Reflections on Net '96

Lessons learned.

NET '96 was a profound learning 'experience. I'm a different person because of it. A friend of mine once said, "There is something more important than the work we do. It's the work God does in our lives as we do the work."

You will read thrilling reports of the Spirit of God moving on lives during NET'96. But! would like to open my heart and share what God taught me during NET'96.

The value of teamwork.

Hundreds of people participated to make the program a success. NET '96 was not an independent effort by any individual. Committees spent hours deliberating each aspect of the program. As an evangelist, I'm used to making quick decisions. Someone has said, "There is no problem so simple that a committee cannot make it complex."

Working through issues on committees frustrates me. I'm a person who wants to look at an issue, see the problems, take charge and attempt to solve them. Some aspects of NET'' distressed me. But God continually burned the following lesson into my mind: Working together on a team produces far greater results than working on your own. Proverbs 11:14 speaks to my heart: "Where no counsel is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety."

I'm learning that it's part of His plan to bring varied minds together people whose life experiences are different, each sharing their uniqueness in harmony with Jesus' prayer of John 17 "That they all may be one." I praise God for a team of consecrated, committed workers who shaped the program in ways I would never have imagined.

The power of intercession.

Somebody asked me what it felt like walking onto the platform night after night in Orlando, Florida, knowing that my messages would be translated into 13 languages in 45 countries to over a half million people on three continents. I responded, "Night after night I sensed that I was being carried on the wings of the Spirit." I literally felt the power of thousands of Adventist Christians praying for me daily. No matter how exhausted I was, when I began to preach I received a burst of energy.

Ellen White said, "Prayer and faith will do what no power on earth will accomplish," (Ministry of Healing, p. 509). About 6:45 every night, as I saw our prayer group kneeling back stage, my spirit was renewed. Faxes, telephone calls, e-mail, letters from all over indicated that people were praying for me. I was deeply moved with the awesome power of corporate intercession. Never again will I take a casual approach to intercessory prayer.

Listen sensitively to criticism.

Make adjustments if necessary, but move ahead boldly in the face of criticism. NET '96 made me more vulnerable than I have ever been in my life. Every evening as I preached, theologians, historians, scientists, homileticians, English professors, sociologists, graphic artists, computer experts, pastors, administrators and lay people analyzed what I said and how I said it. The sermons were discussed from church boards to college classrooms. I received hundreds of faxes and scores of phone calls. Overnight letters marked "Personal, Confidential" arrived at our office daily.

A scientist pointed out a wrong date on a slide. Someone else reported misspellings on the screen. Others indicated mispronunciation, and some pointed to what they perceived were theological errors. Some claimed the meetings were too grace-oriented. Others declared I was a legalist. One claimed I was anti-Catholic. A CompuServe message said I was too soft on the Papacy. Some felt I was unclear on the nature of Christ, downplaying obedience. Others felt the emphasis on obedience was too strong. The announcements were too long, or the announcements were too short.

Two things became apparent:

1. Only a small percentage of the overall audience was concerned. The vast majority of people were rejoicing that God was working in the lives of unsaved people. God impressed me not to be too concerned, over-anxious or sensitive regarding every negative response.

2. God impressed me to learn everything I could from every message whether I agreed with it or not. While my mind should be open to modification, I should not allow criticism to change my basic course of action. God moved me with Proverbs 27:17, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." He impressed me to distinguish between friendly faxes with advice and those with a particular axe to grind. I prayed, "Teach me, Lord, what I need to learn, help me to be a sensitive listener, but give me a heart for You and a sense of direction."

Grit to persevere.

The energy drain was enormous: Each morning up by 7:30 for prayer, meditation, study, and breakfast. Off to the auditorium by 9:30. All morning working with our computer graphics people on the evening's sermon. Hopefully, by 1:30 grab a quick lunch. By mid-afternoon preview the sermon in the auditorium, meet with translators. At 5:00 p.m., 30 minutes for rest and prayer. Early evening I made any additional changes to the sermon and went to make-up. Afterwards at 9:00 o'clock, I visited with interested people, watched snatches of the program via the Central Time Zone feed, and arrived home around midnight. This was repeated for five successive weeks. To take a day off would put the entire computer program in jeopardy since we were scrambling to input latest current events information. Sabbaths were the only exception to the grueling pace, although I often preached three times on Sabbath.

