, I am so thankful for the First Amendment. I can offend as many people as I want--”
“No, you can’t!” She screamed. “You go down to Five Points where this is more acceptable.”
“So, I cannot even preach on a public sidewalk?”
The female officer waved her hands at our surroundings. “This is all private. All the sidewalks, everything within the campus is private!”
The original campus officer, still holding his baton, puffed his chest at me, “I said get out of here or you’ll be arrested!”
John Smart suddenly stood between me and the officers. “Is it a crime to preach the gospel? Why are you being like this? We all know this is a public university. What is our crime?”
The officer with the baton whipped out his handcuffs. “That’s it. You’re under arrest. Turn around!”
John shook his head. “Wait a minute, don’t arrest Daniel. I was speaking for myself.”
The officer slapped the handcuffs on John. John began quoting Acts 7:52 from memory, shouting it at the top of his lungs. “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers--”
“Shutup!” The officers snarled as they wrestled John to the ground. Though there was no reason to use such force on John, he continued to just smile, gently but boldly declaring the Word.
As my wife and I scrambled to gather all our things so we could follow the officers, they pulled John to his feet and shoved him toward a squad car.
The arrogant woman, Corporal Simms, turned to us as they stuffed John into the police car. “All the sidewalks on this campus are private. Everything at the University of Alabama is private.”
I felt like I had walked into some crazy fun house where I was speaking to two clowns who only pretended to be police officers.
“Do not preach here again, or you’ll wind up in jail just like your friend here,” She said before driving off.
“Unbelievable,” I whispered to Annika. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“We better go down to the jail, and figure out what to do,” she said.
We spent the next five hours at the city jail, trying to figure out what the process was to post bail. The police officers would not answer any direct questions. It was as if we had entered a different country!
John eventually emerged from the jail, as we waited for him under some trees in a nearby park. His face seemed to glow with the Spirit.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Amazing,” John breathed. “I was able to minister to one criminal after another while I was in the holding tank, and they were all very receptive to the Word.”
Annika and I smiled at each other. It became clear to us that YHVH had intentionally shut down the preaching so that some men in this jail could be reached with the Word. Several weeks later, the city would drop the charges and formally apologize to John for the arrest. But right then, under the hot Alabama sun, we knew that circumstances had been violently rearranged so that a few lonely hearts in this downtown jail would receive the Word, all the while building John’s faith as never before.
And building our faith as well.
* * *
For the remainder of the week, we decided to preach down at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Once more, Yah made it very clear why He had allowed us to be completely shut down in Birmingham. On this much larger campus, boasting wide green quads and terraced benched areas, we were able to draw large crowds, and the Spirit fell powerfully. Though John had never open air preached before, he decided to join me several times, emboldened by his incident with the police back in Birmingham. This forty year old pastor had the amazing ability to sober a very rowdy crowd of students. In fact, during the the 4 days we preached at the campus, we saw a number of conversions.
But my most striking memory of “Brother Smart” -- as I began to call him, happened on our 2 hour drive back north to his home. My family had stayed behind that day, so it was just John and me in the car.
“I will never forget when YahShua saved me from my sin,” he said. As he began to share with me his testimony of being rescued out of a life of self centeredness and wickedness, tears began to stream down his face. His voice cracked, and this large man, though outwardly very strong, once more revealed what a broken heart he had for the Messiah.
As we drove home, dark clouds beginning to pile in the sky due to an oncoming storm, I thought how wonderful it was to hear a man, several years after coming to the Messiah, still weep over how YahShua had saved him from his past.
So many of us have the tendency to take for granted how YahShua has rescued our lives, and our testimony becomes a stale, forgotten relic, covered in dust on the back shelf of our minds.
Brother Smart reminded me how very important it was to never forget what YahShua has done, to always remember with heart-felt sincerity how His saving redemptive power transforms our lives.
After all, to whom much is forgiven, is much love granted.