God taught me that there are times when one must hang in there, when days off and vacations must wait. Obviously, you cannot live this way year-round. But when the fruit is on the vine and the harvest is ready in the field one must put priority on harvesting. NET '96 taught me that there are times when you must be totally absorbed in that which matters most souls for the kingdom of God. The promise in Galatians 6:9 constantly supported me. "And let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." I clung to the promise.

The sheer joy of belonging to the Adventist community worldwide

During the NET '96 meetings God impressed my mind with this thought WE'RE DOING THIS TOGETHER. From Vancouver, British Columbia, to the Virgin Islands, from Bangor, Maine, to Budapest, Hungary, to Portland Oregon, from Thousand Oaks, California, to thousands of cities throughout Central and South America, God was on the move. This sense that the Holy Spirit was moving among us, that we were doing it together, enlarged my vision. To think God was using satellite technology to accomplish His mission at end time utterly amazed me.

Each night as I walked onto the platform I had this overwhelming sense that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was making history. Our church my church had focused on mission, outreach, soul-winning.

God taught me to be sensitive to brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. When I received stories of people slogging through miles of mud to attend, or husbands beating their wives, parents locking children in their rooms, people losing their jobs because they attended the Discoveries in Prophecy meetings, my heart wept. Those stories reshaped the context of my meeting the next evening. When I heard of pastors and their congregations stepping out for Christ and joining the Adventist Church, when I heard of people having miraculous visions and dreams and direct impressions of the Holy Spirit, my heart soared with rejoicing. God taught me that powerful biblical messages must be prepared in the context of the human life experience.

The value of experience.

The principles in Mark:4:28 are so true. "For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." For my first evangelistic series in 1972 in Trenton, Georgia, in a tent with few attending, I read every sermon from notes.

As far as I know, no one was baptized. Preaching in tents, in motel ballrooms, in little country churches, conducting meetings in out-of-the-way places, prepared me to later preach in the great capitals of the world. I was prepared for the Kremlin meetings with 13,000 in attendance and the Olympic Stadium meetings in Moscow with 15,000 - 20,000, and NET '95 and '96 with a possible audience in the millions. Evangelistic preaching is knowing how to reach the heart, how to touch lives for the kingdom.

My experience helped me avoid some disasters. On opening night when I pressed my signal button to change the slides, it malfunctioned. Thank fully, I knew the material well.

Experience helped when some sermons were too long and we stopped eight or nine slides before the end to make an appeal. Had I not been through that material for years and known where to break, we easily could have run out of time.

Experience helped when I sensed that the response cards and decision cards weren't having the desired effect, and I needed to make an altar call. Thousands came forward.

Experience helped me remember that the goal of evangelistic preaching is not necessarily to maintain a large crowd but to proclaim the biblical message of Christ and allow God to break hearts and produce genuine conversions and solid decisions.

Relevancy of evangelism in our day.

Lastly, God taught me the significance of the Three Angels' Messages and the relevancy of evangelism in our day.

Personally I'm convinced God has raised up the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a unique, divine movement of destiny for this last hour of earth's history.

I believe God will use Adventism to reveal the final, full display of His glory to the world, that Revelation 18:1 will be fulfilled. I'm greatly humbled with the sense that God will use men and women in this movement to give His final message to the earth.

God is teaching me there is no substitute for the Three Angels' Messages. When those messages are watered down, compromised, their integrity cast aside when the fear of offending overwhelms a sense of conviction for preaching truth, the results are minimal.

The results of NET '96 were not because of eloquent words, but because of a message that He has entrusted to His last-day church. Evangelistic preaching will be relevant until the coming of Jesus.

At the end of time God will raise up a whole new generation of Adventist preachers who, proclaiming the message of the Three Angels, will touch hearts with the preached Word. The earth will be lightened with the glory of God, the commission will be finished and Christ will come.

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February 1997

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